A Voyage to Terra Australis Volume 2
Part 4 out of 10
The longitude given by the time keepers, with the rates from Upper Head
in Broad Sound, on our arrival Nov. 16, was by
No. 543, 140 deg. 6' 35.2" east.
No. 520, 139 deg. 47' 42.2" east.
No. 520 therefore differed very little to the east of the lunar
observations, and the first day's rate was almost exactly the same as
that with which we had quitted Upper Head; whilst No. 543 differed
greatly, both in longitude and rate. A similar discordance had been
noticed at the Cumberland Island, marked _l2_, twenty days after leaving
Upper Head; No. 520 then differed only 1' 1.2" from the survey, but No.
543 erred 7' 2.2" to the east. I have therefore been induced to prefer
the longitude given by No. 520, to the mean of both time keepers; and
accordingly, the positions of places before mentioned or laid down in the
charts, between Upper Head and Sweers' Island, including Torres' Strait,
are from this time keeper alone; with such small correction equally
proportioned; as its error from the lunars, 2' 50.2" to the east in
fifty-two days, made necessary.
No. 543 had undergone some revolution on the passage, but seemed at this
time to be going steadily; whereas No. 520, which had kept its rate so
well, now varied from 18.79" to 25.39", and ceased to be entitled to an
equal degree of confidence.
Mean _dip_ of the south end of the needle, observed upon the west point
of Sweers' Island, 44 deg. 27'.
_Variation_ of the theodolite in the same place, 4 deg. 7' E.
_Variation_ of the surveying compass in the Road, 2 deg. 28' with the ship's
head E. N. E, and 4 deg. 30' with the head northward; the mean corrected to
the meridian, will be 4 deg. 31' E.
In bearings taken on the east side of Bentinck's Island, the variation
appeared to be a full degree greater than on the west side of Sweers'
The _tides_ in the Investigator's Road ran N. N. E. and S. S. W., as the
channel lies, and their greatest rate at the springs, was one mile and a
quarter per hour; they ran with regularity, but there was only one flood
and one ebb in the day. The principal part of the flood came from N. N.
E.; but according to lieutenant Fowler's remarks on shore, between the
23rd and 27th, it was high water three hours after the opposite tide had
set in; or about _three hours and a quarter before_ the moon came to the
meridian. At the Prince of Wales' Islands, and at Coen River, it had also
appeared that the tide from south-west made high water. The time here
happened between 81/2h and 111/2h at night, from the 23rd to the 27th; but
whether high water will always take place at night, as it did at King
George's Sound on the South Coast, I cannot be certain. About twelve feet
was the greatest rise, which I apprehend would be diminished to eight, at
the neap tides.
Departure from Sweers' Island.
South side of C. Van Diemen examined.
Anchorage at Bountiful Island: turtle and sharks there.
Land of C. Van Diemen proved to be an island.
Examination of the main coast to Cape Vanderlin.
That cape found to be one of a group of islands.
Examination of the islands; their soil, etc.
Monument of the natives.
Traces of former visitors to these parts.
Astronomical and nautical observations.
[NORTH COAST. WELLESLEY'S ISLANDS.]
WEDNESDAY 1 DECEMBER 1802
(Atlas, Plate XIV.)
On the 1st of December we got under way, and passed the reef at the
south-east end of Sweers' Island. I wished to run close along the north
side of this, and of Bentinck's Island, and get in with the main land to
the west; but the shoal water and dry banks lying off them presented so
much impediment, that we steered north-westward for land which came in
sight in that direction. At noon, the land was distant six or seven
miles, and appeared to be the inner part of that great projection of the
main, represented in the old chart under the name of _Cape Van Diemen_;
but the rocky nature of the shore and unevenness of the surface were so
different from the sandy uniformity of the continent, that I much doubted
of its connexion. Our situation at this time, and the bearings taken were
Latitude, observed to the north and south, 16 deg. 48' 29"
Land of Cape Van Diemen, N. 70 deg. W. to 25 W.
A piece apparently separated, N. 18 W. to 11 E.
Bentinck's I., highest part at the north end, S. 15 E.
A smoke was rising in the direction of Horse-shoe Island, but no land was
We had a light breeze at E. by N., and steered westward along the rocky
shore, at the distance of two or three miles, till five in the evening;
when the breeze having shifted to S. W., we tacked and came to an anchor
in 6 fathoms, mud and shells. The land was then distant three miles, and
extended from N. 61 deg. E. to a point with a clump of high trees on it,
which appeared to be the south-west extremity of the northern land and
bore N. 84 deg. W. Whether the space between it and the main near Allen's
Isle were the entrance of an inlet, or merely a separation of the two
lands, could not be distinguished; but the tide set W. by S., into the
opening, and there was a low island and many rocks in it. From an
amplitude at this anchorage, the variation was 3 deg. 16' east, corrected to
the meridian, nearly the same as at Allen's Isle, five leagues to the
south; and a full degree less than in the Investigator's Road.
THURSDAY 2 DECEMBER 1802
At five next morning we steered for the opening, with light, variable
winds. On each side of the low island and rocks there seemed to be
passages leading into a large spread of water, like the sea; and our
course was directed for the northernmost, until the water shoaled to 21/2
fathoms and we tacked to the southward. The south-west point of the
northern land then bore N. 74 deg. W. four miles, and the north end of
Allen's Isle was seen from the mast head, bearing S. 3 deg. W. five leagues;
but that part of the opening between them, not occupied by the main land,
seemed to be so choaked with rocks that there was little prospect of a
passage for the Investigator. This being the case, and the wind becoming
unfavourable to the search, we steered back eastward, along the shore;
and at eight in the evening, anchored near the furthest part yet seen in
that direction, in 61/2 fathoms sand and shells.
FRIDAY 3 DECEMBER 1802
At daylight, the piece of hilly land before judged to be an island, and
which still appeared so, bore N. 86 deg. to 28 deg. W., two or three miles, with
some nearer rocks lying in front; the northern land extended from behind
it to N. 32 deg. E., and we followed its course at the distance of five, and
from that to two miles off shore. At noon we approached the eastern
extremity, and saw a small island two leagues further out, one of three
laid down in the old chart near Cape Van Diemen; it is thickly covered
with wood, principally of that softish, white kind, whence it obtained
the name of _Isle Pisonia_. Another and a larger island afterwards opened
from the cape; but this could not be one of the three, for it lies so
close, that Tasman, or whoever discovered these parts, would scarcely
have observed the separation; and in fact, the other two isles presently
came in sight to the southward, nearly in the situation assigned to them.
The wind being unfavourable to doubling the cape, we bore away for the
two islands; and soon after four o'clock, anchored on the south-east side
of the outermost, in 61/2 fathoms, good holding ground.
Turtle tracks were distinguished on the beach as we rounded the
north-east point, and afforded us the pleasurable anticipation of some
fresh food. We had explored tropical coasts for several months, without
reaping any one of the advantages usually attending it, and been
frequently tantalized with the sight of turtle in the water, and of bones
and shells round the fire places on shore; but we now hoped to have found
a place where the Indians had not forestalled us, and to indemnify
ourselves for so many disappointments.
In rowing to the Island, we carried 5 fathoms nearly close to the beach.
Several turtle were swimming about, and some perceived above high-water
mark, which we ran to secure, but found them dead, and rotten; they
appeared to have fallen on their backs in climbing up a steep part of the
beach, and not being able to right themselves, had miserably perished. I
walked the greater part of the length of the island; and from the highest
hillock set the eastern extreme of the island close to Cape Van Diemen,
at N. 343/4 deg. W., and Isle Pisonia from N. 223/4 deg. to 191/2 deg. W.
During my absence from the boat, the impatient crew, not waiting for the
turtle to come on shore, had been attacking them in the water; and had
caught three large ones, and broken my harpoon. They had also been
scratching out some of the holes, of which the upper part of the sandy
beach was full; from one they filled a hat with turtles eggs, and from
another took a swarm of young ones, not broader than a crown piece, which
I found crawling in every part of the boat. It was then past sunset, and
numbers of turtle were collected, waiting only for our departure to take
the beach; I therefore hastened to the ship, and sent lieutenant Fowler
with a party of men, to remain all night and turn them.
SATURDAY 4 DECEMBER 1802
Next morning, two boats went to bring off the officer and people with
what had been caught; but their success had been so great, that it was
necessary to hoist out the launch; and it took nearly the whole day to
get on board what the decks and holds could contain, without impediment
to the working of the ship. They were found by Mr. Brown to be nearly
similar to, but not exactly the true green turtle, and he thought might
be an undescribed species. We contrived to stow away forty-six, the least
of them weighing 250 lbs, and the average about 300; besides which, many
were re-turned on shore, and suffered to go away.
This _Bountiful Island_, for so I termed it, is near three miles long,
and generally low and sandy; the highest parts are ridges of sand,
overspread with a long, creeping, coarse grass, which binds the sand
together, and preserves it from being blown away; grass of the common
kind grows in the lower parts, and in one place there were some bushes
and small trees. The basis consists partly of a streaked, ochrous earth,
and in part of sand, concreted with particles of iron ore. Nothing
bespoke this island to have been ever before visited, whence it is
probable that the natives of the neighbouring lands do not possess
canoes; for with them, the distance of four leagues from Cape Van Diemen
would not have been too great to be passed, though too far in a tide's
way for such rafts as I saw at Horse-shoe Island.
A kind of bustard, with a very strong bill, and not larger than a hen,
was numerous at Bountiful Island; and appeared to subsist upon the young
turtle. The effect of instinct is admirable in all cases, and was very
striking in these little amphibious creatures. When scratched out from
their holes, they no sooner saw the day light than they made for the
water, and with speed, as if conscious that the bustards were watching
them; when placed in a direction from the sea, which was done for
experiment, they turned themselves and took the straightest course to the
water side. But it is not only in the bustards, nor on land alone, that
they have enemies to fear; tiger sharks were numerous. and so voracious,
that seven were hooked along-side the ship, measuring from five to nine
feet in length. These were ready to receive such of the little animals as
escape their first enemies; and even one of the full grown turtle had
lost a semi circular piece, equal to the tenth part of its bulk, which
had been bitten out of its side; and what seemed more extraordinary, the
shell had closed, and the place was healed up. Were it not for the
immense destruction made of these animals in the different stages of
their existence, and that food must in the end fail, their fecundity is
such, that all the tropical seas and shores would scarcely afford room
for them in a few years. The number of eggs found in the females, and
there were few, if any males amongst the forty-six taken here, usually
ran from four to seven hundred; and in one weighing 459 lbs, taken
earlier in the following season, the number of eggs counted was 1940, as
recorded in lieutenant Fowler's journal; but many were not bigger, some
not so large as peas. They seem to lay from twenty to a hundred eggs at
once, and this is done many times in the season; after which they go very
little on shore. In Terra Australis, the season appears to commence in
August, and to terminate in January or February.
The _latitude_ of our anchorage, one mile from the south-east side of
Bountiful Island, was 16 deg. 41' south. Lieutenant Flinders observed six
sets of lunar distances, which gave 139 deg. 46' 18" east _longitude_; but
the time keeper No. 543 made it 141/2' east of Inspection Hill, or in 139 deg.
591/2'. The _variation_ of the compass, from azimuth and amplitude observed
with the ship's head in the magnetic meridian, was 3 deg. 46' east; and at my
station on shore, an amplitude with the theodolite gave 3 deg. 47' east. From
a little past ten in the morning to eleven at night, the _tide_ ran half
a mile an hour to the S. W., and N. E. during the remainder of the
twenty-four hours; the first, which seemed to be the flood, was only
three hours after the moon, above six hours earlier than in the
Investigator's Road; but the time of high water by the shore might be
very different: no greater rise than five feet was perceivable by the
SUNDAY 5 DECEMBER 1802
In the morning of the 5th, we quitted Bountiful Island to resume our
examination at Cape Van Diemen; and the weather being rainy, with thunder
and lightning, and the wind fresh at N. N. E., we passed round the
smaller island, two miles to the southwest, before hauling to the
northward. At ten o'clock, Cape Van Diemen was distant three miles, and
we tacked to the east; and from that time till evening, continued to work
up between the cape and a shoal lying two leagues from it to the E. S. E.
