More Devil Hands making lighter work

A previous blog post described the Devils Hands rockshelter along the Shoalhaven River, which was interpreted and incorporated by Lawrence Hargrave into his theories.  Since then I have found the correspondence between Hargrave and Walter Hull, who brought it to his attention, in the National Library of Australia.

On 20 August 1910 Walter Hull, of ‘Tolosa’, Beuna Vista Road in the Sydney suburb of Mosman wrote to Hargrave.  He was interested in Hargrave’s idea that what was considered to be Aboriginal art had a more complex origin.  He included a copy of the photo that had been reproduced in the Lone Hand, having sold them the copyright some time earlier.  Hargrave gave a quick and positive reply within a few days, as was his practice, but a month later came back with a much more developed understanding of them.

… Boat shaped marks refer to water journeys, footsteps refer to land journeys and ‘hands’ refer to manual labour.  What labour?  The search for gold, and it is certain that if Lope de Vega got any gold from near Sydney it was from the Shoalhaven River.  The hands or fingers are a record of the number of quills of gold obtained.  The Peruvian-Spaniards did not go there by water, they had had enough of the sea and were only interested in the land.  The land journey was easy, a few cabbage palms or dry logs would ferry all that it was necessary to keep dry.  14 days would suffice to get there.

The blacks got it hot for the memory to last to our time; and continued opposition would decorate the outskirts of the gold working camps with blakc fellows seated on pointed stakes. [NLA MS 352-6: Hargrave to Hull 22 Sept 1911]

A month later Hargrave wrote again, requesting whether he could use it in his forthcoming latest work.  Neither Hull nor the Lone Hand had any issue with it, and it was incorporated in the third Lope de Vega instalment [Hargrave 1911].  Hull set out his belief that the hand stencils reflected foreign influences, asserting that the hands were found only in the Shoalhaven district, which was also cited by Hargrave.  Given that Hull’s Mosman home was probably within a few kilometres of many rockshelters with all manner of hand stencils it is hard to know how he made that statement except by remarkable lack of awareness.

In another group of papers in the Hargrave collection there is a small map cut out of the Daily Telegraph of 4 July 1913 showing the proposed Warragamba Dam in Sydney’s west.  Hargrave marked it with a red pencil and the annotation ‘Probable track to silver mine and gold river’.  The path chosen was along the coast south of Sydney, then along the Shoalhaven, to where it swings southwards and into the Bungonia Gorge.  The Spanish travellers then emerged passing the site of Marulan and joining the Wollondilly River, which they followed north into the Burragorang River valley, now submerged by Warragamba Dam.  Joining the Nepean River at Mulgoa they then followed this to about Richmond, presumably crossing back to Sydney overland [NLA MS 352-19].

Hargrave sought corroborating evidence for this theory, including writing a letter to the Burragorang Valley school principal, in case he had come across anything of interest.  Unsurprisingly, no answer was forthcoming.

As I had supposed, Hull was prompted by Hargrave’s newspaper articles to offer his own idle speculation to what was a surprisingly sympathetic ear.  As discussed in the earlier post the quest for gold provided a very useful reason to have Spanish mariners and their Peruvian slaves running around the landscape, and attempting to explain the great quantity of contrary evidence that did not fit his theory.  In late 1910 Hargrave was busily working on the third instalment of his Lope de Vega paper, and perhaps if he had more time may have looked harder at the evidence.  As it was he put more effort into getting a copy of the Lone Hand picture into his paper than in thinking about the contribution it made to his case.


Greig, A.W. 1909
‘Aboriginal art: with an account of the mysterious rock pictures of the Glenelg District [W.A.]‘, The Lone Hand, 5, 1 May 1909, pp. 42-48.

Hargrave, L. 1911
Lope de Vega: in continuation of previous publications contained in the Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Vols XLIII,XLIV, 1909, 1910, privately published, Sydney.


National Library of Australia
MS 352 – Lawrence Hargrave papers relating to Lope de Vega
Series 6 – correspondence 1908-1910
Series 19 – newsclippings


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