Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1.
J Lort Stokes
Part 2 out of 8
received every attention which kindness and courtesy could suggest, from
himself and his officers.
We were glad to ascertain that our chronometers had been performing
admirably. They gave the longitude of Simon's Bay, within a few seconds
of our homeward determination during the last voyage. Mr. Maclear, of the
Royal Observatory, and Captain Wauchope, of the flagship, had been
measuring the difference of longitude between Simon's Bay dockyard and
Cape Town Observatory, by flashing lights upon the summit of a mountain
midway between those two places. Their trials gave a greater difference,
by a half second, between the two meridians, than we had obtained on a
former visit by carrying chronometers to and fro. The results stand as
Mr. Maclear and Captain Wauchope: 11.5 seconds South.
H.M. Sloop Beagle: 11.0 seconds South.
ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN HARRIS.
We found at the Cape the renowned Captain Harris, H.E.I. Company's Bombay
Engineers, who had just returned from his sporting expedition into the
interior of Southern Africa, having made his way through every obstacle,
from the frontier of the Cape Colony, through the territories of the
chief Moselekatse, to the Tropic of Capricorn. With his spirit-stirring
accounts of hunting adventure and savage manners we were all most highly
gratified. What he had seen, where he had been, and what he had performed
"by flood and field," have since been told to the world by himself, and
therefore need not be repeated here: but it would be unpardonable not to
do justice to his energy, his perseverance, and his success. He had
collected quite a museum of the Natural History of the wild beasts
against whom his crusade had been directed; while his collection of
drawings, both as regarded the animals delineated, and the appearance of
the country in which they were found, was really most beautiful: and many
a pleasant hour was spent in viewing the various specimens and
illustrations, each one of which testified the intrepidity and skill of
himself or his no less adventurous companion, William Richardson,
Esquire, B.C.S. It will readily be believed that these two gentlemen were
then, themselves, the great Lions of that part of Africa.
SAIL FOR SWAN RIVER.
Having completed our observations, and crammed every available square
inch of the Beagle with various stores--a proceeding rendered absolutely
necessary by the unsatisfactory accounts we received of the state of
affairs at Swan River--we sailed for that place on the morning of the
12th of October.
It should be mentioned, that Lieutenant Grey, hearing it would be
impossible for him to obtain a suitable vessel at Swan River, hired a
small schooner from this port, and sailed, with his party, for Hanover
Bay, on the north-west coast of Australia, the day after our departure.
His subsequent perils, wanderings, and adventures having been fully
described in his own published account, I need do no more here than
allude to them.
We encountered a good deal of heavy weather, shifting winds, and
consequently irregular seas, during our run to Swan River; and owing to
the deep state of our loaded little vessel, her decks were almost
constantly flooded. For many days we had never less than an inch and a
half of water on them all over; and this extra weight, in our already
overburdened craft, did not, of course, add to her liveliness; however,
she struggled on.
ISLAND OF AMSTERDAM.
And on the 1st of November bore us in sight of the Island of Amsterdam,
and in the afternoon passed to the southward of it, sufficiently near to
determine its position. The summit of the Island, which has rather a
peaked appearance, we found to be 2,760 feet high, in latitude 38 degrees
53 minutes South, longitude 77 degrees 37 minutes East of Greenwich. It
is singular that though this Island, which is almost a finger-post for
ships bound from the Cape either to New Holland or India, has been so
long known to all navigators of these seas, its true longitude should
have been till now unascertained. The western side presented the
appearance of a broken-down crater, nor indeed can there be any reason to
doubt its volcanic origin. Light brown was the pervading colour upon the
sides of the island, and appeared to be caused by stunted bushes and
grass. The southern island, St. Paul's, affords a good anchorage in 21
fathoms, about midway on its eastern side, latitude 38 degrees 42
minutes, and is in every way preferable to the spot chosen for that
purpose by Vlaming in 1764, on the south-east side of Amsterdam, where
landing is never very easy, and generally quite impracticable.
The well ascertained fact, that water is found in abundance at St.
Paul's, leads to a very fair inference, that in this humid atmosphere,
and with a much greater elevation, the same essential commodity may be
met with at Amsterdam; but certainly at St. Paul's, and most probably at
Amsterdam, the rugged nature of the travelling over these volcanic
islands, would render useless any attempt to water a ship.
The following table, though it may not possess much interest for the
general reader, will not be without its value in the eyes of my nautical
brethren: it shows the increase of variation since 1747:
COLUMN 1: SOURCE.
COLUMN 2: DATE A.D.
COLUMN 3: WESTERLY VARIATION.
From Horsburg's Directory : 1747 : 17 1/2.
From Horsburg's Directory : 1764 : 18 3/4.
From Horsburg's Directory : 1793: 20.
H.M.S. Beagle : 1837 : 21.
As these islands lie in the same meridian, the longitude given above of
Amsterdam, will equally apply to St. Paul's: they are admirably situated
for connecting the meridians of Africa and Australia. We lost sight of
Amsterdam towards evening, and flattered ourselves that we were also
leaving the bad weather behind. The sky more settled; the sea less high;
and the barometer rising: such indications, however, cannot be implicitly
trusted in this boisterous climate; and shortly after dark, having
shipped a very heavy sea, we rounded too for the night. The constant set
of the huge following seas, carried our little vessel much faster to the
eastward than could be easily credited, till proved by actual
observation. During the last three or four days, we had run upwards of
195 miles daily by the observations, being from twenty to thirty more
each day than appeared from the reckoning.
We made Rottnest Island on the morning of Wednesday, November 15th; and
in the afternoon of the same day, anchored in Gage's Road, Swan River.
Our position at midnight, the night before, made us about 30 miles from
the mainland, when we had the wind from the eastward, getting round again
towards noon to south and by west. This may be some guide to the limit of
the land wind, and as such I record the fact. During the three days
previous to our making the land, we experienced a northerly current of
one knot per hour. We tried during the same period for soundings, with
nearly 200 fathoms, but in vain.
We passed along the north shore of Rottnest at the distance of a mile and
a half, closing with it as we got to the eastward, where it is not so
rocky. The north shore should not be approached within a mile. As we were
opening out the bay on the north-east end of the island, we passed over a
rocky patch, with, from appearance, not more than three fathoms on it, it
is small, and we had 14 fathoms close to it. This patch is about one mile
North by West from the north-west point of the bay. Off this point is a
low rocky islet; and when on the shoal, we could just make out the white
sandy beach in the bay open between it and the point. The western points
of the island are all shut in by the north point; therefore, keeping them
open, will always enable the navigator to give this dangerous rock* a
(*Footnote. Now called Roe's Patch.)
SWAN RIVER SETTLEMENT.
The Swan River Settlement, which is a portion of the colony of Western
Australia, was founded in August 1829, under the auspices of the Colonial
Office, Captain Stirling being the first Lieutenant-Governor.
Fremantle, at the entrance of Swan River, is the sea port; and Perth,
situate about nine miles inland, the seat of Government: Guildford and
York are the other chief places in the colony.
There is nothing very particularly inviting in the first appearance of
Western Australia; dull-green-looking downs, backed by a slightly
undulating range of hills, rising to nearly 2,000 feet high, are the
chief natural features of the prospect. Fremantle, of which it was
wittily said by the quartermaster of one of His Majesty's ships who
visited the place, "You might run it through an hourglass in a day," is
but a collection of low white houses scattered over the scarce whiter
sand. The only conspicuous landmark visible in approaching the anchorage
is the Jail: rather a singular pharos for a settlement in Australia,
which boasts its uncontaminated state. This building I afterwards induced
the Governor to have white-washed, and it now forms an excellent mark to
point out the river, as well as the town.*
(*Footnote. A large patch of white sand, on the coast, about three miles
to the northward of Swan River, also serves as a landmark.)
Shortly after our arrival, I was introduced to the Governor, Sir James
Stirling; he, and all those here best qualified to judge, joined in
regretting that Lieutenant Grey had not decided to come on with us. The
accounts we heard of the country and the natives gave us every reason to
entertain but slender hopes of his success.
AN INLAND LAKE.
Sir James and Mr. Roe, the Surveyor-General, appeared to coincide with
the general opinion that a large inland lake will ultimately be
discovered. They had questioned many of the natives about it, who all
asserted its existence, and pointed in a south-easterly direction to
indicate its position. Their notions of distance are, to say the least,
exceedingly rude; with them everything is "far away, far away." The size
of this water the natives describe by saying, that if a boy commenced
walking round it, by the time he finished his task he would have become
an old man! After all may not this be the great Australian Bight that
these natives have heard of, for none we met in Western Australia
pretended to have seen it? They derive their information from the eastern
tribes, and under such circumstances it must at least be considered
(*Footnote. This much-talked-of lake, which it was the assumed labour of
a life to circumambulate, was discovered in January 1843, by Messrs.
Landor and Lefroy, who found it about 100 miles South-South-East from
Beverley. It is quite salt, called Dambeling, and about fifteen miles
long by seven and a half broad!)
The Surveyor-General had lately returned from an exploring journey to the
eastward of the capital, and reported that there existed no reasonable
probability of extending the colony in that direction: he strongly
recommended us to proceed at once to the north-west coast, and return
again to Swan River to recruit; saying that we should find the heat there
too great to remain for a longer period. This course Captain Wickham,
after due deliberation, resolved to adopt, and accordingly all the
stores, not absolutely required, were forthwith landed, and the ship made
in every respect as airy as possible. The 25th November was fixed for our
departure, when most unfortunately Captain Wickham, while on his way to
Perth, was attacked with a severe dysentery, and continued so ill that he
could not be brought to the ship till the end of December. The most that
could be effected was done to improve this unavoidable delay; and our
tidal observations, before commenced, were more diligently pursued. We
found the greatest rise only thirty-one inches, and here, as elsewhere on
the Australian coast, we observed the remarkable phenomenon of only one
tide in the twenty-four hours! Surveying operations were also entered on,
connecting Rottnest Island with the mainland; the dangers which surround
it, as well as those which lie between its shores and the coast, were
discovered and laid down: this survey, of great importance to the
interests of shipping in these waters, was ultimately completed on our
subsequent visits to Swan River.
That arid appearance which first meets the settler on his arrival, and to
which allusion has already been made, cannot but prove disheartening to
him: particularly if, as is generally the case, his own sanguine
expectations of a second Paradise have been heightened by the interested
descriptions of land jobbers and emigration agents.
APPROACH TO PERTH.
However, when he ascends the river towards the capital, this feeling of
despondency will gradually wear away; its various windings bring, to his
eager and anxious eye, many a bright patch of park-like woodland; while
the river, expanding as he proceeds, till the beautiful estuary of
Melville water opens out before him, becomes really a magnificent feature
in the landscape; and the boats, passing and repassing upon its smooth
and glassy bosom, give the animation of industry, and suggest all the
cheerful anticipations of ultimate success to the resolute adventurer.
