Discoveries in Australia, Volume 2
John Lort Stokes
Part 3 out of 8
progress now appeared to improve. Strange to say, though apparently in
the very heart of the monsoon, we were favoured with a light breeze from
the south-east; and, to show how currents are governed by the wind, I may
remark that the current experienced this day had changed its direction
from North-North-East to West.
On the 24th, several water-snakes were seen, and in the afternoon, with a
light north-west wind, we passed about six miles from the north end of
Scott's Reef,* which we placed a few miles to the westward of its
position in the chart, and of which we shall take another opportunity of
(*Footnote. One of the discoveries of Captain Peter Heywood, R.N.)
Through God's mercy I was now so far recovered as to be able to crawl on
the poop to see this reef, but soon found that I had overrated my
strength: my back became affected; all power appeared to have deserted my
limbs; and I suffered dreadfully. Even to this day I feel the weakness in
my back, particularly in cold weather, or when I attempt to lift any
great weight suddenly.
Westerly winds, that increased as we got to the southward, brought us in
sight of Depuch Island, a level lump of land, on the evening of New
Year's Day, and at 7 P.M. we tacked in 15 fathoms, about twelve miles
North-West 1/2 North from it. We spent a couple of days beating to
westward in the neighbourhood of the coast, from which the bank appeared
to extend sixty miles, with an equal number of fathoms on its edge.
January 14, 1840.
At noon, the same prevailing westerly winds brought us within fifty miles
of the north point of Sharks Bay, bearing South-East by South. On the
same evening we saw a herd of sperm whales. From that day we had a
southerly wind, which drawing round to the east as we got to the south,
forced us away from the land, so that from there our track to Swan River
described two sides of an acute-angled triangle; the 24th placing us
somewhat further than we were on the 14th, namely 700 miles west from our
destination; but at length we got a favourable wind to take us in.
DEATH AND BURIAL OF THE COOK.
I must refer back to this date to record that a gloom was cast over the
ship in the morning, in consequence of the rigid hand of death having
been laid on one of our men, the cook, by name Mitchell, worn out by old
age and bodily infirmities. He breathed his last at midnight, and at 10
A.M. we committed his body to the deep. There is perhaps no place where
the burial service has a more impressive effect than at sea; and in the
present instance the grave demeanour of the whole crew attested that it
was so. The day too was gloomy, and in keeping with the solemn scene;
while a fresh breeze gave the ship a steady keel. Occasionally the
beautiful prayers were interrupted by the roar of the foaming waters as
the ship plunged onwards; then swelling on the breeze and mingling with
its wailings they were wafted, we would fain hope, to that peaceful home
to which we were sending our shipmate. A chilling plunge announced his
passage into the mighty deep, leaving no trace to mark the spot on the
wave, which swept on as before.
The wandering and strange life of the deceased became the theme of
conversation during the day, and many interesting anecdotes were
recalled. On one occasion he had passed a few days in a vessel that had
been turned bottom up in a squall, but which, luckily, having a light and
shifting cargo, floated. His only companions were two negroes, who, with
the apathy of their race, spent the principal part of the time in sleep.
It was by boring a small hole through the vessel's bottom, and pushing up
a stick with a handkerchief attached, that they were enabled to attract
the attention of a passing ship, by whose people they were cut out. Old
Mitchell's propensity for fishing was very singular. Almost down to the
last, when in his hammock under the forecastle, he would have a line
passed to him whenever he heard fish playing about; and he would catch at
it as it was drawn through his fingers, until exhausted nature failing he
fell into a lethargic sleep. His situation latterly was peculiarly
pitiable. Worldly affairs and a future state were so painfully mingled,
that it was impossible to determine whether or not resignation
predominated. He evidently recoiled from the awful contemplation of
futurity, and sought refuge in the things of this life. Even whilst in
the pangs of death he could not conceive why he should be so cold, and
why his feet could not be kept up to a heat which nature, in obedience to
the dictates of infinite wisdom, was gradually resigning.
