Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1.
J Lort Stokes
Part 5 out of 8
I noticed here a trappean dyke, but the general formation of this end of
King Island exactly corresponded with that about Captain Smith's house,
which shows that it is a continuous ridge of granite. The south-eastern
shore is rather steep, and the ground which rises abruptly over it is
almost denuded of wood.
Leaving Seal Bay--from the south point of which we saw the principal
dangers at this extremity of Bass Strait, Reid's rocks bearing East by
South 1/4 South 12 miles--we coasted round the eastern shore and anchored
off a sandy bay about the centre of the island. The only remarkable
object was a rock, lying one mile from the shore and five from Seal Bay,
on which we bestowed a name suggested by its form, Brig Rock. Off the
north point of the bay in which we anchored lies a white rock or islet
called Sea Elephant Rock, with a reef a mile off its north point.
Opposite this is a small inlet fed by the drainage of some lagoons or
swamps behind the bay. Northward the character of the coast, as far as we
could see, changes considerably, being lower, with a continued line of
A breeze from the eastward prevented our completing the survey of the
northern side of the island; but one important result we had arrived at,
namely, that safe anchorage may be obtained in west winds within a
moderate distance of this part of the shore in less than fifteen fathoms.
CROSS THE STRAIT.
We now crossed over to the group of islands fronting the north-western
point of Tasmania, and confining the southern side of the mouth of the
Strait. The tide setting to the South-West at the rate of three knots an
hour* brought us within five miles of Reid's rocks. Passing at that
distance from their eastern side we had 28 and 30 fathoms sand and rock:
and the greatest depth we found in crossing was 37 fathoms towards the
south side of the Strait.
(*Footnote. This set of the tide being rather across the channel renders
the passage between King Island and Reid's rocks by no means
recommendable. Captain King on returning to New South Wales, used this
passage and was very nearly wrecked; the set of the tides at that time
not being known. It appears they saw the south point of King Island just
at dark, and shaped a course well wide of Reid's rocks; they found
themselves, however, drifted by the tide close on them. We made the time
of high-water at the full and change of the moon in this entrance of the
Strait to be half an hour before noon; but the western stream began three
hours and a half before, and the eastern again precedes low-water by the
same amount of time.)
A SECURE ANCHORAGE.
Early on the morning of December 3rd, we reached a secure anchorage
between Three Hummock Island, and Hunter, formerly called Barren Island;
and we had every reason to be thankful at finding ourselves in such a
snug berth, for during our stay, we experienced gales from east and west,
with such sudden changes that no ship could have saved herself. This made
us sensible how necessary it was to choose anchorages sheltered from both
winds. Our surveying operations were sadly delayed by this boisterous
Three Hummock Island receives its name from three peaks rising on its
eastern side. The south rises abruptly from the water and forms a
singular sugarloaf 790 feet high. It is composed of granite, boulders of
which front many of the points, forming strange figures. The whole of the
island is clothed with an almost impervious scrub, which growing
laterally forms a perfect network, so that it is impossible to traverse
it. Mr. Bynoe procured few specimens of birds in consequence. The
woodcutters one day cut a small brown opossum in half: it seemed to be a
very rare if not a new animal; but unfortunately the head part could not
be found. Small brown rats were very numerous, they had rather short
tails with long hind feet, and sat up like kangaroos.
The trees on this island are small and stunted, being chiefly Banksia and
Eucalypti. Water is plentiful. We supplied the ship from wells dug on the
north point of a sandy bay on the South-East side of the island.*
(*Footnote. The reef that so nearly sealed the Mermaid's fate with
Captain King, we found to lie half a mile north-west from the north-east
end of Three Hummock Island.)
Hunter Island well deserves its former name of Barren, for it is
perfectly treeless; a green kind of scrub overruns its surface, which at
its highest point is three hundred feet above the level of the sea. In
form it is like a closed hand with the fore-finger extended, pointing
north. The inclination of its strata differs, dipping to the sea on both
sides, east and west. These at first sight appeared to be of the same
kind of sandstone that we had seen so much of on the North-West coast,
but on closer inspection I found they were raised beaches; the prevailing
mass of the island was a granitoid rock.
THE BLACK PYRAMID.
From stations on Hunter Island we were enabled to determine the positions
of the numerous dangers fronting its west or seaward side, and also that
of a dark mass of rock, 250 feet high, appropriately named the Black
Pyramid, lying 16 miles West by North from the centre of the island, and
in latitude 40 degrees 28 minutes South which places it nearly five miles
south of its position in the old charts. It is quite a finger-post to
this entrance of the Strait, and all ships should pass close to it. When
I looked at these islands and rocks I could not help thinking of poor
Captain Flinders and his enterprising companion Mr. Bass, the discoverers
of the north-western part of Tasmania. What a thrill of excitement must
have shot through their frames when on rounding Hunter Island, in the
little Norfolk cutter, they first felt the long swell of the ocean and
became convinced of the insular character of Tasmania! This discovery
must have amply repaid them for all their toils and privations. Nothing
indeed is so calculated to fill the heart of the navigator with pride, as
the consciousness that he has widened the sphere of geographical science,
and added new seas and new lands to the known world.
The south end of Hunter Island is about three miles from a point of the
mainland, called Woolnorth; but from the rocks and inlets that encumber
the passage and the rapid rush of the tide it is only navigable for small
vessels with great caution. Point Woolnorth is a rather low sloping point
composed of the same rock as Hunter Island. Ten miles south of it a
raised beach again occurs 100 feet above the level of the sea. Behind
Point Woolnorth the country swells into hills nearly six hundred feet
high. Three miles from its extreme is an out-station of the Van Diemen's
Land Agricultural Company, of which I shall say more anon. Some forty
persons are here located under the care of a German, who amused himself
by making a large collection of insects, which he has since taken to
Germany. The soil on this extremity of Tasmania is most productive; but
much labour is required in clearing for the purposes of cultivation. From
thence to Circular Head, bearing East 1/2 South 26 miles, the shore is
low and sinuous, forming three shallow bights.
Walker and Robbins islands, which lie together in the shape of an
equilateral triangle, with sides of nine miles, front the coast about
midway, and leave only a narrow boat-channel between them and the main.
On Walker Island our boats met the wives of some sealers whose husbands
had gone to King Island on a sealing excursion. They were clothed like
those on New Year Island. One was half European and half Tasmanian, and
by no means ill-looking; she spoke very good English and appeared to take
more care of her person than her two companions, who were aborigines of
pure blood. A few wild flowers were tastefully entwined with her hair,
which was dressed with some pretensions to elegance. They had a pack of
dogs along with them, and depended in a great measure for their
maintenance on the Wallaby they killed. The skin also of these animals
constitutes to them an important article of trade.
It was the 15th before we had completed for the present our survey of
this part, owing as I have before observed, to the constant bad weather,
which was doubly felt by the boats in which all the materials for the
chart of this neighbourhood were collected.
We now examined the coast to Circular Head, under the north side of which
we anchored in 7 fathoms on the morning of the 18th, after spending a day
under the South-East corner off Robbins Island, where we found good
anchorage in westerly winds. Making too free with the shore with a low
sun ahead, we grounded for a short time on a shingle spit extending off
the low point North-West from Circular Head. Three quarters of a mile
East-North-East from this point is a dangerous rocky ledge just awash, on
which several vessels have run. By keeping the bluff extreme of Circular
Head open it may always be avoided.
The latter is a singular cliffy mass of trappean rock, rising abruptly
from the water till its flattened crest reaches an elevation of 490 feet.
This strange projection stands on the eastern side of a small peninsula.
On the parts broken off where it joins the sandy bay on the north side,
we found the compass perfectly useless, from the increased quantity of
magnetic iron ore they contain.
It is on this point that the headquarters of the Van Diemen's Land
Agricultural Company are established under the charge of a Mr. Curr,
whose house with its extensive out-buildings and park, occupying some
rising ground on the northern part of the point, greets the eye of the
stranger, to whom the reflection is forcibly suggested by the sight, that
the natural graces of the scene, must soon yield to the restraining
regularity with which man marks his conquests from the wilderness. The
name of this faint memento of home was, we were informed, Hyfield; a
straggling village occupies a flat to the left, and in the bay on the
south side of the head, which is the general anchorage, is a store with a
English grasses have been sown at this establishment with great success,
one acre of ground now feeding four sheep, instead of as before, four
acres being required for one; the improvement in the grass was also made
evident by the excellent condition in which all the stock appeared to be.
The garden at Hyfield was quite in keeping with the other parts of the
establishment, and it was not a little pleasing to observe a number of
English fruit trees. I was told, however, that they suffered exceedingly
from blight which was brought by the west winds. In one corner that at
first escaped my curiosity, so completely had it been shut out from the
gaze of all by a winding bowery walk, I found in a sort of alcove, the
tomb of a child; upon it lay a fresh bouquet of flowers, revealing that
the dead was not forgotten by those who were left behind. It was easy to
divine, and I afterwards learned this to be the case, that it was the
mother, Mrs. Curr, who came every morning to pay this tribute of
affection to the departed. A weeping willow drooped its supple branches
over the tomb; some honey-suckle and sweet-briar surrounded it, loading
the air with their rich fragrance; not even the chirping of a bird
disturbed the solemn silence that reigned around; everything seemed to
conspire to suggest holy and melancholy thoughts, and I lingered awhile
to indulge in them; but perceiving by the few footmarks that I was an
intruder, hastened to retire, by no means sorry, however, to have
discovered this evidence of the enduring love a mother bears her
In the Park at Hyfield were some fallow deer, imported from England, and
seeming to thrive exceedingly well. There were also two emus, the sight
of which reminded me of a very curious observation I had before made, and
the truth of which again struck me forcibly, namely, that the face of the
Emu bears a most remarkable likeness to that of the aborigines of New
South Wales. Had there been any intimacy between the native and the Emu,
I might have been disposed to resort to this circumstance as an
explanation; for some maintain that the human countenance partakes of the
expression and even of the form of whatever, whether man or beast, it is
in the habit of associating with.
The Company have another station about sixty miles South-East from
Circular Head, at the Surrey hills, from whence the road to Launceston is
good and wide. But between it and Circular Head there are several rivers
to ford, and the country is not only very hilly, but densely wooded with
enormous trees, some of which I was informed were 30 feet in
circumference. This causes great difficulty in clearing the land. They
accomplish about fifty acres every year. The establishment consists of
one hundred persons, many of whom are convicts. They are kept in
excellent order; and their being strictly forbidden the use of spirits no
doubt contributes materially to prevent their giving trouble. I could not
help thinking that the Company conducted its operations on too extensive
a scale to render their undertaking profitable. The high pay of their
officers, and the difficulties encountered in clearing the land, are in
themselves considerable drawbacks; especially when we consider, that
after all the pains bestowed, the soil acquired for the purposes of
cultivation is often of very inferior quality.
The soil on the peninsula, of which Circular Head forms the most
remarkable feature, is generally speaking of a poor light character, and
not well watered. The country lying immediately behind it is low and cut
up with branches from a large estuary.
