The revenges of time and a question of color [by Mary Gilmore, 9 April 1908]

[Editor: This article by Mary Gilmore was published in “A Woman’s Column” (“Conducted by Mary Gilmore”), in The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 9 April 1908.]

The revenges of time and a question of color.

The revenges of time and the justification of the maligned, indeed! When one finds the following in such an Anti-Labor, Anti-White Australian paper as the “Australasian”; the paper beloved of the black-labor advocate; the paper which still cries, at times, for the kanaka, and deplores his departure from Queensland; and which had nothing too bitter and too bad to say against the Labor Party and its policy of a white people for this, our island continent. Recently, Sir Alfred Jones, senior partner of an important shipping firm, made a cruise in West Indian waters in the s.s. Port Kingston. Among his guests were the Earl of Dudley (Governor-General-elect), the Countess of Dudley, Mr. Arnold Forster (lately Secretary of State for War), Mr. J. Henniker Heaton, Mr. Jesse Collings, and Mr. Ralph Hall Caine (son of the novelist). The lastnamed has written a book in which he recounts the adventures, etc., of the voyagers. I cannot do better than simply quote from the article as given, as nothing more clearly shows the madness of a journal which can publish such articles, knowing them to deal with facts, and can yet deliberately strive to encourage exactly the same kind of things to happen and become part of our national life here.

I suppose nine out of ten women representing “Women’s National Leagues” at the recent gathering in Melbourne, read the “Argus” and the “Australasian;” I suppose nine out of ten of them consider themselves cultured, well-read, thoughtful, women. As such, they must know, as Labor people know, the moral conditions of other countries where race fusion exists. As such they surely read, as we, and, reading, learn? Yet the amazing thing is, that in spite of their claim to be called intelligent (for the fact that they act as representatives of bodies of women is surely a tacit claim?); in spite of this knowledge one would naturally expect to find in women acting as delegates, they can face such things as are here below set forth, and yet advocate the introduction of colored aliens into Australia. I cannot understand it. As a mother, I cannot even come near to understanding it. As an intelligent being, it sometimes seems to me that there must be, perhaps far back, some strain of the negro or the Chinaman, of the Afghan, or the kanaka, some call of the blood, in these women, persistently drawing them back, and forcing them to advocate claims of those who are, in part, literally themselves; for, the whole world over, purity of race is its own greatest bulwark, and the greater the purity the greater the intolerance of admixture with color — even with white, but different, nationalities. The history of all national growth shows this; the history of all national decay is its proof.

And past or present, there is a screw loose somewhere, when women are willing, either directly or indirectly, to mix with color. Either they have no sense of their work as conservers of race and nationhood, and are degenerate; or, as I said before, they cry for where they belong. There is no man and no woman true to blood who can be faithful to both black and white; one or the other must be set first. If the white, then the black is enslaved, and, in time, the depravity of the white ensured. If the black, the white sinks, and with him even the level to which the black has been dragged by the white man’s civilising hand, falls, and the tragedy of Hayti is once more re-enacted.

And now for quotation, and to muse over the queerness of the Tory brain and the Tory idea of national morality:—

