IN MID-JULY THE Alexander, Friendship, Borrowdale, and Prince of Wales all sailed down the harbour and made ready for the journey home under the direction of Lieutenant Shortland, agent for the transports.
Phillip knew that on these vessels, and those already departed, Major Ross and Captain Campbell had sent off letters of complaint on every aspect of his administration, on every issue of hypocrisy. They were directed to people of influence in Britain, especially to Lord Sydney and Evan Nepean. To Evan Nepean, Ross wrote, “Take my word for it, there is not a man in this place but wishes to return home, and we have no less than cause, for I believe that never was a set of people so much upon the parish as this garrison, and what little we want, even to a single nail, we must not send to the Commissary for it but must apply to His Excellency, and when we do he always says there is but little come out [from England], and of course it is but little we get.” To Lord Ducie, Campbell complained, “This man will be everything himself—Never that I have heard of communicates any part of his plan for establishing a colony or carrying on his work to anyone—much less, consult them.” What men like David Collins and Watkin Tench saw as Phillip's admirable composure and prudence, Campbell and Ross saw as selfish and pettifogging remoteness.
There must have been some genuine desperation and stress behind the officially framed pleadings in the dispatches Phillip sent off to Lord Sydney on different returning transports. He hoped, he had told the Secretary of State by the same ships which had carried the complaints of Ross and Campbell, that few convicts would be sent out that year or the next unless they “should have at least two years provisions on board to land with them.” He suggested that putting provisions on one ship and convicts on another “must be fatal if the ship carrying the provisions had been lost.”.
All the provisions, Phillip told Nepean in a private letter, were now in two wooden buildings, which were thatched. Bloodworth had not yet made enough bricks to undertake the building of more substantial storehouses. “I am sensible of the risk,” Phillip had confessed, “but we have no remedy … if fifty farmers were sent out with their families, they would do more in one year in rendering this colony independent of the mother country, as to provisions, than a thousand convicts.” He confided to Nepean also that the masters of the ships had departed with whatever bonds and papers they had received on boarding their convicts in England. Surely this was a mistake not only on the part of the masters but on that of Phillip's office, of what might be called his secretariat, which consisted, after Mr. Commissary Miller gave up his temporary post as the governor's secretary, of David Collins and other occasional auxiliaries like Harry Brewer.
The upshot was, as Phillip admitted to Nepean, that he had no record of the time for which convicts were sentenced, or the dates of their convictions. “Some of them, by their own account, have little more than a year to remain,” he wrote, “and, I'm told, will apply for permission to return to England, or to go to India, in such ships as may be willing to receive them.” But if they decided to remain on the basis of land being granted them, the government would need to support them for at least two years, and it was probable that one half of them would need support even after that period. “If, when the time for which they are sentenced expires, the most abandoned and useless were permitted to go to China, in any ship that may stop here, it would be a great advantage to the settlement.” But that was as close to daydream as Phillip could permit himself to come, for the most abandoned and useless were unlikely to get employment on a visiting vessel.
As the last transports vanished, the sense of isolation which would bedevil New South Wales became entrenched. In many cases it was doubtless expressed by those women ashore who had borne children and who saw their fathers, aloft in rigging, waving futilely (or with some cynical relief) as the transports receded down-harbour for the Heads. Captain Tench was sensitive to the feelings occasioned by the departure, the “anxiety to communicate to our friends an account of our situation,” which only the departing ships could relieve with the letters and reports they carried. Similarly, he wrote understatedly, “It was impossible to behold without emotion the departure of the ships.” But the naval vessels Supply and Sirius, which were on station at Port Jackson, remained..
The convicts' experience of the world of authority, of the prisons and the hulks, made the idea they would be abandoned in their little huts on this abominably distant foreshore not unlikely to their minds. They did not know, and neither did Arthur Phillip, that one of the factors guaranteeing their future was that the criminal arts had not been diminished in Britain by their removal, that the gaols and hulks were newly, densely crowded. The government, which had thought of Phillip's fleet as perhaps the final answer to overcrowding, now knew it was but a partial relief. The inhabitants of New South Wales—or as the British press still referred to it, Botany Bay—did not know that their strange new domicile would figure more permanently in the plans of the Home Office.