This shoal is a narrow ridge of sand, over which we had passed in going
to Bountiful Island; but there were now breakers upon a more southern
part. It seems to be formed by different sets of tide amongst the
islands, and to be steep to; for in passing over, the soundings had been
13, 4, 5, 7, 11 fathoms, almost as quick as the lead could be heaved. At
dusk the wind had gone down, and the anchor was dropped in 6 fathoms,
sand and shells, in the following situation.
C. Van Diemen, the S. E. extreme, dist. 3 miles, S. 75 deg. W.
The island close to it, N. 57 deg. to 21 W.
Isle Pisonia, distant 3 miles, N. 55 to 61 E.
Bountiful I., station on the green hillock, S. 40 E.
That part of Cape Van Diemen above set, is in latitude 16 deg. 32' south, and
longitude 139 deg. 491/2 east.
The tide here set N. N. E. and S. S. W., between the island close to the
cape and Isle Pisonia; and at daylight [MONDAY 6 DECEMBER 1802] we
steered for the middle of the opening. On seeing breakers ahead, the
master was sent in the whale boat to sound, and we kept more westward,
after him. There were natives upon the island nearest to the land, who
seemed to wait in expectation of being visited; but our soundings
diminishing to 3 fathoms, and the master having still less, we stood out
and were followed by the boat. The wind was then at N. E.; and Isle
Pisonia being brought to bear N. W. at nine o'clock, we tacked and
weathered it nearly a mile, carrying from 9 to 13 fathoms water. Turtle
tracks were very distinguishable upon the beach, but these prognostics,
once so much desired, did not now interest us; however, on the wind
becoming so light that we could not weather some breakers whilst the lee
tide was running, the stream, anchor was dropped in 9 fathoms, and I went
to the island with the botanical gentlemen.
More holes were scratched in the sand here by the turtle, than even upon
the island last quitted; and several of the poor animals were lying dead
on their backs. The isle is nothing more than a high sand bank upon a
basis of coral rock, which has become thickly covered with wood, and much
resembles several of the smaller isles in Torres' Strait. There was no
trace of former visitors, though it is not more than four miles from the
island where Indians had been seen in the morning; the tides probably run
too strong in a narrow, four-fathom channel, close to Isle Pisonia, to be
encountered by their rafts.
TUESDAY 7 DECEMBER 1802
Next morning, the wind was at N. E.; and after weathering a reef which
runs out three miles from the island under Cape Van Diemen, we closed in
with the land, and steered westward along it with soundings from 9 to 4
fathoms. A low head with white cliffs was passed at nine o'clock, and
proved to be the northernmost point of this land; beyond it the coast
extended W. by S., in a long sandy beach, and the country was better
clothed with trees than on the south side. At noon we came abreast of a
low woody point, with a shoal running off, where the coast took a
south-west direction; and our situation and bearings were then as under:
Latitude, observed to the north., 16 deg. 26'
Longitude, from time keeper and bearings, 139 25
Cliffy north head of this land, N. 86 E.
Woody shoal point, distant two miles, S. 35 E.
Furthest southern extreme, S. 29 W.
Islet from the mast head, distant 3 leagues, North.
From one o'clock till four, we steered S. S. W. past three other small
cliffy projections; and I then saw the clump of high trees on the
south-west point of this land, bearing S. 31 deg. E. six miles, the same
which had been set five days before from the inner side. Our course was
continued, to get in with the main land; but in half an hour the depth
had diminished to 21/2 fathoms, and obliged us to haul out W. by N., close
to the wind. The low main coast was then in sight from the mast head to
the south-westward, and at dusk we anchored about three leagues off, in 5
fathoms, sandy bottom.
No doubt remained that the land of Cape Van Diemen was an island; for it
had been circumnavigated, with the exception of about three leagues,
which the rocks and shoal water made impracticable. Its extent is
considerable, being thirty-five miles long, and the circumference near
ninety, independently of the smaller sinuosities in the coast; I did not
land upon any part, but the surface appeared to be more rocky than sandy;
and judging from the bushes and trees with which it is mostly covered,
there must be some portion, though perhaps a small one, of vegetable
soil. In any other part of the world, this would be deemed low land; but
here, where even the tops of the trees on the main scarcely exceed a
ship's mast head in elevation, it must be called moderately high; for it
may in some parts, reach three hundred feet. Several smokes and some
natives were seen, and it is reasonable to suppose there are fixed
inhabitants, but their number is probably small.
Had not the name of Van Diemen so often occurred in Terra Australis, as
to make confusion, I should have extended it from the cape to the whole
island; but such being the case, I have taken this opportunity of
indulging my gratitude to a nobleman of high character and consideration;
who, when governor-general of British India, humanely used his efforts to
relieve me from an imprisonment which was super-added to a shipwreck in
the sequel of the voyage. This large island is therefore distinguished by
the name of _Isle Mornington_; and to the whole of the group, now
discovered to exist at the head of the Gulph of Carpentaria, I have given
the appellation of WELLESLEY'S ISLANDS.
WEDNESDAY 8 DECEMBER 1802
In the morning of the 8th, the wind was light from the southward, and
unfavourable for closing in with the main land; but a water spout brought
the wind up from north-east, and obliged us to double reef the top sails.
At noon the squalls had mostly passed over, and the shore, which then
extended from S. E. by S. to W. S. W., was distant five miles in the
nearest part; our latitude being then 16 deg. 421/2' south, and longitude 138 deg.
49' east. We continued to steer westward till five o'clock, at nearly the
same distance from the land, and in soundings between 5 and 3 fathoms;
the wind then drew forward, and the trending of the shore being W. N. W.,
we could barely lie along it. At seven, tacked for deeper water; and in
half an hour anchored in 4 fathoms, sand and shells, the land being
distant five or six miles, and the furthest extreme from the mast head
bearing N. 70 deg. W. A meridian altitude of the star _Achernar_ gave the
latitude 16 deg. 39 2/3'; and from the sun's western amplitude the variation
was 4 deg. 10', with the ship's head N. W., or 2 deg. 37' east, corrected to the
The main land, from Wellesley's Islands to this anchorage, is of the same
description as that along which we had previously sailed a hundred and
ninety leagues, being a very low, woody country, fronted by a sandy
beach; there are some slight wavings in the shore, but so slight, that
not any part of it could be set twice. This tedious uniformity began,
however, to be somewhat broken; for a range of low hills was perceived at
three or four leagues inland, and the sinuosities of the shore were
becoming more distinguishable: two smokes were seen during the day.
THURSDAY 9 DECEMBER 1802
Our progress next morning was very little, until the sea breeze set in;
and we were then obliged, from the more northern trending of the coast,
to keep up to the wind. The soundings varied between 6 and 3 fathoms; and
at five in the evening diminished rather suddenly to 21/2, on a rocky
bottom, two or three miles from the land. We then tacked, and worked to
windward till dark, when the anchor was dropped in 41/2 fathoms upon rocky
ground covered with mud; but as there was little wind and no sea, the
anchor held. The observed latitude here, from the moon, was 16 deg. 28', and
longitude by time keeper 138 deg. 61/2' east.
During the night, the wind came as usual off the land; and in the morning
[FRIDAY 10 DECEMBER 1802] we lay up N. by W., nearly parallel to the then
direction of the coast. At ten, the sea breeze set in at N. by W.; and
from that time until evening we worked to windward, tacking from the
shore when the depth diminished to 21/2 fathoms, and stretching in again
when it increased to 6; the distances from the land being in miles, as
nearly as might be what the depth was in fathoms, a coincidence which had
been observed in some parts on the east side of the Gulph. At sunset, a
hillock upon a projecting point bore N. 73 deg. W. four miles, and behind it
was a small opening which answered in situation to the _River Van Alphen_
of the old chart; our last tack was then made from the shore; and at dusk
we anchored in 4 fathoms, coarse sand and gravel. Variation from
amplitude, with the head W. by N., 4 deg. 45', or corrected to the meridian,
2 deg. 38' east, nearly as on the 8th.
[NORTH COAST. GULPH OF CARPENTARIA.]
SATURDAY 11 DECEMBER 1802
At daylight, we steered northward with a land wind; and when the sea
breeze came, stretched W. S. W. towards the shore.
Latitude observed, 16 deg. 111/2'
Longitude by time keeper, 137 53
The extremes of the land bore S. 21 deg. E. to 89 W.
Nearest part, dist. 3 miles, S. 35 W.
Small opening, supposed R. Van Alphen, S. 3 W.
This opening may be half a mile in width, but a dry sand runs across from
the west side, and left no prospect of its being accessible to the ship;
the shoal water, indeed, extended further out than usual, being caused,
probably, by a deposit of sand from the inlet. The range of low hills,
before mentioned as running behind the coast, was still perceived; but in
front, the country was low as before, and somewhat less covered with
The direction of the coast, which had been from north to north-west the
day before, was now again W. N. W.; and after making a tack at noon, in 3
fathoms, and stretching off for an hour, we lay along it till near eight
o'clock. At that time the depth diminished from 31/2, suddenly to 21/2
fathoms; and before the helm was put down the ship touched upon a rock,
and hung abaft. By keeping the sails full she went off into 3 fathoms,
but in five minutes hung upon another rock; and the water being more
shallow further on, the head sails were now laid aback. On swinging off,
I filled to stretch out by the way we had come; and after another slight
touch of the keel we got into deep water, and anchored in 4 fathoms, on a
bottom of blue mud. The bad state of the ship would have made our
situation amongst these rocks very alarming, had we not cleared them so
quickly; but the water was very smooth at this time, and it could not be
perceived that any injury had been sustained.
Our distance here from the shore was three miles. It is very low and
broken, with many dry rocks and banks lying near it; and in the space of
seven or eight miles we had counted five small openings, and behind them
some lagoons were perceived from the mast head. _The Abel Tasman's River_
of the old chart is marked in about this situation; and however little
these shallow openings and salt lagoons resemble a river, there is no
other place to which the name could have been applied.
I was preparing to take altitudes of the star _Rigel_, to ascertain our
longitude at this anchorage, when it was found that the time keepers had
stopped, my assistant having forgotten to wind them up at noon. In the
morning [SUNDAY 12 DECEMBER 1802] they were set forward, and altitudes of
the sun taken to find their errors from the time under this meridian. The
moon and planet Mars had been observed in the night, from which, and the
noon's observation following, the latitude of the anchorage was
ascertained to be 16 deg. 71/2'; and a projection on the west side of the R.
Van Alphen, which had been the nearest shore at the preceding noon, was
now set at S. 641/2 deg. E. From these _data_ and from the log, I ascertained
the difference of longitude, from half past ten in the morning of the
11th, when the last observations for the time keepers had been taken, to
be 20' 18"; and that this anchorage was in 137 deg. 37' 18" east. The errors
from mean Greenwich time were thence obtained; and they were carried on
as before, with the rates found at Sweers' Island, which it was to be
presumed, had undergone no alteration from the letting down, since none
had been caused by former accidents of the same kind. An amplitude taken
when the ship's head was W. N. W., gave variation 3 deg. 46', or 1 deg. 47' east,
corrected to the meridian; being nearly a degree less than on the east
side of the River Van Alphen, when the land lay to the west of the ship.
Soon after seven o'clock the anchor was weighed; and the breeze being at
N. W., we stretched off till noon, when the observed latitude from both
sides was 16 deg. 2' 11", and the land was nine or ten miles distant; but the
only part visible from the deck was the range of low hills, two or three
leagues behind the shore. We then tacked to the westward, and kept
closing in with the coast until sunset; at which time the corrected
variation was 1 deg. 47' east, as on the preceding evening, and the following
bearings were taken.
Eastern extreme of the shore S. 31 deg. E.
Small opening, dist. 4 or 5 miles, S. 54 W.
Western extreme of the main, a sandy head, N. 75 W.
Beyond the head, much higher land than any we had passed in the gulph was
seen from aloft as far as N. W. by N. This I expected was the Cape
Vanderlin of the old chart; and if so, there ought to be a large double
bay between it and the sandy head; and in fact, no land was visible there
in a space of two points.
Our course along the shore was prolonged till dusk, when we tacked in 31/2
fathoms; and on getting 41/2, came to an anchor upon fine sandy ground. In
the morning [MONDAY 13 DECEMBER 1802], the wind was light from the
south-westward, and little progress was made until the sea breeze set in.
At noon, our situation was in
Latitude, observed to the north avid south, 15 deg. 50' 31"
Longitude by time keeper, 137 191/2
West extreme of the sandy head, dist. 7 miles, S. 24 W.
Land of Cape Vanderlin, N. 28 deg. to S. 88 W.
