Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1.
J Lort Stokes
Part 3 out of 8
Indications of a River.
Gouty-stem Tree and Fruit.
Limits of its growth.
Water nearly fresh alongside.
The Fitzroy River.
Tide Bore and dangerous position of the Yawl.
Ascent of the Fitzroy.
Appearance of the adjacent land.
Return on foot.
Perilous situation and providential escape.
Survey the western shore.
Return to the Ship.
Sporting, Quail and Emus.
Ship moved to Point Torment.
February 21, 1838.
We remained at this sheltered anchorage until the 21st, by which time the
coast, so far as Point Cunningham, had been carefully examined. We found
it everywhere indented with deep bays, in each of which good anchorage
was to be found. The water's edge was in almost every place fringed with
the closely twining mangrove trees, behind which the country gradually
rose to an average level of about 200 feet, being thickly covered with
the various sorts of Eucalypti, for which all the explored portions of
this continent are more or less remarkable.
In the afternoon of the 21st, we moved into a bay North-West of Point
Cunningham, and anchored in 8 fathoms (low-water) about a mile North-West
from that point; having passed over a bank of 5 or 6 fathoms, with 12 on
its outer, and 10 on its inner side, and lying 2 1/4 miles north from
I spent the early part of this night on shore, a circumstance of which
the tormenting mosquitoes took every possible advantage; finally driving
me from their territory with every indignity, and in a state of mind
anything but placid. The poet doubtless spoke from experience when he
--there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently.
And even could such a prodigy of patient endurance be found, I am sure it
would fail him when exposed to the ceaseless persecution of these
The greater part of to-day was spent in making a more minute examination
of the bay, the shoal discovered yesterday rendering a more careful
search necessary. From the summit of Point Cunningham, I had a fine view
of the opposite shore of the sound; very broken and rugged it appeared to
be. To the South-East and south I could see no land; a circumstance which
raised my hopes of finding in that direction the long and anxiously
expected river, which the geological formation of the country, and all
the recorded experience of discovery, alike warranted us in anticipating.
The point upon which I stood was a steep and cliffy rock facing the sea,
connected with the mainland by a low and narrow neck of land, but almost
insulated at high-water during the spring tides. A singular cliff,
projecting on its South-East side, is called by Captain King, Carlisle
Head; but we searched in vain for the fresh water, which that
distinguished navigator speaks of, as having been found there by him in
SINGULAR VITREOUS FORMATION.
We remarked here, certain vitreous formations, in all, except form,
identical with those already described as having been seen at Point Swan.
These were small balls lying loose on the sandy beach, at the bottom of
the cliff; they were highly glazed upon the surface, hollow inside, and
varying in size from a musket, to a tennis ball.*
(*Footnote. Vide Mr. Darwin on "superficial ferrugineous beds" Geology of
Volcanic Islands page 143.)
We weighed early in the morning, and rounded Point Cunningham; anchoring
again at 10 o'clock A.M., 8 miles north of it, in 7 fathoms (low-water);
West by North, one mile from where we lay, a red cliffy head, called by
Captain King, in memory of the difficulties which ultimately compelled
him to leave this interesting coast, Foul Point, marks the limit of his
survey of this part of the northern shore of Australia, and terminates
the range of cliffs,* which, up to this point, forms nature's barrier
against the sea. Beyond it, the coast assumes a low and treacherous
character, and subsides into a deep bay, called by Captain King, not
without reason, Disaster Bay.
(*Footnote. The cliffs at Foul Point and Point Cunningham unite the
sandstone and argillaceous formation.)
From the masthead, from whence I hoped to get a wide view of the unknown
waters we were about to explore, I could just see Valentine Island,
bearing South-South-East about 17 miles. Its lofty extremities alone
being visible, it had the appearance of two islands.
Here, then, a really most interesting--nay, a most exciting--portion of
the duties of the survey were to commence in earnest; and it was reserved
for us to take up the thread of discovery reluctantly abandoned by our
enterprising and scientific predecessor, at the moment when the prize was
almost within his grasp.
EXPLORING PARTY IN BOATS.
It was forthwith determined, that Captain Wickham and Mr. Fitzmaurice
should collect the necessary materials for completing the survey, and
preparing the chart of the bay in the immediate neighbourhood of the
ship; while to myself the whale boat and yawl were to be entrusted; nor
can I describe with what delight, all minor annoyances forgotten, I
prepared to enter upon the exciting task of exploring waters unfurrowed
by any preceding keel; and shores, on which the advancing step of
civilization had not yet thrown the shadows of her advent, nor the voice
of that Christianity, which walks by her side through the uttermost parts
of the earth, summoned the wilderness and the desert to hail the
approaching hour, in the fulness of which all the earth shall be blessed!
Soon after dark we were visited by a squall from the eastward, longer in
duration, and heavier than any we had before experienced. From our
exposed situation--no land intervening for 30 miles--it raised a good
deal of sea: the wind remained fresh at the east during the greater part
of the night.
The morning broke, dark, gloomy, and threatening; but, as the day
advanced, it gradually assumed its usual bright and brilliant character;
and at seven A.M. we started, Mr. Helpman having the whaleboat, while Mr.
Tarrant accompanied me in the yawl. We crossed Disaster Bay in four and
five fathoms, steering in the direction of Valentine Island, and inside a
long sandy spit, partly dry at low-water, and extending two-thirds of the
While waiting for the tide to rise, in order to cross this natural
breakwater, we landed, and struggled for a good mile through a mixture of
deep mud and sand, drifted, at the coastline, into hills of from
twenty-five to thirty feet high, and bound together by a long coarse
grass; immediately beyond which we came upon a small lake of fresh water,
where all the luxuriant growth of tropical vegetation was starting into
life, and presenting an almost miraculous contrast to the barren
sterility, that stamped an aspect of changeless desolation upon the rest
of this inhospitable shore. Indeed, so far as our experience extended,
upon the coasts, and within the interior of this in many respects
extraordinary continent, the want of water appears to be the chief
drawback to the fertility otherwise to be anticipated from its
geographical position: at the same time, it is quite impossible to blind
oneself to the fact, that further researches on the one hand, and the
application of the great discoveries in hydraulics, of which recent years
have been so fruitful, on the other, may, and probably will, spread the
vernal bloom of cultivation over wastes, now condemned to prolonged and
arbitrary periods of drought.
This spot, which long arrested my attention, and upon which I gazed with
the selfish feeling of delight inspired by the thought that thereon never
before had rested the curious eye of any restless and indefatigable
wanderer from the west, is distant about 500 yards North-North-West, from
a solitary patch of low red cliffs, the first of this formation that
present themselves south of Foul Point.
Extensive flats fronting the coast to the southward, almost connect it at
low-water with Valentine Island, which we reached at two P.M., just on
the top of high-water, and shortly afterwards grounded the boats in a
small bay to the westward. The greatest extent of Valentine Island is
three-quarters of a mile in an East by South direction: either extremity
is formed by high cliffs, a low valley intervening.
NATIVE FIRE AND FOOD.
On landing we found a fire still burning, near the beach, and beside it a
bundle of the bark of the papyrus tree, in which were carefully packed a
quantity of ground nuts, they were each about three-quarters of an inch
long, and in shape not unlike a kidney potato;* it seemed clear, judging
from the native value of the commodities thus rashly abandoned, that our
arrival had rather taken by surprise these untutored children of the
wilderness: we saw nothing of them till we had reembarked, when (four or
five only in number) they returned to the beach; and we could perceive
that our foot tracks, upon which they appeared to hold an animated
debate, had, to say the least, mightily puzzled them. I ascended the
highest point of the island in the afternoon, and from thence looked over
several miles of densely wooded country, but offering no appearance of
land to the eastward of South-South-East. We gazed with indescribable
delight upon the wide expanse of open water which lay before us in that
direction, and already anticipated the discovery of some vast inlet,
terminating in the mouth of a magnificent river, upon the exploration of
which our imagination was already busily engaged; nor for the moment did
the thought, or rather the recollection of the fact, that Captain King
had seen land (by refraction) in that quarter, serve to damp our ardour.
When it made its way, and perseveringly insisted upon engaging a certain
share of my attention, its presence only added an additional motive to my
previous determination to set the question at rest by personal
examination, and in the interim, to look immediately before sunrise (when
the atmosphere within the tropics is always clear) for the very sight I
should have been most disappointed to have beheld. During the afternoon I
shot over the island, and enjoyed some very fair sport; especially with
the pheasant-cuckoo,** and quail, large and small, which were numerous:
several birds not unlike the so-called crow of the Swan River colonists
were seen. We found no fresh water, but in addition to the abundance of
game, the presence of the natives, proves the island to be not wholly
destitute of this first requisite of life. The thermometer at 3 P.M., was
100 degrees in the shade, while the unnatural calm that reigned around
gave the experienced seaman plain warning of some disturbance at hand.
(*Footnote. This esculent appeared to resemble the warran, or yam, used
for food by the native inhabitants north of Swan River.)
(**Footnote. Centropus phasianellus. Gould.)
A HEAVY SQUALL.
Just before sunset these anxious anticipations proved correct: a mass of
broad edged white clouds rose rapidly in the east, and spread over the
till then unbroken blue of the vast vault above; among or rather behind
the interstices of these clouds, the lightning quivered and flashed
fearfully and fitfully, gleaming with a terrible distinctness in the
fading light of expiring day! Anon, darker and more ominous clouds
succeeded to the first, and quickly uniting seemed to span all heaven
with a frowning arch, that came rapidly onwards upon the wings of the
now-rising tempest. It was some time ere its approach either attracted
the attention or disturbed the boisterous mirth of the boats' crews, who,
with the enviable philosophy of their class, were gaily laughing over the
incidents of the day. I had just secured a good latitude by Canopus, when
the squall burst upon us from East-South-East, it blew very hard indeed
for about an hour, veering round to, and terminating at, North-East, and
then all was calm again; partaking of the general characteristics of
previous visitations of the same kind, to which we have been subject
since our arrival upon this coast, it lasted for a much less time, as
hitherto their average duration had been about three hours. It brought
the thermometer down to 80 degrees. All was quiet by midnight, and
undisturbed by the past we finished the night in peace. Daybreak found us
at the eastern end of the island, from which point we observed a low
strip of land bearing east about 16 miles distant; a fact which
re-establishes Captain King's authority, against Mr. Earle's
contradiction.* This confirmation of that distinguished and able
navigator, in some degree reconciled me to the unpropitious discovery,
that the shores of this great sheet of water were visibly beginning to
(*Footnote. Vide Earle's Eastern Seas page 451.)
