Jumbo and the Calcutta woman
In 1825, after a vicious attack on their tribe a young aboriginal mother and her teenage daughter are kidnapped by sealers and taken to the Furneaux Islands of Van Diemen’s Land.
The mother finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship whilst the daughter, called Jumbo, is left in much better circumstances with a white trader named Macleod with whom she has a child.
Rhamain, an Indian servant girl, sails with her English employer from Calcutta to Sydney Town. Accused of theft, she jumps ship at Preservation Island. A sealer Long Jack Little claims her and gives her the nickname “Calcutta woman”. They are a strange couple living together in a unique and caring relationship on Gun Carriage Island. However, Rhamain is appalled by the violence of other sealers towards their aboriginal women.
In an attempt to end the “black wars” and save the aboriginal population, Governor Arthur commissions George Augustus Robinson to round up all the aboriginals and settle them in the Furneaux Islands. In doing so, Robinson forces the sealers to give up their wives and abandon their homes.
The Calcutta woman and the young aboriginal Jumbo choose to stay with their “husbands” but, threatened with sexual assault by other dangerous sealers, they escape into the bush. Both women struggle to decide whether or not to stay with their men.
This story, though a work of fi ction, is set in historical context of the decade to 1835 and explains some of the very human issues that led to the extinction of the full blood Tasmanian aboriginals.
From the author
Way back in mid-1989 I discovered Flinders Island when I flew down from Phillip Island in a single-engine aeroplane to collect three bags of live crayfish. I was absolutely in awe of the wonderful scenery so in December of that year I flew back bought some land on Vinegar Hill, Lady Barron and commissioned a local to build our house.
During the nineties, I lived on Flinders Island and with my wife Kimberly we brought home two babies to Lady Barron. We were able to work from there at our international consulting business and because I was a private pilot and owned a twin- engine plane we could easily come and go. We loved the island and its beauty. I became absorbed by the history and particularly moved by the sacred site that is Wybalenna. The disaster that respiratory illness caused our indigenous people there was even greater than what is happening today.
I started writing this novel in 1990… I wanted to tell a story about the sealers and their women. It is pure fiction with the two main characters being an aboriginal teenage girl and an Indian woman. There are some real historical characters like Governor Arthur, George Augustus Robinson mentioned to set the context. And I have quoted from some articles from the Colonial Times.
So here is my book published 30 years later. It’s not that I am a slow writer but with my real work, all the research and many lapses along the way, that is how it has turned out. Seems late in life to be 78 years old and publishing a debut novel.
Michael G. Downes