On the three convict transports going home, but not by China—Alexander, Friendship, and Prince of Wales—the crews suffered from the symptoms of scurvy and diarrhoea, especially of the kind called bloody flux. Surgeons like White had been assiduous in preaching their gospel of fruit and vegetables, but often the sailors, and even the convicts they had left behind in Sydney Cove, preferred their rough, salted food to any form of fruit, which after years of salt overload they found too acidic for their taste. And in any case, Sydney, unlike Rio, did not abound in obviously succulent native fruit. Scurvy sapped the strength of the crew of the Alexander and the Friendship to such an extent on their journey back to England that the Friendship had to be scuttled in the Straits of Macassar on 28 October, and her survivors transferred to the Alexander. It would be 28 May 1789 before the Alexander arrived off the Isle of Wight. The Prince of Wales had gone home by way of Cape Horn and reached Rio with its crew in great distress, but got home at Deptford a little earlier than Alexander on 30 April 1789.
These journeys undermined the assumption that scurvy could somehow be held at bay when it came to a long journey out to New South Wales, a sojourn in Sydney, and a return.
THE EARTH SEEMED TO PHILLIP resistant to kindly gestures. The first crop that year came from the mere ten to fifteen acres of wheat the convict supervisors had been able to persuade their fellows to plant in Phillip's government farm, and some further acres of corn. Much of the planting had failed to germinate and the crop promised to produce only enough for seed. Phillip calmly attributed the disaster to the seeds' having been overheated on the long journey from England and having been planted under a severe Australian summer sun.
Aware of coming famine after the crop's poor showing, Phillip approached his friend John Hunter and told him he had decided to send Hunter's cranky converted frigate, Sirius, to Cape Town “in order to procure grain and at the same time what quantity of flour and provisions she can receive.” He wanted Hunter to leave behind his guns, powder, shot, and other impedimenta to enable the Sirius to make as much speed and have as much deck space for supplies as possible.
At the time, Hunter was using an old convict on the task of caulking the ship. The fellow was making a bad job of it, but Hunter was unable to use his carpenter since that gentleman was ashore working non-stop for Phillip, building public and private structures. Captain Hunter was, however, a seaman since childhood, and showed all the alacrity and contempt of low grievance that was the mark of a good officer. The Sirius quickly prepared and set out on its emergency mission on 2 October. Because of the wind directions around the south of the earth below 40 degrees, Hunter intended to sail east to Cape Town by way of Cape Horn, and then return to Sydney from the west. That is, he meant to sail around the world, on a track south of 40 degrees, a most gallant undertaking. He and Phillip, at dead of night, when renal pain and discomfort woke the governor in his bed, and dreams of past Sirius near-misses woke Hunter in his, must have wondered whether Sirius would survive such a circum-global shaking of its timbers.
The departure of Sirius left only the tiny Supply in Port Jackson, in the harbour which had recently teemed with ships. There must have been hope in the Eora clans that now the great ships had gone, the interlopers might wither. Many of them already showed harrowed faces to the blank bush of the hinter land or the dazzle of Port Jackson. Every year in New South Wales, Collins would later tell his father, a man aged two years. The disintegration of these intrusive white souls might sometimes have seemed almost certain to some native observers, as well as to Phillip and Ross.
But as the Antipodean spring came on, Phillip had plans to spread his hold on the earth, and prepared to send part of the garrison and a number of male and female convicts up the Parramatta River, to the extension of Port Jackson which he had explored the previous spring, to begin a new settlement at Rose Hill, or what would be called, in ordinary daily usage, Parramatta. He was pleased to appoint Major Ross the commandant of this inland settlement fifteen miles from Sydney Cove, and he seems also to have recognised that this major of marines would be competent when less irritated by the presence of a governor who did not treat him like a peer. Secretly, Phillip had decided that Rose Hill would be the place of his principal city, because it was surrounded by good farming land and “was beyond the reach of enemy naval bombardment,” a reference to a grievance Ross had held against him during the previous months in Sydney and had complained to the Home Secretary about—that the marines had no point, or stronghold, where they could muster and resist civil unrest or enemy attack.
Ross and a garrison of twenty marines occupied the open ground by the banks of the Parramatta below Rose Hill, and Governor Phillip and the Surveyor General, Augustus Alt, accompanied by further marines and convicts, travelled to Rose Hill and marked out the town. Alt was a mature soldier with an expertise in surveying, more aged than Phillip, but like him a man raised in a German household. Phillip and Alt were able to converse in German as they worked at this pleasant task of city-making on the banks of the Parramatta. There, Phillip hoped, harvests might rise to feed his felons and his soldiers.