During our walk we noticed the wild oat in great abundance. This valuable
species of corn is then indigenous to this part of the world. Ere long,
perhaps, the time will arrive when upon the coast, where now in native
negligence it springs and dies, it may spread the white and glistening
garment of cultivation--testify the existence--and promote the comfort of
social life. The same seed was found near Hanover Bay, by Lieutenants
Grey and Lushington, and throve exceedingly well in the soft and
luxurious climate of the ever-verdant Mauritius. Leaving some presents in
a conspicuous situation for the present rightful possessors of the
island, whose temporary shelter we had obtained, we hastened back to the
boats, and stood away to the eastward for the low land seen from the
island, and crossed various narrow sandy ridges, nearly dry at low-water,
and generally trending North and South, showing the direction of the
stream by which they were formed, and at distances of 5, 7, 9, and 12
miles, in an East by South direction from Valentine Island; the soundings
between them averaged from 7 to 9 fathoms. A favouring breeze from the
south helped us halfway across to the point, from whence I hoped and
believed we should hereafter date the first great event of the voyage;
and then dying away, compelled us to take to the oars, with the
thermometer at 110 degrees in the shade.
INDICATIONS OF A RIVER.
As we proceeded, several circumstances concurred to satisfy me that we
were at length really approaching the mouth of a considerable river;
large trees drifted past us with the ebbing tide, while each cast of the
lead proved that we were gradually, though nearing the land, deepening
Fortune too seemed now resolved to favour us, the deep channel most
opportunely lying along the eastern shore, which we reached soon after
noon, and landed on the only beach of sand hereabouts left uncovered at
high-water. Here, for better security against the squalls we had
experienced for the last two nights, we hauled up the boats. A name was
soon found for our new territory, upon which we with rueful unanimity
conferred that of Point Torment, from the incessant and vindictive
attacks of swarms of mosquitoes, by whom it had evidently been resolved
to give the newcomers a warm welcome. The greater part of Point Torment
is deeply intersected with deep narrow creeks, and is almost entirely
flooded at high-water: it extends low and swampy for nearly three miles
in breadth, and then rises gradually, the slope being well wooded with
the white Eucalypti. Here also I remarked the gouty-stem tree, figured by
Captain Grey, and described by Captain King, as of the Nat. Ord.
Capparides, and thought to be a Capparis; it also bears a resemblance to
the Adansonia described in Captain Tuckey's Congo. This was but a small
specimen in fruit, of which the following brief description may convey a
tolerably clear idea. In shape it something resembled the coconut, with a
gourd-like outside, of a brown and yellow colour. Its length was five
inches, and diameter three. The shell was exceedingly thin, and when
opened it was found to be full of seeds, imbedded in a whitish pulp, and
of a not ungrateful taste.
This place, latitude 17 degrees 5 minutes South, may be considered the
limit of its growth in that direction, and the Victoria River, of which I
shall have occasion to speak hereafter, in latitude 14 degrees 55
minutes, the northern boundary of its indigenous empire.
We saw no traces of inhabitants, not even the thin rising smoke, which so
often greeted our eyes near the coast we had recently surveyed. I climbed
the highest tree we could find, and from the elevation it afforded looked
southwards over a wide prospect of nothing but mangroves and mudbanks;
still interesting from the fact that upon them the wondering gaze of the
curious European had never yet been bent!
Procuring the necessary observations completed the duties of the day;
but, alas! the sleep all could have enjoyed so much after our work, was
rendered impossible by the swarms of mosquitoes, who at sunset relieved
those of their tribe upon whom the day duty had devolved, and commenced a
most unsparing attack upon us: all devices to escape them were tried in
vain, and some of the men were really half mad with the insufferable
annoyance: at last, about eight o'clock, when all patience seemed
exhausted, a welcome peal of thunder, and bright flashes of lightning
announced the expected and much desired squall. It served to blow away
some of our persecutors; but our rest was of very short duration, and I
was at length compelled to order the people to take to the boats, fairly
driven from the shore by our diminutive but invincible assailants. The
tide set past the boats at the rate of four knots per hour, and it fell
33 feet, being 6 feet more than we had as yet found it. The only rock
seen here was a block, visible at low-water; it was a conglomerate, and
the most southerly formation of the kind we met with.
The daylight found us all anxiously speculating upon the probable results
to be accomplished before the darkness once more closed in upon us, but
the morning being perfectly calm, we were compelled to wait till the
flood-tide made: this soon took us past an island four miles from the
eastern shore, seen the evening before, and which now proved to be a
narrow strip, covered with the never-failing mangrove; and having two
smaller islands, nearly identical in character, lying two miles south of
it. We passed them at noon, and saw the land to the westward, our
position being then 20 miles south of Point Torment. The water had
shoaled in several places during the passage to less than a fathom
(low-water); but the tide hemmed in by the contraction of this great
inlet (the left shore of which gradually trending to the eastward, here
approached to within six miles of the opposite coast) still hurried us on
with a rapidity agreeable enough but not quite free from danger, towards
what appeared to be the mouth of a large river. If our exultation had
been great in the morning, when such success as this was only half
anticipated, what was it at that exciting moment when the eventful hour
which should give us the triumph of such a discovery as that we now
fairly anticipated, seemed within our grasp? I cannot answer for others,
but for myself I had never known a sensation of greater delight. Doubt,
disappointment, difficulty, and danger; all, all were unheeded or
forgotten in the one proud thought that for us was reserved an enterprise
the ultimate results of which might in some future year affect the
interests of a great portion of the world! Presently, as if to recall to
their routine of duty, these upward-springing thoughts, the boats were
found to be rapidly carried by the stream towards an extensive flat,
which appeared to extend right across the opening towards which all eyes
had been turned with so much eagerness, and over which the tide was
boiling and whirling with great force. To attempt to cross would have
been madness; there was nothing, therefore, to be done but patiently
await the rising of the tide.
The nearest land, a mangrove point bearing South-South-East one mile, we
afterwards named Escape Point, in grateful memory of the providential
escapes we experienced in its vicinity. Where the boats were anchored we
had nearly five feet at low-water, and the tide ran past them at the rate
of five miles an hour. As soon as possible we again started, in a south
by west direction, and proceeded for about five miles, when the boats
were anchored, near the western shore, which we proposed to visit at
low-water. From the yawl's masthead I traced the shore all round, except
to the south-east, where I could see an opening about a mile wide. The
western land was slightly elevated, perhaps to 70 feet, and clothed with
rather large trees, while to the eastward the land appeared very low. As
the tide ebbed, we found, to our disappointment and mortification, that
the flat over which we reckoned to secure a passage to the mainland,
never became quite dry (the tide here falling only 18 feet) while from
its soft and treacherous character, it was impossible to cross it on
MOUTH OF THE FITZROY.
All doubt about our being in the mouth of a river was put an end to by
finding that, during the last of the ebb, the water was nearly fresh.
This discovery was hailed by us all with a pleasure which persons only
familiar with the well-watered and verdant fields of England cannot fully
Our success afforded me a welcome opportunity of testifying to Captain
Fitzroy my grateful recollection of his personal kindness; and I
determined, with Captain Wickham's permission, to call this new river
after his name, thus perpetuating, by the most durable of monuments, the
services and the career of one, in whom, with rare and enviable
prodigality, are mingled the daring of the seaman, the accomplishments of
the student, and the graces of the Christian--of whose calm fortitude in
the hour of impending danger, or whose habitual carefulness for the
interests of all under his command, if I forbear to speak, I am silent
because, while I recognise their existence, and perceive how much they
exalt the character they adorn, I feel, too, that they have elevated it
above, either the need, or the reach of any eulogy within my power to
I felt pretty confident that the first rush of the tide upon its reflux
would be violent, and had made preparation accordingly. In the first
watch these anticipations were realized, and I was roused from a
momentary doze by a loud roaring, which I at once recognized to be the
voice of thunder, heralding the advancing tide.
The night was pitch dark, and though I instinctively turned my eyes
towards the offing, I could see nothing, but as each anxious moment
passed away, the fearful voice of the waters sounded nearer and nearer,
and within less time than I have occupied in the narration, the full
force of the rush of tide coming on like a wall, several feet high, and
bringing our anchor away with it, was upon us. The cable thus slackened,
the yawl sheered, and was thrown violently upon her broadside in the
midst of it, and had it not been for the shores lashed to each mast, she
must inevitably have capsized. The whaleboat fared better; being lighter
she was the sooner afloat, and besides her buoyant bow was the better
able to receive and resist the shock. When the tide slacked we returned
to the deep water off Escape Point, and spent the remainder of the night
in quiet, I would fain hope, so far as most of us were concerned, not
without a thankful remembrance of Him, whose merciful providence had been
so recently manifested in our behalf!
ASCENT OF THE FITZROY.
Leaving Mr. Tarrant in charge of the yawl, I proceeded with Mr. Helpman
to trace the river, immediately after daylight. Against the last of the
ebb tide, and with the thermometer at 80 degrees, we contrived to reach a
spot two miles beyond Point Escape before noon. From Point Escape
upwards, there appeared to be, at low-water, no regular channel; the bed
of the river assumed the aspect of an extensive flat of mud, intersected
with small rivulets or streams that served to drain it. No signs of human
habitation were seen along its banks, which divided by numerous small
creeks, and thickly fringed with the unfailing mangrove, stretched away
in level and drear monotony, only broken towards the west by land of
inconsiderable elevation. The circling flight of the ever-wary curlew,
and the shrill cry of the plover, now first disturbed in their accustomed
territory, alone vouched for the presence of animal life in that vast
solitude, the effect of which they heightened, rather than removed!
RETURN ON FOOT.
Finding the further ascent almost if not altogether impracticable at the
present state of the tide, I ordered the boat back to Point Escape, and
landed, accompanied by Mr. Helpman, and a seaman, intending to return on
The shore was a soft mud, in which the small mangroves had found a most
congenial soil: while our journey every now and then, arrested by the
intervention of one or other of the numerous little creeks of which I
have before spoken, promised to prove a more fatiguing, if not more
hazardous affair, than we had originally contemplated.
We managed at first, by ascending their banks for a short distance from
the river, to jump across these opposing creeks, but as the tide rose,
they filled and widened in proportion, and each moment increased the
difficulties of our position, now heightened by the untoward discovery
that William Ask, the seaman who had accompanied us, was unable to swim!
Time and tide, however, wait for no man, and the rapidly rising waters
had flooded the whole of the low land which formed this bank of the
river, so that we were compelled to wade, feeling with a stick for the
edges of the creeks in our route, over each of which Mr. Helpman and
myself had alternately to swim in order to pass the arms undamaged; and
then Ask, making the best jump that he could muster for the occasion, was
dragged ashore on the opposite side. At length we reached a creek, the
breadth of which rendered this mode of proceeding no longer practicable,
and we were compelled to stop, being fortunately very near the point
where I had directed the boat to meet us. Our situation was now anything
but pleasant, the water being already above our knees, and the tide
having still several hours to rise; while the mangrove trees by which we
were surrounded, were all too slender to afford the least support.
In this state of affairs, leaving Mr. Helpman with Ask--who had secured a
piece of drift timber as a last resource--I made my way to the edge of
the shore, only to find that the boat, unable to stem the current, had
anchored some distance above us! Mr. Helpman and myself might have
reached her by swimming; but even could I have easily reconciled myself
to part with our arms and instruments, at any rate to abandon poor Ask in
the dilemma into which I had brought him was not to be thought of. By
repeated discharges of my gun I at last succeeded in attracting the
attention of the boat's crew, who made an immediate and desperate effort
to come to our assistance: while their strength lasted they just
contrived to hold their own against the tide, then, drifting astern, were
again compelled to anchor. The attempt was renewed, when an equally
desperate struggle was followed by just as fruitless a result: the force
of the stream was clearly more than they could overcome, and an
intervening bank precluded any attempt to creep up to us along the shore.