We arrived at Swan River on the 31st, under circumstances which must
forcibly illustrate to a landsman the precision with which a ship may be
navigated. We had not seen land for fifty-two days, and were steering
through a dense fog, which confined the circle of our vision to within a
very short distance round the ship. Suddenly the vapour for a moment
dispersed, and showed us, not more than a mile ahead, the shipping in
We found a vast improvement in the colony of Western Australia since our
last visit, and again experienced the greatest hospitality from the
colonists. To the assiduous attentions of my much valued friend, the
Surveyor-General, Lieutenant Roe, R.N., I in great measure ascribe my
rapid recovery. He gave me a painfully interesting account of an
excursion he had made in search of the party left behind by Captain Grey
during his exploring expedition in the neighbourhood of Sharks Bay, with
the sufferings and disastrous termination of which the public have
already been made acquainted in the vivid language of the last-mentioned
LIEUTENANT ROE'S ACCOUNT OF THE RESCUE OF CAPTAIN GREY'S PARTY.
It was on one of those soft beautiful evenings, so common in Australia,
that I received this narrative from my friend. We had strolled from his
cottage, at the western extremity of the town of Perth, and had just
emerged from the patch of woodland, concealing it from the view of the
Swan, which now lay at our feet. About a mile below, the broad shadow of
Mount Eliza, nearly extended across the river; and in the darkness thus
made, the snow-white sails of a tiny pleasure-boat flitted to and fro.
Beyond lay the beautiful lake-like reach of the river, Melville Water,
just ruffled by a breeze that came sweeping over its surface with all the
delicious coolness of the sea. The beauty of the scene did not divert me
from the events of my friend's story, serving rather to impress them the
more vividly on my mind. I remember well the animated and affecting
manner in which he delivered his narrative, and how his hard features
became lit up as he proceeded by an expression of honest pride, fully
justified by the fact that he had on that occasion been the means of
saving the lives of several of his fellow-creatures. When he found them
they were under a headland, which they had not sufficient strength left
to ascend, nor were they able to round the sea face of it. One of them,
finding all hope of proceeding further at an end, went down on his knees
and prayed to the almighty for assistance; and just as another had
bitterly remarked on the uselessness of proffering such a request, Mr.
Roe and his party, as if directed by the hand of Providence, appeared on
the ridge above them. It would be painful to describe minutely the
condition to which these poor fellows had been reduced; it will be
sufficient to state, that thirst had compelled them to resort to the most
offensive substitute for pure and wholesome water.
DEATH OF MR. FREDERIC SMITH.
One of their party, Mr. Frederick Smith, had been left behind; and so
bewildered were they in their despair, that they could give no definite
account of what had become of him. Mr. Roe immediately went in search,
and not many miles in the rear, found the poor fellow quite dead in a
bush, with his blanket half rolled round him. It appeared that he had
tried to scramble up a sandhill and had fallen back into the bush and
died--a sad and melancholy fate for one so young. He had laboured under
great disadvantages in walking, having cut his feet in very gallantly
swimming out to save one of the boats during a hurricane in Sharks Bay.
He was reduced to a perfect skeleton; having, in fact, been starved to
death. The sight drew forth a tributary tear of affection even from the
native who accompanied the party. Mr. Roe consigned poor young Smith's
remains to the earth, and setting up a piece of board to mark the spot,
smoothed down his lonely pillow, and moved with his companions in
mournful silence towards the south.
It must have been an impressive scene; the sun, as if conscious that he
was shining for the last time on the remains of the ill-fated young
explorer, seemed to linger as if unwilling to descend into the western
horizon; and his full red orb painted a number of light airy clouds that
floated through the sky in the most brilliant colours, and shed a stream
of fire over the water as it rolled with a mournful dirge-like sound on
the strand close by. The howl of a wild dog now and then fell on their
ears as they performed their melancholy task, and alone broke the
stillness that reigned around, as they retreated slowly along the beach.
Whilst on this humane excursion, Mr. Roe witnessed a wondrous gift
possessed by the natives. The one that accompanied him, perceiving
footmarks on the sand, where some of his countrymen had been, was enabled
by them to tell Mr. Roe, not only in what number they were, but THE NAME
OF EACH. This account was verified on their return to Perth, from whence
the natives had been sent during Mr. Roe's absence on the same errand.
HURRICANE IN SHARKS' BAY.
