Chapter 197431638

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberVIII
Chapter Url
Full Date1895-01-19
Page Number32
Word Count4266
Last Corrected2018-05-07
Newspaper TitleLeader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)
Trove TitleOld Time Reminiscences. A True Record of Early Adventures
article text



By James Kirby, a Colonist of 1840.

Chapter VIII. The Attack on the Hut.

Towards daylight on this morning the sergeant became very uneasy at no help having arrived, and told us all to do our best, and above all not to fIre unless we were sure of our men, "Because, " said he, " if you keep firing at random, French will not be able to load fast enough and the blacks would have us at their mercy

if our arms were unloaded." There were a lot of port holes cut over the men's sleeping bunks at the back of the hut, and the uprights for a lean-to were standing without a roof, mereIy the rafters reaching from the roof of the hut. "Smoker's" bunk was there, and so was Smoker, and we expected great things from him, as he was always saying what he had done when in similar plights. He had— he said— often been in such, and boasted how many blacks he had shot—I forget how many, but it was a good number. I, for one, had my doubts about Mr. Smoker's courage, and also about his yarns, because one day when we were out together we came across some blacks, when Smoker left me, and bolted for the hut as fast as his horse could gallop. Just as the day was dawning the two watchers said they would have a wash. There was a black outside the door on which stood a bowl full of water. Just as one of them had finished washing, and was entering the door for a towel, he looked back

and there were four great blacks making a rush for the door ; he had not time to dry his hands, but put his shoulder to the door to keep it closed took up a large horse pistol, and blazed away. Bang, bang, bang went the firearms. This was the first salute the young policeman and I got for we were as fast asleep as though we were in comfortable leather beds. This brought us quickly to our feet. The sergeant put his hand on my shoulder, handed me a double barrelled gun, and led me to the window place at the end of the hut. The sergeant was in the act of pulling out the piece of bark which served. as a shutter when the blacks saw it move, and they sent a big spear at it. The jagged end of it came through the bark and would have gone Into the sergeant's chest had not the thong of hide checked it at full length aud caused the spear to go over his

shoulders. The bark, however, struck him on the head with such force that it knocked him on the ground. This did not hurt him much, and he was soon on his feet again. When the sergeant was knocked down, I stepped up to the window, and just got one glimpse of a black, who on seeing me popped to the back of the hut for another spear. He was so quickly out of my sight that I had not time to use my gun, so I waited, but not for long, for in less than ten seconds he appeared right in front of the window, and was just in the act of throwing a big spear at me when I fired and shot him dead. By this time there was a great noise ; what with the blacks shouting and screaming outside, the prisoners inside, and the guns going off, it was perfectly deafening. The blacks have a peculiar way of yelling. They do it by opening their mouths to the fullest extent, and they can make a noise whioh is perfectly unearthly. They always make this noise when fighting, I think with the object of confusing the enemy. The fight was now at its height, and I was in the thick of it. The young policeman had all he could do to keep the prisoners, for though we had secured them strongly enough, as we thought, they managed to rise from the sitting position we had placed them in, and with their united strength had moved the stakes of the bunk to which they were fastened, and one of them managed to slip the handcuffs off and was reaching with all his might to get at the loaded firearms on the table. Before the fight the policeman received strict injunctions from the sergeant not to kill any of the prisoners if he could help it, "because, "he said, "if any of them are killed, the black protector will try his utmost to make out it was murder; he had tried such things on before and would again." This was why the policeman was not allowed firearms. He was very young, also a bit of a larrikin, and the sergeant was afraid he would shoot the lot if he got the slightest invitation to do so. So he had nothing but his sword, and when these fellows were stralning for the firearms he kept pushing them back. At last he lost patience and was just in the act of running the sword into the stomach of the fellow who had slipped his handcuffs when the sergeant, who happened to be passing, caught the sword and prevented it. The policeman, however, was determined to have his own way to some extent at all events, and taking the sword by the blade he struck the blackfellow with the hilt with such effect that he was rendered hors de combat for the remainder of the struggle. The blacks had assembled in great numbers, and there were a lot of them on the wall that had been erected for the lean to, and from there they were climblng on to the roof. Smoker was sitting up in his bunk, and looking, through the port hole at the fellows on the wall. He was so terribly frightened that he did not know what to do, and so for a while did nothing. By just putting out, his hand he could have got hold of a loaded pistol or gun, for in addition to those on the table there were plenty slung round the walls of the hut over the bunks. When, however, he at last did manage to get hold of a pistol instead of firing at the blacks on the wall he fired at the door. I was at the time between him and it, and a policeman was firing through its chinks. Smoker's shot just missed me and went between the policeman's legs, and from there through the door. I had such a contempt for this coward, and his conduct so annoyed me that having a pistol in my hand at the time I would have shot him, but French, who was looking at us, hit up my pistol, and the ball went over Smoker's head. It is the greatest wonder that this cowardly fellow did not shoot some of us, for after the fight was over we learned 'that he had fired two other shots in the