Most anxiously did I watch the water as it changed its upward level
almost with the rapidity of an inch a minute, being in doubt whether it
would rise above our heads, ere it afforded a sufficient depth to carry
the boat over the intervening bank, and bring us the only assistance that
would afford a chance for our lives. I breathed a short, but most fervent
prayer to Him, in whose hands are the issues of life and death, and
turned back to cheer my comrades with the chance of rescue.
AND PROVIDENTIAL ESCAPE.
Nor shall I ever forget the expression of thankfulness and gratitude
which lit up the face of poor Ask, as the whispers of hope were confirmed
by the welcome advance of the whaleboat's bows through the almost
submerged mangroves, just as the water had topped our shoulders; and,
therefore, barely in time to confirm upon this locality its former title
of Point Escape!
We now pulled down to this last-named point, and waited for the tide to
fall, in order to obtain the necessary observations for determining its
position: those for latitude, taken in the early part of the night, gave
a result (worked on the spot) of 17 degrees 24 1/2 minutes South; being
an increase in latitude of 35 miles from the present position of the
Having now but two days' provisions remaining, I determined on completing
the survey of the western shore, south of Valentine Island, and then to
return and report our discovery, knowing that Captain Wickham would do
all in his power to prosecute it to the utmost.
RETURN TO THE SHIP.
These plans were accordingly carried into effect, and we returned to the
ship on the morning of the 3rd of March. We found all well on board, with
the exception of poor Mr. Usborne, whom we were delighted to see so far
recovered. One sentiment of satisfaction pervaded the whole ship's
company, when informed of our success; and, as I had anticipated, Captain
Wickham at once determined upon further exploring our new discovery in
lighter boats, first placing the ship as near the mouth of it as
practicable. During the squall, on the first night of our absence, the
ship parted her cable, and was nearly on the rocks.
Our sportsmen had been actively and successfully employed during our
absence, having shot a great number of quail; they had seen two emus, and
Messrs. Bynoe and Dring had obtained several
specimens of rare birds, all of which are now figured by Mr. Gould in his
Birds of Australia. A few natives had also been seen, but they were too
wary to permit any intercourse with them.
This was Sunday, and no imperative necessity hindered our making it a day
of rest. Various necessary observations occupied the greater part of
Monday; and, on the day following, the ship was moved, under my guidance,
to an anchorage, in 5 fathoms (low-water) 2 1/2 miles west from Point
CHAPTER 1.7. THE FITZROY RIVER TO PORT GEORGE THE FOURTH, AND RETURN TO
Examination of the Fitzroy River.
Excursion into the interior.
Alarm of the Natives.
Ascent of the River.
Sufferings from Mosquitoes.
Natives again surprised.
Appearance of the Country.
Impediments in the River.
Return of the boats.
Narrow escape of an Officer.
Change of Landscape.
A new Vine.
Explore the eastern shore of King's Sound.
Group of Islands.
Sterile aspect of the Coast.
Visited by a Native.
Native Hut and Raft.
Return to Port Usborne.
Result of Explorations in King's Sound.
Interview with Natives.
Discover Beagle Bank.
Arrival at Port George the Fourth.
Examination of Collier Bay in the boats.
The Slate Islands.
An Eagle shot.
Its singular nest.
Mouth of the Glenelg.
Fertile Country near Brecknock Harbour.
Return to the Ship.
Meet with Lieutenant Grey.
His sufferings and discoveries.
Visit the Encampment.
Embarkation of Lieutenant Grey's Party.
Sail from Port George the Fourth.
Remarks on position of Tryal Rock.
Anecdotes of Miago.
Arrival at Swan River.
Directions for entering Owen's Anchorage.
March 7, 1838.
We spent the morning in making the necessary preparations, and in the
afternoon started to resume our examination of Fitzroy River. Captain
Wickham and Lieutenant Eden in the gig, and myself, accompanied by Mr.
Tarrant, in one of the whaleboats; we reached the mangrove isles at
sunset, and spent the night between them and the eastern shore. On the
8th the tide suited us but badly, and we were only able to proceed about
four miles beyond Escape Point, where we secured the boats in a creek out
of the influence of the tide. We found much less water off Escape Point
than on our former visit.
EXCURSION INTO THE INTERIOR.
In the evening we made an excursion into the interior. It was one vast
unbroken level, covered with a strong and wiry grass, intersected with
numerous watercourses, which the tide filled at high-water, there were
also indications of more important, but less regular, visits from the
sea. Here and there a solitary tree assisted us in estimating the
distance we had walked. We saw two emus in this plain, which appeared
also a favourite resort of quail and a bronze-winged pigeon. We could not
get within shot of the wary emus, but the quail and pigeons afforded us
good sport, notwithstanding the ceaseless attacks of the mosquitoes,
which swarmed in the long grass, and defied anything less impenetrable
than Mackintosh leggings, encumbrances not desirable for a pedestrian
with the thermometer at 87 degrees, particularly when worn over a pair of
Flushing trousers. Thus defended, I could, in some degree, defy these
tormenting assailants, and at night, under the additional security
afforded by a large painted coat, contrived to secure two or three hours
of unbroken rest--a luxury few of my companions enjoyed.
It was with much disappointment that we found the channel occupied, at
low-water, by a mere rivulet, draining the extensive mud flats then left
uncovered. Hope, however, though somewhat sobered, was not altogether
destroyed by this malapropos discovery, and we still looked forward with
an interest but little abated, to the results of a complete survey of our
We moved on when the tide served, keeping close to the eastern bank of
the river, where there appeared at low-water, the largest stream, then
barely two feet deep. Following the sinuosity of the shore, our general
direction was south, and after we had thus proceeded two miles, we found
the width of the river suddenly contract from three miles to one. The
banks were low and covered with a coarse grass.
Here we saw three natives, stretching their long spare bodies over the
bank, watching the leading boat with the fixed gaze of apparent terror
and anxiety. Sso rivetted was their attention, that they allowed my boat
to approach unnoticed within a very short distance of them; but when they
suddenly caught sight of it, they gave a yell of mingled astonishment and
alarm, and flinging themselves back into the long grass, were almost
instantly out of sight. They were evidently greatly alarmed, and as
Miago, whose presence might have given them confidence, was not with us,
it seemed hopeless to attempt any communication with them, much as we
should have liked to convince them, that these strange white creatures
were of a race of beings formed like themselves, though even of our
existence they could have had no previous idea.
EXPLORATION OF THE RIVER.
Six miles from our last night's bivouac, still keeping our southerly
direction, brought us to some low, grassy islets, extending almost across
the river, and leaving only confined and shallow channels; through one of
which we had, at half tide, some difficulty in finding a passage for the
boats. The river now widened out a little, and we found the deep water
near the western bank, the appearance of the country remaining unaltered.
We landed to pass the night at a rocky point on the east side of the
river, one mile south from the most western islet of the chain just
described as almost preventing our ascent. The depth of the river at this
point was about twelve feet at low-water; and its breadth some four or
five hundred yards. We found the water fresh at all times of tide, which
here rose only eight feet; being ten feet less than its greatest rise
eight miles nearer the mouth, where the time of high-water at the full
and change of the moon occurs at 4 hours 10 minutes P.M.
This was the first rock formation we had noticed since leaving Point
Torment, a distance of nearly thirty miles; it was a very fine-grained
red sandstone, darkened and rendered heavy by the presence of ferruginous
particles. The appearance of the country now began to improve, the
eastern bank was thickly wooded, and a mile higher up, the western
appeared clothed in verdure. I noticed here the same kind of tree, seen
for the first time behind our last night's bivouac; it was small and
shrubby-looking, with a rough bark, not unlike that of the common elm,
and its little pointed leaf, of a deep, dark green, contrasted with the
evergreen Eucalypti by which it was surrounded, reminded me of the
various tints that give the charm of constant variety to our English
woods, and lend to each succeeding season a distinctive and
(*Footnote. The diameter of the largest tree of this kind was only eight
inches: it was exceedingly hard, and of a very dark red colour, except a
white rim about an inch in thickness. This wood worked and looked the
best, in a table I had made out of various specimens of woods collected
on the North-west coast of Australia.)
SUFFERINGS FROM MOSQUITOES.
I must be pardoned for again alluding to our old enemies the mosquitoes,
but the reception they gave us this night is too deeply engraven on my
memory to be ever quite forgotten.
NIGHT OF TORMENT.
They swarmed around us, and by the light of the fire, the blanket bags in
which the men sought to protect themselves, seemed literally black with
their crawling and stinging persecutors. Woe to the unhappy wretch who
had left unclosed the least hole in his bag; the persevering mosquitoes
surely found it out, and as surely drove the luckless occupant out of his
retreat. I noticed one man dressed as if in the frozen north, hold his
bag over the fire till it was quite full of smoke, and then get into it,
a companion securing the mouth over his head at the apparent risk of
suffocation; he obtained three hours of what he gratefully termed
comfortable sleep, but when he emerged from his shelter, where he had
been stewed up with the thermometer at 87 degrees, his appearance may be
Our hands were in constant requisition to keep the tormentors from the
face and ears, which often received a hearty whack, aimed in the
fruitless irritation of the moment at our assailants, and which sometimes
ended in adding headache to the list of annoyances. Strike as you please,
the ceaseless humming of the invincible mosquito close to your ear seems
to mock his unhappy victim!
One poor fellow, whose patience was quite exhausted, fairly jumped into
the river to escape further persecution.
We had the wind from South-West to South-East during the afternoon, but
at 6 P.M. it veered round to North-North-West.
While getting the observations for time and latitude, some of us were
compelled to remain quiet, an opportunity our tiny assailants instantly
availed themselves of, covering our faces and hands. To listen quietly to
their hum, and feel their long stings darting into your flesh, might put
the patience of Job himself to a severe trial.
ASCENT OF THE FITZROY.
After such a night of torment, we hailed the morning with delight; and
having partaken of an early breakfast, proceeded on our interesting
discovery. The first reach took us more than a mile, in a South-West by
West direction, the width of it being towards the latter end nearly a
quarter of a mile; the deepest water (from seven to eight feet) was on
the west side, and a dry flat of sand fronted the other for some
distance. The course of the river now changed, first to South-East then
round to West-North-West enclosing a mile of ground. We had great
difficulty, owing to the water being very shoal, in getting our boats
through the next reach, which was rather more than a mile in a West by
South direction. After threading our way through three more reaches,
trending South-South-West--South-West, and South and from half to one
mile in length, the shades of evening and fatigue attending a long and
unsatisfactory day's work, warned us that it was time to seek a
resting-place for the night, although we had but little hopes of
obtaining any. We had made good but six miles during the day in a general
South-West by West direction. Our progress being delayed by the
difficulty we had in getting the boats over the shallows, and by a
current running at the rate of from one to two miles an hour.