MUTUAL SMALL CONFLICTS BETWEEN the Eora and the settlers continued. On Thursday 21 August, two canoes landed Eora people on the west side of the cove. Some of them distracted an officer with talk while others speared a goat. Grabbing the dead goat, the party decamped. They were pursued in a boat but the chase was given up. In Lieutenant Bradley's terms, “It was too late, either to recover the goat or discover the thief.” There is no doubting Bradley's sincerity in defining the incident as the work of a thief.
As Bradley and the other gentlemen of New South Wales well knew, the Enclosure Acts in Britain had established a system in which the ordinary peasant's access to game on common ground, even to a rabbit for his pot, had vanished. The landlords of large estates were endowed with fishing and game rights which once were more commonly held. Many poachers would be sent to Botany Bay for entering enclosed land and taking, or trying to take, game or fish. Yet when birds and animals were shot in the woods about Sydney Cove, often to the great excitement of White and Tench, the enthusiastic naturalists, or fish taken from the harbour, it was done without any enquiry as to pre-existing rights, and the natives' stealing of a goat seemed as culpable an act to Bradley as the stealing of game under the Enclosure Acts.
Some commentators wish to attribute this failure of perception to malice, but it seems more a failure of cultural imagination. Many of the officers, including Phillip, were the sort of men who fancied themselves as well informed on the matter of savages as it was possible to be, and genuinely desired to behave with good will. Phillip recently had written to Nepean a letter (which had gone off with the returning transports) asking for government aid to supply clothing for the natives, which he believed they would accept gratefully. The failure to see any native claim on land and water and animals was a sad lapse of empathy which would blight the settlement's present and future, and produce victims on both sides of the divide, many more—in the end—on the side of the Eora.
Nevertheless, Phillip was determined to end “this state of petty warfare and endless uncertainty” between the races. He intended to kidnap one or more natives and retain them as hostages–cum–language teachers– cum–diplomats in Sydney Cove. He knew and seems to have accepted this would bring things to a head, either by inflaming the natives to vengeance or, preferably, by creating a dialogue. Arthur Phillip explained the reasons for such an abduction to Lord Sydney: “It was absolutely necessary that we should attain their language, or teach them ours, that the means of redress might be pointed out to them, if they are injured, and to reconcile them by showing the many advantages they would enjoy by mixing with us.”
On 30 December, Phillip sent two boats down the harbour under the command of Lieutenant Ball of the Supply and Lieutenant George Johnston of the marines with orders to seize some of the natives. At Manly Cove “several Indians” were seen standing on the beach, “who were enticed by courteous behaviour and a few presents to enter into conversation.” Two men who waded out to the boats were seized in the shallows, and the rest fled, but the yells of the two who had been taken quickly brought them back with many others, some of whom were armed with their long spears. One of the captured natives dragged the sailor who had hold of him into deeper water so the sailor had to let him go, and the native got away. The other captive, a slighter young native, was tumbled into one of the boats.
There was an immediate counterattack on the boats—the natives “threw spears, stones, firebrands, and whatever else presented itself, at the boats, nor did they retreat, agreeable to their former custom, until many muskets were fired over them.” The male native they had fastened by ropes to the thwarts of the boat “set up the most piercing and lamentable cries of distress.” He seemed to believe that he would be immediately murdered.
His arrival at Sydney Cove was a sensation, women and children and off-duty marines milling about him. Most people in the Cove had not seen a native at close quarters for a year. Like everyone else, Tench rushed down from his hut to assess the hostage. He appeared to be about thirty years old, not tall but robustly made, “and of a countenance which, under happier circumstances, I thought would display manliness and sensibility.” He was very agitated and the crowds who pressed round him did not calm him. Every attempt was made to reassure him as he was escorted to the governor's brick house, now finished adequately enough for Arthur Phillip to live there. Someone touched the small bell which hung over the vice-regal door and the man started with horror. In a soft, musical voice, the native wondered at all he saw, not least at people hanging out the first-floor window, which he attributed to some men walking on others' shoulders. That lunchtime, calmer now, intensely observed by Arthur Phillip and fed by Mrs. Deborah Brooks, wife of Sirius's bosun, he dined at a side table at the governor's, “and ate heartily of fish and ducks, which he first cooled.” He drank nothing but water, and on being shown that he should not wipe his hands on the chair he sat on, he used a towel “with great cleanliness and decency.” It was observed that his front incisor tooth was missing, and it was later learned by the governor that it had been removed at initiation.
