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Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere, Vols. II - IIIVoyaging Accounts
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James Cook
Joseph Banks

Description of the Inhabitants


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Description of the Inhabitants (continued)

Among those who are accustomed to eat the dead, death must have lost much of its horror; and where there is little horror at the sight of death, there will not be much repugnance to kill. A sense of duty, and fear of punishment, may be more easily surmounted than the feelings of Nature, or those which have been engrafted upon Nature by early prejudice and uninterrupted custom. The horror of the murderer arises less from the guilt of the fact, than its natural effect; and he who has familiarised the effect, will consequently lose much of the horror. By our laws, and our religion, murder and theft incur the same punishment, both in this world and the next; yet, of the multitude who would deliberately steal, there are but very few who would deliberately kill, even to procure much greater advantage. But there is the strongest reason to believe, that those who have been so accustomed to prepare a human body for a meal, that they can with as little feeling cut up a dead man, as our cook-maids divide a dead rabbit for a fricassee, would feel as little horror in committing a murder as in picking a pocket, and consequently would take away life with as little compunction as property; so that men, under these circumstances, would be made murderers by the slight temptations that now make them thieves. If any man doubts whether this reasoning is conclusive, let him ask himself, whether in his own opinion he should not be safer with a man in whom the horror of destroying life is strong, whether in consequence of natural instinct unsubdued, or of early prejudice, which has nearly an equal influence; than in the power of a man who under any temptation to murder him would be restrained only by considerations of interest; for to these all motives of mere duty may be reduced, as they must terminate either in hope of good, or fear of evil.

The situation and circumstances, however, of these poor people, as well as their temper, are favourable to those who shall settle as a colony among them. Their situation sets them in need of protection, and their temper renders it easy to attach them by kindness; and whatever may be said in favour of a savage life, among people who live in luxurious idleness upon the bounty of Nature, civilization would certainly be a blessing to those whom her parsimony scarcely furnishes with the bread of life, and who are perpetually destroying each other by violence, as the only alternative of perishing by hunger.

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© Derived from Vols. II-III of the London 1773 edition: National Library of Australia call no. FERG 7243, pages 448 - 449, 2004
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