A pathetic, though far from uncommon, aspect of the eternal race question, is illustrated by the tale which Mr. Hall Caine has to tell of a young girl, who went out on the “Port Kingston” to be married, in Jamaica. She was young, pretty, and attractive. “He” had come home to finish his education, and had won her love. When the ship reached her moorings at Kingston, the girl eagerly scanned the group on the wharf. “Can you see your husband that is to be?” asked Mr. Hall Caine. “No — but I am not sure,” she said, slowly and doubtingly; but in a moment she added, with animation, “Oh, yes; there he is, beside those distressingly plain and fat black people.” She waved to someone, then turned, and went on. “He said he would bring his people to meet me, but I expect his mother is somewhere in the shade of the covered wharf down there.” With growing anxiety, Mr. Hall Caine examined the man who had returned the girl’s salutation. Though light-complexioned, he was distinctly a man of color. Coming on board with his companions, he kissed his fiancee effusively, and introduced her to his mother, the most conspicuous of the distressingly plain and black fat people. Amazement and reproach were marked on every white face around, and tears were starting to the girl’s eyes, but she controlled herself with dignity, and gave her hand to each of the black tribe. Bidding a steward look after her luggage, she passed down the gangway without so much as speaking a word to any friend of the voyage. “The drama is a tragedy, and it has only begun,” whispered a man at the author’s elbow; “we don’t teach the English girl what all this means. Indeed, if we teach her anything on the subject, it is that the black man is ‘her brother,’ and that the difference is a trifling distinction of color or occupation. Her awakening comes when she realises that in her colonial home she is cut off from the society of all her own country women, and that in motherhood her heart may be filled with loathing, instead of love.” “But this man must know all this?” “Certainly. He knows that within this island he can barely dare to speak to an English girl, and never presume to be a guest in her home. But in England the flag of empire covers much! So he goes ‘home’ to England to pass an examination, perhaps, and, perhaps, too, if he is not quite as black as his mother, to secure an English wife. When she arrives here, he gives her no time to realise. This wedding will be to-morrow morning at the latest.” And so it was. A few days later some of the Port Kingston passengers met the bride on her honeymoon at a seaside resort. She seemed already conscious of the gulf between herself and ordinary white people, even hesitating to speak to her former friends of the outward voyage. In response to no question — at least, to no question actually put into words — she explained to Mr. Hall Caine, “I gave my word, and I could not break it — not then, at all events.” It may be remembered that an episode remarkably like this is the basis of one of Mr. Grant Allen’s “color problem” novels. …

A veneer of Christian civilisation is all that the West Indian negroes have acquired, and they still practise even in British colonies the dark Obeah and Voodoo magic which their forefathers brought from the swamps and forests tropical Africa. Hayti, the notorious black republic, which has just been passing through one of its periodical and sanguinary revolutions, is saturated with Voodooism, even human sacrifices and cannibalism being secretly indulged in. “The law of Hayti, the written law, would,” says Mr. Hall Caine, “impose heavy penalties upon those who take part in the Voodoo sacrifices, but in Hayti, as elsewhere, there is a law above the law, and that is the people’s will. No one dare neglect the call of the sacred drum, let alone put the written law in operation, and it is on record that Cora Geffard, the daughter of a former President of the island, was shot dead as she knelt before the altar of a Roman Catholic Church in Port au Prince, her only offence being that she was the child of her father, who had striven to suppress certain of the grosser Voodoo barbarities.”

Voodoo, as is well known, is of two kinds. There is the white Voodoo, which makes little pretence at concealment. Travellers may without much difficulty witness the sacrifice of white cocks and white goats to the serpent god of evil. It is the red Voodoo that is the thing of horror. A mild phase of its ritual is given by our author in the words of a recent visitor to Hayti, who was present at a red Voodoo ceremony a few miles from the town of Jacmel:— “By the light of kerosene oil flames I saw about 40 men and women gathered round a rude stone altar, on which, twined around a cocomacaque stick, was the sacred green snake. The Mamoli (officiating priestess), a tall, evil-looking negress, was dressed in a scarlet robe, with a red turban on her head. She was dancing a sensuous dance before the altar, and droning an ancient West African chant, which the onlookers repeated. Rapidly she worked herself up to a frantic pitch of excitement, pausing now and then to take a drinks from one of the rum bottles which passed freely from hand to hand. At last she picked up a glittering machette from the altar, and with her other hand seized a black cock held by a bystander. She whirled the bird round her head violently, until the feathers were flying in all directions, and then severed the head from the body with one swift stroke. The tense and horrible excitement had kept the worshippers silent, but they burst into a savage yell when the priestess pressed the bleeding neck of the slaughtered fowl to her lips. Afterwards she dipped her finger in the blood and made the sign of the cross on her forehead and the foreheads of several of her disciples.”

This is red Voodoo in its least repulsive form. The supreme right is practised only in dark caves or lonesome woods. Care is taken that none but worshippers shall answer to the call of the sacred drum. “The preliminary sacrifice is a black goat, and then, when the worshippers are raised to a state of uncontrollable madness and intense sensuous excitement by blood and drink, the priestess’ suggestive dances, and intoxicating music, there comes the crowning sacrifice — a drugged child, whose blood and flesh form part of the cannibalistic feast.”

