LEEDS MERCURY ARTICLE 1834
Following is a transcribed copy of the article exactly (including errors) as it appeared in the Leeds Mercury in 1834. A discussion of the merits of this article is given further down on this page.
" DISCOVERY OF A WHITE COLONY ON THE NORTHERN SHORE OF NEW HOLLAND "
"A correspondent living near Halifax has favoured us with the following interesting communication
TO THE EDITOR OF THE LEEDS MERCURY.
A friend of mine, lately arrived from Singapore, via India overland, having been one of a party who landed at Raffles Bay, on the north coast of New Holland, on 10 April 1832, and made a two-month excursion into the interior, has permitted me to copy the following extract out of his private journal, which I think contains some particulars of a highly interesting nature, and not generally known. The exploring party was promoted by a scientific Society at Singapore, aided and patronised by the Local government and its object was both commercial and geographical; but it was got up with the greatest secrecy, and remained secret to all except the parties concerned. (for what good purpose it is impossible to conceive): Extract from an unpublished manuscript journal of an exploring party in Northern Australia by Lt. Nixon.
May 15th, 1832. On reaching the summit of the hill, no words can express the astonishment, delight and wonder I felt at the magical change of scenery, after having travelled for so many days over nothing but barren hills and rocks, and sands and parching plains, without seeing a single tribe of aborigines excepting those on the sea coast and having to dig for water every day.
Looking to thc southwards I saw below me at the distance of about three or four miles, a low and level country, laid out as it were in plantations, with straight rows of trees, through which a broad sheet of smooth water extended in nearly a direct line from east to west, as far as the eye could reach to the westward, but apparently sweeping to the southward at its eastern extremity like a river; and near its banks, at one particular spot on the south side there appeared to bc a group of habitations embossomed in a grove of tall trees like palms.
The water I guessed to be about half a mile wide, and although the stream was clearly open for two thirds of the distance from the southern bank, the remainder of it was studded by thousands of little islands stretching along its northern shores: and what fixed me to the spot with indescribable sensations of rapture and admiration was the number of small boats or canoes with one or two persons in each gliding along the narrow channels [sic] between the islands in every direction, some of which appeared to be fishing or drawing nets. None of them had a sail, but one was floating down thc body of the stream without wind, which seemed to denote a current ran from east to west. It seemed as if enchantment had brought me to a civilised country, and I could scarcely resolve to leave the spot I stood upon, had it not been for the overpowering rays of a mid day sun affecting my bowels, as it frequently had done, during all the journey.
On reaching the bottom of the hill in my return to our party at the tents, I was just turning round a low rock, when I came suddenly upon a human being whose face was so fair and dress so white, that I was for a moment staggered with terror, and thought I was looking at an apparition. I had naturally expected to meet an Indian as black or as brown as the rest of the natives, and not a white man in these unexplored regions. Still quaking with doubts about the integrity of my eyes I proceeded on, and saw the apparition advancing upon me with the most perfect indifference: in another minute he was quite near, and I now perceived that he had not yet seen me, for he was walking slowly and pensively with his eyes fixed on the ground and he appeared to be a young man of handsome and interesting countenance. We were got within four paces of each other when he heaved a deep and tremulous sigh, raised his eyes, and in an instant uttered a loud exclamation and fell insensible to the ground. My fears had now given place to sympathy, and I hastened to assist the unknown, who I felt convinced, had been struck with the idea of seeing a supernatural being.
It was a considerable time before he recovered and was assured of my mortality; and from a few expressions in old Dutch, which he uttered I was luckily enabled to hold some conversation with him; for I had been at school in Holland in my youth and had not quite forgotten the language. Badly as he spoke Dutch, yet I gathered from him a few particulars of a most extraordinary nature; namely, that he belonged to a small community, all as white as himself, he said about three hundred; that they lived in houses enclosed all together within a great wall to defend them from black men; that their fathers came there about one hundred and seventy years ago, as they said, from a distant land across the great sea; and that their ship broke, and eighty men and ten of their sisters (female passengers?) with many things were saved on shore.
I prevailed on him to accompany me to my party, who I knew would be glad to be introduced to his friends before we set out on our return to our ship at Port Raffles, from which place we were now dista The latitude of this mountain was eighteen degrees thirty minutes fourteen secs south.: and the longitude one hundred and thirty two degrees twenty five minutes thirty seconds east. It was christened Mount Singapore, after the name and in honour of the settlement to which the expedition belonged.