Land of Cape Vanderlin, highest part, N. 56 W.
Land of Cape Vanderlin, sandy east point, dist. 6 miles, N. 47 W.
Low islet off the south end., S. 771/2 to S. 85 W.
Many rocks are scattered along the east side of this land; some of them
are steep, and one, which we approached within a mile soon after one
o'clock, resembled the crown of a hat. The whale boat was then sent
towards the opening, and we bore away S. W. by S. after her; but the
water shoaling fast, and looking worse ahead, we hauled out close to the
wind, and worked northward; anchoring at dusk, two or three miles from
the east point of the northern land, in 6 fathoms, coarse sand and
The main coast on the south side of the opening had been seen extending
W. N. W., two or three leagues from the sandy head; it was low as ever,
and there was no appearance of the northern land, which was hilly and
rocky, being connected with it; and I therefore called the separated
piece _Vanderlin's Island_. Having no prospect of being able to get the
ship up the opening, we proceeded northward next morning [TUESDAY 14
DECEMBER 1802], along the east side of the island; but the wind being
directly contrary, it was sunset before the outermost of the scattered
rocks could be weathered; soon afterward the anchor was dropped in 6
fathoms, one mile and a quarter from the north-east point, and something
more from the outer rocks which bore S. 63 deg. E. The north point of the
island, which is the true Cape Vanderlin, bore N. 71 deg. W., and was distant
three or four miles: its utmost extremity lies in 15 deg. 341/2' south, and
137 deg. 81/2' east.
Some Indians had been seen tracking a canoe or raft, along the east side,
and a body of thirty-five of them had been there collected, looking at
the ship. This comparatively numerous population, and the prospect there
was of this island proving more than usually interesting to the
naturalists, made me desirous of finding a secure anchorage near it; and
in the morning [WEDNESDAY 15 DECEMBER 1802] we landed at the north-east
point, which is a peninsula joined to the island by a low sandy neck, and
has three hummocks upon it, near the extremity. From the highest of these
hummocks, I set two small islands in the offing, to the north-west, where
two are laid down in the old chart; and saw more land to the west of Cape
Vanderlin, apparently a large and distinct island. The water between them
was extensive; and as it promised to afford good shelter, we returned on
board after a short examination, in order to work the ship into it.
A hard, close-grained sand stone forms the basis of the north-east point
of Vanderlin's Island; but the hummocks and the upper rocks are
calcareous, similar to Inspection Hill at the head of the Gulph. The soil
is very sandy, and poorly clothed with vegetation; though in the more
central parts of the island the hills seemed to be moderately well
covered with wood. There were foot marks of men, dogs, and kangaroos, and
tracks of turtle near the shore; but none of the men, nor of the animals,
We got under way soon after ten o'clock with a breeze from the
north-westward, and were obliged to make a long stretch to sea before
Cape Vanderlin could be weathered. Towards evening we came in with a
small reef, lying N. 40 deg. E. two-and-half miles from the extremity of the
cape; and this, with the lateness of the hour, making it hazardous to run
into the new opening, we anchored at dusk, under the easternmost of the
two small islands in the offing, in 6 fathoms, coral sand and rock. The
white beach here seemed to be so favourable a situation for turtle, that
an officer with a party of men was sent on shore to watch them; but he
returned immediately, on finding the beach to be not sand, but pieces of
coral bleached white by the sun, which bore no traces of turtle.
[NORTH COAST. PELLEW'S GROUP.]
THURSDAY 16 DECEMBER 1802
I landed early in the morning, with the botanical gentlemen, to take
bearings; and amongst them set the craggy north end of the western
island., which I call _Cape Pellew_, at S. 87 deg. W., distant three or four
miles. It lies in latitude 16 deg. 301/2', longitude 137 deg. 2', and there is a
rock lying half a mile off to the N. E.; indeed these two small isles and
another rock may be considered as also lying off, and appertaining to it.
The basis of the easternmost and largest isle was found to be the same
close-grained sand stone as at Vanderlin's Island; but the surface
consisted of loose pieces of coral, with a slight intermixture of
vegetable soil, producing a few shrubs and small bushes: there were no
traces either of men or turtle.
On our return to the ship, we steered for the opening between the Capes
Vanderlin and Pellew; the wind was from the north-westward, and this
being now the most settled quarter for it, we anchored under the western
island, in 41/2 fathoms soft bottom, half a mile from the shore; with the
extremes bearing N. 25 deg. E. one mile, and S. 23 deg. W. two miles. An outer
rocky islet near Cape Vanderlin bore N. 70 deg. E., and a small island within
half a mile of the ship covered five points in the south-eastern quarter;
to the south there was very little land visible, but no sea was to be
feared from that side; and the sole direction in which we were not
sheltered, was between N. N. E. and E. N. E.
The botanical gentlemen landed abreast of the ship, and lieutenant
Flinders went to commence a series of observations for the rates of the
time keepers on the small isle, thence called _Observation Island_. My
attention was attracted by a cove in the western shore, upon the borders
of which, more abundantly than elsewhere, grew a small kind of cabbage
palm, from whence it was called _Cabbage-tree Cove_. This presented the
appearance of a complete little harbour; and supposing it to afford fresh
water, was just such a place as I wished for the ship, during the time
necessary for making an examination of the islands in my whale boat. I
found the cove to run near two miles into the island, and there was a
small rill at the head; but unfortunately, the depth at the entrance was
insufficient for the ship, being no more than 2 fathoms, and in the upper
part it was too shallow even for a boat.
FRIDAY 17 DECEMBER 1802
In the morning, a party of men was sent to cut wood at the nearest shore;
and there being a sort of beach, uncovered at low tide, the seine was
hauled there with some success. A small drain of fresh water ran behind
the mangroves at the back of the beach, and by cutting a rolling way to
it, our empty casks, it was thought, might be filled; but I hoped to find
a better place, and went away in the boat, as well with that object in
view as to carry on the survey.
From the furthest part of the western island visible from the ship, I
found the shore trending S. 73 deg. W., to a point where there was an opening
out to the westward, of a mile and a half wide and of considerable depth.
About three leagues up the opening were two craggy islands; and beyond
them was more extensive land, which proved to be an island also, and from
its situation in this group was called _West Island_. The island whose
north end is Cape Pellew, and whose southern extremity I had now reached,
was called _North Island_; and the land opposite to me, which formed the
south side of the opening and seemed to be extensive, is marked with the
name of _Centre Island_ in the chart. These lands are moderately high,
and seemed to form several coves and small inlets, with promise of runs
of fresh water; but the weather was too unfavourable to make much
examination at this time, and after taking bearings from the south and
south-east points of North Island, I returned on board.
SATURDAY 18 DECEMBER 1802
The wooding of the ship was carried on next day; and although the weather
remained squally, with frequent heavy rain, some further bearings were
obtained, and observations taken for the time keepers. In the morning of
the 19th [SUNDAY 19 DECEMBER 1802], the weather cleared, and I took the
ship over to Cape Vanderlin; both for the convenience of the survey, and
to give the botanical gentlemen a better opportunity of examining that
island, which appeared to be the most interesting, as it was the largest
of the group. Besides three rocky islets, lying off the west side of the
cape, there is a small island one mile to the south-west, and I sought to
anchor behind it; but being prevented by a shoal which extends southward
from the island, the anchor was dropped half a mile without side, in 41/2
fathoms, muddy ground.
After the latitude had been observed, and bearings taken from the island,
we crossed over in the boat to Cape Vanderlin. There was a depth of 4 to
7 fathoms between them, with a passage leading in from the north, and a
ship would lie here in perfect safety during the south-east monsoon; but
with the present north-west winds and squally weather, this otherwise
good anchorage was not equal to the place we had quitted. The highest
parts of Cape Vanderlin are hillocks of almost bare sand; on the isthmus
behind it were many shrubs and bushes, and amongst the latter was found a
wild nutmeg, in tolerable abundance. The fruit was small, and not ripe;
but the mace and the nut had a hot, spicy taste.
There was no appearance of fresh water here, nor was the ship in a
situation safe to remain all night; so soon, therefore, as my bearings
were taken from the top of Cape Vanderlin, we returned on board, and
steered for the opening between North and Centre Islands. At dusk, the
anchor was dropped in 6 fathoms, muddy ground, a little within the
opening; where we had land at different distances all round, with the
exception of one point to the W. N. W.
TUESDAY 21 DECEMBER 1802
During the two days we remained here, I examined a shallow bay on the
east side of Centre Island, and went to the westward as far as the Craggy
Isles, taking bearings from various stations. Several rills of fresh
water were found at the heads of little coves, but the depth was not
sufficient for the ship to get near any of them; and therefore we
returned to our first anchorage near Cabbage-tree Cove [WEDNESDAY 22
DECEMBER 1802], to cut through the mangroves and get the holds completed
with water at the small run there. This duty I left to the care of the
first lieutenant, and the rates of the time keepers to be continued by
the second; and went away the same afternoon in my boat, upon an
excursion of four days, accompanied by Mr. Westall, the landscape
The soundings we had in steering for the west point of Vanderlin's Island
and southward along the shore, will be best known from the particular
plan of this group. Bearings were taken at two chosen stations; and we
stopped in the evening, at the furthest of two small isles near the
south-west side of the island, to pass the night without disturbance from
the Indians. It then rained and blew hard, with thunder and lightning,
and the soil being sandy and destitute of wood to break off the wind, it
was with difficulty the tent could be secured; the islet had been
visited, and we found the remains of more than one turtle feast. Amongst
the bearings set from hence was a projecting part of the low main land,
at S. 191/2 deg. W. six or seven miles, and it was the furthest visible.
THURSDAY 23 DECEMBER 1802
We had more moderate weather in the morning, and went on towards the
south point of Vanderlin's Island; but stopped two or three miles short
of it, at a station whence the south point and the low islet lying off
were visible, as also was the sandy head set from the ship on the 12th
and 13th; and from the bearings of these objects my survey round
Vanderlin's Island became connected. A part of the sandy main coast was
distant not more than four miles to the S. S. W., whence it extended as
far as S. 62 deg. W.; the water appeared to be too shallow for a ship to pass
between it and the island.
A fresh wind from the north-west prevented me from going any further to
leeward; and it was with much difficulty that we rowed back to the isle
where we had passed the night. Strong squalls again came on towards
evening, and the larger isle, lying a mile to the north-west, was chosen
for our night's residence, on account of its affording some shelter; but
the lightning was so violent and close to us, that I feared to place the
tent near the trees. and was surprised in the morning, not to see half of
them shivered to pieces: the rain fell in torrents, during a part of the
FRIDAY 24 DECEMBER 1802
Next morning the weather was better, but the wind still adverse to my
project of going over to the south end of Centre Island; by noon,
however, we reached a low islet half way across. where I observed the
latitude 15 deg. 42 deg. 47", and took a set of bearings very useful to the
survey; and we afterwards made an attempt to get over, and succeeded. A
rocky hillock on the south-east point of Centre Island, was my next
station; and from thence we proceeded westward along the south side, to a
low islet near the south-west point, for the purpose of landing, the sun
being then set; but the islet proving to be a mere mud bank covered with
mangroves, we rowed onward to the large South-west Island, in very
shallow water; and there passed a night which, happily for the fatigued
boat's crew, turned out fine.
SATURDAY 25 DECEMBER 1802
I took azimuths and some bearings in the morning, and we then proceeded
northward through a small passage between the Centre and South-west
Islands; there was 5 fathoms in the very narrow part, but no deep water
within; and without side, it was also very shoal for two or three miles.
Near the north-west point of Centre Island lies an islet and two rocks,
and from the cliffy north end of the islet another set of bearings was
taken; after which we steered eastward, sounding along the north side of
Centre Island. It was noon when we reached the north-east point, and I
observed the latitude 15 deg. 39' 35" upon the south-east end of a rocky
islet there, and took more bearings from the top; and in the afternoon,
we reached the ship.
Very little has been said upon the islands or their productions, or upon
the various traces of native inhabitants and of former visitors found in
this, and in former boat excursions; the observations on these heads
being intended for the general and conclusive remarks upon this group.
These are now to be given; for the wooding and watering were completed on
the day after my return [SUNDAY 26 DECEMBER 1802], and the ship was then
ready to proceed in the examination of the Gulph.