From about the centre of this lake-like piece of water, the eye first
rests upon the capital of Western Australia, a large straggling village,
partly concealed by the abrupt termination of a woody ridge, and standing
upon a picturesque slope on the right bank of the river, thirteen miles
from its mouth. The distant range of the Darling mountains supplies a
splendid background to the picture, and the refreshing seabreeze which
curls the surface of Melville water every afternoon, adds to the health,
no less than comfort, of the inhabitants. The former inconvenience,
caused by the shoal approach, and which rendered landing at low-water a
most uncomfortable operation, has now been remedied by the construction
of a jetty.
Like all the Australian rivers with which we are yet acquainted, the Swan
is subject to sudden and tremendous floods, which inundate the corn lands
in its vicinity, and sweep away all opposing obstacles with irresistible
NARROW ESCAPE OF THE FIRST SETTLERS.
The first settlers had a most providential escape from a calamity of this
kind: they had originally selected for the site of their new city, a
low-lying piece of land, which, during the first winter after their
arrival, was visited with one of these strange and unexplained invasions
from the swelling stream: had the deluge been delayed for another year,
these luckless inhabitants of a new world would have shared the fate of
those to whom Noah preached in vain; but, warned in time, they chose some
safer spot, from whence, in future, they and their descendants may safely
contemplate the awful grandeur of similar occurrences, and thankfully
profit by the fertility and abundance which succeed to such wholesale
irrigation. During this, our first visit, I had no opportunity of
penetrating into the country further than the Darling range: in
journeying thither, we passed through Guildford, a township on the banks
of the Swan, about seven miles north-east from Perth, and four from the
foot of the mountains. It stands upon a high part of the alluvial flat
fringing the river, and which extends from half to one mile from it on
either side. The rich quality of the soil may be imagined from the fact,
that, in 1843, after thirteen years of successive cropping, it produced a
more abundant harvest than it had done at first, without any artificial
aid from manures.
SINGULAR FLIGHT OF STRANGE BIRDS.
A singular flight of strange birds, was noticed at Guildford about the
year 1833, during the time when the corn was green: they arrived in an
innumerable host, and were so tame as to be easily taken by hand. In
general appearance they resembled the land-rail, but were larger, and
quite as heavy on the wing. They disappeared in the same mysterious
manner as they arrived, and have never since repeated their visit. Were
these birds visitors from the interior, or had they just arrived at the
end of a migratory journey from some distant country? It is to be
regretted that no specimen of them was to be obtained, as it might have
helped to clear an interesting subject from doubt.
THE DARLING RANGE.
The change in ascending this range, from the alluvium near its base, to
the primitive formation of which it is itself composed, is very
remarkable. Shells still common on the adjacent coasts were met with 14
feet below the surface, near the foot of the range, by one of the
colonists when sinking a well. In the same locality deposits of sand may
be seen, having that particular wavy appearance which is always noticed
upon the sea beach. These appearances, as well as the general aspect of
the adjacent country, seem to justify the conclusion I arrived at while
on the spot, that the land which now intervenes between the mountains and
the shore, is a comparatively recent conquest from the sea. The character
of this land may be thus described: The first three miles from the coast
is occupied with ridges of hills, from 100 to 200 feet high, of
calcareous limestone formation, cropping out in such innumerable points
and odd shapes as to be almost impassable. Some of these lumps resemble a
large barnacle; both lumps and points are covered with long, coarse
grass, and thus concealed, become a great hindrance to the pedestrian,
who is constantly wounded by them. To these ridges succeed sandy forest
land and low hills, except on the banks of the rivulets, where a belt of
alluvial soil is to be found. The Darling range traverses the whole of
Western Australia in a direction, generally speaking, north and south. It
appears to subside towards the north, and its greatest elevation is
nearly 2,000 feet. The cliffs of the coast at the mouth of Swan River,
have a most singular appearance, as though covered with thousands of
roots, twisted together into a species of network.
A SINGULAR CLIFF.
A similar curiosity is to be seen on Bald Head, in King George's Sound,
so often alluded to by former navigators, and by them mistaken either for
coral, or petrified trees standing where they originally grew. Bald Head
was visited by Mr. Darwin, in company with Captain Fitzroy, in February
1836, and his opinions upon the agencies of formation, so exactly
coincide with those to which I attribute the appearances at Arthur's
Head, that I cannot do better than borrow his words. He says--page 537,
volume 3, "According to our views, the rock was formed by the wind
heaping up calcareous sand, during which process, branches and roots of
trees, and land-shells were enclosed, the mass being afterwards
consolidated by the percolation of rain water. When the wood had decayed,
lime was washed into the cylindrical cavities, and became hard, sometimes
even like that in a stalactite. The weather is now wearing away the
softer rock, and in consequence the casts of roots and branches project
above the surface: their resemblance to the stumps of a dead shrubbery
was so exact, that, before touching them, we were sometimes at a loss to
know which were composed of wood, and which of calcareous matter."*
(*Footnote. For more exact details the reader should consult Mr. Darwin's
volume on Volcanic Islands.)
We were much struck during our stay by the contrast between the natives
here, and those we had seen on the Beagle's former voyage at King
George's Sound. The comparison was wholly in favour of those living
within the influence of their civilized fellow-men: a fact which may
surprise some of my readers, but for which, notwithstanding, I am quite
prepared to vouch. A better quality, and more certain supply of food, are
the causes to which this superiority ought to be attributed: they are
indeed exceedingly fond of wheaten bread, and work hard for the settlers,
in cutting wood and carrying water, in order to obtain it. Individually
they appear peaceable, inoffensive, and well-disposed, and, under proper
management, make very good servants; but when they congregate together
for any length of time, they are too apt to relapse into the vices of
savage life. Among the many useful hints, for which we were indebted to
Mr. Roe, was that of taking a native with us to the northward; and,
accordingly, after some trouble, we shipped an intelligent young man,
named Miago; he proved, in some respects, exceedingly useful, and made an
excellent gun-room waiter. We noticed that, like most of the natives, he
was deeply scarred, and I learned from him that this is done to recommend
them to the notice of the ladies. Like all savages, they are
treacherous--for uncivilized man has no abstract respect for truth, and
consequently deceit, whether spoken or acted, seems no baseness in his
ANECDOTES OF THE NATIVES.
I heard an anecdote at Perth that bears upon this subject: A native of
the name of Tonquin asked a settler, who lived some distance in the
interior, permission to spend the night in his kitchen, of which that
evening another native was also an inmate. It seems that some hate,
either personal, or the consequences of a quarrel between their different
tribes, existed in the mind of Tonquin towards his hapless fellow lodger;
and in the night he speared him through the heart, AND THEN VERY QUIETLY
LAID DOWN TO SLEEP! Of course in the morning no little stir took place.
Tonquin was accused, but stoutly denied the charge. So satisfied,
however, was the owner of the house of the guilt of the real culprit,
that had he not made his escape, he would have been executed red hand--as
the border wardens used to say--by the man, the sanctity of whose
roof-tree he had thus profaned. Tonquin afterwards declared that he NEVER
SLEPT FOR NEARLY A FORTNIGHT, being dogged from place to place by the
footsteps of the avengers of blood. He escaped, however, with his life,
though worn almost to a shadow by constant anxiety. When I saw him some
years afterwards, I thought him the finest looking native I had ever
seen, but he was apparently, as those who knew him best reported him to
be, insane. If not the memory of his crime, and the consequent remorse
which it entailed upon him, perhaps the fugitive life he was compelled to
lead in order to avoid the wrath of human retribution, had been used to
make manifest the anger of Heaven for this breach of one of those first
great laws of human society, which are almost as much instincts of our
nature as revelations from the Creator to the creatures of his will!
The natives have a superstitious horror of approaching the graves of the
dead, of whom they never like to speak, and when induced to do so, always
whisper. A settler, residing in a dangerous part of the colony, had two
soldiers stationed with him as a guard: upon one occasion five natives
rushed in at a moment when the soldiers were unprepared for their
reception, and a terrible struggle ensued: the soldiers, however,
managed, while on the ground, to shoot two of them, and bayonetted the
remaining three. The five were afterwards buried before the door, nor
could a more perfect safeguard have been devised; no thought even of
revenge for their comrades would afterwards induce any of the tribe to
pass that fearful boundary.
Their most curious superstition, however, remains to be recorded; it is
the opinion they confidently entertain, and which seems universally
diffused among them, that the white people are their former fellow
countrymen, who in such altered guise revisit the world after death.
Miago assured me that this was the current opinion, and my own personal
observation subsequently confirmed his statement. At Perth, one of the
settlers, from his presumed likeness to a defunct member of the tribe of
the Murray River, was visited by his supposed kindred twice every year,
though in so doing they passed through sixty miles of what was not
unfrequently an enemy's country.
Their religious opinions, so far as I have been able to obtain any
information on the subject, are exceedingly vague and indefinite. That
they do not regard the grave as man's final resting place, may, however,
be fairly concluded, from the superstition I have just alluded to, and
that they believe in invisible and superior powers--objects of dread and
fear, rather than veneration or love--has been testified in Captain
Grey's most interesting chapter upon Native Customs, and confirmed by my
THE EVIL SPIRIT.
I used sometimes to question Miago upon this point, and from him I
learned their belief in the existence of an evil spirit, haunting dark
caverns, wells, and places of mystery and gloom, and called Jinga. I
heard from a settler that upon one occasion, a native travelling with
him, refused to go to the well at night from fear of this malevolent
being; supposed to keep an especial guardianship over fresh water, and to
be most terrible and most potent in the hours of darkness. Miago had
never seen this object of his fears, but upon the authority of the elders
of his tribe, he described its visible presence as that of a huge
many-folded serpent; and in the night, when the tall forest trees moaned
and creaked in the fitful wind, he would shrink terrified by the solemn
and mysterious sounds, which then do predispose the mind to superstitious
fears, and tell how, at such a time, his countrymen kindle a fire to
avert the actual presence of the evil spirit, and wait around
it--chanting their uncouth and rhythmical incantations--with fear and
trembling, for the coming dawn.
I have preserved these anecdotes here, because I can vouch for their
authenticity, and though individually unimportant, they may serve to
throw additional light upon the manners, customs, and traditions of the
Aborigines of Australia; but to all really interested in the subject, I
would recommend a perusal of Captain Grey's second volume. I have as yet
neither space nor materials to attempt any detailed account of the
customs, superstitions, or condition of this strange people; but it would
be impossible to pass them by quite unnoticed: nor can the voyager, whose
chief object is to make their native land a field for the exertions of
British enterprise, be wholly indifferent to the manner in which our
dominion may affect them. The history of almost every colony, founded by
European energy, has been one fearful catalogue of crime; and though by
the side of the Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, English adventurers seem
gentle and benevolent, still cruelty and oppression have too often
disgraced our name and faith.