My esteemed friend, Count Strzelecki, traversed the country between
Circular Head and Point
Woolnorth (North-West extreme of Tasmania) and describes it as presenting
"eight rivers as difficult to cross as the Scamander, with deep gullies
and rocky ridges, and marshes more difficult to overcome than either
ridges or rivers."
We learned there were some mineral waters about fifteen miles to the
westward of Circular Head. The ingredients they contain, and their
medicinal properties, were discovered by Count Strzelecki, who in
speaking of them, says, "I have endeavoured to ascertain both--the latter
on my own constitution, and the former by chemical analysis. They belong
to a class of carbonated waters." From his examination he concludes,
"that they are aperient and tonic, and sufficiently disgusting to the
palate to pass for highly medicinal."
Whilst here, I was informed that a small party of natives were still at
large, though seldom seen, keeping in the remotest recesses of the woods.
They thus succeeded in avoiding for some years their enemy the white man.
Indeed it was only when pressed by hunger that these aboriginal
possessors of the soil ventured to emerge from their hiding-places, and
rob some of the Company's out-stations of flour. By these means, however,
it was that a knowledge was obtained of their existence. For, though they
managed so secretly, that it was some time before they were found out, a
shepherd at an out-station, began at last frequently to miss flour and
tobacco* in a very mysterious manner. He determined accordingly to watch,
but was for a long time unsuccessful. At length he saw a native woman
steal into the hut, when he drew the door to by a line which communicated
with his place of concealment. Of the treatment this poor woman received
from the hands of her captor I shall treat hereafter. After being kept a
prisoner some time, she was sent to Flinders Island; but it was long
before the discovery was made that she had any companions. I was informed
that the shepherd who took her, afterwards lost his life by the spear of
a native, probably impelled by revenge.
(*Footnote. The fondness exhibited by the aborigines who inhabit the
southern parts of Australia for smoking is extraordinary.)
SAIL FOR THE RIVER TAMAR.
We completed our operations on the evening of the day on which we
arrived, namely, December 18th, and left for the Tamar river, in order to
measure a meridian distance. Passing six miles from Rocky Cape, we had 28
fathoms; and steering east, the depth gradually increased to 42 fathoms,
with a soft muddy bottom, being then twenty miles North-West by West from
Port Dalrymple, the mouth of the Tamar.
The 19th was one of the few fine days it was our good fortune to meet
with, and we enjoyed a splendid view of the Alpine features of Tasmania.
Towering peaks connected sometimes by high tablelands, glittered in the
sun as if capped with snow.*
(*Footnote. Near Hobart, in February 1836, I saw snow on the side of a
Early in the afternoon, the lighthouse on Low Head appeared like a white
speck resting on the blue horizon; and by evening we found ourselves at
anchor just within the reefs fronting the west entrance point of Port
Dalrymple. The first appearance of the Tamar river is not very inviting
to the seaman. A rapid stream, thrown out of its course, hemmed in by
numerous reefs, and passing over a bottom so uneven as to cause a change
in the soundings from 12 to 26, and then 18 fathoms, with a ripple or
line of broken water across the mouth renders it impossible in strong
North-West winds for a stranger to detect the channels, and raises so
much sea that the pilots cannot reach the vessels that arrive off the
As the Beagle passed through the west channel, the shear or first beacon
on the west reefs was on with a round-topped hill some distance up the
river. Although there is very apparent difficulty in navigating the
Tamar, still the first glance shows it to be a stream of importance. Its
valley, although not wide, may be traced for miles abruptly separating
the ranges of hills. We can easily imagine, therefore, the joy
experienced by Captain Flinders on first discovering it in 1798, and thus
bestowing a solid and lasting benefit on the future Tasmanian colonists.
This is not, however, the only portion of Australasia whose inhabitants
are indebted for the riches they are reaping from the soil, to the
enterprising spirit of Captain Flinders.
George Town is a straggling village lying two miles within the entrance
of the Tamar; in its neighbourhood were found greenstone, basalt, and
trappean rocks. Launceston, the northern capital of Tasmania, lies thirty
miles up the river, or rather at the confluence of the two streams called
the North and South Esk, which form it.
SIR JOHN FRANKLIN.
We found that the Governor was attending not only to the present but the
future welfare of the colonists, by examining into the most eligible
spots for erecting lighthouses at the eastern entrance of Bass Strait,
fronting the North-East extreme of Tasmania, the numerous dangers
besetting which have been fatal to several vessels. These buildings will
be lasting records of the benefits the colony derived from Sir John
As we subsequently visited the Tamar, it is needless to give here the
little information we gathered during our brief stay. Our observations
were made on the south point of Lagoon Bay, where we found a whaleboat
belonging to a party of sealers just arrived with birds' feathers and
skins for the Launceston market. They had left their wives and families,
including their dogs, on the islands they inhabit.
RETURN TO PORT PHILLIP.
On the morning of the 22nd, we were again out of the Tamar, and making
the best of our way to Port Phillip for a meridian distance. There was
little tide noticed in the middle of the Strait; the greatest depth we
found was 47 fathoms, 68 miles North-West from the Tamar, where the
nature of the bottom was a grey muddy sand or marl.
At noon on the 23rd, we entered Port Phillip, and ran up through the West
Channel in three and three and a half fathoms.
Point Lonsdale, the west entrance point, being kept open of Shortland
bluff--a cliffy projection about two miles within it--leads into the
entrance; and a clump of trees on the northern slope of Indented Head,
was just over a solitary patch of low red cliffs, as we cleared the
northern mouth of the channel. From thence to Hobson's Bay, where we
anchored at 3 P.M., the course is North by West 22 miles across a
splendid sheet of water, of which the depth is 11 and 13 fathoms.
William Town, the seaport town of Australia Felix, named after his
Majesty King William IV., stands on a very low piece of land forming the
southern shore of Hobson's Bay, called Point Gellibrand, after a
gentleman from Hobart, one of the first who brought stock to Port
Phillip. He was lost in the bush in a very mysterious manner in 1834. No
trace of him or his horse was found till 1842, when some of the natives
showed where his mouldering bones lay. The point that bears his name
scarcely projects sufficiently to afford large ships shelter from south
winds in Hobson's Bay. In the North-West corner of the latter is the
mouth of the Yarra-yarra river; but although only one mile and a half
from the general anchorage, it is very difficult to be made out. The
following anecdote will illustrate the difficulty of detecting the mouths
of rivers in Australia. Soon after we anchored in Hobson's Bay, a small
schooner passed, going to Melbourne. Several of the officers were at the
time standing on the poop, and each selected a spot at which the schooner
was to enter the river; and although, as I have before stated, we were
only one mile and a half from it, none of us was right. A single tall
bushy-topped tree, about a mile inland, rose over the schooner as she
left the waters of Hobson's Bay.
William Town consisted, at that time, of only a few houses. One
disadvantage under which this place labours is badness of water, while
the country around it is a dead level, with clumps of very open woodland.
The formation is whinstone, but the soil's fertile quality shows an
absence of sandstone.
Proceeding up the Yarra-yarra, we found that about two miles from the
mouth, the river divides, one branch continuing in a northerly direction,
and the other, a narrow sluggish stream, turning suddenly off to the
eastward. The banks are so densely wooded, that it is seldom if ever that
its surface is ruffled by a breeze.
The township of Melbourne on its north bank, five miles from the river's
mouth, we found a very bustling place. Nearly two thousand persons had
already congregated there, and more were arriving every day, so that
great speculation was going on in land. We were delighted with the
park-like appearance of the country, and the rich quality of the soil.
This was the most fertile district we had seen in all Australia; and I
believe everyone allows that such is the case. Its reputation indeed was
at one time so great, that it became the point of attraction for all
settlers from the mother country, where at one time the rage for Port
Phillip became such, that there existed scarcely a village in which some
of the inhabitants, collecting their little all, did not set out for this
land of promise, with the hope of rapidly making a fortune and returning
to end their days in comfort at home. Everyone I think must leave with
such hopes; for who can deliberately gather up his goods and go into a
far country with the settled intention of never returning?
A rocky ledge extends across the river fronting the town, upon which the
plan had been formed of erecting a dam for the purpose of keeping the
water fresh; whereas now the river is salt above the town, and the well
water is not particularly good. The Yarra-yarra is not navigable even for
boats many miles beyond Melbourne, on account of the numerous falls. Some
of the reaches above the town are very picturesque--still glassy sheets
of water stretch between steep banks clothed with rich vegetation down to
the very edge of the stream--the branches of the trees droop over the
smooth surface, and are vividly reflected; and substance is so perfectly
blended with shadow, that it is impossible to detect where they unite.
At the western extremity of Melbourne is a low round hill, fifty-seven
feet above the level of the sea by our observations, and about thirty
above the town. There are now none of the aborigines in the neighbourhood
of Melbourne; but I learned that some of their old men remember the time
when the site of the town was under water, in consequence of one of those
sudden inundations that happen in Australia, and are so much in keeping
with the other strange things that occur there.
Having alluded to the natives, I may here mention a singular custom that
came under notice some time after, at the Protectorate in the valley of
the Loddon, in the vicinity of Melbourne. Several women were observed
having their faces completely concealed by their opossum-skin mantles.
Not satisfied with this moreover, in passing a party of men, they moved
in a sidelong manner, so as to render it impossible, even if the covering
came to be displaced, that their faces should be seen. In the evening at
the Corobbery, these persons, three in number, were seated in the circle
of women, so as to have their backs turned to the dancers or actors,
their faces still being wholly concealed. They remained seated,
motionless, taking no part in the singing or the gestures of
encouragement indulged in by the other women. It was subsequently
explained by a protector, that these were women who had daughters
betrothed to the men of their tribe, and that during the period of
betrothment the mothers are always thus rigidly veiled.
Near Mount Macedon, thirty miles North-West from Melbourne, there has
been discovered, I was informed, a quarry of marble of a very fine
quality; and in the same neighbourhood is an extinct crater. The
formation at and in the immediate vicinity of Melbourne, is of tertiary
deposits associated with arenaceous older rocks.
We returned to the ships by a short route leading direct from Melbourne
to the northern shore of Hobson's Bay. During the walk I was much struck
with the great risk that people run in selecting land from a map of this
country, half of our road lying over a rich loam, and the other half over
soft sand. The trees swarmed with large locusts (the cicada) quite
deafening us with their shrill buzzing noise.
We found the branches of these trees and the ground underneath strewed
over with a white substance resembling small flakes of snow, called by
the colonists manna. I am aware that an erroneous idea exists that this
matter is deposited by the locusts; but in fact it is an exudation from
the Eucalyptus; and although I saw it beneath another kind of tree, it
must have been carried there by the wind. A different sort, of a pale
yellow colour, is found on a smaller species of Eucalyptus growing on
highlands, and is much sought after for food by the natives, who
sometimes scrape from the tree as much as a pound in a quarter of an
hour. It has the taste of a delicious sweetmeat, with an almond flavour,
and is so luscious that much cannot be eaten of it. This is well worthy
of attention from our confectioners at home, and it may hereafter form an
article of commerce, although from what has fallen under my own
observation, and from what I have learnt from Mr. Eyre and others, I
should say it is not of frequent occurrence. The first kind, being found
strewed underneath the tree probably exudes from the leaf, whilst the
second oozes from the stem. The wood of the latter is much used for fuel
by the natives, especially in night-fishing, and burns brightly, without
smoke, diffusing also a delicious aromatic smell.
