Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1.
J Lort Stokes
Part 6 out of 8
near the north-east end. On the western side is a little cove where
Captain King found snug anchorage.
REEF NEAR LOW ISLES.
Passing midway between Green Island, which is about twenty feet high,
encircled with a coral reef, and Cape Grafton, we steered North-West 1/2
North for a shoal on which Her Majesty's Ship Imogene grounded; and at
noon, were exactly on the spot, in latitude 16 degrees 24 1/4 minutes
South by observations and bearings of the land, Low Isles being
West-North-West four miles. Here we found sixteen fathoms, not having had
less than seventeen since the morning. There was no appearance of any
such reef nearer than that laid down by Lieutenant Roe, bearing east from
the above-mentioned Low Isles and under which Her Majesty's Ship Tamar
anchored. It must therefore have been on the North-West part of this reef
that the Imogene struck, and the south part must be the reef laid down in
the chart as having been seen by her to the southward, which accounts for
our not seeing it from the Beagle. We passed through several patches of
discoloured water, caused by washings from reefs to windward, which are
very deceptive. At sunset the anchor was dropped in thirteen fathoms, for
the first time since leaving Port Stephens. The south point of Weary Bay
bore West-North-West three miles, and Cape Tribulation South by East six
miles. Near the middle of the former, I noticed a patch of discoloured
water, which has since been found by a merchant vessel to be a shoal.
The land over the latter place is very high, presenting several singular
peaks, one more prominent than the rest, in the shape of a finger. That
over Trinity Bay, which we were the greater part of the day crossing, is
also of great altitude. In its south corner we noticed the river-like
opening spoken of by Captain King, lying in the rear of some remarkable
peaks. We had been informed by him, that the greater part of the coast
between Weary Bay and Endeavour River, including the Hope Islands, had
been altered from his original survey, a tracing of which he had
furnished us with previous to leaving Sydney. The few bearings we
obtained while at anchor, induced us to consider it correct, a fact we
further proved during the early part of the next day's run, as the course
steered from our anchorage North by West 1/2 West, carried us a little
more than a mile west of the Hope Islands. Had their assigned position in
the chart been correct, our course would have led us right over the
western isle. On detecting this error, we found it necessary to re-survey
this part of the coast, and it affords me much pleasure, after so doing,
to be able to bear testimony to the extreme correctness of Captain King's
original chart above alluded to. Soon after passing the Hope Islands, we
saw the reef where Cook's vessel had so miraculous an escape, after
grinding on the rocks for 23 hours, as graphically described in his
voyages. It is called Endeavour Reef, from this circumstance.
Continuing on the same course, we passed three miles from Cape Bedford,
at 4 P.M. This is one of the most remarkable features on the coast, being
a bluff detached piece of tableland, surmounted by a singular low line of
cliffs, reminding me forcibly of the lava-capped hills on the river Santa
Cruz, in eastern Patagonia. As far as I could judge, by the aid of a good
glass, it seemed to be composed of a mixture of red sand and ironstone,
of a very deep red hue, bearing a great similarity to the country on the
North-West coast, in latitude 15 1/4 degrees South.
Leaving Cape Bedford, we went in search of a shoal laid down by H.M.S.
Victor, as lying two miles to the West-South-West of Three Isles. Both
Captain King and Lieutenant Roe had expressed a doubt of its existence in
the position marked, a doubt which our researches fully justified; and
therefore, as it at present stands, it should be expunged from the chart.
From thence we steered north for Lizard Island, the remarkable peak on
which soon rose in sight; this course took us within three miles of Cape
Flattery, where a couple of peaks, with a slope between them, render it a
About seven miles west from thence, there is a strange alteration in the
appearance of the country, changing from moderately high conical-shaped
hills, to lofty table ranges about 500, or 600 feet in height, trending
about South-West and by West.
Having still a little moonlight, we were enabled to keep underweigh part
of the night, and during the first watch came to in 13 fathoms, in a bay
on the west side of Lizard Island, the extremes bearing from South 1/2
East to East-North-East. During the day we experienced a northerly
current, varying from three quarters to half an knot an hour.
We remained at this anchorage, until the following morning, for the
purpose of determining the position of the island, and of visiting the
peak, which we found to be nearly twelve hundred feet high. I ascended by
a slope rising from the shore of the small bay where our observations
were taken, and which may be easily distinguished, from being the second
from the north point of the island. Their result was to place it in
latitude 14 degrees 40 3/4 minutes South longitude 13 degrees 17 3/4
minutes East of Port Essington. Variation by the mean of five or six
needles was 7 3/4 degrees East being half a degree more than it was at
Cape Upstart. Other magnetic observations were also made, consisting of
those for the dip and intensity.
In a valley to the left of the slope by which we ascended the peak, were
noticed several very remarkable, low and spreading trees, with a dark
green foliage, and leaves large, ovate, and obtuse. The branches, from
which, when broken, a milky juice exuded, were thick and glossy, of an
ash colour; at their extremity they were thin, with long pendulous stems,
supporting a bell-shaped flower, of a rich crimson hue; these hung in
great profusion, and contrasting with the surrounding dark green verdure,
presented a very beautiful and striking appearance. The diameter of the
trunk of the largest tree was 20 inches, and the height 25 feet.
Lieutenant Emery painted a most faithful representation of one of them,
by means of which we found on our arrival at Port Essington, that neither
the professional nor amateur botanists, had any knowledge of it. To them
and to ourselves it was alike perfectly new.
On the preceding evening I had refreshed my memory by reading Cook's
account of his visit to the same spot, and was thus able minutely to
follow in the footsteps of the immortal navigator. There is an
inexpressible charm in thus treading in the track of the mighty dead, and
my feelings on attaining the summit of the peak, where the foot of the
white man, had perhaps but once before rested, will easily be understood.
Below to the eastward stretched a vast expanse of water, broken at the
distance of about eight miles, by a long narrow line of detached reefs,
on which there ran a white crest of foaming breakers, marking the outer
edge of the Great Barrier, a name which few seamen could hear with
indifference when in its vicinity. If I felt emotions of delight, on
first perceiving the extent of a danger so justly dreaded, how much
stronger must have been the feelings of Captain Cook, when from the same
spot years before, he saw by a gap in the line of broken water, there was
a chance of his once more gaining the open sea, after being confined to
the eastern shores of the Australian continent, for a distance of 750
Though the dangers of this inner channel had proved so nearly fatal to
his ship, the truth of the homely adage, which describes all as happening
for the best, was here fully borne out, as the very fact of his position
enabled Captain Cook to make considerable discoveries along the
coast--just as by the mishap on Endeavour Reef, the presence of a river
was made apparent, and some slight knowledge of the aborigines obtained,
as well as numerous facts illustrative of the natural and vegetable
productions of the locality.
Little did he think at that time, however, when standing on the summit of
the peak, that he was about as it were to thread the eye of a needle, by
passing through another break, in a manner which can only be designated
as providential. This gap in the great reef is now known as Providence
Channel, a name which must ever remind us of Him, who in moments when our
lives hang as by a thread, is ever watchful, and spares us in the
exercise of his inscrutable will.
Carried back to times past, we stood upon the summit of the height,
dwelling in thought upon the adventurous career of the great navigator,
when suddenly, as if by magic, the whole scene below and around was
obscured, and we found ourselves wrapped in a dense cloud of vapour,
which came sweeping across the island, drenching us to the skin, with a
rapidity which spoke volumes for the penetrating character of an
Australian fog. Cold and shivering we hailed the temporary re-appearance
of the sun with delight, and our clothes were dried almost as speedily as
they had been wetted. Our satisfaction was however but of short duration,
as the same agreeable operation, of alternate drenching and drying,
occurred several times during our stay on the Peak.
The opening through which Captain Cook passed out to sea, bore about
North by East 9 miles, the outer line of the Barrier Reef, curving from
thence to the North-West, and following the trend of the land. When this
singular wall of coral, the most extensive perhaps in the world, is
surveyed, it will I think be found to follow the direction of the coast
it fronts with such exactness, as to leave little doubt that the vast
base on which rests the work of the reef-building Polypifers, was,
contrary to the opinion which I am aware prevails, upheaved at the same
time with the neighbouring coast of the Australian continent, which it
follows for a space of upwards of a hundred miles.
From the elevation on which I stood, I had an excellent view of some
reefs within the Barrier; whether they encircled an islet, or were wholly
beneath the water, their form was circular, although from the ship, and
indeed anywhere, viewed from a less height, they appeared oval-shaped.
This detection of my own previously erroneous impressions, seemed to
account for the recurrence in charts of elongated-shaped reefs, others
having doubtless fallen into the same error. It is very remarkable that
on the South-East or windward side of these coral reefs, the circle is of
a compact and perfect form, as if to resist the action of the waves,
while on the opposite side they were jagged and broken.*
(*Footnote. In the Pacific the islets are generally on the weather side
of the lagoon reefs.)
The South-West side of the peak rises perpendicularly from a grassy flat,
which stretches across that part of the island, separating two bays, the
beaches of which with the rest on the island are composed of granulated
quartz, and coarse shingle. A stream of water, rising in the peak, runs
through the green, while a few low gumtrees grow in small detached
clumps; a ship may therefore procure both water and fuel; finding this to
be the case, and as it was a convenient stopping place, we made a plan of
the island, connecting it with those in the immediate neighbourhood. It
is the more advantageous as an anchorage, in that it can be reached
during the night, whereas this could not be done in the inner channel
near Turtle Islands, it lying so much to the westward, and being more
intricate. Indeed it is not prudent to approach these isles even in the
afternoon, from the number of reefs, and the difficulty in seeing them
with the sun ahead.
Mr. Bynoe was not fortunate enough to add to his collection of birds;
those he observed being only doves and parrots, besides a flycatcher
common to parts of the coast, and often before met with by us.
A couple of vampires of the larger and darker species were also seen, and
numerous land shells (Helix) similar to those on Cape Upstart; found near
the roots of trees, buried in the decayed vegetation. Two old coconuts
and large quantities of pumicestone were picked up on the south-east side
of the island. The prevailing character of the rocks was granitic, out of
which some beautiful specimens of hornblende were procured. The entire
island was fringed with a narrow strip of coral, but I noticed none of it
above high-water mark.
We took our departure at an early hour, and after running round to sketch
the north-east side of the island, stood to the westward for Howick
Group. The weather being thick we did not discover the somewhat
remarkable peak on Number 1, until we were close to it. Our progress was
accelerated by a current running half a knot an hour, and finding the
passage between Number 1 and 2 of Howick Group, much impeded by rocks, we
hauled up between 2 and 3 isles, and on keeping away again
West-North-West for Point Barrow, found ourselves close to a reef, almost
dry, and extending nearly a mile further off the North-East side of Coles
Island, than is laid down in the chart; thus contracting the channel
between it and Number 4 island, to a space of not more than two miles.
When the course was shaped for Point Barrow, Noble Island, a very
remarkable pyramidal-shaped rocky height, was a point on the port bow.
Its singular appearance makes it conspicuous amid the recollections of
this part of the coast.
We now once more approached to within a distance of seven miles of the
mainland, which presented to our view a low sandy shore, with a few
remarkable hummocks rising over it, and somewhat high, broken, rocky land
Passing Point Barrow we anchored near the north end of a large reef, Cape
Melville bearing West-North-West ten miles. Here we felt a swell rolling
in from seaward, and during the day there had been a current in our
favour, of about a mile an hour. From the haze on the horizon, noticed
from this anchorage, as well as on passing Cape Melville, I believe the
outer edge of the Barrier Reef to be not more than four or five leagues
distant from the land.