The depth of the river varied during the day from one to fourteen feet,
and its width from three to five hundred yards. In the deep reaches were
the wrecks of large trees, rearing their decayed heads, in evidence of
the resistless fury of the torrent that had torn them from their roots,
during some vast inundation, traces of which still remain on the banks,
many feet above the present level of the river.
The general aspect of the country had improved, and the eastern bank
reached an elevation of 20 feet; it was covered with long, green grass,
and thickly wooded with a luxuriant growth of the white eucalyptus, while
the almost total absence of every appearance of animal life, impressed an
air of solemn tranquillity upon the whole scene. Perhaps it was from
there being little to admire in the surrounding scenery that we were so
much struck with the beauty of the western sky, as its gilded clouds
marked the departure of the great ruler of the day. It was scarcely
possible to behold a more splendid sunset; but with us, after another
sleepless night, his rise, as he tinged the eastern sky, was hailed with
even greater delight.
At daylight I climbed the highest tree I could find on the eastern bank
of the river, in order to get a peep at the surrounding country. The
prospect, however, was but limited. The landscape presented to my view,
was an almost uninterrupted level; open woodlands, with here and there a
few grassy spots, were its prevailing features. I could see nothing of
the river itself beyond the reach in which the boats were lying; its
upper extremity bore South by West and was about half a mile from our
halting place. I made a discovery in climbing this tree, which I hoped to
make available in our farther ascent of the Fitzroy, should we be so
fortunate as to accomplish its further exploration, or in any similar
circumstances during our examination of these untrodden wilds. It was
this, and I mention it, as the hint may be useful to others: I found our
enemies the mosquitoes did not resort to the higher portions of the tree,
and that by climbing some thirty feet from the ground, a night's repose,
or at least a night undisturbed by their attacks might be obtained.
Hastening back to the boats, we pushed on, but were some time getting to
the end of the reach, the shallowness of the water rendering our advance
difficult and tedious; entering at length the next, which trended
South-West for about half a mile, the river gradually widened out until
it attained a breadth of about half that space. An extensive flat of sand
fronted the eastern bank, which was very low, and though now dry, bore
undoubted marks of being not unfrequently visited by floods. The western
bank of the next reach was low and broken, evidently forming a group of
low grassy islands when the river is in a higher state.
Some yellow sandstone cliffs, from ten to sixteen feet in height, formed
the opposite bank of this reach, which extended barely a quarter of a
mile, in from a South by East to a South by West direction; and varied in
width from one to two hundred yards. We now entered a lake-like reach of
the river, trending south for a mile and a quarter, having a breadth of
about a hundred yards, and a depth in many places of twelve feet; being
twice that which we had usually found in any of the lower reaches, with
scarcely any stream. Soon after entering this remarkable sheet of water,
we noticed a rock formation in its western banks; this we found to be a
coarse-grained red sandstone, with fragments of quartz, and extended for
nearly a quarter of a mile along the edge of the water. Over many parts
of it was a coating of a dark and metallic appearance, about three inches
thick; and the surface in places presented a glazed or smelted
appearance. Mr. Darwin, in his work upon volcanic islands, page 143,
alludes to this formation, under the head of "Superficial ferruginous
beds," and thus concludes his observations: "The origin of these
superficial beds, though sufficiently obscure, seems to be due to
alluvial action on detritus abounding with iron."
As we proceeded along this canal, for such was the appearance of the
reach we were now ascending, we surprised a small party of natives. They
were at the water's edge, beneath a high mound of loose white sand, over
which the children were some time in making their escape, struggling and
screaming with anxiety and fear, as they half buried themselves beneath
its treacherous surface; and sometimes, after almost gaining the summit,
sliding back again to the base. All parental care seemed for the moment
lost in the overwhelming sense of present danger, caused by the strange
and unknown spectacle thus suddenly presented to the gaze of these poor
savages. Our white faces, curious garments, moving boats, the regular
motions and unaccustomed sounds of our heavy oars, must indeed have
filled them with amazement. I have since frequently remarked, that our
oars created more wonder, or alarm, among the various tribes who first
learnt through us the existence of their white brethren, than almost any
other instrument of which they could at all understand the use; perhaps,
as they propel their frail rafts with a spear, they jumped to the
conclusion, that our oars were also immense spears, which, being their
chief weapons, must have given us a formidable appearance. We noticed,
among the trees on the banks of this natural canal, two varieties of the
palm; both kinds had been observed by Mr. Brown in the Gulf of
Carpentaria, during Captain Flinders' voyage.
At the end of this reach, which extended for a mile and a half in a
South-East by South direction, the river was scarcely 50 yards wide, and
the depth had decreased from 12 to 6 feet; the current, scarcely
perceptible in the deep water, now ran with a velocity of from one to two
miles per hour. Here, therefore, the Fitzroy may be said to assume all
the more distinctive features of an Australian river: deep reaches,
connected by shallows, and probably forming, during the droughts which
characterize Australia, an unlinked chain of ponds or lagoons; and in
places, leaving no other indication of its former existence than the
water-worn banks and deep holes, thirsty and desolate as a desert plain.
At this point, the river divided into two branches, one having an
East-South-East, and the other a South-South-East direction. Anxious to
determine, which, as the larger, best deserved our exploration, we landed
at a high grassy point on the west bank. From the top of the highest tree
in the neighbourhood, I commanded an extensive view of the wide and
far-spread landscape then first submitted to the scrutiny of a European.
Varied and undefined are the thoughts called forth at such a moment; the
past, the present, and the future, at once occupy, and almost confound
the imagination. New feelings accompany new perceptions; and gazing for
the first time upon a vast and unknown land, the mind, restless and
active, as the roving life by which it is informed, expands for the
reception of the crowding fancies, called into life as by the wand of the
After yielding for a while to the influence of the scene, I was glad to
perceive the greater magnitude of the southerly branch of the river,
which offered the most direct line into the interior. I could trace each
stream for nearly three miles, but that which trended to the east was a
mere rivulet. Both flowed through a perfectly level country. Seven miles
was about as far as the eye could reach over this wearisome-looking
level. To the westward the country was open; the trees were small, and in
clumps, with green grassy patches between; but in other directions, it
was densely wooded, and on the eastern bank the trees were large. In the
branches of the one I ascended, rushes, deposited by the current, were
found 20 feet above the present level of the stream. This part of the
country is therefore sometimes visited by heavy floods; they do not,
however, seem to depend immediately upon the quantity of rain, for while
the whole face of the landscape indicated large and recent supplies, the
river appeared little, if at all, affected by them.
Having determined to follow the larger branch of the Fitzroy, we
continued on our course, and found that beyond this point the river again
widened to nearly 200 yards; but that a chain of small islets, extending
from bank to bank, nearly stopped our proceeding further. This obstacle
was, however, overcome after some difficulty; and still proceeding
upwards another mile, we came to a narrow rapid and shallow reach, which
brought us into another still and deep, about 100 yards wide, and bounded
by high grassy banks. Through this we pursued our way right merrily,
indulging in the golden anticipation that the Fitzroy would yet convey
our boats some distance into the interior of that vast and unknown
continent, with the present condition and future destiny of which our
thoughts were so often busy.
IMPEDIMENTS IN THE RIVER.
Scarcely, however, had we made good another mile, when we found ourselves
entangled among a cluster of small islets, and sunken trees, which almost
wholly choked up the channel. The river thus pent up, ran through the
small openings in this barrier with great velocity; while above, it had
again assumed the deep still character which I have before had occasion
We had partly overcome this impediment, when Captain Wickham decided upon
giving up the attempt, and ordered the boats to return, considering the
evident risks too great to justify further perseverance. We therefore
gave up the exploration of the Fitzroy, in latitude 17 degrees 44 minutes
South, longitude 124 degrees 34 minutes East, having traced its course
for 22 miles in a general South-South-West direction, and having
penetrated 90 miles from the coastline, towards the centre of Australia,
from which we were still distant 600 miles. My view from the treetop
extended about four miles beyond the furthest point we had reached on the
river, it had been our good fortune to add to the geography of Australia.
Its banks here were 20 feet high, and covered with grass; partially
broken or washed down, they disclosed to view a rich alluvial soil,
nearly two feet deep.
The trees we found most common during our expedition into this portion of
the new lands of Australia, consisted chiefly of two species of palm, and
three of the eucalypti, stunted banksia, acacia, and the singular tree
before mentioned. The birds we saw were wholly those belonging to the
land, and were chiefly black and white cockatoos, and a variety of
finches. We neither saw nor caught any fish, and the absence of waterfowl
led us to suppose they were scarce.
RETURN OF THE BOATS.
All the excitement and interest we had enjoyed in exploring the Fitzroy
thus far, now left us, and our return was comparatively tedious and
We, however, managed to reach our last night's bivouac by dark; and
towards the close of the next day we got as far down as the outer grassy
islet in the entrance of the river. The night was stormy, but the wind
and rain together kept away the mosquitoes, and enabled us to obtain a
little most welcome rest. This change in the weather was sudden. Hitherto
we had been singularly fortunate, each succeeding night, and returning
morn being, in cleanness and beauty, only a repetition of its
The morning was again fine, and the bright sky was not disfigured by the
least trace of the dark clouds that had so lately overspread it. The tide
fortunately favoured our making an early start. On passing Escape Point,
so named, as the reader may recollect, in grateful remembrance of the
providential escape a small party of us experienced there, we saw an
alligator slide his unwieldy carcass from the soft mud-bank, upon which
he had been lazily reclining, into one of the creeks we had so much
difficulty in crossing. We could not but feel grateful that even the
existence of these monster reptiles in this river was then unknown to us,
as the bare thought of a visit from one of them would have added to the
unpleasantness of our position, while the actual presence of so wholesale
a gastronomer would perhaps have given another and less auspicious name
to Escape Point.
A creek, ten miles from Point Torment, afforded us shelter for the night,
which was again wet and squally.
At daybreak the blue vault above was still disfigured by dark inky
blotches of clouds. We reached the ship before breakfast, and found that
Mr. Helpman and Mr. Keys had ascertained that the opening on the
north-east side of Point Torment was a great bay, extending ten miles in
a south-easterly direction, with a width of the same distance: its shores
throughout were fringed with mangroves, through which the tide found its
way, inundating many miles of the interior at high-water.
In the north and south corners of the depths of this bay they found an
inlet, each being about three miles deep; narrow, sandy ridges, almost
dry at low-water, trending to the North-West, and separated by channels
from three to four fathoms, occupied the greater portion of this
extensive bay, which Captain Wickham, out of compliment, named after
Point Torment afforded a very fair field for the exertions of our
collectors in Natural History. Without wishing to bore my readers with
another long mosquito story, I think the following may be interesting.
AN OFFICER ENTANGLED IN MANGROVES.