Thank Heaven, with many a doubt as to the time that must elapse ere that
glad day shall come, I can look onward with confidence to a period--I
trust not far remote--when throughout the length and breadth of
Australia, Christian civilization shall attest that the claims upon
England's benevolence have been nobly acknowledged!
CHAPTER 1.4. FROM SWAN RIVER TO ROEBUCK BAY.
Sail from Gage's Road.
Search for a bank.
Currents and soundings.
Fruitless search for Ritchie's Reef.
Indications of a squall.
Deep sea soundings.
Anchor off the mouth of Roebuck Bay.
A heavy squall.
Driven from our anchorage.
Anchor in Roebuck Bay.
Excursion on shore.
Visit from the Natives.
Mr. Bynoe's account of them.
A stranger among them.
Captain Grey's account of an almost white race in Australia.
Birds, Snakes, and Turtle.
Move the Ship.
Miago, and the Black Fellows.
The wicked men of the North.
Clouds of Magellan.
Face of the Country.
Heat and Sickness.
Miago on shore.
Mr. Usborne wounded.
Failure in Roebuck Bay.
CURRENTS AND SOUNDINGS.
The solemnities of Christmas, and the festal celebration of the New Year,
beneath a cloudless sky, and with the thermometer at 90, concluded our
first visit to Swan River. We left our anchorage in Gage's Road on
Thursday, January 4th, devoting several hours to sounding between
Rottnest and the main. We bore away at 4 P.M. to search for a bank said
to exist about fifteen miles north from the middle of Rottnest Island,
having from twenty to twenty-two fathoms over it. Near the position
assigned we certainly shoaled our water from twenty-eight to twenty-four
fathoms, but no other indication of a bank was to be found.
Satisfied that we had now no further reason for delay, we kept away
North-West with a fresh southerly wind, and the glad omen of a brilliant
We were rather surprised to find by our observation at noon, no
indication of a northerly current, though yesterday when becalmed between
Rottnest and the main we were drifted to the northward at the rate of
nearly two knots per hour. We sounded regularly every four hours, but
found no bottom at 200 fathoms: the wind during the morning was light
from South-South-West but during the night we had it fresh from
We passed, at midnight, within 60 miles of the position assigned in the
chart to the low coral group known as Houtman's Abrolhos,* and again
sounded unsuccessfully with 200 fathoms.
(*Footnote. Subsequent observations placed these islands 30 miles more to
the eastward than the position there assigned them. Our track, therefore,
was really 90 miles from them.)
We continued steering a northerly course up to the 9th, keeping within
from 60 to 80 miles distance of the coast, and repeating our deep-sea
soundings every six hours without success.
INDICATIONS OF A SQUALL.
The wind during each day was moderate from the South-South-West and South
by West, freshening during the night from South, and South by East; a
heavy swell was its constant companion, and the barometer fell to 29.75.
On the morning of the 9th, being in the parallel of North-west Cape, our
course was altered to North-East by East; it blew hard during the night,
and we had a disagreeable sea; but, as usual, it moderated again towards
We had shaped a course to make a reef in latitude 20 degrees 17 minutes,
and named after its discoverer, Lieutenant Ritchie, R.N.; but owing to
its being situated, as we afterwards found, half a degree to the eastward
of its assigned position in the charts, we did not see it.
At 4 A.M., and with 195 fathoms, we reached a bottom of sand, broken
shells, and coral, being then about 80 miles North-North-East from
Tremouille Island, the nearest land. Steering East by North 1/2 North for
31 miles, brought us to our noon position in latitude 19 degrees 20
minutes South, longitude 116 degrees 16 minutes East, and into a depth of
120 fathoms, with the same kind of bottoms. South-South-West, 17 miles
from our morning position, Captain King had 83 and 85 fathoms; from this
we may suppose the edge of the bank of soundings, extending off this part
of the coast, to be very steep. These soundings, together with those of
Captain King, as above, may give some idea of the nature and extent of
this bank, which seems to be a continuation of the flat extending
North-North-East 40 miles, connecting Barrow and Tremouille Islands with
the main: its outer edge being kept heaped up thus steeply by the
constant action of the current sweeping round the North-west Cape.
DEEP SEA SOUNDINGS.
We continued steering East and by North 1/2 North, and at sunset, 14
miles from our noon position, the water had deepened to 145 fathoms,
bottom a fine white sand and powdered shells. Before we were 50 miles
from our noon position, we could find no bottom with 200 fathoms.
We made but slow progress during the night, and felt delay the more
tedious from the eager anxiety with which we desired sight of the land
where our duties were to begin in earnest. We were not successful with
our soundings till 6 P.M., when we had the same kind of bottom as before
described, with 117 fathoms: 15 miles East by North 1/2 North from our
noon position, which was 220 miles West by South from Roebuck Bay: 30
miles in the same direction from our noon position, we shoaled our water
to 85 fathoms, the ground retaining the same distinctive character. We
had the wind from South-West to South-East during the afternoon, but at 6
P.M. it chopped round to North-North-West, when, too, for the first time,
we perceived lightning to the South-East--Barometer 29.92; thermometer
The preceding indications of the coming squall, which had given us full
time for preparation, were realized about one o'clock this morning, when
it reached us, though only moderately, from South-East. It was preceded
by the rise and rapid advance of a black cloud in that quarter, just as
Captain King has described.
At noon we were in latitude 18 degrees 26 minutes South, longitude 119
degrees 18 minutes East, and in soundings of 75 fathoms, fine white sand,
broken shells, and fragments of dead coral. There was only a slight
variation in the atmospheric temperature of two degrees during the
twenty-four hours, the highest in the day being 85, and the lowest at
night 83. The water was very smooth, but as night approached it thundered
and lightened heavily and vividly, and most of us noticed and suffered
from a particularly oppressive and overpowering state of the atmosphere,
which the heat indicated by the thermometer was by no means sufficiently
intense to account for.
During the last twenty-four hours we had made but 51 miles progress in
the direction of Roebuck Bay; our noon observations placed us in latitude
18 degrees 25 minutes South, longitude 120 degrees 13 minutes East, being
about 80 miles from the nearest land. We obtained soundings at 72
fathoms, yellow sand and broken shells. During the afternoon, it being
nearly a calm, we found ourselves surrounded by quantities of fish, about
the size of the mackerel, and apparently in pursuit of a number of small
and almost transparent members of the finny tribe, not larger than the
We sounded at sunset, and found bottom at 52 fathoms, which shoaled by
half-past ten to 39. The circumstance, however, occasioned no surprise,
as we had run South-South-East 25 miles, in a direct line for that low
portion of the coast from which the flat we were running over extends.
The first part of the night we had the wind at North-North-East, the
breeze steady, and the water as smooth as glass; but as the watch wore
on, quick flashes of forked lightning, and the suspicious appearance of
gathering clouds in the South-East, gave warning of the unwelcome
approach of a heavy squall.
At eleven we lay becalmed for ten minutes between two contending winds;
that from the South, however, presently prevailed, and shifting to the
South-East, blew hard: meantime, a dark mass of clouds in the
East-South-East appeared suddenly to assume the form of a deep-caverned
archway, and moved rapidly towards us; in a few minutes, the ship was
heeling majestically to the passing gust, the lightning flashed vividly
and rapidly around us, alternately concealing and revealing the troubled
surface of the foam-covered sea, while the thunder rolled heavily over
The squall was heavy while it lasted, commencing at East-South-East and
ending at East-North-East. It was accompanied by heavy rain. Towards the
end of the middle watch, the weather began to assume a more settled
appearance, and we had a moderate breeze from the north; but between five
and six o'clock A.M., it shifted suddenly by the West to
South-South-East, and became light. We sounded repeatedly during the
night in from 32 to 35 fathoms, the same kind of bottom as before; which
we found agree very well with those reported in the account of the French
expedition under Captain Baudin.
From the specimens of the squalls we experienced the last two nights, and
which appear to be pretty regular in their visitation, I am inclined to
believe they do not extend any considerable distance from the land. They
give the seaman ample warning of their approach; yet, since they always
come on in the night, when their violence cannot be properly estimated,
the ship's head should (if circumstances permit) be kept to the westward
(West-North-West) until the short-lived fury of the storm has exhausted
We progressed with light and variable airs through the day, gradually
shoaling our water till nine P.M., when the anchor was dropped in 14
fathoms, having previously passed over a rocky ledge of apparently coral
formation, in 13 1/2 fathoms. The land over the south point of Roebuck
Bay bore East-South-East, about 17 miles distant; but we did not see it
till the following morning.
DRIVEN FROM THE ANCHORAGE.
The evening wore a threatening aspect, though not apparently so much to
be dreaded as that of yesterday; however, we were disagreeably out in our
anticipations, for about three o'clock A.M. (January 16) a heavy squall
burst on us, veering from East-South-East to East-North-East, broke our
best bower anchor, and drove us half a mile out to sea, when the
remaining fluke hooked a rock and brought us up. It rained and blew till
daylight, then we were again favoured with fine weather, and light
westerly winds. The land was now in sight, Cape Villaret being the most
northerly point, and bearing East-South-East some 16 or 17 miles. The
hillock upon this cape, and two other hummocks, lying to the southward,
formed the only prominent features of the low land in sight.
At this anchorage the flood-tide set East and by North, from one to one
and a half knots per hour. Before weighing I procured a specimen of live
coral from the depth of 11 fathoms.
Light airs, and the aid of the flood-tide, carried us into the centre of
Roebuck Bay, where we came to an anchor in 7 fathoms, Cape Villaret
bearing South by West 1/2 West about 10 miles. The fall of the tide here
was no less than 18 feet.
As we closed with the land, I had a good opportunity of speculating upon
its appearance, and the probability of our investigation confirming or
contradicting the opinion entertained by Captains King and Dampier, that
a channel would be found to connect Roebuck Bay with an opening behind
Buccaneers Archipelago, thus making Dampier's Land an island. I confess,
my own impressions at first sight differed from that of those high
authorities, nor did a nearer examination shake my opinion. Cape
Villaret, a short ridge lying East and West, and about 150 feet high, was
still the most remarkable object; the sand on its side having a curious
red appearance. From the masthead the land was not visible to the
eastward for the space of one point of the compass; yet its level
character, and the shoalness of the water, led alike to the opinion that
no such communication as supposed would be found to exist.