Phillip watched the Aborigine with less flippancy than the crowd who had accompanied him to the governor's house. As part of the potential peace-making between Phillip and the young man, his hair was close cut and combed and his beard shaved—though he did not submit to any of this until he saw the same work done on a sailor or convict. He seemed to be delighted with his shorn hair, full of vermin as it was, which he proceeded to eat, and only the “disgusted abhorrence of the Europeans made him leave off.” He was now immersed in a tub of water and soap and Watkin Tench had the honour to perform part of the scrub.
Despite the young man's accommodating nature, he resisted telling people his name, and the governor therefore called him Manly, after the cove he came from. He seemed to belong to the Manly people named the Gayimai, but like all Eora speakers was known by other clans and shared various reciprocal hunting, fishing, and ceremonial rights with them. To prevent his escape, a handcuff with a rope attached to it was fastened round his left wrist, and at first it seemed to delight him, since he called it ben-gad-ee (ornament). In the Government House yard, he cooked his supper of fish himself that night, throwing it undressed onto the fire, then rubbing off the scales after cooking, peeling the outside with his teeth, and eating it, and only later gutting it and laying the entrails on the fire to cook. An unnamed convict was selected to sleep in the same hut with him and to be his companion, or as Tench inevitably wrote, “his keeper.”
The next morning, as a cure for his depression, he was led across the stream and past the parade ground through the men's and women's camps to the observatory and introduced to Dawes, the young astronomer, who like Collins had a scholarly interest in the natives and would soon start putting together a dictionary of Eora now that contact had been reinitiated. The purpose of this excursion was to amuse and instruct the native, not to parade him for mockery. But the camp housed men and women to whom all of life was a mock, and so there must have been hoots and catcalls.
The native could see across the water to the north side, where on a sandstone cliff-face a great rock-pecking depiction of a sperm whale had been made by people ritually and tribally connected to him. Spotting also the smoke of a fire lit by his fellows in the northern distance, “he looked earnestly at it, and sighing deeply two or three times, uttered the word Gw-eè-un [fire].” Although depressed and despairing, he consumed eight fish for breakfast, each weighing about a pound. Then he turned his back to the fire and thought hard, but lying so close that at last the fabric of the shirt he had been given caught flame, and he had to be saved.
This young man of subtle and soulful features fascinated Phillip. On New Year's Day, Manly, as he was still called, dined heartily on fish and roast pork while sitting on a chest near a window, out of which, when he was finished eating, “he would have thrown his plate, had he not been prevented.” A band was playing in the next room, and after the cloth was removed one of the company sang in a soft and superior style. Stretching out on his chest, and putting his hat over his head, the native hostage fell asleep.
Phillip ordered now that he be taken back to Manly Cove for a visit, so that his people could see he had not been hurt. A longboat carrying armed marines conveyed him close to shore so that he could speak to natives on the beach, or those who edgily waded close. He chatted to his people with a good humour which even survived the return to Sydney. Some of his kinsmen urged him to escape, but he pointed to an iron fetter on his leg. He told them he was kept at Warrane, Sydney Cove.
He was taken back to Manly again two days later, but no natives came near the beach this time, so that he and his keeper were let ashore to enable him to place a present of three birds, shot on the way down-harbour by members of the boat crew, into a bark basket left on the beach. He returned to the longboat without having heard a word of acceptance or rejection. Either his clan considered him vitiated by his contact with the Europeans, or else they were frightened that he was placed on the shore as a bait to attract them, and that they would end up in his position.
Perhaps he realised he would never be an intimate of his people again, and he released his real name, or at least one of his names, to his captors. It was Arabanoo. The fleet's children, still impressed by his novelty, would flock around him, and he treated them with great sensitivity— “if he was eating, [he] offered them the choicest morsels.” He does not seem to have had a volatile disposition and to have been wistful and gentle by nature.
Since everyone, including Phillip, was enchanted by him, his continued presence at Government House almost became its own point. The fact was he did not learn English quickly, at least not to the point where he could make Phillip any wiser on the grievances of the natives.
