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Throughout New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, the external organisation of the aborigines bears the stamp of different families; with, again, such variations as the nature of the climate, combined with other conditions of life, would naturally impress upon the human frame.
Thus, in New South Wales, where the heat promotes perspiration, and renders bathing a luxury, the hair of the natives is fine and glossy, the skin of an uniform colour, smooth and agreeable to the touch; whereas in Van Diemen's Land, which is cold, wet, and liable to sudden changes of temperature, where bathing ceases to be a pleasure, and the body is subject to checked perspiration, the skin appears scaly, spotted by cutaneous disease, and weather-beaten; and the hair, a prey to filthiness, is subject to still more filthy customs, in order to avert its consequences.*
Generally speaking, the colour of all the races is an earthy black: the stature of the male ranges between 4j^ and 5^ feet: the head is small; the trunk slender; the breast is commonly arched and well developed; the arms and legs of a rounded and muscular form; the knee rather large, the calf small; the foot flat, and the heel somewhat protruding. The hair is generally black, rough, lank, and coarse: with some, however, it is soft and curling; while with others, again, it is of a woolly texture, similar to that of the Africans. On the eyebrows it is thick; on the chin, the upper lip, the breast, the pubes, and the scalp, it is bushy; in some instances it slightly covers the whole body.
The face, that characteristic feature of the race, presents a facial angle of between 75° and 85°. It is marked by a low forehead, eyes large, far apart, and half covered by the upper lid, with a conjunctiva of the purest white, spotted with yellow; the iris invariably a dark brown, the pupil large and of a jet black; a nose broad and flat, the frontal sinuses being remarkably prominent, the nostrils extending and wide-spread; cheeks generally hollow, with prominent malar bones; a wide mouth, with large white teeth, and thick lips; the lower jaw unusually short, and widely expanded anteriorily.
* I allude to the anointing of the head with a mixture of clay, red ochre, and fish grease, in order to prevent the generation of vermin.
The stature of the women is low, the head short, and the features masculine: the mammae, instead of being hemispherical, are, in marriageable persons, pyriform, and soon after marriage become flaccid and elongated. The arms are slender; the hands small; the pelvis unusually narrow; the lower extremities slight, strait and lean; the foot large, flat, and invariably turned inward.
The osteology of this race does not offer any anatomical distinction which can be looked upon as characteristic; and though it has been said that in some of their skulls the structure of the individual bones of the face and cranium discloses a peculiarity, closer examination and comparison have shown that, instead of peculiarities, strong analogies were found to the skulls of white men: in many instances, it was even remarked that the facial angle of the white was more acute, the superciliary ridge, the centres of ossification of the frontal bone, and the ridge of the occipital one were more developed, and the inferior maxillary more widely expanded than in the skulls of the aborigines.
Yet, notwithstanding a partial inferiority of shape in some of the details, the native of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land possesses, on the whole, a well-proportioned frame. His limbs, less fleshy or massive than those of a well-formed African, exhibit all the symmetry and peculiarly well-defined muscular developement and well-knit articulations
and roundness which characterise the negro: hence, compared with the latter, he is swifter in his movements, and in his gait more graceful. His agility, adroitness, and flexibility, when running, climbing, or stalking his prey, are more fully displayed; and Avhen beheld in the posture of striking, or throwing his spear, his attitude leaves nothing to be desired in point of manly grace. In his physical appearance, nevertheless, he does not exhibit any features by which his race could be classed or identified with any of the generally known families of mankind.
The speech of this people possesses, in the composition of its words, all those felicitous combinations of syllables which constitute a highly sonorous and euphonious language. Their enunciation of words, however, is not clear, being somewhat marked by that "twang" which is heard also in all the European languages when transplanted to the New Worlds.* From a partial knowledge of it, I should be rather disposed to class the Australian language (». e., that of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land,) among those called Transpositive, — those which are independent of articles and pronouns, the case and person being determined by the difference in the inflexion.