On Christmas day, which we spent in Hobson's Bay, we experienced one of
those hot winds which occasionally occur coming off the land. During its
prevalence, everything assumes a strange appearance--objects are seen
with difficulty, and acquire a tremulous motion like that which is
imparted to everything seen through the air escaping from an over-heated
stove. The thermometer on a wall under the glare of the sun, stood at 135
We surveyed Hobson's Bay during our stay, and connected it by
triangulation with Melbourne. Our observations were made at the inner end
of a small jetty. The mouth of the Yarra-yarra is closed up by a bar,
which from its soft muddy nature may be easily removed. The deepest water
we found on it at high tide was nine feet.
Having completed our operations, we next morning, January 1st, 1839,
departed for Corio Harbour, situated at the head of a deep inlet midway
on the western shore of Port Phillip. We found our progress impeded as we
beat up it by a long spit, extending two thirds of the way across from a
low projecting point lying midway on the north shore. On the opposite
side, the land is of moderate elevation, and has in many places a most
inviting rich park-like appearance, swelling on all sides into grassy
downs, with patches of open woodland interspersed. In the afternoon we
anchored in three fathoms, about a quarter of a mile from the south point
of Corio Harbour. This is a level expanse of land named Point Henry, from
which a long spit extends, leaving only a shoal channel between it and
the northern shore. Thus, though the harbour has apparently a broad open
mouth, it is impossible for a large vessel to enter it.
After breakfast a party of us went to visit Captain Fyans, the police
magistrate of the district, for the purpose of arranging a trip to
Station Peak. We landed on the South-West corner of Corio Harbour, where
we found four fathoms close to the beach, immediately over which is the
north end of the township of Geelong. A kind of store and two other
wooden buildings pointed out its locality. Captain Fyans was living in a
log-hut on the banks of the Marabul River. Our road thither lay west
about three miles across a woody down.
The Marabul runs to the southward, and joins the Barwon flowing from the
west; after which the united streams take a south-easterly direction. The
course of the latter I was anxious to trace, having seen its mouth in
passing along the coast west from Port Phillip. Very opportunely I met
with Mr. Smith, belonging to the colonial surveying department, who being
employed in the neighbourhood, took me to a commanding station on some
low hills about three miles to the south, called by the natives Barabul.
We crossed the Barwon running to the south-east at the foot of them, near
where it fell some height over a rocky shelf forming a pretty waterfall.
Turning to the left from this roar of water, you find the stream
meandering silently between rich grassy flats. On one of these Mr.
Smith's tents were pitched, overlooked by a craggy height on the opposite
side of the river; and the blue stream of smoke that arose from the fire
of his party, helped to impart life and beauty to the scene. From the
Barabul hills I almost traced the Barwon to its confluence with the sea.
Five miles to the south-east from where we stood it communicated with a
large lagoon; after leaving which, I was informed there was only a depth
of three feet, and a width of one eighth of a mile. It is not, however,
this alone that renders the Barwon useless for water-carriage to the town
of Geelong; for the exposed situation of its mouth almost always prevents
boats from entering.
The singular sloping treeless sides of the Barabul hills, and the
declivities of the valley of the Marabul river, bear a striking
resemblance to many parts of Eastern Patagonia. They appear as if they
had just emerged from the sea, which had as it were scooped out their
hollows and smoothed their sides. A remarkable high round hill, perfectly
bare of trees, and called by the natives Moriac, bore West 1/2 South six
miles from where we stood. On our return we met some of the natives; they
were the first I had seen of the aborigines of this part of the
continent, and were certainly a finer race than the people on the western
coasts. They complained of the white men bringing animals into their
country that scare away the kangaroo, and destroy the roots which at
certain seasons of the year form part of their sustenance. This, Mr.
Smith told me, was a very general complaint.
I spent a very pleasant evening at Captain Fyans' comfortable quarters,
in the course of which arrangements were made for next day's journey to
Station Peak, Mr. Smith kindly offering to lend me a horse and to
We started for Station Peak very early. The morning air had a
delightfully bracing effect; and the grass glittered with a copious fall
of dew. The first five miles of road lay over a high down, with pretty
patches of woodland interspersed; and the remaining ten over a low plain
that stretches to the foot of the peak. Six miles from the latter we
crossed a hollow where I noticed some calcareous matter, in which were
included shells of recent species, evidently showing that an upheaval had
taken place in this part of the continent. We saw on the plain several
large bustards resembling a light brown domestic turkey.
Leaving our horses at the foot of the peak, we ascended it by a sloping
ridge on the south-east face. Huge blocks of granite--some poised on a
point as if the slightest touch would send them rolling and thundering to
the plains below--covered the sides and summits of this and the smaller
peak, to the north of which are several others scattered over about a
mile of ground.
On reaching the summit, I hastened to a pile of stones which Captain
Flinders had erected to commemorate his visit; but, alas, the bottle and
paper left by him were gone, and I have not since been able to learn who
it was that took away this interesting and valuable record.
VIEW FROM STATION PEAK.
The view commanded all points of the splendid sheet of water called Port
Phillip, which stretched away its shining expanse seemingly almost from
our very feet; whilst north-east two long wavy lines of trees showed the
course of the Little and Weariby rivers meandering through
The natives call this cluster of peaks Ude (great) Youang, and the other
West-North-West seven miles, Anuke (little) Youang. Another solitary high
round hill, fifteen miles further nearly, in the same direction, is
We have thus five native names of places in the immediate neighbourhood
of Port Phillip, having the termination ng, and we may perhaps add
another, the Barwon being probably Barwong. At King George's Sound in
Western Australia, the names end in up, and again to the eastward, near
Gipps' Land, the final letter is n. These observations may probably
assist in directing the attention of philologists to the subject of the
distribution of the Australian dialects or languages.
Ude Youang, or as Captain Flinders named it, Station Peak, is a granite
mass elevated 1370 feet above the sea. At Geelong there is some confusion
in the formation. The rocks, however, that prevail are trappean.
In digging a well there, a fossil cowrie (Cypraea eximia) of an extinct
species was once found at the depth of sixty feet. Another specimen of
the same shell was dug up at Franklin village near Launceston, from a
hundred and forty feet below the surface of the soil. Count Strzelecki
gives a figure of it in his interesting work.
Mr. Ronald Gunn, in his observations on the flora of Geelong, observes
that out of a hundred species of plants collected indiscriminately,
sixty-seven were also to be found in Tasmania, leaving only thirty-three
to indicate the peculiarities of the Geelong vegetation.
Some of the officers of the Beagle exhibited at this place symptoms of
being infected with the land-speculating mania we had witnessed at
Melbourne, by bidding for some of the allotments of the township of
Geelong, which were just then selling. One that was bought for 80 pounds
might have been sold a year afterwards for 700 pounds. I mention this
fact that the reader may see what a ruinous system was then in vogue.
On the morning of January 5, we left Geelong, touched at Hobson's Bay for
a chronometric departure, and proceeded to sea by the south channel.
Arthur's Seat is a good guide for its entrance from Hobson's Bay, the
channel passing close under the foot of it. The eastern extremity of the
northern banks, we found very difficult to make out, from the water being
but slightly discoloured on it. It is, moreover, on account of its
steepness, dangerous to approach. From this eastern corner of the bank,
Arthur's Seat bears South 50 1/2 degrees West and a solitary patch of
cliff, westward of the latter, South 68 degrees East.
In consequence of bad weather it was three days before we passed through
the channel, which, we were pleased to find navigable for line of battle
ships. A West 3/4 North course led through, and the least water was five
fathoms on a bar at the eastern entrance, where the width is only
three-tenths of a mile, whilst in the western it is one mile, with a
depth of seventeen fathoms. When in the latter we saw Flinders Point
between Lonsdale and Nepean Points, and as we came down the channel, the
last two points were just open of each other.
Leaving Port Phillip, we surveyed the coast to the eastward, and anchored
in the entrance of Port Western, after dark on the 10th. Next morning we
examined the south-west part of Grant island, and moved the ship to a
more secure anchorage off its North-East point. Port Western is formed
between Grant and French islands in rather a remarkable manner: two great
bays lie one within the other, the inner being nearly filled up by French
island, whilst the outer is sheltered by Grant Island, stretching across
it almost from point to point, and leaving a wide ship-channel on its
western side, whilst on the eastern the passage is narrow and fit only
for boats and small vessels.
Gales between North-West and South-West detained us here until the 19th.
We found water by digging on the North-East extreme of Grant Island,
which at high tide is a low sandy islet. On first landing there, we found
in a clump of bushes a kangaroo, very dark-coloured, indeed almost black.
His retreat being cut off he took to the water, and before a boat could
reach him, sank. This not only disappointed but surprised us; for in
Tasmania a kangaroo has been known to swim nearly two miles. Black swans
were very numerous, and it being the moulting season, were easily run
down by the boats. Their outstretched necks and the quick flap of their
wings as they moved along, reminded us forcibly of a steamboat. At this
season of the year when the swans cannot fly, a great act of cruelty is
practised on them by those who reside on the Islands in Bass Strait, and
of whom I have before spoken as sealers: they take them in large numbers
and place them in confinement, without anything to eat, in fact almost
starve them to death, in order that the down may not be injured by the
fat which generally covers their bodies.
Scarcely any traces are now to be found of the old settlement on a cliffy
point of the eastern shore of the harbour. The rapid growth of indigenous
vegetation has completely concealed all signs of human industry, and the
few settlers in the neighbourhood have helped themselves to the bricks to
build their own homes.
We noticed, however, one or two remaining indications of the fact that a
settlement had formerly existed on that spot, among others an old
flagstaff still erect, on a bluff near the North-East end of Grant
Island. A very large domestic cat, also, was seen on the South-East
point, doubtless another relic of the first settlers.
The rocks chiefly to be met with at Port Western are analogous to those
of the Carboniferous series. Over its eastern shore rises a range of
woody hills to the height of between five and seven hundred feet,
stretching away in a North-East direction. This harbour presents one very
curious feature, namely, a sort of canal or gut in the mud flats that
front the eastern side of Grant Island. Its depth varies from six to
seven fathoms, whilst the width is half a mile. The most remarkable
object, however, is the helmet-shaped headland, rising abruptly from the
sea to the height of 480 feet, and forming the South-East extreme of
Grant Island. It is the more conspicuous from the circumstance that all
the rest of the island is covered with low hills, clothed in an almost
impervious scrub. The land at the head of the inner of the two bays I
have alluded to in describing Port Western, partakes of the same
character, and is intersected by a number of creeks. This greatly
increases the difficulty of the overland communication between Port
Phillip and the available land on Port Western, travellers being
compelled to take a very circuitous road in order to avoid this almost
impassable tract, and reach the banks of Bass river, where the best soil
is found, and which has been named after the enterprising man whose
memory must for ever remain intimately connected with this part of the
A few rare insects were collected by Mr. Emery, whose adventures with
snakes bear a great resemblance to some of Waterton's. He was walking out
once on Grant Island, when his attention was attracted by the pitiful
cries of a bird in a tree close at hand. He soon discovered that a snake*
was in the act of robbing the nest, whilst the mother fluttering round,
was endeavouring to scare away the spoiler. Mr. Emery immediately climbed
up, and with a courage which few other men would have exhibited, seized
the reptile by the back of the neck and killed it. We found that it had
already swallowed one of the young ones, which had so extended the skin,
and made so large a lump, that we were quite puzzled to know how it could
have been got down.