One of the officers on a shooting excursion lost his way and got
entangled in a mangrove forest, where the ground being a soft mud,
travelling became very laborious, particularly in a temperature of 85
degrees and without water; fatigue hastened by thirst, at length quite
knocked up my shipmate, who threw himself exhausted on the ground. In
vain did he seek for a little rest, for no sooner was he quiet than
swarms of mosquitoes assailed him, and forced him again on his legs;
unwelcome as these tormenting visitors generally are, they were probably
in this case the means of saving my friend's life, as goaded on by their
unceasing attacks, to exertions otherwise out of the question, he
eventually reached assistance, and was brought on board in a most
The tide here was two hours later than at Foul Point: the greatest rise
noticed in the ship was thirty feet, which was seven feet less than we
had found it in the yawl.
We had several heavy squalls from eastward this afternoon, and during the
early part of the night, with rain and thunder.
The morning broke dull and gloomy, with a light breeze from the eastward.
There were altogether evident symptoms of a decided and immediate change
in the weather. The survey of the south-eastern portion of the sound
being now complete, the ship was taken over to the high rocky land lying
north 20 miles from Point Torment. We crossed the flat extending four
miles North-West from that point, in from two to three fathoms at
low-water; the soundings afterwards varied from nine to eleven fathoms
with a soft, muddy sand bottom. We anchored in seven fathoms low-water,
one mile and a half South-South-West from the southern of two small rocky
islets, lying 16 miles north from Point Torment and three from the rocky
shore behind them; a sandbank, dry at low-water, extended from these
islets to within half a mile of the ship.
CHANGE OF LANDSCAPE.
Our eyes were now relieved by a pleasing change of landscape; the land
had wholly changed in character from that of which we had seen so much
and grown so weary. It no longer stretched away in an illimitable and
boundless plain, but rising abruptly from the water's edge, attained an
elevation of 700 feet. The highest part of this range (afterwards named
Compass Hill) bore North by West distant four and a quarter miles. We
were all of course exceedingly anxious to visit this new land; but the
weather, strange to say, put our patience to a trial of four days, during
which it equalled in severity any we had experienced under Swan Point. It
commenced with dark masses of clouds rising in the east, which were soon
followed by a fresh breeze from the South-East with heavy rain, gradually
freshening as it came round to the westward, blowing hardest between
West-South-West and West-North-West. The barometer being out of order we
were unable to observe how this unusual change would have affected that
instrument; the thermometer, however, fell to 76 degrees, an alteration
of temperature which, combined with the dampness of the atmosphere,
exposed us to the novel sensation of cold. We noticed the time of
high-water was about fifteen minutes earlier than at Point Torment, the
flood-stream setting East-South-East and the ebb west. The former at a
rate of two miles, and the latter one mile per hour.
At length the wished for change arrived, and we again beheld this morning
the deep pure blue of a southern sky. We were all eager to commence our
exploration, and Mr. Usborne, ever anxious to be actively employed, was
so far recovered that he induced the surgeon, though reluctantly, to
allow him to again share in the duties of the survey. He was accordingly
despatched to look for a berth for the ship further to the North-West,
while Captain Wickham and myself went towards Compass Hill. We were
accompanied by Mr. Bynoe, who, during our excursion, was fortunate enough
to add several rare birds to his collection.
EXPLORATION OF THE BAY.
We landed in a small sandy bay at the western end of a growth of
mangroves, fringing the shore behind the islands. The sandbank fronting
them we found to extend to the bay we landed in; to the westward of it
there was deep water close to the shore. Wood and water might easily be
obtained in this bay, a circumstance that may give it value in the eyes
of future navigators, as it did in ours.
Before ascending the hill we crossed a flat clothed with rich grass, out
of which we flushed several Pheasant-cuckoos.* We found one of their
nests on the ground containing four eggs, in size and colour they
resembled the domestic pigeon. The nimble manner in which these birds hop
along the branches of trees, with their long tails whisking behind, give
them, at the first glance, more the appearance of monkeys than birds.
(*Footnote. Centropus Phasianellus.)
A NEW VINE.
We found here the gouty-stem tree of large size, bearing fruit; and also
a vine, which, from all the information I have since been able to
collect, appears to be quite a new specimen;* it bore a small but
well-tasted black berry, similar in shape and general appearance to the
grape sometimes seen climbing over the cottage doors in England. Each
fruit contained three large seeds, in shape and size resembling the
coffee berry. It was growing in a light sandy soil, and the temperature
to which it was exposed varies from 76 to 110 degrees. It is a matter of
great regret that I was not able to introduce this new species of vine
into England; the seeds and specimens of it having been unfortunately
destroyed by mice and insects. I was, however, more fortunate at Sydney
and Swan River.
(*Footnote. From the description I gave of this vine to Sir W. Hooker he
thought it quite new.)
We at length gained the top of Compass Hill, which we found to be a
slight mound on a platform of coarse sandstone formation, with fragments
of quartz; the sandstone was tinged with red, and appeared to be
crumbling away; a straggling growth of white eucalypti covered the crest
of this height, which rather spoilt the view we had promised ourselves;
however, by climbing several of them, I managed to see all round.
West, six and a half miles, there was a snug cove fronted by a small
island, from whence the coast appeared to take a more northerly
direction. The extremes of a large sheet of water bore North by West and
West by North, which we afterwards found to be connected with the
above-mentioned cove. A succession of heights, similar to the one we were
on, bounded our view between North and North-East. Twenty-one miles, in a
South-East by East direction, were some detached, round hills, apparently
the termination of the high land on which we stood; these appeared to
rise out of a plain of such an extent, in a South-East and easterly
direction, that I conceived it possible it may have extended to the rear
of Collier Bay, which damped the interest we had previously looked
forward to, in the exploration of that part of the coast, as it tended
materially to weaken the probability of finding any large opening there.
In crossing one of the valleys in our descent to the boats, Mr. Bynoe
wounded a large kangaroo; we gave chase; but notwithstanding all our
efforts, and at the expense of many a bruise, stumbling over the rugged
ground, the prize, almost within our grasp, escaped, and, to add to our
misfortune, one of the small compasses was found missing, the strap that
suspended it having given way; from this accident the hill received its
On our return to the ship, we found Mr. Usborne had discovered good
anchorage in the cove we had seen from the hill, which in commemoration
of his providential recovery was called after him Port Usborne.
It was a clear and beautiful morning, and the sun as it rose shed a
glittering stream of light over the placid waters of the bay, now
slightly rippled by an easterly air. All were early and busily engaged in
moving the ship into Port Usborne. On our way we crossed the inner edge
of a bank seen from Compass Hill, in three fathoms: Helpman's south islet
bore at the time east three and a half miles; after crossing this bank,
the least water we had was ten fathoms; this depth we found in passing on
the eastern side of the small, low island fronting Port Usborne. A
solitary overspreading tree, and a white patch on its eastern extremity
renders this island conspicuous, and is of this importance, that it
guides a stranger to the only safe anchorage among the islands on the
eastern shore of King's Sound. As a further guide to Port Usborne it is
situated at the southern extremity of all these islands, and where the
coast suddenly trends away to the eastward.
We were delighted to find ourselves in an anchorage almost surrounded by
land, and although the rugged sandstone ridges, with their dark,
mysterious, and densely-wooded valleys, did not give the shore a very
inviting appearance, still the very wildness of the scenery contrasted
pleasingly in our remembrance with the monotonous level of the country
about Point Torment, and on the banks of the Fitzroy. Our present
position had also its practical advantages, being well adapted for
carrying on the essential duties of the survey, for which service the
boats were prepared in the course of the afternoon.
This snug little port we found to be three-quarters of a mile broad and
one deep, and varying in depth from seven to fifteen fathoms: it faces
west, the entrance points lying nearly north and south of each other, and
affords an abundant supply of wood and water. We saw no traces of
inhabitants; not even the curling smoke that had so often indicated their
presence, greeted the eye; all was silent, and the feelings of utter
loneliness were only dispelled by the mournful screams of the curlew, and
occasional howl of the wild dog, as the deepening shadows of night closed
The boats were manned early, and we left the ship with the best wishes of
the anxious group who watched our departure, and speculated with eager
anticipation upon the probable result of our enterprise.
EASTERN SHORE OF KING'S SOUND.
Mr. Usborne proceeded in one boat to examine a group of islands, lying
six miles North-West from our anchorage; Mr. Tarrant and myself in the
other, to explore the eastern shore of King's Sound. It was thus again
our good fortune to enjoy the exciting pleasure of anticipated discovery;
perchance again to wander over the face of a country, now the desert
heritage of the solitary savage, but fated, we hope, to become the abode
of plenty, and the land of peace.
After passing the extreme North-West point of the mainland, seen from the
ship, we discovered a deep bay, which once reached, would afford safe
anchorage for a fleet. Near its northern point a large stream of water
fell into the sea in glittering cascades; off this a ship may anchor in
twelve fathoms within a quarter of a mile; close to the west is a small
sandy beach. Promising to refresh ourselves at this inviting stream, we
continued our course to the northward. After passing a deep narrow
channel, trending North-West by West we met the first rush of the
northerly, or ebb stream, which, running at the rate of six or seven
knots, swept us through a very small, dangerous opening, between some
rocky islets and the main. A small bay fortunately afforded us the means
of avoiding a treacherous ledge of sunken rocks, which had the boat
touched, at the almost giddy rapidity we were hurried along, our
destruction must have been inevitable. Landing to cook our dinners, I
went to the top of the highest neighbouring hill, to obtain a round of
angles: our journey was a perfect scramble, the face of the country being
intersected by deep ravines, and covered with huge blocks of coarse
sandstone; over these we observed several of the rock-kangaroo, bounding
with their long, bushy tails swinging high in the air as if in defiance
of pursuit. The view of the archipelago, from this position, fully
satisfied me, that without incurring great risk, it would be impossible
for a ship to thread her way through the numerous islands, independent of
shoals, tide-races, and shifting winds, which form the ordinary perils of
such navigation. I reckoned more than eighty islands in this portion of
the archipelago alone.
After dinner we proceeded, steering North-North-East, and crossed two
deep bays, the first 3 and the second 4 1/2 miles wide, both affording
good anchorage, but utterly useless from the barrier of reefs and islets
extending across their mouths. These bays and the ranges of hills we
passed, trended East-South-East. To the second and deepest we gave the
name of Cone Bay, from a singular hill of that form on its eastern shore.
The eastern entrance of a small tortuous channel afforded us a resting
place for the night, having made good 17 miles in a North-North-East
direction from the ship. The observations were made for latitude on the
south point, and gave a result of 16 degrees 24 1/2 minutes South. It was
nearly dark when we anchored, and therefore our intended attempt to gain
the summit of the neighbouring heights, was necessarily postponed till
When the first rays of the sun saw us struggling over the huge masses of
rock of which they are composed. The view itself differed but little from
that obtained yesterday, except that the islands are yet more numerous,
the mainland more frequently indented with bays varying from two to five
miles in width, and invariably trending in the same East-South-East
direction. The long and narrow islands which these bays contained
generally subsided to the South-South-West. I was fully occupied in
sketching the surrounding objects from this station, till the tide had
risen sufficient for us to pass the channel. After a late breakfast we
again bore away to the North-East under a double-reefed sail, as the sky
wore a threatening appearance. After clearing the channel we crossed a
bay about two miles wide and four deep, thickly studded with small
islands. At noon being near the north point of it, I landed in order to
secure a latitude, and at the same time a round of angles. Having the
flood tide against us, we had only made five miles in a North by East
direction from last night's bivouac.
