Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1.
J Lort Stokes
Part 4 out of 8
vegetable, for even the gumtrees common in this part, were not to be
seen. Our view to the southward was very limited, embracing only the
Montgomery Islands of Captain King; they consist of six small rocky
islets resting on an extensive coral flat, that we afterwards observed to
be dry at low-water, and which extended to a large low sandy island,
lying six miles west from them; the latter was not seen by Captain King,
in his distant view of this neighbourhood. The eastern and largest of the
Montgomery Isles stands on the extreme of the coral flat; we found it to
be 70 feet high, and bore South-West by South 7 miles from this point of
Freshwater Cove. The latitude we obtained in the course of the night gave
a result of 15 degrees 49 minutes south.
At daylight we continued pursuing our South by East course, following the
same kind of low straight rocky shore, as that of yesterday afternoon. We
passed inside a reef fronting the shore from a mile south of Freshwater
Cove; this passage was about half a mile wide and from 7 to 12 fathoms
deep. Having the flood-tide in our favour, we proceeded rapidly, and at
the end of four miles, found the trend of the coast suddenly changed to
East-North-East for two miles, when it again took a southerly direction,
forming a chain of high rocky islets. Deferring our examination of the
main, lying about a mile in the rear of these islets, we kept on our
South by East course, in the direction of some very high land now seen
for the first time. Three miles further brought us to a small rocky
islet, where we landed for a set of angles.
Our hopes were considerably raised on reaching the top of this islet, by
finding that we looked in vain for land towards the head of Collier Bay;
the high land to the southward proved to be the south point of a large
bay, having on its northern side similar high ranges.
This island was overrun with a great variety of lizards, in consequence
of which we named it Lizard Island. During our stay here, two birds,*
rare on this part of the coast, were shot; they were of a smaller kind
than any I had before seen, and differed from them in plumage, being
without the white collar round the neck. Leaving Lizard Island, we
continued our southerly route, and ere long saw more land ahead, lying
like a blue cloud on the horizon. Ten miles brought us abreast of the
high land we had first seen, and six more to the southern point of a bay,
lying on its south-western side, where the duties of the survey again
obliged us to land. We considered ourselves now entering once more on the
new lands of Australia, as Captain King could scarcely have had even a
distant glimpse of this part; his extreme southern position being abreast
of Freshwater Cove, from whence he describes the view of the coast as
follows. "The land to the southward trended deeply in, and appeared to me
much broken in its character." We therefore naturally looked on
everything here with a greater degree of interest, and with the view of
affording time to examine the country, and determine the position of this
point by observation, I arranged to pass the night in its vicinity.
(*Footnote. Haematopus picatus, described in the Appendix to Captain
King's work on Australia.)
HEAD OF COLLIER BAY.
The view from this station, blighted our hopes of finding an opening
leading into the interior from Collier Bay, for we could trace the land
all round the head of it, forming high ranges without a single break.
This malapropos discovery, materially diminished the pleasure we had
before experienced, on first seeing a new part of the continent. About
twenty miles west from where we stood, were a group of islands, which I
was able to identify as those seen from Bathurst Island, near the eastern
entrance point of King's Sound; they appeared to extend about ten miles
in a northerly direction, from the western point of Collier Bay.
AN EAGLE SHOT.
Whilst using the theodolite, we came within the searching glance of a
hungry eagle, which soaring over our heads for some time, at length
swooped within range of our guns, when he paid for his curiosity with the
loss of his life. This was the only rapacious bird we saw in Collier Bay,
and appears to be of the species Falco leucogaster Latham.* On
examination, the stomach contained fish and part of a small snake, and
from what I have since observed this bird frequents the sea coast. Their
nests are very large, built on bare spots in the shape of a pyramid; some
of them measuring three feet in diameter, and six high. To convey a
better idea of the size and exposed situation of the nests of these
birds, I may state that on low parts of the coast, they were often used
as surveying marks. This projection, which we called Eagle Point, is of a
siliceous sandstone formation, intersected by nearly vertical veins of
quartz, and forms a spur thrown off from a high range four miles to the
south-eastward. We did not find any water in the few miles of country
traversed in the course of the afternoon, yet everything wore a rich
green appearance, and the scenery in some of the dells we crossed, was
very picturesque, and quite alive with birds and insects; flights of
many-coloured parakeets swept by with a rapidity that resembled the
rushing sound of a passing gust of wind. Among the trees, I noticed for
the first time the Banksia, common in Western Australia; Mr. Cunningham,
the botanist who accompanied Captain King, did not consider its
indigenous empire extended to the North-West coast. Of the other kinds,
and which complete all the variety we observed on this part of the
continent, were the mimosa, acacia, papyrus, and two sorts of Eucalyptus;
there were also several plants of the order Leguminosae.
(*Footnote. Figured in Mr. Gould's work on the Birds of Australia as
We had a breeze throughout the entire day, from North-East till 1
o'clock, then West-North-West till near midnight; this westerly or
seabreeze, reached us within ten minutes of the time it did yesterday, a
regularity we found to prevail the few days we spent on this part of the
coast. The tide (being near the spring) fell in the night 36 feet,
leaving the greater part of the bay dry at low-water. Our observations
for latitude placed Eagle Point in 16 degrees 10 1/4 minutes south.
We left with the first streak of dawn, and pursued our course to the
southward, passing inside a small reef lying half a mile west from Eagle
Point. The eastern shore now took a South by West direction, forming
shallow bights, flanked by hills of moderate elevation; our next station
was an islet at the head of Collier Bay, bearing South-South-West 1/2
West 15 miles from Eagle Point: it was in the mouth of a shoal bay about
three miles deep in a West-South-West direction, the shores of which were
lined with mangroves and overlooked by a high rocky ridge. The width of
Collier Bay, at its entrance 20 miles, was here only six.
The western shore ran in a North-West by West direction, a straight rocky
coast, over which rose abruptly a range of barren heights. The tide
stream gradually weakened as we approached the head of the bay, where it
scarcely exceeded half a knot, and the soundings decreased to seven
fathoms, with a kind of muddy sand bottom; but the clearness of the
water, and the equal duration of the flood and ebb streams, afforded the
most conclusive evidence of the small opening we now discovered in the
South-East corner of the bay being nothing more than an inlet. It bore
from this islet East-South-East four miles, yet as a drowning man catches
at a straw, so did we at this inlet, and were soon in the entrance, which
we found to be half a mile wide, with a very strong tide rushing out.
After some difficulty we landed on a high rocky island in the mouth of
it, the summit of which afforded us a good view of the inlet, which
within the entrance widened out and was about two miles deep. A point
prevented our seeing the eastern extreme, which Mr. Helpman was sent to
examine; he found it extended two miles in an East-North-East direction,
and like the other parts of it, to be lined with a scanty growth of
mangroves, and flanked by high rocky land. The shape of this inlet
resembles that of a bottle with a broad base, and being subject to a
tidal change of level of 36 feet, it is easy to imagine with what
violence such a body of water must rush through the narrow entrance to
keep on a level with the slow-moving waters of the bay outside. The cause
of this great rise of tide in the head of Collier Bay, may be attributed
to there being no escape for the vast body of water flowing into it. The
land over the depth of this inlet which I have before spoken of, as being
barren rocky heights, bounded our view to the southward; it bore
South-South-East three miles, and lies in latitude 16 degrees 25 minutes
South and longitude 124 degrees 25 minutes East being the farthest point
we determined towards the centre of the continent. The extreme position
reached in that direction by Lieutenant Lushington of Lieutenant Grey's
expedition, bears from this point, North 64 degrees East fifty miles.
Thus terminated our explorations in Collier Bay, and although we had not
the good fortune to find it the outlet of some large opening leading into
the interior, still we succeeded in setting at rest the speculation, such
a deep indentation of the coastline had hitherto afforded, and increased
our geographical knowledge of this part of the continent 35 miles.
RETURN OF THE BOATS.
In the afternoon we commenced our return to Port George the Fourth, from
which we were then distant about 80 miles; after delaying to examine two
islands lying North by East four miles from the inlet, of slate
formation, we reached a narrow point six miles further down the bay, in
time to save a true bearing from the sun's amplitude. We were surprised
to find this point also composed of the same kind of grey slate. The
islands we examined differed from those of the same formation in King's
Sound, having steep precipitous sides to the North-West instead of to the
South-East. As it was by this time nightfall we did not proceed farther.
Towards the morning there was a South-East breeze which brought the
thermometer down to 76 degrees; it generally ranged between 80 and 96
The large bay discovered on our way to the southward now became the point
of interest, and as daylight closed in the boats were secured in a small
sandy cove, just within its southern point, where there were several
native rafts, constructed precisely in the same manner as those seen in
King's Sound, from which circumstance we called the place Raft Point.
Immediately over it was the high land first seen in coming down the bay;
huge masses were rent from its lofty frowning crags, on which the rays of
the setting sun produced the most grotesque figures. A beautiful stream
of water fell into the sea, in leaping cascades, half a mile inside the
cove. Several rock kangaroos were seen on the heights; and after securing
observations with some early stars, for latitude, which placed Raft Point
in 16 degrees 4 minutes South, we tried an experiment to get a shot at
the kangaroos, by setting fire to the grass and small wood growing at the
base, and in the interstices of the rocks.
This part of the country being very dry, a fire was soon kindled, and in
a few minutes the cliffs resounded with the noise of the flames, as they
darted fiercely upwards, revealing their riven sides, and occasionally
bursting out behind large masses of strange figured rocks to the no
slight risk of our sportsmen, who were perched upon them. Seabirds,
frightened from their resting places, screamed fearfully, and the dismal
howl of the wild dog, equally alarmed, sometimes fell on the ear amidst
the roaring of the dangerous element, which in the intense darkness of
the night we could not but admire. Whilst gazing on this wild scene, I
could not help speculating on the probable cause the natives would assign
for this great conflagration; the bright glare of which must have
extended over several miles of country, perhaps alarming and doubtless
causing deep consultation amongst the wise men of their tribes. It may
also have taxed their power of invention, as they never use large fires
in the night, except in wild stormy weather, when the creaking trees, and
moaning wind, give them a dread of a visit from the Evil Spirit.
Being anxious to examine the range over the cove, I desired Mr. Helpman
to explore the North-East corner of this large bay, and the main lying
behind the islands, fronting the coast to the northward of it. We
accordingly moved off on our several occupations at an early hour. After
much difficulty Mr. Fitzmaurice and myself found ourselves on a tableland
of sandstone formation, elevated by measurement 900 feet above the sea
level, and by far the highest land yet noticed on this part of the
continent; the prospect here was very cheerless; similar but lower ranges
met the eye in every direction towards the interior, those overlooking
the eastern shore of the bay, were from 6 to 700 feet high. There
appeared to be a large island in its North-East corner, which fell back
about 10 miles, and like many other parts of it was lined with a growth
of mangroves. A string of smaller islands extended three miles from the
north point, leaving an entrance only two miles wide. A sandstone ridge
similar to that on which we stood, rose abruptly from the north point,
but of less elevation. I was not a little surprised to find that
Lieutenant Grey had seen land from 2 to 3000 feet high, only about 30
miles from the height on which we stood, but as he had not the means of
measuring these great elevations, and as Captain King, who was within 20
miles of the high land alluded to, does not notice it, yet mentions some
hills from 3 to 400 feet high, 15 miles further to the North-East, I am
induced to believe that Lieutenant Grey may have over-estimated the
height of the land he saw.*
(*Footnote. Mounts Trafalgar and Waterloo, which are not nine hundred
feet high, are the first points of the continent that meet the eye from
From subsequent information, I called this Doubtful Bay; the tide ran
into it at the rate of from 1 to 3 knots, but the clear appearance of the
water, and entire absence of driftwood, afforded strong grounds for
supposing that it did not receive the waters of any river. Leaving Raft
Point, we crossed over to the islands on the opposite side, for a few
angles on their southern extreme, and afterwards made the best of our way
to Freshwater Cove. The day had, however, closed in long before arriving
there, and in the extreme darkness of the night the Cove was difficult to
find. Indeed my companions could not believe we were there until one of
the men returned with a keg of water from the stream in the head of it.
