James Davis, it would appear, commenced work as an assistant to his father, a blacksmith in the Old Wynd, Glasgow, Scotland, and subsequently worked at his trade at the Broomielaw. "Like father like son" does not apply in the case in point, for while the father was a respectable tradesman his offspring was fond of getting into little scrapes.
True in themselves these were small, but in time they multiplied and increased in magnitude, and eventually James's waywardness secured for him, at the age of 15 years, transportation to New South Wales. The particular offence in this case was the purloining of half-a-crown from a church in Surrey.
The Minstrel conveyed him to Botany Bay, where, probably owing in a great measure to the nature of his surroundings, he did not give much promise of reformation. He had not been long at Botany before he got into further trouble, and as a result was sent on to Moreton Bay, where he was taken in hand by Commandant Logan—truly a hard task-master. Whether or not Davis found him so is a point on which opinions differ, for while on one hand it is alleged that he was badly used, it is also stated that he was not whipped.
Davis was at all times very reticent, but it may fairly be assumed that something out of the ordinary must have occurred to cause him to face the blacks rather than be fettered by convict discipline.
He was employed at the forge, and it was after he had worked here some months that he and his mate decided to abscond. And abscond they did, making their way to the northward. They had not been out long before the couple fell in with the blacks; but much to the astonishment of Davis, instead of their having to fight for their lives, the chief of the tribe fell on his neck and otherwise made a great fuss over him.
In fact this was another case of tribal superstition—Davis was taken to be Duramboi, the long lost son of Pamby-Pamby. They believed he was Duramboi returned to life, having been "scraped," and thus become white.
Accordingly he was treated with marked respect, being supplied with an abundance of food. Davis's mate, however, was less fortunate, though he was not for some time killed. But he made a fatal mistake of emptying the mortal remains of a deceased black fellow from a native basket which he found in a tree, and which he appropriated to carry oysters in, and he perished in expiation of this accidental act of sacrilege.
As must be supposed amid such strange surroundings it was some time before Davis could accustom himself to his new position, but he gradually picked up the languages of the several tribes and became very comfortable. Among other things he is said to have been an expert climber and a capital huntsman.
Good as his position was in the tribe, however, he got into trouble, and trouble which might have ended very seriously for him. His offence was the accidental killing of his "mother's" dog—a crime almost as serious in the eyes of the blacks as that for which his companion had died. Davis could see his life was no longer in safety, and the question arose in his mind whether he should quit the camp or take such measures as would secure for him more authority.
To quit was not convenient; to fight not unattended by danger. After due consideration, however, he adopted the latter course, and on the first opportunity that presented itself set to and gave his "father," Pamby-Pamby, what a schoolboy would call "a jolly good hammering." His plan was highly successful, for he managed to put Pamby in bodily fear.
At the same time he decided not to make friendly relationship impossible, and after the incident just recorded, exerted himself in procuring a plentiful supply of food. Thus he gradually wormed himself into the confidence and good graces of his "parents."
In his wanderings he was often mixed up in native feuds, and, as previously stated, when found by Mr. Petrie's party his body bore evidence of rough usage. When it is remembered that Davis pursued this wild life for fourteen years his condition may well be imagined.
His frequent journeyings with his tribe however, enabled him, when he had regained sufficient of his mother-tongue to make himself understood, to impart valuable information respecting the unexplored territory north of Moreton Bay - information which was afterwards turned to useful account; while his knowledge of aboriginal dialects and customs was hardly less valuable. Click Here for Other Reference.
On returning to the Settlement he and Bracefield received a well-deserved manumission and entered the service of Dr. Simpson, land commissioner, then residing at Woogaroo. The career of Bracefield was cut short by a falling tree while working for the doctor.
Davis was set up by the Government as a blacksmith on Kangaroo Point, and afterwards assisted in opening up several roads (chief among which was the one to Gympie), and on several occasions distinguished himself in the search for lost white men.
Some years later he married, and in addition to his business on the Point he acted as Government interpreter. A veritable rolling stone he did not long remain here, for having built a small shop in George Street (the bricks for which, by the way, are alleged to have come from the old windmill) he settled down there as a crockery ware dealer, in which capacity most of our Brisbane readers will have known him. He resided there until his death, which occurred but a short time ago.
At one time, at the instigation of Mr. S. G. Mee of this town, overtures were made by Baron Mueller to Duramboi to join in a proposed expedition to search for remains of the explorer Leichhardt. He readily consented to act, and there is no doubt that had the trip been made his acquaintance with the country and with the manners of the blacks would have been of immense value. But Fate ruled otherwise. The funds available were not sufficiently large to warrant the expedition.