In the old Dutch chart, Cape Vanderlin is represented to be a great
projection from the main land, and the outer ends of North and West
Islands to be smaller points of it. There are two indents or bights
marked between the points, which may correspond to the openings between
the islands; but I find difficulty in pointing out which are the four
small isles laid down to the west of Cape Vanderlin; neither does the
line of the coast, which is nearly W. S. W. in the old chart, correspond
with that of the outer ends of the islands, and yet there is enough of
similitude in the whole to show the identity. Whether any change have
taken place in these shores, and made islands of what were parts of the
main land a century and a half before--or whether the Dutch discoverer
made a distant and cursory examination, and brought conjecture to aid him
in the construction of a chart, as was too much the practice of that
time--it is perhaps not now possible to ascertain; but I conceive that
the great alteration produced in the geography of these parts by our
survey, gives authority to apply a name which, without prejudice to the
original one, should mark the nation by which the survey was made; and in
compliment to a distinguished officer of the British navy, whose earnest
endeavours to relieve me from oppression in a subsequent part of the
voyage demand my gratitude I have called this cluster of islands SIR
EDWARD PELLEW'S GROUP.
The space occupied by these islands is thirty-four miles east and west,
by twenty-two miles of latitude; and the five principal islands are from
seven to seventeen miles in length. The stone which seems to form the
basis of the group is a hard, close-grained sand stone, with a small
admixture of quartz, and in one or two instances it was slightly
impregnated with iron; calcareous, or coral rock was sometimes found at
the upper parts, but the hard sand stone was more common. Where the
surface is not bare rock, it consists of sand, with a greater or less
proportion of vegetable soil, but in no case did I see any near approach
to fertility; yet all the larger islands, and more especially the western
side of Vanderlin's, are tolerably well covered with trees and bushes,
and in some low places there is grass.
As in most other parts of Terra Australis, the common trees here are
various species of the _eucalyptus_, mostly different from, and smaller
than those of the East and South Coasts. The cabbage palm, a new genus
named by Mr. Brown _Livistona inermis_, is abundant; but the cabbage is
too small to be an interesting article of food to a ship's company; of
the young leaves, drawn into slips and dried, the seamen made handsome
light hats, excellent for warm weather. The nutmeg was found principally
on Vanderlin's Island, growing upon a large spreading bush; but the fruit
being unripe, no accurate judgment could be formed of its quality.
Amongst the variety of other plants discovered by the naturalist, were
two shrubs belonging to the genus _Santalum_, of which the sandel wood,
used as a perfume in the East, is also one; but this affinity to so
valuable a tree being not known at the time, from the description of the
genus being imperfect, no examination was made of it with that object in
All the larger islands seem to possess the kangaroo; for though none were
seen, their foot marks were perceptible in most of the sandy places where
I landed: the species seemed to be small. In the woods were hawks,
pigeons of two kinds, and some bustards; and on the shore were seen a
pretty kind of duck and the usual sea fowl. Turtle tracks were observed
on most of the beaches, but more especially on the smaller islands, where
remains of turtle feasts were generally found.
There were traces of Indians on all the islands, both large and small,
but the latter are visited only at times; these people seemed to be
equally desirous of avoiding communication with strangers, as those of
Wellesley's Islands, for we saw them only once at a distance, from the
ship. Two canoes found on the shore of North Island were formed of slips
of bark, like planks, sewed together, the edge of one slip overlaying
another, as in our clincher-built boats; their breadth was about two
feet, but they were too much broken for the length to be known. I cannot
be certain that these canoes were the fabrication of the natives, for
there were some things near them which appertained, without doubt, to
another people, and their construction was much superior to that on any
part of Terra Australis hitherto discovered; but their substance of bark
spoke in the affirmative. The same degree of doubt was attached to a
small monument found on the same island. Under a shed of bark were set up
two cylindrical pieces of stone, about eighteen inches long; which seemed
to have been taken from the shore, where they had been made smooth from
rolling in the surf, and formed into a shape something like a nine pin.
Round each of them were drawn two black circles, one towards each end;
and between them were four oval black patches, at equal distances round
the stone, made apparently with charcoal. The spaces between the oval
marks were covered with white down and feathers, stuck on with the yolk
of a turtle's egg, as I judged by the gluten and by the shell lying near
the place. Of the intention in setting up these stones under a shed, no
person could form a reasonable conjecture; the first idea was, that it
had some relation to the dead, and we dug underneath to satisfy our
curiosity; but nothing was found. This simple monument is represented in
the annexed plate, with two of the ducks near it: the land in the back
ground is Vanderlin's Island.
Indications of some foreign people having visited this group were almost
as numerous, and as widely extended as those left by the natives. Besides
pieces of earthen jars and trees cut with axes, we found remnants of
bamboo lattice work, palm leaves sewed with cotton thread into the form
of such hats as are worn by the Chinese, and the remains of blue cotton
trousers, of the fashion called moormans. A wooden anchor of one fluke,
and three boats rudders of violet wood were also found; but what puzzled
me most was a collection of stones piled together in a line, resembling a
low wall, with short lines running perpendicularly at the back, dividing
the space behind into compartments. In each of these were the remains of
a charcoal fire, and all the wood near at hand, had been cut down. Mr.
Brown saw on another island a similar construction, with not less than
thirty-six partitions, over which was laid a rude piece of frame work;
and the neighbouring mangroves, to the extent of an acre and a half, had
been cut down. It was evident that these people were Asiatics, but of
what particular nation, or what their business here, could not be
ascertained; I suspected them, however, to be Chinese, and that the
nutmegs might possibly be their object. From the traces amongst
Wellesley's Islands, they had been conjectured to be shipwrecked people;
but that opinion did not now appear to be correct.
The barometer stood here from 29.96 to 29.62 inches, being highest with
the winds at north-east, and lowest with those from the southward; in the
heavy squalls of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning from the north-west,
the mercury stood at a medium elevation. On board the ship, the average
standard of the thermometer was nearly 85 deg.. On shore it was hotter, yet
the musketoes were not very troublesome; but the common black flies, from
their extraordinary numbers and their impudence, were scarcely less
annoying than musketoes; they get into the mouth and nose, and settle
upon the face or any other part of the body, with as much unconcern as
they would alight on a gum tree; nor are they driven away easily. This
was the case on shore, and on board the ship whilst lying at anchor, and
for a day or two afterwards; but the society of man wrought a change in
the manners even of these little animals. They soon became more cautious,
went off when a hand was lifted up, and in three or four days after
quitting the land, behaved themselves orderly, like other flies; and
though still numerous on board, they gave little molestation. Dampier
found these insects equally troublesome on the North-west Coast; for he
says (Vol. I. p. 464), speaking of the natives, "Their eye-lids are
always half closed, to keep the flies out of their eyes; they being so
troublesome here, that no fanning will keep them from coming to one's
face; and without the assistance of both hands to keep them off, they
will creep into one's nostrils, and mouth too, if the lips are not shut
Sir Edward Pellew's Group, as will be seen by a reference to the plan,
affords numerous anchorages against both the south-east and north-west
monsoon; but unless it should be within the two small isles near the
south-west side of Vanderlin's Island, where the depth was not well
ascertained, there is not a single harbour, the different bays and coves
being too shallow to admit a ship. Wood for fuel is easy to be procured;
and water may be had in December, and probably as late as April or May,
but I think not afterwards. The most accessible watering place we could
find, was at the back of the mangroves near our principal anchorage,
within the east point of North Island, where, with some trouble, our
casks were filled; and at a beach there, left dry at low water, the seine
was hauled with some success. At Vanderlin's Island there are many
beaches fit for the seine; and indeed it seemed superior to the other
islands as well for this, as for every other purpose, when a ship can lie
there; it is also the most frequented by the Indians, and may probably
have fixed inhabitants.
The _latitude_ of Observation Island, from two meridian altitudes to the
north and south, is 15 deg. 36' 46" S.
_Longitude_ from six sets of distances of the sun east of the moon, given
in Table IV. of Appendix No. 1, 137 deg. 6' 42"; but by the time keeper No.
543 corrected, it is preferably 137 deg. 3' 15" E.
The rates of the time keepers were found from afternoon's altitudes in an
artificial horizon, between the 16th and 26th; and the means, with their
errors from mean Greenwich time, at noon there on the last day of
observation, were as under:
Earnshaw's No. 543, slow 2h 29' 11.17" and losing 14.93" per day
Earnshaw's No. 520, slow 4h 11' 37.59" and losing 28.25" per day
This rate of No. 543 is only 0.19" more than that found at Sweers'
Island, and so far as the six sets of lunars may be relied on, the
longitude by this time keeper was not far from the truth; the letting
down on the passage therefore did not seem to have produced any
change; but in No. 520, the rate is more than 8" greater, and the
longitude was getting 11/2' per day too much to the east, as well before as
after it was let down. The coast from Sweers' to Observation Island is
consequently laid down by No. 543, with the small accelerating correction
arising from the 0.19" increase of rate in 16.4 days.
_Variation_ of the theodolite, observed on the east side of South-west
Island, 2 deg. 22' east.
In the bearings taken at different parts within the group, the variation
seemed to differ from 2 deg. 30' to l deg. 30'. The largest variations were on
the east sides of the islands, and the smallest on the west sides;
seeming to show an attraction of the land upon the south end of the
needle. On board the ship, when coasting along the east side of
Vanderlin's Island, and the whole group lay to the west, the variation
appeared from the bearings to be as much as 4 deg. east.
The best observation made on the _tide_, was on the 23rd, during my boat
excursion to the south end of Vanderlin's Island. On that morning the
moon passed over the meridian at sixteen minutes past ten, and the
perpendicular movements of the tide were as follows. At seven o'clock,
when I left the shore, the tide was falling; on landing at nine it was
stationary, and appeared to be low water; at noon it rose fast, and at
three was still rising, and continued so to do, but slowly, until seven
in the evening, The tide then began to fall; but after subsiding one
foot, it rose again until ten o'clock, and had then attained its greatest
height. Low water took place therefore about an hour before, and high
water at _eleven hours and a quarter after_ the moon passed the meridian:
the rise appeared to be from four to seven feet. At Wellesley's Islands
high water had taken place an hour and a half earlier, which seems
extraordinary, if, as it necessarily must, the flood come from the
northward. I think it very probable, that the tide in both places will
follow what was observed in King George's Sound on the South Coast; where
high water, after becoming gradually later till midnight, happened on the
following day before seven in the evening, and then later as before.
The break of three hours in the tide here, is somewhat remarkable: it was
not observed amongst Wellesley's Islands, where the tide ran twelve hours
each way; but was found to increase as we proceeded west and northward
until it became six hours, and the tides assumed the usual course.
Departure from Sir Edward Pellew's Group.
Coast from thence westward.
Cape Maria found to be an island.
Limmen's Bight. Coast northward to Cape Barrow: landing on it.
Circumnavigation of Groote Eylandt.
Specimens of native art at Chasm Island.
Anchorage in North-west Bay, Groote Eylandt;
with remarks and nautical observations.
Blue-mud Bay. Skirmish with the natives.
Coast to Caledon Bay.
Occurrences in that bay, with remarks on the country and inhabitants.
Astronomical and nautical observations.
[NORTH COAST. GULPH OF CARPENTARIA.]
MONDAY 27 DECEMBER 1802
(Atlas, Plate XIV.)
At daylight of Dec. 27, we got under way from Pellew's Group; and passing
between the small isles near Cape Pellew, stretched off to sea with a
fresh breeze at W. N. W. At noon the cape bore S. 26 deg. W. four leagues,
and towards evening we weathered it, having 10 fathoms water at the
distance of five miles; the soundings afterwards diminished gradually to
41/2 fathoms, at two miles from West Island, where the anchor was dropped
on a muddy bottom, for the night. Next morning [TUESDAY 28 DECEMBER
1802], the wind being still at north-west, we again stretched out to sea;
and at noon, when the latitude was 15 deg. 24', Cape Pellew bore S. 60 deg. E.
four leagues. We were then standing south-westward; and at three o'clock,
West Isle bore from S. 74 deg. E. to about South, the last extreme being
hidden by an islet and rock distant two-and-half miles. The main coast
was in sight to the south and westward, and we stood for it until six;
the ship was then tacked to the north-east, in 3 fathoms, the shore being
three miles off, and extending from behind West Island to N. 36 deg. W. It
was low, mostly sandy, and covered with wood behind the beaches; and
except that some places on the shore were rocky, it altogether resembled
the more eastern parts of the gulph. At dusk, the anchor was let go in 6
fathoms, mud and shells.