Though he was an honoured courtier and ambassador during the day, every night Arabanoo was locked in with his convict. As he became aware that his rations would be regularly supplied, he ate less voraciously than he had on his first return from Manly, when he had eaten a supper of two kangaroo rats, “each the size of a moderate rabbit, and in addition not less than three pounds of fish.”
These dietary details were recorded by Watkin Tench, whose fascination with Arabanoo seemed to be based on his instinctive belief that the native was somehow Watkin on the far side of a dark mirror. It was as if, once he could read the native, and the native read him, the humanity of both of them would be enlarged. Arabanoo's appetites and actions were therefore of crucial interest. Tench recorded, for example, a small excursion the native had on the Supply when it left for Norfolk Island in February 1789. Arabanoo and the governor and other gentlemen were aboard Supplysimply for the journey down the harbour, but the native was in an agitated state as the vessel was lifted by the great swell of the Pacific through Port Jackson's heads. By now he had been freed from his shackle and was as attached in friendship to Phillip and Tench and others as they were to him, yet he seemed to fear they were taking him out of the known world, and every attempt to reassure him failed. Near North Head, he lunged overboard and struck out for Manly, attempting to dive, “at which he was known to be very expert.” But his new clothes kept him up and he was unable to get more than his head underwater. Picked up, he struggled, and on board sat aside, melancholy and dispirited. His experience of having clothed himself in alien fabric that took away his power in the water served him as great proof of the inadvisability of his situation. But when the governor and his other friends descended into a boat to return to Sydney Cove and he heard them calling him to join them, “his cheerfulness and alacrity of temper immediately returned and lasted during the remainder of the day. The dread of being carried away, on an element of whose boundary he could form no conception, joined to the uncertainty of our intention towards him, unquestionably caused him to act as he did,” wrote Tench.
Still, Arabanoo's presence brought no quick solution to the relations between the Aborigines and newcomers. On 6 March 1789, sixteen convicts, feeling vengeful towards the natives, left their work at the brick kilns set up by James Bloodworth to the south-west of the settlement and, without permission, marched south on the track which snaked along a forested ridge above bushy coastal headlands and beaches on one side and lagoons to the west, then down to the north side of Botany Bay. They had been troubled by occasional Eora visits to their camp, and had none of His Excellency's lenient feelings towards native murderers of convicts. They meant to attack the Botany Bay natives and relieve them of their fishing tackle and spears. “A body of Indians, who had probably seen them set out, and had penetrated their intention from experience, suddenly fell upon them. Our heroes were immediately routed … in their flight one was killed, and seven were wounded, for the most part severely.” Those who ran back to Sydney gave the alarm, and a detachment of marines was ordered to march to the relief of the wounded, but the natives had disappeared and the detachment brought back the body of the man who was killed. At first the convicts claimed they had gone down to Botany Bay to pick sweet tea and had been assaulted without provocation by the natives, “with whom they had no wish to quarrel.” Gradually, their story developed holes.
Seven of the survivors of this expedition appeared before the criminal court and were each sentenced to receive 150 lashes and wear an iron on the leg for a year, to prevent them from straggling beyond the limits pre-scribed to them. Tied up in front of the provisions store, they were punished before the assembled convicts. For this flaying, the governor made a point that Arabanoo should accompany him down to the triangles in front of the stores, and the reason for the punishment was explained to the native, both “the cause and the necessity of it; but he displayed on the occasion symptoms of disgust and terror only.”
At this time, for lack of any replenishment, and until Sirius returned from Cape Town, the ration had been reduced to 4 pounds of flour, 21/2 pounds of pork and 11/2 pounds of rice. As in so many other areas, Watkin Tench gives us a frank and telling example of how people lived then. “The pork and rice were brought with us from England: the pork had been salted between three and four years, and every grain of rice was a moving body, from the inhabitants lodged in it. We soon left off boiling the pork, as it had become so old and dry that it shrank one-half in its dimensions when so dressed. Our usual method of cooking it was to cut off the daily morsel and toast it on a fork before the fire, catching the drops which fell on a slice of bread or in a saucer of rice.” Phillip also had needed to reduce the working hours: now the working day lasted from sunrise to one o'clock. The same regulations operated for the people up the river at the newly surveyed settlement at Rose Hill. People could receive 10 pounds of fish as the equivalent of their 21/2 pounds of pork, if fish were available, as it was intermittently. The shortage of pease, compacted pea porridge, deprived people of their chief source of vitamin B, and increased their vulnerability to infection, which showed up in a hollowed-out appearance and leg ulcers.