MR. HELPMAN'S REPORT.
Mr. Helpman joined us at sunset, and gave the following report of his
proceedings: "On leaving the cove at Raft Point, we passed along the
south shore for two miles, and landed on a point that afforded a most
commanding view of the bay, and the openings in its North-East corner,
which appeared to be formed by a large island lying near the shore. This
supposition afterwards proved to be correct, on landing at a point
fronting its western extreme, from whence I was enabled to trace the
shore round the North-East corner of the bay, till I identified it as the
same we had seen on the eastern side of the island from the station just
left. From the still and discoloured state of the water, I felt satisfied
there was no opening in the North-East corner of this bay. I am, however,
willing to admit it may have been more satisfactory to others if there
had been sufficient time at my disposal to have actually gone round the
island. We now hastened off to examine the mainland, lying behind a chain
of islands to the northward, where we also failed to discover an
MOUTH OF THE GLENELG.
As this account of Mr. Helpman's coincided with the opinion I had formed
of the other parts of the coast, I was induced at that time to come to
the conclusion that the river Glenelg which I found Lieutenants Grey and
Lushington had discovered, on my return to the ship, did not communicate
with the sea in this neighbourhood, as Lieutenant Grey had supposed, but
took a South-West direction, flanking Collier Bay, and terminating in the
mangrove openings on the eastern shore of Stokes' Bay in King's Sound. My
opinion was strengthened by Lieutenant Lushington having seen from his
furthest position (which has already been given) a very high bluff point
to the southward, distant 6 or 7 miles, and a line of cliffs under which
he conceived that an opening of the sea or a river may run. Further
experience has convinced me of the great difficulty attending the
discovery of the mouths of rivers in Australia, and as Mr. Helpman did
not actually visit the North-East corner of Doubtful Bay (named in
consequence) I am inclined to believe there is a possibility of the mouth
of the Glenelg still being found there.
We were on our way to Point Hall before the eastern hills had received
their golden hue from the rays of the rising sun, and landed to ascend
the summit of that headland from the bay, on its South-East side, which
proved to be a safe anchorage, except with South-West winds, having a
small islet in its centre. We ascended the height on the lee side, and as
the sun was now approaching the zenith the heat became very oppressive;
but the air was quite perfumed with the rich fragrance of different gums.
This warm aromatic odour we always experienced in a slighter degree on
first landing in North-western Australia.
I noticed a tree quite new to me, it was of stunted growth, bearing a
fruit resembling a small russet apple, which hung in clusters at the
extremity of small branches; the skin was rough, covering a pulp that had
an acid flavour, inside of which was a large stone, and I observed a
white fluid exuded from the branches when broken. Although this was
almost a solitary tree, I have since learnt it grows in the southern
parts of the continent. As the woodcut and description given in page 82,
Volume 1 of Sir Thomas Mitchell's work on Australia, is almost identical
with this fruit, it must be indigenous to a great extent of country,
since Sir Thomas Mitchell found it in latitude 29 degrees 50 minutes
South whilst by us it was discovered in 15 degrees 40 minutes South. We
did not observe any other change in the vegetation on this point; of
birds we saw but few, chiefly parrots, some of which we shot. A coast
range of brown grassy hills prevented our seeing anything of the
interior. To seaward there was neither islet nor reef to interrupt the
blue surface of water that bounded our view in the far north-west.
Descending we embarked from a cove on the North-East side, where the
boats had been ordered to meet us; between this and one on the opposite
side there was only a narrow neck of low land. It is singular that we
should not have seen any natives, or even traces of them anywhere
excepting at Raft Point, during the whole of this cruise.
THE SLATE ISLES.
Pursuing our northerly course, we reached a small group of islands, named
from their formation, Slate Isles. Finding that all the material required
here for the chart could not be collected this evening, I desired Mr.
Helpman to go on to Brecknock harbour, to sound and examine its southern
shore the next morning, whilst Mr. Fitzmaurice and myself remained to
complete the survey hereabouts.
We were on the top of the northern Slate Island early; a small islet with
a reef off its northern extreme, bore north a mile and a half, and a low
sandy isle, West 1/4 North about 15 miles; this was a most unwelcome
discovery, as it lay in the track of vessels approaching Brecknock
Harbour, and which Captain King must have passed very close to in the
night without being aware of it. We were fortunate in being able to
intersect our lines to the extremes of all the islands forming the north
side of Camden Sound from this station, which rendered it one of great
importance. Of the interior we saw even less than from Point Hall, and
the prospect if possible was more cheerless.
Our again meeting rocks of transition origin, led us to infer that the
soil in the neighbourhood was of a better quality, as the decomposition
of rocks of this class furnishes a much more fertile soil than sandstone
of recent formation.
Leaving the Slate Islands, we reached Entrance Isle, in Brecknock
Harbour, in time to secure observations for the rates of the
chronometers, which we found had been performing admirably; they placed
the sandy bay on the east side of Entrance Isle, in longitude 124 degrees
30 minutes East; the latitude as before given, 15 degrees 27 1/4 minutes
At this place Mr. Helpman rejoined us, having completed the examination
of the south shore of the harbour; from a high hill over it he discovered
some fine country, bearing East-South-East about eight miles. In speaking
of it, he says, "I was invited to the top of this hill by the certainty
of a good view of the interior over the low land forming the
south-eastern shore of the harbour, and most amply was I repaid for the
toil of ascending it, by feasting my eyes on a most luxuriant
well-watered country, lying at the eastern foot of a remarkable peak,
visible from Port George the Fourth. To the North-East there lay a range
of hills,* apparently of no great elevation.
(*Footnote. Macdonald Range of Lieutenant Grey, considered by him 1400
Part of this rich land extended to within five miles of the south-eastern
part of Brecknock Harbour." The proximity of such fertile land to this
fine port was of great importance, and induced us to consider it a great
addition to our discoveries in north-western Australia. Under this
impression, I trust the following brief description of it may not be
without its value in the eyes of some of my readers. Brecknock Harbour is
six miles deep, extending gradually from a width of one and three quarter
miles at the entrance to five at the head, and has a depth of water
varying from five to seven fathoms, with a soft muddy bottom. The few
observations on the tides our short visit afforded, make the time of
high-water, on full and change day, about half an hour before noon, when
the rise is nearly thirty feet, and the strength of stream in the
entrance nearly two knots.
Although very anxious to learn if they had in the ship heard anything of
Lieutenant Grey's party, still I did not like to break through my usual
rule of indulging in a thorough cleansing of men and boats, before making
our appearance on board, we therefore did not make an early start. In
clearing Roger Strait, we heard the cry of a native, who was seen with
the aid of a spy-glass, perched on a distant cliff, watching our
movements. I scarcely believed it possible to have heard his shrill voice
so far. We reached the ship, lying in Port George the Fourth, early in
the afternoon, and found on board a most welcome addition to our little
party, in the person of Lieutenant Grey. I met him again, with feelings
of the greatest satisfaction; for though none were, perhaps, fully aware
of it, a feeling of despondency as to the fate of himself and his
companions, had more than once occurred to me, which each day's delay
much increased, and which this agreeable rencounter at once effectually
removed. Poor fellow! gaunt misery had worn him to the bone; and I
believe, that in any other part of the world, not myself alone, but
Lieutenant Grey's most intimate friends, would have stared at him without
the least approach to recognition. Badly wounded, and half starved, he
did, indeed, present a melancholy contrast to the vigorous and determined
enthusiast we had parted from a few months before at the Cape, to whom
danger seemed to have a charm, distinct from success.
No sooner had we ascertained the safety of the rest of the party, than,
as might be supposed, we fell into a long and animated conversation upon
the success of the expedition. They had discovered a river, called by
them the Glenelg, and a tract of fine country, which, from Lieutenant
Grey's description, I instantly recognised as being the same Mr. Helpman
had seen from Brecknock Harbour.
A spot, sixty miles in a South-South-East direction from Hanover Bay,
indicates their furthest distance towards the interior. The rugged nature
of the country in the neighbourhood of this coast, and its vast distance
from the interior, from whence it is further removed than any other part
of the continent, justify the expression of an opinion that this was an
ill-chosen spot for the debarkation of an expedition for inland research;
though unquestionably its proximity to our East Indian possessions, would
make it, if suitable in other respects, a most valuable spot for
colonization. I shall always regret that Lieutenant Grey and his
companions had not the advantage of starting from the Fitzroy, or
exploring yet further the unknown course of the Victoria, by which I am
now convinced, a most successful attempt to reach the interior might be
Alas! while we cannot but regret the prodigal sacrifices of health and
energy made to acquire such a limited knowledge of a part of the
continent, hitherto utterly unknown, we must not forget to do justice to
the perseverance which opposing obstacles could defeat, but not daunt;
and in what it did accomplish, furnished additional motives to renewed
exertion, and useful suggestions by which more fortunate followers may
reap the success deserved by, though denied, to the first adventurers.
The worn and haggard aspect of Lieutenant Grey and all his companions,
spoke of itself how severe had been the hardships they were called on to
endure: I need not say that their wants were relieved with the utmost
eagerness of frank hospitality, and that their tales of hair-breadth
escapes and moving accidents awoke all ears, and stirred in every heart.
To meet with a countryman in a foreign land, is of itself generally an
agreeable incident: the tones of one's native language, or the
reminiscences of one's earlier and happier years, which such a meeting
recalls, are sure to bestow upon it a pleasure of its own. What was it
then to meet a former fellow voyager, and a friend? To meet him after
almost despairing of his safety? and to meet him fresh from a perilous
and partially successful attempt to penetrate into the same unknown and
mysterious country, a further and more perfect acquaintance with which
was a prime object of my own personal ambition, no less than of public
duty with all engaged in our present adventure? Those who have known the
communion of sentiment and interest, which it is the tendency of one
common purpose to create among all by whom that purpose is shared, can
most readily and most perfectly understand with what deep and mutual
interest Lieutenant Grey and myself heard and recounted all that each had
done since our parting at the Cape.
