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Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 27

Following the Equator - Chapter 27

1. Contents

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45

47. Chapter 46

48. Chapter 47

49. Chapter 48

50. Chapter 49

51. Chapter 50

52. Chapter 51

53. Chapter 52

54. Chapter 53

55. Chapter 54

56. Chapter 55

57. Chapter 56

58. Chapter 57

59. Chapter 58

60. Chapter 59

61. Chapter 60

62. Chapter 61

63. Chapter 62

64. Chapter 63

65. Chapter 64

66. Chapter 65

67. Chapter 66

68. Chapter 67

69. Chapter 68

70. Chapter 69

71. Conclusion


Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession, what
there is of it.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.


November 1--noon. A fine day, a brilliant sun. Warm in the sun, cold
in the shade--an icy breeze blowing out of the south. A solemn long
swell rolling up northward. It comes from the South Pole, with nothing
in the way to obstruct its march and tone its energy down. I have read
somewhere that an acute observer among the early explorers--Cook? or
Tasman?--accepted this majestic swell as trustworthy circumstantial
evidence that no important land lay to the southward, and so did not
waste time on a useless quest in that direction, but changed his course
and went searching elsewhere.

Afternoon. Passing between Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen's Land) and
neighboring islands--islands whence the poor exiled Tasmanian savages
used to gaze at their lost homeland and cry; and die of broken hearts.
How glad I am that all these native races are dead and gone, or nearly
so. The work was mercifully swift and horrible in some portions of
Australia. As far as Tasmania is concerned, the extermination was
complete: not a native is left. It was a strife of years, and decades of
years. The Whites and the Blacks hunted each other, ambushed each other,
butchered each other. The Blacks were not numerous. But they were wary,
alert, cunning, and they knew their country well. They lasted a long
time, few as they were, and inflicted much slaughter upon the Whites.

The Government wanted to save the Blacks from ultimate extermination, if
possible. One of its schemes was to capture them and coop them up, on a
neighboring island, under guard. Bodies of Whites volunteered for the
hunt, for the pay was good--L5 for each Black captured and delivered, but
the success achieved was not very satisfactory. The Black was naked, and
his body was greased. It was hard to get a grip on him that would hold.
The Whites moved about in armed bodies, and surprised little families of
natives, and did make captures; but it was suspected that in these
surprises half a dozen natives were killed to one caught--and that was
not what the Government desired.

Another scheme was to drive the natives into a corner of the island and
fence them in by a cordon of men placed in line across the country; but
the natives managed to slip through, constantly, and continue their
murders and arsons.

The governor warned these unlettered savages by printed proclamation that
they must stay in the desolate region officially appointed for them! The
proclamation was a dead letter; the savages could not read it. Afterward
a picture-proclamation was issued. It was painted up on boards, and
these were nailed to trees in the forest. Herewith is a photographic
reproduction of this fashion-plate. Substantially it means:

1. The Governor wishes the Whites and the Blacks to love each other;

2. He loves his black subjects;

3. Blacks who kill Whites will be hanged;

4. Whites who kill Blacks will be hanged.

Upon its several schemes the Government spent L30,000 and employed the
labors and ingenuities of several thousand Whites for a long time with
failure as a result. Then, at last, a quarter of a century after the
beginning of the troubles between the two races, the right man was found.
No, he found himself. This was George Augustus Robinson, called in
history "The Conciliator." He was not educated, and not conspicuous in
any way. He was a working bricklayer, in Hobart Town. But he must have
been an amazing personality; a man worth traveling far to see. It may be
his counterpart appears in history, but I do not know where to look for

He set himself this incredible task: to go out into the wilderness, the
jungle, and the mountain-retreats where the hunted and implacable savages
were hidden, and appear among them unarmed, speak the language of love
and of kindness to them, and persuade them to forsake their homes and the
wild free life that was so dear to them, and go with him and surrender to
the hated Whites and live under their watch and ward, and upon their
charity the rest of their lives! On its face it was the dream of a

