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Year 5 Day 144 The Story Of Mrs. Mary Watson Of Lizard Island Part 2
Dave/Rainy Off And On All Day
06/26/2012, Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, AU

With the understanding of what the true fate of Mrs. Mary Watson was, as described in yesterday's blog, I will now present the story as told to the people of Australia by its press shortly after the tragedy occurred. I have taken these accounts directly from the historic newspapers themselves since you can call them up now over the Internet. I will let you draw your own conclusions. It should be noted that the Aboriginals that were "punished" were not the one who actually involved in the activities that occurred on Lizard Island.

The Sydney Morning Herald Thursday 8 December 1881
H. M. Spitfire returned to Cooktown this morning, after having obtained complete evidence of the murder of Mrs. Watson and her child, and of the two Chinamen, at Lizard Island. Mrs. Watson defended herself courageously as long as possible, but was at length overpowered, brutally outraged, and then tomahawked. The body was thrown into deep water. Several tribes are implicated, and the murderers, who were discovered, were all severely punished.

The Sydney Morning Herald Monday 19 December 1881

The Lizard Island tragedy is now completely cleaned up. Inspector Fitzgerald has been on circuit among the offending tribes, and he has been most successful. "With one exception, all the actual murderers have been accounted for, and he is wounded; the tribes also have been severely punished. It appears that poor Mrs. Watson defended herself to the last, killing one of her assailants and wounding another. When she was finally overpowered she was brutally treated, killed, and with her child cut in pieces and cast in the sea. The destruction noticed when the scene of the murder was visited is now explained. The savages, maddened by the resistance offered by the brave woman, expended their fury on every inanimate object belonging to her, even the sewing-machine was smashed with repeated blows. But tenfold vengeance has been exacted from the offenders.

The Sydney Morning Herald Sunday Monday 23 January 1882
The schooner Kate Kearney arrived this morning. Captain Bremner reports calling at Number 5 Island, Howick Group, where he accidentally discovered three skeletons, which on investigation proved to be those of Mrs. Watson, her child, and one Chinaman. The bones of the mother and child were found in half an iron tank, in which they escaped from Lizard Island. A revolver, full cocked and loaded, was by her side, also a box containing her clothes, account books, and diary. The Chinaman, Ah Sam, was found about 20 yards distant, under a tree, with a loaded rifle. They evidently died from thirst, as plenty of provisions were found. The Government schooner Spitfire proceeds on Monday with, Mr. Fahey, Inspector Fitzgerald, and Captain Watson to recover the remains, which were carefully recovered by Captain Bremner, who read the Church of England burial service over them.
The tank in which Mrs. Watson escaped was half an ordinary ship's tank, used for boiling beche-de-mer. The Chinaman was speared in seven places. Mrs. Watson had evidently extracted the spears and dressed the wounds, as bandages were found under the skeleton. The dates in the diary prove that death occurred at least five days before any suspicion of the disaster reached Cooktown.
The following are extracts from Mrs. Watson's diary :-" October 9 : Brought the tank ashore as far as possible with this morning's tide; made camp all day under the trees. Blowing very hard. No water. Gave baby a dip in the sea. He is showing symptoms of thirst, and took a dip myself. Ah Sam and self very parched with thirst. Baby showing symptoms, Sunday, 10th:Baby very bad with inflammation ; very much alarmed; no fresh water and no more milk but condensed;self very weak. Really thought I should have died last night. Monday, 11th : Still all alive. Baby very much better this morning; self feeling very weak. I think it will rain to-day ; clouds very heavy ;wind not quite so high ; no rain ; every appearance of fine weather. Ah Sam gone away to die; have not seen him since the 9th. Baby more cheerful; self not feeling at all well ; have not seen any boats of any description. No water. Dead with thirst. The diary ends abruptly, but death must soon have ensued, as they had then been five days without water." She says a steamer passed on 7th October, and that they made signals, but failed to attract attention. The island is about 40miles distant from Lizard Island, and right in the track of steamers.

The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic.) Saturday 11 February 1882