Our attention had been previously directed by Captain King and others, to
the singular appearance of the rocks on Cape Melville; indeed no one can
pass this remarkable projection without being struck by the strange
manner in which piles of reddish-coloured stones are scattered about in
the utmost confusion, and in every possible direction over this high
ridge. I much regretted that on passing next morning there was no
opportunity of landing to see the nature of this confused mass; judging,
however, from the result of my examination of a similar appearance
presented by Depuch Island on the north-west coast, I believe this point
to be of volcanic origin.
Between the rocks off Cape Melville, and a reef encircling two small
islets, the channel is not more than a mile in width: indeed, I consider
passing this point and Cape Flinders the most intricate part of the inner
route. After rounding the rocks off the former we steered for the latter
Cape, keeping it a little on the port bow; this course led us on reef a,
lying midway between the Cape and a low island to the North-East. When on
the southern extremity Cape Flinders bore South 70 degrees West 3 miles,
and Clack Island North 39 degrees West. The latter is a remarkable cliffy
lump, interesting from the circumstance of Mr. Cunningham having found
native drawings in its caves.
After clearing this danger, and passing the Cape, we steered across
Princess Charlotte Bay, keeping wide to the southward of the reefs
fronting it, in order that we might the more easily distinguish them; the
sun at that time of the day being in the direction of the ship's head.
The soundings gradually decreased with a soft muddy bottom, as we
approached the eastern shores of the bay; which is so large and free from
shoals, that a vessel not wishing to anchor might pass the night standing
off and on with perfect safety. There is over the head of this bay a
remarkable level-topped hill, called by Captain Cook, Janes' tableland;
rendered the more conspicuous from the low nature of the surrounding
SECTION OF CORAL REEF.
In the evening we anchored a mile from the South-West side of a small
detached reef, marked F in the chart, and distant 22 miles from Cape
Flinders; the solitary position of this reef, it being four miles from
the inner edge of the Great Barrier, and nine from the nearest part of
the main, gave us a good opportunity of making a section, with a view of
illustrating the progressive structure of coral edifices, in the still
waters within the barrier reef; we accordingly visited the spot in the
evening, and being an interesting object, we give a drawing of the
It proved a good specimen of the circular or lagoon reef. One young
mangrove was growing on the elevated part marked C in the woodcut. The
rim which rose on all sides was quite black, but white when broken; the
highest part being about three feet above the water. The nature of the
bottom within the reef was a white sand mixed with small pieces of dead
coral: without, we found on either side soft green sandy mud with shells,
the inclination of the bottom on which the reef rests, being only one
degree, we may fairly infer it to be superimposed on a most extensive
To-day being Sunday we did not proceed further than Number 4 of the
Claremont Isles, a low rocky group encircled by coral reefs, to give the
ship's company a run on shore during the afternoon; in order to remind
them of its being a day of rest appointed by the Lord. When we anchored,
we found, contrary to the usual north-westerly tendency of the current, a
tide setting South-South-West three quarters of a knot an hour, this
lasted for a space of four hours, when it changed, and ran
North-North-West from half to three quarters of a knot during the
remainder of our stay. The wind was moderate from East-South-East.
We weighed at 6 A.M., and about the same hour in the evening again
anchored under Restoration Island. The ship's track during the day
followed the trend of the land, keeping about seven miles from it, except
when opposite Cape Direction, where we were about half that distance from
the shore. We found little to add to Captain King's chart, with the
exception of some reefs lying about ten miles east from the
The coast here again attained a moderate height, and a round hill ten
miles south of Cape Direction, reached the height of 1250 feet; its
latitude being 13 degrees South is nearly five degrees and a half north
of where the Cordillera is 3500 feet high, and 23 1/2 degrees of where it
attains its greatest elevation, that of 6500 feet; a fact which will at
once demonstrate the northerly tendency in the dip of the chain of hills.
This degree is further illustrated by the height of Pudding-pan Hill in
11 degrees 19 minutes South being only 384 feet. From the data given,
despite the limited number of our facts, it will be seen that the dip
becomes gradually more rapid as you advance to the northward.
South-East from Cape Sidmouth the passage was much contracted by a
covered rock in the very centre of the channel; this may be avoided by
keeping close to the West side of island Number 6. Restoration is a lofty
rocky lump, terminating in a peak 360 feet high. A smaller islet of the
same character lies about half a mile off its South-East side; there is
also a remarkable peak on the shore, four miles to the southward. This
part of the coast is thus rendered very conspicuous from seaward, and may
be discerned outside the Barrier reefs. Restoration Island is a point of
some interest from having been first visited in 1789 by Captain Bligh,
during his extraordinary and unparalleled voyage in the Bounty launch,
from the Society Islands. The dangers and perils undergone by this
undaunted voyager, and our consciousness of the joy which the sight of
land must have brought to his heart, gave much zest to our feelings with
regard to the locality. There is always an interest in connection with
scenes associated with a name such as that of Bligh, but to us the
interest was double; it was the sympathy of seamen with a brother
As Captain King had not examined this interesting spot, we thought his
chart would be greatly improved by our passing a day in the place; this
was the more necessary as we found it to be a snug anchorage and
convenient place for ships passing. The name of Restoration Island was
given it by Bligh, from the circumstance of his having made it upon the
anniversary of the recall of Charles II. to the throne of England.
The surveying operations necessary to perfect the chart of this
neighbourhood, afforded ample employment during the day. The weather
being dull, with passing rain, and squalls, the view I had anticipated
enjoying from the summit of the island was quite destroyed. Like Cape
Upstart and Lizard Island it is a granite mass. Dead coral was found on
the western side, ten feet above high-water mark, a fact which in some
measure supports what I have stated in connection with the raised beach
on Cape Upstart. A low sandy tongue of land forms the South-West extreme,
leaving a narrow passage between it and the main. This flat is covered
with brushwood, gumtrees, and a few palms. The observations were made on
this point, and the results were as follow: latitude 12 degrees 37
minutes 30 seconds South, longitude 11 degrees 16 3/4 minutes East of
The morning broke with the same dull, gloomy weather, the wind fresh at
South-East and continued thus during the day, slightly diversified by a
few passing rain squalls. Soon after daylight we were again on our
passage, the cloudy weather enabling us to make out the Eastern reefs,
which at high-water are covered, and consequently difficult to be seen in
that direction in the morning. They front Quoin and Forbes Islands,
remarkable rocky lumps, more so, however, from the extreme lowness of
those in their vicinity, than from their own magnitude. The latter was
found to be 340 feet high. A North-West by North course from Restoration
brought us to Piper Islands. The soundings were from 11 to 13 fathoms,
with a greater proportion of sand in the quality of the bottom than had
been before noticed.
SIR EVERARD HOME'S ISLANDS.
Passing between them and reefs H and I also between Young Island (an
elevated reef, with one small mangrove growing on the highest part) and
reef M, we hauled up North-East by North round the north end of the
latter, to weather Sir Everard Home's Islands, a low group connected by
shoal water and extending about four miles from Cape Grenville. We passed
midway between them and Haggerston's Islands, a square lump 240 feet
Sir Charles Hardy's and the Cockburn Isles are also conspicuous objects
in this neighbourhood, particularly the former, which is visible from
outside the Barrier, and thus forms a leading mark for ships making their
way through these reefs.
In the evening the anchor was dropped about a mile from the north side of
the Bird Isles in ten fathoms, a sudden degree from fifteen, just before
standing in West-South-West to the anchorage. Five miles South-East by
East from these isles, we passed close to the position of a patch of
shoal water, according to the chart: its presence, however, was not
detected, the depth at the time being nineteen fathoms. The only
additions made to the chart during the day were a few soundings, besides
increasing the number and altering the position of Cockburn Islands, with
the reefs fronting them. The number of these isles is thus increased from
two to four; they are square rocky lumps, the largest being three hundred
feet high. The current during the day set steadily North-West almost a
mile an hour. On anchoring we found it setting West-North-West at the
same rate. At midnight it changed its direction to East-South-East from a
quarter to half a knot an hour. The time of high-water being about 6
A.M., it is evident the flood-stream came here from South or South-East.
The islands passed during the day, were of a small lagoon character and
the reefs oval-shaped, with an elevated patch of dead coral at their
north extreme, which had the appearance, at a distance, of sand. The
mainland had much changed in outline, having subsided into a wearisome
series of undulating hills, varying from five to seven hundred feet in
height. The coast was, therefore, utterly void of any feature of
interest, after passing Fair Cape.
At daylight we were again underway and steered North by East for the
purpose of ascertaining if there were any reefs to the eastward of u and
v. When Number 1 of a group next south of Cairncross bore North 43
degrees West four and a half miles the course was changed to
West-North-West to pass between the reef fronting its south side and reef
w where we had a depth of 20 fathoms; both of these we found it necessary
to enlarge on the chart. At the time of altering the course, the ship was
West-North-West two miles from the position of an island according to
chart; but as we did not see it, and as Captain King has not laid it down
upon his own authority, we may safely conclude that it either does not
exist, or that it is much out of position.
Rounding the reef off its south extremity, we anchored in 18 fathoms, one
mile South 65 degrees West from the centre of the island before
mentioned--Number 1 of the group South of Cairncross--shortly before
noon. This Captain King supposes to be Boydan, that on which the crew of
the Charles Eaton were massacred. It was therefore determined that the
remainder of the day should be spent in examining the place, with a view
to ascertain the correctness of this supposition. The melancholy interest
of the search was to me greatly enhanced, from having seen at Sydney
young D'Oyly, one of the survivors of this ill-fated party, and son of an
Indian officer returning from furlough. Being an infant, his helplessness
excited the sympathies of an Indian woman, who snatched him from the arms
of his murdered mother, and sheltered him within her own. Nor did her
kindness stop here, the never-failing maternal solicitude of the sex,
inducing her to protect and console the child.
EXAMINATION OF BOYDAN ISLAND.
We had just read Captain P.P. King's interesting pamphlet in relation to
this sad event, detailing with minuteness all the circumstances of the
tragedy, and with our minds so recently imbued with the horrors it
inspired, naturally advanced to the search with zeal and activity;
anxious, if possible, to place the locality of its occurrence beyond a
doubt. The isle was easily traversed, being of small extent, not more,
indeed, than a mile in circumference. We crossed it accordingly in every
direction, and discovered the remains of native fires, near which great
quantities of turtle bones, and some coconut shells were scattered about.
It was remarkable that wherever boughs were cut, an axe or some other
sharp instrument had been used. A topmast with the lower cap attached to
it, was found on the South-East side of the island, which we afterwards
discovered to be a portion of the brig William, wrecked on the outer
barrier three months before.
Captain King drew his conclusions relative to this island from the
circumstance of young Ireland's stating, that on their way to it in the
canoe, after leaving the raft, they first passed three islands on the
right northward, and one on the left southward.