In the beginning, his moral-suasion project was sarcastically dubbed the
sugar plum speculation. If the scheme was striking, and new to the
world's experience, the situation was not less so. It was this. The
White population numbered 40,000 in 1831; the Black population numbered
three hundred. Not 300 warriors, but 300 men, women, and children. The
Whites were armed with guns, the Blacks with clubs and spears. The
Whites had fought the Blacks for a quarter of a century, and had tried
every thinkable way to capture, kill, or subdue them; and could not do
it. If white men of any race could have done it, these would have
accomplished it. But every scheme had failed, the splendid 300, the
matchless 300 were unconquered, and manifestly unconquerable. They would
not yield, they would listen to no terms, they would fight to the bitter
end. Yet they had no poet to keep up their heart, and sing the marvel of
their magnificent patriotism.

At the end of five-and-twenty years of hard fighting, the surviving 300
naked patriots were still defiant, still persistent, still efficacious
with their rude weapons, and the Governor and the 40,000 knew not which
way to turn, nor what to do.

Then the Bricklayer--that wonderful man--proposed to go out into the
wilderness, with no weapon but his tongue, and no protection but his
honest eye and his humane heart; and track those embittered savages to
their lairs in the gloomy forests and among the mountain snows.
Naturally, he was considered a crank. But he was not quite that. In
fact, he was a good way short of that. He was building upon his long and
intimate knowledge of the native character. The deriders of his project
were right--from their standpoint--for they believed the natives to be
mere wild beasts; and Robinson was right, from his standpoint--for he
believed the natives to be human beings. The truth did really lie
between the two. The event proved that Robinson's judgment was soundest;
but about once a month for four years the event came near to giving the
verdict to the deriders, for about that frequently Robinson barely
escaped falling under the native spears.

But history shows that he had a thinking head, and was not a mere wild
sentimentalist. For instance, he wanted the war parties (called) in
before he started unarmed upon his mission of peace. He wanted the best
chance of success--not a half-chance. And he was very willing to have
help; and so, high rewards were advertised, for any who would go unarmed
with him. This opportunity was declined. Robinson persuaded some tamed
natives of both sexes to go with him--a strong evidence of his persuasive
powers, for those natives well knew that their destruction would be
almost certain. As it turned out, they had to face death over and over

Robinson and his little party had a difficult undertaking upon their
hands. They could not ride off, horseback, comfortably into the woods
and call Leonidas and his 300 together for a talk and a treaty the
following day; for the wild men were not in a body; they were scattered,
immense distances apart, over regions so desolate that even the birds
could not make a living with the chances offered--scattered in groups of
twenty, a dozen, half a dozen, even in groups of three. And the mission
must go on foot. Mr. Bonwick furnishes a description of those horrible
regions, whereby it will be seen that even fugitive gangs of the hardiest
and choicest human devils the world has seen--the convicts set apart to
people the "Hell of Macquarrie Harbor Station"--were never able, but
once, to survive the horrors of a march through them, but starving and
struggling, and fainting and failing, ate each other, and died:

"Onward, still onward, was the order of the indomitable Robinson. No one
ignorant of the western country of Tasmania can form a correct idea of
the traveling difficulties. While I was resident in Hobart Town, the
Governor, Sir John Franklin, and his lady, undertook the western journey
to Macquarrie Harbor, and suffered terribly. One man who assisted to
carry her ladyship through the swamps, gave me his bitter experience of
its miseries. Several were disabled for life. No wonder that but one
party, escaping from Macquarrie Harbor convict settlement, arrived at the
civilized region in safety. Men perished in the scrub, were lost in
snow, or were devoured by their companions. This was the territory
traversed by Mr. Robinson and his Black guides. All honor to his
intrepidity, and their wonderful fidelity! When they had, in the depth
of winter, to cross deep and rapid rivers, pass among mountains six
thousand feet high, pierce dangerous thickets, and find food in a country
forsaken even by birds, we can realize their hardships.