Here for the first time since leaving the Fitzroy we saw native fires.
One of them was upon an island eight or nine miles from the main, between
which, however, a chain of smaller ones formed links of communication.
These signs of inhabitants gave us hopes of finding some improvement from
the almost utter sterility that had hitherto prevailed among these
scattered islands. We had as yet seen no traces of either canoes or
rafts, and therefore were not a little curious to see what mode of
conveyance the natives of these parts used. We soon again moved onwards
in a north by east direction, across another large bay, which, similar to
the last, contained many islets. It was with great reluctance we pursued
this northerly course, as I hoped ere this to have found an opening
leading to the coast near Collier Bay; but the result of this day's
progress fully satisfied me of the improbability of any such existing.
The north point of this bay forms a most remarkable headland, rising
abruptly from the water to an elevation of 400 feet. Its cliffy face
presented a grey and aged appearance, which together with the strange
column-shaped rocks, scattered over its level summit, gave it the
appearance of an ancient turreted fortress. Here I first noticed a change
in the strata; hitherto it had been invariably west-north-west, while
from this point, as far as our subsequent experience enabled us to
decide, it was west. I may be pardoned for noticing by way of a momentary
digression that all the rocks hitherto seen on this part of the coast
precisely resemble the group forming the western side of Sunday Strait;
the inclination and direction of the strata are identical; while an
examination of all the high rocky portions of this archipelago will
satisfy the geologist that they belong to the same age of the world. The
history of these coral reefs and islands, which have already attained
something like a majority (if I may use the expression) may be read, at
least it is apparently clearly written in the rising banks around, which
are just struggling with the tide before they lift themselves forever
beyond its reach. As they rise, the mangrove, the pioneer of such
fertility as the sea deposits, hastens to maturity, clothing them with
its mantle of never-fading green, and thus bestowing on these barren
reefs the presence of vegetable life.
Our course now lay along the western foot of the curious headland just
described, a rapid tide soon hurried us past its frowning shadows into a
very winding channel scarcely half a mile wide, and more than 20 fathoms
deep; in this we experienced violent whirlpools, the first of which, from
want of experience, handled us very roughly, suddenly wrenching the oars
out of the men's hands, and whirling the boat round with alarming
rapidity; after several round turns of this kind we shot out of the
channel (which from the above circumstance we called Whirlpool Channel)
into a bay about three miles wide, trending east; at the head of it were
some snug coves, the shores of which were clothed with long rich grass
and clumps of palm trees, thus realizing the hopes we had entertained of
finding a more fertile country on first observing signs of inhabitants.
We would fain have occupied one of these beautiful coves for the night,
but as there was still two hours' daylight, we pushed on across the bay
for a group of islands three miles further in a north-north-east
direction. We obtained snug quarters for the night in a little sandy
cove, between the largest of this small cluster of isles which we found
to differ totally in shape and character from any yet seen; they trended
North-North-West in narrow ridges, and were of a grey slate formation,
their eastern sides formed steep precipices, while the western subsided
to the water in rich grassy slopes, leaving quite a serrated ridge on
We managed to reach the most elevated part of the highest island, by
crawling along its ridge on our hands and knees. From this station I
recognized the islands to the North-West to be those forming the eastern
shore of Sunday Strait, and from the westerly trend of some larger ones
bearing North-East about eight miles, I rightly supposed them to be the
same Captain King had laid down off that part of the coast, where it
trends away to the eastward into Collier Bay; the largest of these I in
consequence named Bathurst Island, after his vessel. We were glad to find
the islands becoming less numerous, and a prospect of at last making our
way to the eastward. We just finished our observations, as the sun's
bright orb touched the distant horizon, and ere we reached the boat, the
last vestige of day had taken its silent flight. Our present position in
this network of islands, will be better described by giving it in
latitude and longitude, which we found to be 16 degrees 12 minutes South
and 123 degrees 32 minutes East. We had as usual a fine night with a
light East-South-East breeze, which had succeeded a strong one from
South-East during the day.
Daylight found us running before a fresh breeze from the South-East in a
North-North-East direction; crossing the mouths of small bays, four miles
brought us to the North-West extreme of the mainland, the shores of which
we followed for two miles in a East-North-East and one in an East half
South direction, when we came to a small sandy bay where we landed to
search in a promising ravine for water; this we had the good fortune to
find almost immediately; whilst the breakers were filling, Mr. Tarrant
and myself ascended a hill near, for a few angles.
APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY.
The country again presented a barren appearance, large masses of coarse
sandstone lay scattered over the face of it; a wiry grass, with a few
stunted gum-trees growing in the ravines, were all the vegetation this
point boasted of, and from what we saw of the interior, it appeared
scarcely more inviting. The sterility however which apparently prevailed
over this part of Australia, could not obliterate those feelings of deep
interest, which must pervade everyone, as the eye wanders for the first
time over a country hitherto unknown.
VISITED BY A NATIVE.
We had just completed our surveying operations, when two of the boat's
crew came to report a visit from one of the natives, and concluding
others were at hand, hastened up to strengthen our party; they said their
sable visitor came to them without any enticing, no offers of red or blue
handkerchiefs, or some gaudy bauble that seldom fails to catch the eye of
a savage--and without the slightest indication of fear. We hurried down
to see this marvellously confiding native, who we found coming up the
hill; he met us with all the confidence of an old acquaintance. His first
act of civility, was to show Mr. Tarrant and myself an easy road to the
beach; and I shall never forget as he preceded us, or rather walked by
our side, yielding the path, with natural politeness, to those he seemed
to regard as his guests, how wonderful was the agility he displayed in
passing over the rocks; sometimes coming down the face of one almost
precipitous, without the least apparent effort. When I pointed to the
fresh water, he said slowly and distinctly, "Yampee, Yampee." In height
he was about 5 feet 8 inches, his hair bore no symptoms of being tied up
behind (a custom we always before noticed) his teeth were also perfect,
and though his brow had the distinctive peculiarity of the people of this
continent, his forehead was remarkably high, his perception was very
quick, his utterance gentle and slow, both in articulation and by signs
(not flinging his arms about in the windmill-like fashion customary with
those we had before seen) his manner of conversation afforded a most
pleasing contrast to that of the natives hitherto seen, and altogether I
was exceedingly prepossessed in his favour. We very much regretted that
we were not better provided with presents for him: particularly as it
seldom happened that I was without a supply, for such occasions; in this
case, however, all I could give him consisted of a few beads, and some
biscuit which he devoured most readily. Nor ought the perfect confidence
this man manifested, in thus trusting himself alone and unarmed, among
such extraordinary strangers, to be passed over unnoticed: it commanded
respect from us all. His conduct too was in the same spirit when we
parted from him, though then I admit it almost as much disappointed as
astonished me: when the boat left the shore, he turned to ascend the
beach, and without once looking back, walked as unconcernedly and
listlessly away, as though such things were to him everyday sights.
This want of curiosity is a very singular and I believe an almost
distinctive feature in the character of the native Australian. Among all
other savages of whom I have read, or among whom I have had any
opportunity of judging for myself, except the inhabitants of Tierra del
Fuego, a perpetual and never satisfied curiosity seems to be the leading
habit of their minds: here, however, wonder is rarely expressed,
curiosity seldom apparent--yet their indifference is not stupidity, or
their simplicity cunning.
We had now been sufficiently long in Australia to know the value of a
stream of water, and therefore always felt the necessity of
particularizing the locality of any we had the good fortune to find; from
this one the extremes of Bathurst Island bore North-West and North-East.
We now pulled for the opening on the east side of Bathurst Island, but
finding the flood-tide setting so strong through it from the northward, I
found it would be a waste of time to contend with it, and therefore
proceeded to a hill on the east end of Bathurst Island. A large flock of
white cockatoos screamed violently, as if wishing to dispute our landing,
and it was not till their numbers had been thinned, of which our evening
meal felt the benefit, that we could get any peace. We reached the summit
of the island by following up a ravine, which formed the only break in
the cliffs that faced the South-East side of the island. There was a
thick growth of red gums and the papyrus, on its sides, and near the
summit we found rocks containing iron; a vein of the same vitrified
matter I have described as seen at Swan Point, separated it from the
prevailing rock of the island, which was composed of sandstone and
fragments of quartz. The rocks containing metal had a strange appearance,
being heaped together in the form of a whirlpool; the ground beneath
appeared quite hollow. Our view was very commanding, and fully repaid us
for the scramble up; there was a clear sea to the North-East, and bearing
East-South-East were some small islands, which I afterwards found to be
situated near the depth of Collier Bay. The Macleay Isles of Captain King
bore North-North-East about six miles: between the latter and a group
farther west, there was a clear wide channel, which appeared to lead
between the island we were on and the next to the westward. As this was
the first part of the coast, since leaving Port Usborne, that a sailing
vessel could approach without great risk, we proceeded to examine that
channel more minutely, and were sorry to find the extensive coral reefs
which fronted the islands, left a space of only half a mile between; a
black pointed rock ten feet above high-water, marks the edge of the
western reef, where it is covered by the tide; keeping this close on the
starboard hand, will conduct a ship into good anchorage in 13 and 15
fathoms. The rise and fall of the tide at this place, we found to be 22
As we required another station on the west end of Bathurst Island, I
arranged that we should pass the night in a small cove near its
south-eastern extreme; here we found several native habitations of a
totally different and very superior description to any we had hitherto
seen in any part of Australia; they bore a marked resemblance to those I
had seen on the South-East coast of Tierra del Fuego, which was so
striking as to be remarked even by some of the boat's crew, who had
belonged to the Beagle in her wanderings on that stormy coast.
Stout poles from 14 to 16 feet high formed the framework of these snug
huts--for so indeed they deserve to be termed--these were brought
together conically at the roof; a stout thatching of dried grass
completely excluded both wind and rain, and seemed to bespeak the
existence of a climate at times much more severe than a latitude of 16
degrees 6 minutes south, would lead one to anticipate. The remains of
small fires, a well greased bark pillow, a head ornament of seabird's
feathers, together with several other trifling articles, strewn upon the
floors of these wigwams, proved that they had been very recently
But perhaps the most interesting discovery in this bay, was a native
raft, which we found near the beach, in such a position as must have
required the exertions of several men to have placed it there; being
heavier than either of our boats.
In the construction of this raft, almost everything had been left to
nature. It was framed of the dead trunk of a mangrove tree, with three
distinct stems growing from one root, about 18 feet long, and 4 1/2
broad. The roots at one end closely entwined, as is the habit of the
tree, formed a sufficient bulwark at the stem, while an elbow in the
centre of the trunk, served the same purpose at the stern: a platform of
small poles, well covered with dried grass, gave a sufficient flooring to
this rude specimen of a raft. I could not survey it without allowing my
thoughts to carry me away in pleasing reflections upon the gradual
progress of human ingenuity by the advance of which, the same intellect
that first contents itself with the mere floating of the single tree, at
length shapes a forest into timbers and launches the floating fortress in
triumph on the deep!