Towards the close of last September, Captain Watson, the proprietor of the beche-de-mer station at Lizard Island, on the coast of Northern Queensland, sailed from the place with his partner, for the purpose' of looking after a fishery on another portion of the coast, leaving on the island Mrs. Watson, with an infant in arms, and two Chinamen. About, a month later a vessel which visited the island made the shocking discovery that the station bad been attacked by blacks from the mainland and destroyed. What had become of the occupants of the place could only be conjectured; but that they had met a tragic fate was considered certain. A systematic search of the island resulted in the discovery of a diary written by Mrs. Watson, which showed that an attack was made in the first instance on the 20th September, on which day one of the Chinamen, Ah Leong, was killed. Mrs. Watson was thus face to face with a terrible danger, but the extraordinary courage which she exhibited through all the trying scenes which followed was displayed from the very first. Arming the other Chinaman, Ah Sam, with a rifle, and taking a revolver herself, a bold front was shown, and a discharge of firearms frightened the blacks away. On October 1, however, they returned, and speared Ah Sam, inflicting seven wounds. Here the diary ceased, and the natural conclusion arrived at was that, the Chinaman having been dispatched, Mrs. Watson and her child had been carried by the natives into captivity, or perhaps murdered on the way to the mainland or on arrival there. Search parties were sent out by the police amongst the native camps on the coast, and several prisoners were captured. These gave contradictory accounts of the occurrences at Lizard Island, but all agreed as to the ultimate fate of Mrs. Watson and her child. One was to the effect that Ah Sam having been killed, Mrs. Watson barricaded herself in the house, and that when the blacks forced an entrance, she shot one of them dead and wounded another, and that she was then, overpowered and killed, the body being afterwards taken from the island, and thrown into deep water. Another version was, that Mrs. Watson having fired at the blacks without effect, was seized and placed in a canoe, but that she afterwards became so violent that she and her child were speared, and buried on an island of the Turtle group: Inquiries were continued, and finally it was announced in December last that H. M. Schooner Spitfire had arrived at Cooktown with complete evidence of the murder of all the occupants of the island. Mrs. Watson, it was said, defended herself as long as possible, 'but was at length overpowered and tomahawked, and her body thrown into deep water. The fate of the unfortunate woman was thus supposed to have been definitely ascertained, but it now turns out that all the accounts obtained from the natives were fabrications. Whether they knew the actual truth or not it is impossible to say, but as is the way with savages, they made up stories which they thought would agree with the opinions and expectations of their questioners, and put an end to further inquiry. While, therefore, the accounts differed as to details, they all agreed in placing the death of Mrs. Watson beyond doubt. It now turns out that Mrs. Watson was not killed by the natives, but that she escaped with her child and the wounded Chinaman, Ah Sam, in a marvelous manner, to a sand island in the Howick group, 40 miles distant from Lizard Island, but only to, perish from thirst after enduring several days of terrible suffering. The main facts of one of the most remarkable feats ever accomplished by a woman are briefly stated in the telegram from Brisbane. With some help, it must be supposed, from Ah Sam, who, wounded as he was, could not have been of very much assistance, Mrs. Watson appears to have launched into the water an old ship's tank, which had been cut down and used as a boiler. In this unmanageable and clumsy craft she put to sea with her infant and the Chinaman, and after battling with the wind and wave for a distance of 40 miles found, at last a refuge on a small spot of land, known as Number Five Island. What were the dangers and difficulties of the passage will never be known. The brave woman, who has left a brief record of the last few days of her existence, in the shape of a diary, makes no allusion to them, nor does she say what time was occupied in getting from Lizard Island to the Howick Group. The period, however, must have been considerable, for there is an interval of eight days between the last entry in the diary found at Lizard Island and the first entry in that discovered at Number Five Island. The agonies which the unfortunate fugitives suffered during the five or six days which elapsed between their arrival on the desert island and their death must have been terrible indeed, and yet not a complaint or a murmur is to be found in the diary of the noble woman', whose indomitable courage, resource, and presence of mind must command the admiration of all who read the simple and pathetic tale. All her cure and concern appear to have been for her baby, and she is rejoiced to find, on the day when the entries ceased -- which is believed-to have been that of her death-- that her child, who has been kept alive with condensed milk, is 'much better' and 'more cheerful. 'Her own sufferings are alluded to in three short words, 'Dead, with thirst,' and there the melancholy record ends. The courage and endurance shown by Mrs. Watson throughout the frightful ordeal could scarcely be surpassed. The departure from Lizard Island was well planned, and but for the unfortunate circumstance that Number Five Island contains no water, the fugitives would no doubt have been saved; for notwithstanding the terrible danger which menaced them, there was no panic or flurry about their departure, and the tank was well stored with provisions, while Mrs. Watson even took with her a box containing her spare clothing and account-books. If the lives of the party could have been prolonged for a few days they would certainly have been rescued, for the island upon which they had taken refuge lies right in the track of steamers, and small sailing vessels frequently cruise about near the group. Mrs. Watson says in her diary that she saw one steamer pass, and that signals were made, but that they failed to attract attention. This might very easily be the case, for as the island is uninhabited no special attention would be paid to it in passing, and as the land lies very low, signals unless hoisted on a flag-pole or in some such way, would be very likely to escape the notice of the unobservant. That this particular vessel did not keep a sharper look-out is much to be deplored. Life and death were in the balance, and death turned the scale. The melancholy fate of so brave and devoted a woman will be widely lamented, and throughout Australia the memory of Mrs. Watson will long be preserved as that of a true and noble heroine. H.M.S. Spitfire, which was dispatched to recover the remains, brought them to Cooktown, where the remains of Mrs. Watson and her infant were interred on Sunday, January 30. The procession numbered about 600 persons, including the fire brigade, the Good Templars, the mayor and aldermen of the town, civil servants, &c. After the interment, the procession, returned to the Town-hall, and then followed the remains of Ah Sam, who perished with Mrs. Watson. He was buried by his countrymen with the usual rites.