Several anecdotes of his adventures confirmed my own experience, and add
weight to the opinions I have before expressed. From his description of
the tribes his party had encountered, he must have been among a people
more advanced in civilization than any we had hitherto seen upon this
coast. He found several curious figures,* images, and drawings, generally
in colours, upon the sides of caves in the sandstone rock, which,
notwithstanding their rude style, yet evince a greater degree of
advancement and intelligence than we have been able to find any traces
of: at the same time it must be remembered that no certain date
absolutely connects these works with the present generation: the dryness
of the natural walls upon which they are executed, and the absence of any
atmospheric moisture may have, and may yet preserve them for an
indefinite period, and their history read aright, may testify not the
present condition of the Australian School of Design, but the perfection
which it had formerly attained.
(*Footnote. Illustrated in Lieutenant Grey's first Volume.)
Lieutenant Grey too, like ourselves, had seen certain individuals in
company with the natives much lighter in colour, and widely differing in
figure and physiognomy from the savages by whom they were surrounded; and
was inclined to believe that they are descended from Dutch sailors, who
at different times, suffering shipwreck upon the coast, have intermarried
with its native inhabitants: but as no authentic records can be produced
to prove that this portion of the coast was ever visited by Dutch
navigators at all, I am still more disposed to believe that these lighter
coloured people are Malays, captured from the Trepang fishers, or perhaps
voluntarily associating with the Australian, as we know that the
Australian not unfrequently abandons his country, and his mode of life,
to visit the Indian Archipelago with them.
Before pursuing any further the train of speculation in which my thoughts
naturally enough arranged themselves, owing to this meeting with
Lieutenant Grey, it may be as well to advert to the circumstances under
which he and his party were found by Captain Wickham. It seems that on
moving into Port George the Fourth, the ship's guns were fired in order
to apprize the wanderers, if within hearing, that friends and aid were at
hand. These signals were heard on board the Lynher, and were at once
rightly understood to denote the presence of the Beagle. At that time,
however, the master of the Lynher--the schooner which Lieutenant Grey had
chartered at the Cape, was himself in no small perplexity as to the fate
of those he had transported to this lonely coast; and was now growing
exceedingly anxious at their non-appearance.
The next morning, the 9th, Captain Wickham started in the yawl for
Hanover Bay, in order to prosecute the search at the point where he knew
Lieutenant Grey's depot was to be established, and on rounding the
headland the first welcome object that met his eye was the schooner at
anchor. Captain Wickham learnt from Mr. Browse the master, that the
period for which the schooner was chartered having expired, he was only
waiting the return of the expedition from motives of humanity. The
further care of Lieutenant Grey and his comrades was at once undertaken
by Captain Wickham, by whom it was determined, owing to the shortness of
provisions on board the Beagle, to proceed to Timor on the return of the
boats, in the hope of being able to revictual there, leaving some
conspicuous record of his recent visit, with hidden letters declaratory
of his proceedings, and promising his speedy return. A party was
immediately despatched on shore, and upon the face of the sandstone cliff
they painted in characters of gigantic proportion, Beagle Observatory.
Letters South-East 52 paces. Of necessity compelled to wait for the
boats, Captain Wickham returned to the Beagle.
CAPTAIN WICKHAM'S MEETING WITH LIEUTENANT GREY.
On the morning of the 15th, Lieutenant Grey, accompanied by two of his
party, made his appearance upon the shores of Hanover Bay, after a twelve
weeks wander in the interior; during which, great hardships, fatigue, and
peril had been undergone, and much curious and valuable information
collected. Hearing of the proximity of the Beagle, he lost not a moment,
but hastened to assure Captain Wickham that the whole party was safe, and
spent the evening of the 15th--that previous to my return--among those
who sympathized with his sufferings, and heartily welcomed him once more
on board. After the first greetings had been exchanged between us,
Lieutenant Grey professed the utmost anxiety to hear whether, during our
late excursion in the boats, we had discovered the mouth of the Glenelg,
the river first seen by him on the 2nd of March. I was of course
compelled to inform him that we had found no trace of any river, although
the coast from Port George the Fourth to the bottom of Collier Bay, an
extent of nearly one hundred miles, had been examined, and with the
exception I have already noticed, too closely to admit of mistake.
AN EVENING WITH LIEUTENANT GREY.
The next afternoon I followed Lieutenant Grey round to Hanover Bay,
distant twelve miles from the Beagle's anchorage. On the passage I
noticed that the remarkable bluff, spoken of by Captain King, had been
omitted in the charts, and a low rocky point marked in its place. It was
after sunset when we reached the schooner in Hanover Bay; the greater
part of the night was devoted to an examination of Lieutenant Grey's
plans of his expedition, and the drawings with which various events in it
had been illustrated. All these were executed with a finished carefulness
one could not have expected to find in works carried on in the bush, and
under such varied circumstances of distraction and anxiety as had
followed Lieutenant Grey's footsteps: though terribly worn and ill, our
opportune arrival, and the feeling that he was among those who could
appreciate his exertions, seemed already to operate in his recovery. Upon
an old and tattered chart, that had indeed done the state some service,
we attempted to settle the probable course of the Glenelg, the knotty
question held us for some hours in hot debate; but as in a previous
paragraph, I have rendered my more deliberate opinions, I need not here
recount the varied topics discussed during that memorable evening: but it
may be readily imagined with how swift a flight one hour followed
another, while I listened with eager impatience to Lieutenant Grey's
account of a country and people till now unknown even to English
enterprise. He appears to have seen the same kind of grape-like fruit*
that we observed in King's Sound.
(*Footnote. Grey's Australia Volume 1 page 211.)
I took the boat in the afternoon at high-water to proceed to the
encampment, which we were then able to approach within a quarter of a
mile. It was situated in the depth of a creek, into which a clear and
sparkling stream of fresh water poured its abundance: the shore was
formed of enormous granite boulders, which rendered it hardly accessible
except at high-water; and the red sandstone platform which is here the
nature of the coast, was abruptly intersected by one of those singular
valleys which give so marked and so distinctive a characteristic to
Australian geology. The separated cliffs approach to within about a
quarter of a mile of each other, and then--still preserving their
precipitous form--recede some three miles inland, in a southerly
direction, and there rejoining, make any passage from Walker's Valley* to
the interior a barely practicable feat.
(*Footnote. So named by Lieutenant Grey to commemorate the services
rendered by the surgeon of his party in finding a road from it to the
The encampment consisted of a few roofless huts, placed irregularly upon
a carpet of rich grass, whereon six Timor ponies were recruiting after
the fatigues of a journey in which they appeared to have borne their full
share of privation and danger. Their marketable value was indeed but
small, and Lieutenant Grey had, therefore, determined to leave them
behind in the unrestrained enjoyment of their natural freedom.
My visit was made after the encampment had been finally abandoned, and
the thought that a little spot once tenanted by civilized man was about
to be yielded to that dreary solitude from which for a while he had
rescued it, made the pilgrimage a melancholy one. The scene itself was in
strict keeping with such thoughts--the rugged and lofty cliffs which
frown down upon the valley--the flitting shadows of the watchful eagles
soaring far over my head--and the hoarse murmurs of the tide among the
rocky masses on the beach--ail heightened the effects of a picture
engraven on my memory too deeply for time itself to efface.
While the men were preparing for embarkation I strolled with Lieutenant
Lushington up the valley, a little beyond the late encampment: the Timor
ponies were busily engaged upon the fresh grass; near the banks of a
beautiful pool in which we both enjoyed a freshwater bath, I noticed a
small coconut tree, and some other plants, which he and his companions
had benevolently endeavoured to naturalize here: they seemed healthy
enough, but I should fear the rank luxuriance of surrounding and
indigenous vegetation will render the ultimate well-doing of the
strangers exceedingly doubtful. Assisted by our boats the whole party
embarked in the early part of the afternoon, and appeared highly
delighted to find themselves again on board the schooner. I was much
impressed with the emphatic manner in which Lieutenant Lushington bid the
shore a hearty farewell. The same evening the Lynher was moved round to
Port George the Fourth--thus affording us an opportunity of welcoming all
our former fellow-voyagers once more on board the Beagle; where we spent
one of those delightful evenings, known only to those who have been long
separated from the rest of the world.
LEAVE PORT GEORGE THE FOURTH.
On the 9th we left Port George the Fourth on our return to Swan River, in
company with the Lynher, in which Lieutenant Grey and his party had
arranged to proceed to the Mauritius. A finer port than this, in some
respects, can hardly be imagined. Like Hanover Bay, over which, however,
it possesses the advantage of an easier access from the sea, it affords
safe anchorage, abundance of fresh water, plenty of fuel, and a fine
beach for the seine: but the numerous islands and reefs which skirt this
coast greatly reduce the value of both these harbours. The Master of the
Lynher told me of certain tidal phenomena remarked by him during his
protracted visit to Hanover Bay: he had noticed that the highest tides
always occurred on the fourth day after the full or change of the moon,
and that they then attained a maximum height of twenty-five feet; while
during the neaps the difference between high and low-water sometimes did
not exceed twenty-four inches!
During the short time that we were in this neighbourhood, the prevailing
winds were from South-East and to East from after midnight till noon, and
from West to North until midnight. Our progress through the day was but
slow; the wind light and most provokingly foul at West-North-West.
While standing towards a small island bearing North and by West five and
a half miles from Point Adieu, we discovered a single rock with
apparently deep water all around it, and just awash at low-water. It bore
North-West and by West three-quarters of a mile from this island, which
resembles Red Island, and Captain King's group of the Rocky Islands, in
that calcined-like appearance which has by turns given them red and brown
for a distinct appellation. In the afternoon we saw the sandbank laid
down in Captain King's chart; it appeared a white rocky islet. The night
was spent beating to the westward, between it and Red Island, against a
At daylight, whilst standing to the South-West the water shoaled rapidly
though regularly from 20 to 6 fathoms, we then tacked, Red Island bearing
South-East one mile and a quarter; in standing out (north) the water
deepened suddenly and almost immediately to 15 fathoms. I imagine this
shoal to be a continuation of one laid down by Captain King, extending
two miles south from Red Island: passing the latter on our way to Port
George the Fourth we had 28 to 30 fathoms, two and a half miles from its
We continued to make but little progress to the westward, scarcely
averaging more than a mile per hour: the soundings indicating that we
were still on the coral ledge that skirts the whole of this coast,
northward of Cape Leveque; on the raised parts of which are numerous
reefs of an irregular size and almost invariably trending from West to
North-West. The number of these low coral reefs already known, and the
probable number of those yet undiscovered, make this rather a dangerous
sea, and must have a tendency to lessen the value of the North-West coast
of Australia for purposes of forming settlements. In the afternoon we saw
again the reef discovered and named after the Beagle. Steering
West-North-West we passed four miles from its northern side in soundings
varying from 41 to 47 fathoms.
Towards the close of this day we passed through a line of very remarkable
ripplings, extending in a north and south direction, which we knew
indicated some great inequality in the bottom, but whether from deep to
shoal water was a matter of some anxiety; therefore, with leadsmen in the
chains and the men at their stations for working ship, we glided into
this streak of agitated water, where plunging once or twice she again
passed into the silent deep. We sounded ineffectually with 86 fathoms in
the ripplings; for some time before the soundings had been regular 52 and
55 fathoms fine sand, and four miles beyond it we had 146 fathoms, but
did not succeed afterwards in reaching the bottom with 200 fathoms. This
line of disturbed water, therefore, marks the edge of the bank of
soundings fronting this part of the coast, from which the nearest point,
Cape Leveque, bore South-East 195 miles.