Collecting materials for the chart was the chief occupation of the day.
Mr. Usborne discovered a high-water inlet in the south shore of the bay,
five miles east of Cape Villaret, having a dry bank of sand before it at
VISIT FROM THE NATIVES.
While the party were on shore, they were visited by six of the natives, a
larger race of men than those on the south coast, naked, with the
exception of a grass mat round the waist, and the hair straight and tied
up behind, seemingly ignorant of the use of the throwing stick, but
carrying spears ill-shapen and unbarbed. One of them had a kiley, or
boomerang, and each carried a rude hatchet of stone. None of them had
suffered the loss of the front tooth, which, with some tribes, is a
distinction of manhood. When asked by signs for fresh water, of which our
party saw no traces, they pointed to the South-East; a circumstance which
I record, as it may possibly be of some service to future explorers. As
the boat was leaving, one of them, supposing, I presume, that they were
out of our reach, and might therefore attack us with impunity, threw a
stone at the boat, which luckily did no harm, though hurled with great
dexterity and force. Upon this, a pistol was discharged over their heads,
when they retired with far greater rapidity than they had advanced.
AN ALMOST WHITE RACE.
Mr. Usborne mentions, in an account of this interview (published in the
Nautical Magazine for 1840, page 576) that one of the party differed in
several physical characteristics from the rest. After describing them in
general terms as being from five feet six, to five feet nine inches tall,
broad shoulders, long and slight legs, large heads, and overhanging
brows--he continues, "There was an exception in the youngest, who
appeared of an entirely different race: his skin was a copper colour,
while the others were black; his head was not so large, and more rounded;
the overhanging brow was lost; the shoulders more of a European turn; and
the body and legs much better proportioned; in fact, he might be
considered a well-made man, at our standard of figure." A similar
instance of meeting with one of a tribe, not apparently belonging to the
same subdivision of the human family as those by whom he was surrounded,
is recorded by Captain Grey, who speaks indeed of the existence of a
distinct race, totally different (i.e. from the other aborigines) and
almost white. I cannot say that I have myself encountered any of these
almost white men, whose existence, as a distinct race, Captain Grey
appears to have rather hastily admitted; such variation in form and
colour as Mr. Usborne alludes to, may, however, be accounted for by the
intercourse which the natives on the north coast hold from time to time
with the Malays.
Several very large black martins, with white or grey heads, were hovering
over the ship this morning; and many flights of small white tern, and a
bird, commonly called the razor-bill, passed and re-passed the ship every
morning and evening, flying from the bay to seaward, and returning at
sunset. Two water snakes were shot alongside the ship during the day; the
largest measured four feet, and was of a dirty yellow colour. A
good-sized fish was taken from the stomach of one of them. Their fangs
were particularly long, and very much flattened, having no cutting edge
Some turtle also passed the ship to-day, and a day or two afterwards we
were fortunate enough to shoot one which weighed 160 pounds: he had ample
justice done to his merits. It was high-water at 1.50 P.M., and the
stream changed at the same time, a circumstance conclusively
demonstrating that we were not anchored in a strait.
We got underweigh in the morning, but from the shallowness of the water
anchored within a mile east of our former position.
THE NATIVE MIAGO.
The native Miago, who had accompanied us from Swan River, was most
earnest in his inquiries about the savages, as soon as he understood that
some of them had been seen. He appeared delighted that these
blackfellows, as he calls them, have no throwing sticks; for though at
times exceedingly valiant in conversation, and very anxious to kill one
of the men, and carry off one of their gins, or wives--the great end,
aim, and ambition of all Australian force or policy--he yet evidently
holds these northmen in great dread. They are, according to his account,
"Bad men--eat men--Perth men tell me so: Perth men say, Miago, you go on
shore very little, plenty Quibra men* go, you go." These instructions
appear to have been very carefully pressed upon him by his associates,
and certainly they had succeeded in inspiring him with the utmost dread
of this division of his fellow countrymen, which all his boasting about
killing some of them and taking one of their women as proof of his
prowess, back to Perth, failed to concern.
(*Footnote. i.e. Men of the ship.)
CLOUDS OF MAGELLAN.
He gave me this evening a new reason to account for the appearance of the
two small clouds called after the celebrated Magellan, in the following
words: "You see," said he, pointing up to the sky, "little smoke." I
assented at once; for certainly the clouds have very much the appearance
of that to which he compared them: he then continued: "Perth man tell me,
long, long time back, he make fire, smoke go far away up, far away, stop
and never go away more." Miago evidently believed that his friend at
Perth had really lighted the fire, the smoke of which had thus gone up
"far away, far away," to "stop and never go away more." I can easily
enough comprehend why the assertion might be made, and possibly without
any intention to deceive upon the part of the asserter, who may first
have seen the clouds after watching the ascent of his own fire smoke
through the still air, in the same direction; but that it should be
implicitly believed, as it evidently was by Miago, upon the mere word of
his fellow countryman, did, I own, astonish me; and seems to indicate
that, in their social intercourse with each other, they may have more
regard for truth than I was at first inclined to give them credit for.
Mr. Usborne was away to-day in one of the boats, seeking a berth for the
ship higher up the bay: upon his return he reported that he had been over
the banks before mentioned, upon which he found the water very shoal: the
face of the country he described as exceedingly low, with mud lumps not
unlike ant-hills,* scattered here and there over the face of it, and
several clusters of small trees. Natives also had been seen, though no
opportunity of approaching them had occurred, as the moment their
restless eyes, or quick ears, detected our approach, they most rapidly
(*Footnote. Subsequent experience literally verified this opinion.)
HEAT AND SICKNESS.
Two boats were despatched this morning, under Mr. Usborne's command, to
examine the eastern part of what I think may be named very properly
Useless Bay. This would have been my duty, had I not unfortunately been
taken ill in the evening of the preceding day: the symptoms were violent
headache, and a disordered state of the stomach, caused, the surgeon
says, by the oppressive and overpowering heat which we have experienced
for the last few days, and the general effects of which seem more
distressing to the ship's company than is often experienced under a
higher range of the thermometer; the deprivation of all power, or energy,
is one of its most unpleasant consequences. I am inclined to think that
one reason for its great and wearying effect upon most of us--indeed,
more or less, all are suffering from it--is that there is hardly any
variation in temperature during the whole twenty-four hours: it sometimes
does not amount to more than two or three degrees. Captain Wickham and
the surgeon visited an inlet near the ship to-day, which had indeed been
looked into, but not explored before. They proceeded to the south-west
for about three miles, through a very tortuous channel, dry in many parts
at low-water, thickly studded with mangrove bushes, over and through
which the tide made its way at high-water, giving to that part of the
country the appearance of an extensive morass. A slightly elevated
table-topped range of land was seen from time to time, some eight or nine
miles to the south-east, but in its highest elevation did not reach 200
feet. The apparent width of the inlet in no way diminished so far as the
exploring party examined it; and this fact, coupled with the general
character of the country hereabouts, induces me to suppose that the
periodical return of the spring tide, floods the greater part of the
coast between the sea shore and the base of the range I have alluded to.
Vampires of a very large kind were here met with, the furthest south we
had seen them.
MIAGO ON SHORE.
Miago had accompanied this party on shore, though he evidently showed no
great devotion to the deed. They said he watched everything, aye, every
bush, with the most scrutinizing gaze: his head appeared to turn upon a
pivot, so constantly was it in motion, with all that restless
watchfulness for which the savage is ever remarkable. The heat to-day
either exceeded an average, or else perhaps, as an invalid, I noticed it
On shore, it was 98 degrees in the shade.
On board, it was 90 degrees in the shade.
Pulling off in the boats 118.
During the day, it fluctuated, between 88 and 94.
A breeze from seaward blew the greater part of each night from
West-South-West, hauling round to south in the morning.
Our noon observation to-day enabled us to fix the latitude of Cape
Villaret 18 degrees 18 minutes 50 seconds, which precisely agrees with
that assigned to it by Captain King.
MR. USBORNE WOUNDED.
In the afternoon the boats returned with Mr. Usborne, who had been
unfortunately very severely wounded by the accidental discharge of a
musket. It appeared that after a careful examination of the bay, which
ended as I had anticipated, in proving that no opening to the interior
would be found in it, the party were returning to the boats, when, from
the accidental explosion of a musket in the hand of one of the party, a
ball entered Mr. Usborne's right side, near the spine, between the lower
rib and hip bone, making an exit in a line with the navel. This truly
unfortunate circumstance--which for some weeks deprived the expedition of
the services of a most valuable officer--occurred about 10 o'clock A.M.,
but the time and trouble of carrying the sufferer through the mud to the
boats, and then pulling some 15 miles, made it near 6 o'clock before he
was on board and under the charge of Mr. Bynoe: we were all shocked to
see our companion lifted apparently lifeless into the vessel he had so
recently quitted full of health, and animated by an anxious desire to do
all in his power to conduce to the general success; but were ere long
assured by Mr. Bynoe, whose personal or professional merits need no
eulogium from me--and who immediately and most carefully attended our
wounded messmate--that the best results might be reasonably hoped for: a
prediction shortly afterwards happily verified. At the time this unlucky
accident occurred, some twenty natives rushed from the concealment whence
they had been doubtless watching all the proceedings of the party, as
though they designed to bear a part in what probably seemed to them, as
poor Usborne went down, an approaching fray: however, the sight of the
two boats in the distance, which upon deploying they had full in view,
deterred them from acting upon any hostile intentions, supposing such to
have existed in their minds.
LOADED PISTOLS LEFT BEHIND.
The accident, however, and their sudden appearance, could only serve
additionally to flurry the little party who had to convey their disabled
officer to a place of safety, and Mr. Helpman, who may well be pardoned
the want of his usual self-possession at such a moment, left behind a
pair of loaded pistols. They would puzzle the savages greatly of course,
but I hope no ill consequences ensued: if they began pulling them about,
or put them in the fire, the better to separate the wood and iron, two or
three poor wretches might be killed or maimed for life, and their first
recollections of the Quibra men, as Miago calls us, would naturally be
anything but favourable.
Thus disastrously terminated our examination of Roebuck Bay, in which the
cheering reports of former navigators, no less than the tenor of our
hydrographical instructions had induced us to anticipate the discovery of
some great water-communication with the interior of this vast Continent.