The Tragic Story Of Mary Watson, Lizard Island, AU

I also found this image of part of Mrs. Watson's diary on the Internet. Note that she has written the incorrect month in this entry of her diary. She was in the last hours of her life and significantly dehydrated by this time.

The Tragic Story Of Mary Watson, Lizard Island, AU

Due to the rain we are having (now the second day in a row), I have yet had a chance to visit the cottage ruins where Mrs. Watson lived on Lizard Island. Tomorrow should be a better day. Until then, I thought I would post this picture of the ruins, which I found on the Internet.

The Tragic Story Of Mary Watson, Lizard Island, AU

I found this photo of the tank that Mary Watson, her little baby and her Chinese servant, Ah Sam used to travel from Lizard Island to Island #5 in the Howick Group, some 34 nm away. It is on display at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, AU.

Year 5 Day 143 The Story Of Mrs. Mary Watson Of Lizard Island: Part 1
Dave/Misty and Blustery
06/25/2012, Lizard island, Great Barrier Reef, AU

As the weather here continues to be blustery and now a constant mist also has moved in, we are keeping snug in our boat. This punk weather is suppose to hang around for another day or two. Thus, I figure, what better time to start sharing with you the results of the research that I have done on the tragic story of what happened to Mrs. Mary Watson right in front of us in our anchorage.

The story of what happened to Mrs. Mary Watson in 1881 is most interesting and it is the stuff that legends are made from. In fact, Mrs. Watson through her story became an icon of the strong and resourceful Australian women during the late 1800s and 1900s. In typical fashion, the authorities and the press initially fabricated what had happen and innocent Aborigines were punished for the murders they were accused of doing. It was only after her, her newborn baby and her servant were found months later on a remote island, dead due to dehydration, that the truth came out.

Mrs. Watson had written two diaries which explained in detail what happened to them. The first diary was actually left in her stone cottage, apparently so search parties would know what they did and could start looking for them in the right direction. The second diary was located on the remote island she and her party were stranded on, near her remains.

I will be presenting this story in three parts over the next three days. The first part will present a little background information about her, the entries from her diaries, and information on how she and her party were found. This way, you will start with the truth of what happened.

The second part will include the historic newspaper articles which presented the fabricated stories of what happened, as told by the police officials that investigated her death. One needs to remember that this occurred during Australia's darkest history period regarding the Aborigines. Fear, hate, greed for land and water, and total lack of cultural understanding was the norm during those years.

The third and last part will include some very interesting insight from an Aborigine from Cooktown. He presents the reasons why the Aborigines attacked Mrs. Watson and her party in the first place.


Mary Beatrice Phillips Watson (1860-1881) was born on January 17, 1860 at Fiddler's Green, Cornwall, England. She was the eldest child of Thomas Oxnam, a butcher and cattle-dealer, and his wife Mary. Before she and her family immigrated to Australia, she received a good educated in England. In 1877 her father suffered financial losses and decided to immigrate and settled at Maryborough, Queensland. At that time, Mary established a private school in Maryborough to augment the family finances but gave it up for a position as a governess. Dissatisfied with the conditions of her employment, she resigned and opened a private school in Cooktown.

It has been written that Mary was reserved, nervous and delicate but her ability as a pianist attracted many friends and suitors. On May 30, 1880 at Christ Church, Cooktown, she married Captain Robert E. Watson, a Scots seaman who shared a Bêche-de-mer station on Lizard Island with P. C. Fuller. (Note: Bêche-de-mer is basically sea cucumber and is still a highly prized food and medicine used by different oriental cultures.) On June 3, 1881 a son, Thomas Ferrier, was born at Cooktown. Mary returned to Lizard Island with her baby at the end of that month.

During the early spring (September and October) Captain Watson and his partner left Lizard Island to establish a new fishing station on an island that was about two hundred miles (322 km) to the North. In October, with just Mrs. Watson, her new born baby and two Chinese servants still on the island, Lizard Island was invaded by mainland Aboriginals who had come to the island for generations this time each year to harvest an animal that lived on the island, called goanna. They first killed Ah Leong, the Chinese gardener and later wounded the Chinese house-boy Ah Sam. They also threatened Mrs. Watson. She repulsed the attacks by a rifle and a pistol but soon realized it would be unsafe to stay on the island. As no boat was available she collected provisions and equipment and left with her baby and the wounded Chinese servant in a square ship's tank used for boiling Bêche-de-mer. This tank measured 3 feet by 4 feet. The Aboriginals, satisfied with removing her from the island, did not interfere with the departure.