"After a frightful journey by Cradle Mountain, and over the lofty plateau
of Middlesex Plains, the travelers experienced unwonted misery, and the
circumstances called forth the best qualities of the noble little band.
Mr. Robinson wrote afterwards to Mr. Secretary Burnett some details of
this passage of horrors. In that letter, of Oct 2, 1834, he states that
his Natives were very reluctant to go over the dreadful mountain passes;
that 'for seven successive days we continued traveling over one solid
body of snow;' that 'the snows were of incredible depth;' that 'the
Natives were frequently up to their middle in snow.' But still the
ill-clad, ill-fed, diseased, and way-worn men and women were sustained by
the cheerful voice of their unconquerable friend, and responded most
nobly to his call."

Mr. Bonwick says that Robinson's friendly capture of the Big River tribe
remember, it was a whole tribe--"was by far the grandest feature of the
war, and the crowning glory of his efforts." The word "war" was not well
chosen, and is misleading. There was war still, but only the Blacks were
conducting it--the Whites were holding off until Robinson could give his
scheme a fair trial. I think that we are to understand that the friendly
capture of that tribe was by far the most important thing, the highest in
value, that happened during the whole thirty years of truceless
hostilities; that it was a decisive thing, a peaceful Waterloo, the
surrender of the native Napoleon and his dreaded forces, the happy ending
of the long strife. For "that tribe was the terror of the colony," its
chief "the Black Douglas of Bush households."

Robinson knew that these formidable people were lurking somewhere, in
some remote corner of the hideous regions just described, and he and his
unarmed little party started on a tedious and perilous hunt for them. At
last, "there, under the shadows of the Frenchman's Cap, whose grim cone
rose five thousand feet in the uninhabited westward interior," they were
found. It was a serious moment. Robinson himself believed, for once,
that his mission, successful until now, was to end here in failure, and
that his own death-hour had struck.

The redoubtable chief stood in menacing attitude, with his eighteen-foot
spear poised; his warriors stood massed at his back, armed for battle,
their faces eloquent with their long-cherished loathing for white men.
"They rattled their spears and shouted their war-cry." Their women were
back of them, laden with supplies of weapons, and keeping their 150 eager
dogs quiet until the chief should give the signal to fall on.

"I think we shall soon be in the resurrection," whispered a member of
Robinson's little party.

"I think we shall," answered Robinson; then plucked up heart and began
his persuasions--in the tribe's own dialect, which surprised and pleased
the chief. Presently there was an interruption by the chief:

"Who are you?"

"We are gentlemen."

"Where are your guns?"

"We have none."

The warrior was astonished.

"Where your little guns?" (pistols).

"We have none."

A few minutes passed--in by-play--suspense--discussion among the
tribesmen--Robinson's tamed squaws ventured to cross the line and begin
persuasions upon the wild squaws. Then the chief stepped back "to confer
with the old women--the real arbiters of savage war." Mr. Bonwick

"As the fallen gladiator in the arena looks for the signal of life
or death from the president of the amphitheatre, so waited our
friends in anxious suspense while the conference continued. In a
few minutes, before a word was uttered, the women of the tribe threw
up their arms three times. This was the inviolable sign of peace!
Down fell the spears. Forward, with a heavy sigh of relief, and
upward glance of gratitude, came the friends of peace. The
impulsive natives rushed forth with tears and cries, as each saw in
the other's rank a loved one of the past.

"It was a jubilee of joy. A festival followed. And, while tears
flowed at the recital of woe, a corrobory of pleasant laughter
closed the eventful day."

In four years, without the spilling of a drop of blood, Robinson brought
them all in, willing captives, and delivered them to the white governor,
and ended the war which powder and bullets, and thousands of men to use
them, had prosecuted without result since 1804.