From the bearings, however, and from our run on the following morning we
found it necessary to correct the chart, thus decreasing the number of
islands. We found that marked 5, to have no existence, and 6, far too
much to the westward, while 8 and 10 were placed to the eastward of their
true position. These errors occasionally occur where they are numerous,
much alike, and are passed quickly. The change in the number and position
of the islands is in some measure hostile to the views of Captain King,
and I am further inclined, from these corrections, to draw the conclusion
that Number 4 of the group is Boydan island, a name given by the Murray
islanders, to the spot rendered notorious by the cold-blooded massacre we
have already alluded to, and which will be described more in detail in
Captain Stanley's highly interesting narrative, further on in the present
On examining the reef fronting the island, which is a more perfect
specimen of a lagoon than any we had yet seen, we found that the outer
edge consisted of a wall higher than any of the parts within, rising at
low-water, to an elevation of ten feet, while inside, pools or holes
existed, three or four feet deep, containing live coral, sponges,
sea-eggs, and trepang. Scattered about on different parts of the reef
were many Chama gigas, not, however, so large as those I had formerly
seen at Keeling or Cocos Islands, in the Indian Ocean, weighing 220
Singular to say, at 3 P.M., I observed the latitude by a meridian
altitude of Venus, although a bright sunny day. The result agreed with
Captain King's chart, placing the centre of the island in latitude 11
degrees 28 minutes South.
We experienced more tide here than at any anchorage we had yet occupied
during the passage. From 1 to 5 P.M., it set half an knot an hour to the
southward, then changed to North-West by North, increasing its rate to
one knot by 10 o'clock, and decreasing it to a quarter of a knot by 2
A.M., when it again set to the South-South-West. The stream thus appears
to set nine hours North-West by North and three South-South-West. The
short duration of the latter, which is the ebb, is caused by the
northerly direction of the prevailing current. This also was the only
spot where our fishermen had any success; in a few hours several dozen of
a species of small red bream being caught.
Three or four ships passing together would find a secure berth about two
miles North-North-East of where the Beagle anchored, where the depth is
moderate, with good holding ground. It has great advantage in this
particular over Cairncross, where but one vessel could lie snug, and
still greater over Turtle Island, more exposed even than the former with
a strong tide, and where vessels ride very uneasily. Moreover the
supposed Boydan, or Number 1 isle, can be left a full hour before
daylight, there being nothing in the way to impede a ship's progress for
some miles. Those who are not desirous of passing the reefs off Wednesday
and Hammond Islands, late in the day, with the sun in an unfavourable
position, can find a convenient stopping place in Blackwood Bay under the
largest York isle, or under the Cape of that name.
We left at an early hour, steering North-North-West 1/2 West for
Cairncross Island, which we passed at a distance of half a mile from the
eastern side in 16 fathoms. Its height is seventy-five feet to the tops
of the trees, which, according to Mr. Bynoe, who subsequently visited it
in the month of September, are dwarf gums. The tea-tree of the colonists
is also found here, in addition to some small bushes. This island is the
resort of a large bright cream-coloured pigeon (Carpophaga leucomela) the
ends of the wings being tipped with black, or very dark blue. Mr. Bynoe
found the island quite alive with them; flocks of about twenty or thirty
flying continually to and from the main. They not only resort but breed
there, as he found several old nests. As this bird was not met with in
the Beagle on the western coast, we may fairly conclude it only inhabits
the eastern and northern; the furthest south it was seen by the officers
of H.M.S. Britomart was latitude 20 degrees. In addition to these, Mr.
Bynoe saw the holes of some small burrowing animals, which are doubtless
rats. On a sandy spit, close to the bushes or scrub, he saw a native
encampment of a semicircular form, enclosing an area of about ten yards.
The occupants had but recently left it, as a fire was found burning, and
the impression of their feet still fresh in the sand. It appears that at
this season of the year, being the favourable monsoon for ships passing
through the Barrier reefs on their voyage to India, the islands to the
southward are much frequented by the natives of Murray and others of the
northern isles, waiting, like wreckers of old, the untoward loss of some
ill-fated ship, when their canoes appear as if by magic, hastening to the
doomed vessel; just as in the Pampas of South America, no sooner has the
sportsman brought down a deer than the air is filled with myriads of
vultures winging their way towards the carcass, though a few minutes
before not a feather was stirring. The long-sightedness of these Indians
resembles that of the carrion bird itself,* while their rapacity and
recklessness of blood is fully equal to that of the lower animal.
(*Footnote. As some of our readers may imagine that vultures and birds of
prey are attracted to the carcasses of animals by smell, I may state that
an experiment was tried with a condor in South America; being hoodwinked,
he passed unnoticed a large piece of beef, but as soon as the bandage was
removed, he rushed eagerly towards and devoured it.)
We left our readers at Cairncross Island, and now return to our narrative
by describing the neighbouring coast. The most remarkable feature on this
part of the mainland, generally speaking a dull monotonous level, is a
hill bearing over the extremity of the reef fronting the south side of
Cairncross, South 45 degrees West, to which Captain Bligh has given the
quaint name of Pudding-Pan Hill. It received this appellation from a
resemblance to an inverted pudding dish, commonly used by sailors, and is
354 feet high. The coast about ten miles to the northward projects a mile
and a half further eastward than is marked in the chart. This error did
not however appear to be so great south of Escape River, where the
character of the coast is low and cliffy, separated by small sandy bays;
instead of a continued line of cliffs as at present represented.
At noon we were in the parallel of the south point of Escape River, in
latitude 10 degrees 58 minutes South, observations and bearings both
agreeing. This river receives its name in record of one of those narrow
escapes to which surveying vessels are subject, Captain King having been
nearly wrecked in the Mermaid. Attempting to enter the river he found it
not to be navigable, a reef extending across its mouth, on which his
vessel struck very heavily.
CORRECT POSITION OF REEFS.
Avoiding Captain King's track, we passed to the eastward of reef x, being
thus afforded a better opportunity of determining its position than he
had. This we did by transit bearings with different points, which placed
it nearly two miles South by East of the spot assigned it on the charts.*
(*Footnote. On mentioning this afterwards to Captain P.P. King, he told
me his survey of that part of the coast had never given him satisfaction;
for there the monsoon blows fresh, and his small vessel was hurried past
without his being able to land in search of better data for the chart.
The reader must not, from these corrections (few, when we consider the
extent of the survey) be led to imagine that our object is to pick out
errors in the surveys of others; but from being in a larger and better
appointed vessel, our opportunities of examination were necessarily
greater than those afforded to Captain King, who was always most anxious
to detect errors in his own charts. Without dwelling on the fact that the
result of our examination afforded us the satisfaction of restoring parts
of the chart, before erroneously corrected, to his original construction,
we would venture to hope that, while desirous as much as possible to
perfect our knowledge of the coast, we were in no manner actuated by that
spirit of fault-finding, so pithily described by Liebeg, when he says
that it is "startling to reflect that all the time and energy of a
multitude of persons of genius, talent, and knowledge is expended in
endeavours to demonstrate each others' errors.")
This error we found to extend also to reefs y and z. X is one of the
oval-shaped reefs, with the singular white patch of dead coral on its
northern extremity which I have before spoken of. Z is similarly marked,
and dries at last quarter ebb, while the South-East part of y is never
covered, a few mangroves growing on it. When abreast of x, we saw from
deck the curious flat-topped hill on the largest York island, Mount
Adolphus, and when over the centre of reef z, it bore North 23 1/2
degrees West. We now steered to the westward between reefs, x and y, and
afterwards North-North-West for Mount Adolphus. Between the Brothers and
Albany Islands the depth was 10 fathoms; these are both black rocky
lumps, particularly the latter, the outer being a mere pointed rock.
Altogether they assume a sterile and dreary appearance, in excellent
keeping with the inhospitable character of the adjoining coast. Several
shoals and much shoal water were noticed in Newcastle Bay.
At 4 P.M., we anchored in Blackwood Bay, in a depth of 10 fathoms. Point
Dicky bearing South half a mile, and Mount Adolphus North-East. In the
evening a plan was made of this very convenient stopping place for ships,
and all the angles taken to the North-West extremity of the group, place
them a mile and a half to the eastward of their position in the chart.
Observations were also obtained near Point Dicky, which we found to be in
latitude 10 degrees 38 3/4 minutes South and longitude 10 degrees 28
minutes East of Port Essington. The North-West extremity of the singular
flat-topped hill being 1 minute 05 seconds North, and 45 seconds East of
this spot. The first question interesting to ships is the supply of wood
and water; the latter we had no time to look for, but of the former there
was an abundance, though from the shore being fronted by extensive coral
flats, it is difficult to be attained.
The appearance of the island is similar to that of the Albany cluster, it
having the same rocky, bleak, and almost wild look; from which I conclude
they are of the same formation, which in general terms we may call
porphyritic. Parts of the island appeared to be intersected by a growth
There appeared great irregularity in the tides at this anchorage, as if
there were a meeting of various streams. At 5 P.M. it was setting
South-West about an hour, and continued to run in that direction until 8
hours 30 minutes, gradually decreasing its rate. It then took a North and
by East direction with the same velocity, until half an hour after
midnight, when it again changed back to South-South-West, a course it
pursued during the remainder of our stay. By the rise of the water on the
shore it would appear that the flood came from the westward.
On reaching York Island we considered ourselves within the Strait, which
took its name from the Spanish navigator Torres, who sailed in 1605,
second in command under Pedro Fernandes de Quiros, from Callao in Peru,
with the object of discovering the Tierra Austral, then supposed to be a
continent occupying a considerable portion of the southern hemisphere,
lying westward of America. Torres passed through this strait in 1606, but
despite the great importance of the discovery, its existence remained
unknown until 1762, from the jealousy of the Spanish monarchy, which kept
the reports of its navigators a secret from the world. At the time in
question, however, Manila fell into our hands, and in the archives of
that colony, a duplicate copy of Torres's letter to the king of Spain was
found by the hydrographer, Mr. Dalrymple. The passage was now made known,
and in tardy justice to the discoverer it received the appellation of
Torres Strait; a tribute to the reputation of man, the greatest perhaps
which could be bestowed, since no more sure road to immortality can be
pointed out, than giving a name to the great and imperishable works of
the Creator's hand. It was not however until 1770, that the world
received full confirmation of this great acquisition to our geographical
knowledge; the immortal Cook then passing through and settling the
question of its existence. This being the high road between our growing
Eastern and Australian possessions, the reader will at once see the
importance which must ever attach to the discovery, and will the more
readily comprehend our enlarging in some degree upon the circumstance.
There had been noticed last evening a slight rippling outside the bay,
and on leaving this morning we found it to be a ridge about two cables
width, the least water on it being three fathoms. From the shoalest part,
Mount Adolphus bore North 56 degrees East, and Point Dicky South 26
degrees East. It appeared by the ripples continuing towards the
north-west of York Island, that this rocky ledge extended in that
direction. Vessels entering Blackwood Bay may always avoid this shoal, by
keeping close to Point Dicky, or by steering for Mount Adolphus, when it
bears North-East 1/2 North.
Being desirous to know if there were a practicable channel through
Endeavour Strait, by which the inconvenience before alluded to, of
passing the reef fronting Hammond's Island late in the
afternoon, might be avoided, we proceeded in that direction, passing
along the north-eastern extreme of the continent, and between the
Possession Islands we entered Endeavour Strait. This termination of the
shores of Australia, being level and of moderate elevation, presents
nothing remarkable, save a peak over Cape York and fronting the
It has an inhospitable appearance, being apparently similar in formation
with York Isles, and subsides rapidly to the South-West forming the south
side of Endeavour Strait, where it scarcely reaches an elevation of fifty
feet: contrasting forcibly with the high rocky land of the opposite side
of the Strait, formed by the largest of the Prince of Wales Islands; upon
which former navigators not having bestowed a name, we conferred that of
the immortal navigator. Not but that the Strait known by the name of his
ship, is quite sufficient to recall the mind of posterity to his perils
and dangers in these seas; but that we his humble followers in the great
cause of discovery might add our mite to the wreath of glory which must
ever encircle the name of Captain Cook.