RETURN TO PORT USBORNE.
We were now about 40 miles in a direct line from Port Usborne, and
perhaps 70 by the winding course we were obliged to follow; only two
days' provisions remained, and as we were still deficient of material for
the chart of this archipelago, I was reluctantly obliged to abandon the
idea of attempting to reach Collier Bay. The mainland we had explored,
since leaving Port Usborne, may be described as forming eight bays,
varying in depth from three to eight miles, and in width from two to
five; their general trend is East-South-East; many islets skirt their
shores, and almost more than can be counted fill their mouths.
With the first grey of the morning we left Bathurst Island, on our return
to the southward. Whilst passing inside the cluster of isles of slate
formation, we heard a "halloa," and on looking in the direction from
whence it proceeded, a native was observed on a raft: the boat's course
was immediately altered so as to cut him off should he attempt to escape,
but to my great surprise he paddled towards us with all possible haste.
THE NATIVE YAMPEE.
He was soon alongside, and with great satisfaction we at once recognized
our strange friend of yesterday, who amongst the boat's crew, went by the
sobriquet of Yampee. He again made use of the word Yampee according to
our orthography, and after repeating it several times, I offered him some
water, which he very eagerly accepted, twice emptying a canister that had
originally held 4 pounds of preserved meat; this afforded me additional
proof of Yampee being the word the natives of these parts use for water.
At Swan River, the native name for water is gab-by, which differs so much
as to lead us to suppose the dialect of the two places is quite distinct.
This supposition is also borne out by the fact, that Miago, the native of
Swan River we had on board, could never understand the language spoken by
his countrymen, on the western shore of King's Sound. We found our new
acquaintance as yesterday, perfectly naked, the raft he was on was in
every respect similar to that previously seen upon Roe's Group, with this
slight exception, that between each pole several small pieces of wood
were inserted so as to make the flooring of the raft almost smooth. Into
the large end of the centre, and largest pole, six long pegs were driven,
forming a kind of basket in which were secured his means for procuring
fire; they consisted of two pieces of white flint, and some tinder rudely
manufactured from the inner bark of the papyrus tree. He used in paddling
a short spear, sharp at each end, and struck the water alternately on
either side; in this primitive manner he contrived to make way with a
rapidity that astonished us all. He had two spears on the raft, besides
the one he used for paddling; one of them was about 12 feet long, also
pointed at each end, though not barbed; and a small stick, similar to
that used by other natives for throwing at birds, and small animals. As
well as we could understand by his signs, it appeared that he had been
anxiously waiting our arrival, and had pushed off from the main to
intercept the boat, on our leaving Bathurst Island. We threw him a line,
and he immediately comprehended our intention, and its use, by at once
making fast to the raft; an instance of confident reliance upon our good
intentions, which reflected much credit upon the unsuspicious openness of
his own character, and which I should have exceedingly regretted by any
act of ours to abuse.
PARTING WITH THE NATIVE.
Had not the distance and our scant supply of food, rendered such a step
imprudent, I should have been very glad to have towed him to the ship. I
really believe he would have trusted himself with us, for that or a much
longer distance; but this could not be, and therefore, after endeavouring
to make him understand that we should sleep some distance to the south,
where there was a larger boat, alluding to the ship, we filled his basket
with bread, gave him as much water as he could drink, and bidding him
farewell, reluctantly cut him adrift: I shall not soon forget the
sorrowful expression of his countenance, when this apparently
inhospitable act was performed; it did not seem however to quench his
regard for his new friends, for so long as we could see him he was hard
at work paddling in our wake. I noticed that the beads given him
yesterday were gone; this fact, coupled with the smokes seen during the
day, satisfied me that he had friends in the neighbourhood, to whom I
hoped he would report favourably of his new acquaintances; we had
certainly endeavoured to obtain his goodwill. Simple-hearted, trusting
The woodcut represents the difference between the spear used by the
natives of this district and those of Swan River.
We soon reached Whirlpool Channel, through which the tide again hurried
and whirled us with almost frightful rapidity; we were in one part of it
shot down a fall of several feet, the boat's bow being fairly buried in
the boiling current. Emerging from this channel the hoary face of the
remarkable headland already described, burst on our view; and as it was
necessary if possible to reach its summit, we landed in a small bay, near
the southern extremity.
By following a winding ravine we gained the crest of this singular
platform, which we found formed of a fine-grained sandstone, with some
beautiful specimens of crystallised quartz on its higher parts, over
which was a slight sprinkling of vegetation, consisting of a few small
gumtrees and patches of coarse grass. The weather was unusually cloudy,
with squalls from the North-East; towards the evening it was fine with a
moderate breeze from East-South-East. As it was late when we reached the
boat, we spent the night where we landed.
We were early on the move pursuing our southerly course, the morning
being rather gloomy with a fresh North-East wind, which raised a good
deal of sea in the mouths of the larger bays. As the day closed we
reached a cove half a mile north of Tide-Race Point, where we passed the
This morning the thermometer was down to 72 degrees at daylight, which
gave us the novel sensation of cold. It was late in the forenoon before
the violent ripplings at Tide-Race Point had subsided sufficiently to
allow of our passing it. The rate of the current at this point appeared
at times scarcely less than eight knots per hour, and traversing a rocky
ledge, extending to some islands, and nearly dry at low-water, rendered
it almost impassable, except when nearly high tide.
In the afternoon we reached the cascade discovered on our way to the
northward, and from which the bay within which it is received its name.
We spent an hour or two luxuriating in the thorough enjoyment of a treat
so rare, as this beautiful stream must be considered in North-western
Australia. In the evening we continued our return to Port Usborne, by a
channel leading from the bottom of Cascade Bay into the large sheet of
water first seen from Compass Hill; our progress was arrested at its
inner entrance by the violence with which the tide rushed through, and we
were therefore obliged to pass another night in the boats.
RETURN OF THE BOATS.
We reached the ship this morning, entering Port Usborne by a narrow rocky
channel, on its North-West shore; on the precipitous sides in this
passage we noticed several of the Rock Kangaroo.
We found that Mr. Usborne had returned three days before us: from his
account of the islands he had visited, they appear to have the same
sterile character as most of those we had seen; in other respects, his
trip was void of interest, beyond that of surveying. During the absence
of the boats, tidal and magnetic observations had been made, some
specimens in Natural History had been collected, and all that could in
any way add to the interest of the expedition, had been as well attended
to as the means placed at our disposal would allow.
We closed at Port Usborne our explorations in King's Sound, the result of
which enabled us to fill up the gap long existing in the charts of the
North-west coast of Australia, and which had for years been the theme of
much ingenious geographical speculation. The result of our labours, if it
had been less brilliant than eager anticipation at the onset led us to
hope for, had nevertheless been on the whole satisfactory. The river
Fitzroy, although not of the magnitude that we hoped to find, was still
an undoubtedly valuable acquisition to our stock of geographical
knowledge, and offered a way of access into the interior, of which we had
availed ourselves to the extent of 90 miles, and which subsequent
explorers might yet further improve: while in many minor yet important
matters, much had been done, and much seen, to more than compensate for
the disappointments and annoyances inseparable from the pursuits of the
LEAVING PORT USBORNE.
The morning was unusually stormy, dark clouds rested upon the adjacent
high land, while others no less portentous hurried past us on the wings
of the tempest. Soon after breakfast, we bade adieu to the wild scenery
of Port Usborne, and stood across the Sound, for our old anchorage on the
north side of Point Cunningham, distant one and twenty miles. In the
mouth of the harbour we passed over a coral knoll, having five fathoms on
it. We did not, however, reach our destination till nearly 6 P.M., having
been taken some distance up the Sound, by the flood-tide. Our soundings
in crossing varied from fifteen to twenty fathoms, chiefly over rocky
ground. It rained almost all the day, and we had several sudden shifts of
wind, from South-East to North-West. Our first view of the western shore
of the Sound was singular; Point Cunningham, and Carlisle Head, appeared
like two high square-looking islands. We anchored soon after high-water,
which appeared to be about a quarter of an hour earlier than at Port
Usborne. We remained at this anchorage till the 3rd of April, during
which time several unsuccessful hauls were made with the seine, but some
additions were made to the collection of Natural History, particularly in
the ornithological branch. It is not a little remarkable, that fish
should be so scarce on this part of the coast, a fact also noticed by
INTERVIEW WITH NATIVES.
This morning five natives made their appearance on the beach. Captain
Wickham and myself went on shore, in order if possible to induce them to
visit the ship: on landing he recognised them for old acquaintances, and
I gave the eldest of the party, a handkerchief upon which he seemed to
have set his affections; however when he understood our wish for the
company of himself and friends on board, he was with difficulty induced
to retain it. None but those who have made the experiment, are aware of
what has to be overcome before any sort of intercourse can be carried on
by signs; or how often, among the most intelligent, the greatest mistakes
must of necessity occur. I have since thought, remembering what passed
during this interview, that while we were making signs to them that on
board they would find something to eat, each man's fears suggested the
probability of a certain convocation, not where he eats, but where he is
eaten, and induced him to decline standing treat upon the occasion.
The singular manner these men had also of holding the face turned
upwards, in order to escape the plague of flies, fully confirmed the
truth of old Dampier's account of the manners of these people when he
first discovered this part of the world. The eldest was the spokesman, or
rather the signsman of the party, and this is always the custom, so far
as we have had an opportunity of judging. The word they make use of in
bowing (which they did quite in an Eastern style) appeared to be irru
irru: their breasts were scarred with deep horizontal cuts, such as we
had previously noticed on the natives in Roebuck Bay. I was so much
struck with the resemblance between these people and the natives of
Tierra del Fuego, that I have been tempted to believe that the stream of
population flowed thitherward from the continent of America.
I ought to mention that when Captain Wickham and myself left the ship, in
the hope of inducing the natives to return with us, Miago, hearing of the
expected visit, immediately went below, and dressed himself to the best
possible advantage. No sooner did the boat come alongside, than he
appeared at the gangway, inquiring with the utmost possible dignity,
"where blackfellas?" and was evidently and deeply mortified that he had
no opportunity of astonishing the natives.
There has been a marked change in the weather, since the sun crossed the
equator: we have had no repetitions of the easterly squalls, before so
prevalent, and the winds have been almost regular in the following order.
From 3 P.M. to 1 A.M. a light breeze from South-South-West which
freshening alters to South-East where it remains till 8 A.M., from that
hour gradually decreasing, and at the same time changing to North-East
and North. The thermometer, for some days past has ranged from 72 to 89
degrees; a temperature which we thought a few months ago intolerable, was
now quite agreeable.
We looked forward with the utmost anxiety to the result of our arrival at
Port George the Fourth, as there, or at least in that neighbourhood, we
hoped to hear some tidings of our friends Grey and Lushington, who, when
we separated from them at the Cape, intended to land in Hanover Bay,
establish a depot for stores, and from thence penetrate if possible into
THEIR PEACEABLE DISPOSITION.