WEDNESDAY 29 DECEMBER 1802
A small reef was seen in the morning, two miles to the north-east of the
ship, and about seven from the coast. We passed half a mile to windward
of it with 31/2 fathoms, and stretched off to sea until noon, with the
usual north-western wind; the latitude was then 15 deg. 7', longitude 135 deg.
40', and we tacked towards the land, which was not in sight from the mast
head. At six in the evening it was distant two leagues, and the extremes
bore S. 26 deg. E. to 74 deg. W., the first being the same part which had been
set at N. 36 deg. W., the evening before. At seven, we tacked from the shore
in 31/2 fathoms, and on the water deepening to 4, anchored on coarse sandy
ground. In working along the shore next day [THURSDAY 30 DECEMBER 1802],
we met with a shoal of sand and rocks., as far as three leagues off the
land; the outer part, upon which we had less than 21/2 fathoms at noon,
lying in 15 deg. 13' south and 136 deg. 16' east. After getting clear of this
danger, we stretched off until dusk; and then anchored in 9 fathoms, grey
sand, some back hills being visible in the S. W. by W., but no part of
the low shore.
FRIDAY 31 DECEMBER 1802
We had the wind at W. by S. in the morning, and stood off until noon,
nine or ten leagues from the coast; two small lumps of land were then
seen, bearing S. 53 deg. and 58 deg. W., and at the mast head they were perceived
to join, and apparently to form an island. On the wind veering to the
south and eastward we steered for it, and before sunset got to an anchor
in a small bay on its south side, in 4 fathoms; the extremes of the
island bearing N. 81 deg. E. one mile and a half, to S. 83 deg. W. three miles.
The main land was visible three or four leagues to the southward, and a
projecting part of the back hills, which at first made like a head land,
bore S. 3 deg. W.
A similar error to that at the Capes Van Diemen and Vanderlin has been
made here in the Dutch chart, this island being represented as a
projection of the main land, and called Cape Maria. To the west of it is
marked a large bay or bight, called Limmen's Bogt, where the coast turns
north-eastward to a projecting cape without name, which has a shoal,
forty miles in length, running out from it; and between this shoal and
Cape Maria, is laid down a small island. In these particulars, the old
chart was found to be correct as to the general matter of fact, but
erroneous in the forms and positions.
SATURDAY 1 JANUARY 1803
Fires were seen at night, upon the island; and early in the morning I
landed with the botanical gentlemen, to examine the productions and take
bearings. My attention was attracted by something like a native's hut,
which proved to be an ant hill composed of red earth, about eight feet
high, and formed like a haycock; the inhabitants were the same feeble
race of insect as before seen at the Prince of Wales' Islands, and the
least pressure was sufficient to crush them. From the highest hill on the
south side of the island, I set the furthest visible extremity of the
main land to the eastward, near which is a low islet, at S. 21 deg. 50' E.;
from thence it extended past the projecting part of the hills to N. 80 deg.
W., where it was lost in Limmen's Bight; but re-appearing 16 deg. further
north, it was distinguishable to N. 33 deg. W.
The length of the island is about seven miles, N. E. and S. W., by a
variable breadth from one to four miles; and its northern extremity, to
which I continue the name of _Cape Maria_, lies in 14 deg. 50' south, and
135 deg. 531/2' east. A slaty rock seemed to form its basis; the surface is
hilly, well covered with wood, and grass grows up from amongst the loose
stones; and notwithstanding its barren soil, the appearance from the ship
was green and pleasant. That men were upon the island was shown by the
fires, and it was corroborated by the fresh prints of feet upon the sand;
but they eluded our search, and we did not find either canoes or
On returning to the ship at nine o'clock, we stretched southward for the
main coast, with the wind at west. When within five or six miles, the
water shoaled to 31/2 fathoms; and the ship being found to drift to leeward
with the tide, a stream anchor was dropped. There seemed to be two tides
here in the day, setting nearly east and west, but the rise and fall were
so imperceptible by the lead, that it could not be known which was the
The west wind died away at noon, and being succeeded by a sea breeze from
the north-eastward, we steered for Limmen's Bight so long as it lasted;
and then anchored in 4 fathoms, blue mud, with the island of Cape Maria
bearing S. 56 deg. to 86 deg. E., ten or twelve miles. The main land was eight or
nine miles off, and visible all round the Bight and as far as N. 6 deg. W.;
it was low and woody, and an extensive shelving flat seemed to render it
inaccessible to a ship.
At seven in the evening, the land wind came off in a strong squall, with
thunder, lightning, and rain; afterwards the weather cleared; and at day
light [SUNDAY 2 JANUARY 1803] we followed the line of the coast to the
northward. I wished to get as near to it as possible; but the water
shoaling to 21/2 fathoms when six or seven miles off, we ran out east, till
it deepened to 4, and then steered north-eastward, parallel to the line
of the shoal. A low rock came in sight to seaward, which I took to be the
small island laid down to the north-east of Cape Maria, but it lies
nearly north from it. At nine o'clock, when the main land was distant
seven miles and the depth 6 fathoms,
The low rock, distant 4 miles, bore S. 651/2 deg. E.
Station hill near C. Maria, dist. 6 leagues, S. 71/2 E.
A sloping part of the main, higher than the rest, N. 50 W.
Extreme from the mast head, North.
Our latitude at noon was 14 deg. 26' 29", and longitude 135 deg. 541/2'; the main
coast was seven miles off, and seen from the mast head as far as N. N. E.
Three miles to the N. 80 deg. E. there were two dry sands, and shoal water
extended from them to the north and southward, further than could be
distinguished. We had already no more than 3 fathoms; but a sea breeze
having set in at E. by S., unfavourably for going without side of the
sands, we kept on close to the wind, hoping to find a passage within
them. The depth varied between 8 and 4 fathoms, till past five o'clock,
when it diminished to 21/2, the main coast being distant five or six miles,
and the sands out of sight astern; we then tacked, and stretched E. S. E.
into 4 fathoms, and anchored at dusk on a bottom of gravel. An
observation of the moon gave the latitude here 14 deg. 19'; and the variation
from an amplitude, with the head E. by S., was 0 deg. 43' east, or corrected
to the meridian upon the principle often before mentioned, 2 deg. 44' east
for the true variation.
There is no doubt that the dry banks seen at noon, were meant to be
represented in the Dutch chart by the great shoal to the north-east of
Cape Maria; but their direction from the cape is there too far eastward;
neither do they join to the main land, nor lie out from it more than
one-quarter of the distance marked: several turtle were seen in the
vicinity of the banks. The main coast in the northern part of Limmen's
Bight is not altogether so low as at the head; but the shoal water
extends equally far out, and even the southern head of the gulph is not
more inaccessible to ships.
We had strong squalls of wind in the night, with rain, thunder, and
lightning, and were obliged to drop a second anchor; the wind, however,
remained in the north-east, and at daylight [MONDAY 3 JANUARY 1803] we
stood for the edge of the shoal. At seven, tacked ship in 3 fathoms; and
a breeze coming off the land soon afterward, we steered along the shore
until noon, with a good depth of water. Several pieces of distant land,
which seemed to be islands of greater elevation than usual, were then
seen, from N. by E. to E. S. E.; the main coast was about five miles off,
and the furthest part bore north from the mast head. Our latitude at this
time was 14 deg. 5', and longitude 136 deg. 6' east.
In the afternoon, the soundings became irregular between 4 and 7 fathoms,
and the whale boat was sent ahead; but a fresh wind setting in at N. E.,
the boat was called back, and in being veered astern, got filled with
water, broke adrift, and the two men were thrown out. Another boat was
lowered down to save them and I ran the ship to leeward and came to an
anchor. The whale boat was picked up, as also one of the men; but the
other, William Murray, captain of the fore top, being unable to swim, was
The weather remained squally, and wind unsettled during the night. In the
morning [TUESDAY 4 JANUARY 1803] our course was continued to the
northward, leaving extensive land, which I supposed to be the _Groote
Eylandt_ of the old charts, six or eight leagues on the starbord hand.
Before commencing the investigation of that island, I wished to trace the
main coast further on, and if possible, give the botanists an opportunity
of examining its productions; for it was upon the main that they usually
made the most interesting discoveries, and only once, since entering the
Gulph of Carpentaria, had we been able to land there. At seven o'clock we
edged in for the coast; and on coming into 31/2 fathoms, dropped the anchor
on a bottom of blue mud, within a mile of the shore. No part of Groote
Eylandt was in sight; but an island of considerable extent and elevation,
not noticed in the old chart, lay six or seven miles to the E. N. E.; and
I have called it BICKERTON'S ISLAND, in compliment to admiral Sir Richard
Bickerton. Between it and the main coast is an open space, from four to
six or seven miles wide, through which, to all appearance from this side,
a ship might safely pass.
Whilst the botanical gentlemen landed abreast of the ship, I took the
whale boat to a woody islet, five miles off, close to Bickerton's Island,
the soundings across the opening in going to it, being from 3 to 7
fathoms. A meridian observation to the north and south, placed the islet
in latitude 13 deg. 48' 30", and the points of the opening to the northward
bore N. 18 deg. E. and N. 21/2 deg. W.; this last was the furthest visible part of
the main land; and proving afterwards to be a projecting cape, I named it
_Cape Barrow_, after John Barrow. Esq., author of the interesting travels
at the Cape of Good Hope. The islet is about half a mile long, and though
many bushes and some trees grew upon it, is little more than a bed of
sand. There were holes in the beach, made by turtle; and besides other
proofs of the islet being sometimes visited by the Indians, I found four
human skulls lying at the back of the shore.
From the woody islet I crossed over to the main land near the ship, and
took another set of bearings for the survey. Upon the shore were pieces
of bamboo, and other traces of the same foreign people of whom mention
has frequently been made; and three small huts were found, so entirely
covered with grass that no opening was left; but they were empty, and
nothing was buried underneath. On the borders of a small fresh lake the
botanists reaped a harvest of new plants, without molestation; indeed no
natives were seen any where; but several skeletons were found, standing
upright in the hollow stumps of trees; and the skulls and bones being
smeared or painted, partly red and partly white, made a very strange
appearance. Some kangaroos were perceived at a distance; and judging by
their foot-marks on the sand, they were rather numerous. The country near
the sea side is stony and barren; further back, it rises gently to a
small elevation, and seemed to be moderately well covered with grass and
WEDNESDAY 5 JANUARY 1803
In the morning of the 5th we got under way, and steered eastward for
Groote Eylandt, which I now intended to circumnavigate. In passing the
south side of Bickerton's Island, we observed in it a deep bight or bay
which would afford shelter in the north-west monsoon., if there be depth
sufficient for a ship; and the hills at the back being high and woody,
there was a probability of its receiving a stream of fresh water. The
country round the entrance of the bight, had the appearance of being
sandy and sterile.
Between the nearest parts of Groote and Bickerton's Islands is a space of
eight miles, which seemed to offer a perfectly safe passage, with
soundings, if I may judge from what we had in crossing the south side,
between 13 and 17 fathoms; nor can the rather high and woody isle, which
lies almost exactly in the middle of the opening, be considered as
presenting any obstacle. This isle, from its local position, would seem
to be the central one of three laid down in the Dutch chart between
Groote Eylandt and the main; but the latitude corresponds with the
southernmost. I call it _Connexion Island_; because my survey round
Groote Eylandt was connected by its means, and made in a great measure
independent of the time keepers. The centre of Connexion Island, from
observations at noon to the north and south, lies in 13 deg. 501/2' south; and
the longitude, deduced at three o'clock when the extremes bore N. 20 deg. W.
to 11 deg. E. four miles, would be 136 deg. 27' from the best time keeper; but
from the survey and lunar observations, 136 deg. 241/2' east should be more
Our distance from the west side of Groote Eylandt at four o'clock, was
not quite three miles, and we then bore away southward along the shore,
in 8 to 6 fathoms water. This depth diminished gradually to 4 fathoms,
and suddenly from that to 21/2; on which we steered off into 7, and then
resumed our southern course. Soon after sunset,
Bickerton's island, south point, bore N. 53 deg. W.
Connexion I., the west extreme., N. 11 W.
Groote Eylandt, north-west extreme, N. 16 E.
Groote Eylandt, central hill., N. 87 E.
Groote Eylandt, a low projection, dist. 4 or 5 miles, S. 42 E.
In half an hour, the anchor was dropped in 11 fathoms, muddy bottom.