PART FROM THE LYNHER.
The Lynher having to pursue a more westerly course, we were of necessity,
though reluctantly, obliged to part company this evening: the few
evenings we passed together at sea were rendered very pleasant and
amusing by the crews singing to each other as the vessels, side by side,
slipped stealthily through the moonlit waters.
Still pursuing a West-South-West course, at the slow rate of forty miles
daily, our position at noon was latitude 15 degrees 40 minutes South
longitude 120 degrees 41 minutes East. During the day we passed within
fifteen miles of the Lively's reef, and from the numbers of terns and
other small seabirds, seen for the last three days, there can be little
doubt of its whereabouts being known, and that during that time we had
been in the neighbourhood of other reefs still undiscovered.
We experienced the long rolling swell of the Southern Ocean, which, as
well as our reckoning, informed us we were rounding North-West Cape; at
the same time we began to feel a steady breeze from the South-East and
the northerly current which there prevails. As we were now approaching
the usual track of vessels bound from Australia to India, we were not
unprepared for the somewhat unusual sight of a strange sail: an object
always of some little interest, but which becomes quite an event to those
whose duty leads them into the less frequented portions of the deep.
THE TRYAL ROCKS.
The increasing trade now carried on between Sydney and the gorgeous East,
has converted the dividing sea into a beaten track; and as no further
evidence has been brought forward to confirm the reported existence of
the Tryal Rocks, asserted to lie directly in the course steered by
vessels making this passage, I cannot but adhere to Captain King's
opinion, that Tremouille Island and its outlying reefs, situated in the
same latitude as that in which the Tryal Rocks are supposed to lie, have
originated the mistake;* one, be it observed, of longitude, in which
particular the accounts of earlier navigators must always be received
(*Footnote. Subsequent explorations have proved this to be the case.)
ANECDOTES OF MIAGO.
While our return to Swan River was thus baffled and delayed by the long
and almost unbroken continuance of foul winds, it afforded some diversion
to watch the countenance and conduct of Miago, who was as anxious as
anyone on board for the sight of his native land. He would stand gazing
steadily and in silence over the sea, and then sometimes, perceiving that
I watched him, say to me, "Miago sing, by and by northern men wind jump
up:" then would he station himself for hours at the lee-gangway, and
chant to some imaginary deity an incantation or prayer to change the
opposing wind. I could never rightly learn to whom this rude melody was
addressed; for if anyone approached him near enough to overhear the
words, he became at once silent; but there was a mournful and pathetic
air running through the strain, that rendered it by no means unpleasing;
though doubtless it owed much of its effect to the concomitant
circumstances. The rude savage--separated from all his former companions,
made at once an intimate and familiar witness of some of the wonders of
civilization, carried by his new comrades to their very country, and
brought face to face with his traditionary foes, the dreaded northern
men, and now returning to recount to his yet ruder brethren the wonders
he had witnessed--could not fail to interest the least imaginative.
Yet Miago had a decided and most inexplicable advantage over all on
board, and that in a matter especially relating to the science of
navigation: he could indicate at once and correctly the exact direction
of our wished-for harbour, when neither sun nor stars were shining to
assist him. He was tried frequently, and under very varying
circumstances, but strange as it may seem, he was invariably right. This
faculty--though somewhat analogous to one I have heard ascribed to the
natives of North America--had very much surprised me when exercised on
shore, but at sea, out of the sight of land, it seemed beyond belief, as
assuredly it is beyond explanation: but I have sometimes thought that
some such power must have been possessed by those adventurous seamen who,
long before the discovery of the compass, ventured upon distant and
I used sometimes, as we approached the land of his nativity, to question
him upon the account he intended to give his friends of the scenes he had
witnessed, and I was quite astonished at the accuracy with which he
remembered the various places we had visited during the voyage: he seemed
to have carried the ship's track in his memory with the most careful
accuracy. His description of the ship's sailing and anchoring were most
amusing: he used to say, "Ship walk--walk--all night--hard walk--then by
and by, anchor tumble down." His manner of describing his interviews with
the "wicked northern men," was most graphic. His countenance and figure
became at once instinct with animation and energy, and no doubt he was
then influenced by feelings of baffled hatred and revenge, from having
failed in his much-vaunted determination to carry off in triumph one of
their gins. I would sometimes amuse myself by asking him how he was to
excuse himself to his friends for having failed in the premised exploit,
but the subject was evidently a very unpleasant one, and he was always
anxious to escape from it.
In spite of all Miago's evocations for a change of wind we did not see
Rottnest Island before the morning of the 25th. The ship's track on the
chart after passing the North-West Cape, resembled the figure seven, the
tail pointing towards the north. We passed along the south side of
Rottnest, and by keeping its south-western extreme shut in with the south
point, cleared the northern end of the foul ground extending
North-North-West from a cluster of high rocks called the Stragglers.
RETURN TO SWAN RIVER.
As Gage Road was not considered safe at this time of the year, the ship
was taken into Owen's anchorage under the guidance of Mr. Usborne. We
first steered for the Mew Stone, bearing south, until the leading marks
could be made out; they are the western of two flat rocks lying close off
the west side of Carnac Island and a large white sand patch on the north
side of Garden Island. The rock must be kept its own breadth open to the
eastward of the highest part of the patch; these marks lead over a sort
of bar or ridge of sand in 3 and 3 1/2 fathoms; when the water deepened
to 5 and 7 fathoms, the course was then changed to East-South-East for a
patch of low cliffs about two miles south of Fremantle, which brought us
up to Owen's anchorage in 7 and 8 fathoms, passing between Success and
Thus concluded our first cruise on this almost hitherto unknown part of
the continent; and looking at its results we had every reason to feel
satisfied, having appended 300 miles of new land to our geographical
store, and succeeded in an object of paramount interest in this country,
the discovery of a river. Besides the nautical information obtained, some
additions were made to the secondary objects of the voyage, by increasing
our knowledge of the natural history and indigenous productions of
CHANGES OF TEMPERATURE.
During the period of our visit we had a temperature varying from 76 to
125 degrees; the weather generally fine, with moderate south-easterly
winds, and occasionally heavy squalls from the eastward, excepting in the
month of February and part of March, when we experienced heavy falls of
rain, accompanied by fresh westerly winds. But as these changes have
already been noticed in the diary, it is needless to enter into further
detail about them here.
CHAPTER 1.8. SWAN RIVER TO SYDNEY.
Miago's reception by his countrymen.
Strange ideas entertained by Natives respecting the first Settlers.
Neglected state of the Colony.
Test security of Owen's Anchorage.
Celebration of the Anniversary of the Colony.
Friendly meeting between different Tribes.
Personal vanity of a Native.
Description of Country.
Site of York.
Scenery in its neighbourhood.
Sail from Swan River.
Hospitality of Colonists during our stay.
Gale off Cape Leeuwen.
Ship on a lee shore.
South-west Cape of Tasmania.
Bruny Island Lighthouse.
Arrive at Hobart.
Civility from the Governor.
Appearance of Land in the neighbourhood of Sydney.
Position of Lighthouse.
Entrance and first view of Port Jackson.
Scenery on passing up the Harbour.
Meet the Expedition bound to Port Essington.
Apparent increase of Sydney.
Cause of Decline.
Expedition sails for Port Essington.
La Perouse's Monument.
Meet Captain King.
Appearance of Land near Sydney.
MIAGO'S RECEPTION BY HIS COUNTRYMEN.
We were considerably amused with the consequential air Miago assumed
towards his countrymen on our arrival, which afforded us a not
uninstructive instance of the prevalence of the ordinary infirmities of
our common human nature, whether of pride or vanity, universally to be
met with both in the civilised man and the uncultivated savage. He
declared that he would not land until they first came off to wait on him.
Decorated with an old full-dress Lieutenant's coat, white trousers, and a
cap with a tall feather, he looked upon himself as a most exalted
personage, and for the whole of the first day remained on board,
impatiently, but in vain prying into each boat that left the shore for
the dusky forms of some of his quondam friends. His pride however could
not long withstand the desire of display; yielding to the impulse of
vanity, he, early the following morning, took his departure from the
ship. Those who witnessed the meeting described it as cool on both sides,
arising on the part of his friends from jealousy; they perhaps judging
from the nature of his costume, that he had abandoned his bush life. Be
that as it may, the reception tended greatly to lower the pride of our
hero; who through generosity (expending all his money to purchase them
bread) or from a fear of being treacherously speared, soon convinced his
former associates how desirous he was of regaining their confidence. He
did not, however, participate in the revelry then going on amongst the
natives at Fremantle, where, at this period of the year, they assemble in
great numbers to feast on the whales that are brought in by the boats of
a whaling establishment--which I cannot allude to without expressing an
opinion that this fishery, if properly managed and free from American
encroachments, would become one of the most important branches of
During the time that Miago was on board we took great pains to wean him
from his natural propensity for the savage life by instilling such
information as his untutored mind was capable of receiving, and from his
often-expressed resolutions we were led to hope a cure had been effected;
great was our disappointment then on finding that in less than a
fortnight after our arrival, he had resumed his original wildness, and
was again to be numbered amongst the native inhabitants of the bush. To
us he had been the source of great mirth, by the absurd anecdotes he
sometimes related about his countrymen. His account of their conjectures
respecting the arrival of the first settlers may amuse the reader; he
said, "the ships were supposed to be trees, and the cattle large dogs
(the only animal besides the kangaroo known to them) whose size and horns
excited such alarm, that one which strayed into the bush being met by a
party of natives made them climb up the nearest trees in the greatest
STATE OF THE COLONY.
It may give some definite idea of the neglected state of this infant
colony, to mention that during the entire period of our absence--a space
of six months--there had been but one arrival there, and that not from
England. The solitary visitor was H.M.S. Pelorus from the Indian station.
The want of communication with the mother country was beginning to be
felt severely, and in matters of graver moment than mere news. Many
necessary articles of home manufacture or importation, scarcely valued
till wanted, were now becoming almost unattainable: one familiar instance
will illustrate at once how this state of things presses upon the comfort
of the colonists; the price of yellow soap had risen to four shillings
The usual winter anchorage in Cockburn Sound, being seven miles from the
town of Fremantle, the colonists were naturally very anxious to see
tested the equal security of one which we had chosen within half that
distance. The point was fairly tried, and very satisfactorily determined
during the heavy weather which we experienced on the 31st of March, and
11th of June, which did not raise more sea than a boat at anchor could
have ridden out with safety. These gales lasted about forty-eight hours
each, commencing at North by West and gradually blowing themselves out at
West-South-West. In each instance a heavy bank of clouds in the
north-west gave us a day's notice of their approach. The indications of
the barometer were less decisive; its maximum was 29.3.
The weather in the interval between these gales was wet and unsettled;
but afterwards, until our departure, it continued remarkably fine with an
average temperature of 60 degrees.
The winds at this season prevail from the land, the seabreezes being both
light and very irregular.
ANNIVERSARY OF THE COLONY.