The hurricane I have mentioned, as encountered by Captain Grey in Sharks
Bay, latitude 26 degrees South, occurred on February 28th, which,
corresponding with the hurricane season of the Mauritius, leaves little
doubt that at the same time the shores of New Holland are occasionally
visited by more easterly ones, moving in nearly the same direction. The
other two instances of hurricanes occurring in the neighbourhood are
those of the Ceres, in 1839, in latitude 21 degrees South, above 300
miles North-North-West from Sharks Bay, and of the Maguashas towards the
end of February,* 1843, in latitude 18 degrees South, about 400 miles
north of the same place. Ships, therefore, passing along the North-west
coast of New Holland at the season we have mentioned, should be prepared
for bad weather. The hurricane experienced by Captain Grey began at
South-east and ended at North-west. The lull in the centre of it showed
that the focus of the storm must have passed over that locality. Captain
Grey does not enter sufficiently into detail to enable us to trace the
veering of the wind.
(*Footnote. In volume 1 will be found mention of the bad weather met with
by the Beagle in this month on the north-west coast. For further
information on this subject see Mr. Thom's interesting Inquiry into the
Nature and Course of Storms London 1845.)
An observation I made on visiting this time the upper course of the Swan,
is worth recording. Many parts were perfectly dry, more so than any I had
seen on the Victoria, and yet I was informed that last year those very
parts were running with a good stream. It seems reasonable to infer,
therefore, that in certain seasons of the year the Victoria, though dry
in some places when I visited it, is a full and rapid river.
During our stay the Colonial schooner, Champion, returned from an
unsuccessful search for the mouth of the Hutt River, discovered by
Captain Grey in the neighbourhood of Moresby's Flat-topped Range. Near
the south end of it, however, they found a bay affording good anchorage.
We moved the ship to Rottnest Island, to collect a little material for
the chart, and select a hill for the site of a lighthouse. The one we
chose lies towards the south-east end of the island, bearing North 76
degrees West (true) twelve miles and a quarter from Fremantle gaol. The
Governor and Mr. Roe accompanied us to Rottnest, where we found that a
penal establishment of Aboriginal prisoners had been formed during our
No one would say that the Australian natives cannot work, if they could
just see the nice cottages of which this settlement is composed. The
Superintendent merely gives the convicts a little instruction at first,
and they follow his directions with astonishing precision. They take
great pride in showing visitors their own work. It is an interesting
though sorrowful sight to see these poor fellows--some of them deprived
of their liberty for life, perhaps for crimes into which they have been
driven by the treatment they receive from those who have deprived them
both of their land and of their liberty. Many, if not most of them, are
in some measure unconscious of guilt; and they are almost incapable of
appreciating the relation between what they have committed and the
punishment which has fallen on them. Their minds are plunged in the
darkest ignorance; or if they know anything beyond the means of
satisfying their immediate wants, it is that they have been deprived of
their rightful possessions by the men whose chains they wear. Surely this
reflection should now and then present itself to the white man who is
accustomed to treat them so harshly, and induce him to judge more
leniently of their acts, and instead of confining himself to coersive
measures for protection, make him resort to the means which are within
his reach of raising the despised and oppressed savage more nearly to a
level with himself in the scale of humanity.
The native prisoners at Rottnest collect salt from the lagoons, cut wood,
and at present almost grow sufficient grain to keep them, so that in a
short time they will be a source of profit rather than of loss to the
crown. Some of them pine away and die; others appear happy. Generally,
however, when a fresh prisoner comes among them, great discontent
prevails; they enquire eagerly about their friends and families; and what
they hear in reply recalls vividly to their minds their wild roving life,
their corrobories, the delights of their homes; and of these, too, they
are sometimes compelled to think when a blue streak of smoke stealing
over the uplands, catches their restless eye, as it wanders instinctively
forth in that direction from their island prison. They will often gaze on
these mementos of their former free life, until their eyes grow dim with
tears and their breasts swell with those feelings which, however debased
they may appear, they share in common with us all. On these occasions
they naturally turn with loathing to their food. Those who suffer most
are the oldest; for they have ties to which the younger are strangers.