(*Footnote. Lieutenant Emery has this snake still in his possession,
stuffed in a masterly style, and set up with the bird in its mouth.)
CAPABILITIES OF PORT WESTERN.
We were astonished to find the tide here nearly an hour later than at
Port Phillip, and higher by six feet. The cause of this peculiarity is no
doubt to be attributed to the fact of the tides at Port Western being
influenced by the easterly flood-stream. The bad weather we experienced
during our stay enabled us to judge of the capabilities of the Port,
which we were glad to find the finest we had yet seen in Bass Strait, not
so much, however, from its size, for above Grant Island the extent of
deep water is limited, as from the great facility of access.
On the 19th we left Port Western, passing out by keeping an isolated
piece of tableland, called Tortoise Head, on the South-East extremity of
French Island, open of the North-East point of Grant Island. The only
danger is a sandbank, lying in the centre of the channel, four miles
within the entrance. It may always be avoided by keeping a cable's length
from the eastern shore.
The western half of the south side of Grant Island, is a line of cliffs,
from one to three hundred feet in height. A remarkable pyramidal rock
marks the point where this terminates, after which a long range of low
hills, covered with scrub, stretches to Cape Wollami, the helmet-shaped
headland before-mentioned. A light North-East wind rendered our progress
slow towards Cape Patterson, we reaching it by daylight of the 20th. It
is a low point, covered with scattered sand hillocks; a few rocky patches
here and there front its sand beach.
Finding from the succession of dense fogs that we could not prosecute an
easterly examination of the coast, we returned towards Port Phillip, and
experienced some unusual swells off Port Western.
The soundings were in general tolerably regular; but in the same
neighbourhood we had some extraordinary ones--SEVENTY FATHOMS, on a
gravelly bottom. This was nearly one third of the way across from Grant
Island to Cape Shanck, seven miles from the latter. The same strange
depth was likewise found three miles south from Cape Wollami, with the
same kind of gravel bottom, or a very fine kind of shingle. It was a
single cast of the lead. On either side in this last case were 39 and 33
fathoms fine sand and shells. Had it not been for the change in the
quality of the bottom, I should have doubted so great a depth, which is
the more remarkable from its being the greatest within the Strait.
The next day towards evening we again anchored in Hobson's Bay, where we
stayed till the 23rd. This time in getting out of Port Phillip through
the southern channel, we met with an accident. I have before mentioned
the difficulty of seeing the eastern part of the north bank, which, on
this occasion, combined with the dazzling effect of the sun's rays ahead,
was the cause of our grounding for a short time near the inner entrance.
It was, therefore, noon next day before we were again outside, when we
steered across for the north end of King Island.
In passing Franklin Road the next morning, we saw a cutter at anchor,
doubtless the colonial vessel which is occasionally allowed to visit
Captain Smith, and afford him supplies. We passed down four miles from
the western side of King Island, carrying an outer line of soundings,
varying from 40 to 50 fathoms; and in the evening anchored in Fitzmaurice
Next morning we proceeded in search of Bell Rock,* lying in the middle of
the south entrance of Bass Strait, eight miles South from the northern
and largest of Reid's Rocks; but there being only a light air stirring
from the westward, we were almost wholly at the mercy of the tide, which
carried us midway between its assigned position and the last-mentioned
dangers. We passed near several small eddies and slight whirlpools, in
which no bottom was found in the boats with 25 fathoms. The North-West
extremity of Reid's Rock might with propriety be described as a small
islet, it being a dark mass some half a mile long, and rising 25 feet out
of the water. The French charts exhibit some sunken rocks to the north of
this; but, if they really exist, of which there is great doubt, we saw
nothing of them. I may here mention, that great circumspection should be
used by vessels in the neighbourhood of Reid's Rocks, as the soundings do
not indicate their approach, and as the tide runs among them with great
(*Footnote. A rock was seen in H.M.S. Conway five miles West-South-West
from Bell Rock.)
Between them and the Black Pyramid we had 35 and 32 fathoms.
We passed the night standing to and fro close to the Pyramid, which I
have before described as a dark rocky lump 240 feet high. Its western
side is a sombre storm-beaten cliff, whilst to the east it slopes away
almost to the water's edge. A few patches of coarse grass may be seen on
some sheltered spots. Sealers, I am informed, have landed upon it on
certain rare occasions of fine weather, and have been repaid for their
daring by capturing a few fur-seals from the rookery that there exists.
The Black Pyramid from some points of view, greatly resembles Curtis
Island, near the eastern entrance of the Strait. A mile and a half from
its eastern side, there was only 24 fathoms, which was the least water we
were in during the night.
We found ourselves at daylight in 35 fathoms, two miles South-West from
the Pyramid, when we stood away East-South-East, to sound and have a
seaward view of the entrance between Hunter Island and Point Woolnorth.
This examination confirmed our former opinion that no ship-channel
existed there. But even if there had been one, the passage is so strewed
with rocks and disturbed by such heavy tide ripples, that it wears a most
dangerous appearance from the offing.
Rounding the south side of the south Black Rock, we went between it and
Steep Island in 19 fathoms. From thence we steered between the north
Black Rock and the west point of Hunter Island in 24 fathoms, having 15
fathoms midway between.
Continuing our northern course, we passed a mile from the west side of
Albatross Island, in 30 and 33 fathoms. It is a dark cliffy isle, the
summit of which although 125 feet high, appears to be sometimes washed by
the sea. There are one or two finger-shaped points of rock at the south
end; and a singular split in the entire island may be seen on the bearing
of North 75 degrees East. The wind had now increased to a gale from the
westward, and we were obliged to seek shelter under Hunter Island.
In the morning the breeze was moderate from North-East, to which quarter
it had changed suddenly during the night, veering round from west by the
north. By noon it had shifted to East-North-East and had increased to a
gale. At 8 P.M. it blew a strong gale with gusts from that quarter. The
barometer had now just begun to fall, and was at 29.9. During the day it
had been steady at 30.02. This gale lasted, blowing with the same
violence (latterly from East) until 1 P.M. the next day, when after a
calm of about a quarter of an hour the wind changed suddenly to North
with rain, thunder, and vivid lightning, and by 4 P.M. had veered to west
and increased once more to a strong gale with heavy squalls. The
barometer at the same time began to rise; it had been stationary at 29.6
since the morning.
It was the evening of the 31st before this gale blew over, after veering
to the South-West. The barometer at the time was at 29.9, having risen to
that height in the morning. The rotatory character of this storm, which
resembled those we had experienced on our former visit, induces me to
enter thus into details respecting it. These observations, too, may
evince more plainly, the necessity of an anchorage at this time of the
year being sheltered from both east and west winds.
FIRE ON THREE HUMMOCK ISLAND.
The fire that had been accidentally kindled on Three Hummock Island, when
we were last there, was still burning. This conflagration had almost been
fatal to Mr. Bynoe, who was out in the scrubs when it burst forth, having
with great difficulty forced his way among them in search of specimens
for his collection of birds. His attention was suddenly roused by the
roaring of the flames as they swept down the sides of the hills, wrapping
them in a sheet of fire. The predicament in which he was placed was a
most critical one, as he hardly knew which way to turn to avoid the
pressing danger. Even when, fortunately, he had taken the right
direction, it was with the greatest exertion that he burst through the
matted thicket and reached the water's edge before the fire.
Our fishermen were very successful with the hook and line, taking near
the rocks great numbers of fish, some of which were a species of rock
cod. Alongside the ship we only caught sharks, one of which contained
thirty-six young ones.
Although the barometer remained stationery at 29.9 the weather continued
so boisterous, and westerly squalls followed each other in such rapid
succession, that it was the 3rd of February, before we could commence
work in earnest. On that day the ship was moved to near the south end of
Hunter Island, where we found a nice quiet anchorage with scarcely any
tide off a long sandy beach.
LEAVE FOR CIRCULAR HEAD.
By the 6th we completed what remained to be done of the survey of this
part, and proceeded to collect the necessary soundings between Three
Hummock Island, and Circular Head, anchoring under the latter the same
evening. Here we met Mr. Curr, the Company's Superintendent, who was
absent during our first visit. From him we experienced so great
hospitality, that our stay appeared shorter than it really was. On the
morning of the 9th we again left. It was our intention to have stood over
midway across the Strait in search of some islands reported by the French
to be thereabouts, though all the local information we could gain on the
subject tended to induce a disbelief of their existence.
But the sky assuming a threatening aspect, and the wind increasing from
the westward, we sought shelter under the South-East end of Robbin
Island. And it was well we did so; for during the following two days, it
blew the heaviest gale we had yet met with in the Strait. A succession of
violent gusts from the west, with loud thunder, vivid lightning, and much
rain, constantly reminded us of the wisdom of our cautious proceeding. At
Port Phillip this same storm was felt very severely. Such was its
strength and violence, that many houses were unroofed, and other damage
done to a large amount. It passed over both Melbourne and Geelong,
darkening the air with the clouds of dust it bore along with it, and
filling the minds of the inhabitants with the greatest terror and
apprehension. They called it a tornado; and it appeared to have quite the
rotatory character of a hurricane.
We left this anchorage, and passed three miles from the North-East side
of Three Hummock Island where we found only six fathoms, apparently on a
bank thrown up by the tide sweeping round its sides. From thence we
steered across the Strait to Sea Elephant Rock on the eastern shore of
King Island. We saw nothing of the islands laid down by the French,
thirteen leagues east of it, and it was my firm belief that they had no
existence. Subsequent observation has confirmed this belief. We however
found the shoal water supposed to exist thereabouts.
The northern termination of the highland over the south-eastern part of
the island which marks Sea Elephant Bay was very apparent as we
approached. In the evening we anchored in seven fathoms on the north side
of Sea Elephant Rock, which we visited the following morning. It is
nearly a mile in circumference, and 120 feet high, clothed with a coarse
wiry grass. A small vessel if properly moored might find shelter under it
from easterly gales. We were surprised to find the time of high-water
here nearly two hours earlier than at Three Hummock Island; the
flood-stream came from the southward.