On the North-East extremity of this island is a remarkable peak, in the
shape of a horn, called by him Horn Hill. Captain King having only passed
between the eastern of the Possession Isles, little was known of the
western shores. A few angles and bearings were accordingly taken, as we
passed between them to assist in remedying this deficiency.
There was no impediment to our passage through the Strait, until we got
abreast of Wallis Isles, Cape Cornwall bearing East by North 1/2 North;
when the water shoaled to four fathoms and a half. Finding by hauling up
on either tack, that we were on a ridge extending from the Cape, we ran
to the westward, until we could cross it, which we did in three and a
half fathoms, North Wallis Island bearing South-West five miles.
I saw at the time from the masthead, a blue streak of water to the
southward, still affording hopes of there being a deep outlet to
Endeavour Strait; but as the day was far advanced, with a fresh breeze
from East-South-East, it was not deemed prudent to get the ship entangled
in shoal water; therefore, after crossing the ridge extending off Cape
Cornwall we steered North-West 1/2 West for Booby Island, in regular
soundings of six and seven fathoms, and late in the afternoon anchored
nearly a mile from its western side, a flagstaff bearing South 65 degrees
East. This we found on landing had been erected in 1835 by Captain
Hobson,* of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, who at the same time placed in a large
box, made for the purpose, a book with printed forms, which every ship
passing filled up, with the addition of such remarks as were thought of
consequence. Over this box in large letters were painted the words Post
Office, a name by which Booby Island must be quite familiar to all who
have navigated these seas; ships being here in the habit of leaving
letters for transmission by any vessel proceeding in the required
directions. I noticed a similar practice prevailing among the whalers at
the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. We are indebted for the book to the
public spiritedness of an Indian army officer. The beneficial results of
the plan were experienced by ourselves, as here we first heard of the
Port Essington expedition, having passed eight months previously; also of
the schooner Essington, that left Sydney in advance of the expedition for
that place, having succeeded in determining the fact of the non-existence
of the other young D'Oyly, one of the passengers of the ill-fated Charles
Eaton. This result of the enterprising merchant-man's researches, fully
bears out the fact mentioned by Captain King, on the authority of the
Darnley islanders, that he shared the fate of his parents, being devoured
by their savage captors. All the ships which have recorded their passage
in the book, appeared to have entered the Barrier between the latitude of
11 degrees 30 minutes and 12 degrees 10 minutes; generally about 11
degrees 50 minutes reaching Sir Charles Hardy's Island the same day. They
all spoke of a strong northerly current outside the reef, in some
instances of nearly three knots. The time occupied in making the passage
from Sydney by the outer route, varied from fourteen to twenty days, it
being certainly shorter than the inner, though attended with much greater
risks. One objection made against the latter is the necessity of
anchoring every evening, somewhat laborious work to the crews of merchant
ships; this might be obviated in some measure by using a light anchor,
which could be done with perfect safety in the still waters within the
reefs. We found two barques at anchor, which had arrived on the preceding
day. In accordance with a practice very generally observed, they were
giving themselves a short period of repose and relaxation after the
anxieties and danger of the outer passage; which, short as it is, has
doubtless sprinkled grey hairs over many a seaman's head.
(*Footnote. Afterwards Governor of New Zealand.)
Although Booby Island is a mere rock, from the various associations
connected with it, being during one half of the year the constant resort
of Europeans, it becomes at once a place of interest, and imperatively
demands some notice at our hands. It is a quarter of a mile in diameter,
flat, and about thirty feet high, the summit being bare porphyry rock. A
valley intersects the north-west side of the island, in which a few
creepers, some brushwood, and two or three trees of tolerable size, with
a peculiar broad green leaf, bearing a great resemblance to that of the
wild almond of the West Indies, were seen, giving shelter to some pigeons
and quails, in which latter the island abounds, even more than in the
bird which gives its name to the locality. Still, however, from the white
colour of the top of the island, produced by the boobies, it is clearly
one of their temporary haunts; and indeed, subsequently, in the month of
September, their season of incubation, Mr. Bynoe saw them there in great
abundance. The contrary was the case with the quail, which, by that time,
had completely deserted the island. Turtle were once found on this isle,
but they are now never taken. A few of the stones mentioned by Captain
King are still to be seen on the summit.
REMARKS ON THE CORAL REEFS OF AUSTRALIA.
This being a point at which ships correct or test the going of their
chronometers, it was necessary to obtain observations for longitude. The
spot chosen for the purpose was the landing-place near the South-West
corner of the islet, and which we found to be 9 degrees 45 minutes East
of Port Essington.
Our opportunities of examination with regard to the inner edge of the
Great Barrier, and its contiguous islands and reefs, terminating at Booby
Island; it may not be deemed irrelevant to hazard a few remarks in
recapitulation. In the first place there was a very perceptible increase
in the elevation of the reefs and of those islands resting on similar
constructions, as we advanced to the northward. Cairncross Island, in
latitude 11 1/4 degrees South, composed of heaped up consolidated
fragments, attains an elevation of 17 feet; but its trees rise to a
height of 75 feet, whilst to the southward, in latitude 13 1/2 degrees
South the islands were partially flooded by a tide, rising only about six
feet. The reefs are all either circular or oval-shaped, with a rim rising
round them. The description of that fronting the isle we visited for
Boydan will illustrate their general character. Their northern ends are
the highest, and are almost invariably marked by a heap of dead coral and
shells, which as we have mentioned, in one or two instances, from its
white appearance has often been taken for sand.
The remarkable breaks in this singularly great extent of coral reefs,
known as the Barrier of Australia, being in direction varying from West
to West-North-West generally speaking North-West, leads me to believe
that the upheaval by which the base of this huge coral building was
formed, partakes of the general north-westerly direction, in which a
large portion of the eastern world apparently emerged from the water. A
glance at the map of that portion of the globe, will strengthen this
hypothesis, placing as it does this singular fact at once before the
reader's mind. Starting with the stupendous heights of the Himalaya
mountains, and proceeding thence to several groups of the Polynesian
islands, New Caledonia, and others, this remarkable similarity in the
trend of these portions of the earth is plainly distinguishable. It would
appear, therefore, from the general north-westerly tendency of these
upheavals, that the cavernous hollows beneath the crust of the earth,
within whose bosom originated these remarkable convulsions, have a strong
inclination in one direction, a circumstance in connection with the
earth's history of great and curious interest. With this general
statement of facts, which we note for the benefit of scientific men, and
in illustration of the singular changes which are taking place on the
surface of the globe, we return to our narrative, from which we have
wandered at some considerable length.
As the duration of our cruise on the north-west and most interesting
portions of the coast, depended in a great measure on the supply of
provisions to be obtained at Port Essington, we were naturally anxious to
satisfy ourselves upon the point, and accordingly spent but a few hours
at Booby Island, taking our departure at 8 P.M. on the day of our
PROCEED TO PORT ESSINGTON.
Proceeding towards Port Essington, we experienced a constant current
setting between North-West and West, from half to three quarters of a
knot an hour, except when crossing the mouth of the Gulf of Carpentaria,
when from the indraught its direction was changed to West-South-West. The
winds were as Captain King has described them, veering from
South-South-East in the morning, to East in the evening, and blowing
fresh towards the middle of the day.
Beyond this nothing occurred worthy of remark, until the morning of the
17th, when soon after daylight we found ourselves steering rather within
a large patch of discoloured water, extending off Cape Croker, the
North-East extreme of the Coburg Peninsula, a low point with a slight
hummock on it; on the north side of this peninsula is situated Port
Essington, thirty miles to the westward of the Cape.
CAPE CROKER REEF.
The light-coloured water off the latter, we knew indicated the reef
discovered by the brig Tigris, belonging to the Indian navy, which in
company with the New South Wales colonial schooner, Isabella, was
returning from rescuing the survivors of the Charles Eaton, from the
natives of Murray Island. When half a mile from the North-East side, in
22 fathoms rocky bottom, Cape Croker, bearing South 29 degrees East six
miles; we steered out, keeping at the same distance round this patch of
light water in twenty and twenty-one fathoms, seven or eight miles from
the Cape, which bore when over what appeared the shoalest part, South 42
This conclusion I afterwards found, on meeting Captain Stanley, to be
correct, as that bearing led over the part of the reef he struck on in
H.M.S. Britomart. But being on the inner part he was distant only three
miles from Cape Croker, whilst the outer edge of the reef I believe to be
seven miles from it on the same bearing. In hauling up to the southward,
round the North-West extreme of the discoloured water, the soundings were
as follows, 17, 12, and 19 fathoms, with rocky bottom. The Cape bore when
in the least depth South 58 degrees East nine miles.
We were fortunate in having such good means of determining the longitude
of Cape Croker, by observation of a twilight star when in the meridian,
and others with the sun soon afterwards. These both agreeing, place the
Cape 27 1/4 miles east of Port Essington, instead of 20, as it is laid
down in the chart. This discovery is of vital importance to ships
proceeding to Port Essington; we were therefore glad of so good an
opportunity for rectifying the error.
Expectation was on tip-toe as we were fast approaching Port Essington,
feeling naturally anxious to see what progress had been made at the new
settlement, and to learn the fate of the expedition. There was, however,
nothing striking in the first appearance of the land, a low woody shore;
the most remarkable object being a sandy islet, with a tree in its
centre, about a mile east of Point Smith, the eastern point of Port
Essington: Vashon Head forming the western.
As we drew near, a boat came alongside belonging to H.M.S. Britomart.
From Mr. Pascoe we heard that the Alligator had just sailed for Sydney,
leaving the former to await her return at Port Essington. The people
forming the settlement had been very healthy, bearing out Dr. Wilson's
account of Raffles Bay; and had found the natives exceedingly well
disposed. For this advantage we are indebted to the excellent judgment
displayed by the unfortunate* Captain Barker, late Commandant of Raffles
Bay, he having during his stay in that place, treated them with kindness,
to which they were fairly entitled from men so far their superiors in
knowledge and power, and who were moreover intruders upon their soil. Had
this noble conduct of Captain Barker been more universally accepted as an
example, the results would, we doubt not, have been equally satisfactory
(*Footnote. This expression may to some of our readers require
explanation, and we therefore quote a brief extract from Dr. Wilson's
voyage round the world, page 284. "In obedience to orders from the
Colonial Government, he was examining the coast in the vicinity of
Encounter Bay, principally with the view of ascertaining whether any
available communication existed between the river Murray (lately
discovered by Captain Sturt) and the Sea. While in the execution of this
duty, he was barbarously murdered by the natives, and his body thrown
into the sea." In Sturt's two Expeditions volume 2 page 239, a detailed
narrative of this tragedy is given.)
WRECK OF THE ORONTES.
We also heard with much regret,* of the wreck of the Orontes, which
accompanied the expedition from Sydney. She left the settlement, with the
intention of proceeding to some port in the East Indies; and when just
clearing the harbour struck on a reef, knocking a hole in her bows. She
filled so rapidly that they had barely time to reach the shore under
Vashon Head, ere she sank. The reef, which now bears her name, is
according to Mr. Tyers' plan, received from Mr. Pascoe, a mile in extent
east and west, and half a mile north and south; while the nearest part of
it is distant from Vashon Head and Point Smith very nearly five miles.