The rapidity with which the young ones grow up and improve in appearance,
in consequence of their regular food and the care taken of them, is
astonishing. They are allowed to have a common kind of spear, though
without any throwing stick; and sometimes receive permission to go to the
west end of the island to endeavour to kill wallaby, which are there
We were happy to find that the attention of the public, and the
Government at home, had been drawn to the wrongs and sufferings of the
Aborigines of Australia; and that a desire of preserving them from
deterioration and ultimate destruction, had been evinced. Protectors had
been sent out for the purpose of attending especially to their interests,
so that it was evident that what was wanted was not goodwill towards
them. It was easy, however, to perceive that the system was a bad one,
and to foretell its failure. The most prominent feature in the plan
adopted, was the gathering together of the natives in the neighbourhood
of settlers without previously providing them with any means of
subsistence, so that they were in a manner compelled to have recourse to
To show to what extent whaling is carried on in these seas by foreigners,
I may mention that during our stay at Swan River, I at one time counted
as many as thirteen American whalers at anchor. It was to be regretted
that this department of industry had been abandoned by the colonists, who
however derived considerable advantage from the barter trade they carried
on with the whale ships.
At Perth we found our old shipmate Miago, and were sorry to observe that
he was as great a savage as ever. He had got into considerable disgrace
among his fellows on account of his having performed one of these feats
of which he was so continually boasting on the North-west coast, namely,
carrying away a woman. He was hiding about, in momentary fear of being
speared by those whom he had injured.
BOTANY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
Among the information obtained this time at Swan River, was the following
table, relating to the vegetable kingdom of Western Australia.
COLUMN 1: NAME COMMONLY GIVEN BY SETTLERS.
COLUMN 2: NATIVE NAME.
COLUMN 3: GENUS.
COLUMN 4: REMARKS.
Mahogany : Jarrail* : Eucalyptus : Grows on white sandy land.
Red gum : Kardan : Eucalyptus : On loamy land.
Bluegum : Co-lort : Eucalyptus : On river banks and flooded lands, a sure
indication of vicinity of water.
White gum : Wando : Eucalyptus : On stiff clay lands, sometimes tapped
for water contained in hollow trunk.
York gum : To-art : Eucalyptus : Abundant in York--on good soil.
Cable gum, these varieties all seen in the interior, not common at Perth
: Gnardarup : Eucalyptus : Like several stems twisted together, abondant
Cable gum, these varieties all seen in the interior, not common at Perth
: Wooruc : Eucalyptus : Brown glossy stem, smooth.
Cable gum, these varieties all seen in the interior, not common at Perth
: Gnelarue : Eucalyptus : Nankeen-coloured stem.
Cable gum, these varieties all seen in the interior, not common at Perth
: Mallat : Eucalyptus : Tall, straight, rough bark.
Cable gum, these varieties all seen in the interior, not common at Perth
: Morrail : Eucalyptus : Nearly similar.
Cable gum, these varieties all seen in the interior, not common at Perth
: Balwungar : Eucalyptus : Glaucus-leaved.
Honeysuckle : Mang-ghoyte : Banksia : Large flowering cones containing
Honeysuckle : Be-al-wra : Banksia : Large flowering cones containing
Black wattle : Kile-yung : Acacia : Indication of good soil--produces
Broom or Stinkwood : Cab-boor : - : Light sandy loam.
Holly : Tool-gan : Hakea : Sandy soil--produces gum.
Cabbage tree : Mote yar : Nuytsia floribella : Gum in abundance.
Beef tree or the oak : - : Casuarina.
Palm tree : Djir-jy or jirjy : Zamia media, gl. : Red fruit, nut, called
baio, ripe in March, is considered a delicacy by the natives.
Raspberry jam : Maug-art : Acacia : Sweet scented--grows on good gruund.
Raspberry jam : Minnung : Acacia : Gum very abundant.
Blackboy : Balga : Zantha hast : Gum on the spear--resin on the trunk.
York nut : Madda : - : Smells like sandalwood.
Red apple : Quonni : - : Affects salt grounds.
Swamp oak : Yeymbac : - : Name applies rather to the paper-like
bark--used to hold water, to cover houses, etc.
Rough-topped blackboy : Barro : Zantha : Resin makes a powerful cement.
Native yam : Werrang : - : Said to grow to a large size to the North.
Native potato : Tubuc : Orchis.
Native turnip : Canno.
New Zealand flax : - : Phormium tenax : This grows pretty abnndantly, I
forget the native name.
(*Footnote. The letter a is sounded broad and full as in Father.)
SAFETY OF GAGE ROADS.