hut without aiming at anything ; just firing promiscuousIy. After my shot going so near his head he covered it with his blanket, and remained so till all was over; he shook with fear and trembling until long after. I had always thought he was no good, he had too much " blow about him. " The fight had been going on for about half an hour, I suppose, when the sergeant called out, "fire through the roof - the blacks are there." They were on the roof trying hard to get the bark off, but this proved too much for them, as the sheets were tied on with thongs of green hide, which they could not break, and had no means of cutting. A good deal of our attention was now directed to the roof, and when we saw a sheet of bark moving we fired in that direction, knowing that our shots would penetrate the bark. The blacks were trying to prise the bark off with the butt end of their spears, and sometimes we would see just the end pushed through between the sheets; on which a shot was sent up there at once. The fellow I shot through the window lay dead where he fell, the others stepping over him as though he were only a black log ; those shot on the roof were dragged into the mallee, which was close to the hut, so that we never knew

how many were killed, but we noticed afterwards a good many tracks of dead bodies having been dragged there, but the corpse at the window was in too exposed a place for his comrades to interfere with. The noise inside and out of the hut was now so great, that if a pistol were fired off you could not hear the report. As an instance of this, one of the men (I think it was old Joe) fired off a pistol, as he supposed, and then laid it on the table for the unloaded firearms, and took up a pistol from the loaded table. French, all this time was kept very busy loading the arms, and seeing Joe's pistol waiting to be loaded, he immediately took It up, and was in the act of ramming another charge in when it went off. and the iron ramrod went through his hand, the charge shattering all his fingers. The ramrod flew round the hut and struck one of the prisoners on the head. Had it hit him anywhere else it would probably have killed him. It was sad to see poor French going about, holding out his wounded hand with the blood flowing ing freely from it ; but although he was in great agony, none couid attend to him, so he had to suffer till blacks eventually gave in, beaten. When we found the blacks had been vanquished and gone away in a body, we went outside, just in time to see the tail end of them going in the direction of our horses. The thought immediately flashed upon us that they had gone lo kill them, the animals then feeding in a small flat near the river. We caught up such firearms as were loaded and followed the wretches at a run, but did not succeed in overtaking them until they had killed two of the horses and wounded others. The two that were

killed belonged to the police, so that the Government had to bear the loss, and horses were dear in those days. The remaining horses came galloping up in great fear, and, I believe, would have entered the hut if they could. Several of them had spears hanging from them, but they all survived their wounds. It was most fortunate that the blacks gave in just when they did, for had they continued the attack a short time longer we should have had no loaded arms as French was crippled. Our only chance of keeping them out of the hut was by fierce firing all the time ; for if that had slackened they would eventually have succeeded in getting through the roof and killed us all. " After the war was over " we had time to look round the hut, when, on looking over the roof, we found a man's jawbone sticking in the top part of the chimney. We did not go into the mallee to see the dead that had been drawn there, fearing