Of the number of wild dogs that we had heard of as being on this island,
we saw only two. From the bones we found of others it is more than
probable that they live upon each other at the seasons of the year when
the mutton birds having departed; they would otherwise have to depend
solely for subsistence on the few shellfish adhering to the rocks. This
reminded me of what I once witnessed on an island off the eastern coast
of Patagonia. Several herds of deer had once existed upon it; but some
persons having turned a number of dogs loose, the original inhabitants
were soon destroyed, and the newcomers afterwards devoured each other, so
that when I saw them, but a small remnant remained. The dogs on Sea
Elephant Rock, which were left by sealers, had grown so wild that they
would not allow us to approach them. I saw here some small penguins, a
bird we rarely met with in the Strait.
This part of King Island is clothed with thick scrubs, among which we saw
numerous tracks of kangaroos, a certain sign that it is not much
frequented by civilized or uncivilized man. Leaving this anchorage we
examined the eastern shore of the island which we found, as I have before
described, to be low and sandy. Passing along two miles from it, we had a
depth of from 8 to 12 and 15 fathoms. As we approached the northern end,
the character of the coast changed, it being formed by rocky points with
small sand bays intervening. The reef laid down by the French, two miles
from the North-East extremity of the island, we found to be only half a
mile South-South-West from it, one of the many errors we discovered in
the French chart of the strait. It is a small ugly ledge quite beneath
the water, and from the absence of rocky points on the low sandy shore it
fronts, is quite unlooked for.
NAVARIN AND HARBINGER ROCKS.
The next day, February 13th, we examined the dangers fronting the north
side of the island, consisting of Navarin and Harbinger Rocks, neither of
which we found so formidable or so far from the shore as had been
reported. The former lies only a mile and a half off the north end, and
although we did not pass between it and the shore, there is little doubt
that a passage exists. We passed between the Harbinger rocks in 27
fathoms; this great depth in their immediate vicinity, gives no warning
of their proximity in the night or during thick weather.
COMPLETE THE SURVEY OF PORT PHILLIP.
As it was now necessary for us to think of preparing for our return to
the North coast, the proper season for passing through Torres Strait also
approaching, and the increasing importance of Port Phillip, rendering it
desirable to complete our survey of its entrance before our departure; we
consequently proceeded thither. We found even soundings of 53 fathoms
extend twenty miles North by East from Harbinger Reef, but from thence
northwards, the depths gradually decreased. Calms and light winds
rendered the passage across very tedious. We spent one night at anchor in
31 fathoms near the entrance, about six miles south from Point Flinders,
where the tide scarcely ran a knot an hour; the flood-stream set
North-East. With these operations closed our work in Bass Strait, for the
present. We had completed the western entrance from Port Western on the
north shore and Circular Head on the south. The weather had prevented our
doing more, and obtaining as many soundings as we could have wished. It
had been unusually boisterous and unsettled, much more so than the winter
generally is. From all I could learn such a season had not been
experienced in the memory of the oldest inhabitants.
Bidding adieu to our hospitable friends, we left Port Phillip, and having
spent a night at Port Western, stood out from it next morning, and passed
over in 12 and 15 fathoms, the patch of discoloured water discovered by
Flinders, two miles south of the remarkable round islet, that lies off
the western extreme of Grant Island. Pursuing our course to the eastward,
we were detained by contrary winds for some time among the islands at the
eastern entrance of the Strait. All these we found to be considerably out
in position, showing the necessity of an accurate survey. We were
exceedingly delighted when on the 5th we were enabled fairly to turn our
back on Bass Strait, that region of storms, which stretched behind us as
we receded like a black mass resting on the horizon. A strong
south-wester soon carried us far away from it in the direction we had
been so long endeavouring to pursue.
At noon on the 8th, we were close in with the land in the neighbourhood
of Jervis Bay. A long line of cliffs fronts the shore; but the highlands
recede as in the neighbourhood of Sydney, leaving a low tract of country
between them and the sea.
To the South-West of this bay, we had an excellent view of that singular
landmark, which Captain Cook, with his usual felicity in the choice of
names, called the Pigeon House. It was just open of the south end of some
tablelands, and resembled a cupola superimposed upon a large dome.
Next day in the forenoon, we again arrived at Sydney; where we remained
from March 10th to May 21st, employing the time in completing our charts,
sending home tracings of them, and preparing for our cruise on the
Northern coast. I was glad to find the return meridian distance between
Port Phillip and Sydney agree with the going one, placing the jetty at
William's Town 6 degrees 19 minutes 14 seconds west of Fort Macquarie.
DROUGHT AT SYDNEY.
Everything was still suffering from one of those fearful droughts that
occasionally visit this colony, but are as yet unknown in Western
Australia, where the seasons are certain, although available land is
scarce. An idea may be formed of the nature of this visitation, when I
say, that for some time previous to our former departure from Sydney,
during the whole of our absence, and for several months subsequent to our
return, not a drop of rain fell. The consequence of this was, that the
whole country was dried up, and the dust lay on the roads, especially
towards Parramatta, at least a foot thick. Whoever attempted to travel,
therefore, seemed, if the wind blew, as though he had been passing
through a mill. It will readily be imagined that so long a succession of
dry seasons, did prodigious injury to the stock, and utterly ruined the
wheat crops. To add to the distress then occasioned, the people of
Tasmania seizing on the opportunity, raised the price of grain, expecting
to make a large profit. But their avidity in this instance over-reached
itself. Instead of sending to them for corn, the people of Sydney
despatched vessels to South America, and as the early cargoes that
arrived sold to advantage, a great deal of money was embarked in the
speculation. Soon, however, the natural consequence ensued. The market
became glutted, cargo after cargo came in, the purchasers held back,
prices fell, and in many instances the importers were glad to dispose of
their wheat at a rate far inferior to what it had been shipped at. I have
no doubt that the financial derangement caused by so large an amount of
bullion going out of the country (for all these cargoes were bought with
ready money) had much to do with the subsequent depression.
I may here take an opportunity of remarking that, as a general rule, it
is the labouring classes that thrive best at Sydney. They can in
tolerably prosperous times, earn sufficient in three or four days, to
support themselves throughout the week. During the remainder of the time,
the sober and industrious man employs himself in building a house; but I
am sorry to say that the generality repair to the vast number of public
houses that swarm on every side, and get drunk. This is evident from the
annual revenue derived from rum, which in 1839 was 190,000 pounds,
amounting to more than seven gallons for every individual in the colony.
MR. USBORNE LEAVES.
It caused us extreme regret that before our departure from Sydney, we
were deprived of Mr. Usborne's valuable services. He was compelled to
return home in consequence of the dreadful wound he had received from a
musket ball, which, as has already been related, passed through his body.
In him the expedition sustained a great loss; his presence and society
were missed by all; and his departure was generally felt. It may easily
be conceived indeed that the separation from a friend and messmate under
such circumstances, must have cast for a time a shade of sadness over our
minds. Mr. Usborne took charge of the charts which we sent to England on
I cannot leave Sydney without alluding to our meeting with Mr.
Cunningham, the Botanist, whose death I have already mentioned, as having
taken place two months after our departure from Sydney. Though worn out
by disease, and evidently on the brink of the grave, the fire of
enthusiasm kindled in his frame, and his eyes glistened as he talked of
our projected enterprise; and it was with difficulty that he could be
dissuaded from accompanying us. His name, which will be remembered by his
friends on account of his many amiable qualities, will not be forgotten
by posterity; for it has become associated with the lands he explored, as
well as with the natural productions he described. The presence and
attention of his valued friend Captain P.P. King, contributed to soothe
his last moments.
CHAPTER 1.10. SYDNEY TO PORT ESSINGTON.
Gale and Current.
Incivility of a Settler.
Cultivation of Tobacco.
A clearing Lease.
Crossing the Karuah at Night.
Sail from Port Stephens.
Discover a Bank.
Discover a River.
Section of Barrier Reef.
Plants and Animals.
Height of Cordillera.
Verifying Captain King's Original Chart.
New Geological Feature.
Barrier and Reefs within.
Reef near Cape Flinders.
Princess Charlotte's Bay.
Section of a detached Reef.
Tide at Claremont Isles.
Islands fronting Cape Grenville.
Correct position of Reefs.
Remarks on Barrier and its contiguous Islands and Reefs.
Cape Croker and reef off it.
Discover error in longitude of Cape.
Reefs at the mouth of Port Essington.
Arrive at the latter.
We again bade adieu to our friends at Sydney, and sailed to explore the
north-western part of the continent, which from the number of openings
still unexamined, possessed the interest that invariably attaches to
whatever is unknown. We submitted, accordingly, with impatience to the
delay caused by light north-westerly winds, and a southerly current of
nearly a knot per hour, which prevented us from reaching the parallel of
Port Macquarie before the 29th; when about forty miles from it we
experienced a gale,* from North-East and East-North-East, that lasted
till the evening of the next day, when we found ourselves about 140 miles
South-East of Port Stephens. During this gale the southerly current
increased its velocity to two miles an hour, and its strength appeared to
be about seventy miles from the land. This delay rendered it necessary to
obtain a fresh chronometric departure, and as the winds prevented our
returning to Port Jackson, we proceeded to Port Stephens, where we
anchored, June 5th. We found the Admiralty chart of the coast in the
neighbourhood very defective, some islands being completely omitted,
whilst others were much misplaced.
(*Footnote. This gale was from South-East at Sydney, and the most severe
they had experienced for many years; it blew many vessels adrift and did
REMARKABLE HEADLANDS. PORT STEPHENS.
I have before spoken of the change in the features of this portion of the
eastern coast. Here a number of conical hills, from four to six hundred
feet in height, suddenly presented themselves to our view, two of them,
very remarkable headlands, and preserving the aboriginal names of Yacaba
and Tomare, constitute the entrance points of Port Stephens. The sea-face
of Tomare is a high line of cliffs, from which projects a sand-spit,
leaving only a narrow entrance. When in this I noticed that a round hill
at the south end of a distant range, was over the opening between the
first island and the northern shore of the harbour. Within the entrance
are extensive sandbanks, leaving between them and the south shore a
narrow, and in some parts deep, channel, subject to a rapid stream of
tide. Port Stephens may be considered a large estuary, about fifteen
miles in length, contracted near the centre to a width of about a mile,
which is further lessened by the presence of a woody islet, the same I
have before alluded to. Nearly two miles within this narrow the Beagle
anchored off the settlement of the Australian Agricultural Company, a
straggling village called Carrington, on the western shore of the
On the side of a hill, half a mile to the westward, is the residence of
the superintendent, a situation which, to enhance the pleasure of our
visit, was held by Captain P.P. King, R.N. Tahlee, the name of this spot,
surpassed in beauty all I have ever seen in Australia. It stands on the
crest of a steep grassy slope, over which are scattered numerous small
bushy lemon trees, the deep verdure of their foliage, interspersed with
golden fruit, contrasting charmingly with the light green carpet from
which they spring. At the foot of this declivity, a screen of trees
rising to a considerable height, almost shuts out the view of the water,
though breaks here and there allow small patches to be seen, athwart
which a native canoe occasionally glides to and from the fishing grounds.
These fairy boats, stealing along the water on a fine calm morning,
greatly enhance the beauty of the scene. They belong to a party of
natives who have taken up their quarters near Tahlee, and who, though by
no means a fine race, have always been well disposed towards Europeans.