The result of our soundings between Rottnest Island and the main, showed
that a bank extended out to the north-east, from the foul ground off the
Stragglers, sufficiently to check, in some measure, the vast body of
water rolling in from the north-west; and thereby adding to the safety of
Gage Roads, provided vessels anchor in the proper berth, which is in
seven or eight fathoms, on sandy mud, about a mile from the gaol, bearing
East by North. A quarter of a mile nearer the shore the bottom shoals
rapidly to four and three fathoms, on rocky ground slightly coated with
sand. It is therefore not likely a ship, well found, can drag her anchor
up a bank so steep as that inclination in the bottom forms. The wrecks
that have occurred in this anchorage may be traced to vessels not
selecting a proper berth. From their desire to be near the shore they get
into the shoal rocky ground; a breeze comes on when they are in no way
prepared, in the midst of discharging cargo; and in some cases, before a
second anchor can be let go, the ship is driven on shore. Thus, through
the want of judgment exhibited by a few individuals, has a whole
community suffered in the manner I have alluded to, when speaking of the
loss of the Orontes at Port Essington.*
(*Footnote. See volume 1.)
Sail from Swan River.
Search for the supposed Turtle-dove Shoal.
Approach to Houtman's Abrolhos.
Find an anchorage.
View of the Lagoon.
Remnants of the wreck of the Batavia.
Visit the Main.
Enter Champion Bay.
Appearance of the Country.
Striking resemblance of various portions of the coast of Australia.
Leave Champion Bay.
Coast to the northward.
Resume our examination of the Abrolhos.
Good Friday Harbour.
Lizards on Rat Island.
Discoveries on Gun Island.
The Mangrove Islets.
Observations of Mr. Bynoe on the Marsupiata.
General character of the reefs.
Visit North Island.
Leave Houtman's Abrolhos.
Proceed to Depuch Island.
Drawings on the rocks.
New bird and kangaroo.
Effects of Mirage.
Examine coast to the Turtle Isles.
Number of turtles.
Approach to Timor.
Scene on entering Coepang Bay.
Surprise of Swan River native.
Visit to the Resident.
Second visit to the Resident.
Arrive at Pritie.
Description of the country.
Muster of the shooting party.
Success of the excursion.
The Javanese Commandant.
Character of the Timorees.
Dutch settlement in New Guinea.
Island of Rottee.
Inhabitants of Polo Douw.
SAIL FROM SWAN RIVER.
The improved state of the colony enabling us to get supplies, it was
resolved that we should return to the North-west coast, examining on the
way, Houtman's Abrolhos, a coral group that had very rarely been visited,
since the Dutch ships were lost on them, one 120 and the other 220 years
ago, and of which next to nothing was known.
Not being able to persuade Miago to accompany us, he being too much
engaged with his new wife, we enlisted the services of a native youth who
generally went by the name of Tom, and left Gage Roads on the afternoon
of April 4th.
Off the west end of Rottnest a sail was seen, which we afterwards found,
to our mortification, was H.M.S. Britomart, from Port Essington. We had
another fruitless search for the bank reported to the northward of
Rottnest. Steering North-North-West from the west end of it, the
soundings increased gradually to 35 fathoms, till passing Cape
Leschenault at the distance of twenty-two miles; but afterwards, no
bottom with 50 fathoms, till reaching the latitude of 31 degrees 7
minutes South, where the coast projecting, brought us again within twenty
miles of it, and into a depth of 45 fathoms. We continued in soundings
till in latitude 30 degrees 36 minutes South, varying from 26 to 98
fathoms, seventeen miles from the land with the former, and twenty-five
with the latter depth, which shows the extent and steepness of the bank
of soundings fronting the coast, between the parallels I have mentioned.
THE ABROLHOS GROUP.