that some of the enemy might be lying in ambush for us : moreover, we had nothing to gain by going there. Old Joe remarked that he thought it about time we had some breakfast, as he supposed we must all feel hungry after our morning's exercise, and he turned to and got some steak ready for us, and we "fell to," but Joe said he was not going to let Smoker have any, saying, " No I'd be very sorry to cook for a mean coward like him." " Where is he ?" said someone. "in his bunk," answered Joe, " with his head under the blanket, and still shaking with fear." We let him stay there, and went on with our breakfast. While at our meal Joe said, in a joking way, "Do any of you find a peculiar flavor with that 'ere steak and tea." We answered "No, Joe; why?" "Because," replied he. " I boiled the billy and cooked that 'ere steak with broken spears." There were still a good many spears at the back of the hut that had not been used. Joe made firewood of these also. When we had finished breakfast, we could see smoke rising up across the river, and shortly after it would be answered by other smoke going up, and it being a very hot and calm morning, those signals ascended to a good height, and in less than an hour smoke could be seen ascending in every direction. We knew from this that the blacks intended to attack us again, with a still stronger force ; so we had a very serious talk over the matter, and at last the sergeant and Mr. Brierley came to the oonclusion that two of us must go up the river for more help, and as George Beveridge and I were supposed to be the best bushmen, we were selected for this most dangerous journey. Accordingly we got our horses saddled and were waiting, already mounted, for a note Brierley was writing. In a short time the sergeant and Brierley came out. The sergeant said, " We have been talking this matter over, and have come to the conclusion that only one of you is to go, and in order that it may not be said we placed this dangerous task upon either of you, you shall draw lots to see which one it shall be." He came up to us holding two straws in his closed hand and said, " One of these straws is longer than the other, whoever of you draws the longest straw has to go the journey ; and while we admlt it is a very dangerous one, it cannot be helped, for it is for life or death." George looked at me, and I at him, and then I said, "All right, George, I will go ; we won't draw lots." Brierley told me why he and the sergeant had arrived at this conclusion. They considered that one would have as good a chance as two of getting up the river, "because," said they, " if the blacks follow on your tracks in the mallee, they would be sure to spear you both; you could not fight them there ; and again, another reason Is, that if two go it will leave us too shorthanded, as we cannot count on Smoker ; he is of no use whatever." George thanked me for my offer to go alone, and I started. Instead of going up the river, I went down for about five miles, it being open country. I felt sure the blacks would follow the horses' tracks, in which case I could see them coming by keeping to the open country. I started at a good canter, and when I had gone about half a mile I pulled up and looked behind me for blacks. After cantering a little further I again looked back, and then in the extreme distance I thought I discerned some of them coming, but with their usual cunning they stopped the instant I did, and remained perfeotly stationary, so that I was not sure whether it was blacks or not. I started on again, and, pulling up as suddenly as I possibly could, saw, on looking behind quickly, a lot of the fiends running in my direction. I thought to myself, my only chance is to keep down the river for a while, and they will then think I am bound for somewhere else, instead of going up the river for help. Of course no help could be got down river,

I frequently looked baok after this, but could see nothing more of them, so I concluded I had thrown them off the scent. Believing this, I considered for a while, and then taking particular notice of the sun's position, and finding that by keeping it at my back it would take me into the mallee until I had gone far enough into it, I conceived that by then altering my course and having the sun on my left side, I should go in the direction I wanted. I considered I had about 25 miles to ride before I should arrive at our hut, and fully 20 of them were through dense mallee, where white man had never been before. My chief aim was to keep far enough in the mallee to avoid the dangerous pass, for I was quite sure the blaoks were keeping strict watch for any one going that way. Again, on the other hand, I was afraid of keeping too far in the mallee and suffer as Ogilvy and Green had done, for want of water. On my journey I passed several very small bits of plain. It was a most unpleasant ride. Fancy a mere lad, all alone in this wretched piace, having to steer as best he could by the sun, and in many places one could not go straight for more than 100 yards at a stretch on account of a tough vine, which would reach from one mallee bush to another, and so tough was this vine that my horse

often could not break through it, so that I had to do a good deal of zig zagging which I feared might put put me off my proper course. However, I kept my eye pretty well on the sun, taking care to keep the latter on my left shoulder and plodded along as fast as I could, every now and again looking behind for fear the blacks should be following my tracks. While riding along slowly I noticed the half dead limb of a mallee bush hanging down. I had to pass this, and after I had passed It I heard something rustling behind me. I turned round quickly in the saddle, pistol in hand, feeling sure it was the blacks, but it was only the dead bough that had fallen Probably the horse's tail had touched it in passing and set it swinging, which caused it to fall. Trivial as the cause was, I had a great fright. I think I have already mentioned that Peter and I were learning to smoke, and on one occasion, before the blacks became so troublesome we went into the mallee to do a little exploring on our own account, and in one of the little plains we sat down on a log and began smoking. On my present journey I had passed several of these plains, but had taken little notice of them, but now having just crossed over another I looked back and noticed a log on it, I went back to the log, dismounted, and began searching for horse tracks, for it looked to me like the plaoe where Peter and I had been. I could see no tracks, but as I was sitting on the log I saw just beside me an old match. The sight of this delighted me, for I knew where I was at once for it was the very log Peter and I had sat on before to light our pipes. I now altered my course, and made for the