Arabanoo seemed exempt from these rations, and this surely became a cause for complaint on the part of some. But in case Arabanoo escaped back to his people, Phillip did not want the natives to know that the newcomers' hold on Sydney Cove was so tenuous, so threatened by hunger.
The Eora were threatened in a new way too. Sergeant Scott noted on 15 April 1789 that he went with a party to cut grass trees for thatching and, landing on a beach, found three natives lying under a rock, a man and two boys, but one of the latter dead from what looked like smallpox. Phillip took Arabanoo and a surgeon immediately by boat to the spot. It is interesting that the idea of smallpox amongst the natives aroused no great concern for their own safety amongst the whites. To a seaman like Arthur Phillip, scurvy, with its combination of wasting ailments, its lesions, and its strange hellishness of depression, was of far more concern than would be a smallpox outbreak.
Though it could be lethal, smallpox was a disease most of the residents of Sydney Cove were used to. Many British people of all classes carried the pitted faces of survivors of the illness. The comeliest of Sydney's transported women were marked by having suffered smallpox earlier in their lives. By the standards of the eighteenth century it was eminently survivable, and on top of that, it seems that from early in the century, many English men and women had already been inoculated against it. Indeed, that up-to-date surgeon John White had carried with him on Phillip's fleet a flask of “variolous material,” variola being the Latin name of smallpox, just in case he needed to inoculate the young against an outbreak in the penal colony. Phillip would soon check with White whether that tissue had somehow escaped its flask and thus spread itself to the natives.
Visiting the beach in Port Jackson where the sufferers had earlier been seen, Phillip and his boat party found an old man stretched before a few burning sticks. A boy of nine or ten years of age was pouring water on his head from a shell. The boy had the lesions on his skin too. Near them lay a female child, dead, and a little further away, her mother. “The body of the woman showed that famine, super-added to disease, had occasioned her death: eruptions covered the poor boy from head to foot and the old man was so reduced that he was with difficulty got into the boat.” Arabanoo worked with his hands digging sand to prepare a grave for the dead girl. He “then lined the cavity completely with grass and put the body into it, covering it also with grass, and then filled the hole.” The man and boy were taken back to Surgeon White's hospital in Sydney Cove, where they were placed in a special quarantine hut.
Boat crews began to see dead natives everywhere, the bodies abandoned by streams and on beaches, or littering caves. The disease disqualified the victims from receiving from their fellow Eora the normal beneficent funeral rituals. The binding up of a body with various talis-matic possessions in a sort of death canoe of paperbark, or the burial in shallow earth, or ceremonial cremation—all of which seemed to have been previously practised in the Sydney area—no longer occurred.
In Surgeon White's quarantine hut, the older native suffering from the disease looked into his son's cot, “patted him gently on the bosom; and with dying eyes seemed to recommend him to our humanity and protection.” The boy's name, it appeared, was Nanbaree, for his father, shivering, called to him out of a swollen throat. When Nanbaree's father died, the boy is said to have surveyed the corpse without emotion and simply exclaimed: “Bo-ee [dead].” Arabanoo was tentative about whether the body should be buried or burned, and Tench read this as his being solicitous about which ceremony would most gratify the governor. His hesitation might rather have come from the fact that he was not of the same blood as the dead man, and so was not entitled to carry out the full funeral rite. In any case, Arabanoo placed the old man's body in its grave, and his tender and generous behaviour that day persuaded Phillip to release him from his leg bracelet for good.
Nanbaree, the boy, slowly recovered. One day, offered fish, he responded suddenly with appetite and began cooking them at once on an open fire-pit. Despite the idea of quarantine, contagion was poorly understood, and so was the extent of the risk Arabanoo was running, and had earlier run on the beach, burying the dead child. Collins reported that many of the children of the fleet visited Nanbaree and another native child in hospital, and none of them caught smallpox. An American sailor from HMS Supply, however, was infected and soon after died. Two more Aborigines suffering from smallpox, a young man and a girl about fourteen, were also brought in by the governor's boat. The young man died after three days, the girl recovered. The names by which she would become commonly known, as a presence in Sydney Cove, were Abaroo and Boorong.