There was unusual weather last night, overcast with a squally westerly
wind. Just laying our course North-North-West, at noon we were in
latitude 29 degrees 11 minutes South, on the position assigned to a reef
called the Turtle Dove. From the masthead I could see nothing indicating
a shoal. Captain King passed near this position, and also remarks not
seeing it. The Colonial schooner Champion, in beating to the southward,
has passed over and near its assigned position, and I think we may fairly
infer that there is no such reef as the Turtle Dove, and that probably it
originated from the south end of the Abrolhos reef, ten miles
North-North-West of it, being seen. We found 29 fathoms on this supposed
shoal, with 35, twelve miles South by East of it, and 127, twenty-eight
miles in the same direction. Between it and the south end of the Abrolhos
Group the water deepened to 35 fathoms. In approaching the nearest island
we passed close round the south-east end of a reef, running out about a
mile from the south point, and then trending away round in a North-west
by North direction, so as to form one side of a lagoon, whilst the island
I have mentioned--a long narrow strip trending North-east by North--forms
the other. The weather looking unsettled, the wind being from the
south-west, with slight rain squalls, we were glad to find shelter, so
near the commencement of our work, in a bight on the east side of the
island, three quarters of a mile from the south point, where we anchored
in 13 fathoms, scarcely a quarter of a mile from the shore. A coral
patch, of two and a half fathoms, with only two on its northern extreme,
confines this anchorage, which affords shelter from South-South-East
round by West to North-east by North. The tide rose here 32 inches.
From the masthead I got a tolerably good view of the island, in some
places scarcely a cable wide, and a number of islets scattered to the
north-west. The lagoon at this place was not more than three miles
across, though marked twelve in the old charts; and I could trace the
long line of white breakers rolling in on the other side in solemn
grandeur, contrasting strongly in their foaming turbulence with the
placid waters within the protection of the reef and island. I could
clearly distinguish the limit of the danger in this direction, and that
there was nothing to break the swell beyond. The surface of the lagoon
was diversified by blue and grey patches, showing the alternations of
shoal and deep water; near the centre there appeared to be a channel,
which we afterwards found to be ten fathoms deep.
In the head of the bight where we were anchored, there was a narrow low
sandy neck, placed by our observations in latitude 28 degrees 58 minutes
26 seconds South and longitude 1 degree 47 minutes 32 seconds west of
Swan River,* over which we hauled a boat to examine the opposite side of
(*Footnote. As we shall refer all longitudes during this cruise to
Scott's Jetty, Swan River, I may here state that the approximate
longitude of that place is considered to be 115 degrees 47 minutes East
A few remarkable clumps of mangroves pointed out the position of some
lagoons about a mile and a half from the south end of the island, which
is fronted by a line of low overhanging cliffs of recent, cream-coloured
limestone. Upon these rests a layer of a kind of soil, in some places
eighteen inches deep, in others four feet, in which the seabirds burrow,
and which, from what I have since seen of the much sought after guano, I
believe to contain some of the valuable substance. In some of the islands
forming Houtman's Abrolhos which we subsequently examined, I found
similar signs of the presence of this manure, which I think worthy of
being made the subject of enquiry.
On the south part of the island I found a block of scoria measuring three
feet by two; which, though not appearing to possess the power of
floating, must have been brought by the current from the volcanic island
of St. Paul's. We saw a few hair-seals on the beach when we landed, and a
rich kind of rock oyster was found at low-water.
On the south west point of the island the beams of a large vessel were
discovered, and as the crew of the Zeewyk, lost in 1728, reported having
seen the wreck of a ship on this part, there is little doubt that the
remains were those of the Batavia, Commodore Pelsart, lost in 1627. We in
consequence named our temporary anchorage Batavia Road, and the whole
group Pelsart Group. It was the wreck of this Dutch ship that led to the
discovery of this part of the continent of Australia, Commodore Pelsart
himself having crossed over to it in a boat in search of water.
VISIT TO THE MAIN.
In the afternoon we got underweigh, with a fresh south wind. The low neck
over which the boat was hauled, and which appeared like a gap from the
offing, bearing west, led clear to the northward of the two fathom patch.
We steered across East by South 1/2 South for the main, losing sight of
the island from the Beagle's poop (height 15 feet) at the distance of
five miles and a half. Three miles further brought us in sight of the
land, forming a high level range, with a knob or lump on its south
extreme. Some five or six miles to the south-east were seen isolated
peaks, which we rightly supposed to be the Wizard Hills of Captain King,
whilst the lump above spoken of proved to be Mount Fairfax, the level
range being Moresby's Flat-topped Range. As we neared them the Menai
Hills began to show themselves.
Our soundings, after leaving the island, deepened quickly to 30 and 35
fathoms. Six miles from it the depth decreased to 23 fathoms. We stood
off and on during the night, the current setting North-North-West a mile
an hour. The space between the Abrolhos and the main bears the name of
Geelvink Channel, after Vlaming's ship, the first that ever passed
through (A.D. 1680).
