Internationally, the kangaroo is probably the best-known symbol of Australia and ‘kangaroo’ the best-known word from an Indigenous Australian language. The published, formal accounts, and published and unpublished journals, letters and notebooks written by members of the First Fleet, which arrived in Botany Bay, New South Wales in January 1788, are full of references to this animal (or, perhaps more accurately, these animals). The writers include the governor and other officials, and military, naval and medical men. The lowest ranked marine used no Indigenous words at all, and the second lowest mentions only two names. The flavour of the references can be seen from each writer’s first (or only) mention. Notable points are the variety of spellings (though ‘kangaroo’ is clearly on the way to becoming standard), the importance of the animal as a food source (both to the Aborigines and to the British) and the newcomers’ fascination with the size of them.
‘the most remarkable animal is the tangaroo’ (Anon ‘An Officer’).
‘The country, as far as we know, produces few quadrupeds. The largest is the kangaroo’ (Anon ‘an officer of the marines’).
‘I had a Kanguroo on board’ (Henry Ball).
‘Sometimes they feast upon the Kangaroo’ (Arthur Bowes Smyth).
‘The Kanguroo is frequently shot by our Parties & is the only fresh Meat they Can get’ (David Blackburn).
‘A Kanguroo was killed which was the first we had brought in’ (William Bradley).
‘All the Animals we have yet seen are confined to a very small number. The Kangaroo …’ (James Campbell).
‘Capt. Shea Kild to day one of the Kankeroos it is the most curiest of annimals that I ever Saw’ (Ralph Clark).
‘At the end of the month only three small kangooroos had been brought in’ (David Collins).
‘I have taken the liberty of sending home some birds and a kangaroo skin’ (Denis Considen)
‘I am of opinion the Natives have killed them [the colony’s cows] as once before they threw a Spear at one of them calling them Kangooroo at the same time’ (Newton Fowell).
‘I have once been kangooroo-shooting’ (William Hill)
‘These bark huts, (if they deserve even the name of huts) are intended, as we have lately discovered, for those who are employed in hunting the kangaroo’ (John Hunter).
‘The animal described in the voyage of the Endeavour, called the kangaroo, (but by the natives patagarang) we found in great numbers; one was lately shot which weighed 140 pounds; its tail was 40 inches long, and 17 in circumference at the root … we ate the flesh with great relish, and I think it good mutton’ (John Hunter)
‘some are to shoot for the publick, & whatever is caught, either Fish, fowles, or Kangaroo is to be served out in lieu of Salt provisions’ (Richard Johnson).
‘The most expert marksmen were to be employed killing Kanguroo’ (Philip Gidley King).
‘That the Game keepers were to kill kangaroo for the Publick & that the following Ration shorts commence on ye 12 of this Month’ (Philip Gidley King).
‘Near one of these huts the bones of a kanguroo were found’ (Arthur Phillip).
‘I saw M[ajor]. Ross’es gamekeeper, or rather game-catcher, bring in the largest congaroo yet taken’ (Daniel Southwell).
‘That their skill in throwing the spear sometimes enables them to kill the kangaroo we have no right to doubt’ (Watkin Tench).
‘The animals we have but a very imperfect knowledge of those we have seen are the Kangooroo … one of the Kangooroos that has been shot wheigh’d 140 lb they are most excellent eating’ (Henry Waterhouse).
‘This day, for the first time, a Kangaroo was shot and brought into camp’ (John White).
‘The … first of the Species of Quadrupeds that We have either shot, taken or seen are … Kanguroos’ (George Worgan).
But there is a twist in the tail …