THE WILD WHITE MAN
17 YEARS WITH THE BLACKS
One of the strangest stories of early Queensland history, is that of James Morrill, known as "the wild white man," who lived for 17 years with the blacks.
Morrill is buried in the Bowen cemetery in a grave numbered 71, but no stone supplies the name of the
man buried beneath.
Only a few months back the house in Bowen, in which he lived and died was pulled down to make room for a War Service dwelling.
On February 28, 1846, a barque named the "Peruvian" of Dundee, left Sydney bound for China. She had a crew of 22 all told, and was com- manded by Captain Pitkelly. There were 14 sailors, amongst whom was Morrill, and seven passengers— Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot, their child and nursemaid, Mr. J. B. Quarry and child, and Mrs. Pitkelly, the captain's wife. For a full week the vessel ex- perienced temptestuous weather, and was blown along for several days with only the bare masts. Early on the morning of March 8, the vessel struck Horseshoe Reef and was soon washed up so high that only the spray from the breakers reached her.
The boats were destroyed, one at the time of the collision with the rocks, and the other when attempts were being made to leave the ves- sel in them. The second-mate was swept overboard by the first sea that swept the vessel after she struck, and the first mate was lost, whilst he was endeavouring to make the last re- maining boat fit for the sea. From casks, rigging, spars, etc., a raft was formed, upon which the survivors, af- ter securing a cask of water and some tinned meat and soup, drifted from
Their sufferings during the days that followed were fearful. For 22 days they drifted about, without any signs of rescue from passing vessels. Then Mr. Quarry died. Next follow- ed his child, Mrs. Wilmot and her child and the nursemaid, then the carpenter, cook, two seamen, two ap- prentices, and two black men. Pro- visions soon began to run short. One morning they saw the topsails of a brig, only to watch it disappear as the breeze freshened with the open- ing day. Again the raft drifted on the Barrier Reef, and two days af-
terwards they sighted Cape Upstart. Tossed hither and thither with the tides and currents, they came in view of Cape Bowling Green two days later.
At last, after 44 days from that on which it drifted from the wreck, the raft was washed ashore on the north-
eastern side of Cape Cleveland—the captain and his wife, Mr. Wilmot, Miller (sailmaker), Gooley and Mor-
rill (seamen), and Wilson (appren-
tice), seven in all, reaching the land alive. Shortly after landing, Wilmot and Gooley died, and Miller, finding an aboriginal canoe, paddled away in it in the hope of discovering food and relief, but he never returned, his body being found some time after by the blacks. The survivors sheltered themselves in a kind of cave, subsist- ing on shellfish for a fortnight, when some members of one of the aborig- inal tribes found them. At first they were afraid of the white people, but soon each of them became the centre of a group of the dusky race, whose curiosity led them to examine each carefully from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot. They next supplied them with food, and by signs indicated the direction in which there was plenty more. That night, both blacks and whites camped and slept together, and next morning they all started off for the big camp. Wilson, the young apprentice, who was a mere boy and almost unable to walk, being carried. On arrival at the camp the white people were supplied with food,
but carefully covered with boughs to conceal them from the general gaze.
Members of the tribe from the sur- rounding district kept coming in, and a grand exhibition was made, of the articles that had been found with the whites. When they were brought forth for public view they were ob- served by some of the people with curiosity, whilst others ran away in
After a short time the shipwrecked survivors were conducted to huts pre-
pared for them, and were supplied with such food as the aborigines
possessed. For a long time parties of the tribe kept arriving to see the
strangers, who settled down as mem- bers of the wild community. They were shown how to obtain food, but although treated with rare indulgence, they suffered frightfully. The whole of the poor unfortunate creatures struggled along together for twelve months, when the captain died, and his unfortunate wife only survived him three months, dying of a broken heart. The remaining two endea- voured to find their way south, but got no further than where Bowen now stands. Twelve months after the death of the captain, the young ap- prentice died, and Morrill was left the sole survivor of that ill-fated party, with only the aborigines for
During his residence with these blacks Morrill accompanied them in their marches, fought with them in their tribal wars, went with them on their hunting expeditions into the country, or their fishing excursions to the seashore. He soon lost all Euro- pean habits, and forgot almost his mother tongue, becoming in fact a real domesticated aboriginal. At first, his associates at times treated him roughly, and would perhaps have kill- ed him but for the interference of the women, with, whom he became a great favourite. One old woman went so far as to recognise in him a dear de- parted soil, who in dying hoped he should return a white man.