We were just in time to share in the annual festivities with which the
inhabitants celebrate the formation of the colony. Horseracing, and many
other old English sports showed that the colonists still retain the
tastes and habits of home. Some of the aborigines took part in the
amusements of the day with evident enjoyment: and we were surprised to
find that in throwing the spear they were excelled by an English
competitor. We hardly know how to reconcile this fact with our own
favourite theories upon the perfection of the savage in the few exercises
of skill to which he devotes his attention, and were obliged to take
refuge in the inadequate suggestion that the wild man requires a greater
degree of excitement than his more civilised competitor, to bring out, or
call into action, all the resources of his art. Among the natives
assembled were a small party from King George's Sound: they had come to
Perth, bearing despatches from that place. The good understanding which
appeared to exist between them and their fellow-countrymen in this
district, led me to believe that by bringing different tribes more
frequently together, under similar happy auspices to those which convened
the meeting of to-day, much might be done to qualify the eager and deadly
hatred in which they are too prone to indulge.
The natives in the town of Perth are most notorious beggars: the softer
sex ply this easy craft even more indefatigably than the men. Their
flattering solicitations and undeniable importunity seldom altogether
fail of success, and "quibra (i.e. ship) man," after the assurance that
he is a "very pretty gentleman," must perforce yield to the solicitation
"tickpence give it um me."
There was one amongst them, who from some accident had lost several of
his toes. When in conversation, if he fancied any person was observing
his foot, he would immediately endeavour to conceal the part that was
thus disfigured by burying it in the sand. Another instance, exemplifying
how prevalent is the frailty of vanity in the heart of man in his
As a little time was required to give the ship a slight refit and the
crew some relaxation, it afforded an opportunity of visiting York,
situated about sixty miles east from Perth, and at that extremity of the
colony. Accordingly, one murky afternoon a small party of us were wending
our way over the Darling Range. Long after dark the welcome bark of dogs
rang through the forest in the still dark night, assuring us that shelter
was at hand, and we soon found ourselves before a large fire in the only
house on the road, enjoying, after a dreary wet ride, the usual fare at
that time at the out-stations--fried pork and kangaroo. About this
tenement was the only spot of land along the whole line of road that
could at all lay claim to anything like fertility; at which I was the
more surprised, as our route intercepted the direction in which patches
of good land are generally found in this part of the continent. The soil
of this little piece was of a rich black mould and well watered by a
neighbouring spring. Our road lay in some places over tracts of loose
white sand, and in others round and over low ironstone hills. Descending
from one of these heights to a rich narrow flat, the presence of three or
four houses informed us we were within the township of York. The position
of the level it occupies forms the western bank of the river Avon, which
is now and has been for some time past nothing more than a chain of
waterholes. In this neighbourhood the hills lie detached from one another
in irregular directions, and are composed of granite; from the summit of
one on the western side of the town we looked over a vast expanse of
undulating forest land, densely wooded, with scarcely a grassy patch to
break the monotony of the view. To give an idea of the personal labour
early settlers are obliged to undergo, I may mention that we found Mr.
Bland, the most wealthy colonist in Western Australia, engaged in holding
the plough. I was disappointed in my visit to this part of the country as
it did not leave a favourable impression of its fertility--still it
afforded me an opportunity of judging by comparison of the quality of the
soils in Western Australia and on the banks of the Fitzroy, and I was
happy to find I had not overrated the latter.
The odium of a recent murder in the vicinity committed by natives had led
to their absenting themselves just now from York, but a few of their
numbers too young for suspicion were employed in the capacity of servants
and appeared sharp and intelligent lads.
SAIL FROM SWAN RIVER.
On the 20th of June we took leave of our friends in Western Australia,
proceeding out of Owen's anchorage by a passage recommended by the
Harbour-Master, in which we found half a fathom less water than the one
through which we entered. During our stay there, nothing could exceed the
kindness with which we were welcomed, and we experienced that proverbial
hospitality of colonists which in this instance we shall ever remember
with feelings of the most sincere and heart-felt pleasure.
It may appear out of place inserting it here but on our first arrival at
Swan River in November last, we saw the Aurora Australis very bright.
At midnight of the 23rd of June we passed Cape Leeuwin, the south-western
extremity of the continent; named by the first discoverer in 1622, Landt
van de Leeuwin or the land of Lions. The wind which had increased since
the morning to a fresh gale from the northward, now suddenly veered round
to the westward, accompanied with rain and causing a high cross-sea.
GALE OFF CAPE LEEUWIN.
These sudden shifts of wind frequently raise a very dangerous sea off
Cape Leeuwin.* This made the third gale we had experienced since the 30th
of May, and is recorded here from its commencing at North-East instead of
at north, the usual point at which gales in these regions begin. During
the stormy weather which prevailed throughout the passage, we were
unceasingly attended by those majestic birds and monarchs of the
ocean--the White Albatross (Diomedia exulans) which with steadily
expanded wings sailed gracefully over the surface of the restless main in
solemn silence, like spectres of the deep; their calm and easy flight
coursing each wave in its hurried career seemed to mock the unsteady
motion of our little vessel as she alternately traversed the deep hollows
and lofty summits of the high-crested seas.
(*Footnote. In a gale off this Cape in 1836, H.M.S. Zebra was compelled
to throw her guns overboard.)
It was our intention to have passed through Bass Strait, but finding we
were unable to weather King Island bore up on the 6th for Hobart. On the
evening of the same day we were by a sudden change of the wind placed in
one of those perilous situations in which both a good ship and sound gear
are so much required; the wind, which had been northerly throughout the
day, about 8 P.M. veered round to west, blowing a heavy gale with a high
sea; and since we had now run about halfway along Van Diemen's Land, left
us with an extensive and dangerous shore under our lee. Through the
dismal gloom of the night, during which there was incessant rain with a
succession of heavy squalls, the angry voice of nature seemed indeed to
be raised in menace against us, and it was not until the close of the
next day that a slight abatement of the weather relieved our anxiety for
the safety of the ship. During the night the wind backed round to the
North-West and the sky became once more partially clear. Early on the
morning of the 8th we descried the south-western extremity of the land of
Van Diemen, discovered in 1633 by the celebrated Dutch Navigator, Abel
Tasman, and so named by him after the Governor of Batavia, under whose
authority the voyage thus crowned with success had been performed.
To this portion of Australasia I shall systematically apply the name of
Tasmania, in honour of that adventurous seaman who first added it to the
list of European discoveries. The same principle appears to have been
recently acted upon by the Government in creating the Bishopric of
Tasmania, and I may therefore plead high authority to sanction such
innovation:* higher perhaps than will be required by him who calls to
mind that hitherto the navigator who added this island, and the scarcely
less important ones of New Zealand to the empire of science, has been
left without a memorial, the most befitting and the most lasting that
universal gratitude can consecrate to individual desert. The insular
character of Tasmania was not fully ascertained till the year 1798, when
the intrepid Bass, then surgeon of H.M.S. Reliance, while on a whaleboat
cruise from Sydney, discovered the strait which bears his name.
(*Footnote. Mr. Greenough, late President of the Geological Society, in
his anniversary address to that body on the 24th of May, 1841, remarks
that, "It is much to be regretted that Government has not recognised
Tasmania as the name of that island, improperly denominated Van Diemen's
Land. The occurrence of a second Van Diemen's Land on the northern coast
of Australia occasions confusion; and since Tasman, not Van Diemen, was
the first discoverer of the island, it would be but just that whatever
honour the name confers should be given to the former navigator." Journal
of the Royal Geographical Society of London volume 11 1841 part 1.)
Towards 10 A.M. steering East by South before a long rolling sea, we
passed about six miles from the South-west Cape of Tasmania. There was no
opportunity at the time of determining exactly the amount of error in the
position assigned to it in the present charts, but we were satisfied that
it was placed at least five miles too far south. The Maatzuyker Isles, a
group a few miles to the south-east of this cape, are also incorrectly
laid down. The view of this headland was of a very impressive and
remarkable character, and to add to the usual effect of its lonely and
solitary grandeur, a heavy sea still vexed and swelling from the
turbulence of the recent gale, was breaking in monotonous regularity
against its white and aged face; rising a thousand feet precipitously
above the level of the sea, and terminating in a peak, rendered yet more
conspicuous by a deep gap behind it.
The adjacent coast had a singularly wild, bare, and storm-beaten
appearance. We beheld the rugged and treeless sides of barren hills; and
here and there, where vegetation struggled with sterility, its stunted
growth and northern inclination caused by the prevailing winds testified
to an ungenial clime; high, bare-faced peaks appeared occasionally
through the thick clouds that girdled them, and the whole coastline
forcibly reminded us of the dreary shores of Tierra del Fuego.
BRUNY ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE.
On opening d'Entrecasteaux Channel, we observed a splendid lighthouse
erected by Sir John Franklin, on the South-West extremity of Bruny
Island, and which serves to guide entering vessels clear of the shoals in
the mouth of that channel, formerly fatal to so many a luckless voyager,
wrecked within sight of the hoped-for shore, upon which he might never
set his foot. The situation of the lighthouse appears admirably chosen,
and it may readily be seen in the daytime, a wide gap being cut in the
woodland behind it. In alluding to the great improvement in the
navigation of d'Entrecasteaux Channel, by the erection of the lighthouse
on Bruny Island, it must be remembered that we are indebted to the
indefatigable exertions of Lieutenant Burnett, R.N., who had been
appointed Marine Surveyor to the colony by the Admiralty, for a knowledge
of the exact position of its dangers. In prosecuting this service, I
grieve to say, his life was lost, by the upsetting of a boat in one of
those sudden gusts of wind which sweep down the steep valleys on the
sides of that channel. This sudden termination of Lieutenant Burnett's
labours has been deplored alike by the colony, and by the profession of
which he was so bright an ornament.
We entered Storm Bay after dark against a strong North-West wind, which
quite vindicated the title of the bay to the name it bears, and so much
delayed our progress, that it was morning before we were abreast of the
Iron Pot lighthouse at the entrance of the Derwent River, and after dark
before we reached Sullivan's cove, Hobart.
Although the passage up the river was tedious and annoying from the
adverse and squally wind that prevailed throughout the day, we were
almost repaid for the delay by the scenery each tack brought to our view,
and to which the remembered aspect of the shores we had so recently
quitted, seemed by contrast to add a yet more delightful verdure.
As we proceeded, we noticed since our last visit, several bare patches in
the woodlands, where the axe and the brand of the enterprising colonists
had prepared the way for that cultivation under the influence of which
the landscape wore in places an almost English aspect. This fancied
resemblance--inspiring by turns delightful anticipation and fond
regret--was heightened by the occasional addition of many pretty little
cottages scattered along the sloping banks of the river, and adding to
the luxuriant appearance of the country, the peaceful grace and sanctity
We were detained at Hobart till the 19th, the bad state of the weather
rendering it impossible to complete the requisite observations for rating
We had two or three snowstorms during the time, but even in fine weather
the proximity of Mount Wellington, towering above Hobart, and throwing
its strange square-headed shadow across the still waters of Sullivan's
cove, must always render Fort Mulgrave an unfavourable spot for
observations, from its arresting the progress of each passing cloud. The
pleasure of our return was very much enhanced by the kind hospitality
with which we were received by the inhabitants, and the officers of Her
Majesty's 21st regiment. From Sir John Franklin the Governor, we
experienced all the attention and courtesy--all the frank and generous
hospitality which it was in his power to bestow. Had we been without the
claims of previous acquaintance to have recommended us to his best
offices, the fact that our voyage was intended to advance the cause of
science, would have been quite sufficient to interest in our welfare, one
who has achieved a reputation as enduring as it is honourable, amid the
perils and trials connected with an Arctic campaign of discovery.