At the north-west end of Groote Eylandt is a bluff head, the termination
that way of a range of woody hills from the interior, of which the
highest is what was set under the name of Central Hill. On the west side
of the island these hills do not come close to the water side, but leave
a space of increasing breadth to the southward, where the land is low,
sandy, and sterile; and even the hills, though mostly covered with wood,
had little of fertility in their appearance: the shore is partly rock,
and in part sandy beach.
THURSDAY 6 JANUARY 1803
We had the wind light and variable in the morning, and proceeded to the
southward very slowly. The shore trended S. S. E., for some time; and
then turning westward to the south-west cape, it formed a bight in the
low land three or four miles back, in which there seemed to be much shoal
water. There is a sandy hill upon the south-west cape, and a rock lies
close to it; and at three or four miles off the soundings were
exceedingly irregular, jumping from 7 to 5, and 4 to 11 fathoms, on a
rocky bottom. This irregularity, and the meeting of two tides, one from
the north and another from the east, caused great ripplings in the water;
and with the light winds, retarded our progress round the cape. The
extreme south-west point lies in latitude 14 deg. 15' south, and from six
sets of lunar distances with stars east and west, the longitude would be
136 deg. 17' east; but according to the survey, 136 deg. 25' is the better
situation. An amplitude at sunset gave the variation 1 deg. 9', with the
ship's head S. E., or corrected to the meridian, 2 deg. 36' east. We anchored
at dusk in 13 fathoms, muddy bottom, five or six miles to the south of
[NORTH COAST. GROOTE EYLANDT.]
SATURDAY 8 JANUARY 1803
On the 7th and 8th, the winds hung between S. E. and N. N. E.; and the
direction of the south side of Groote Eylandt being nearly east, it took
us those two days and part of a third, to make the examination, though
the extent be little more than twelve leagues. The land here is more
sandy than on the west side, and the trees upon the hills are more thinly
scattered and present a less agreeable foliage. No islands are laid down
near the south side in the Dutch chart; but I counted eight scattered
along it, of which the easternmost and largest is more than two miles
long; and besides these, there are several rocks. The positions of these
rocks and islets, with our courses and soundings amongst them, will be
best seen in the chart.
SUNDAY 9 JANUARY 1803
In the afternoon of the 9th, we passed round the south-east rocky point
of Groote Eylandt, which lies in 14 deg. 17' south, and 137 deg. 21/2' east. The
shore then trended northward, to a small cluster of rocks and islets
three miles distant; and two miles further was another islet, behind
which we anchored in 12 fathoms, coarse sand, in a sandy bight of the
great island; but the bight being exposed to south-east winds, and
containing much foul ground, the anchorage was far from being good.
MONDAY 10 JANUARY 1803
In the morning, we steered out on the north side of the islet, between it
and a low point two miles off, with a boat ahead; our soundings being 9,
6, 4, 21/2, 5, 8, and soon afterward 23 fathoms. The low point, which has
several rocks near it, lies seven or eight miles northward from the
south-east extremity of Groote Eylandt; from thence the shore trends
westward about four leagues, and forms a large bight, mostly bounded by a
sandy beach; but in the middle of it is a point with many rocks. On the
west side of the bight, two or three miles back, are the same woody hills
which seem to occupy all the middle of the island; and on this side they
terminate to the north-east in a bluff. The depth of water at noon was 19
fathoms, and our situation and principal bearings were as under.
Latitude, observed to the north and south, 14 deg. 5' 31"
Longitude by time keeper and survey, 137 3
Groote Eylandt, low eastern point, dist. 4 miles, S. 1 W.
Groote Eylandt, woody hills, the north-east bluff, N. 64 W.
Groote Eylandt, furthest visible extreme, N. 6 W.
We were then steering across the bight before a south-east wind; but the
depth of water becoming less, and the wind more dead on the shore, we
hauled up N. by E. for the furthest land in sight. At three o'clock, a
small opening was seen under the north-east bluff, but our distance of
three leagues was too great to distinguish it accurately. Towards
evening, when three miles from the shore, the sounding jumped from 9 to 4
fathoms, and we tacked to the south-east; and the night promising to be
fine, anchored at dusk in 19 fathoms, mud and sand, with the north-east
point of Groote Eylandt bearing N. 33 deg. W., about seven miles (Atlas,
Plate XV.); further out lay two small islands, and a hill upon the
outermost was set at N. 10 deg. W. The latitude of this anchorage was
ascertained, from altitudes of two stars and the moon, to be 13 deg. 53 1/3'
south; and an amplitude with the ship's head N. E. by N., gave variation
2 deg. 57', or 4 deg. 4' east, corrected to the meridian.
TUESDAY 11 JANUARY 1803
We had the wind at N. W. in the morning, and steered close to it on the
larbord tack, until noon; when the hill on the outer north-east island,
bore S. 891/2 deg. W., nine or ten miles. The latitude of the hill is 13 deg. 381/4',
and from six sets of distances of stars east and west of the moon, its
longitude would be 136 deg. 36'; but from the survey and more numerous
observations, it is 137 deg. 01/2' east.* After a calm the sea breeze came in,
and our course was directed for the north-east point of Groote Eylandt;
at sunset we approached a rocky islet three or four miles from the point,
and anchored under it in 61/2 fathoms, sandy ground, with the point bearing
S. 5 deg. E., and the furthest visible part, very low and sandy, S. 63 deg. W.
five or six miles. On the other side, the north-east islands extended
from N. 32 deg. E. to 39 deg. W., with many small rocks scattered along them; the
nearest of which, a split rock, was distant a short mile.
[* The apparent error of 241/2' in the first longitude, is greater than
should exist in the mean result of six sets of distances. There is an
interval of three days in the observations of the moon at Greenwich with
which these distances were compared; and it seems probable that a great
part of the error might arise from that cause.]
WEDNESDAY 12 JANUARY 1803
In the morning we steered close to a N. N. W. wind, for the low sandy
point, where the shore was found to trend southward; and five or six
miles to the west there was other land, moderately high and in some
places cliffy, which took nearly a parallel direction; and the bight
between them ran so far up towards the north-east bluff of the woody
hills, that a junction with the small opening seen on the outside
appeared to be probable. A shelving spit extended out from the low point,
and on opening the bight our soundings decreased from 6 to 21/2 fathoms,
which made it necessary to tack; and the wind being adverse to passing
within the north-east islands, if indeed there be water enough for a
ship, which seemed doubtful, we steered out by the way we had come in.
Having little wind, the isles were not passed till late in the evening,
and from the same cause not much progress was made to the westward next
day [THURSDAY 13 JANUARY 1803]; but the land was better distinguished
than before, and many straggling rocks and two islets were seen to lie
off the north end of Groote Eylandt. In the morning of the 14th [FRIDAY
14 JANUARY 1803] we weathered all these, and on the wind dying away,
anchored in 111/2 fathoms, blue mud; the outer _North-point Islet_, which
lies in 13 deg. 37' south and 136 deg. 45' east, then bore E. 3 deg. S. five miles,
and the furthest extreme of a higher cliffy island, S. 38 deg. W. three
I went in a boat to this last island with the botanical gentlemen,
intending to take bearings from the uppermost cliffs; but the many deep
chasms by which the upper parts are intersected, made it impossible to
reach the top in the short time we had to spare, and a few bearings from
the eastern low point were all that could be obtained. This was called
_Chasm Island_; it lies one mile and a half from a low point of Groote
Eylandt, where the shore trends southward and seemed to form a bay, into
which I proposed to conduct the ship.
We found upon Chasm Island a fruit which proved to be a new species of
_eugenia_, of the size of an apple, whose acidity of taste was agreeable;
there were also many large bushes covered with nutmegs, similar to those
seen at Cape Vanderlin; and in some of the chasms the ground was covered
with this fruit, without our being able, for some time, to know whence it
came. Several trees shot up in these chasms, thirty or forty feet high,
and on considering them attentively, these were found to be the trees
whence the nutmegs had fallen; thus what was a spreading bush above,
became, from the necessity of air and light, a tall, slender tree, and
showed the admirable power in nature to accommodate itself to local
circumstances. The fruit was small, and not of an agreeable flavour; nor
is it probable that it can at all come in competition with the nutmeg of
the Molucca Islands: it is the _Myristica insipida_ of Brown's _Prodrom.
Nov. Holl._ p. 400.
In the steep sides of the chasms were deep holes or caverns, undermining
the cliffs; upon the walls of which I found rude drawings, made with
charcoal and something like red paint upon the white ground of the rock.
These drawings represented porpoises, turtle, kangaroos, and a human
hand; and Mr. Westall, who went afterwards to see them, found the
representation of a kangaroo, with a file of thirty-two persons following
after it. The third person of the band was twice the height of the
others, and held in his hand something resembling the _whaddie_, or
wooden sword of the natives of Port Jackson; and was probably intended to
represent a chief. They could not, as with us, indicate superiority by
clothing or ornament, since they wear none of any kind; and therefore,
with the addition of a weapon, similar to the ancients, they seem to have
made superiority of person the principal emblem of superior power, of
which, indeed, power is usually a consequence in the very early stages of
A sea breeze had sprung up from the eastward, and the ship was under way
when we returned on board at three in the afternoon. At five we hauled
round Chasm Island with 12 fathoms water, which diminished gradually as
we proceeded up the bay, to 41/2, where the anchor was dropped on a muddy
bottom; the south-west end of Chasm Island then bore N. 16 deg. E., three or
four miles, and the cliffy end of a smaller isle on the west side of the
entrance, N. 29 deg. W. two miles and a half; and except between these two
bearings, we were sheltered from all winds. The situation of this bay in
Groote Eylandt, led me to give it the name of _North-west Bay_. It is
formed on the east and south by that island; and on the west by a
separate piece of land, five or six miles long, which, in honour of the
noble possessor of Burley Park, in the county of Rutland, I named
_Winchilsea Island_; and a small isle of greater elevation, lying a short
mile to the east of the ship, was called _Finch's Island_.
SATURDAY 15 JANUARY 1803
Early next morning the botanists landed on Groote Eylandt, and I went to
Finch's Island with the second lieutenant, to take bearings and
astronomical observations. From the western head, I saw that the bay
extended six or eight miles above the ship, to the southward, and that
the southern outlet, beyond Winchilsea Island, was about one mile wide;
but the whole seemed to be too shallow for any thing larger than boats.
Amongst the bearings taken from this station, those most essential to the
Groote Eylandt, the woody north-west bluff, S. 56 deg. 46' W.
A distant wedge-shaped rock, the N. E. bluff, N. 59 55 W.
Chasm I., the steep west end, N. 3 51 E.
And from another station, half a mile to the E. S. E., I set Groote
Eylandt, the central hill, at S. 14 deg. 27' E.
This bearing and that of the north-west bluff, formed connecting links in
the chain of longitude round the island.
SUNDAY 16 JANUARY 1803
Next day the botanists landed upon Winchilsea Island, and further
astronomical observations were taken upon that of Finch; where also a
part of the ship's company went to divert themselves, and to wash their
linen; and in the evening, we prepared to quit North-west Bay.
A close-grained sand stone, nearly resembling that of Pellew's Group,
seems to form the basis of Groote and the neighbouring islands; we found
also coral, ironstone, and quartz. In many places, quartz in almost a
crystallised state was sprinkled in grains through the sand stone, and
in others, the sand stone itself was partly vitrified. Wherever we
landed, the surface was so entirely composed of stone and sand, that the
idea of any kind of cultivation could in no wise be assimilated with it;
the hills at a little distance from the water side were, however, well
covered with wood, and it is not improbable, that there may be vallies in
the central parts of Groote Eylandt possessing some degree of fertility.
The central hill, which is six or eight hundred feet in elevation,
appeared to be not so much as three leagues from the head of North-west
Bay, and I was desirous to have made an excursion to the top, to see the
interior of the island; but the state of the ship being such as to press
us forward with all practicable haste, it was not attempted; nor did I
stop to examine particularly the head of the bay, since it appeared to be
shallow, and of little interest to navigation.
The wood on Groote Eylandt was mostly composed of different species of
_eucalyptus_; the trees were small, and might do for fire wood and very
common purposes, but did not seem calculated for any superior use. Chasm
Island was the sole place where the nutmeg was found, though in general,
the gleanings of the botanists were tolerably fortunate. None of the
native inhabitants were seen, nor any kangaroos or other quadrupeds; and
birds seemed to be scarce. Small quantities of water, deposited in holes
of the rocks by the late rains, were useful to the seamen for washing
their clothes; but we did not find any from which a ship could be
supplied, nor were there any beaches convenient for hauling the seine.