Unfortunately they are much addicted to the use of ardent spirits, having
acquired the habit from the whalers who frequent the place. A young woman
and her husband form part of the domestic establishment at Tahlee.
We were as much delighted as surprised with the richness of the
vegetation, when compared with its dry parched appearance at
Sydney--another of the striking contrasts characteristic of Australia.
At Captain King's table I tasted the wonga-wonga pigeon; it is the
largest of any of the Australian kinds, and the flesh is very white and
rich. It is a difficult bird to shoot, as it always keeps in the thickest
foliage, and is strong and quick on the wing.
Through the kindness of the same friend I was also enabled to enjoy a
ride into the country, during the interval between the observations for
rating the chronometers.
I had to ascend the Karuah river, flowing into the north-west corner of
Port Stephens, for twelve miles, to a place called Boorral, the furthest
point at which it is navigable, and where all goods are landed for the
Company's stations up the country. Mr. Ebsworth the treasurer of the
Company resides there in a charming cottage, almost covered with roses
and honeysuckle, and commanding two picturesque reaches of the Karuah.
About two miles within the entrance, the river winds between high and
steep banks, densely covered with creepers, acacias, and other vegetation
of a tropical character, all quite matted together, and hanging in
festoons, the ends of which are immersed in the water.
Mr. White, who had charge of the Company's stock, met me at Boorral, with
horses, and we were not long in reaching Stroud, about seven miles higher
up on the eastern bank of the river. It is the head-quarters of the
Company, and has quite the appearance of a truly English village, each
cottage having its neat little garden. I was very much pleased with the
whole arrangement of the place, as I strolled through it in the evening,
and was delighted to find the inhabitants of a remote part of Australia,
retaining such vivid recollection of tastes so characteristic of
Englishmen. Several experiments had been tried in clearing the land in
the neighbourhood of Stroud, one of which was by what they call ringing
the trees; that is to say, they cut off a large circular band of bark,
which, destroying the trees, renders them easier to be felled. But the
danger of this practice was, that in stormy weather they were blown down,
thereby endangering the lives of persons or stock passing. In the
thickets near Stroud, great numbers of the Lyre Bird are found. They
receive their names from the shape of their tails, which one could hardly
suppose so small a bird, having no other beauty, could possess.
TRIP UP THE COUNTRY.
At Mr. White's hospitable cottage, I met two gentlemen on their way to
the Hunter river, and as fortunately the route I proposed taking, lay in
that direction, we started together early the next morning. Crossing the
Karuah, our road for some distance lay over a rugged country, along a
winding path between very steep hills. Six miles West-South-West from
Stroud, we passed through a range trending North-West from two to three
thousand feet high, the debris from which enrich the flats of the Karuah
on its eastern, and the Williams river on its western side. Our guide
amused me by pointing to some of the steep parts of the range which he
had galloped down, while hunting wild cattle, the most useful and
exciting sport known in Australia--useful, inasmuch as it prevents the
wild cattle from coming down to the plains and enticing away the tame
herds; and exciting, from the rough nature of the country, in which the
sport is pursued.
The wild cattle invariably keep on high ranges, and from their acuteness
of smell, are difficult to get at, and it is only to leeward that one can
approach them. The bulls being the leaders of the herds are always
singled out, and after a desperate and trying gallop over a rugged
country, the huntsman finds himself going stride for stride alongside one
of these Kings of the Forest, and wondering how an animal so ungainly in
his gait, can get over the country at such a pace. Jumping over fallen
trees, and dodging round others, he at last finds himself on a clear
spot, when drawing a pistol from his holster, and riding up so as almost
to touch the animal's side, he lodges a well directed ball just behind
the fore shoulder. This is the most critical moment. Great command of
your horse is required, for the bull, if not mortally wounded, turns
suddenly half mad with rage on his pursuer, and puts his nerves and
judgment to a severe test.
On these occasions almost incredible feats of horsemanship are performed;
and nearly precipitous slopes are descended. I have seen similar exploits
nowhere but in Chile, where horses are ridden down the sides of frightful
ravines on their haunches at half speed for bets; but in that country the
severity of the bit gives the rider a power over his steed unknown
INCIVILITY OF A SETTLER.
We crossed the Williams river, about fifteen miles South-West from
Stroud, and after nearly another hour's ride came to a place called
Wallaroba. I was here doomed to experience the only instance of
incivility I ever found in Australia. It was late in the afternoon of a
cold blustering day, and having breakfasted early, we were prompted to
test the hospitality of a Mr. Chapman, whose station we were passing. It
was the only one we had seen during the day, and knowing the possibility
of our being mistaken for bush-rangers,* we turned back our rough coats,
and rode up to the house as smart as we could make ourselves. We met the
owner standing in the gateway of the garden fronting the house, which he
nearly filled; but although presenting a John Bull's exterior, there was
a great deficiency of the national character within. After introducing
ourselves we asked for a little milk, but were refused on the plea that
there was none at the station. Our surly informant added, that we should
find a comfortable inn eight miles farther on. First looking at the
number of fine milch cows that were grazing near, and then at the
speaker, we turned and left him in silent disgust.
(*Footnote. Escaped convicts, who live by plundering the settlers, taking
also their lives if any resistance is offered. I remember on one
occasion, a party of gentlemen had their horses taken from them: one of
them was of great value, and the owner thought he would try an experiment
to recover him, by saying in a jocular manner, that he would tie a card
with his address round the animal's neck, in order that when done with
they might know where to return him. Strange to say his experiment
succeeded, as the horse was sent back a short time afterwards.)
We passed the night at the inn to which we had been directed, and next
morning I separated from my companions, our roads being different. There
had been a hoar frost during the night, and the morning was delightfully
bracing. About ten miles in a North-West direction, brought me to the end
of my journey at Cam yr Allyn, the residence of Mr. Boydell. A few miles
from this place, I passed the house of a Mr. Townsend, the road close to
which was literally through a garden of roses, which in the freshness of
the morning, diffused a delicious fragrance.
Mr. Boydell's residence is on a rich spot of ground, on the banks of the
Allyn river, which runs among the spurs of a range of hills, trending
North-North-West, and distant about six miles to the eastward, where it
attains an elevation of three or four thousand feet.
SAGACITY OF THE HORSE.
The country in the neighbourhood is very hilly, and intersected by deep
narrow valleys or ravines. I was very much amused by the sagacity
displayed by the horses in crossing these. They make a point, as soon as
they get near the bottom on one side, of dashing down at a most
tremendous pace, in order to gain an impetus that shall carry them up the
opposite acclivity. The first time the animal I rode exhibited this
instance of forethought, I imagined he was about to run away with me; for
suddenly, without giving the least warning, he made a rush in a downward
direction and was across the valley before I could look round.
All the hills in this part of the country, showed singular sloping sides
to the South-West, whilst on the opposite, they were almost
perpendicular; old red sandstone is generally found on their sides, and
granite on their summit. On the Allyn, I noticed the same kind of rich
limestone, that I found on the west bank of the Karuah, two miles within
the entrance. These two spots are about thirty miles apart. The rocks in
the valley of the Karuah belong to the transition series, and on the
shore of Port Stephens, they consist of porphyry, basalt, and greenstone.
An instance here came under my own observation of the beneficial results
which sometimes arise from the punishment of transportation; knowing the
difficulty of getting good servants, I was curious to learn how Mr.
Boydell had procured his excellent butler, and on inquiry was surprised
to learn that he had been sent out for robbing Madame Vestris of her
CULTIVATION OF TOBACCO.
Mr. Boydell was cultivating tobacco to some considerable extent, with the
hope of being able to supply the colony; others who speculated on a
larger scale were ruined; for it soon turned out that it was impossible
to compete in cheapness with American tobacco. This was in consequence of
the extensive establishment required on the estate--the large drying
sheds that had to be erected, the number of coopers necessary, and the
general high price of labour.
Mr. Boydell was also cultivating the vine, of which he made a light kind
of wine, a very excellent species of hock. The Messrs. McArthurs have
been at great expense in promoting this branch of cultivation, and are
entitled to their share of credit. But to Mr. Bushby the colony owes the
first introduction of the grape, which will hereafter prove of
inestimable benefit, from the great commerce to which it must give rise.
I may here mention that the same gentleman has deserved highly of his
fellow-colonists, by having been the means of bringing good water from
some distance into Sydney. The importance of this to the town was very
apparent even to us transient visitors, from the crowd of water carts we
constantly saw during the severe drought, patiently waiting their turn to
fill from the pump in Hyde Park.
I was fortunate enough to find two gentlemen to return with as
companions, from Cam yr Allyn, which we left early, under the guidance of
a native, mounted on one of Mr. Boydell's horses. We were to have made a
short cut by crossing the hilly country; but after going some distance we
found our guide at fault, and he very innocently acknowledged himself to
be, as he termed it, "murry stupid." It was a long time, he said, since
he had travelled that way. Having however provided myself with a sketch
of the country and a compass, I was enabled to conduct the party out of
A CLEARING LEASE.
On reaching the banks of William river, we inquired our way at a cottage,
whose occupants, I found, held a small piece of land on what is called a
clearing lease--that is to say, they were allowed to retain possession of
it for so many years, for the labour of clearing the land. Many an
industrious poor man is raised to opulence by this means, a pair of oxen
being all that is necessary to set them going. With them they drag away
the fallen timber, and afterwards plough the land. It is astonishing to
see what work oxen will do; they drag drays over almost incredible
steeps, not quartering them as horses do, but going straight up, be the
hills ever so steep.
We learnt here that the township of Dungog, through which our road to
Stroud lay, was close by. We should readily know it, we were informed, by
the lock-up, a place of confinement for misbehavers, and generally the
first building in Australian towns. The particular erection alluded to,
seemed to be well known in the neighbourhood. As we crossed the William
river I was much struck with the richness of the flats on its banks.
CROSSING THE KARUAH.
In fording the Karuah, just before reaching Stroud, the effect was
singular and startling. The thick foliage arching over the river, quite
shut out the little light the stars afforded, and as we had to descend
into it, down a very steep bank, it was like plunging into a dark
bottomless pit; the noise of the stream over the stones alone told us we
should find a footing below. Into this gloomy cave our party one by one
descended, the foremost calling out when he had reached the bottom, that
the way was clear, and hastening across to prevent the horseman who
followed from being carried by the impetus into contact with him. Waiting
my turn upon the verge of the bank, I contemplated with pleasure the
heavy masses of the forest stretching like dark shadows behind me, and on
the other side, the long winding line of verdure at my feet, from beneath
which rose the splashing, rippling, gushing sound of the stream, whilst
overhead, the vault of heaven was thick inlaid with patterns of bright
gold. But the plunge of my companion's horse in the water, and his voice
calling out that all was right, soon drew me away, and in another moment
I was fording in utter darkness the rapid though shallow stream of the
We passed the night at Stroud, and next morning started for Port
Stephens. There having been some delay in getting my horse, I was obliged
to push over the first seven miles in little more than a quarter of an
hour, the postman having waited for me over his time.