A most thorough and careful search--in which everyone seemed animated by
one common and universal sentiment, prompting all to a zealous discharge
of duty--had clearly demonstrated that the hoped-for river must be sought
elsewhere: and that very fact which at first seemed to lessen the
probabilities of ultimate success, served rather to inspire than to
daunt; since while it could not shake our reliance upon the opinions of
those best qualified to decide, that such a river must ultimately be
discovered, it only narrowed the ground upon which energy, knowledge, and
perseverance had yet to undergo their probation, ere they enjoyed their
Our intercourse with the natives had been necessarily of the most limited
character, hardly amounting to anything beyond indulging them with the
sight of a new people, whose very existence, notwithstanding the
apathetic indifference with which they regarded us, must have appeared a
prodigy. What tradition may serve to hand down the memory of our visit to
the third generation, should no newer arrival correct its gathering
errors, and again restore some vestige of the truth, it is hardly
possible to imagine; but should any misfortune follow their possession of
Mr. Helpman's pistols, that in particular will be narrated as the motive
for the visit of those white men who came flying upon the water, and left
some of the secret fire upon the peaceful coast: and when again the white
sails of the explorer glisten in the distant horizon, all the imaginary
terrors of the Boyl-yas,* will be invoked to avert the coming of those
who bring with them the unspeakable blessings of Christian civilization.
(*Footnote. The natives in the neighbourhood of Swan River give this name
to their Sorcerers.)
CHAPTER 1.5. FROM ROEBUCK BAY TO SKELETON POINT.
Departure from Roebuck Bay.
Appearance of the Country.
Progress to the northward.
Hills and Cliffs.
French Names and French Navigators.
Tasman, and his account of the Natives.
Hazeygaeys and Assagais.
His Authenticity as an Historian.
Description of the Natives.
Marks and mutilations.
Proas, Canoes, and Rafts.
Anchor in Beagle Bay.
Face of the Country.
Hauling the Seine.
A meeting with Natives.
Miago's conduct towards, and opinion of, his countrymen.
Mutilation of the Hand.
Native smokes seen.
Move further to the North-East.
Search for water.
Encountered by Natives.
Return to the Ship.
The attempt renewed.
Conduct of the Natives.
Effect of a Congreve Rocket after dark.
A successful haul.
The plague of Flies.
Dampier's description of it.
Wind and weather.
Goanas and Lizards.
Fishing over the side.
A day in the Bush.
A flood of fire.
Soil and Productions.
Geology of the Cliffs.
Weigh, and graze a Rock, or Touch and go.
Miago and his friends.
A black dog.
A day of rest.
Captain King and the Bathurst.
Successful search for water.
Native estimation of this fluid.
Discovery of a Skeleton.
And its removal.
The grey Ibis.
Our parting legacy.
DEPARTURE FROM ROEBUCK BAY.
January 22, 1838.
Satisfied that no inland communication could be expected from Roebuck
Bay, we weighed in the early part of the morning, and stood away to the
APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY.
Roebuck Bay, so named to commemorate the name of Dampier's ship, is about
sixteen miles across: the southern shores are low, and extensive
sandbanks and mud flats are bared at low-water. Near the North-East point
of the bottom of this bay, is a curious range of low cliffs, from twenty
to thirty feet high, and strongly tinged with red, in such a manner as to
suggest that they must be highly impregnated with oxide of iron. In the
neighbourhood of these cliffs the country had a more fertile, or rather a
less desolate appearance, stretching out into extensive plains, lightly
timbered with various trees of the genus Eucalypti, while, on the south
shore of the bay, the mangroves were numerous.
Towards the afternoon we discovered a small inlet, being then about 30
miles from our former anchorage in Roebuck Bay. We steered directly for
it, and when within half a mile of its mouth, we had, at high-water, six
fathoms. From the masthead I could trace distinctly the course of this
inlet, which at this state of the tide appeared to be of great extent;
but the bar which locked its mouth, and over which the sea was breaking
very heavily, rendered it impossible to take a boat across without
evident risk, by which no real good would be obtained, as the rise and
fall of the tide, eighteen feet, on this low coast, was more than
sufficient to account for the imposing, though deceptive appearance of
this opening. From the main-top-gallant yard I was enabled to take an
almost bird's-eye view of the level country stretched apparently at my
feet. The shore, like the south side of Roebuck Bay, was fringed with
mangroves, while to the North-North-East lay an extensive plain, over
which the water seemed, at certain seasons of the year, to flow. The
country around, for miles, wore the appearance of an interminable and
boundless plain, with an almost imperceptible landward elevation, and
thickly wooded with stunted trees.
In sailing along this part of the coast we found several inaccuracies in
Captain King's chart, doubtless owing to the distant view with which he
was compelled to content himself, and to the unfavourable state of the
weather against which he had to contend. I was on deck nearly, indeed,
the whole of the night, baffled by flying clouds in my attempts to fix
our latitude by the stars: at length, however, I succeeded in
ascertaining it to be 17 degrees 40 minutes South.
The morning was fine, but the wind we had experienced the preceding night
caused a rather heavy swell, which rendered the attempt to enter this
inlet an impracticable task; however, it was tried. We found between the
ship and the shore six, four, and two fathoms, but as the mouth of the
inlet was filled with breakers, apparently on a bar extending out half a
mile, I was fully convinced that further perseverance would only amount
to waste of time and needless risk, and therefore, after taking a few
angles to fix the position of the boat, we returned on board. It appeared
at low-water to be nearly dry, and then only amounted to a collection of
mud and sandbanks. The examination quite satisfied me that it partook of
the same character as the one already spoken of as seen yesterday, and
that they are alike useless.
We were soon underway, and standing towards, or rather along, the shore;
and as the day advanced, the wind drew more to the westward, a common
occurrence, enabling us to lay along the shore, North 1/2 East. By four
P.M., we were within two miles of it, in nine fathoms.
The coast here is fronted with a range of sandhills, some of which are
topped with verdure: several low black rocky points extend for some
distance from the flat sandy beach into the sea. I have no hesitation in
saying, that this is a kind of black sandstone, often found at the bases
of most cliffy points, and probably coloured by the chemical action of
the saltwater. The sandhills, which form the coastline, do not appear to
extend more than a mile inland. Beyond, the country appeared to subside
into the same dull level which is the characteristic feature of what we
have yet seen of this coast, thickly studded with timber of a much finer
growth than the stunted productions of Roebuck Bay. Behind the cliffy
parts of the coast the land assumed a more fertile appearance; and this
seemed an almost invariable law in the natural history of this new world.
PROGRESS TO THE NORTHWARD.
Five miles to the northward of Point Coulomb, we passed a reef, lying a
mile from the shore, with seven fathoms one mile seaward of it. The land
now trended to the eastward, and formed a large bay, the south point of
which we rounded at half past four P.M. The mangroves grew right down to
the water's edge, and the spring tides appear to inundate the country to
a very considerable extent, the land here being lower than any we had yet
seen. We anchored, at half past eight, in six and a half fathoms, and I
ran below to find how our wounded messmate had borne the day.
From my usual post, the masthead, I traced the shore from point to point
of Carnot Bay, so named after the celebrated French consul and engineer.
A very low sandy point bore North 67 degrees, East 6 miles. Sandbanks and
breakers completely fortified its shores, and effectually forbid all
approach, except under the most favourable circumstances.
LAND DISCOVERED BY TASMAN.
The several French names with which Commodore Baudin has distinguished
leading portions of this coast, of course, professional courtesy will
willingly respect; it is, however, only right to mention, that while he
contented himself with so distant a view of this part of Australia as to
be sometimes completely mistaken in the most important particulars, to
the celebrated Abel Tasman belongs the merit of having previously landed
upon its shores in that very bay, which now bears the name of the great
DESCRIPTION OF THE NATIVES.
Tasman describes the natives as being quite naked, black in colour, and
having curly hair, "malicious and cruel," using for arms bows and arrows,
hazeygaeys* and kalawaeys. They came, upon one occasion, fifty in number,
to attack a party of the Dutch, who had landed, but took fright at the
sight and sound of firearms. "Their proas," he adds, "are made of the
bark of trees, and they use no houses."
(*Footnote. Hazeygaeys are synonymous with assagais, the name for the
short African spear, used by the tribes between Port Natal and the Cape,
and which is generally supposed to be the native term for the weapon.
Captain Harris, however, states that this supposition is incorrect; and,
certainly, its appearance and termination here incline me to join him in
suspecting it of a
Such is the account of this distinguished and trustworthy discoverer,
upon whose veracity I should be the last to attempt to affix suspicion:
his very simplicity of detail, and the entire absence of rhetorical
artifice, would convey sufficient internal evidence of his truth, had not
the subsequent progress of Australian discovery served to confirm all the
material facts of his narrative. I may, however, remark, that the natives
seen upon this coast during our cruise, within the limits of Roebuck Bay
to the south, and Port George the Fourth to the north, an extent of more
than 200 miles, with the exception that I shall presently notice, agreed
in having a common character of form, feature, hair, and physiognomy,
which I may thus describe. The average height of the males may be taken
to be from five feet five inches to five feet nine inches, though, upon
one occasion, I saw one who exceeded this height by an inch. They are
almost black--in fact, for ordinary description, that word, unqualified
by the adverb, serves the purpose best. Their limbs are spare and light,
but the muscle is finely developed in the superior joint of the arm,
which is probably owing to their constant use of it in throwing the
spear. Some tribes are entirely naked, while others wear girdles of skin
and leaves, hardly sufficient, however, to serve any purpose of decency,
much less of comfort.
Their hair is always dark, sometimes straight and sometimes curled, and
not unfrequently tied up behind; but we saw no instance of a negro, or
woolly, head among them. They wear the beard upon the chin, but not upon
the upper lip, and allow it to grow to such a length as enables them to
champ and chew it when excited by rage; an action which they accompany
with spitting it out against the object of their indignation or contempt.
They have very overhanging brows, and retreating foreheads, large noses,
full lips, and wide mouths: in some cases they want the two foreteeth in
the upper jaw, and while, in any one tribe in which the custom prevails,
it seems to be unanimous, it does not appear to be, by any means,
universally diffused along the whole north-western coast. The
unfavourable impression produced by the prevailing character of their
physiognomy, is confirmed, if their phrenological conformation is taken
into consideration; and certainly, if the principles of that science are
admitted to be true, these savages are woefully deficient in all the
qualities which contribute to man's moral supremacy. Let me, in justice,
add, that while we found them ignorant and incurious to the last degree,
they were generally suspicious rather than treacherous, and not
insensible to such acts of kindness as they could comprehend.
Upon all this extent of coast, we saw no single instance of the use, or
even existence, of any proa, or canoe; and my own opinion, strengthened
by personal experience, and enforced by the authority of the most recent
navigators, is, that the canoe is not used upon the north-west coast. The
negative evidence, at least, is strongly in favour of this presumption;
for, while we saw the canoe in use in Clarence Strait--the western
boundary of the northern coast--we saw nothing but the raft to the south
of that point. I cannot, therefore, avoid the conclusion, that, misled by
the similarity of external appearance, Tasman mistook the raft of
unbarked timber for a bark canoe, such as he may have seen upon other
parts of the coast.
