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Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall
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THE FIRST TRAVELLER IN QUEENSLAND

[148] ONE day in February 1846 a ship sailed out from Sydney on its way to China. It was a cargo boat, but, as was common in those days, it carried a few passengers too, and with the captain went his wife. A fair wind blew, and all hoped for a quick and pleasant passage.

But as the ship sailed on its way the wind became ever stronger and fiercer, until, when a week from home, a terrible storm was brewing, and the ship with bare masts was scudding before the blast.

At last the storm calmed and the danger seemed over. But the ship had been driven far out of its course, and a careful watch was kept lest it should run upon some un­known rock or reef.

For a few days all went well, then suddenly one night the watchman saw something loom ahead of the ship, whether land or dark cloud he could not tell. Before anything could be done there was a fearful shock, the ship shivered from stem to stem, and then lay still.

Every one except the watchmen was in bed. The shock made them spring from their beds and rush in terror to the deck. All was black darkness. There was nothing to be seen around but the night and the cruel white-crested waves. In the darkness nothing could be done, and so in shivering misery, the waves lashing over the ship, men waited for the dawn.

[149] The night seemed long, but at last a cold, grey light crept into the sky. Then it was seen that all around the ship sharp points of rock showed above the water. Upon one of these the ship had struck. But nowhere was there the faintest sign of land.

As soon as it was light enough, the captain ordered the boats to be lowered. But almost as soon as they reached the water, they were dashed to pieces and swept away by the savage waves.

All hope was gone, and the shipwrecked people gave themselves up to despair. But the captain was a man who did not easily give way. He ordered all hands into the cabin, and when they were gathered he bade them pray. And so there knelt together, three pale-faced women and their frightened children, with a handful of brave, rough men who well knew that they had sailed their last voyage upon this earth.

But the captain's calm voice and earnest prayer put new courage into the men. They rose from their knees and set to work to make a raft strong enough to live in that wild sea. Long they toiled, cutting and sawing, hammering and lashing spars and planks together. All the time they worked at the risk of their lives, for every wave swept the decks.

At last the raft was ready, and with great difficulty launched. What food there was, was placed upon it. But, alas, it was very little, for most of the provisions had been washed overboard or spoiled by the salt water. One cask of water, a little brandy, and nine tins of preserved meat, these were all that could be found. And with this little store the poor wrecked men set sail upon the cruel waste of waters.

Including women and children, there were twenty-one people upon the raft. They knew their food would [150] not last long. They had all heard terrible tales of ship­wrecked people, who, when they were starving, had become cannibal and had eaten each other. So now, face to face with death, they each promised solemnly to keep from anything so horrible, whatever tortures they might suffer.

At first things were just endurable. Three tablespoonfuls of meat a day were served out to each person, and four little drinks of water carefully measured. To help to eke out their stores they caught the sea-birds which now and again alighted upon the raft. These they had to eat raw, but they were looked upon as great dainties.

Three weeks passed. Both food and water were nearly done, when a sail came in sight. Eagerly the weak, worn crew waved and signed. The ship was too far away and the sailors did not see them. Hour after hour they watched and beckoned, but the sail grew smaller and smaller, and at last it vanished altogether in the dim distance, and the little raft was left once more alone on the empty sea.

The portion of meat, the measure of water, grew less and less day by day, until at last one morning there was no more meat, and no more water left. Still there was no sign of land, still there was nothing all around but the cruel, vacant sea.

"I shall die now," said one man wearily. And die he did.

Remembering their promise the others quickly threw the body overboard. They feared that the terrible pangs of hunger which had come upon them might make them forget.

But now, when there seemed nothing but an awful death before them, the poor castaways caught a fish for the first [151] time. Each day after this they caught some fish. Then rain came and eased their terrible, burning thirst. But day by day, unable to endure longer, some of the com­pany died. The children, two of the women, and many of the men each followed one after another.

At length, after six weeks of fearful suffering, land came in sight. Although they did not know it, the castaways had reached the shores of Queensland. They only guessed that they were somewhere on the coast of Australia.

Now when at last the raft reached the land, there were only seven left of all who had set out from the ship. These were the captain, his wife, and five men. They were little more than skeletons, and when they were once more on dry land, they lay down upon the beach and slept from sheer weakness and weariness.

Next morning the captain managed to make a fire, at which they cooked some shark which they had caught. It was the first cooked meat they had eaten for more than six weeks. Then they crawled about and found some oysters. But they were all so sick and faint with hunger and exposure, that they could with difficulty drag them­selves about even in search of food.

Now again a sail was seen. With all the strength they had left, they tried to signal to it. But their efforts were in vain. Sitting on the rocks, with despair in their hearts, they watched the ship slowly sail out of sight.

Three more of the party died, and there were only four left when, to add to the terrors of the fight with death, a party of black fellows came upon them. They proved, however, in their own way, friendly. They took, it is true, everything the shipwrecked men had left, even to their clothes, leaving them almost naked. But they [152] brought them roots to eat, and signed to them to join in their wild dance called a corrobboree.

This, of course, the white men could not do, and as the black fellows did not seem very pleased at their re­fusal, one of the sailors offered to sing.

This greatly delighted the savages who sat round grimacing, while the four wretched white people stood together and sang,

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Thus were the white people received into the tribe. For two years they lived with the savages in great misery. They had now enough to eat, it is true, but they had to live as savages. At the end of three years all had died except one man called Murrell. He seemed better able to bear the hardships, and for seventeen years he lived among the black fellows, talking their language and living their life, until he forgot his own tongue and even his own name.

But at last, after many weary years, ships began to come, and white men, it was told Murrell, had built a hut not far off.

When he heard this news, Murrell decided to try to escape from his fearful life. So one day he set off to find the white man's hut. Having lived so many years under the burning sun of Queensland, wearing no clothes, he was very brown and very dirty too. But now when thoughts of his old life had awakened in him, he went to a pool and washed himself as white as he could.

Round the white man's hut there was a fence, and when Murrell reached it dogs ran out barking and [158] snapping at him. So, to keep them from biting him, he climbed upon the fence and called out as loud as he could.

Three men lived in the hut, and at the sound of Murrell's call, one of them came out. He stared at this strange being in wonder. Then, "Bill," he cried, "here's a naked, yellow man standing on the fence. He isn't a black man. Bring the gun."

"Don't shoot!" cried Murrell, in terror. "I'm a ship­wrecked sailor, a British object."

He really meant to say "subject," but it was so long since he had spoken English, and he was so frightened and excited, that he hardly knew what he was saying.

When the men heard him speak English they put down their gun, and brought him into the hut, listening in astonishment to his story. They gave him some breakfast, but Murrell found that he no longer liked tea; and bread, which he had not eaten for seventeen years, now seemed to choke him.

Murrell was, however, very glad to get back to civilisation once more, but he returned to his black friends to say good-bye to them. And when they under­stood that he was going to leave them for always they were filled with grief and cried bitterly. Murrell, too, when he thought of all the rough kindness they had shown to him these many years, was sorry to say good­bye. But the sight of white men, and the sound of his own language, had awakened all his old longing for home, and he left his black friends.

He was taken to Brisbane and made much of. He became a storekeeper, married, and settled down to a quiet life, but the terrible hardships he had passed through had left him weak and feeble, and he did not live long to enjoy his new found comforts.

Such were the adventures of the first travellers in [159] Queensland. But things have changed. Were a traveller to land now where Murrell was shipwrecked, he would find pleasant homes and smiling pastures. And perhaps on the very spot where, seventy years ago, only the black man hunted, where Murrell wandered naked and miserable, he might find a train waiting to take him back to Brisbane.


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