On the 15th, the requisite observations were obtained for rating the
chronometers, which we found had altered their rates in a most singular
manner; so much so, that in spite of the short interval that had elapsed
since our departure from Sydney, we found the resulting meridian distance
between that place and Port Stephens, to be very defective. This fact
illustrates the unaccountable changes that sometimes occur in the rates
of chronometers, and the necessity of repeated measures of difference of
longitude to arrive at the truth.
On the morning of the 16th we again sailed for the North coast with a
fine southerly wind.
At noon, when in 30 fathoms, with coarse sand bottom, we saw Indian Head,
bearing North-North-West 10 miles, it is a dark cliffy point; but there
is another more remarkable in the shape of a quoin, three or four miles
to the northward. At 8 P.M., we were in the same depth, Sandy Cape, so
named by Cook for its being a low point streaked with patches of white
sand, bearing West-South-West eight miles. As it was now blowing very
hard from East-South-East, with constant squalls and thick rainy weather,
the ship was brought to the wind under snug sail, for the night.
At daylight we were in 18 fathoms, the outer elbow of Breaksea Spit,
bearing South-East by South three miles.
It was when anchored under this Spit that in H.M.S. Britomart, a
monstrous shark was caught, about twenty feet long, in which were found
the bones of some very large animal, possibly those of a bullock, that
had been carried out to sea by some current. Steering North-North-West we
deepened the water in eight miles to 32 fathoms, and after rounding the
northern extremity of Breaksea Spit, which appeared to be formed of a few
detached breakers, steered West by North for Bustard Bay. In 28 fathoms,
with fine sand, we passed three miles south of Lady Elliott's Island, a
small level spot about seventy feet high, fringed with a coral reef,
particularly to the South-East, and forming the south eastern isle of
Bunker's Group. It was first seen at the distance of seven miles from the
Beagle's poop, the height of the eye being fifteen feet, and at that
number of miles east of it we had thirty fathoms. The weather was still
very hazy, but the wind had subsided to a light breeze from
East-North-East. After passing Breaksea Spit, a westerly current was felt
of nearly a knot an hour, which was also found to be the case in June,
The morning was bright and sunny, a happy change after several days of
thick, rainy, and boisterous weather. The remarkable features in this
part of the coast, consisting of Round Hill,* Peaked Hill, and Mount
Larcom, stood out in bold relief against the pure blue of an Australian
(*Footnote. This hill was seen 35 miles from the Beagle's poop, and is a
good guide for Bustard Bay. Peaked Hill we found to be 2000 feet high,
and Mount Larcom 1800. They form admirable points for fixing the position
of the groups of isles fronting this part of
In the evening steering North-West by West we passed over a coral bank
three miles wide, the least water on which was nine fathoms. From this
depth we procured a specimen of living coral. This bank was again crossed
in June, 1841, a mile and a half further to the South-West, when the
depth was only seven fathoms. It lies eight miles South-South-West from a
low islet, four miles from which in a West-South-West direction is a
coral patch, nearly dry. This islet, in latitude 23 degrees 34 minutes
South to which we gave the name of Mast Head, forms the south-western of
a group fronting Cape Capricorn. The latter has a hump on its extreme,
resembling a haycock, and by our observations* is in latitude 23 degrees
30 minutes 30 seconds South, which is two miles south of its position in
the chart. As we were detained by light winds in the neighbourhood, I had
more than one opportunity of detecting this error. By midnight we were
about 18 miles North by West from Cape Capricorn, when we felt a swell
from the eastward, which assured me there was an opening in the reefs on
the north side of the group of islets fronting the Cape.
(*Footnote. Hummock Island is alike in error with Cape Capricorn, but all
the distant points agree with the Beagle's observation.)
There was a light air from South-West till near noon, then one from
seaward which freshened and became in the afternoon steady at South-East,
a quarter it afterwards prevailed from. We were at the time passing about
three miles from Flat Island, in 27 fathoms, an increase in the soundings
we had but just got into. We were glad to find the ship's position, fixed
by points both far and near, agree with the observations, a fact I can
only account for here, from the circumstance, that Flinders laid down the
coast about Port Bowen by observations on shore, whereas that in the
neighbourhood of Cape Capricorn, was from those made with the sea-horizon
which he found differ very materially.
During the day we added to the chart the position of two peaks, 1900 feet
high, lying about 20 miles South-West by West from Cape Manifold, and
forming the northern end of a high rocky range. A current was also
noticed setting north a mile an hour. The entrance of Port Bowen bore
West-South-West 15 miles at midnight, when the depth was 30 fathoms.
From thence we steered to pass between Number 1 and Number 2 of the
Northumberland Isles, in order that we might lay down their outlines
correctly, and also determine the positions of some small islets lying on
the South-West side of Number 1. The most remarkable land in sight in the
morning was Mount Westall, named by Flinders after the talented artist
who accompanied him, and which forms the highest part of the eastern
shore of Shoalwater Bay. The soundings during the night were very
regular, only varying from 30 to 33 fathoms with a soft muddy bottom,
mixed occasionally with which the lead brought up small stones. The
summit of Number 1 of the Northumberland Isles forms a remarkable peak
720 feet high; a sandy bay on the west side promised good anchorage, and
on its south-east and northern sides were some high detached rocks. The
heights of the other parts of the group vary from two to six hundred
feet. The crests of the western isles are covered with pine trees, which
give them a curious jagged appearance. In the afternoon we passed in 34
fathoms four miles from the eastern side of the Percy Isles, which
enabled us to add their eastern extremity in the chart. The mainland
falling so much back soon after passing Port Bowen, we could form no idea
of its character, but certainly what we had seen did not leave a
favourable impression of its apparent fertility.
Captains Flinders and King, having given a description of the Percy
Isles, it will
not be necessary for me to say anything about them, further than that
they are composed of a trap-like compound with an aspect of serpentine,
and that either on them or the Northumberland Isles, sandalwood has been
found of late, and taken by a Tasmanian vessel to the China market. Just
before dark, the soundings decreased to 29 fathoms, Pine Peak of Percy
Group, bearing South-West 10 miles. Our course was now shaped for Cape
Gloucester, the extreme of the Cumberland Isles; and about this time we
felt the flood-tide setting South-West by West nearly a knot an hour, a
sure indication of there being openings in the barriers in that
direction. The great distance at which this part of it lies from the
islands will render its examination a difficult and hazardous
undertaking. The night was anything but favourable for sailing among
islands, being very hazy, with passing rain squalls. At midnight we
passed nearly two miles from the North-East side of k of the Cumberland
Group, in 27 fathoms, in which depth we continued till getting abreast of
Pentecost Island, the next evening, the 24th, when it increased to 35
fathoms, but still on the same kind of green sandy mud bottom. At 10 P.M.
we passed about seven miles from Cape Gloucester, which at that part was
nearly 1600 feet high. Yet the night was so hazy, that it was only
visible at intervals. Here we noticed many ripplings which we afterwards
found indicated a North-North-West current of a knot and a half an hour,
caused no doubt by the proximity of a part of the barrier, the distance
between it and Cape Gloucester being only 13 miles. I may here observe
that the barometer was very high with these fresh South-East winds and
hazy weather, and rather low during the light North-West winds we
experienced in the neighbourhood of Cape Capricorn.
At daylight the Beagle was a few miles east of Cape Upstart, in 17
fathoms, having passed two miles from the north side of Holborn Island,
in 28 fathoms. The above headland received its name from Captain Cook,
and peculiarly deserves it, appearing in fact from the lowness of the
land behind, actually to start up out of the water.
Chronometers being chiefly affected by changes of temperature, it was
necessary to ascertain the rates of those in the Beagle again before
reaching Port Essington, for a correct measurement of the difference of
meridians between that place and Port Stephens. The bay on the west side
of Cape Upstart had been recommended by Captain King for that purpose, as
he had considered it likely to be the mouth of an opening. This
conjecture the low land in the head of the bay, together with a singular
break in the distant hills seemed fully to justify. We accordingly
entered the bay and anchored half a mile within the North-East point.
This took us till the afternoon to reach, in consequence of our having a
light land breeze until 3 P.M. when it became steady from North-East,
drawing round to south, after sunset, and veering to South-West again in
the morning. This alternation of land and seabreezes continued during our
stay, for three or four successive days.
In the evening we landed and ascended the North-East extremity of the
Cape, from whence we saw at once that hopes of discovering any opening
were delusive, the low shores of the Bay could be traced all round,
except in the North-West corner, where a point shut out our view.
EXPLORATION OF A RIVER.
On sweeping the western shore with a spyglass, I discovered the mouth of
a river about a mile to the north of a hillock marked in Captain King's
chart. This river was made the object of an exploring party, and next day
Captain Wickham and Lieutenant Eden, went on that interesting service. It
has two entrances, both very shallow, and is of little importance, being
on a lee shore and fronted by a bar, which seems to break at all times of
the tide. However, as there is such very safe anchorage near, the
discovery may hereafter prove of some value. Captain Wickham found it
fresh ten miles from the entrance, but at that point it is nearly lost in
the sands, and so very shallow that the natives have a fishing weir
across it. The land, which appears to be much cut up with creeks, is very
flat on both sides, and is subject to inundations. This was evident from
the signs of drift, to the height of six feet, on the trees that grew
along the banks, themselves not more than a couple of yards above
The exploring party saw a few natives, but they were too shy to
communicate. One was discovered on a long flat, crawling on his hands and
knees, to catch a glimpse of the strange intruders, and looking more like
a great insect than a man. In the distance up the river a good many
smokes appeared; but I doubt whether this may be considered as denoting a
densely populated country, as fires are kindled by the Australian
natives, both as signals and for the purposes of hunting.
Previous to my departure from England, I had the pleasure of hearing a
valuable paper by my friend Mr. Darwin, on the formation of coral
islands,* read at the Geological Society; my attention being thus
awakened to the subject, the interest of this important paper was to me
greatly enhanced by a series of queries, kindly furnished by Mr. Darwin,
and drawn up with a view to confirm or invalidate his views, his purpose
being to elicit truth from a combination of well attested facts, and by
inducing the research of others to further the objects of science.
Among these queries was the following: "Are there masses of coral or beds
of shells some yards above high water mark, on the coast fronting the
(*Footnote. See also the Hydrographer's Instructions supra.)
Captain King, in answer to the above states, that some of the islands
within the reef have beaches of broken coral; and, as an instance, he
refers to Fitzroy island.
I will, myself, here adduce what may be deemed an important fact; and
which, if allowed its due weight, will go far to weaken the arguments
brought forward in favour of the subsidence of the North-East coast of
Australia. I found a flat nearly a quarter of a mile broad, in a quiet
sheltered cove, within the cape, thickly strewed with dead coral and
shells, forming, in fact, a perfect bed of them--a raised beach of twelve
feet above high-water mark. On the sandy beach fronting it, also a few
feet above high-water mark, was a concretion of sand and dead coral,
forming a mass about fifty yards long. Fronting this, for about the width
of one hundred and fifty feet, was a wall of coral with two feet water on
it; and immediately outside, five fathoms, with a fine sandy bottom,
slightly sloping off. The annexed woodcut will better explain what we
have here endeavoured to bring before the reader.
