[For introduction and part 1 (non-verbal communication) see here]
Exchange of possessions
The British offered and the natives accepted a variety of small items:
‘Glass Beads … Ribbands & Glass Trincketts’, ‘a string of [B]eeds … painted paper & some trinkets’ (Navy Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth); ‘some trifling presents’ (Navy Lieutenant William Bradley); ‘Preasents such as beads and Ribbins Looking Glases marines Buttons and such Trifels’ (Marine Private John Easty); ‘beads & other trifles’, ‘what few ornaments we had’ (Navy Lieutenant Philip Gidley King); ‘ornaments’ (Governor Arthur Phillip); ‘a looking glass, some beads, and other toys’ (Marine Lieutenant Watkin Tench); ‘some Beads, Red Cloth & other Bawbles’, ‘Bawbles … Presents … Trinkets’ (Navy Surgeon George Worgan).
This was first achieved by leaving the items and retreating, or throwing them:
‘The Governor advanced by himself & laid down some presents for them then retired, one of the Natives immediately advanced, picked it up & handed it to the others’ (Bradley); ‘the Indians whare very sevall all Though Thay ware Shy and wold not Come not with 6 or 7 yards of them thay Throw Sevarall Preasents’ (Easty); ‘The Governor shewed them some beads & ordered a Man to fasten them to the stern of one of the Canoes, & on our rowing off the shore they fetched the beads’, ‘[one old man] seemed very desirous of having [some beads] & made signs for them to be laid on the ground … he … advanced [and] took the beads up’, ‘I tied the beads &c to a tree, & walked towards my party, when the two Natives took the beads & some baize I had left with them’ (King); ‘one of y oldest of the Natives … [made] signs for the things to be laid on the Ground which, the Governor complying with, He advanced, tooke them up, and went back to his Companions’ (Worgan),
‘I presented many of them of wt. Glass Beads …’ (Bowes Smyth); ‘some Natives, Men, Women & Children … eagerly accepted of a Jacket’ (Bradley); ‘by degrees he as well as some of the rest came so near as to receive Looking Glasses &c’, ‘a number came round the boat, to whom we gave what few ornaments we had’, ‘[I] shewed a handkerchief which I offered to one of the Women … I applied the handkerchief where decency seemed to demand it’ (King); ‘They … seemed fond of ornaments, putting the beads and red baize that were given them, on their heads or necks … The presents offered by their new visitors were all readily accepted … [in Port Jackson, the natives] accept[ed] whatsoever was offered … a number of the natives … received what was offered them’ (Phillip); ‘Several more now came up, to whom, we made various presents’ (Tench); ‘they suffered Us to come up to them, and after making them all presents’, ‘two of them approached to meet the Gentlemen who held out the Presents, the Introduction being amicably settled, they all joined Us, and took the Trinkets we offered them’ (Worgan).
At first the exchange was one-way, then reciprocated. Almost of all the writers mention the British giving to the natives, but very few mention the natives giving to the British. Bowes Smyth writes:
‘one of them had a heavy Bludgeon wh. I persuaded him to exchange wt. me for a looking glass’.
The natives had a particular fascination for clothes and hats (not surprisingly, as these were such foreign objects):
‘they seem’d most desirous of Hats’ (Bowes Smyth); ‘some Natives … eagerly accepted of a Jacket’ (Bradley); ‘he … seemed astonished at our Cloathing’, ‘what attracted their notice most was our Cloathing particularly the Great Coats & hats’ (King); ‘they … became … curious about our Cloaths, feeling the Coat, Waistcoat, and even the Shirt and on seeing one of the Gentlemen, pull off his Hat, they all set up a loud Hoop … They suffered the Sailors to dress them with different coloured Papers, and Fools-Caps, which pleased them mightily’ (Worgan).