From its extremes the following are the bearings; from the western,
Vashon Head South 49 degrees West, Point Smith South 55 degrees East: and
from the eastern the same points bear South 60 degrees West and South 48
(*Footnote. The loss of a ship is always looked upon as a most untoward
event, on the occasion of a new settlement being formed, and is ever
forcibly imprinted upon the memory of all ship-masters. This was felt to
a most serious extent at Swan River; and many masters of vessels in
speaking of Port Essington, have at once expressed their fear of
proceeding thither, deterred by the loss of the Orontes.)
The least depth on the Orontes reef is about a fathom, but the generally
discoloured state of the water, renders it impossible to determine its
exact position, and thus greatly increases the injury done by its
presence to the mouth of the harbour. The same difficulty prevents the
end of the reef fronting Point Smith from being made out. After rounding
the latter, we hauled to the wind, South-West by South up Port Essington.
Bearings from shoals in the Harbour.
Appearance of the Settlement.
Meet Captain Stanley.
Prospects of the Settlement.
Fence across neck of Peninsula.
Lieutenant P.B. Stewart explores the Country.
Uses of Sand.
Escape from an Alligator.
Result of Astronomical Observations.
Leave Port Essington.
Detect error in position of Port Essington.
Discover a Reef in Clarence Strait.
Native Huts and Clothing.
Discover the Adelaide River.
Interview with Natives.
Attempt to come on board.
Messrs. Fitzmaurice and Keys nearly speared.
Exploration of the Adelaide.
Another party ascends the Adelaide.
Visit Melville Island.
Thoughts of taking ship up Adelaide abandoned.
Tides in Dundas Strait.
Return to Port Essington.
H.M.S. Pelorus arrives with Provisions.
Further remarks on the Colony.
The expanse of water presented to our view in standing up Port Essington,
quite delighted us. It is in truth a magnificent harbour, and well worthy
of having on its shores the capital of Northern Australia, destined,
doubtless, from its proximity to India, and our other fast-increasing
eastern possessions, to become not only a great commercial resort, but a
valuable naval post in time of war. Many circumstances combine to render
it a desirable station. Its great size, having an extent sufficient to
hold the largest fleet, is in itself of vast importance, while, as a
shelter for distressed vessels, or the surviving crews of wrecks, it
cannot be too highly rated: the more so that excellent wood for repairing
ships grows in the neighbourhood, especially teak and oak, specimens of
which with others, Captain Laws forwarded, in 1828, to one of the
dockyards in England.
As we advanced the shores of the harbour contracted, and at the distance
of thirteen miles from the entrance are only one mile apart; scarcely
half, however, of this space is navigable, from a bank extending off the
west side, which is a rocky head called Spear Point, from the
circumstance of Captain King having been there nearly speared by the
natives. The bearings for clearing the extremes of this reef are as
follows. For the south-eastern, Adam Head South 20 degrees West, for the
eastern, Middle Head South 18 degrees West, and for the north-eastern,
Oyster Head North 47 degrees West. This great decrease in the breadth of
the passage, necessarily gives the tide at this spot great rapidity, by
which a channel, thirteen fathoms deep, has been formed close to the
eastern shore, a low sandy tongue of land called Point Record. This name
was given to it on the occasion of Port Essington and the contiguous
country, being taken possession of by Sir Gordon Bremer when on his way
to settle Melville Island, in 1824. A bottle containing an account of
their proceedings was buried, and hence the name. The same cause which
influences the tides, has rendered the sides of the narrow channel very
steep, and a vessel standing towards the bank fronting Spear Point,
should, accordingly, tack when the water shoals to nine fathoms, as the
soundings in approaching that part fronting Port Record are 12, 9, 7, and
Beyond these points, the harbour again widens and forms a large basin
nearly five miles in extent; but from a broad point projecting two miles
from the south-east side, the inner harbour is proportionably decreased
in size. From the extreme of this cliffy point, called by Captain King,
from its position, Middle Head, a narrow bank extends some distance in
the direction of Point Record, forming the only danger in this part of
BEARINGS FOR THE HARBOUR.
From its outer edge, Point Record bears north, and the North-East part of
Middle Head, South 76 degrees East. These and other bearings recently
given, will perhaps be considered of little value by the general reader,
but as they were required to take the Beagle into Port Essington, they
will be found useful to others for the same purpose.
APPEARANCE OF THE SETTLEMENT.
The narrow entrance to the inner harbour, may by some be considered a
drawback, but on the other hand, it must be borne in mind, that what is
an impediment to navigation, is also a safeguard against attack.
Moreover, from this want of breadth in the harbour, a fort on Point
Record, which is commanded by no height, would perfectly protect it.
It was from this confined portion that our anxious desire to catch a
glimpse of the new settlement was at length gratified; and we were
somewhat surprised, considering the recent date of its formation, to
discover the presence of so many buildings as were scattered over the top
of a cliffy point on the south-west part of the harbour, called Adam
Head, at the base of which was a long jetty.
Clearing the bank off Spear Point, we ran up and anchored near H.M.S.
Britomart, lying off the settlement, early in the afternoon. The sight of
another vessel is ever cheering to the hearts of those who have been, as
it were, for a time, cut off from the world;* nor was our arrival,
bringing, as we did, news and letters, any less welcome; though after a
long interval the receipt of a letter, perhaps bearing an ill omen in the
very colour of its wax, is very far from generating unmixed emotions of
pleasure. So much may occur in the brief space of a few months, that a
seal must ever be broken with feelings of great anxiety.
(*Footnote. I well remember the sensations I experienced on first seeing
a sail after an interval of nine months, and that wholly spent on the
storm-beaten shores of South-western Tierra Del Fuego. J.L.S.)
We too had our share of news to be made acquainted with. Captain Stanley
had been on a most interesting cruise to the Arru Islands, the deeply
interesting narrative of which expedition the reader will peruse, we are
sure, with unqualified satisfaction, in a later section of the present
work. This meeting gave me real pleasure, though with regret I saw that
he had been much harassed. Lieutenant P.B. Stewart,* of the Alligator,
had also made a journey over the Peninsula, to which I shall presently
(*Footnote. Since promoted for services in China; he also served in the
Beagle during her last expedition.)
We were of course extremely anxious to visit the settlement. Landing at
the jetty, which we found a very creditable piece of workmanship erected
under the direction of Lieutenant P.B. Stewart, we ascended the cliff,
and on gaining the summit, found ourselves on a small piece of tableland
partially cleared. Seen through the trees, the dwellings of the settlers
had an air of neatness, pleasing to the eye. Among the other buildings in
progress was the church, which, planted as it was on the northern shores
of the Australian continent, was expected to form a nucleus from which
offshoots might by degrees draw within its influence the islands in the
Arafura Sea, and thus widely spread the pure blessings of Christianity.
It is highly characteristic of our countrymen, that where with other
nations, the tavern, the theatre, the dancing-house, are among the
earliest buildings in a new settlement, with us everywhere the church is
first thought of. In few corners of the world, where English influence
has extended itself, is this otherwise than true, and it is a highly
enviable distinction. It seems, indeed, that wherever the flag of Britain
floats, there is made known the Word of God in its purity; and as an
empire has been vouchsafed us on which the sun never sets, the extent of
our influence for good in this respect is incalculable. We may venture to
express our sincere hope, that our country will ever continue to enjoy
this noble supremacy.
At the south-east extremity of the settlement, raised on piles, was the
Government-house, fronted on the harbour side by a small battery. Behind
the table-plain, the land, producing very coarse grass, falls away to the
south-west, and some clear patches which from lying in a low situation,
are flooded during the rains, form tolerable soil. Generally speaking,
however, there is a great deficiency of land fit for cultivation. On some
of the best spots lying to the southward and westward, gardens have been
commenced with some success.
Before proceeding further with our journal of events at Port Essington,
it may be proper to introduce some brief account of the state and
prospects of the settlement at that place. The reader will remember an
allusion in a previous chapter to the departure from Sydney of the
expedition despatched for the purpose of forming it, as well as some
remarks on the policy of giving it a purely military character. That
expedition reached its destination on October 27, 1838, having taken
formal possession on the way, of Cape York and the adjacent territory.
Sir Gordon Bremer's first care was to select a site for the proposed
township; and after due deliberation, a spot was fixed on which was
thought to combine all desirable advantages: as good soil, the
neighbourhood of fresh water, and easy approach from the ships in port.
In the selection of the spot to be occupied by a settlement, the
capabilities of the soil must ever be the first consideration; still,
however, there will always exist an objection on the ground of its great
distance of 16 miles from the mouth of the harbour. A similar
disadvantage in the Falkland Islands, proved of great detriment to the
settlement in Berkeley Sound.
The site of Victoria, for such was the name bestowed, in honour of her
Majesty, on the new settlement, is raised in the loftiest part about
fifty feet above high-water level. Upon it the plans of a number of
cottages and gardens were rapidly marked out; and it was not long before
this hitherto desolate spot presented the appearance of a large
straggling village. A pier was speedily run out into the sea; and a good
road cut to it. The church, also, which I have before mentioned, was soon
to be distinguished, rising above the Government cottage and officers'
quarters; while in order to ensure an ample supply of water, deep wells
were sunk on the tableland within the settlement, which fully answered
expectation, the water proving good and abundant.
Not long after the arrival of the expedition, M. Dumont D'Urville, with
the Astrolabe and Zelie, arrived in Raffles Bay, and it was popularly
believed that they had entertained some intentions of forestalling our
settlement. At any rate, the question whether foreign powers were
entitled to take possession of points on the coast of Australia was much
debated at the time. However this may be, and with whatever feelings the
respective Governments of France and England may have regarded each other
at the time, the officers of the two nations seemed to vie in courtesy. A
boat was despatched from Victoria to invite them to enter the harbour,
and the greatest harmony prevailed during their stay.
On the 28th of March, six Malay proas came in and were soon followed by
others, their owners soliciting permission to erect their establishments
for curing trepang under the protection of the British flag. This being
granted, they made choice of a spot on the beach, and a little subsidiary
settlement soon sprung up. Being now for the first time secure from the
attacks of the natives, whose hostility had until then forced every other
man of them to keep under arms whilst the rest worked, they expected to
pursue their occupation with far greater advantage to themselves.
Originally hopes were entertained that a very large population of Malays,
and even Chinese would speedily collect at Port Essington: but from some
defect in the colonial regulations their immigration was for a time
checked. At length, however, a remedy has been applied, and facility
given for the introduction of settlers from the Indian Archipelago and
the Celestial Empire.
