The kangaroo, part 1

(Long-ish, but interesting (I hope))

Previously I wrote about the First Fleet writers’ encounters with the kangaroo, but that was really the second part of the story. The first part of the story begins in 1770, when the Endeavour sailed into what James Cook originally called ‘Stingray Bay’. They spent eight days there, and various crew members spent various amounts of time ashore, but no-one records seeing a kangaroo.

There are hints: Joseph Banks records seeing the dung of ‘a large animal that had fed on grass which much resembled that of a Stag’ and Cook that of ‘an Animal* which must feed upon Grass, and which, we judge, could not be less than a Deer’ at Botany Bay. The editor of Cook’s journal adds in a footnote: ‘(*This was the kangaroo.)’ which name had not been recorded there or then. There are also reports of ‘dung’ (Sydney Parkinson), ‘the tail of some quadruped’ and ‘the tracks of a large animal of the Deer or Guanicoe kind’ (Banks) in central Queensland towards the end of May. (The little-known Parkinson was Banks’s botanical artist and an amateur linguist; he consistently records more indigenous words than Cook or Banks. He died of dysentery on the voyage home. His role in botany and linguistics deserves to be better known. The guanaco Lama guanicoe is a South American animal related to llamas and alpacas (Wikipedia).)

The first recorded sighting and the longest and most detailed description by an Endeavour writer is by Parkinson at Endeavour River, North Queensland on 4 July. He does not include the name, as the first significant encounter with the Aborigines happened after this.  He does not describe its method of locomotion, but his only other mention of it, in his word list, is: ‘Kangooroo, The leaping quadruped.’

Banks and Cook record sighting, describing, hunting (with dogs and guns) and eating kangaroos. One ‘provd excellent meat’ (Banks) but another ‘eat but ill, he was I suppose too old’. Cook records that they were ‘very good Eating’ and Parkinson offers a comparison: ‘[T]he the flesh of it tasted like a hare’s, but has a more agreeable flavour’.  The editor of Cook’s journal adds ‘(* Kangaroo.)’ and ‘(* These kangaroos were the first seen by Europeans. The name was obtained from the natives by Mr. Banks.)’ to the Cook’s entries of 23 and 24 June, though Banks hadn’t by then. Banks does not record when he ‘obtained’ the name, and even after interactions with the Endeavour River Aborigines began on 10 July, he still refers to ‘the animal(s)’.
Although Banks ‘obtained’ the word, the first written use is by Cook, twice in the journal entry of 4 August. The first time, he introduces it by the formula ‘called by the Natives’. The second time, he uses it by itself: ‘Besides the Animals which I have before mentioned, called by the Natives Kangooroo, or Kanguru, here are Wolves,* (* Probably Dingos.) Possums, an Animal like a ratt, and snakes, both of the Venemous and other sorts … The Kanguru are in the greatest number, for we seldom went into the Country without seeing some.’ (‘Dingo’ is a Sydney language word. The Endeavour crew did not record any words at Botany Bay, and did not see a dingo during their time there, though Cook and Banks both record seeing ‘tracks’. The word ‘dingo’ did not become known until 1778, and Cook’s journals were published in 1893. The Endeavour River Aborigines had/have their own word for the indigenous dog: ‘cotta/kota’, recorded by Cook and Parkinson.)

For his last mention, in an extended summary following his daily journal entry for 23 August, Cook reverts to using a similar formula, ‘Kangooroo or Kanguru, so called by the Natives’. Banks’s three uses of the word come in an extended summary following his daily  journal entry for 26 August. In each case he uses the formula ‘calld by the natives’ or ‘calld by them’.

Among the Endeavour writers’ understandable excitement at encountering the kangaroo, they all but overlooked the quoll:
‘Another was calld by the natives Je-Quoll: it is about the size and something like a polecat, of a light brown spotted with white on the back and white under the belly’ (Banks), ‘Taquol, or jaquol, An animal of the viverra kind.’. (‘Viverra is a mammalian genus that was first nominated and described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 as comprising several species including the large Indian civet’ (Wikipedia).)

Bruce Moore, in Speaking our Language: The Story of Australian English, notes that the second recorded use of ‘quoll’ wasn’t until 1924, and the third 1968.  The Macquarie Dictionary online gives a reconstructed spelling of ‘dhigul’ but doesn’t cite a source for that spelling.

Intriguingly, macropods of some kind had been described by the Dutch navigator Francois Pelsaert in his account of the wreck of the Batavia off the western Australian coastline in 1629 (this account was unknown to the Endeavour writers): ‘Besides we found in these islands large numbers of a species of cats, which are very strange creatures; they are about the size of a hare, their head resembling that of a civetcat; the forepaws are very short, about the length of a finger, on which the animal has five small nails or fingers, resembling those of a monkey’s forepaw. Its two hind legs, on the contrary, are upwards of half an ell in length [ie. about half a metre], and it walks on these only, on the flat of the heavy part of the leg.’ and by Dampier in his account of his voyage to New Holland in 1699 (this account was known to the Endeavour writers, as they refer to him a number of times, on various matters but not this particular animal): ‘The land animals that we saw here were only a sort of raccoon, different from those of the West Indies, chiefly as to their legs; for these have very short forelegs; but go jumping upon them as the others do (and like them are very good meat)’.

And there is part 3 of the story to come …

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2 thoughts on “The kangaroo, part 1

  1. Pingback: Kangaroo – part 3 | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  2. Pingback: Botany Bay 18-26 Jan 1788 – Part 4 | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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