A subsequent part of the journal states further: That on our party visiting the white village, the joy of the simple inhabitants was quite extravagant. The descendant of an officer is looked up to as chief, and with him (whose name is Van Baerle,) the party remained eight days. Their traditional history is, that their fathers were compelled by famine, after the loss of their great vessel, to travel towards the rising sun, carrying with them as much of the stores as they could during which many died; and by the wise advice of their ten sisters they crossed a ridge of land, and meeting with a rivulet on the other side, followed its course and were led to the spot they now inhabit, where they have continued ever since. They have no animals of the domestic kind, either cows, sheep, pigs or anything else: Their plantations consist only of maize and yams, and these with fresh and dried fish constitute their principal food which is changed occasionally for Kangaroo and other game; but it appears that they frequently experience a scarcity and shortage of provisions, most probably owing to ignorance and mismanagement; and had little or nothing to offer us now except skins. They are nominal Christians: their marriages are performed without any ceremony: and all the elders sit in council to manage their affairs; all the young, from ten up to a certain age are considered a standing militia, and are armed with long pikes; they have no books or paper, nor any schools; they retain a certain observance of the Sabbath by refraining from their daily labours, and perform a short superstitious ceremony on that day all together; and they may be considered almost a new race of beings. "
For and against.
On the negative side:
On the positive side:
The conspiracy theory.
One theory put forward is that because a Dutch settlement in the middle of Australia would have all sorts of unfortunate consequences regarding the ownership of the land, that Governor Stirling sent out a secret expedition to remove all evidence of the settlement. The theory goes that the expedition landed on the south coast (in the vicinity of Fowlers Bay - thus encroaching on another state's turf) and that they trekked north to the settlement and then set about wiping it off the face of the Earth.
Ensign Robert Dale is touted as the likely leader of this expedition.
Even a casual review of this particular theory makes it laughable. We have to assume that:
1. A small party of explorers could reach the Dutch settlement and then manage to wipe out 300 people.
2. Erase every trace of a settlement that had been in existence for well over 100 years.
3. Manage to do this in complete secrecy and never leave a detail about it anywhere in their various journals.
The conspiracy theory can be completely dismissed as impractical. Sawn River was struggling to survive at the time and people were leaving in their droves. There were not the resources to mount such an expedition and even if there were it would have been totally impossible to maintain absolute secrecy.
Another less drastic but equally improbable conspiracy theory is that Stirling put together a secret expedition headed by Ensign Robert Dale that landed on the south coast at Fowlers Bay, trekked inland looking for the inland sea, or wheat or something vague like that, found a bunch of Dutch foreigners living in the middle of nowhere, and then Stirling rushes off to England to tell the authorities about it. In this version Dale goes back to England and bumps into his old mate Maslen who then writes the article in order to embarrass the British Government who he has 'issues' with. Oh and Nixon is really Dale because of some similarities in phrases used in the article in the Mercury and in Dale's own journals.
These theories simply don't make any sense at all.
A far more likely scenario is that Stirling or one of his close assistants (possibly even Dale) manufactured the article at a time when Stirling was back in London seeking support for the struggling colony. What better way to prod the authorities in London into action than to suddenly have a town full of foreign nationals appear in the middle of Australia? Notice that in the article there isn't much threat posed by these other settlers because of their 'ignorance and mismanagement' but if they can live in this inland paradise, then a true Englishman should be able to prosper there!
Stirling and his cohorts were well known for writing articles and letters and having them published anonymously in the press. In his book, Swan River letters, I. Berryman reveals a number of these occurrences and it seems quite probable that Stirling was behind the article that appeared in the Leeds Mercury. Stirling was a Scot, the next reprint of the article turns up in Scotland, then in Cape Town (after Stirling passes through on his way home) and then finally at Swan River after he arrives. This is all too much of a co-incidence.
Questions still to answer.
The most likely answer to the first three questions is 'YES' but it is something we will probably only ever be able to speculate about.
There are a number of assumptions that can be readily made from all this:
(Side Note: Marmaduke George Nixon - 1814 - 1864. Eventually became a Colonel. He commanded colonial volunteer forces in New Zealand and was killed during the Maori wars. Nixon Ave. in Auckland is named after him and a monument to his memory was erected at Otahuhu.)
Basically, people who want to believe in the story of the lost Dutch village have simply tried to force the facts to fit their version of the story. If the location given in the article proves to be in the middle of nowhere with no hills anywhere in sight then just look for another likely location and say the location given was wrong, or deliberately misleading, if no likely candidate for Lt. Nixon can be located in the records then say that he was made up or was a pseudonym, if the years passed since the start of the village don't fit with the loss of an interesting looking ship with the right named person on board then come up with some reason the settlers got the number of years wrong.
One of the greatest failings any researcher can have is to become so wedded to a good theory that they then stretch the facts to try and make the theory work. One article in particular does this to an extraordinary degree, but the bottom line is, the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation and since this is the bottom line, now seems like a good time to end this story.