Marsyas charming the wild beasts with his music--that is fable; but the
miracle wrought by Robinson is fact. It is history--and authentic; and
surely, there is nothing greater, nothing more reverence-compelling in
the history of any country, ancient or modern.

And in memory of the greatest man Australasia ever developed or ever will
develop, there is a stately monument to George Augustus Robinson, the
Conciliator in--no, it is to another man, I forget his name.

However, Robertson's own generation honored him, and in manifesting it
honored themselves. The Government gave him a money-reward and a
thousand acres of land; and the people held mass-meetings and praised him
and emphasized their praise with a large subscription of money.

A good dramatic situation; but the curtain fell on another:

"When this desperate tribe was thus captured, there was much
surprise to find that the L30,000 of a little earlier day had been
spent, and the whole population of the colony placed under arms, in
contention with an opposing force of sixteen men with wooden spears!
Yet such was the fact. The celebrated Big River tribe, that had
been raised by European fears to a host, consisted of sixteen men,
nine women, and one child. With a knowledge of the mischief done by
these few, their wonderful marches and their widespread aggressions,
their enemies cannot deny to them the attributes of courage and
military tact. A Wallace might harass a large army with a small and
determined band; but the contending parties were at least equal in
arms and civilization. The Zulus who fought us in Africa, the
Maories in New Zealand, the Arabs in the Soudan, were far better
provided with weapons, more advanced in the science of war, and
considerably more numerous, than the naked Tasmanians. Governor
Arthur rightly termed them a noble race."

These were indeed wonderful people, the natives. They ought not to have
been wasted. They should have been crossed with the Whites. It would
have improved the Whites and done the Natives no harm.

But the Natives were wasted, poor heroic wild creatures. They were
gathered together in little settlements on neighboring islands, and
paternally cared for by the Government, and instructed in religion, and
deprived of tobacco, because the superintendent of the Sunday-school was
not a smoker, and so considered smoking immoral.

The Natives were not used to clothes, and houses, and regular hours, and
church, and school, and Sunday-school, and work, and the other misplaced
persecutions of civilization, and they pined for their lost home and
their wild free life. Too late they repented that they had traded that
heaven for this hell. They sat homesick on their alien crags, and day by
day gazed out through their tears over the sea with unappeasable longing
toward the hazy bulk which was the specter of what had been their
paradise; one by one their hearts broke and they died.

In a very few years nothing but a scant remnant remained alive. A
handful lingered along into age. In 1864 the last man died, in 1876 the
last woman died, and the Spartans of Australasia were extinct.

The Whites always mean well when they take human fish out of the ocean
and try to make them dry and warm and happy and comfortable in a chicken
coop; but the kindest-hearted white man can always be depended on to
prove himself inadequate when he deals with savages. He cannot turn the
situation around and imagine how he would like it to have a well-meaning
savage transfer him from his house and his church and his clothes and his
books and his choice food to a hideous wilderness of sand and rocks and
snow, and ice and sleet and storm and blistering sun, with no shelter, no
bed, no covering for his and his family's naked bodies, and nothing to
eat but snakes and grubs and 'offal. This would be a hell to him; and if
he had any wisdom he would know that his own civilization is a hell to
the savage--but he hasn't any, and has never had any; and for lack of it
he shut up those poor natives in the unimaginable perdition of his
civilization, committing his crime with the very best intentions, and saw
those poor creatures waste away under his tortures; and gazed at it,
vaguely troubled and sorrowful, and wondered what could be the matter
with them. One is almost betrayed into respecting those criminals, they
were so sincerely kind, and tender, and humane; and well-meaning.

They didn't know why those exiled savages faded away, and they did their
honest best to reason it out. And one man, in a like case in New South
Wales, did reason it out and arrive at a solution:

"It is from the wrath of God, which is revealed from heaven against
cold ungodliness and unrighteousness of men."

That settles it.

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