We had a return of the same kind of squall from the eastward, as we had
experienced before our arrival in Roebuck Bay, and from which, since that
time till now, we had luckily managed to
We were again at work by daylight, but were delayed, getting clear of the
foul ground, lying off Cape Baskerville, on which we twice shoaled the
water to three and five fathoms, five and seven miles West and by South
from that headland.
The land over it rises to an elevation of nearly 200 feet, and then again
becomes low and sandy, opening out a bay, which from appearance promised,
and wherein we afterwards found, good anchorage: it was named Beagle Bay,
and may serve hereafter to remind the seamen who benefit by the survey in
which that vessel bore so conspicuous a part, of the amount of his
obligations to the Government that sent her forth, the skill and energy
that directed her course, and the patient discipline by which, during her
long period of active service, so much was done for the extension of our
maritime knowledge. In the bight formed between this bay and Cape
Baskerville we passed two high-water inlets; the mouths of both were
fronted with rocky ledges. We anchored here, soon after midday, and had
every reason to be satisfied with our berth. Beagle Bay is about three
miles broad and seven deep; the country around is low and open, and
traces of water deposit were visible in several spots to indicate its
dangerous proximity to the sea. The smaller shrubs of the country were
common; and the mangroves flourished in great abundance on the beach, and
along the little creeks that diverge from it. Some large anthills, and
very small palm trees, not six feet in height, were noticed for the first
time so far south. During the night the wind veered round to South-West,
and blew quite fresh, a circumstance which made us additionally prize our
good anchorage here. We had, however, no squall, nor any dew, which I
should mention falls most copiously upon certain nights, without any
apparent indication; to these dews, the vegetation of this country, so
far as we can judge, seems to owe its principal nourishment and support.
VISITED BY NATIVES.
The forenoon was devoted to the examination of this excellent anchorage,
and a party was also despatched to haul the seine. On landing they were
met by a party of natives, who saluted them in a manner which strikingly
resembled the eastern mode. They had no weapon, save one kiley or
boomerang, and bowed down until they almost kissed the water.
CONDUCT OF MIAGO.
Their speech was shrill and quick, perfectly unintelligible to our friend
Miago, who seemed greatly in fear of them: they seemed astonished to find
one apparently of their own clime, complexion, and degree in company with
the white strangers, who must have seemed to them a different race of
beings; nor was their wonder at all abated when Miago threw open his
shirt, and showed them his breast curiously scarred after their
fashion--for this custom of cutting stripes upon the body, as other
savages tattoo it, by way of ornament, seems universally to prevail
throughout Australia--as a convincing evidence that he, though now the
associate of the white man, belonged to the same country as themselves.
When Miago had, in some degree, recovered from his alarm--and their want
of all weapons no doubt tended to reassure him more than anything else,
he very sagaciously addressed them in English; shaking hands and saying,
"How do you do?" and then began to imitate their various actions, and
mimic their language, and so perfectly did he succeed that one of our
party could not be persuaded but that he really understood them; though
for this suspicion I am convinced there was in truth no foundation. In
general appearance this tribe differed but little from those we had
previously seen. They wore their hair straight, and tied behind in a rude
semblance of the modern queue; their beards were long, and two or three
among them were daubed with a kind of black ochre. All of them had lost
one of the front teeth, and several one finger joint;* in this particular
they differed from the natives seen in Roebuck Bay, amongst whom the
practice of this mutilation did not prevail. They were, I think,
travelling to the southward, at the time they fell in with us, for they
had no females among the party, by whom they are usually at other times
accompanied. The circumstance of their being unarmed may seem to militate
against the supposition that they were travelling, but it is to be borne
in mind that these people universally consider the absence of offensive
weapons as the surest test of peaceful intentions, and would therefore,
if they desired to maintain a friendly footing with the newcomers, most
probably deposit their arms in some place of concealment before they made
(*Footnote. A similar custom was noticed by Captain Cook at the Sandwich
Islands, where it was regarded as a propitiatory sacrifice to the Eatooa,
to avert his anger; and not to express, as the same mutilation does in
the Friendly Islands, grief for the loss of a friend.)
The coast seems pretty thickly populated between Roebuck and Beagle Bays;
as the smoke from native fires was constantly to be seen, but in all
cases these signs of human existence were confined to the neighbourhood
of the sea. The fishing proved unsuccessful, so we were fain to content
ourselves without the promised addition to our evening meal. We found the
tide rise here 18 feet.
In the afternoon we reached another anchorage, some ten miles further to
the North-East. The coast along which we sailed within the distance of
two miles, was chiefly remarkable for its tall, dark-looking cliffs, with
here and there a small sandy bay intervening. We anchored under Point
Emeriau, so named by Captain Baudin, by whom it was mistaken for an
island; its tall, white cliffs, springing from and guarded by a base and
ledges of black rock, and tinged with red towards their summits, render
it a point not easily to be mistaken or forgotten by any who have once
seen it. Beyond this the coast curved away to the eastward, forming a
bight about eleven miles in length.
Leaving our anchorage at daylight, we passed the north point of the bight
just mentioned soon after noon; it is a low black rugged cliffy point,
called Borda by the French, having a much more weather-beaten appearance
than would have been anticipated in this latitude. Behind it the country
rose obliquely, the horizon terminating in an inconsiderable, undulatory,
and well-wooded elevation.
We passed another bight in the afternoon, the shores of which were low
and rocky, with a mangrove creek in its depth: from this bight the coast
becomes almost straight, the line being hardly broken by rocky points and
shallow sandy bays, to Cape Leveque, on the North-East side of which we
found an indifferent anchorage just before sunset. Cape Leveque is a red
cliffy point some sixty feet in height, with an islet of the same
character lying close off it. The latter bore from our anchorage in 5
fathoms, South 56 degrees West 2 miles, and 4 1/2 West 20 degrees South
from the entrance point of the inviting opening, we were now about to
explore, with an interest rather stimulated than decreased by the want of
success that attended our examination of Roebuck Bay.
This point was named by Captain King, Point Swan, in honour of Captain
Swan of the Cygnet, under whom Dampier first discovered it; and was an
appropriate tribute of respect and admiration, from one distinguished no
less than Dampier himself, by the possession of those qualities of
firmness, patience, judgment and perseverance, which make up the
character of the scientific and adventurous navigator, to him by whom he
had been preceded in Australian discovery. The country between Point Swan
and Cape Leveque has a very sandy and barren aspect; the hillocks near
the latter partook of its prevailing red colour.
We proceeded this morning in the direction of Point Swan, and remarked,
as we approached it, the heavy tide-race which used Captain King so
roughly, and which subsequent surveying operations enabled us to account
for, from great irregularity in the bottom, changing almost at once from
40 to 17 fathoms. We waited, having no wish to experience the full effect
of the current, for slack water, and thus passed round it quietly enough;
we anchored in a small bight, South 20 degrees West 1 1/2 miles from
Point Swan, in seven fathoms, which, as we rightly conjectured, would
leave us in three, at low-water.*
(*Footnote. The following is Captain King's graphic account of his
encounter with this race: "On my way towards Point Swan, we saw from the
masthead a line of strong tide ripplings, extending from the Point in a
North-West by West direction, within which we at first attempted to pass;
but finding they were connected to the Point, hauled up to steer through
them where they seemed to be the least dangerous. As we approached, the
noise was terrific; and although we were not more than two minutes
amongst the breakers, yet the shocks of the sea were so violent, as to
make us fearful for the safety of our masts. A smaller vessel would
perhaps have been swamped; for although the sea was in other parts quite
smooth, and the wind light, yet the water broke over the bows, and
strained the brig considerably.")
As we had now arrived at the point from which we anticipated carrying on
our most important operations, it became of paramount interest to know
whether we could rely for that indispensable article, fresh water, upon
the resources of the wild and barbarous shores. The vast extent of
country; the delightful verdure which clothed great portions of it; nay,
even the evidences of a people living upon its shores, would, under any
other circumstances, and on any other coast, have been deemed
conclusively to decide this point in the affirmative: but the voyager
knows, from the best authority, that upon the coasts, and within the
heart of Australia, nature seems to delight in contradiction, and that
she is more than usually capricious with respect to the supply of what is
ordinarily her most common, as it is ever one of her most precious gifts.
A few wretched mud-holes might serve for a time to content the savages
trained to privation from their earliest infancy, but for ourselves it
was clear, either that a reasonable supply of fresh water must be found
here, or we must not calculate upon remaining beyond the time which would
leave us sufficient to proceed to Hanover Bay, where this most needful
commodity was, upon the authority of Captain King, to be found.
SEARCH FOR WATER.
No sooner, therefore, was the Beagle properly secured in her new berth,
than a party was despatched in the boats to commence a search for water,
and to fix upon a spot for carrying on the necessary observations:
scarcely, however, had we pushed off from alongside, before the white
ensign at our main warned us that the natives were in sight from the
ship,* and, on turning our eyes to the shore, we beheld it thronged with
savages: the rapidity of whose movements, as they shouted in apparent
defiance, brandishing their spears, and whirling their arms round and
round with windmill-like velocity, as though to threaten our advance,
rendered it impossible to estimate their number with any confidence, but
they were evidently in considerable force. However, we pulled to the
shore, a measure against which the valiant Miago stoutly protested, and
landed in a position not directly commanded by the natives. They made no
attempt to prevent us, but anxious to avoid hostilities--in every event
almost equally deplorable--we deferred any distant search for water; and
having fixed on a spot for our temporary observatory, returned to the
(*Footnote. This signal was always made when natives were seen from the
ship, if any parties were away.)
A strong party was sent on shore, early this morning, with the necessary
tools for digging a well, should the search for water upon the surface
prove abortive. It was at once found that this operation ought forthwith
to be commenced, and accordingly a promising spot was selected in a
valley not half a mile from the sea. The natives mustered again in force
upon the heights, and seemed to watch our proceedings with the greatest
interest: we saw nothing of them the following day, but on the third they
seemed so much emboldened by our inoffensive proceedings, that they
approached so near as to keep the party pretty much upon the alert.
FIRE A CONGREVE ROCKET.
It was, therefore, determined, lest familiarity should breed contempt, to
give them a hint of our superiority without inflicting any injury upon
their persons or property; and, accordingly, shortly after dark we fired
a Congreve rocket from the ship, and in a direction immediately over
their presumed position: this had the desired effect, and our
well-digging operations, though ultimately unsuccessful, proceeded
without further annoyance.
CONDUCT OF THE NATIVES.