The _latitude_ of Finch's Island, from a meridian observation to the
north and south, is 14 deg. 43' 31" S.
_Longitude_ from six sets of distances of the sun east of the moon, taken
by myself, 136 deg. 38' 47", and from twelve sets by lieutenant Flinders (see
Table V. of Appendix No. I), 136 deg. 23' 38"; but there being no
observations of the moon at Greenwich within two or three days, the
longitude from survey and the position of Caledon Bay afterwards fixed,
is preferred, and is 136 deg. 36' 53" E.
_Dip_ of the south end of the needle, 39 deg. 22'.
_Variation_ of the theodolite, 3 deg. 6' east.
The variations of the surveying compass, from amplitudes taken near
different parts of Groote Eylandt during the circumnavigation, were
Near the main, opp. the S.W. Pt., head E. by S., 0 deg. 43', cor. 2 deg. 44' E.
Near the south-west point, S. E., 1 9 , cor. 2 36
Off the east side, N. E. by N., 2 57 , cor. 4 4
Near the north-east isles., N. W. by W., 3 33 , cor. 1 58
Off the north end, S. W. by W., 5 51 , cor. 4 14
Whether the small variation near the north-east isles arose from any
peculiar attraction, or from some oversight in taking the amplitude, I
cannot determine; if from the latter, it would appear that the variation
is a degree and a half less on the south-west, than on the east and north
sides of Groote Eylandt.
Scarcely any run of _tide_ was perceptible in North-west Bay, nor did the
rise appear to exceed four or five feet at any part of the island, though
it runs with some strength off the projecting points. The irregularity in
different places was such, that the time of high water could not be
ascertained; but I think there is only one full tide in the day, and that
the flood comes from the northward.
MONDAY 17 JANUARY 1803
Early on the 17th we worked out of the bay, and stretched off to sea with
a W. N. W. wind; at noon the latitude was 13 deg. 27' 10", and the furthest
extreme of Chasm Island bore S. 26 deg. W. After a calm in the afternoon, the
sea breeze came in, and we steered south-westward till nine o'clock; when
a bower anchor was let go in 14 fathoms, two or three miles from the
north end of Winchilsea Island. In the morning [TUESDAY 18 JANUARY 1803]
we lay up south-west, on the starbord tack, and weathered the island,
leaving a rock one mile and a half on the other side. I wished, by a good
bearing of Connexion Island, to join the survey completely round Groote
Eylandt; and at nine o'clock it was set at S. 271/2 deg. to 47 deg. W., two
leagues. The wind then came ahead, and we tacked towards two small isles,
where the anchor was dropped at ten, one mile and a half from their south
side, in 16 fathoms, sand and shells. Our latitude here was 13 deg. 43' 42"
south, and the east side of Connexion Island bore S. 91/2 deg. W. six or seven
miles; the difference of longitude from our situation on the 5th at three
p.m., was hence ascertained to be it 1' 55" east, not differing 5" from
what was given by No. 543, but No. 520 showed 61/2' too much; the
differences of longitude by the former time keeper alone have therefore
been used round Groote Eylandt.
I went immediately, with the botanical gentlemen, to the northern and
largest of the two sandy isles; and after observing the latitude 13 deg. 42'
17" on the south-west point, ascended the highest hillock, which, from
the clump of trees upon it, was called _Pandanus Hill_. Some of the trees
being cut down, I had a tolerably extensive view of points and islands
before passed; and saw more to the north-westward, behind Wedge Rock, all
of which the Dutch chart represents as parts of the main land. One of
these I have called _Burney's Island_, in compliment to captain James
Burney of the navy, and another _Nicol's Island_, after His Majesty's
bookseller, the publisher of this work. Beyond these was a more extensive
land, which also proved to be an island; and its form having some
resemblance to the whaddie or woodah, or wooden sword used by the natives
of Port Jackson, it was named _Isle Woodah_. A low sandy island, lying
four or five miles N. by. E. from my station, seems to be the
northernmost of the three isles laid down between Groote Eylandt and the
main; but it is placed, as are also the neighbouring lands, half a degree
too far north: Connexion Island, taking it to be the southernmost of the
three, is well fixed in latitude.
Amongst the many bearings taken at the top of Pandanus Hill, those which
follow were the most important to the survey.
North-point Islet, outer extreme N. 73 deg. 15' E.
Chasm Island, N. 74 deg. 15' to N. 78 25 E.
Groote Eylandt, central hill, S. 44 30 E.
Groote Eylandt, north-west extreme, S. 9 0 E.
The ship distant 13/4 miles, S. 7 45 E.
Connexion Island, S. 8 0 to S. 22 30 W.
Bickerton's Island, S. 43 40 to N. 75 45 W.
Isle Woodah, N. 60 30 to N. 38 15 W.
Wedge Rock, steep north-east end, N. 30 45 W.
Nicol's I., steep east end, N. 26 5 W.
There was very little wood upon the two sandy isles, nor did they furnish
any thing new to the botanists; but they were partly covered with long
grass amongst which harboured several bustards, and I called them
_Bustard Isles_. The basis of the largest is nearly the same mixture of
sand-stone and quartz, as at North-west Bay; broken coral and sand formed
the beaches; and some fresh turtle tracks being there perceived, and the
appearance of the weather being unfavourable, it induced me to remain at
anchor all night; but only one turtle was procured.
WEDNESDAY 19 JANUARY 1803
In the morning we had a north-east wind, and after passing round a shoal
which runs one or two miles from the south-west end of the Bustard Isles,
hauled up to weather Bickerton's Island; but owing to a tide setting to
leeward it was not accomplished before two in the afternoon. Soon after
three we got to anchor one mile from the south side of Burney's Island,
in 41/2 fathoms, mud and shells; and I went on shore with the botanists.
This island is moderately high, rocky, and barren, yet thickly covered
with the _eucalyptus_ and _casuarina_. From the highest rock on the
south-east side, I took bearings of the objects in sight; and amongst
Wedge Rock, the north extreme, at N. 83 deg. 50' E.
Chasm Island, north extreme, S. 79 55 E.
Pandanus Hill, the last station, S. 53 5 E.
I afterwards got through the wood, intending to set the objects lying to
the north and westward; but no clear place could be found for placing the
theodolite. A small bay was observed on the north-west side of the
island, which might be convenient for boats; and from the steep declivity
of the land round it, there seemed a probability that fresh water might
be procured at this season. The stone of this island is the same as that
of the Bustard Isles; and the Indians had visited both. A set of
azimuths, observed at the same station whence the bearings were taken,
gave variation 2 deg. 50' east; but on board the ship, with the head N. E. by
E., Mr. Flinders observed 0 deg. 23' east, with three compasses, which would
be 2 deg. 0' corrected; whence it should seem, that the stone of the island
had some attraction on the south end of the needle.
[NORTH COAST. BLUE-MUD BAY.]
THURSDAY 20 JANUARY 1803
In the morning, we steered S. W. to take up the survey of the main coast
at Cape Barrow, between which and Isle Woodah was an opening where no
land was visible; but meeting with shoal water, and the wind being light,
a stream anchor was dropped until the boat had time to sound. On her
return, we steered for the north side of the opening, with a depth which
increased from 4 fathoms to 17 off the south end of Woodah. A higher
island, two or three miles long, then showed itself to the N. N. W.; and
on the water shoaling to 31/2 fathoms, the anchor was dropped at four in
the afternoon, one mile and a half from its south side, on a bottom of
blue mud. The main land was in sight to the westward, forming a large bay
with Isle Woodah, and Bickerton's Island covered the entrance, so that
the ship was in complete shelter.
On landing with the botanical gentlemen, I ascended a hummock at the east
end of the island, where alone the view was not impeded by wood. Many of
my former fixed points were visible from thence, and the main land was
traced round to the northward, to a hill named _Mount Grindall_, near
which was another round hill upon an island; and behind them the main
extended eastward, nearly as far as over the middle of Isle Woodah.
Amongst the numerous bearings taken from this eastern hummock, the
following six were most essential to the survey.
Chasm Island, the centre, S. 67 deg. 46' E.
Wedge Rock, steep north-east end, S. 59 47 E.
Cape Barrow, the eastern extreme, S. 6 50 W.
Mount Grindall, N. 13 16 W.
Round-hill Island, the top, N. 8 5 W.
Extreme of the main, over Woodah, N. 55 20 E.
FRIDAY 21 JANUARY 1803
A party of men was sent to cut wood on the following morning, and another
to haul the seine; the botanists also landed, and I went to observe the
latitude and take bearings from the west end of the island; every person
was armed, for marks of feet had been perceived, so newly imprinted on
the sand, that we expected to meet with Indians. After accomplishing my
objects, I walked with a small party round the north-west end of the
island; and then returned over the high land, through a most fatiguing
brush wood, towards the wooders and the boat. On clearing the wood, four
or five Indians were seen on a hill, half a mile to the left, and some of
the wooding party advancing towards them. The sight of us seemed to give
the natives an apprehension of being surrounded, for they immediately
ran; but our proceeding quietly down to the boat, which I did in the hope
that our people might bring on an interview, appeared to satisfy them.
The scientific gentlemen accompanied me on board to dinner; and I learned
from Mr. Westall, that whilst he was taking a sketch at the east end of
the island, a canoe, with six men in it, came over from Woodah. He took
little notice of them until, finding they saw him and landed not far off,
he thought it prudent to retreat with his servant to the wooding party.
The natives followed pretty smartly after him; and when they appeared on
the brow of the hill, Mr. Whitewood, the master's mate, and some of his
wooders went to meet them in a friendly manner. This was at the time that
the appearance of my party caused them to run; but when we left the shore
they had stopped, and our people were walking gently up the hill.
The natives had spears, but from the smallness of their number, and our
men being armed, I did not apprehend any danger; we had, however,
scarcely reached the ship, when the report of muskets was heard; and the
people were making signals and carrying some one down to the boat, as if
wounded or killed. I immediately despatched two armed boats to their
assistance, under the direction of the master; with orders, if he met
with the natives, to be friendly and give them presents, and by no means
to pursue them into the wood. I suspected, indeed, that our people must
have been the aggressors; but told the master, if the Indians had made a
wanton attack, to bring off their canoe by way of punishment; intending
myself to take such steps on the following day, as might be found
At five o'clock Mr. Whitewood was brought on board, with four spear
wounds in his body. It appeared that the natives, in waiting to receive
our men, kept their spears ready, as ours had their muskets. Mr.
Whitewood, who was foremost, put out his hand to receive a spear which he
supposed was offered; but the Indian, thinking perhaps that an attempt
was made to take his arms, ran the spear into the breast of his supposed
enemy. The officer snapped his firelock, but it missed, and he retreated
to his men; and the Indians, encouraged by this, threw several spears
after him, three of which took effect. Our people attempted to fire, and
after some time two muskets went off, and the Indians fled; but not
without taking away a hat which had been dropped. Thomas Morgan, a
marine, having been some time exposed bare-headed to the sun, was struck
with a _coup-de-soleil_; he was brought on board with Mr. Whitewood, and
died in a state of frenzy, the same night.
So soon as the master had learned what had happened, he went round in the
whale boat to the east end of the island, to secure the canoe; and
forgetting the orders I had given him, sent Mr. Lacy with the wooders
overland, to intercept the natives on that side. Their searches were for
some time fruitless; but in the dusk of the evening three Indians were
seen by the wooders, and before they could be intercepted had pushed off
in the canoe. A sharp fire was commenced after them; and before they got
out of reach, one fell and the others leaped out and dived away. A seaman
who gave himself the credit of having shot the native, swam off to the
canoe, and found him lying dead at the bottom, with a straw hat on his
head which he recognised to be his own. Whilst displaying this in
triumph, he upset the ticklish vessel, and the body sunk; but the canoe
was towed to the shore, and the master returned with it at nine o'clock.