The unfavourable state of the weather also prevented us from visiting and
enjoying the alpine scenery in the neighbourhood of Hobart.
We did, however, get a few miles from the town upon one occasion, when
the fox-hounds of a gentleman, Mr. Gregson, who will be long remembered
in the colony for his pedestrian and equestrian performances--met in the
neighbourhood to hunt the kangaroo. A thoroughly English appreciation of
all that promised sport, led a large party of us to join the meet, at a
place called the Neck. The turnout was by no means despicable: the hounds
were well bred, though rather small--perhaps an advantage in the sort of
country over which their work lies. A tolerable muster of red coats gave
life and animation to the scene, and forcibly reminded us of a coverside
The hounds found a large kangaroo almost immediately upon throwing off,
and went away with him in good earnest. There was a burning scent, and
from the nature of the country, over which we went for some distance
without a check, the riding was really desperate. The country was thickly
wooded, with open spaces here and there, in which fallen trees lay half
hidden by long grass. Riding to the hounds was therefore as necessary as
dangerous, for once out of sight it was almost impossible to overtake or
fall in with them. Most of the field rode boldly and well, yet I remarked
one or two casualties: early in the run, a gentleman was swept off his
horse by the projecting branch of a tree, under which he was going at a
reckless pace, and another had his hat perforated immediately above the
crown of his head. Yet notwithstanding the annoyance of ferrying our
horses across the Derwent, we returned to Hobart, very much pleased with
the day's sport.*
(*Footnote. In the first volume of the Tasmanian Journal, will be found
an animated description of Kangaroo-hunting with these hounds, by the
Honourable H. Elliot, who mentions that on one occasion a large kangaroo
gave them a run of eighteen miles.)
In a gentleman's house there, I saw for the first time, a specimen of an
Albino or white variety of kangaroo, Halmaturus bennettii.* Another
object that interested me greatly was a quarry of travertine limestone,
in the neighbourhood of Hobart, where I saw the impression** of leaves of
plants, not in existence at present, and of a few shells of ancient
(*Footnote. One of this rare kind, was presented by Sir John Franklin to
her Majesty, in whose menagerie at Windsor it died, and was sent
afterwards to the British Museum, where it now may be seen.)
(**Footnote. Drawings of these impressions, together with the shells will
be found in Count Strzelecki's scientific work.)
SAIL FROM HOBART.
We sailed from Hobart on the 19th of July and carried a strong fair wind
to within a few days' sail of Sydney, when we experienced a current that
set us 40 miles South-East in 24 hours; this was the more extraordinary
as we did not feel it before, and scarcely afterwards; and our course
being parallel to the shore, was not likely to have brought us suddenly
within the influence of the currents said to prevail along the coast. The
ship's position was 40 miles east of Jervis Bay when we first met it.
This morning the clearness of the atmosphere enabled us at an elevation
of 50 feet, to distinguish the light near the entrance of Sydney Harbour,
while at a distance of thirty miles from it. Its site has been admirably
chosen for indicating the position of the port from a distance at sea,
but it has been placed too far from the entrance to be of much service to
vessels when close in shore.* The low land in the vicinity of Sydney and
Botany Bay, presents a striking contrast with the coast of the Illawarra
district, a little further southwards; where the sea washes the base of a
lofty range of hills, which sweeping round some distance in the rear of
the two former places, leaves an extensive tract of low country between
them and the sea. Upon the summit of these hills there rest almost
invariably huge clouds, which serve even through the gloom of the darkest
night, to assure the anxious navigator of his position.
(*Footnote. Some years since a ship with convicts was driven at night by
a South-East gale, close in with the light, and was obliged to run for
the harbour, but being then without anything to guide her into the
entrance, was wrecked on the south point. The loss of life was dreadful.
The light lately erected near the Sow and Pigs reef, has in some measure
remedied the evil here pointed out: but being too far within, and on the
south side of the entrance, it is not made out till, with southerly
winds, a ship has approached dangerously close to the North Head.)
APPROACH TO SYDNEY.
On approaching Sydney, a stranger cannot fail of being delighted with his
first glance at the noble estuary which spreads before and around him.
After sailing along a coastline of cliffs some 200 feet in height, and in
general effect and outline not unlike those of Dover, he observes an
apparent breach in the sea-wall, forming two abrupt headlands, and ere he
has time to speculate upon the cause of that fancied ruin, his ship
glides between the wave-worn cliffs into the magnificent harbour of Port
Jackson. The view which solicits the eye of the sea-wearied voyager as he
proceeds up the harbour, is indeed well calculated to excite a feeling of
mingled admiration and delight--the security and capacity of the
port--its many snug coves and quiet islets with their sloping shores,
sleeping upon the silver tide--pretty white cottages and many
English-looking villas peeping out here and there from their surrounding
shrubberies, and the whole canopied by a sky of ethereal blue, present a
picture which must at once enchant the most fastidious observer.
We found lying in the famous cove of Sydney, H.M.S. Alligator and
Britomart, commanded by Captain Sir Gordon Bremer, and Lieutenant (now
Captain) Owen Stanley, going to form a settlement at Port Essington on
the North coast; an expedition of much interest, particularly to us, from
having some old shipmates engaged in it.
CONTRAST WITH SOUTH AMERICA.
On first arriving at Sydney from South America, I was much struck with
the strange contrast its extensive and at the same time youthful
appearance presented to the decrepit and decaying aspect of the cities on
that continent. We had then been visiting colonies and settlements
founded centuries ago, by a nation at that time almost supreme in
European influence, and planted with every circumstance of apparent
advantage upon the shores of a fertile and luxurious continent given by
the immortal Genoese to the crown of Spain. We had found them distracted
by internal commotions, disgraced by ignorance, debased by superstition,
and defiled by slavery.
In Sydney we beheld with wonder what scarce half a century had sufficed
to effect; for where almost within the memory of man the savage ranged
the desert wastes and trackless forests, a noble city has sprung as
though by magic from the ground, which will ever serve both as a monument
of English enterprise, and as a beacon from whence the light of Christian
civilisation shall spread through the dark and gloomy recesses of
ignorance and guilt. The true history of our Australian possessions; the
causes which have led to their settlement; the means by which they have
been established; the circumstances by which they have been influenced;
and the rapid, nay, unexampled prosperity to which they have attained;
present some of the most curious and most important laws of colonisation
to our notice. Without attempting so far to deviate from my present
purpose as to enter here on a deduction from the data to which I have
alluded, it cannot be denied that, in the words of an eloquent writer in
Blackwood, "a great experiment in the faculty of renovation in the human
character, has found its field in the solitudes of this vast continent:
that the experiment has succeeded to a most unexampled and unexpected
degree: and that the question is now finally decided between severity and
discipline." What else remains, what great designs and unfathomed
purposes, are yet reserved to grace this distant theatre, I pause not now
to guess. The boldest conjecture would probably fall very far short of
the truth. It is sufficient for us to know that Providence has entrusted
to England a new empire in the Southern seas. Nor can we doubt that there
as elsewhere throughout the various regions of the habitable globe, the
same indomitable spirit which has achieved so many successes, will
accompany those whom heaven has appointed as pioneers, in that march of
moral regeneration and sound improvement long promised to the repentant
children of earth.
We were sorry to find that it had been necessary to form a quarantine
establishment in the North Harbour, in consequence of the diseases
brought to the country by emigrant ships. A number of tombstones,
whitening the side of a hill, mark the locality, and afford a melancholy
evidence of the short sojourn in the land of promise which has been
vouchsafed to some.
EXPEDITION TO PORT ESSINGTON.
It not being the favourable season for commencing operations in Bass
Strait, we remained at Sydney until November, and embraced the
opportunity of clearing out the ship. Our stay was undiversified with
incidents, and it may as well therefore be briefly passed over. Among the
few occurrences worth mentioning, was the departure of the expedition
sent out to form a settlement at Port Essington on the northern coast.
Its object was simply military occupation, it having been deemed
advisable about that time to assert practically the supremacy of Great
Britain over the Continent by occupying some of its most prominent
points; but as soon as its destination became known in the colony,
several persons came forward as volunteer-settlers, and expressed the
greatest anxiety to be allowed to accompany the expedition. Their views
extended to the establishment of a trade with the islands in the Arafura
sea; and certainly they would have been far more likely to draw forth the
resources of the country, than a garrison, whose supplies are brought to
them from a distance, whose presence holds out no inducement to traders,
and who are not impelled by any anxiety for their own support to discover
the riches of the soil. For these reasons the determination of Government
not to throw open the lands, and their refusal to hold out the promise of
protection to the individuals who expressed a desire to accompany the
expedition, are greatly to be regretted. In a vast continent like
Australia, so remarkably destitute of fixed inhabitants, it would seem
that every encouragement should be afforded to persons desirous of
locating themselves on unoccupied tracts. There is a great difference
besides, between giving rise to delusive hopes--inducing people as it
were under false pretences to repair to new settlements--and checking the
spirit of colonisation when it manifests itself. Every young
establishment must go through a certain process. It is necessary that
some should pioneer the way for others; and endure hardships the
beneficial results of which may be enjoyed only by their successors. Had
advantage been taken of the enterprising spirit that prevailed at the
time of which I speak, the germs of a fresh settlement would have been
deposited at Port Essington, which must ultimately have risen into
importance. A great stream of emigration was pouring into the
south-eastern portion of Australia, and it would have been wise to open a
channel by which some portion of it might have been drawn off to the
northern coast. But such were not the views entertained by the
authorities concerning this matter. They seemed apprehensive of incurring
the blame of encouraging the speculating mania which raged so extensively
at Sydney, and which has reacted with so pernicious an effect upon the
colony.* the expedition accordingly retained its purely military
character. However, I may add, that the Bishop of Australia attended to
the spiritual wants of the settlement by sending with it a church in
(*Footnote. On our arrival at Sydney in 1838, we found speculation at its
height: land-jobbers were carrying on a reckless and most gainful trade,
utterly regardless of that revulsion they were doomed soon to experience.
Town allotments that cost originally but 50 pounds were in some instances
sold, three months afterwards, for ten times that sum. Yet amid all this
appearance of excessive and unnatural prosperity there were not wanting
those who foresaw and foretold an approaching change. To the withdrawal
of the convicts, solely at the expressed wish of some of the most wealthy
colonists, has been traced much of the decline that followed; and the
more recent pages in the history of Sydney will fully bear out the
opinions expressed by Captain Fitzroy when he visited it in 1836: he
says, "It is difficult to believe that Sydney will continue to flourish
in proportion to its rise. It has sprung into existence too suddenly.
Convicts have forced its growth, even as a hot bed forces plants, and
premature decay may be expected from such early maturity.")
During our stay at Sydney we paid a visit to Botany Bay, which from the
circumstance of its being the point first touched at by Captain Cook,
naturally possesses the greatest interest of any place in the
neighbourhood. Our way thither lay over a sandy plain, into which the
coast range of low hills subsides. There is little or no verdure to
relieve the eye, which encounters aridity wherever it turns; and the sand
being rendered loose by frequent traffic, the foot sinks at every step,
so that the journey is disagreeable to both man and beast. These
inconveniences, however, were soon forgotten on our arrival at our
destination, amidst the feelings excited and the associations raised by
the objects that presented themselves.