Two or three days afterwards a small party came down upon the beach while
we were hauling the seine; and tempted by the offer of some fish--for an
Australian savage is easily won by him who comes with things that do show
so fair as delicacies in the gastronomic department--they approached us,
and were very friendly in their manner, though they cunningly contrived
always to keep the upper or inland side of the beach. We made them some
presents of beads, etc. from the stores supplied by the Admiralty for
that purpose, but they received them with an indifference almost
amounting to apathy. They very closely examined the heroic Miago, who
submitted to be handled by these much-dreaded Northern men with a very
rueful countenance, and afterwards construed the way in which one of them
had gently stroked his beard, into an attempt to take him by the throat
and strangle him! an injury and indignity which, when safe on board, he
resented by repeated threats, uttered in a sort of wild chant, of
spearing their thighs, backs, loins, and, indeed, each individual portion
of the frame.
PLAGUE OF FLIES.
Their habit of keeping the eyes almost closed, and the head thrown back,
in order to avoid the plague of flies, under which this country seems to
suffer, adds to the unpleasant expression of their countenance, and quite
justifies the correctness of Dampier's account: "Their eyelids 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
very close; so that from their infancy, being thus annoyed with these
insects, they do never open their eyes as do other people, and therefore
they cannot see far unless they hold up their heads, as if they were
looking at somewhat over them." We found constant occasion, when on
shore, to complain of this fly nuisance; and when combined with their
allies, the mosquitoes, no human endurance could, with any patience,
submit to the trial. The flies are at you all day, crawling into your
eyes, up your nostrils, and down your throat, with the most irresistible
perseverance; and no sooner do they, from sheer exhaustion, or the loss
of daylight, give up the attack, than they are relieved by the musquitos,
who completely exhaust the patience which their predecessors have so
severely tried. It may seem absurd to my readers to dwell upon such a
subject; but those, who, like myself, have been half-blinded, and to
boot, almost stung to death, will not wonder, that even at this distance
of time and place, I recur with disgust to the recollection.
The natives, in all parts of the continent alike, seem to possess very
primitive notions upon the subject of habitation; their most comfortable
wigwams hardly deserve the name: not even in the neighbourhood of English
settlements are they beginning in any degree to imitate our European
notions of comfort. Among these northern people, the only approach to
anything like protection from the skiey influences that I could discover,
was a slight rudely thatched covering, placed on four upright poles,
between three and four feet high.
Another, of a much superior description, which I visited on the western
shore of King's Sound, will be found delineated in that part of my
journal to which the narrative belongs.
WIND AND WEATHER.
We remained at this anchorage until the 10th of February, in consequence
of a continuance of bad weather; indeed, the rain during the three first
days of that month was at times of the most monsoon-like character, while
the wind, constantly blowing very fresh, kept veering from North-West to
South-West. Every now and then, by way of agreeable variety, a heavy
squall would take us from South-South-West, though more commonly from
West-South-West. The only certainty that we could calculate upon, was,
that at North-North-West the wind would remain when it got there,
stationary for a few hours. The thunder and lightning, the former loud
and with a long reverberating peal, and the latter of the most intensely
vivid kind, were constantly roaring and flashing over our heads; and,
with the stormy echoes which the rolling deep around woke on these
unknown and inhospitable shores, completed a scene that I shall never
cease to remember, as I never then beheld it without mingled emotions of
apprehension and delight. The rain, however, certainly befriended us in
more ways than one: it cooled the atmosphere, which would else have been
insufferably hot, diminished for a time the number and virulence of our
winged tormentors, and recruited our stock of fresh water; for, though
ultimately we were not obliged to have recourse to it as a beverage, it
did exceedingly well for washing purposes. We had also, during this time,
one most successful haul with the seine, which amply supplied us with
fresh fish for that and the two following days; the greater part were a
kind of large mullet, the largest weighed six pounds five ounces, and
measured twenty-five inches in length.
On the same day we remarked, owing to the North-West wind, a singular
phenomenon in the tides here. From half-ebb to high-water the stream
wholly ceased, and the water being heaped up in the bay by the force of
the wind, fell only sixteen, instead of twenty-four feet.
Several sporting excursions were made during this period, but with
comparatively little success. It is not a country naturally very abundant
in game of any kind, except kangaroos, which are numerous, but so
harassed by the natives as to be of course extremely shy of the approach
However, Mr. Bynoe succeeded in shooting one which possessed the singular
appendage of a nail, like that on a man's little finger, attached to the
I regret that we had no subsequent opportunity to decide whether this was
one of a new species of the Macropodidae family, or a mere lusus naturae.
The dimensions and height of this singular animal were as follows:*
Length of body from tip of nose: 22 inches.
Length of tail from stump to tip: 24 1/2 inches.
Weight: 13 pounds.
(*Footnote. This animal has been classed by Mr. Gould as Macropus
unguifer, and is now deposited in the British Museum. One precisely
similar was afterwards killed on the east coast of the gulf of
We also saw some very large red or cinnamon-coloured kangaroos, but never
got near enough to secure one; they were apparently identical with a new
race, of which I afterwards procured a specimen at Barrow's Island.*
(*Footnote. Osphranter isabellinus. Gould.)
One day, when I had penetrated some considerable distance into the bush,
farther indeed than any of our party had strayed before, I saw a large
bustard, but was unable to get a shot at him; his anxious and acute gaze
had detected me, at the same moment that I had discovered him, and he was
off. I thought at the time that he bore a strong resemblance to the wild
turkey of the colonists in the southern parts of the continent. We were
lucky enough to shoot several quails of apparently quite a new species.
In one particular they differed from the members of the genus Coturnis,
in having no hind toe. Goannas and lizards were plentiful in this
neighbourhood, and some of the latter in particular were most brilliant
in colour: they ran down the tall trees, in which they seem to pass a
great portion of their lives, at our approach, with a most marvellous
rapidity, and darting along the ground, were soon in safety.
But what, perhaps, most attracted our attention, was the very surprising
size of the anthills, or nests. I measured one, the height of which was
13 feet, and width at the base 7 feet; from whence it tapered gradually
to the apex. They are composed of a pale red earth; but how it is
sufficiently tempered, I am unable to state; certain is it, that it has
almost the consistence of mortar, and will bear the tread of a man upon
The fishing over the ship's side was not less successful than hauling the
seine; though quite a different kind of fish was taken to reward the
labour of the saltwater Waltonians, who devoted themselves to it. They
generally secured (at slack water) a large fish, in shape like a bream,
and with long projecting teeth.
We made up a party on the 6th for the purpose of penetrating a little way
into the interior, and got seven miles from the sea in a South by West
direction. Everything wore a green and most delightful appearance; but
the reader must bear in mind, how vegetation had just been forced by
heavy rains upon a light, heated soil, and also recollect that to one who
has been pent up for some time on board ship a very barren prospect may
The country was more open in character than I had before noticed it, and
the numerous traces of native fires which we found in the course of the
excursion, seemed readily to account for this: indeed during dry seasons
it not unfrequently happens, that an immense tract of land is desolated
with fire, communicated, either by the design or carelessness of the
natives, to the dry herbage on the surface. The moment the flame has been
kindled it only waits for the first breath of air to spread it far and
wide: then on the wings of the wind, the fiery tempest streams over the
hillsides and through the vast plains and prairies: bushwood and
herbage--the dry grass--the tall reed--the twining parasite--or the giant
of the forest, charred and blackened, but still proudly erect--alike
attest and bewail the conquering fire's onward march; and the bleak
desert, silent, waste, and lifeless, which it leaves behind seems forever
doomed to desolation: vain fear! the rain descends once more upon the dry
and thirsty soil, and from that very hour which seemed the date of
cureless ruin, Nature puts forth her wondrous power with increased
effort, and again her green and flower-embroidered mantle decks the earth
with a new beauty!
SOIL AND PRODUCTIONS.
The soil of the extensive plain over which we journeyed this day, was
light and sandy in character, but the large amount of vegetable matter
which it contains, and the effect of the late rains, which had penetrated
some 24 or 30 inches into it, made us perhaps somewhat overvalue its real
merits. This plain rose gradually before us until it reached an elevation
of 180 feet above the level of the sea, and was covered with a long, thin
grass, through which the startled kangaroo made off every now and then at
a killing pace.
The face of the country was well but not too closely covered with
specimens of the red and white gum, and paperbark tree, and several
others. The timber was but small, the diameter of the largest, a red gum,
Ever and anon the sparkling brilliant lizards darted down from their
resting places among the boughs, so rapid in their fearful escape, that
they caught the eye more like a flash of momentary light, than living,
moving forms. We flushed in the course of the day a white bird, or at
least nearly so, with a black ring round the neck, and a bill crooked
like the ibis, which bird indeed, except in colour, it more resembles
than any I have ever seen.*
(*Footnote. Since ascertained to be an Ibis--the Threskiornis
Among the trees seen in the course of this ramble, I had almost forgotten
to mention one which struck me more than any other from its resemblance
to a kind of cotton tree, used by the natives of the South Sea islands in
building their canoes.
The day following we secured several boat-loads of rainwater, deposited
in the holes of the rocks, near our temporary observatory, and were the
better pleased with our success, as our well-digging had proved
GEOLOGY OF THE CLIFFS.
There was something particularly striking in the geological formation of
the cliffs that form the western side of this bay: and which rise from 70
to 90 feet in height, their bases apparently resting amid huge and
irregular masses of the same white sandstone as that which forms the
cliffs themselves, and from which this massive debris, strewn in all
conceivable irregularity and confusion around, appears to have been
violently separated by some great internal convulsion.
Some of these great masses, both of the living cliff and ruined blocks
beneath, are strangely pierced with a vein or tube of vitreous matter,
not less in some instances than 18 inches in diameter. In every place the
spot at which this tube entered the rock was indicated by a considerable
extent of glazed or smelted surface; but I am not sufficiently versed in
the science of geology to offer any specific theory to account for the
appearances I have described: the cliffs were rent and cracked in a
thousand different ways, and taking into consideration their strange and
wrecked appearance, together with the fact that lightning is known to
vitrify sand, may we not thus get a clue to the real agency by which
these results have been produced?*
(*Footnote. Since this was written, I have consulted my friend, Mr.
Darwin, who has kindly examined a specimen I brought away. He pronounces
it "a superficial highly ferrugineous sandstone, with concretionary veins
and aggregations." The reader should, however, consult Mr. Darwin's work
on the Geology of Volcanic Islands page 143.)
WEIGH AND GRAZE ON A ROCK.
The weather was thick and gloomy, and it rained fast; but, having
completed our survey and observations, and the wind being favourable, it
was resolved to get underweigh without further loss of time.