I was much concerned at what had happened, and greatly displeased with
the master for having acted so contrary to my orders; but the mischief
being unfortunately done, a boat was sent in the morning [SATURDAY 22
JANUARY 1803] to search for the dead body, the painter being desirous of
it to make a drawing, and the naturalist and surgeon for anatomical
purposes. The corpse was found lying at the water's edge, not lengthwise,
as a body washed up, but with the head on shore and the feet touching the
surf. The arms were crossed under the head, with the face downward, in
the posture of a man who was just able to crawl out of the water and die;
and I very much apprehend this to have been one of the two natives who
had leaped out of the canoe, and were thought to have escaped. He was of
the middle size, rather slender, had a prominent chest, small legs, and
similar features to the inhabitants of other parts of this country; and
he appeared to have been circumcised! A musket ball had passed through
the shoulder blade, from behind; and penetrating upwards, had lodged in
The canoe was of bark, but not of one piece, as at Port Jackson; it
consisted of two pieces, sewed together lengthwise, with the seam on one
side; the two ends were also sewed up, and made tight with gum. Along
each gunwale was lashed a small pole; and these were spanned together in
five places, with creeping vine, to preserve the shape, and to strengthen
the canoe. Its length was thirteen and a half, and the breadth two and a
half feet; and it seemed capable of carrying six people, being larger
than those generally used at Port Jackson.
It does not accord with the usually timid character of the natives of
Terra Australis, to suppose the Indians came over from Isle Woodah for
the purpose of making an attack; yet the circumstance of their being
without women or children--their following so briskly after Mr.
Westall--and advancing armed to the wooders, all imply that they rather
sought than avoided a quarrel. I can account for this unusual conduct
only by supposing, that they might have had differences with, and
entertained no respectful opinion of the Asiatic visitors, of whom we had
found so many traces, some almost in sight of this place.
The body of Thomas Morgan who died so unfortunately, was this day
committed to the deep with the usual ceremony; and the island was named
after him, _Morgan's Island_. The basis stone is partly argillaceous, and
in part sand stone, with a mixture in some places of iron ore, but more
frequently of quartz. A little soil is formed upon the slopes of the
hills and in the vallies; and there, more especially at the east end of
the island, it is covered with small trees and coarse grass, which the
late rains had caused to look fresh and green; there were also some
temporary drains of fresh water.
The _latitude_ of the hummock at the east end of Morgan's Island, is 13 deg.
271/2', and _longitude_ from the survey, 136 deg. 91/2'. Azimuths observed at the
anchorage, with three compasses and the ship's head in the magnetic
meridian, gave 2 deg. 23' east _variation_, which corresponded very well with
the bearings. The _tides_ here are very inconsiderable, and there
appeared to be only one flood and one ebb in the day; high water took
place about midnight, when the moon was a little past the lower meridian;
but whether it will always be so far behind the moon, may admit of a
A view of the main land to the westward, from Cape Barrow to Mount
Grindall, had been obtained from the higher parts of Morgan's Island; but
a probability still remaining that some river might fall into the bay, I
proposed to coast round it with the ship. On a breeze springing up at E.
S. E, early in the afternoon, we steered round the west end of the
island, and hauled to the northward; but meeting almost immediately with
shoal water, the course was altered for the south-west, and afterwards
for the south part of the bay; and finding no where more than 3 fathoms,
we tacked to the N. E. at dusk, and came to an anchor. The bottom here,
and in most other parts of the bay, is a blue mud of so fine a quality,
that I judge it might be useful in the manufactory of earthern ware; and
I thence named this, _Blue-mud Bay_.
It was evident from the uniform shallowness of the water, that Blue-mud
Bay did not receive any stream of consequence, either in its south or
western part; and to the north, it seemed not to be accessible from this
side. The main land rises very gradually from the water side into the
country; and the wood upon it made a greater show of fertility than on
any borders of the Gulph of Carpentaria we had before seen.
SUNDAY 23 JANUARY 1803
We got under way again at daylight; but the wind coming to blow strong
from the eastward, with rain, thunder, and lightning, were not able to
pass round the south end of Isle Woodah and get out of the bay, until the
morning of the 25th [TUESDAY 25 JANUARY 1803]. Our soundings in working
out diminished to 21/2 fathoms, near the opening between Bickerton's Island
and Cape Barrow; and it is probable that no ship passage exists there,
although I had previously found as much as 7 fathoms in the southern part
of the opening.
[NORTH COAST. GULPH OF CARPENTARIA.]
After clearing Blue-mud Bay, we worked to the north-eastward; and at
eight in the evening, anchored under Nicol's Island in 51/2 fathoms, muddy
bottom, one mile from the shore, and two and a half from the low eastern
point of Isle Woodah: two large rocks and much shoal water lie between
the islands, and prevented me from seeking shelter there. In the morning
[WEDNESDAY 26 JANUARY 1803] we stretched N. N. E., for the projecting
part of the main land before set at N. 55 deg. 20' E. from the eastern
hummock of Morgan's Island; and to which I have given the name of CAPE
SHIELD, in compliment to captain W. Shield, a commissioner of the navy.
There is a small bay on its south-west side, and we anchored there in 4
fathoms, blue mud, with the outer points of the bay bearing S. 41 deg. E. and
N. 21 deg. W., each distant one mile.
On landing with the botanists, I found the beach convenient for hauling
the seine, and ordered one to be sent from the ship, which had tolerable
success. The cape is low land, mostly covered with wood; and a sandy
hillock, perceived from the mast head about one mile behind the beach,
being the sole place whence a view was likely to be obtained, I went
there with a theodolite. No part of the main coast to the eastward could
be seen from thence beyond a low projection distant seven or eight miles,
which I named _Point Arrowsmith_; to the west my view was obstructed by
trees, but some points before set were visible, and more to the
southward; and the following, amongst many useful bearings, were taken.
Chasm I., centre of the highest part, S. 33 deg. 15' E.
Wedge Rock, centre, S. 5 55 W.
Nicol's I., south-east point (over the south
extreme of C. Shield, dist. 11/2 miles), S. 26 30 W.
Round-hill Island, the top, S. 89 25 W.
Point Arrowsmith, N. 62 20 E.
The sand hill whence these bearings were taken, stands close to the water
on the east side of Cape Shield; and directly off it, at a mile and a
half distance, lies a small island: upon the shore was found a carling of
a ships deck, of teak wood, in a decayed state. On the land side of the
hill was a small lake of fresh water, frequented by ducks, teal, and
smaller aquatic birds, several of which were shot.
Cape Shield lies in latitude 13 deg. 193/4' south, longitude by the survey 136 deg.
23' east; it projects out six miles from the body of the land, and
appears, when seen from the south, to be an island. Two cassowaries were
seen upon it, and many tracks of men, dogs, and kangaroos. The wood is
small, and the soil sandy; but the botanists made an ample collection of
plants, some few of which made an addition to their former discoveries.
THURSDAY 27 JANUARY 1803
Next morning we steered westward, with a fair wind, to explore the main
coast up to Mount Grindall, and see the northern part of Blue-mud Bay. At
three leagues from Cape Shield, we passed a projecting point to which I
gave the name of _Point Blane_, in compliment to Dr. (now Sir Gilbert)
Blane, of the naval medical board. Five miles from it to the W. S. W.,
lies Round-hill Island, and after passing between them with 4 fathoms
water, I sent the boat to sound between the island and Mount Grindall,
purposing to anchor there; but the depth was too little for the ship. We
then worked up to a large bight on the west side of Point Blane; and the
water being shallow towards the head, anchored in 3 fathoms, muddy
ground, with the extremity of the point bearing S. 41 deg. E. two and a half
An officer was sent on shore to search for fresh water and examine the
beach with a view to hauling the seine, but had no success; the
naturalist accompanied him, to botanise, and not coming down to the boat
at dusk, the officer left a man with a fire on the beach, to wait his
arrival. At ten o'clock a gun was fired, and the boat sent back; but
nothing had been heard of the naturalist, or the seaman who carried his
specimen boxes, and some apprehensions began to be entertained. Soon
after daylight [FRIDAY 28 JANUARY 1803] we had the satisfaction to see
Mr. Brown on the shore. It appeared that from one of those mistakes which
so frequently occur in thick woods and dull weather, when without a
compass, the east had been mistaken for west; and Mr. Brown reached the
water side at dusk, but on the wrong side of the point. He thought it
more prudent to remain there all night, than to re-enter the wood in the
dark; and the report of the gun having given him the true direction, he
had no difficulty in the morning. No natives were seen; but the howling
of dogs was heard not far off.
Whilst the botanists continued to follow their pursuits upon Point Blane,
I went over in the whale-boat to Mount Grindall, with the landscape
painter; from whence, after cutting down some small trees at the top, my
view extended over all the neighbouring islands, points, and bays.
Blue-mud Bay was seen to reach further north than Mount Grindall, making
it to be upon a long point, which I also named _Point Grindall_, from
respect to the present vice-admiral of that name; further west, in the
bay, was a stream running five or six miles into the land, terminating in
a swamp, and with shoal banks and a low island at the entrance; all the
northern part of the bay, indeed, seemed to be shallow, and to have no
ship passage into it on the north side of Isle Woodah. The large bight
between Points Grindall and Blane extended two leagues above the ship,
but it did not appear to receive any stream of water; a still larger
bight, between Point Blane and Cape Shield was also visible, though not
so distinct as to speak of it particularly: the extremity of the cape
bore S. 76 deg. 15' E. An observation to the north and south, taken on the
outermost rocks, places Mount Grindall in 13 deg. 151/2' south; and the
longitude from survey is 136 deg. 6 1/3' east. Mr. Westall's sketch in the
Atlas, taken from the ship at anchor under Point Blane, will show the
appearance of this mount and of the neighbouring land. (Atlas, Plate
XVIII. View 13.)
The top of Mount Grindall consists of the same kind of sand stone, with
particles of quartz in it, as seen at Groote Eylandt; but the rocks on
the shore are granite, and one block made a brilliant appearance from the
quantity of mica it contained. There is very little soil on the
surrounding land, the surface being either sandy or stony; it was however
mostly covered with grass and wood, and amongst the trees was a cluster
of the new species of _eugenia_, from which the boat's crew filled their
handkerchiefs with fruit, which they called apples. Two natives were
distinguished upon Round-hill Island; but none at Point Grindall, nor any
thing to show that they had been there recently: the foot-marks of dogs
and kangaroos were both recent and numerous.
Strong squalls from the eastward, with rain, much impeded our return to
the ship in the evening; and from a continuance of the same unfavourable
weather, Point Blane could not be repassed until the afternoon of the
30th [SUNDAY 30 JANUARY 1803]. The wind was then S. E., and we worked to
windward all night, between the main coast and Isle Woodah; and not being
able to weather Cape Shield on the following day [MONDAY 31 JANUARY
1803], we ran to our former anchorage under it, and remained there for
TUESDAY 1 FEBRUARY 1803
Next morning we stood out of the bay with light winds; and after being
put into some danger by them, in passing the island near Cape Shield, a
breeze sprung up at W. by S. and we proceeded in the examination of the
main coast. The situation of the ship at noon, and the bearings of the
land were as under:
Latitude, observed to the north and south, 13 deg. 20' 16"
Chasm I., centre of the high part, S. 16 E.
Cape Shield, the south extremity, N. 86 W.
Point Arrowsmith, dist. 6 miles, N. 18 W.
Furthest extreme visible from the deck. N. 10 E.
Our course was then directed N. E. by N., parallel with the coast, until
the wind veered round ahead and drove us off to the eastward; at six
o'clock Point Arrowsmith bore W. 2 deg. S., ten or eleven miles, and a round
hummock, beyond the noon's extreme, was then seen at N. 21/2 deg. E. The coast
here shows some projections on which are sandy hills, with shallow bights
between them; the hills further back, especially behind Point Arrowsmith,
are better covered with wood, but there was no appearance of fertility in
the country, nor of shelter in the bights.
[NORTH COAST. CALEDON BAY.]
We worked to windward all night, with a north-western breeze; and in the
morning [WEDNESDAY 2 FEBRUARY 1803] saw two islands, the outermost rather
low and flat, nearly in the situation where three are marked in the Dutch
chart. These are laid down at the entrance of an opening, of a river-like
form; and there appeared to be a wide opening behind them, the entrance
being round a projection upon which is the hummock set at N. 21/2 deg. E. in
the evening: this projection I have named CAPE GREY, in compliment to the
Hon. general Grey, lately commander of the forces at the Cape of Good
Hope. Our situation and bearings at noon were,
Latitude. observed to the north and south. 13 deg. 3' 41"
Longitude from survey, 136 461/2
Furthest southern extreme, from the deck, S. 73 W.
Cape Grey, the round hummock, N. 56 W.
Cape Grey, outermost rocks near it, N. 41 W.
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