SECTION OF THE COAST.
This small coral-strewed flat where our observations were made, and the
results of which are as follows; latitude 19 degrees 42 3/4 minutes
South; longitude 15 degrees 36 1/2 minutes East of Port Essington, is
surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills. Had it been on the seaward side
of the Cape, I might have been readier to imagine that it could have been
thrown up by the sea in its ordinary action, or when suddenly disturbed
by an earthquake wave; but as the contrary is the case, it seemed
impossible to come to any other conclusion, than that an upheaval had
taken place. The whole of Cape Upstart is a granite mass, and its crests
are covered with boulders, some of which have rolled down and form rather
conspicuous objects on the shores and points of the bay.
Near the North-West extremity of the Cape just at high-water mark, I
noticed some pumice stones, small and not having the appearance of
belonging to a recent eruption, which seems to agree with the opinion
expressed by the Reverend W.G. Clarke in the Tasmanian Journal. He
considers, and I think justly, that its origin may be in the Solomon, New
Caledonia, or some other of the volcanic islands to the east of
Australia, from whence it drifted, as it has been found on all parts of
the coast, to the southern portion of which it has doubtless been carried
by the current. Captain Wickham did not remark any above the entrance of
the river he explored, on the western side of the bay, which bears out
the opinion I have above expressed. A curious fact, mentioned by Mr.
Clarke is, that one piece, perfectly water-worn, was found upon a high
mountain, full twenty-five miles inland from the mouth of Clarence River.
Was this carried thither by one of the natives, or does it indicate that
pumice drifted to this part of the continent at a time when, if ever, it
was on a level with the ocean? I further remarked in this place, many of
the land shells common to this and other parts of the coast.
There was great difficulty in attaining the loftiest point of the Cape,
which I found to be two thousand feet high. From thence our party
commanded a view of the whole of the bay, and discovered that we were,
strictly speaking, standing upon an island, a small creek winding round
the southern foot of the high land, and connecting the bays on the
eastern and western side of Cape Upstart.
The break in the hills seen by Captain King, and supposed to indicate an
opening, has been already alluded to. On reaching the summit I found that
this was merely a valley, containing the head of the plain which
stretched from the shores of the bay. On its southern side rose Mount
Abbott; but one of the most remarkable features on the coast is Mount
Elliott, lying about forty-five miles West and by North from our
position. It is a long level hill, with a peak at its northern extremity.
All those in the neighbourhood, as far as I could judge with the
spyglass, seemed to be of the same formation with Cape Upstart.
We found this a convenient stopping-place for vessels making the inner
passage, wood and water being easily procured. The latter is found in a
considerable reservoir fed by two streams from the high land of the Cape,
lying a mile within the mouth of the bay. From appearances, I should say
it would yield an abundant supply at any season of the year.
There were a few natives loitering about on Cape Upstart when we arrived;
and I think we should have communicated with them had it not been for the
fright into which they were accidentally thrown. A boat's crew on landing
surprised a small party, which instantly dispersed in various directions.
A lad, however, instead of escaping with the rest, stowed himself away in
a crack between two boulders of granite. Every endeavour was made to get
him to come out of his hidingplace; biscuit was offered him, but he
snapped savagely with his teeth at the hand that held it. Finding all
attempts fruitless he was left; and no doubt, the account he gave his
comrades of us, while under the influence of fright, was sufficiently
terrible to take them all away from the neighbourhood. These natives used
nets similar to those I had seen on the North-West coast, and in their
make, resembling, in a remarkable manner, the ones employed by Europeans.
PLANTS AND ANIMALS.
In the valley, just within Cape Upstart, a few palms and a species of
cotton were growing; and in other places, the never-failing Eucalyptus,
of small growth. Certain bulbs* were also found, apparently of the same
species as those on the Percy Isles; several of which we removed and
presented to the Botanical Garden at Sydney, where we afterwards had the
gratification of seeing them in a flourishing state.
(*Footnote. Crinum angustifolium. They belong to the Narcissus, but are
in themselves a new order of plant.)
A few quails were shot of the same large kind as that found on all other
parts of the continent, also one or two pheasant cuckoos.* They did not
differ from those we killed on the North-West coast, although nearly five
degrees further south. A very large pigeon was also shot, resembling in
colour the common blue rock, but without a bronze mark. We had not seen
this species before; it was a very wary bird, and was found in the rocks.
(*Footnote. Centropus phasianellus. Gould.)
But the greatest prize our sportsmen shot was a specimen of a small
female kangaroo, of a new kind.*
(*Footnote. Deposited in the British Museum, and figured as Petrogale
inanata, by Mr. Gould, who being misinformed, has described it as
inhabiting the north coast of Australia.)
It measured as follows, just after it was killed: Length of body from tip
of nose, 18 inches; length of tail from stump to tip, 19 inches; weight 8
1/2 pounds. Its colour was a slate or light grey on the back, and dirty
yellow or light brown on the belly; extreme half of tail black, with hair
gradually increasing in length, from the centre to the tip and
terminating in a tuft. On the back of the hind legs the hair is longer
than on any other part of the body. The nails on the hind feet were
short, covered with long hair, and did not project over the pulpy part of
the foot, which is well cushioned and rough, giving a firm hold to
projecting rocks. The head was small, and sharp towards the muzzle; the
ears were short and slightly rounded, the eyes black, and the forearms
very short. In this animal the pouch was very superficial. It inhabits
the most rugged summits, taking refuge in the clefts of the rocks.
In the afternoon we left the anchorage we had been the first to occupy,
and standing out of the bay, were much struck by the rugged outline Cape
Upstart presents. The huge boulders scattered over the crest of the
hills, give it the appearance of a vast mass of ruins, the clear
atmosphere bringing it out in bold relief against the sky. We stood over
North-West for the opposite shore, and closing to within three miles of
the land changed our course and ran along the singular low point forming
the coastline to the North-West of Cape Upstart; and by 9 P.M. rounded
its northern extreme called Cape Bowling Green, at a distance of six
miles, in 17 fathoms, steering then to pass about four miles outside the
Palm Isles. During the whole night our soundings only varied from 17 to
The weather was gloomy with passing showers of rain and a moderate
South-South-East breeze; but all was bright again by daylight (July 1st)
when Magnetical Island bore South 9 degrees West, and the south and
largest of the Palm Isles North 81 degrees West, which, corresponding
with the log, showed there had been no current during the night.
Magnetical Island was so named by Cook, because he fancied it affected
the Endeavour's compass in passing it. There is good anchorage on the
west side, where it is densely covered with trees, amidst which a few
straggling pines reared their lofty and angular-shaped heads, giving by
their variety a picturesque appearance to the scene.* We passed the Palm
Islands early in the forenoon. The largest we found to be 750 feet high,
with a remarkable white rock off its South-East extreme.
(*Footnote. See the view annexed.)
Behind these isles we saw numerous blue streaks of smoke from the fires
of the natives, indicating the state of population on the slope of that
lofty range of hills, which may be called the Cordillera of Eastern
Australia, and which at this point, tower to a great height, overlooking
the coast.* We were abreast about noon of its most remarkable feature,
Mount Hinchinbrook, in latitude 18 degrees 22 minutes South, rising to
the height, according to our observations, of 3500 feet.
(*Footnote. The proximity of this high land to the coast, may account for
the gloomy weather of the previous night.)
Although a number of fires being once seen is not always a sign in
Australia of a densely populated part of the country, yet when they are
constantly visible, as in this part of the continent, it is fair to
infer, that the inhabitants are numerous, and the soil fertile. I might
further remark, that Captain King found the natives well disposed; and at
Goold Island, in this neighbourhood, they even came on board his vessel
uninvited, an evidence of friendship and confidence, rarely
characterizing a race of beings so wary as are generally the inhabitants
It is not a little singular that the altitude of Mount Hinchinbrook
should be identical with what Strzelecki considers the mean height of the
Cordillera, which he traced continually on foot, from 31 to 44 degrees
South latitude giving to the highest point, 6500 feet in latitude 36
degrees 20 minutes South, the name of Mount Kosciusko, for reasons most
admirably and feelingly expressed, and which we therefore, in justice to
his patriotic sentiments, give below in his own words.* It will thus be
seen that there is a northerly dip in the cordillera of 3000 feet in 18
degrees of latitude.
(*Footnote. "The particular configuration of this eminence struck me so
forcibly, by the similarity it bears to a tumulus elevated in Krakow,
over the tomb of the patriot Kosciusko, that although in a foreign
country, on foreign ground, but amongst a free people, who appreciate
freedom and its votaries, I could not refrain from giving it the name of
The great height of this range, and the extreme abruptness of its eastern
face, where no waters are thrown off, renders it more than probable that
on the western side there is land of great fertility. Whatever waters
originate on its summit and slopes, must flow towards the interior, and
there give rise to rivers emptying themselves into the Gulf of
Carpentaria, or by first forming lagoons, feed streams of some magnitude
even, during their overflow.
It is the general opinion of every voyager who has sailed along the coast
of Halifax Bay, that it is the most interesting portion of the north-east
side of the continent; as, combining the several facts which we have
above given, we have every reason to believe that the discovery of
fertile and therefore valuable land, will one day reward the labours of
Nothing was seen by us of the San Antonio reef, laid down in the charts
as fronting the Palm Isles; but this was subsequently accounted for by
Captain Stanley, who found that it was sixteen miles north of its
supposed position, being in latitude 18 degrees 17 minutes South, and
twenty-four miles distant from the nearest land, Hillock Point.
This fact is the more satisfactory and important that, from its present
position, as laid down in the chart, being supposed to be near the Palm
Islands, it was apt to create an unpleasant state of anxiety in the mind
of those navigating these waters during thick weather or at night.
From noon we steered North-North-West, and at 6 P.M. Dunk Island bore
South-West eight miles distant; our soundings varying, during that
period, from thirteen to fifteen fathoms. During the day we had several
opportunities of satisfactorily testing the accuracy of Captain King's
chart. While passing Barnard's Group, soon after dark, we found a current
setting West-North-West nearly a mile an hour, a rate at which it kept
during the whole night, but in a North-North-West direction. During the
day we had a light breeze from South-South-East, which shifted to
West-South-West during the night. Numerous native fires were observed
burning on the shore during the first watch, at the foot of the Bellenden
Ker hills, remarkable mountains of considerable altitude.
Soon after midnight we were abreast of Frankland Group, and at 7 A.M.
passed three miles to the eastward of Fitzroy Island, where our soundings
increased to seventeen fathoms, with a current running upwards of a mile
an hour to the North-West, an increased velocity, which may be accounted
for by the proximity of the reefs to a projection of the coast forming
Cape Grafton. I must not, however, pass an island which like Fitzroy,
carried in its name a pleasing association to many on board the Beagle,
without a word of notice, particularly as its features are in themselves
sufficiently remarkable, having a singular peaked summit 550 feet high,
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