View the h-rural Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in h-rural's October 1993 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in h-rural's October 1993 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the h-rural home page.
[Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 10:58:32 +1000 (+1000) [From: Paul Turnbull <firstname.lastname@example.org> [Subject: Tambo The discovery of Palm Island man Tambo's mummified remains in the basement of an Ohio funeral parlour by Roslyn Poignant is welcome news. However, as I know Roslyn will be keen to point out, the remains of eight other people from the Palm islands and Hinchinbrook remain lost to ancestral country. The story Roslyn is piecing together, carefully and largely at her own expense, is not a pleasant one. But for Tambo's descendants it does have a happy ending. As the Townsville Daily Bulletin reports today, Tambo's relatives have been located by Roslyn and anthropologist Nick Heijm of the University of Queensland, and the body will be brought home for burial on great Palm Island. Tambo was embalmed, but not in order to be shipped back to Australia for burial. In all probability he was embalmed to be displayed at a profit as he had been through the last year or so of his life. Tambo ended his days billed as a "Ranting Cannibal Man Eater". He was one of a number of Aboriginal people taken from Australia between 1870 and 1900, to be exhibited as curiosities in America and Europe. By the 1880s, P. T. Barnum, the flamboyant showman, had found that there was good money to be made exhibiting indigenous peoples from all parts of the globe. Tambo had met Cunningham in the summer 1882-3. Cunningham had travelled the eastern coastal steamer route north to Darwin, seeking to procure Aboriginal people to take to America specially for the Great Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson's World Fair. Cunningham was a minor theatrical entrepreneur and an unscrupulous braggart. He was to boast of knowing from several years touring through Australia and New Zealand that governments "considered it a penal offence to take...[Aboriginal people] out of the country without legal permission...". But he was undeterred. At Darwin, Cunningham persuaded eight Aboriginal people to follow him to the harbour, alleging that he had first persuaded the Territory's Resident and the Local Protector of Aborigines to approve him taking the party to America. But at the quay side Cunningham was confronted by the port's police inspector, who told the Aboriginal people that if they boarded the ship they would never return to their country. On hearing this they "...immediately fled into the bush." Cunningham continued the man hunt to the south, eventually managing to procure nine Aboriginal people at Cardwell. They were: Sussy (Tagara) a young woman 18 years old; Tambo her husband; Jenny (Yarembera) aged 30-40; her husband Toby (Wangong) aged 30-40; their son Little Toby (Kottiganden) aged 7-8 years; a thirty five year old man called Billy (Warutchnenben); Bob (Oritchenen) aged 20; Jimmy (Tinendal) 25-30; and another man named Wangong. As several years of painstaking research by Roslyn Poignant has established, all but two of the men, Billy and Bob came from the Palm Islands and called themselves Borkoman. Billy and Bob were was probably two of the many Aboriginal people driven by white settlers from Hinchinbrook island (See her recent working paper: "Captive Aboriginal Lives: Billy, Jenny, Little Toby and their Companions", in * Captured Lives: Australian Captivity Narratives. Working papers in Australian Studies, University, Robert Menzies Centre, University of London * ISBN: 1 85507 060 X> Cunningham arrived at Cardwell when nearly two decades of bloodshed between settlers and Aboriginal across North Queensland were drawing to a close. The people he managed to entice away with him were refugees from what had been a bloody war in all but name. In this war, charges of Aboriginal "primitivity" "instinctual savagery" and "animal treachery" had all been readily invoked by settlers to justify meeting Aboriginal resistance with indiscriminate murder. Now, having survived the brutal expropriation of their country, Jenny, Toby and their seven companions were sought after to be paraded before gawking crowds in America and Europe as living proof of the "savagery" over which the white settlers of the north had triumphed. Indeed, Cunningham never let pass the opportunity of bragging how "savage" these people were, and how he had risked death in the wilds of the tropical north to bring these people to the stage. Newspapers eagerly swallowed Cunningham's racialist fantasies. The Toronto World, for example, reported excitedly in July 1883 how "Mr. R. A. Cunningham...captured them in the northern part of the island continent, where they belonged to a tribe of cannibals and lived wild. "In the course of time they were partly civilised", the paper continued, "and are now easily managed." "Mr Cunningham yesterday took three of these black antipodeans to a common near the show grounds, where they gave an exhibition in throwing the boomerang." Possibly Tambo, his wife Sussy and their companions left