open country, eventually coming out on our side of the dangerous pass. It now being good travelling ground, I was in less than an hour safely landed at our hut, feeling thirsty, hungry and thankful. Soon after my arrival at our hut a messenger was sent up river for more help, and as many as could possibly be spared from our own hut went back with me to Brierley's. There were only three of us, and when we got down river as far as the pass we again took to the mallee, I acting as pilot. We made no mistakes in our steering and arrived at Brierley's a little before sundown Peter Beveridge was with me this trip, and also a man whose name I forget. We found on arriving that the blacks had not been near the hut since morning. We kept watch, as usual, I, however, being exempt, as I had had a very trying day, in the first place after fighting from daybreak till breakfast, and then riding through

the dense mallee for nearly 50 miles in the terrilbIe heat . Supper being over I was soon between the blankets and fast asleep, for I was tired out. Being called by the sergeant at about 2 o'olock in the morning, I got up ready dressed, of course, and after I had a wash and some tea I felt quite fresh again. The sergeant said to me, "We shifted the blackfellow you shot near the window, and dragged him a couple of hundred yards further off, but in a line with the window. We have been watchlng for some of the blacks to come for the body during the night, but none have come as yet, but they may still come, as it is bright moonlight." "He and I were talking about matters in general, and sitting near the window, so as to see if any of the blacks came for the body. We had been chatting for about half an hour, when the sergeant caught my arm and whispered to me, "Look ! I can see them, they are elther coming for the body or else to atlaok the hut again soon." We watched them ; there were about five of them ! They got behind some bushes, and we lost sight of them for a little time, when one came from the bushes and stood near the corpse. The sergeant, handing me a gun, said, "Do you think you could hit him ?" I said, " Not with this gun, but if I get my little rifle I can go pretty near the mark." The sergeant thereupon handed me my rifle, saying, "Have a shot." I took good aim but in the moonlight the distance seemed to me to be greater than it was. The sergeant said, '"It is not over 200 yards, I am sure, " so I put the sight at 200 yards and fired. The ball must have hit the black in a fleshy part, for he yelled and ran, and we could hear his yells for a long distance. At, or soon after, daylight we walked to where the body was, and we noticed blood where the black had been standing when I fired at him, and there was also blood

on his tracks where he ran. The blacks did not come for that body after this. Very shortly after I had shot at the black we heard the tramp of horses, and soon distinguished voices talking in English. We were delighted to find they were friends come to our assistance; there were six of them, and they had come by the dangerous pass, but did not see any blacks. As I said before, the latter are no good in the night, as they are great cowards and have a dread of' "Nutcha." I should have mentioned before that the spear of the biack whom I shot at the time of the fight had 22 jags in lt. After the fight old Joe sawed off a piece of the spear with the jagged end attached. Subsequently I took this piece of spear to my father's house, where it was kept as a memento, but it eventually got burnt with the house on " Black Thursday." The new arrivals told us there were more white people coming to our aid. . These had come from Lake Boga and Reedy Lake, and they had kindly sent a messenger further up the river and up the Loddon, so that we might expect further help in the course of a few hours, and we were not disappointed, for they arrived about midday. Soon after the sergeant decided that we were now to start up river with the three prisoners, which we did, marching two abreast; some In front and others behind the prisoners. The two policemen were leading one black each, and I think it was Peter led the third. The prisoners walked, and were led by a dog chain fastened to their handcuffs, and these six, viz., the three prisoners and their leaders, were about the centre of the cavalcade. As we expected, when nearing the dangerous pass so frequently mentioned, we saw a large number of blacks, who evidently intended to attack us, but seeing so many of us, they were completely taken aback, consequently they showed the " white feather " and cleared out of gunshot In their canoes and made for the river, letting us go in peace, although we should much liked to have had a brush with them now that we felt strong enough for it. To Be Continued.