06/27/2012, Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, AU
As I researched the history of Mrs. Mary Watson, I came across this excellent blog site. Its address is http://www.guurrbitours.blogspot.com.au/. I strongly recommend that you visit the site and explore what is written. Also, if you are ever in the Cooktown area, you should contact Willie Glordon and take one of his cultural tours. Each one is very unique and offers rare insight into the Aboriginal culture. Willie has won various awards which reflect on the quality of what he does. His blog site is well done and very informative.
I have copied what Willie has written on his blog site as it relates to the fate of Mrs. Watson. It gives an insightful perspective from an Aboriginal viewpoint as to why Mrs. Watson and her group were attacked. It also demonstrates how cultural differences and lack of understanding of these differences can result in tragedy. We all have read many instances through history where such differences have resulted in similar results.
As we sail around the world, we try very hard to learn about the cultures we visit so we have a better perspective of what is thought and believed. As a result, we have been pleasantly surprised how kind, generous and friendly people around the world really are. Our trip has truly restored our faith in humanity, even given the violence and unsettled recent events that have occurred around the world. Such troubling events, in our minds, are purposed caused by a few who strive for power or a bending of views to their beliefs.
"Every year, starting from late September to February, Aboriginal people spear stingrays, and a small, yellow, black-finned shark. At this particular time, these animals have their livers full of oil. We know this because of the colour of the liver which takes on a pinkish hue. When we cook the liver, the oils all run out, and we mix this with the meat which has been cooked separately. The fish oil is really important for a healthy diet, and helps keep us physically fit. The goanna is another animal from which we extract the oil. Their fat is thought to be particularly good for preventing arthritis, and is best extracted before they hibernate during the wet season.
These animals can be found at Jiigurru (Lizard Island), including manuya, the sand goanna (pictured) whose presence has always been a bit of a mystery. How did it get there? This is the explanation as told to me by my Dad, Tulo Gordon, and Fred Deeral.
The story of Jiigurru, Lizard Island
The shark and the stingray were living in the island's lagoon. They were talking one day and decided that, because the goannas shared the same beneficial oils, they would invite them to come to their island and live with them. This way the goannas could look after the land, whilst they would look after the lagoon. The stingray offered to go and fetch them, and use his broad back to bring them to the island. So off he went to Yuuru (now known as Cape Flattery) where the silica sands are, and there he found manuya, the sand goannas, and invited them to come to the island. He told them to get on his back so he could take them across the sea to the island.
The tragic tale of Mrs. Watson
With the goanna living on Jiigurru, this made the island a sacred place, and every year, come September, Aboriginal people crossed from the mainland in their canoes to collect the precious oils they needed. One day when they went over there, they found somebody staying on the island. This was a white lady called Mrs. Watson, who was living there with her son and two Chinese servants. Her husband was a bêche de mer fisherman who had built a stone structure next to a fresh water creek for his household to live in whilst he was away fishing.
The conflict that followed was because nobody - not even Aboriginal people - would stay here as it was the home of the goanna. The island was like a pharmacy. You don't live in a pharmacy, you just visit when you need medicines. Jiigurru was like this. Nobody lived there as they didn't want to disturb the goanna, but they visited during a set time every year to collect the medicine.
One of the Watson's Chinese servants was killed on Jiigurru. Mrs. Watson and the rest of her party managed to escape in an iron tank, only to later die of thirst on the waterless Number 5 island of the Howick group. You can see the monument to her memory in the centre of Cooktown, and a replica of the iron tank is in the James Cook Museum.
This tragic event took place in September 1881, and is usually explained by saying Mrs. Watson and her party had unwittingly stumbled upon an Aboriginal ceremonial ground. But it is most likely it was because they were in the home of manuya, the sand goanna."
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
THE LIZARD ISLAND MASSACRE.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
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.
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 LIZARD ISLAND TRAGEDY.
[ BY TELEGRAPH.]
(FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT.)
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
A QUEENSLAND HEROINE.
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.
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.
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.
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.