I had no fear on the subject of any hostility from the natives, for in
our own experience, we had as yet always found them inoffensive and
peaceable; while should they prove otherwise, I was satisfied that a very
slight acquaintance with the effects of gunpowder would be quite
sufficient to quell their warlike propensities, but I did fear that they
had chosen a very unfavourable point for debarkation, and that many
causes would combine to arrest their progress into the interior. How
unhappily my anticipations were verified, will be seen hereafter.
Early on the morning of the 3rd, we left our anchorage under Point
Cunningham, and by two o'clock P.M., had worked through Sunday Strait,
where we encountered its usual heavy tide-races. At four o'clock in the
afternoon, Caffarelli Island bore East-South-East, 9 miles distant: and
about six, the wind, which through the day had been light and variable
quite deserted us, when to avoid drifting back into the strait we
anchored in 29 fathoms; Caffarelli Island bearing South-South-East 5
miles. The tide here appeared to be one hour earlier than in Sunday
Strait: the flood set in a south-easterly, and the ebb in an opposite
direction, at the rate of from half to one mile per hour.
The 24th saw us again underweigh, by the light of the stars, but the wind
being variable and against us, we did not get beyond Adele Island, where
we anchored in 14 fathoms: the nearest part of it bearing North 75
degrees East 3 miles.
Brue Reef was seen in the course of the day, and appeared to be correctly
laid down by Captain King: there appeared, however, some discrepancy in
the position of Adele Island, the southern extremity of which we found to
be in latitude 15 degrees 32 minutes 30 seconds South, which is one mile
and a half to the southward of the place assigned to it in his chart. The
sea was breaking heavily on the reef, which fronts the island for a
distance of two miles. The island itself is low, desolate and barren. We
noticed there was scarcely any set of tide at this anchorage. During the
day's progress we found several coral ledges, in from 11 to 13 fathoms,
and trending North-East by East, and with from 25 to 35 fathoms between
them. The specimens of this beautiful submarine production brought up by
the lead, were of the most delicate kind, nor on any occasion did the
lead present any appearance to indicate that it had fallen among a
coarser sort. One beautiful fragment was obtained in Sunday Strait in 30
fathoms, a depth at which living coral is rarely found.
Daylight on the 5th found us standing to the
eastward--East-North-East--with a light northerly wind, in soundings
ranging from 14 to 40 fathoms, and over a bottom of white and brown sand
in the deep, and coral rock in the shoal water. In the afternoon we had
the good fortune to discover one of the reefs, which render the
navigation of this part of the coast rather hazardous. The position of
this danger, is however well marked by a bank of very white sand and dead
coral, from which the reef extends two miles and a half, in a
North-North-West and one mile in a South-South-East direction; and which
rising some 15 feet above the mean level of the blue surrounding water,
became a conspicuous object from our deck, even at the distance of six
miles. We gave our discovery the name of Beagle Bank, as another memorial
of the useful services in which our little vessel had been so frequently
engaged, and our observations enabled us to fix the centre of it in
latitude 15 degrees 20 minutes South, longitude 123 degrees 36 minutes
We anchored in the evening in 16 fathoms, the bank distant 3 1/2 miles in
a South by East direction: half a mile nearer to it, we found only 4
fathoms. The tide rose at this anchorage 12 feet. The flood stream began
by setting to the South-South-West, and ended at South-east by East. The
ebb set West by North, and the utmost strength of stream never exceeded
one mile per hour.
It was high-water at 10 o'clock P.M., and the stream changed at the same
time. The tide was therefore two hours later here than in the entrance to
King's Sound, from which it would appear that the tidal wave approaches
this coast from the West-South-West.
We made slight progress towards Port George the Fourth, during the
forenoon; the water deepening to 20 and 30 fathoms, soon after we had
weighed. We espied a ridge extending to the South-east from Beagle Bank,
which supplies another fact in support of the opinion I have before
advanced, and which gives a north-westerly trend to these ledges. The
wind failing, and the ebb-tide drifting us again to the westward, in
sight of Beagle Bank, the anchor was dropped 4 1/2 miles East by North of
it, and in a depth of 12 fathoms, to which we had suddenly shoaled from
29, this position marked the limit of shoal soundings in an East by North
direction from Beagle Bank. Between sunset and midnight we were able to
make 17 miles, in an East by North direction, when a contrary tide, and
an accompanying calm, compelled us to anchor in 31 fathoms: the soundings
during the run had varied from 35 to 39 fathoms: the bottom, latterly a
soft mud, of a dirty grey colour. A twilight star placed our position 17
miles west of Red Island, which corresponded with the bearings at
The wind being still very light, we were compelled to wait for the
flood-tide, which did not favour us till a quarter past six in the
morning. The last direction of the ebb stream was north. It was nearly
dark before we reached our anchorage, in 18 fathoms, one mile from Point
Adieu: on our way material was secured for laying down the sea-face of
the Champagny Islands. Red Island brought to our recollection Captain
Heywood, by whom this part of the Australian continent had been seen, and
of whose earlier career a notice will be found in Sir John Barrow's
interesting narrative of the Mutiny of the Bounty.
TRAFALGAR AND WATERLOO.
The soundings during the entire day, ranged from 27 to 30 fathoms, and
the character of the bottom was similar to that last described. Our
observations for latitude did not verify our position by the chart,
though all its bearings and distances appeared relatively correct. The
discrepancy may perhaps be ascribed to the effect of refraction, as we
were prevented by the land from observing on both horizons. The most
remarkable objects in this neighbourhood, were two hills, named by
Captain King, Mount Trafalgar, and Mount Waterloo, to record in one
hemisphere, two memorable events, not likely to be easily forgotten in
the other: although assuredly the time will come when the peaceful
triumphs of science and civilization, of which these names are here
enduring witnesses, will be far more highly valued, and far more truly
honoured! Mount Trafalgar made its first appearance in the form of a huge
quoin or wedge, resting longitudinally upon the horizon, with its point
towards the south-east.
Among other memoranda for the improvement of the chart of this coast, it
should be noted that the reef extending to the North-West from Jackson's
peaked Island, appears to join the small islands lying near it in that
direction, and to which, from their colour, we gave the name of The Brown
THE BROWN ISLANDS.
As there was every probability of the ship being detained in this
neighbourhood for some days, searching for traces of Lieutenants Grey and
Lushington's party, and as the examination of Collier Bay, where we still
hoped to find an opening leading into the interior, would prevent the
necessity of our return to this part of the coast, I applied to Captain
Wickham, for permission to proceed with the two whaleboats on that
service. A wound on the foot had in some degree unfitted me for any very
active duty, but I felt satisfied that the opportunity--perhaps the last
I might have--ought not to be undervalued or neglected.
By daylight on the 8th, the boats had left the ship, and were standing to
the southward among the islands. Our party consisted of Mr. Helpman, Mr.
Fitzmaurice and myself. Passing through the eastern part of Port George
the Fourth, we entered Roger Strait, which led into a large sheet of
water, forming a beautiful harbour; we landed to obtain a better view of
it, on a small island at the southern entrance of this strait. This islet
looked truly inviting, being clothed with long rich grass, which to our
cost we found concealed boulders of granite; this was the first time we
met with this primitive rock, and from the colour of the surrounding
heights it was evident we were in an old red sandstone region. Strange to
say the attraction on this island rendered our compasses quite useless;
we noticed on its North-West side a portion of the wreck of a small
vessel. There was a small mangrove inlet in the South-East corner of this
harbour, over which the land was low, forming a gap in the neighbouring
heights. We now pushed on for an island lying in the entrance of the
harbour, bearing West by North 6 miles; our soundings in passing over
this part (of what we afterwards called Brecknock Harbour, as Captain
King had named the entrance of it Camden Sound, from a distant view he
had of it) gave a depth of 7 fathoms, over an even muddy bottom; but
towards and in the entrance it increased to 13 fathoms.
The island we now landed on, we called from its situation, Entrance
Island. From a high part overlooking its steep southern side we had a
very commanding view. The centre of a string of small islets bore north
one mile; there extended 2 miles in a west direction, from the north
point of the harbour; both these and Entrance Isle escaped Captain King's
notice, owing to the distant view he had of this part of the coast. A
point bearing South-West distant 3 miles, was the extreme of the mainland
that we could see in the direction we were going. We found the sandstone
of this Island not of the same ancient red colour as that on the shore
fronting it. One boat was employed in the meantime sounding the entrance
of the harbour, which we found to be 2 miles across, and from 9 to 15
fathoms deep; the mouth of it faces the West-North-West, Entrance Isle
lying half a mile outside its points, with a clear channel nearly a mile
wide, on either side of it.
About a quarter of a mile off the main, and fronting the south side of
this island, there is a singular needle-shaped rock, 20 feet high,
marking the outer extreme of a coral ledge, which is covered at
high-water. As it now blew a fresh breeze from seaward, and the afternoon
was far advanced, we spent the remainder of the day in a further
examination of the entrance. We were much pleased with the result of our
evening's work, finding the approach to this fine harbour quite free from
danger, and capable of admitting vessels of any size; there were no reefs
or islets seaward of it to add to the anxiety of the navigator, or lessen
the value of our discovery; the importance of which will be greatly
enhanced, should Lieutenants Grey and Lushington have the good fortune to
discover any land fit for colonization in its neighbourhood. Our labours
here closed with observations for a boat rate, for the chronometers and
latitude, the latter being 15 degrees 27 1/4 minutes South on a sandy
beach at the eastern side of Entrance Isle.
We rounded the extreme point to the South-West seen from Entrance Isle at
sunrise; the rocks on this point were arranged quite in the form of a
fort, from whence it received the name of Battery Point; another group of
islands now came in view, bearing from Battery Point South-West by South
about 4 miles; these we named Slate Islands, from their singular
formation. They extended one mile North-West from a point of land;
between them and Battery Point, the coast fell back forming two bays,
crossing the mouths of which we had 13 fathoms. On passing Slate Islands,
we saw a headland, named by Captain King Point Hall, bearing South by
West 1/2 West distant 8 miles. It has a high peaked and isolated
appearance, being separated from the contiguous high land by a low neck.
We passed a bay 2 miles wide on its north-eastern, and a snug cove on its
south-eastern side. It was past noon and we were glad to see the stagnant
calm, that had for hours reigned around, dispelled by the seabreeze which
now darkened the horizon. Our course, during the afternoon was South by
East along a low rocky coast, but as we had to contend with a three-knot
tide, we did not get farther than a small sandy cove, bearing South by
East 9 miles from Point Hall, by the close of the day, which was the only
spot we had seen the whole of the afternoon capable of affording shelter
for the boats.
We were agreeably surprised to find a stream of water running into the
head of this cove, as the parched appearance of the low hills over it did
not lead us to expect such good luck, in remembrance of which we called
it Freshwater Cove. Landing, I hastened to the south point of the cove,
to secure the necessary data for the chart, before the surrounding
objects were veiled in darkness. We again appeared to be in a sterile
white sandstone region, where, with the exception of a few land birds,
there was a total absence of animal life, and almost that of the
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