The great difficulty that this small settlement has had to contend with
from the beginning, is the climate; which, though not absolutely
pernicious in itself, is unsuited to European constitutions. The settlers
have been attacked at various times by fever, and have experienced a
large comparative mortality; but hopes are entertained that by proper
regulations, especially if temperate habits could be introduced, this may
The capabilities of the soil, though it has by some been pronounced
totally unfit for agricultural purposes, are still supposed by others to
be great, and it is believed that if colonists, capable of working in the
climate, could be induced to repair to Port Essington, rice, cotton,
indigo, etc. might be raised, of the finest quality, and in great
The livestock at the settlements, consisted, by the last accounts, of an
English cow and a bull, two Indian heifers and two cows, above fifty
goats, six working oxen, thirty buffaloes, six pigs, a few fowls, five
ponies, and thirty half-greyhounds for catching kangaroos. Some of these
were private, others public property. Several cattle have been lost, on
hearing which, a plan that had before suggested itself, recurred vividly
to my mind. I once thought the herds of buffalo and other animals might
be prevented from straying, by a fence run across the Peninsula, between
Mount Norris Bay, and the north-east corner of Van Diemen's Gulf. The
width is only three miles, and the rude Micmac Indians of Newfoundland,
have carried fences for a similar purpose many times that extent. The
necessity of so doing became more apparent each time I visited the place,
especially when I heard of herds of buffaloes being seen upon the main.
Another advantage which occurred to me in connection with this subject,
was, that it would have rendered an out-station necessary, and have thus
led to a further communication with the natives, which would ultimately
tend to increase our knowledge of them and the interior; this after our
subsequent discovery of Adelaide river became of still greater moment.
The existence of the out-station would also form a change for the
settlers, and journeys thither would remove the dreary inactivity of a
new settlement at certain periods. The absence of this fence may account
for Captain Grey's party having seen signs of buffalo on the mainland; he
discovered the tracks of a cloven-footed animal, which one of his men who
had been much in South Africa, at once recognised as the spur of a
buffalo. But one advantage can arise from the want of this precaution.
Some of the finest lands in the neighbourhood of Sydney, now called Cow
Pastures, were discovered, by finding them to be the constant haunt of
wild cattle; a similar accident might prove equally advantageous in the
neighbourhood of Port Essington.
To return, however, to the period of the establishment of the colony: it
was of course deemed desirable to take an early opportunity of exploring
Cobourg Peninsula, on which Victoria is situated; and accordingly on May
1st, Lieutenant P.B. Stewart, with several well-armed companions, started
on an exploring expedition. They carried water and a week's provisions on
two ponies, but did not encumber themselves with a tent; sheltering
themselves at night from the dew in little huts made of branches. On the
second day they crossed several running streams, with extensive grassy
patches, and came to a halt during the sultry part of the day on the
banks of a river or chain of pools. Here grew many fine cedar-trees, of a
light colour and close-grained, while thick woods of the mangrove
appeared on all sides: these much impeded their advance, and prevented
them from making any great progress. However, they crossed to the eastern
side of the Peninsula, where they found a rich and beautiful country, in
some parts reminding them of the rich South American forest, rather than
the dreary sameness of an Australian wood. Numerous tracks of the buffalo
seemed to testify to the excellence of the pasture. Several evidences,
also, of the presence of natives were from time to time discovered, and
at length a small party met them and exhibited a very friendly spirit.
They acted as guides to the explorers, showing them where water could be
found, giving every information in their power, and supplying them with
crabs; but of course they did not fail to ask for bread, of which as much
as could be spared was given them. On May 8th, they conducted Lieutenant
Stewart's party back to Middle Head, and he expresses great surprise at
the precision with which they found their way in the bush without having
any apparent means to guide them. I have before alluded to this
instinctive power of the aborigines of Australia.
Lieutenant Stewart gives as the general result of his observations,
extending over about seventy or eighty miles, that there is abundance of
fresh water on the Peninsula; that the South side is by far the finest
and best watered country; that the trees are there free from the white
ant; and that in a large tract of country, the cabbage-palm abounds. He
also observes, that as much of the south coast as he saw, has a coral
reef extending about a mile from the beach; and that the rise and fall of
the tide is much greater than at Port Essington.
The natives were found by the settlers, as we have already stated, very
friendly, and their assistance proved valuable: they brought in the head
of the palm-cabbage, which makes an excellent vegetable, though to
procure it, the tree is cut down and destroyed: they also supplied the
party with wild honey. One of the Raffles Bay tribe instantly made
himself known on the arrival of the Expedition in the Bay; he was called
by the name of Alligator, on account of his huge teeth, though his proper
appellation was Marambari.
From Lieutenant Vallach* of H.M.S. Britomart, I received much valuable
information respecting the natives, whom I find to be divided in three
distinct classes, which do not intermarry. The first is known as
Maudrojilly, the second as Mamburgy, the third as Mandrouilly. They are
very particular about the distinction of classes, but we could never
discover which was the superior and which the inferior class, though it
is supposed by most of those who have inquired into the subject, that the
Madrojilly, or first class, head the others in war, and govern the
affairs of the tribe.
(*Footnote. Lieutenant Vallach died at Moulmain in 1841.)
These aborigines were certainly a fine race, differing in some matters
from the other natives of Australia; their hair was neither curly nor
straight, but crisp. The custom of extracting a front tooth prevails
among them, while the nasal cartilage here as elsewhere was perforated. I
noticed in particular that they did not make use of the boomerang, or
kiley, but of the throwing stick or womera, of a larger kind, however,
than any I have observed elsewhere; the head of their spears was made of
stone. They have a smaller kind, chiefly used to kill birds and other
animals at a considerable distance. They have also large heavy clubs,
while the natives on the South coast carry only the short throwing
stick.* They go wholly naked, except when entering the settlements, on
which occasions they wear a few leaves. Their canoes were chiefly
obtained from the Malays.
(*Footnote. We refer our readers to Mr. Eyre's work, where these and
other weapons are figured.)
I here saw the only musical instrument I ever remarked among the natives
of Australia. It is a piece of bamboo thinned from the inside, through
which they blow with their noses. It is from two to three feet long, is
called ebroo, and produces a kind of droning noise. It is generally made
use of at corrobories or dances, some of which express feats of hunting
and war, while others are very indecent, and reminded us of similar
exhibitions in the East. It was generally remarked that the old clothes
given to these savages disappeared in a most mysterious manner. They were
understood to be sold to the natives inhabiting the loftier parts of the
interior, but of this I entertain very considerable doubt. Sand, in which
the Australian continent abounds, is like everything else proceeding from
the hand of the Creator, not without its uses. On cold nights the natives
make up for their total want of covering, by burying themselves in it,
and nothing can be more irresistibly comic than to see these black lumps
sticking out of the earth, like so many enchanted unfortunates in an
eastern romance. It moreover has other uses, forming a substitute for
soap;* and when cooking turtle it is mixed with earth and sprinkled over
the meat, as we should pepper.
(*Footnote. Their general habits are cleanly.)
One discovery which was made through the medium of the natives, was that
the large tumuli noticed by Captain King and others, and supposed to be
raised by the inhabitants, are the works of a bird; some of them are
thirty feet long and about five feet high; they are always built near
thick bushes in which they can take shelter, at the least alarm. The
edifice is erected with the feet, which are remarkable both for size and
strength, and a peculiar power of grasping; they are yellow while the
body is brown. Nothing can be more curious than to see them hopping
towards these piles on one foot, the other being filled with materials
for building. Though much smaller in shape, in manner they much resemble
moor-fowl. The use made of the mound is to contain eggs, which are
deposited in layers, and are then hatched by the heat generated in part
from decomposition. The instant that the shell bursts, the young bird
comes forth strong and large, and runs without the slightest care being
taken of it by the parent. Of the number of eggs laid by each bird,
seldom more than two are hatched. It is singular that these mounds are
found away from the earth and shells of which they are composed. It seems
difficult to credit that a bird so small could raise a structure so
large. The largest we ever saw was about eight feet high, on one of the
Possession Islands in Endeavour Strait.
The name given to the bird by Mr. Gould is Megapodius tumulus, and it
will be unnecessary to
enter upon any further details concerning it, as he has described it most
interestingly in his work on the birds of Australia.
Great numbers of kangaroos were also found here, which at the period of
our arrival the settlers were just getting into the way of killing. There
are three varieties, of which the largest weighs about 160 pounds. I must
further allude to a most beautiful little opossum which inhabits these
parts. It is about half the size of a full-grown rat, and designated as
Belideus ariel. Its colour and fur greatly resemble the chinchilla, and I
have little doubt that the skin is valuable and might be made an article
of trade. This animal has a membrane between the fore and hind paws,
which aids it to some extent when leaping from bough to bough. It is a
great enemy to the wild bee, devouring them and their nests; the bees the
natives discover by tapping the tree and listening for a buzzing from
within. Those we saw, amounting to nearly a hundred, were about the size
of a fly, of a dusky black colour, and strange to say, were hovering
round an empty tar-barrel. They have been unsuccessfully tried in hives
Alligators abound, and one of the marines had a very narrow escape from
them. It appears that one of these monsters who had come out of the water
in the night, in search of food, found him sleeping in his hammock, which
he had very injudiciously hung up near the water. The alligator made a
snap at his prize; but startled at this frightful interruption of his
slumbers, the man dexterously extricated himself out of his blanket,
which the unwieldy brute, doubtless enraged at his disappointment,
carried off in triumph. For some time this story was not believed, but
when afterwards the huge reptile, on a similar excursion, was shot, a
portion of the blanket was found in his stomach with the paw of a
favourite spaniel, taken when swimming off the pier head.
Extensive hauls of fish were made on Point Record, amongst which one
species, there called salmon, was most excellent eating.
It is unnecessary for a transient visitor to enlarge upon the birds of
Port Essington, as in Mr. Gould's work we have the result of the labours
of an individual who spent months collecting in the neighbourhood.
The spot selected for our observations was Government House, where nearly
a hundred observations with the sun and stars were made for latitude, the
mean result being 11 degrees 22 minutes 21 seconds South, which strange
to say, was nearly 15 seconds greater than Captain Stanley and Mr. Tyers'
determination: this difference to me was quite unaccountable, as the
instruments used in the Beagle were before and subsequently,
satisfactorily tested at well determined places. The longitude being
affected by the doubtful meridian distance between Sydney and Port
Stephens, we can only give an approximate result; and therefore for the
sake of the longitudes of those places referred to the meridian of Port
Essington, we consider it 132 degrees 12 minutes East of Greenwich.
From the quantity of iron in the rocks at Victoria, it was impossible to
get any satisfactory observation for the variation of the compass. Those
obtained varied from 3/4 to 2 1/2 degrees east.
We found that Mr. Tyers had made about seven months' observations on the
tides, which gave a very irregular rise and fall, varying from two to
thirteen feet. The time of high-water being half past three, at the full
and change. Oxide of iron is found in some places in large quantities,
and is used by the natives to adorn themselves when dancing. This it is
which gives to the coast the peculiar red hue noticed between Cape Croker
and Port Essington. Many of the cliffs were composed of a light-coloured
marl; but the formation is chiefly old arenaceous rocks. Two of the
highest and most remarkable hills on the Peninsula, known as Mounts
Bedwell and Rose, have singular flat tops, bearing some resemblance to
the curious appearance of Cape Bedford. I am inclined to believe this
formation to be floetz trappe. Their elevation is about four hundred
feet, being twice the general height of the Peninsula.
The temperature during our stay averaged 82 degrees while land and sea
breezes prevailed. We should not omit to mention, that Lieutenant
Stewart, when visiting Raffles Bay in order to invite the French officers
as above alluded to, found that a deep inlet intervening, formed a good
harbour, to which he gave the name of Port Bremer. Of the old settlement
nothing remained, save the graves of those whose labours had tended to
render this part of Australia another outlet for the surplus population
of the mother country, extending at the same time the blessings of
civilization. The rapid growth of rank vegetation had swept all else
away, and there in solemn solitude, upon that still and silent shore,
mouldered the bones of the original colonists of Raffles Bay, whose
praiseworthy efforts were rendered futile, by the unfavourable reports
forwarded to Government; reports we cannot think entirely free from
prejudice, when we know from Captain Law's account, that one of the
Commandants declared that he felt disposed to sell out of the army in
preference to going there.* One thus prepared to dislike the place, could
scarcely be expected to take an interest in the country, or endeavour
fully to develop its resources.
