Aboriginal Sovereignty, in the thought of a 1830’s settler

“Are these unhappy creatures the subjects of our king, in a state of rebellion? or are they an injured people, whom we have invaded and with whom we are at war? Are they within the reach of our laws; or are they to be judged by the law of nations? Are they to be viewed in the light of murderers, or as prisoners of war? Have they been guilty of any crime under the laws of nations which is punishable by death, or have they only been carrying on a war in their own way? Are they British subjects at all, or a foreign enemy who has never yet been subdued, and which resists our usurped authority and dominion?

“We are at war with them: they look upon us as enemies – as invaders – as their oppressors and persecutors – they resist our invasion. They have never been subdued, therefore are they not rebellious subjects, but an injured nation, defending in their own way, their rightful possessions, which have been torn from them by force.

“What we call their crime is what in a white man we should call patriotism. Where is the man amongst us who would not resist an invading enemy; who would not avenge the murder of his parents, the ill-usage of his wife and daughters, and the spoliation of all his earthly goods by a foreign enemy, if he had the opportunity? He who would not do so would be scouted, execrated, nay executed as a coward and a traitor; while he who did would be immortalised as a patriot. Why then shall we deny the same feelings to the Blacks? How can we condemn as a crime in these savages what we would esteem as a virtue in ourselves? Why punish a black man with death for doing that which a white man would be executed for not doing?”

– J.E., in a correspondence to the Launceston Advertiser, 1831, containing his reflections prompted by the widely discussion “murder” of two settlers in Tasmania, about which public opinion was to inflict “utter annihilation” on Tasmanian Aboriginal people to compensate.

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