Cardwell sensing the part they were to play, but were determined to escape the hunger and violence they had come to know in life on the fringes of settler society. Conveying the nine to Sydney in February 1883, Cunningham set about booking their passage to San Francisco, after settling them into one small room at the back of the Carlton Club Hotel in Elizabeth Street. But it was not long before two of the men, Billy and Jimmy, decided they'd had enough and left. The two got to Manly, where they were confronted by police called to investigate claims that two Aboriginal men were walking the shore stark naked and armed. A struggled ensued and one of the men stabbed a constable before they surrendered. They were held in Darlinghurst police station. Billy was allowed to return to the hotel. Police investigations revealed the cramped conditions at the Hotel. As detectives reported on questioning them: "Two of the males speak English, and say they are willing to go to America. The others do appear to know where they are going." On hearing this the NSW Inspector-General of Police had them placed under his protection, and, thinking that the people came from both Queensland and South Australia, wired the authorities of each state, to find out if they knew or had consented to Cunningham's scheme." Sydney humanitarian circles were outraged. As the liberal Sydney Evening News editorialised, "...only two of the Aboriginals understand the agreements they are said to have made; and it seems very probable that even those two have no very clear idea where they are going or for what purpose they are wanted. The two found at Manly seem to be utterly wild, and on that ground it may be fairly inferred that the case is clearly one of kidnapping." It was the duty of government, the News concluded, to "...set in motion every engine of the law to prevent their being removed from Sydney....It will never do to have Sydney made the entrepot of a kidnapping trade." However, Cunningham got all nine out of the country. The wounding charge brought against Jimmy was dropped when the crown could find no-one to interpret for him. Given the Queensland authorities were determined to hold Aboriginal people to harsh yearly contracts in the pearling industry, it comes as no surprise that they sided with Cunningham. His offer of employment with Barnum was contract, no matter how far it curtailed the freedom of these Aboriginal people. Nor was Queensland happy at seeing the NSW authorities involved in an issue which involved "Queensland natives" and was thus that state's business. Cunningham, however, was quick to play up his own daring in getting them out of the country. He boasted openly of having defied the law. As one American paper remarked: "The way in which these Australian aborigines were secured for exhibition on this side of the water would, if fully explained, be likely to astound those who believe in everyone's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The nine were toured through America and Canada as a special Barnum attraction "during the tenting season of 1883..." And the following winter they were exhibited in the leading museums of America "with unbounded success". While it might have been a success from Cunningham's point of view, Tambo and one other man were dead by the winter of 1883-4. Depending for his livelihood on the health of the remaining seven, Cunningham took the party across the Atlantic. By May 1884 they were in Belgium, where examination by members of the Brussels Anthropological Society revealed that all seven were suffering from tuberculosis. During a By the time the group were exhibited in the Frankfurt zoological gardens in May 1885, Bob, Sussy and Jimmy were dead. In November Toby died in a Paris hospital and attempts were made to procure his body as an anthropological specimen. Now only three remained alive: Billy, Jenny and Little Toby. In April 1887 Cunningham and the three survivors were in London, where the showman sought to have the three exhibited before the Royal Anthropological Institute. What happened to them after that date remains a mystery. Cunningham was touring a group of people from Samoa in 1889, and in 1892 he returned to Queensland to procure more Aboriginal people to appear at the World Fair to be held in Chicago the following year. Given what we know of these peoples' health, Cunningham and the anthropological concerns of the 1880s, my own suspicion is that Billy, Jenny and Little Toby never came home. In all probability they died, and it is likely that their remains were sold by Cunningham. The work of Roslyn Poignant in seeking to tell the story of these people and locate their bones for return to Australia is something very special. Especially when those remains are found and can be finally put to rest at peace in ancestral land. Paul Turnbull ------------------------------------------------------------------------- CLIONET Dr Paul Turnbull _--_|\* Email : email@example.com Department of History / \ Phone : +77 814470 and Politics \_.--._ / James Cook University v Fax : +77 814487 of North Queensland P O Q4811 AUSTRALIA Home : +77 790428 -------------------------------------------------------------------------