(*Footnote. See Wilson's Voyage round the World page 153.)
We cannot avoid expressing our regret at the abandonment of the
settlement in Raffles Bay, after it had gone on so far successfully under
Captain Barker's excellent management. In mentioning his kindness to the
natives, to whose goodwill we must always owe much, we have already given
one of the causes which assisted in fostering the undertaking. Nothing
could be more unwise than the hostility shown to the natives by the first
settlers, as from them we must always calculate on learning much that is
useful and valuable, with regard to the productions of the country; a
knowledge which would otherwise consume much time to acquire. This was
not the only matter, however, in which he showed his superior good sense
and judgment. His enticing the people of Macassar to come and locate
there, was another instance of his foresight, which would have led in
time to very favourable results. He was soon, however, compelled to
retract his invitation, writing from Coepang to the Dutch Governor of
Macassar, in order to stop the immigration, which otherwise would have
been considerable. With all these several elements of success, we should
doubtless, but for the abandonment, have now had a flourishing settlement
in Northern Australia. The causes which led to its breaking up, are thus
succinctly given by Dr. Wilson. "The alleged causes were: first, the
unhealthiness of the climate; secondly, the hostility of the natives; and
thirdly, the non-visitation of the Malays."
These he clearly proved, as we have subsequently done, to be without much
foundation; but we ourselves do not so much deplore the leaving of
Raffles Bay, perhaps an ill-chosen site, but rather that the settlement
was not removed instead of being given up. When the anxieties and
difficulties which universally accompany the formation of a new
settlement are reflected on, the regret we have already expressed will be
more easily understood. When Port Essington was located, all these had to
be suffered over again; whereas had the station at Raffles Bay, been
transferred thither at once, it would have been now at a very high pitch
of perfection. Besides, however small the spot on which the English flag
waves constantly, it will always prove a check on the marauding
propensities of the neighbouring islanders, and thus add materially to
the general welfare and civilization of such portions of the globe as
fall within the influence of the respected locality.*
(*Footnote. In further proof of the prospects of success, which were open
to the new settlement under its able Commandant, we give the following
extract from Dr. Wilson's journal, when at Coepang, in company with
Captain Barker, after their final departure from Raffles Bay. "We were
informed by the master of the Mercus, that many Chinese were about to
emigrate from Java to Raffles Bay, having recently learned that they
would be permitted to do so. The total abandonment of the North coast of
New Holland caused much regret to the mercantile people here, as they had
anticipated great advantages from a commercial intercourse.' Wilson's
Narrative page 179.)
LEAVE PORT ESSINGTON.
Finding that we could not procure a supply of provisions from the
settlement, our stay was necessarily, though reluctantly, of short
duration, and on the morning of the 24th, we were accordingly running out
of Port Essington. After rounding Vashon Head, we steered to the
westward, along the northern side of the Peninsula, and early in the
afternoon anchored in Popham Bay, one point of which is formed by the
North-West extreme of the Peninsula, a low projection with one tall
mangrove growing on the point, and fronted by an extensive coral reef,
past which a two-knot tide sweeps into the gulf of Van Diemen. On the
eastern side of this projection is a snug boat or small-craft harbour,
much frequented by the Malays, who call it Blue-mud Bay. It may be
recognized by a little island lying off its mouth.
Our attention having been directed towards the openings on the coast
opposite Melville Island, we proceeded towards the first, lying on the
south side of Clarence Strait. It was further important to ascertain, if
that strait was navigable, and also to examine the south-eastern side of
Finding the western shore of Cobourg Peninsula placed too far from Port
Essington on the chart, it was determined to commence the survey at
Popham Bay, choosing for the observation spot a small bank of sand and
dead coral lying in its centre, and bearing East 1/2 South 1/4 of a mile
from where we anchored in nine fathoms. We named this Bird Island, from
finding it almost covered with terns and gulls. The latitude of it
according to our observations was 11 degrees 15 1/2 minutes South and
longitude West of Port Essington 22 1/2 miles, being 4 1/2 less than is
given in Captain King's chart, the North-West extreme of the Peninsula
being there placed too far from Port Essington, and the North-East point,
Cape Croker, too near, it would appear that the discrepancy was chiefly
in the position of Port Essington, with respect to the northern extremes
of the Peninsula, as Captain King and ourselves only now differ two miles
in the distance between Cape Croker and Popham Bay, ours being the
greater. The evening was calm as usual, while midnight brought with it a
fresh South-East wind. During the night the temperature was as low as 73
On leaving at daylight we crossed over to examine the western shores of
Dundas Strait, formed by the eastern side of Melville Island; Captain
King having passed it in the night. As we stood close along it into the
gulf, we found the soundings very irregular. Six miles North 40 degrees
East from Cape Keith, we passed over two patches of only three or four
fathoms; these we could not see from the general disturbed and
discoloured state of the water, it blowing fresh from South-East. We
found the nature of this part of Melville Island to be low rocky points,
separating sandy bays. One of the few remarkable features on it, is a
round hill 320 feet high, five miles North-West from Cape Keith.
Passing the latter, we crossed over to the opposite eastern entrance
point of Clarence Strait, Cape Hotham, discovering on our way thither a
reef nearly awash, about two miles in extent, bearing South 25 degrees
West fifteen miles from Cape Keith, and North 10 degrees East fourteen
miles from Cape Hotham. The deepest water we found while crossing was 22
fathoms, five miles north of the latter, the general depth being 13 and
15 fathoms. The wind failing in the afternoon, it was evening when we
reached our anchorage in nine fathoms, Cape Hotham bearing South 43 West,
two miles and a half, and close to the edge of a large shoal which we
subsequently found to extend a mile and a half north, and six miles east
from the Cape. Here we found the tides set West by South and
East-North-East from half a knot to two knots, the westerly stream
beginning nearly three hours after high-water, a peculiarity generally
occurring in straits.
After one of those soft and lovely evenings so common to this part of
Australia, with a gentle breeze and cloudless sky, we were surprised to
find that the morning opened dreary and gloomy. There was a very fresh
South-South-East wind with heavy masses of clouds; the breeze continued
until noon, when as usual it subsided. We moved the ship a few miles down
the opening in the south side of the strait, and in the afternoon a party
went on shore near Cape Hotham. We found the country very poor and sandy,
and elevated about fifteen feet above high-water mark. Despite this, the
white gum-trees appear to thrive, growing in great abundance, about
thirty or forty feet high; there were also others of a different kind,
besides a few palms. The rocks were red sand and ironstone blended
together. In some places I noticed it had the same glazed and vitrified
appearance, as before remarked by me at King's Sound, on the North-West
Mr. Bynoe, who was of the party, added to his collection of birds, a
kingfisher, and a specimen of a glossy species about the size and colour
of an English blackbird; others were seen and killed, but all common to
other parts; the most rare of the latter was the large cream-coloured
pigeon I have alluded to, some few pages back.
The white ibis with a black neck, plentiful in King's Sound, and a large
bird, a species of crane, were also seen. The latter was of a French grey
hue, with the exception of the head, which was black and of the shape of
a bittern, commonly known among the colonists by the name of native
companion. It is difficult to imagine how this name could have
originated, as there is no instance of the natives making a pet of
anything, except the wild dog of the country, and of that only, it is
probable, from its utility in procuring them food. On visiting this place
a few days afterwards, to repeat the observations for the errors of the
chronometers, we saw a few natives, but they avoided an interview,
disappearing when we landed. They made the same motions with their arms,
throwing them open, and bowing as the natives in King's Sound did. The
few huts I fell in with, reminded me of one I had seen near the
North-West part of King's Sound, a representation of which will be found
in the portion of the work descriptive of that locality.
Those on Cape Hotham, to enter more into particulars, did not exceed five
feet in height, nor were they so substantially built; they were, however,
well thatched with the same kind of coarse grass. The entrances were
carefully closed, except in one instance, when the aperture was so small
that it was with difficulty I could crawl in; when I had entered there
was nothing to gratify my curiosity.
Hanging on trees round these habitations, were specimens of an article of
clothing, never before seen among the Aborigines of Australia, for which
reason I have been induced to give the woodcut of one.* It is a kind of
covering for the shoulders, a species of cape, made from coarse grass.
(*Footnote. I have since heard from Mr. Earl, that the women in the
South-East part of Van Diemen's Gulf, occasionally wear a covering round
their waist, somewhat similar to the representation given.)
Baskets were also left hanging on the trees, bespeaking the honesty of
the inhabitants of this part of the country.
The land near the huts was turned up in search of roots, and close by
were some large clubs. The thermometer fell in the night to 67 degrees,
producing the novel though pleasant sensation of cold.
Although apparently we could trace the land, near the head of the opening
or bay, still the great set of tide in that direction, left hopes of its
being the mouth of a river. We have
already alluded to the difficulty of detecting the mouth of Australian
streams, and the doubts thus engendered occasioned the greater anxiety.
Impatient to learn the truth, Mr. Fitzmaurice was despatched to examine
the head of the bay, whilst the ship was moved towards it, anchoring
again one mile North-West from a very remarkable patch of low red cliffs
(which from startling circumstances, hereafter to be related, were called
Escape Cliffs) and only two cables length distant from the coral ledge,
by which this and the shores around were fronted.
VISIT THE SHORE.
Here another party visited the shore, and those whose occupation did not
render their presence necessary near the water, strolled into the
country, penetrating about four or five miles inland, but they were
rewarded by the sight of no novelty, or even variety in the scenery,
beyond what was presented to our view on the visit to Cape Hotham, which
it will readily be allowed was little enough. Indeed it will in general
be found, that in Australia, a change of formation is necessary to
produce any of the scenery, which otherwise exhibits a most monotonous
A coarse kind of ironstone gravel was (if I may use the term) scattered
over the face of the country; some of it had a glazed appearance on the
surface, being hollow within, and about the size of a musket ball.
Properly speaking they are composed of a ferruginous sandstone, but they
have been already more fully alluded to when first met with at Point
Cunningham, near King's Sound, on the North-West coast. The general
formation is the same as at Cape Hotham, itself almost identical with the
rocks at Port Essington. A few traces of small kangaroos were seen; but
not a bird or any other living thing two miles from the beach. This
peculiarity the reader will remember was also noticed in the
neighbourhood of King's Sound.
DISCOVERY OF ADELAIDE RIVER.
On returning to the ship we found that Mr. Fitzmaurice had arrived,
bringing the expected, and very gratifying intelligence, that a large
river with two branches, running South-East and South, with a depth of
four fathoms, emptied itself into the head of the bay. The joy a
discovery of this nature imparts to the explorer, when examining a
country so proverbially destitute of rivers as Australia, is much more
easily imagined than described. It formed a species of oasis amid the
ordinary routine of surveying, rousing our energies, and giving universal
delight. The castle-builders were immediately at work, with expectations
beyond the pale of reason.
An exploring party, however, was at once formed, consisting of Captain
Wickham, Lieutenant Emery, and Mr. Helpman, who--the next day being
Sunday--did not leave before the morning of the 29th, with two boats and
four days' provisions.
