Passing of Toompani (extracted from The Brisbane Courier Tuesday 14th of September 1886)
THERE are not a few who will regret to hear of the death of Toompani, the well-known aboriginal, of Amity Point, Moreton Bay. Toompani was chiefly known for his bravery at the wreck of the steamer Sovereign, on 11th May, 1847, near the South Passage, when he and some of the boys of his tribe entered the surf and rescued several of the passengers. Toompani wore a plate on which was recorded his gallantry on that occasion. Although he occasionally visited Brisbane and tho town-ships on the shores of Moreton Bay, his home has been at Amity Point, where, in a boat presented by the Government-a gift renewed as often as required-he gained his livelihood by fishing. It is conjectured that his age was between 60 and 70 years. He had been ailing for some time past, and his extreme ago gave small hopes of his recovery. He died on Sunday, 5th instant, and was buried by his aboriginal brethren on a high ridge near Amity Point.
Heroics of Toompani (extracted from The Brisbane Courier Tuesday 6th of September 1871)
AN ACT OF JUSTICE UNPERFORMED.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRISBANE COURIER.
SIR,-Through the medium of your columns I wish to draw the attention of your readers, and also certain authorities in Brisbane, to an incident in the early days of this colony, and to an act of injustice and neglect which has been perpetrated, and repeated year after year, to a very deserving race of people. ln the early part of the month of March, in the year 1847, the steamer Sovereign started from the settlement of Brisbane on her way to Svdney, and had on board an unusually large number of passengers, amongst whom were some of the most wealthy und influential people of this part of the colony. I have not before me at this moment sufficient information to give the names of all, but amongst others I remember a Mr. Gore, a brother of the late Hon. St. George R. Gore, together with his wife and child (or children), Mr. Berkeley, Mr. Stubbs, and a number of other prominent gentlemen of those times.
It was usual then for sea going vessels to take the South Passage, as the Northern entrance was not so well known. The Sovereign with (56) fifty-six souls on board lay weather bound in Moreton Bay for several days, and the passengers became restive, and murmured against the captain, whom they blamed, wrongfully, as the sequel will show, for the delay. Captain Cape was a great favorite on the coast, and a perfect gentlemen, and he resented their interference. This led to recriminations on both sides, and at last the passengers accused him of being in collusion with the steward, whose interest it was to keep them on board as long as possible. Upon this state of affairs arising, Cape said,-"Well, gentlemen, I will take you to sea tomorrow morning, whatever be the consequences." Accordingly on the following morning, the 11th March, 1847, the Sovereign attempted the passage. A heavy gale had been blowing, and the sea was rolling mountains high, and to get out it was necessary to take a line of three enormous breakers; the little steamer took the first and shivered like a living thing; took the second and her machinery broke down, and she lay a helpless hulk in that tremendous sea. The anchors were immediately let go, with the hope of keeping her head to it, but the breakers made a clean breach right over her and swept her crew and passengers in troops from the deck; in a very few minutes the vessel became a total wreck, and was so rotten that she actually broke up into small pieces, leaving fifty-six unfortunate people and her cargo floating about at the mercy of the waves, and more than a mile from any land. This was one of the most disasterous wrecks that ever occurred in the Southern hemisphere. There was not a family in town Brisbane that did not mourn the loss of a friend or a relation. You, who live in these times when the city is large, can never realise the consternation of the handful of people who were the then inhabitants of Brisbane, when the news of this appalling disaster reached them. I was a child at the time but remember vividly the alarmed faces and the low tones in which the event was discussed, and then one of the survivors came to our house. He was a strong and healthy young man, and an excellent swimmer, and was in the habit of relating his life experiences as follows (his name was Mr. Richard Stubbs) :-
"When the first breaker struck the vessel it swept a number of the passengers off the deck, and amongst others myself. I saw men raising their arms wildly in the water round me, shrieking for help, and going down never to rise again, and I struggled hard to get up to the steamer; when near to her another wave struck her, and she actually crumbled to pieces. I had dived down as the breaker came, but when I came up again there was no ship visible, but around me were scattered dead and drowning people who struggled with each other, and with anything they could get hold of, such as pieces of wreck, bales of wool, and all sorts of things. I saw Mrs. Gore's maid floating near me still alive, and I swam to her, and helped her on to a bale of wool, but when the wool became saturated it sank, and she was never seen alive again. The tide was coming in at the time, and had drifted me, and a few people who clung to a spar, clear of the breakers, and when on the crest of a wave we could see Moreton Island, but it looked a hopeless distance off. We were fearfully torn about by pieces of wreck, with nails in them, striking against us in the water, so much so, that I have thirty-two nail holes in various parts of my body. About this time I became almost insensible, and we must all have perished had not assistance come to hand A number of blacks had brm-tcd I lit breakers, and when we were more than half a mile from shore they surrounded us, and taking hold of us, three or four to each white, they swam with us to land, took us up to their camp, tended our wounds, wrapped us up in their blankets while they dried our clothes, set food before us, and treated us with every mark of the most heartfelt pity and commiseration. I shall never forget the debt of gratitude we owe to those poor blacks, or the risks they ran in saving us, for I have no doubt but what a large number of the lives lost were owing to sharks, which were to be seen in all directions."
This, Sir, is a simple relation of facts, and the writer can produce proofs of the truth of every word he has advanced. The aborigines who saved these people were led on by a black, who is now an old man, and his name is Toompani. He is the only one left out of all those who assisted to save their lives, and was the man who first called upon his tribe to swim out and help the people. They were afraid to start until he set them the example and had gone out some distance from shore, when the rest followed him. In proof of this I have before me, as I write, the only reward this man ever received for his heroic and humane conduct. It is the shape of a plate of brass in the form of a half-moon, from which I read the following inscription : -
TOOMPANI OF AMITY POINT.
REWARDED BY THE GOVERNOR
For the assistance he afforded with several of his countrymen to the survivors of the wreck of the steamer "Sovereign" by rescuing them from the surf on Moreton Island.
On the 11th of March, 1847,
Upon which meloncholy occasion in 46 persons were drowned, and by the aid of the natives 10 were saved.
The piece of injustice I wish to call your attention to is this : Every now and then a boat is given to the blacks of entirely another tribe, and who were not in any way concerned in this or any other rescue of shipwrecked people; and on this occasion were not even within thirty miles of the scene of the disaster. These boats have been regularly given to a tribe that belongs to the mainland, and who are very seldom down further in the bay than Lytton. They sometimes go to the Logan River, but are very seldom out in the bay anywhere they could be useful in case of shipwreck, and have little or no intercourse with the Amity Point tribe, in fact they are hostile to them. The whole of the aborigines are given to understand that these boats aro presented by the Government as a reward for their ellorts in rescuing shipwrecked crews, for on two other occasions besides the wreck of the Sovereign the Amity Point blacks have been energetic in saving life; and further, the tribe which receives these boats under false pretences has two boats already, and they do not in the least require either of them, whilst the man Toompani, who certainly ought to have one for his tribe, has no boat at all, and in the event of a wreck taking place on Moreton or Stradbroke Island, would be almost powerless to render assistance And all this arises simply from his not having the ear of the authorities in Brisbane, and not being able to speak sufficiently good English to make himself understood. However, the plate he carries speaks for itself, and I trust that the next time a boat is given away it will be given to the proper tribe, and not to the impostor who already has two. -