In the very act of weighing, the ship's keel grazed a sunken rock, of the
existence of which, though we had sounded the bay, we had been, till that
moment, in ignorance! He only who has felt the almost animated shudder
that runs through the seemingly doomed ship at that fearful moment, can
understand with what gratitude we hailed our escape from the treacherous
In passing out, we named two low small rocky islands, lying north of
Point Swan, and hitherto unhonoured with any particular denomination, the
Twins. It should be noted, that the tide did not begin to make to the
southward till 8 hours 15 minutes A.M., being full half an hour after
low-water by the shore. We passed through several tide races; not,
however, feeling their full force, owing to our encountering them at the
time of slack water. In every case our soundings indicated great
irregularity of bottom, the cause to which I have already assigned these
impediments to in-shore navigation.
We found a temporary anchorage the same morning, on the east side of the
large group forming the eastern side of Sunday Strait; so named by
Captain King, who was drifted in and out of it on that day, August 19th,
1821, amid an accumulation of perils that will long render the first
navigation of this dangerous Archipelago a memorable event in the annals
of nautical hardihood.
This group we called after Lieutenant Roe, R.N., Surveyor-General of
Western Australia, who had accompanied Captain King in that perilous
voyage, and whose valuable information had enabled us to escape so many
of the dangers to which our predecessors had been exposed.
Nothing could exceed the desolate appearance of the land near which we
were now lying: rocks, of a primitive character, massed together in all
the variety of an irregularity, that rather reminded the beholder of
Nature's ruin than her grandeur, rose, drear and desolate, above the
surrounding waters; no trees shaded their riven sides, but the
water-loving mangrove clothed the base of this sterile island, and a
coarse, wiry grass was thinly spread over its sides.
MIAGO AND HIS FRIENDS.
Soon after we had anchored, some natives were observed by Miago watching
us from the shore; and shortly afterwards a party landed, to attempt
communicating with them, and to get the necessary observations for the
survey. In the first object they failed altogether; for these
blackfellows, as that gallant hero called them, retired to the heights,
and, while closely watching every movement, refused to trust themselves
within our reach. The smallness of their number, and their want of arms,
quite elevated the courage of Miago, who loudly vaunted his intention of
monopolizing a northern gin, in order to astonish his friends upon our
return to the south: stealing away the ladies being, as I have before
remarked, the crowning and most honourable achievement of which man, in
the eyes of these savages, is capable. I ought not to omit remarking
here, that the natives seen to-day were accompanied by a black dog; the
only instance in which, before or since, we observed the existence of a
dog of that colour in this vast country. Captain King mentions that he
saw one in this neighbourhood during his visit in 1821.
DAY OF REST.
The following day was Sunday, and, there being no absolute necessity to
shift our berth, we remained at anchor; marking the character of this
sacred festival, by giving it up to the crew, for healthful rest and
harmless recreation--after morning prayers had been performed--as much as
the needful discipline, upon a proper observance of which the efficiency
of a ship's company entirely depends, would allow. This practice,
constantly observed throughout our long voyage, was always attended with
the best results.
Some rather small pigeons,* of a dark brown colour, marked with a white
patch on the wings, were seen, and some specimens shot. They made a
whirring sound in flight, like the partridge, and appeared to haunt the
rocks; a habit which all subsequent observation confirmed.
(*Footnote. Petrophila albipennis. Gould.)
Soon after daylight we left this anchorage, whose exact position I
mention, as it may be of use to some future voyager in these seas. The
eastern of the three islands north of Roe's group was just open of the
north point of the bight in which we lay, and a small rocky islet close
to the shore bore South-South-West one mile; we had five fathoms at
low-water in the bight, and twelve immediately outside.
After making a stretch to the southward for about five miles, in
soundings varying from 20 to 25 fathoms, we again closed with the shore,
and anchored in five fathoms, on the south side of Roe's group, three
miles from our former anchorage. A party landed in the afternoon to
procure the requisite observations: the country was not quite so sterile,
nor its face of so rugged a character.
We found nothing worth particular attention, except a native raft, the
first we had yet seen. It was formed of nine small poles pegged together,
and measured ten feet in length by four in breadth; the greatest diameter
of the largest pole was three inches. All the poles were of the palm
tree, a wood so light, that one man could carry the whole affair with the
greatest ease. By it there was a very rude double-bladed paddle.
From a distant station I looked upon the dangerous and rapid current,
which divides two rocky islands, and the perils of which are fearfully
increased by the presence of an insulated rock in its centre, past which
(its fury only heightened by the opposition) the torrent hurries with
CAPTAIN KING AND THE BATHURST.
It was by this fearful passage that Captain King entered this part of the
Sound, drifting towards apparently instant destruction, without a breath
of wind to afford him even a chance of steering between the various
perils that environed his devoted ship. As the Bathurst swept past the
neighbouring shores--covered with the strange forms of the howling
savages who seemed to anticipate her destruction, and absolutely within
the range of their spears--drifting with literally giddy rapidity towards
the fatal rocks, what varied thoughts must have flashed, crowding an age
within an hour, upon the mind of her commander? It seemed that all
evidence of what his own perseverance, the devotion of his officers, and
the gallantry of his crew, had accomplished for the honour of their
common country, would in a few brief moments be the prey of the rapid,
the spoil of the deep; and yet, while many a heart sent up its voiceless
prayer to HIM, whose arm is not shortened that it cannot save, believing
that prayer to be their last--not a cheek blanched--not an eye quailed!
But the loving-kindness of omnipotent mercy rested even upon that
solitary ship, and within a few yards of the fatal rock, one momentary
breath of wind, proved HIS providential care, for those from whom all
hope had fled! I shuddered as the events Captain King has recorded, rose
up in palpable distinctness to my view, and afterwards, in memory of that
day, called the channel Escape--to the sound itself we gave the name of
King's, in the full confidence that all for whom the remembrance of skill
and constancy and courage have a charm, will unite in thinking that the
career of such a man should not be without a lasting and appropriate
It blew a violent gale the whole of this day from West-South-West, coming
on quite unexpectedly, for neither the state nor appearance of the
atmosphere gave us the least indication of its approach. Exposed on a
lee-shore, it may be imagined that we were by no means displeased to see
it as rapidly and inexplicably depart, as it had suddenly and
Leaving this anchorage we found another in a bay on the mainland, 12
miles South from Point Swan, and 11 North-West from a remarkable headland
named by Captain King, Point Cunningham, in honour of that distinguished
botanist, whose zealous exertions have added so much to the Flora of
Australia. I well remember when we were preparing to sail from Sydney, in
May 1839, the scientific veteran seemed to enter with the utmost interest
into all the details of the coming adventure. And even, though the
natural force of that frame which had so often set danger at defiance,
while engaged in the ennobling pursuits to which his honourable career
had been devoted, was too palpably failing the mind whose dictates it had
so long obeyed; the fire of the spirit that had burned throughout so
brightly, seemed to leap up in yet more glowing flame, ere quenched
forever by the ashes of the grave! alas! within the brief period of two
months, the world had closed upon him for ever!
SUCCESSFUL SEARCH FOR WATER.
A point, fronting a small islet, almost joined to it at low-water, was
selected as a fitting spot for the commencement of our well-digging
operations, which we hoped to bring to a more successful termination than
our former attempt at Point Swan. After sinking to a depth of eight feet
our anticipations were fully justified, the water flowing in through the
sides in great abundance. It was quite fresh, and in every way most
acceptable to us all; but tinged as it was with the red colour of the
surrounding soil, we could at once perceive that it was only surface
water. As we watched it filling our neatly excavated well, we found no
great difficulty in understanding why, in this continent, a native speaks
of any very favoured district, as "Very fine country--much plenty
water--fine country;" thus comprehending in the certain supply of that
one necessary of life, the chief, nay almost the sole condition essential
to a happy land.
We named this Skeleton Point from our finding here the remains of a
native, placed in a semi-recumbent position under a wide spreading gum
tree, enveloped, or more properly, shrouded, in the bark of the papyrus.
All the bones were closely packed together, the larger being placed
outside, and the general mass surmounted by the head, resting on its
base, the fleshless, eyeless skull grinning horribly over the right side.
Some of the natives arrived shortly after we had discovered this curious
specimen of their mode of sepulture; but although they entertain peculiar
opinions upon the especial sanctity of the house appointed for all
living--a sanctity we certainly were not altogether justified in
disregarding--they made no offer of remonstrance at the removal of the
mortal remains of their dead brother. Whether here, as in the
neighbourhood of Fremantle, they regarded us as near kindred of their own
under a new guise, and so perhaps might suppose that we took away the dry
bones in order to rebuild the frame of which they before formed the
support, and to clothe the hideous nakedness of death with the white
man's flesh; or whether, deeming us indeed profane violators of that last
resting-place of suffering humanity, which it seems an almost instinctive
feeling to regard with reverence, they left the office of retribution
either to the spirit of the departed, or the more potent boyl-yas--to be
found upon the testimony of Miago in the wicked north--I know not;
certain it is that under the superintendence of Mr. Bynoe the removal was
effected, and that the skeleton itself, presented by that officer to
Captain Grey, was by him bestowed upon the Royal College of Surgeons, in
whose museum it is now to be found.
Among the ornithological specimens obtained here was one of the curlew
tribe, greatly resembling an ibis, and remarkable for its size. It
measured from the extremity of the bill to the tip of the toe 27 1/2
inches, and weighed 1 pound 14 1/2 ounces. The colour, with the exception
of the belly and legs, which were of a dirty white slightly mottled, very
much resembled that of the common English wild duck.
One of the natives seen to-day had with him a kiley, so different in
shape to any we had previously seen that I preserved a sketch of it. All
the party wore their hair tied up behind, and each had suffered the loss
of one of the front teeth in the upper jaw: and some had endured an
extraordinary mutilation; apparently in exaggeration of an ancient Jewish
rite. In general appearance they resembled the natives previously seen at
OUR PARTING LEGACY.
They appeared to luxuriate in the water we had found, wondered at the
size of our well, and expressed the greatest admiration of our skill in
thus procuring this needful article; and I do not doubt but that long
after every other recollection of our visit shall have passed away, this
beneficial memorial of it will perpetuate the visit of H.M.S. Beagle, to
this part of the great continent of Australia.
CHAPTER 1.6. POINT CUNNINGHAM TO FITZROY RIVER.
Survey the Coast to Point Cunningham.
Move the Ship.
Southern View of King's Sound.
Singular vitreous Formation.
Move to the south of Point Cunningham.
Captain King's limit.
Termination of Cliffy Range.
An Exploring Party leave in the boats.
A freshwater lake.
Native Fire and Food.
A heavy squall.
The wild Oat.
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