Many were the anxious and envious looks bestowed on the party as they
left the ship on the deeply interesting service of exploring the new
river. So strong and native is man's desire for the unknown, that his
feelings are never more tried than when on the brink of a discovery,
while those who are in presence of the novelty, and cannot enjoy the
satisfaction of tasting that pleasure, must ever experience somewhat
acute emotions of regret.
There was no difficulty in finding a name for a river which fell into
Clarence Strait; it was at once, therefore, honoured with that of
Adelaide, after her most gracious Majesty the Queen Dowager. The bay that
receives its waters was called after Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Adam. The
remaining part of the south side of Clarence Strait, together with the
islands in the western entrance of it, gave ample, though not such
interesting employment as the exploration of the Adelaide, to those who
were left behind. Several unsuccessful hauls were made with the seine,
fish in Adam Bay being very scarce.
Near Escape Cliffs I met a small family of natives, consisting of an
elderly man, his wife, and four children; by degrees, advancing alone, I
contrived to get near enough to make the woman a present of a
handkerchief, in return for which she gave me a large leaf of the cabbage
palm, that was slung across her back. I at length drew all the family
around me, the eldest child, a youth of about 15, being the most timid.
He had a small piece of wood two feet long, sticking through the
cartilage of his nose. His teeth and those of the other children were
quite perfect, but in the father and mother two of the upper front ones
were gone, as we before noticed was the case with the natives at Port
Essington, where this ceremony is performed after marriage. The hair of
these people was neither curly nor straight, but what I have before
called crisp, being of that wavy nature sometimes noticed in Europeans.
They had with them three small-sized dogs of a light brown colour, of
which they appeared very fond, and I could not induce them to part with
The old man's spear was not barbed, and the womera or throwing stick of
the same long narrow shape as at Port Essington. The woman had also the
same bottle-shaped basket slung over her neck, as before remarked, and
containing white and red earths for painting their bodies.
CURIOSITY AND FEAR.
These people exhibited more curiosity than I had before noticed in the
Aborigines, as I was able to induce them to visit the whaleboat that was
on shore close by. Here, as in other places, the size of the oars first
astonished them, and next the largeness of the boat itself. The
exclamations of surprise given vent to by the old man as he gazed on the
workmanship of his civilized brethren, were amusing; suddenly a loud
shout would burst from his lips, and then a low whistle. I watched the
rapid change of countenance in this wild savage with interest; all his
motions were full of matter for observation. The mixed curiosity and
dread depicted in his dusky face, the feeling of secret alarm at this
first rencontre with a white man intruding in his native wilds, which he
must have experienced, added much to the zest of the scene. I, however,
at length almost persuaded the old man to accompany me on board; he even
put one foot in the boat for the purpose, when seeing the depth of the
interior, he recoiled with a slight shudder, as if from immersion in cold
water. He was now overwhelmed by the woman and elder child with
entreaties not to take such a rash step, and their rude eloquence
It was amusing to see the struggle between fear and curiosity plainly
depicted in the man's face, as he stood with one foot on the boat, and
the other on the shore, hearkening but too credulously to the picture of
danger, forcibly drawn by his friends, while curiosity, with almost equal
strength, was urging him to dare the perils of the white man's boat.
A desire to be better acquainted with the strangers who had come to the
shores of his native land in a large bird--such being their strange idea
of a ship, the sails forming the wings--no doubt materially influenced
him; but the eloquence of his relatives prevailed over all; and this
interesting interview terminated by our leaving the shore without our
sable friend, who, however, promised to visit the ship in an old bark
canoe, about 20 feet long, that was lying on the beach near at hand. This
promise was faithfully kept, for the same evening, a canoe was seen
paddling off, containing two young natives in addition to the old man.
They stopped at some distance from the ship, moving round to view her on
ATTEMPT TO ENTICE NATIVES ON BOARD.
Fearing at last that their courage had failed, and that they would not
come on board, the dinghy, our smallest boat, was sent towards them,
there being only a boy besides myself in it.
I had hoped that thus they would not be frightened, but they instantly
began to move towards the shore, and it required some manoeuvring to get
near them; succeeding at length, however, I found my acquaintance of the
morning anxious to go to the ship, a measure the other two did not at all
approve of, as they kept edging away towards the land, whilst I gave the
old man the presents I had brought him. At one time the dinghy got
between the canoe and the shore, when instantly a gleam of terror flashed
across the faces of the young men. One of them was a large square-headed
fellow of ferocious aspect, whose countenance was lit up by a look of
fierce revenge, as the canoe made towards the land, after I had ceased my
endeavours to entice them on board.
Whatever these people may have imagined to be our motive in wishing them
to visit the ship, I little thought that my pressing them would have so
nearly led to fatal results. I shall proceed to explain this remark by
relating the startling circumstances from which Escape Cliffs received
NARROW ESCAPE OF MR. FITZMAURICE.
A few days after my interview in the dinghy with the natives, Mr.
Fitzmaurice went ashore to compare the compasses. From the quantity of
iron contained in the rocks, it was necessary to select a spot free from
their influence. A sandy beach at the foot of Escape Cliffs was
accordingly chosen. The observations had been commenced, and were about
half completed, when on the summit of the cliffs, which rose about twenty
feet above their heads, suddenly appeared a large party of natives with
poised and quivering spears, as if about immediately to deliver them.
Stamping on the ground, and shaking their heads to and fro, they threw
out their long shaggy locks in a circle, whilst their glaring eyes
flashed with fury as they champed and spit out the ends of their long
beards.* They were evidently in earnest, and bent on mischief.
(*Footnote. A custom with Australian natives when in a state of violent
DANCING FOR LIFE.
It was, therefore, not a little surprising to behold this paroxysm of
rage evaporate before the happy presence of mind displayed by Mr.
Fitzmaurice, in immediately beginning to dance and shout, though in
momentary expectation of being pierced by a dozen spears. In this he was
imitated by Mr. Keys, who was assisting in the observations, and who at
the moment was a little distance off, and might have escaped. Without,
however, thinking of himself, he very nobly joined his companion in
amusing the natives; and they succeeded in diverting them from their
evident evil designs, until a boat landing in a bay near drew off their
attention. The foremost of this party was recognised to be the
ill-looking fellow, who left me in the canoe with a revengeful scowl upon
Messrs. Fitzmaurice and Keys had firearms lying on the ground within
reach of their hands; the instant, however, they ceased dancing, and
attempted to touch them, a dozen spears were pointed at their breasts.
Their lives hung upon a thread, and their escape must be regarded as
truly wonderful, and only to be attributed to the happy readiness with
which they adapted themselves to the perils of their situation. This was
the last we saw of the natives in Adam Bay, and the meeting is likely to
be long remembered by some, and not without pleasant recollections; for
although, at the time, it was justly looked upon as a very serious
affair, it afterwards proved a great source of mirth. No one could recall
to mind, without laughing, the ludicrous figure necessarily cut by our
shipmates, when to amuse the natives, they figured on the light fantastic
toe; and the readers, who look at the plate representing this really
serious affair,* will behold two men literally dancing for their lives.
(*Footnote. See above.)
RETURN OF THE BOATS.
This morning the boats returned; they had gone up the Adelaide in a
general southerly direction, nearly 80 miles: the windings of the river,
which were very great in some places, forming the shape of the letter S.
It became at this distance very narrow, and was divided into two
branches, one taking a southerly direction, the other an easterly; the
latter was too narrow for the boat's oars, while the former was blocked
up by fallen trees lying across it. As in addition to the difficulties
just mentioned, only one day's provision remained in the boats, the
further exploration of the Adelaide was necessarily, though reluctantly,
BANKS OF THE ADELAIDE.
For thirty miles of the upper part of the river the water was fresh;
while the banks, excepting near the point of separation, were low, being
not more than five feet above the present level of the river, a
circumstance very favourable for irrigation, and the cultivation of rice.
Fifteen miles from the mouth they were fringed by the growth of
mangroves; and higher up many of the points were thickly wooded, while on
either side stretched a vast extent of prairie country, dotted here and
there with islands of timber, which served to break the native monotony
of the scene. Somewhat less than halfway up, rose on both banks a thick
jungle of bamboo, which, in places where the water was always fresh,
attained the gigantic height of from 60 to 80 feet. Between 20 and 70
miles from the mouth the soil is a good light-coloured mould; above this,
commencing where the bank of the river is marked by a coarse red gritty
sandstone projection, the aspect of the country changes from that of low
plains to a slightly wooded and gently undulating surface, in some places
stony. This character continued to the furthest point reached in the
boats, in latitude 12 degrees 57 minutes South, and longitude 131 degrees
19 minutes East.
When they had penetrated thus far into the new lands of Australia, the
explorers returned, having experienced those sensations of delightful
excitement, to which we have before alluded, and which naturally called
forth strong emotions of regret in those who were denied a participation
in the feverish enjoyment of discovery.
From the highest tree at Captain Wickham's furthest point, the appearance
of the country was, as far as the eye could reach, one wearisome level,
broken to the southward, at a distance of ten miles, by a rocky mound
about 150 feet high.
UPPER PART OF THE RIVER.
The river, which for some distance had not been fifty yards wide, with a
rocky bed in places, and banks from six to twenty feet high, was subject
at this point to a tidal change of level of about three feet, but there
was no perceptible stream, and the water which a few miles lower down had
been muddy, was here quite clear. Small bamboos and other drift were
observed in the branches of the trees eight or ten feet above the water,
showing the height which the river attains at some seasons of the year.
By the hollows on many of the plains, water appeared to have lain some
time, and doubtless parts of this low land were periodically overflowed.
On the point dividing the upper branches of the river some coarse sand
was washed up, which on examination was found to be of a granitic
character, clearly showing the primary formation of the country through
which the Adelaide flowed. The only rocks noticed in the parts traversed
by the boats were, as I have before said, of red porous sandstone. The
smoke of several large fires was observed up the country, but none of the
natives were seen.
Towards the upper part of the river they noticed a strange bird, very
much like a guineafowl in size and manner of running along the ground.
The colour was speckled white and brown. This, doubtless, from Mr.
Bynoe's description of one he wounded on the coast in the neighbourhood
of the Adelaide, must have been the Leipoa ocellata of Gould, one of the
mound or tumuli-building birds, first seen in Western Australia by Mr.
George Moore, and afterwards on the North-west coast, and in South
Australia by Captain Grey. Although known to range over a large expanse
of the continent, this was the first time it was discovered in Northern
In the reaches where the bamboo grew, flights of large vampires
(resembling the Pteropus rubricollis of Geoff.) were met with: they kept
continually flying to and fro close over the boats as they passed up,
making a screeching disagreeable noise, which, however, was far less
unpleasant than the mildewy odour with which they filled the air, calling
to mind the exclamation placed by our immortal bard in the mouth of
Trinculo. The heavy flap of the leathern wings of these monkey-birds, as
the men called them, was singular, while sometimes a flight would darken
the verdure of a bamboo, which, yielding to their weight, bent low, as if
before a passing gust of wind. To fix themselves appeared always a
difficult, and was certainly a noisy operation, each apparently striving
to alight upon the same spot. They first cling to the bamboo by means of
the long claw, or hook attached to the outer edge of the wing, and then
gradually settle themselves.
The river swarmed with alligators. Fish also abounded; and in the salt
water, a kind commonly known in the river Plate by the name of Cat-fish,
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