AS THE SMALLPOX CONTINUED to rage among the Aborigines, Arabanoo became Phillip's liaison to the dying. Phillip was anxious that the Eora, who were in utter terror of the plague, should know the frightful disease was not his work, was not some weapon of malice. Arabanoo was taken round the different coves of the harbour to try to make contact with his fellows, but the beaches had been deserted. “There were no footprints on them and excavations and hollows and caves in the sandstone rocks were clogged with the putrid bodies of dead natives. It seemed as if, flying from the contagion, they had left the dead to bury the dead.” For a time Arabanoo lifted up his hands and eyes “in silent agony” and at last cried, “All dead! All dead!” and hung his head in silence. Arabanoo had a word for the disease—galgalla, he called it, and so did natives who survived it.
It was known that people from Macassar regularly visited far northern Australia to collect trepang, the sea cucumbers that were a high-priced delicacy and aphrodisiac throughout Asia. Could they have transmitted smallpox to the natives of the north? Then could it have travelled over time and through inter-tribal contact over a huge distance down to this south-east coast of New South Wales?
Phillip asked such a question in part because this epidemic genuinely puzzled him. The port authorities in both Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town had wanted to know if there were any signs of smallpox on board the fleet, and Phillip had been able to say no. Nor had there been any sign since. And White assured him that the disease did not arise from his flask of material, which was unbroken and secure on a shelf. Convicts did not covet it, and Aborigines themselves had not entered White's storehouse and taken the flask. So had there been a sufferer on the French ships, now gone? Yet Phillip had compared notes with La Pérouse on the very subject, and La Pérouse, having no reason to say otherwise, had declared there were no cases.
Had someone amongst the gentlemen, someone who hated the natives and saw them as an unnecessary complication, somehow managed to let the disease loose on them? There is no evidence of anyone's intention at this early stage to conduct biological warfare. As for the smallpox virus having survived the journey from England, experts believe it was unlikely to have survived in dried crusts or clothing for more than a year. So the question remains how it could have survived so long in the First Fleet to have reached out and struck the Eora fifteen or sixteen months after the arrival of the ships, two years after departing England.
American experience of epidemics amongst the native populations had already taught British surgeons that not all people around the globe had a similar level of immunity or resistance to all diseases, and the appalling size and density of the pustules on the bodies of the dead Eora people, as well as the lightning progress of the disease amongst living natives, was an issue of note to White and the others as well.
Two more serious diseases had certainly been transmitted to the Aboriginal women and men. After their journey on the transports, the spirochaetes of syphilis (Treponema pallidum) made an early landing in Sydney, and as a result of rape or willing congress afflicted the oldest society in the world. The abhorred chancres, nodular growths in the genital area, had already appeared in some Aboriginal women, along with the swelling of the lymph nodes which denoted primary-stage syphilis, and the disease had been transmitted to male natives. The pelvic inflammatory disease associated with Neisseria gonorrhoea had also by now made its first inroads. Like the smallpox virus, syphilis and gonorrhoea began their long and relatively fast journey north, south, and west of the Sydney region, infecting, bewildering, and killing people who had not yet seen a European. In a vacuum of immunity such as that offered by the long-protected bloodstreams of native people, European bacteria and viruses took much quicker possession of New South Wales than Phillip himself had the capacity to.
Arabanoo's nursing of the girl Abaroo and the boy Nanbaree had been the cause of great admiration, and there was some concern that he himself would be attacked by the disease. Even when he grew ill, Tench and Phillip hoped that the symptoms came from a different cause. “But at length the disease burst forth with irresistible fury.” Everything possible was done for him, given his centrality in both the affections and plans of Arthur Phillip. He allowed himself to be bled by the surgeons and took everything they had to offer. When he died on 18 May, hard-headed Collins declared the death was “to the great regret of everyone who had witnessed how little of the savage was found in his manner, and how quickly he was substituting in its place a docile, affable, and truly amiable deportment.” The governor, “who particularly regarded him,” had him buried in the garden of the brick-and-stone Government House, and attended the funeral to mourn and honour him. This would not be the first sign of Phillip's affection for the native people, and his feeling of closeness to Arabanoo must have aroused sneers, comment, and rumour amongst some.