MONUMENT TO LA PEROUSE.
Within the entrance of the bay, on the northern side, stands a monument*
erected to the memory of La Perouse, that being the last spot at which
the distinguished navigator was heard of, from 1788, until 1826, when the
Chevalier Dillon was furnished with a clue to his melancholy fate by
finding the handle of a French sword fastened to another blade in the
possession of a native of Tucopia, one of the Polynesian group. By this
means he was enabled to trace him to the island of Mannicolo, on the
reefs fronting which his ship was lost.
(*Footnote. On the eastern side is engraven: A la Memoire de Monsieur de
la Perouse. Cette terre qu'il visita en MDCCLXXXVIII. est la derniere
d'ou il a fait parvenir de ses nouvelles.
Also: Erige au nom de la France par les soins de MM. de Bougainville et
Du Campier, commandant la fregate La Thetis, et la corvette L'Esperance,
en relache au Port Jackson, en MDCCCXXV.
On the western side: This place, visited by Monsieur de la Perouse in the
year MDCCLXXXVIII, is the last whence any accounts of him have been
Also: Erected in the name of France by MM. de Bougainville and du
Campier, commanding the frigate the Thetis and the corvette the Hope,
lying in Port Jackson, A.D. MDCCCXXV.
On the north: Le fondement pose en 1825; eleve en 1828.
On the south: Foundation laid in 1825, completed 1828.)
Close by, on the same point, stands the tomb of a French Catholic priest,
named Le Receveur, who accompanied La Perouse, as naturalist, in his
circumnavigation of the globe, and died at this great distance from his
native land. A large stump of a tree rising near, "marks out the sad
spot" where lie mouldering the bones of the wanderer in search of
materials to enrich the stores of science. No doubt many a hope of future
fame expired in that man's breast as he sank into his last sleep in a
foreign clime, far from his home and friends and relations, such as his
order allowed him to possess. The applause of the world, which doubtless
he fancied would have greeted his labours at the end of his perilous
journey, he was now robbed of; and he must have felt that few would ever
recollect his name, save the rare voyager who, like myself, having
encountered the same dangers that he had braved, should chance to read
his short history on the narrow page of stone that rests above his grave.
Another object of greater interest to the Englishman is observable on
Cape Solander, the opposite point of the bay. It is a plate set in the
rock, recording the first visit of the immortal Cook, to whose enterprise
the colonists are indebted for the land that yields them their riches,
and which must now be invested in their eyes with all the sanctity of
home. Surely it would become them to evince a more filial reverence for
the man who must be regarded as in some respects the father of the
colony. Let us hope that they will one day raise a monument to his
memory, which to be worthy of him must be worthy of themselves--something
to point out to future generations the spot at which the first white
man's foot touched the shore, and where civilisation was first brought in
contact with the new continent.
But though Botany Bay is interesting from the associations connected with
it--I am quite serious, though the expression may raise a smile on some
of my readers' lips--the tract of country best worth seeing in the
neighbourhood of Sydney, is Illawarra, commonly called the Garden of New
South Wales. By a change in the formation from sandstone to trap, a soil
this here produced capable of supporting a vegetation equal in luxuriance
to any within the tropics. In the deep valleys that intersect the
country, the tree-fern attains a great stature, and throwing out its rich
spreading fronds on all sides forms a canopy that perfectly excludes the
piercing rays of even an Australian sun. It is impossible to describe the
feelings of surprise and pleasure that are excited in the mind of the
traveller as he descends into any one of these delightful dells: the
contrast in the vegetable kingdom strikes him at once; he gazes around on
the rich masses of verdure with astonishment, and strongly impressed with
the idea that enchantment has been at work, involuntarily rubs his eyes
and exclaims, "Am I in Australia or in the Brazils?"
Few only of the aborigines of the neighbourhood of Sydney are now to be
seen, and these are generally in an intoxicated state. Like most savage
tribes they are passionately addicted to spiritous liquors, and seek to
obtain it by any means in their power. Out of a sugar bag, with a little
water, they manage to extract a liquor sufficient to make half a dozen of
them tipsy; and in this condition, as I have observed, they most
frequently presented themselves to my view. They are in every respect a
weak, degraded, miserable race, and are anything but a favourable
specimen of the benefits produced by intercourse with polished nations on
an uncivilised people. However, the natives of Australia vary as
strangely as its soil; the members of the tribes that dwell about
Shoalhaven and the small southern ports, and come up in coasting vessels,
are good-looking, useful fellows, and may hereafter be made much of. I
noticed also, in my circumnavigation of the continent, a remarkable
diversity in the character of the natives, some being most kindly
disposed, while others manifested the greatest hostility and aversion. My
whole experience teaches me that these were not accidental differences,
but that there is a marked contrast in the dispositions of the various
tribes, for which I will not attempt to account. I leave in the hands of
ethnologists to determine whether we are to seek the cause in minute
variations of climate or in other circumstances, physical or historical.
This I can say, that great pains were formerly taken to civilize the
natives of Sydney, gardens were given them, and numerous attempts made to
inculcate habits of order, and communicate a knowledge of European arts;
but no advantageous results ensued, and it was at length deemed
impossible not only to improve them, but even to prevent their
deterioration. I cannot determine whether this evinces a natural
inaptitude in the savage to learn, or too great impatience in the
teachers to witness the fruits of their labours, and a proneness to be
discouraged by difficulties.
"IS THIS GRASS?"
In the journal of my residence at Sydney I find as the result of one
day's experience, the following laconic and somewhat enigmatical
memorandum: "Is this grass?" The question implies a doubt, which it would
not be easy for any person unacquainted with the circumstances of time
and place, to solve: but the reader, when he has seen the explanation,
will understand why very pleasing associations are connected with this
brief note. I was going down to the jetty late one evening, when I met a
party just landed, evidently complete strangers in this quarter of the
world. Their wandering and unsteady glances would have convinced me of
this fact, had their whole appearance left any doubt about the matter:
among them were some ladies, one of whom suddenly detached herself from
her companions, and directed as it were by instinct through the gloom,
hastened towards a few sods of turf, pressed them exaltingly with her
foot, and exclaimed in a light, joyous, happy voice--through which other
emotions than that of mere gladness struggled--"Is this grass?" The words
were nothing. They might have been uttered in a thousand different tones
and have not fixed themselves on my memory; but as they fell in accents
of delight and gratitude from the lips of the speaker, they told a whole
story, and revealed an entire world of feeling. Never shall I forget the
simple expression of this newcomer, whose emotions on first feeling the
solid earth beneath her tread, and touching a remembrance of the land she
had left in quest of another home, will be incomprehensible to no one who
has crossed the ocean.
We met several persons at Sydney from whom we received valuable
information, and particularly Captain King, who, as the reader may
recollect, commanded the first expedition on which the Beagle was
employed. His great scientific attainments must ever attach respect to
his name, and his explorations on the Australian coast, previous to the
survey in which we were engaged, together with his father's services as
Governor of New South Wales, give him and his children a lasting claim
upon the country. The information he furnished on this and subsequent
occasions was extremely valuable.
RISING OF THE AUSTRALIAN CONTINENT.
An observation of his gave rise in my mind to very curious conjectures;
he told me that where he used formerly to anchor the vessel he commanded
in the head of Sydney cove, there was now scarcely sufficient water to
float even a boat. As the deposits of the small stream that flows into it
could not have produced this change, I was led to examine the shore of
the harbour, when I found what seemed to me to be the marks of the sea
higher than its present level; this, coupled with the decrease in the
soundings we found in Darling Harbour, leads to the legitimate inference
that this part of the continent is rising; and my reader will recollect
that it is a prevalent theory that the whole of the vast plains of
Australasia have but recently emerged from the sea.
CHAPTER 1.9. BASS STRAIT.
Enter Bass Strait.
Island at Eastern entrance.
Enter Port Phillip.
Commence Surveying Operations.
His residence with the Natives.
Sail for King Island.
Examine Coast to Cape Otway.
Meet Sealers on New Year Islands.
Solitary Residence of Captain Smith.
Advantageous position for a Penal Settlement.
Leafless appearance of Trees.
Examine West Coast.
Examine Coast to Sea Elephant Rock.
Cross the Strait to Hunter Island.
Strong Tide near Reid's Rocks.
Three Hummock Island.
The Black Pyramid.
Coast to Circular Head.
Headquarters of the Agricultural Company.
Capture of a Native.
Mouth of the Tamar River.
Return to Port Phillip.
Custom of Natives.
Examine Western Port.
Adventure with a Snake.
Revisit King and Hunter Islands.
Gales of Wind.
Sea Elephant Rock.
Navarin and Harbinger Reefs.
Arrive at Port Phillip.
Sail for Sydney.
Mr. Usborne leaves.
Before quitting Sydney I must express my gratitude for the hospitality we
experienced during our stay, which prepared us with greater cheerfulness
to encounter the difficulties we might expect to meet with in the
boisterous waters that rolled between the then imperfectly known shores,
and islands of Bass Strait. It was not until the 11th of November that we
bade adieu to our friends, and sailed to commence our contemplated
operations. On the 14th we passed the rocky islands (Kent's Group) at the
eastern entrance of the Strait, their barren and bleak appearance bespoke
the constant gales that swept over them, checking every tendency to
vegetation. As we approached them the soundings decreased to 28 fathoms,
the observation of which fact apprises vessels coming from the eastward
in thick weather, of their proximity. After leaving these islands we
progressed but slowly, and the passage through the Strait promised to be
tedious: yet, as the wind was fair and the weather fine, we had no reason
to complain, considering moreover the remarkably mild reception we met
with in the Funnel, the name commonly and most appropriately given by the
colonists to Bass Strait, from the constant strong winds that sweep
On the 17th we passed Wilson's Promontory, the southern extremity of
Australia, connected with the main by a low sandy isthmus, only left dry
it is probable of late years. It is a very mountainous tract, rearing its
many peaks in solemn grandeur from the waves and burying their summits*
at most seasons of the year, in a canopy of grey mist. On some occasions,
however, the bold outline of the mountains is relieved against a clear
sky, and their loftiest points catch the first rays of the morning sun,
as it rises from the eastern ocean. Many small islands are dispersed over
the sea in front of this promontory, and partake of its character, being
apparently the tops of mountains thrusting themselves up from the deep,
and suggesting the belief that new countries are about to be disclosed.
Passing Port Western, generally called Western Port, a high mound on the
south-eastern extremity of Grant Island was the most conspicuous object.
The next remarkable feature in the coast is Cape Shanck, a projection at
the western end of a long line of cliffs. Lying close off it is a rock,
named, from its exact resemblance, Pulpit Rock.
(*Footnote. Nearly 3000 feet high.)