The study, however, of this language has been so little regarded, that any opinion respecting its syntax must be received with extreme caution.f
* It is to be regretted that, through neglect or some other cause, the purity of the pronunciation of English, Spanish, and Portuguese, when spoken out of the Old Word, has suffered greatly. Thus, the oppressive nasal drawl, which renders the pronunciation of the English language in the United States a constant theme of vulgar jocularity, is equally observable in the English spoken in South America, New Holland, and Van Diemen's Land, as well as in China and the East.
t Amongst the researches relative to the Polynesian tribes, none deserve greater credit than that through which the American missionaries in the Sandwich Islands succeeded in reducing the oral language of those islands to a regular syntax. — Vide Hawaian Spectator,
Its dictionary, so far as it has been compiled, is scanty; and owing to the English mode of spelling the words, this dictionary, or, more properly speaking, vocabulary, is very far indeed from giving a just idea of the sound or accentuation.
The circumstance of the three natives who accompanied Captain Flinders and Captain P. P. King in the survey of New Holland, and of those who accompanied me amongst the different tribes of New South Wales, being unable to understand one word spoken by tribes of other districts, would lead to the belief that the dialects spoken in New Holland are far from possessing those affinities, still less those identities of language, from which a common root might be inferred.
Those European visitors or explorers who adduce, in support of a common root, some hundred words analogous in sound, construction, and meaning, as being spoken all over New Holland, have jumped to the conclusion with, I fear, too much haste and eagerness. Besides many other insuperable difficulties, which an investigation of such a nature presents, there was one quite sufficient to defeat all attempts to fathom the subject, namely, the syntactic ignorance of the language to which the inquiry related. Indeed, to any man who knows and speaks four European languages, it will be at once apparent, that to seize upon, and note from the sound, a word belonging to one country, so as to compare its sound and accentuation with a word belonging to another country, needs a thorough knowledge of the genius of the two languages, and of their alphabet, through which alone the pronunciation can be discriminated. Thus, only those who know syntactically the Polish language, can express the sound of szczaw (sorrel), and seize upon the Russian word signifying and sounding the same, in order to prove the identity of
the two words: thus again, for a Pole unacquainted with the English and Spanish, it would be impossible to record the sound of th, in order to find its equivalent in the c or z, as pronounced in Andaluz*
The limited state of our knowledge respecting the language of Australasia presents also a barrier to inquiry into the force, activity, tendency, and advancement of the mental faculties of its natives.f The incidents which are accessible to observation, would lead to the belief, that of the faculties alluded to, an instinctive good sense, accompanied by quick perception, and a retentive memory, here and there blended with the errors or excesses of an ardent imagination, is all that is thoroughly developed in the mental endowment of that race, and serves as its sole guide through life.
The nature of the religion and government of the
* In the different accounts of the South Sea Islands, it is not uncommon to find the language of those islands denominated by the general term of "Polynesian language." According to my experience, the language of the Marquesan group has no more affinity with that of the Gambier or Friendly Isles, than the latter have with that spoken in the Sandwich Islands. The assumption of a Malay language, as spoken throughout the Malay islands, is not less absurd; as Java, Lumbock (with 1,000,000 inhabitants), and Bailly also (with 300,000), possess four spoken idioms. To explain each to me, three different interpreters were hardly sufficient. Beyond these islands, again, the Cyclops, Temos, and Sandal-wood islands, differ materially, not only as regards language, but also manners and religion.
t Hitherto physical geography, in describing "man," has classified him according to the characteristics which his external organisation presents. Philosophers, in the contemplation of his destiny, rejecting that classification, have viewed him merely as a member of the whole human race; but the day is, perhaps, not far distant, when both philosophers and naturalists will admit that it is the instinctive and mental faculties peculiar to each race, and in perfect accordance with the local circumstances in which that race is placed, which constitute the true principles of that classification. The study of this instinct, which may be looked upon as a guide to the politics and morality of every race, has been lost sight of; and this is the fruitful source of all the errors and failures of political and religious regenerators, who labour, in opposition to the history of past and modern ages, to reduce all the races of mankind to one unifurm standard of customs and institutions.