To such infamy have the negroes of Hayti reverted under self-government, and to such infamy would their fellows of Jamaica revert but for the strong rule and keen vigilance of the white man. Mr. Hall Caine gives a terrible account of the utter lack of moral restraint in the relations of the sexes among the West Indian negroes, and still worse accounts of the results of “race fusion.” Among the pictures which illustrate this book are portraits of girls with finely-cut European features, and an air of refinement, but with skins as black as night. They hate and despise their negro kinsmen, but no white man would think of treating them as he would treat women of his own stock. In the West Indies, more even than in the southern States of America, the evil consequences of race contamination are forced home upon the observer.

And, now, think of the attitude of this paper on the question of the alien, and explain it if you can.

* * *

As to why the condition of things is not as bad in the southern States of America as in the West Indies, it is found in the fact that while the white man does not allow the colored to walk on the same footpath as he, sit in the same car, eat at the same table, or attend the same school, and that in some States, at least, it is a penal offence for any clergyman to marry, either white to black or black to white. And here, too, the condition of moral life is only kept (even moderately) decent by reason of the numerical superiority of the white. Once let that break down, and the white man’s civilisation will pass from the black as the white light of day passes from the sky — to be followed by blackness and night.

The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 9 April 1908, p. 9

Editor’s notes:
1) The article that Mary Gilmore refers to is: “West Indian sketches”, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 28 March 1908, p. 791

2) The block of text from The Australasian has been put in a “blockquote” so as to distinguish it from the writing of Mary Gilmore.

cocomacaque = (also spelt “coco macaque”) a Haitian Vodoo stick, made from the coco macaque tree (Bactris plumeriana), said to be possessed by a spirit of the dead, able to be instructed by its owner to do evil errands, and to cause death if used to hit an enemy
See: 1) “The secrets of the coco-macaque”, Haunted America Tours
2) Eladio Fernandez, “Coco macaque (Bactris plumeriana) in tropical forest, Hispaniola”, Nature Picture Library, 9 November 2018
3) “NotesAndLinks”,
4) “Haitian mythology”, Wikipedia

Hall Caine = British author Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931)

Hayti = archaic spelling of “Haiti”: a country in the Caribbean, occupying the western part of the island of Hispaniola (the eastern part of the island is occupied by the Dominican Republic)

kanaka = a Pacific Islander employed as an indentured labourer in various countries, such as Australia (especially in Queensland), British Columbia (Canada), Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu; in Australia the kanakas were mostly used on the sugar plantations and cotton plantations in Queensland; some kanakas were taken by unscrupulous “recruiters” into virtual slavery (a practice known as “blackbirding”), by kidnapping, being lured with false promises, or being signed up under contracts which were of dubious value (the word “kanaka” derives from the Hawaiian word for “person” or “man”)

pathetic = something which evokes feelings of sadness or sorrow (may also refer to something which is considered inadequate, inferior, or beneath contempt)

Obeah = a religious practice of the West Indies, regarded as a form of folk magic or witchcraft, with similarities to Voodoo

Port au Prince = the capital of Haiti

sanguinary = involving a lot of bloodshed, causing much bloodshed, bloody violence (such as a sanguinary battle, rebellion, or war); bloodthirsty, eager to shed blood, murderous; bloodsoaked, bloody, consisting of blood, flowing or stained with blood, gory

s.s. = steamship (may also refer to a single-screw ship or to a submarine)
See 1) “Latest shipping”, The Journal (Adelaide, SA), 24 March 1923, p. 16 (night edition)
2) “Ship prefixes: Understanding SS and other common uses”, NADA Guides (National Automobile Dealers Association)
3) Soumyajit Dasgupta, “What are ship prefixes for naval and merchant vessels?”, Marine Insight, 4 December 2019
4) “Ship abbreviations and symbols”, Naval History and Heritage Command
5) “Military abbreviations used in service files”, Library and Archives Canada (Government of Canada)

Tory = someone who is politically conservative (especially used re. Britain, but also in places settled by the British)

Voodoo = a religious practice, regarded as a form of folk magic or witchcraft, adhered to primarily by people of African ethnicity in the Caribbean (especially known re. Haiti), parts of West Africa, and parts of southern USA (especially known re. Louisiana)

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