Here is the true story as told by Mrs. Watson's Diary:
"September 27 (Note: I think she meant the 17th) 1881 - Blowing gale of wind. S. E. Ah Sam saw smoke in southerly direction supposed to be from native camp. Steamer bound north about 6 p m - Corea, I think."
"September 20 - Blowing strong breeze S. E., although not so hard as yesterday. No eggs. Ah Leong killed by the blacks over at the farm (about a quarter of a mile from the cottage) Ah Sam found his hat, which is the only proof."
"September 30. - natives down on the beach at 7 pm I fired rifle and revolver, and they went away."
"October 1.- Natives (four) speared Ah-Sam; four places in the right side and three on the shoulder. Got three spears from the natives. Saw 10 men altogether . . . "
"October 2. - Left Lizard Island on October 2 (Sun-day afternoon) in the tank in which the beche-de-mer is boiled. Got about three miles or four from the Lizards."
"October 4. - Made for the sandbank off the Lizards, but could not reach it. Got on a reef."
"October 5. - Remained on the reef all day on the look-out for a boat, but saw none."
"October 6. - Very calm morning. Able to pull the tank up to an island with three small mountains on it - Ah Sam went ashore to try to get water as ours was done. There were natives camped there, so we were afraid to go far away. We had to wait return of tide. Anchored under the mangroves."
"October 7. - Made for another island four or five miles, from one spoken of yesterday. Ashore, but could not find any water. Cooked some rice and clam fish. Moderate S. E. breeze. Stayed here all night. Saw a steamer bound north. Hoisted Ferrier's white and pink wrap, but did not answer us."
"October 8 - Changed anchorage of boat as the wind was freshening. Remained here all day looking out for a boat did not see any. Very cold night. Blowing very hard. No water."
"October 9 - Brought the tank ashore as far as possible with this morning's tide. Made camp all day under the trees. Blowing very hard. No water. Gave Ferriera dip in the sea. He is showing symptoms of thirst, and I took a dip myself. Ah Sam and self very parched with thirst. Ferrier is showing symptoms."
"October 10. Ferrier very bad with inflammation. Very much alarmed. No fresh water and no more milk but condensed. Self very weak. Really thought that I would have died last night (Sunday)."
"October 11. - Still all alive Ferrier very much better this morning. Self feeling very weak. I think it will rain today ; clouds very heavy ; wind not quite so hard . . . ."
"October 12. - No rain. Morning, fine weather. Ah Sam preparing to die. Have not seen him since 9 o'clock. Ferrier more cheerful. Self not feeling at all well. Have not seen a boat of any description. No water. Nearly dead with thirst." This was her last diary entry.

The bodies of the ill fated party were not discovered until early the following year. Returning from the north, the schooner Kate Kearney, commanded by Captain Bremner, anchored for the night on January 19, 1882 at No. 5 Island of the Howick group (now called Watson Island). A couple of native boys who worked as crew on board the Kate Kearney succeeded in catching some fish and were allowed to go ashore to cook them. One of the boys wandered inland in search of eggs and returned with an excited but incoherent story of having seen "I'm white dead fellow". Under his guidance a search party was formed which found the partly decomposed remains of Ah Sam lying on the beach under the shade tree from where he died. The tank that they had used to escape from Lizard Island was half filled with water from recent rains and was discovered not far from his corpse. Inside the tank the remains of Mrs. Watson and her baby boy were found. I find this very ironic. Mrs. Watson and her party all die from lack of fresh water and here she and her baby are found dead in a tub of fresh rain water. How sad is that...

The tank Mrs. Watson and her party used had been rowed, drifted with the currents and blown by the winds from Lizard Island, a distance of about 34 miles. When discovered, it still contained provisions, a chest of clothing and various other articles. The mother was lying on her back with the baby resting on her arm. She had not forgotten to bring a pillow for the baby's head and an umbrella to shield him from the burning tropical sun. By her side were a revolver and several cartridges and the diary written in pencil on scraps of note paper, lay close by the tank.

A public funeral was held for Mrs. Watson and her baby in Cooktown on January 29 1882. A large Chinese procession honored Ah Sam.

More Photos From Diving The Reefs Of Lizard Island

This was our last view of this wonderful reef before we swam back to our dinghy and returned to Leu Cat. We can hardly wait for the eather to clear in a couple of days so we can explore other reefs around Lizard Island.

More Photos From Diving The Reefs Of Lizard Island

At times, the branched coral dominated portions of the reef.

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