In a small bay on the east side of this headland we caught a glimpse of
some rich valleys; but from thence for a distance of 16 miles, the coast
retains a barren sandy character to Port Phillip, which we reached on the
afternoon of the 18th. We scarcely found any ripplings in the entrance,
an occurrence of extreme rarity; for it will readily be imagined that a
body of water required to fill a bay thirty miles deep and twenty broad,
passing through an entrance one mile and a half in width, must rush with
great violence; and when we take into account the extreme unevenness of
the bottom (soundings varying from 40 to 25 and even 9 fathoms) no
surprise can be felt that such a stream, particularly when opposed to a
strong wind, should raise a dangerous sea. The force of it may be
conjectured from a fact of which I was myself witness. Standing on one of
the entrance points, I saw a schooner trying to get in with all sails set
before a fresh breeze, and yet she was carried out by the current.
Another observation is also recorded for the guidance of the stranger
passing into the port. When in the middle of the entrance, a low clump of
dark bushes breaking the line of white sand beach beyond Shortlands
Bluff, was just seen clear of the latter.
The first appearance of Port Phillip is very striking, and the effect of
the view is enhanced by the contrast with the turbulent waves without and
in the entrance. As soon as these have been passed, a broad expanse of
placid water displays itself on every side; and one might almost fancy
oneself in a small sea. But the presence of a distant highland forming a
bluff in the North-East soon dispels this idea. Besides this bluff
(called by the natives Dandonong) Arthur's Seat, and Station Peak are the
principal features that catch the eye of the stranger. The latter, called
Youang by the natives, is one of a small group of lofty peaks rising
abruptly out of a low plain on the western shore of the bay; whilst
Arthur's Seat towers over the eastern shore, and forms the northern
extremity of a range subsiding gradually to the coast at Cape Shanck.
Anchoring close to the southern shore, about three miles within the
entrance, we set to work in good earnest with our surveying
operations--in the first place selecting a conspicuous spot for
observation, from which all the meridians of our work in the western part
of the Strait were to be measured. For the sake of my nautical readers I
may mention that the western extreme of the cliffy patches on the south
shore of the bay, marks the place chosen. The nature of our employment
confining us to the neighbourhood of the entrance, we had no opportunity
of visiting the town of Melbourne, situated near the northern side of the
bay. This capital of Australia Felix had for a long time been known to
some squatters from Tasmania; but to Sir Thomas Mitchell the inhabitants
must ever feel grateful for revealing to the world at large the fertility
of the districts in its neighbourhood. It is not a little singular that
the attempt to form a settlement at this place in 1826 should have
failed. A fort was built and abandoned, and of the party of convicts who
accompanied the expedition, two escaped and joined the natives, by whom
one was murdered, whilst the other, contriving by some means to
ingratiate himself with them, remained in their company until 1835, when
he was discovered by the settlers from Tasmania. During the eleven years
he had passed in the bush, without coming in contact with any other
European, he had entirely forgotten his own language, and had degenerated
into a perfect savage. His intellect, if he ever possessed much, had
almost entirely deserted him; and nothing of any value could be gleaned
from him respecting the history and manners of the tribe with whom he had
so long dwelt. He received his pardon and went to Hobart, but such was
the indolence he had contracted that nothing could be made of him.
The southern shore of Port Phillip is a singular long narrow tongue of
land, running out from the foot of the range of which Arthur's Seat is
the most conspicuous point. I infer from the limestone prevailing in it,
and containing shells of recent species, that it was once much beneath
its present level; in fact, that it stops up what was formerly a broad
mouth of the bay, leaving only the present narrow entrance at the western
extremity. Over its surface are scattered hills from one to two hundred
feet in height, in the valleys between which was found some light sandy
soil supporting at this time rich grass, and at various places a thin
growth of Banksia, Eucalypti, and Casuarina, all stunted and showing
symptoms of having been roughly used by the south wind. Near the spot we
had chosen for the centre of our observations was a well of inferior
water, and we did not find any better in the neighbourhood. The point in
question therefore will never be very eligible as a settlement. The
kangaroos are numerous and large, and the finest snappers I have ever
heard of are caught off this point, weighing sometimes as much as thirty
pounds. Our fishing experiments, however, were not very productive, being
principally sharks; thirteen young ones were found in a single female of
SAIL FOR KING ISLAND.
Bad weather prolonged our stay until the 26th of November. We had been
chiefly occupied in determining the position of the mouths of the various
channels intersecting the banks, that extend across the entire bay, three
miles within the entrance. The most available passages appeared to be
those lying on the south and west shores, particularly the former for
vessels of great draught; but we did not conclude the examination of them
at this time, sailing on the morning of the 26th to survey the coast to
the westward. The first thirteen miles, trending West by South was of a
low sandy character, what seemed to be a fertile country stretching
behind it. Two features on this line are worthy of notice--Point
Flinders, resembling an island from seaward, on account of the low land
in its rear; and the mouth of the river Barwon, navigable for boats
entering in very fine weather. On its northern bank, eight miles from the
sea is the site of the town of Geelong. Passing this the nature of the
country begins to change, and high grassy downs with rare patches of
woodland present themselves, which in their turn give place, as we
approach Cape Otway, to a steep rocky coast, with densely wooded land
rising abruptly over it.
The above-mentioned Cape is the northern point of the western extremity
of Bass Strait, and is swept by all the winds that blow into that end of
the Funnel. The pernicious effect of these is evident in the stunted
appearance of the trees in its neighbourhood. It is a bold projection in
latitude 38 degrees 51 minutes, and appears to be the South-West
extremity of a ridge of granite gradually rising from it in a North-East
direction. About half a mile off it, lies a small detached reef.
Having thus coasted the northern side of the Strait, we proceeded to
cross over to Tasmania to examine the southern side. About halfway is
King Island, extending in a north and south direction, thirty-five miles,
and in an east and west thirteen. It lies right across the entrance of
the Strait, about forty miles from either shore, and from its isolated
position is well adapted for a penal settlement.
The more northern channel of the two formed by this island is the safer,
and the water deepens from 47 to 65 fathoms as you approach it from the
continent. Its outline is not remarkable, the most conspicuous point
being a round hill 600 feet high over the northern point called Cape
Wickham. We anchored in a bay on the North-West side, under New Year
Island, which affords shelter for a few vessels from all winds. There is
a narrow passage between the two, but none between them and the southern
point of the bay, which is open to the north-west. On the summit of one
of these islands boulders of granite are strewed, and they exhibit a very
remarkable white appearance from seaward when the sun has passed his
A SEALER'S FAMILY.
A sealer had established himself on the north island with two wives,
natives of Tasmania. They were clothed in very comfortable greatcoats
made of kangaroo skins, and seemed quite contented with their condition.
Their offspring appeared sharp and intelligent. In another part of my
work I shall touch more fully on the history of these sealers, who style
themselves Residents of the islands. They further distinguish their
classes by the names of Eastern and Western Straits-men, according to the
position of the islands they inhabit.
The sealers on New Year Island had a large whaleboat, which I was
somewhat puzzled to know how they managed, there being but one man among
them. He informed me, however, that his wives, the two native women,
assisted him to work the boat, which had been well prepared for the rough
weather they have to encounter in Bass Strait by a canvas half-deck,
which, lacing in the centre, could be rolled up on the gunwale in fine
THE MUTTON BIRD.
The principal occupation of these people during this month of the year is
taking the Sooty Petrel, called by the colonists the Mutton Bird, from a
fancied resemblance to the taste of that meat. It is at the present month
that they resort to the island for the purpose of incubation. They
constitute the chief sustenance of the sealers, who cure them for use and
sale: their feathers also form a considerable article of trade. Many
parts of the island were perfectly honeycombed with their burrows, which
greatly impede the progress of the pedestrian, and are in some cases
dangerous from snakes lying in them. The sealers told me that they had
lost a cat which died within an hour after the bite of one of these
reptiles. We here found cabbages and water, and the people informed us
that it was always their custom to plant a few vegetables on the islands
From the top of this island we had a good view of the Harbinger reefs,
so-called from a convict ship of that name which was lost upon them and
all hands perished. I was glad to find they were only two detached rocks
lying three miles and a half from the shore, instead of, as reported, one
continued reef lying six or seven miles from the land. They bore north
six miles from our position.
The sealers informed us that a house which we descried in the bay, was
occupied by a gentleman who had met with a reverse of fortune. We
accordingly paid him a visit next morning, and found that he was a
Captain Smith with whom the world had gone wrong, and who had accordingly
fled as far as possible from the society of civilised man and taken up
his residence on the shores of King Island with his family. He had given
the name of Port Franklin to the bay, which we changed to Franklin Road,
from its not being worthy of the title of a Port. He was led to choose
his position from its being in the neighbourhood of the only secure
anchorage from all winds, and near the best soil he had found after
traversing the whole of the island. According to his account it was
totally unfit for rearing sheep on a large scale; the bushes and grass
being so full of burrs that the wool was completely spoiled. The soil was
everywhere very inferior, and a few patches only of clean land was to be
found, the principal part being overrun with dense scrub and impervious
thickets. There were few elevations on the island, and those not of any
great magnitude, the loftiest point being scarcely seven hundred feet.
The formation of the neighbourhood of Captain Smith's house was granite:
WEST SIDE OF KING ISLAND.
The house in which this modern Robinson Crusoe dwelt was what is called a
Slab Hut, formed of rough boards and thatched with grass. He had a garden
in which grew some cabbages and a few other vegetables; but he complained
sorely of blight from the west winds. There are three varieties of
kangaroos on the island, and plenty of wildfowl on some of the lagoons;
so that supplies are abundant: but the few sheep he possessed were
rendered of little value from the burrs I have before mentioned. I could
not help pitying the condition of this gentleman and his interesting
family--a wife and daughter and three or four fine boys. They had
retained a few of the tastes and habits of civilized life, and I observed
a good library with a flute and music in the Slab Hut. It was with great
pleasure that I afterwards learned that Captain Smith's prospects had
brightened. He is now, I believe, a comfortable settler on the eastern
side of Tasmania.
On the 29th we passed down the western shore of King Island, finding the
coast to be low, treacherous and rocky. We discovered some outlying rocks
a mile and half from shore, and about eleven miles south from New Year
Island. The most remarkable circumstance we noticed in this part of our
cruise, was the leafless appearance of the trees on the higher parts of
the island. It seemed as though a hurricane had stripped them of their
verdure. They reminded me strongly of a wintry day in the north.
About eight miles from the extremity of the island we discovered a bay
affording good anchorage in east winds. It was afterwards called
Fitzmaurice Bay. From its neighbourhood a long dark line of black cliffs
stretches southward until within about three miles of the point, when the
ground sinks suddenly, whence vessels are apt to be misled and to fancy
that the island ends there, whilst in reality it stretches out into a low
dangerous rocky point, named after the writer, for about three miles
Rounding this we anchored on the eastern side of it in Seal Bay--a wild
anchorage, the swell constantly rolling in with too much surf to allow of
our commencing a series of tidal observations. This bay, in the mouth of
which lies a small cluster of rocks, is separated from the one on the
opposite side, by a strip of low sandy land, which, as I have said, may
easily be overlooked by vessels coming from the westward. A ship indeed
has been lost from fancying that the sea was clear south of the black
cliffs that skirt the shore down from Fitzmaurice Bay. The Wallaby are
numerous on this part of the island. Mr. Bynoe shot one (Halmaturus
bellidereii) out of whose pouch he took a young one which he kept on
board and tamed. It subsequently became a great pet with us all.
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