During the early part of his sojourn he used to build huts to sleep in dur- ing wet and cold weather, but as the natives often expelled him from his retreat and took possession, he dis- continued labouring for their comfort. The domain of the tribe with which he associated extended from the Bur- dekin River to the Black River a dis-
tance of some 30 miles, and their headquarters were in the pockets of Mount Elliott. A favourite haunt of the tribe was near Cape Marlow, about 25 miles northwards of Cleve- land Bay, and here Morrill spent much of his time. Often did he climb up the rugged sides of Castle Hill, and from the summit scan the blue waters of the bay, in the fond hope of seeing a sail that would rescue him from solitude, but for his trouble he
was never rewarded.
In 1861 he heard that white people had been seen in the neighbourhood, and with the object of coming in con- tact with them, he joined a friendly tribe who inhabited the country ly- ing between the Burdekin and Cape Bowling Green. This tribe did not contemplate him leaving them, and for his own security from other tribes of an unfriendly disposition he was never free nor safe to go off alone on an expedition of discovery, and even had he come suddenly in contact with those of his own race, he would un- doubtedly have shared the fate at that period indiscriminately meted out to the aborigines.
During the early part of January 1863, the tribe with which he lived organised a kangaroo hunt in the near vicinity of a sheep-station on the lower Burdekin, and one day Morrill, was detailed with a party of the wo- men to look out for whites. One of the women who had strolled off by herself soon told Morrill that she had seen a white man's hut, and when she was directing him to the locality they sighted some sheep. Upon Morrill de- ciding to go on the woman ran back. He then went to a waterhole where he washed himself so as to appear as white as possible, and walked on in the direction of the sheep. Soon he came in sight of the yard, and then a
hut, from which he heard voices. At that instant he was confused and al- armed, and was almost impelled to
run away. Mounting as high as he could on the fence, he called out the sailor's salutation he had so often repeated to himself when alone: "What cheer, shipmate?"
Hearing this one man looked out of the hut, and seeing Morrill, who was wild-looking in appearance, immedi- ately called out, "Bring the guns, Wilson, here's a naked man on the
fence that is white or yellow, but is not black." Morrill then threw up his arms and called out, "I am a British subject." Then the men, who were stockmen, took him into the hut and gave him bread to eat, which at first he could not swallow. Having almost forgotten the English lan- guage it was some time before he could explain himself to the settlers.
That night he returned to the abor- igines' camp and upon his advice, they moved off some miles further from the hut. When he told them that he intended to return to the whites, the natives at first understood that he would be away for three or four days only, and begged of him to talk to his countrymen and tell them not to shoot the natives. When they learned he was going off a long way to see a great many white people, and that he would be away three or four moons, some of them declared that he was going to leave them altogether. Some in anger told him to go, saying that he would be drowned with the rest of the white men.
Years before this, numbers of these tribes had lost their lives during a great flood, and it was a consoling belief with the survivors, that, an- other great flood would drown all the white men, with their horses, cattle and sheep. Others lamented that he
would be too far away to do any- thing to save them from the whites. They begged of him to induce his countrymen to let them have at least the swamps and saltwater creeks, upon condition that they (the blacks) abandoned the upper reaches and rivers. With much lamentation on the part of many of his tried associ- ates, on the following morning Mor- rill ended his almost 17 years so- journ amongst the aborigines.
Morrill was not, however, long to survive his release. James Gordon, at that time the sub-collector of Cus- toms at Bowen, took him to Brisbane, and presented him to Sir George Ferguson Bowen, Governor of Queens- land, who, however, took little inter- est in the wild white man. Returning to Bowen he was employed in the Customs Department as one of the crew of the pilot-boat, and in 1864 he married a servant of the Police Magistrate's at that place.
Townsville was then just beginning to grow on the shores of Cleveland Bay, and at the foot of Castle Hill, the peak Morrill often climbed to scan the horizon in search of a sail. In April, 1865, the first bonded goods arrived at the new seaport, in the schooner "Ariel," in charge of none other than Jimmy Morrill. In June of the following year, when the first land of the new town was sold, a quarter of an acre was knocked down to Morrill at the upset price, no one being inclined to bid against him, and thus he obtained an allotment of land in what he termed his country.
James Morrill died in the following October at Bowen, leaving a widow and a posthumous son, who later on drove a team in the neighbourhood of Townsville. From the time of his release from the aborigine life to the time of his death, Jimmy Morrill al- ways had a deep affection for the aborigines, and old-timers, still living at Bowen have informed me that he used to relate some very touching incidents concerning that race, which often brought tears to their eyes.