Several writers report the natives wanting, asking, importuning and stealing (by British understandings, at least):
‘they seem’d most desirous of Hats from their attempting to seize the Hats of many persons on shore’ (Bowes Smyth); ‘they were much inclin’d to steal any kind of Cloth or covering & did steal some bags which were sent on shore for Hay’ (Bradley); ‘what attracted their notice most was our Cloathing particularly the Great Coats & hats, which they were very desirous of obtaining’ (King); ‘the Natives here is Very Affable. & Will Except of Aney thing, that You Will Give them, (& Even take Aney thing that the Can Lay Hold of)—’ (Marine Sergeant James Scott); ‘Another, came forth and wanted some of the same kind of Presents’, ‘holding out their Hands for more’, ‘They all of them … took any thing that was offered them, holding out their Hands and making Signs for many things that they saw’ (Worgan),
including the fish which the British caught in the bay (their bay). White reports:
‘No sooner were the fish out of the water than they began to lay hold of them, as if they had a right to them, or that they were their own.’
But the British were quite happy to share the fish. White continues:
‘upon which the officer of the boat, I think very properly, restrained them, giving, however, to each of them a part. They did not at first seem very well pleased with this mode of procedure, but on observing with what justice the fish was distributed they appeared content.’
Two natives got a taste of things to come:
‘I gave two of them a glass of wine, which they no sooner tasted than they spit it out.’ (King)
Given the effect of alcohol on Indigenous health subsequently, it might have been better if it had stayed that way.
And two others got an unexpected experience — boiling water — one positively and one negatively. Phillip reports:
‘He then went on with perfect calmness to examine what was boiling in the pot, and by the manner in which he expressed his admiration, made it evident that he intended to profit by what he saw.’
‘A pot was boiling in which there was some Fish for the Workmen’s Dinners, One of the Natives (who never had seen or felt hot Water before) very deliberately put his Hand in to take a Fish out, when, feeling a very smart Sensation, he gave an amazing Jump squalling out most Hideously, on which, his Companions seeing us laugh, joined Us very heartily, while the poor Fellow was skipping about & blowing his Fingers.’
What sex are you?
Many of the writers record the natives’ puzzlement as to the newcomers’ sex, given the lack of beards and presence of clothing [hiding the genitals]. (Several writers more than once; Bradley three times in Botany Bay alone.) Worgan provides the fullest account:
‘I must not omit mentioning a very singular Curiosity among the Men here, arising from a Doubt of what Sex we are, for from our not having, like themselves long Beards, and not seeing when they open our Shirt-Bosoms (which they do very roughly and without any Ceremony) the usual distinguishing Characteristics of Women, they start Back with Amazement, and give a Hum! with a significant look, implying. What kind of Creatures are these?!-As it was not possible for Us to satisfy their Inquisitiveness in this Particular, by the simple Words. Yes or No. We had Recourse to the Evidence of Ocular Demonstration, which made them laugh, jump & Skip in an extravagant Manner.’
The natives were naked, which most of the writers note, with King switching to Latin and French to do so: ‘in puris naturabilis—pas même la feuille de figueur’. The other writers are less or more coy in the terminology they use, either variations on ‘naked’:
(the men) ‘perfectly’, (the women) ‘quite’ (Bowes Smyth); (the men) ‘quite’, (men, women and children) ‘entirely’ (Bradley); ‘thay Seem all to be naked’ (Easty); ‘quite naked’ (King); ‘perfectly devoid of cloathing’ (Phillip); ‘as at the moment of their birth’ (Tench); ‘entirely’ (Worgan),
or by allusion:
‘a number of Women & Children were sitting all in puris naturalibus, but it is to be observed that the heel of the right foot answers the end of a Fig-leaf when in this position … I applied the handkerchief where decency seemed to demand it’ (King); ‘We could see these curious Evites peeping through the Bushes at Us … one of these Wood-Nymphs (as naked as Eve before she knew Shame) … came up to Us’ (Worgan).
Several writers use the ‘intercourse’ (in the older sense) in talking about the interactions between the groups. The British also had intercourse with the crews of two French ships.) King alone suggests that another kind of intercourse was offered:
‘they … pointed to the Shore where a number of Women & Children were sitting … The Natives round the boat made signs for us to go to them & made us understand their persons were at our service, this mark of their Hospitality I declined.’
(Just the women, or the children as well?) Other accounts state that the women were kept away or were well guarded. Indeed, Tench reports that the male children and youths were also kept back.
to be continued …
[For part 3 (Weapons), see here]
[For part 4 (The first words and Descriptions/opinions/attitudes) see here]
[For part 5 (Naming/claiming) see here]