Eliza Dunlop

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop (1796-1880), ethnographer, was born in County Armagh, Ireland, the daughter of Solomon Hamilton, a barrister. She married James Sylvius Law, astronomer. A son and a daughter were born to the marriage. In 1823 at Portpatrick, Scotland, she married David Dunlop. There were four children of this marriage. The family arrived in Sydney on the Superb in February 1838. Her husband was appointed police magistrate and protector of Aborigines at Wollombi and Macdonald River in 1839 and Mrs Dunlop began to study the local Aboriginal language and song.

She had enjoyed a small success as a poet, having had her work published in the Dublin Penny Journal. Her Australian poems appeared in the The Australian, the Maitland Mercury and the Sydney Gazette. Isaac Nathan set some of her lyrics to music; they appear from 1842 in his Australian Melodies series.

Fragments of her Aboriginal vocabularies survive. Eliza was exceptional in her appreciation of Aboriginal song and in attempting to translate the original into English. Missionary Lancelot Threlkeld thought her rendering of 'Nung-Ngnun' a 'fair specimen of Song, translated, with a little poetical licence'. She wrote on Aboriginal themes. Evidence tendered to the Supreme Court during the trial of stockmen who had massacred Aborigines on 'Myall Creek' run - 'Only one female and her child got away from us' - led her to write in outrage 'The Aboriginal Mother', published in the Sydney Gazette on 19 October l841:

Oh, hush thee, hush, my baby, I may not tend thee yet,

Our forest land is distant far, and midnight-star is set

Now hush thee, or the pale-faced men will hear thy piercing wail,

And what would then thy mother's tears or feeble strength avail.

. . . Nay, hush thee dear; for weary and faint I bear thee on

His name is on thy gentle lips; my child, my child he's gone!

Gone o'er the golden fields that lie beyond the rolling cloud,

To bring thy people's murder-cry before the Christian's God.

Yes, o'er the stars that guide us, he leads my slaughter'd boy,

To show their God how treacherously those stranger men destroy:

To tell of hands - the cruel bands - that piled the fatal pyre:

To show our blood on Myab's ridge, our bones on the stockman's fire.

A volume of Eliza's poems remain in manuscript in the Mitchell Library. She died at Wollombi on 20 June 1863.

Heather Radi