The chief object of the Beagle's visit to the main was to ascertain the
position of a good anchorage, before spoken of as reported at Swan River
to be under the south-west end of Moresby's Flat-topped Range. The
favourable account which Captain Grey had given of the country behind the
range made the knowledge of a good anchorage in its neighbourhood of vast
importance. Captain King missed this portion of the coast by crossing
over to the Abrolhos, which he places some five miles too much to the
westward, the lowness of the island deceiving him, as indeed it at first
did us. The reef off the south-west end, however, he has rightly fixed.
At daylight the ship was in 24 fathoms, fifteen miles from Wizard Hills,
bearing South 70 degrees East. As we neared the shore, steering
North-East by North we saw a low point, running out west from the south
end of Moresby's Range, fronted by heavy breakers, particularly to the
north-west. Behind, the water was quite smooth, and promised a snug
anchorage. We passed round the reef in 13 1/2 fathoms, at the distance of
a half, and three-quarters of a mile; but we did not haul into the bay
until some suspicious spots had been sounded over by a boat. Finding not
less than four and a half fathoms, we stood in, Mount Fairfax bearing
east. The small table hill forming the north-west extreme of the Menai
Hills, bearing North 11 degrees East, leads clear to the westward of the
reef. Between this and the north point of the bay the water occasionally
lifts suspiciously. Inside the depth is regular, five and six fathoms,
fine white sand.
To this anchorage was given the name of Champion Bay; whilst the
projection sheltering it from the south-west was called Point Moore,
after the Attorney-general at Swan River, who visited it in the Colonial
schooner. We anchored early in the forenoon in four fathoms, Mount
Fairfax bearing North 81 degrees East five miles and three-quarters;
Point Moore South 49 degrees West one mile, the end of the reef North 60
degrees West also one mile, and a bare-topped brown sandhill, South 33
degrees East, three-quarters of a mile. Immediately under the
last-mentioned the observations were made, placing that spot in latitude
28 degrees 47 minutes 8 seconds South and longitude 1 degree 9 minutes 20
seconds West of Swan River. A most singular ridge of very white sandhills
lay a quarter of a mile to the eastward.
ELEVATION OF THE HILLS.
A plan of the bay was made, and the elevation of the neighbouring heights
taken; Mount Fairfax proving to be 585 feet, and Wizard Peak 700 feet.
I regretted there was not time to visit Moresby's Flat-topped Range, as
we might have got a glimpse of the good land reported by Captain Grey in
the neighbourhood. The sides of the high lands look fertile over the
sandhills of the bay; but through a spy-glass I found that they had a
brown arid appearance and were destitute of timber.
I was forcibly struck with the resemblance between Moresby's Range, Sea
Range on the Victoria, Cape Flattery on the north-east coast, and I may
add, from Flinders' description, the cliffs forming the coast range at
the head of the Australian Bight. The great similarity in the elevation,
all being between 500 and 700 feet, is still more remarkable. To bring
this great resemblance between opposite portions of the Australian
continent before the reader, I have inserted sketches of those parts
which were seen in the Beagle.
The beach in the south corner of Champion Bay, having the appearance of
being seldom visited by a surf, it is possible that a small vessel may be
sheltered by the reef in north-west gales, which the anchorage is exposed
to, and which, therefore, can only be considered safe in the summer
season. Five miles to the southward of Point Moore there is another bay,
which appeared much exposed to the prevailing winds. The shore between is
rocky with outlying reefs.
LEAVE CHAMPION BAY.
We left Champion Bay at daylight, with a moderatE south wind and fine
weather, and passed over some uneven ground south-west of the north
point, soundings varying from five to seven fathoms, sand and rock, which
though at a quiet time, almost formed breakers.
APPEARANCE OF THE COAST.
As we ran along to the northward, the coast was lined with sandhills very
partially dotted with vegetation. Behind these was a margin of brown
arid-looking downs, receding to the foot of the uplands. Twenty miles of
the coastline from Champion Bay trended North 29 degrees West.
At noon we were in latitude 28 degrees 26 minutes South; the Menai Hills,
a group lying just off the north end of Moresby's Flat-topped Range,
bearing South 73 degrees East ten miles. A valley or ravine, through
which probably a rivulet* runs in the wet season, bore North 83 degrees
East two miles, and a singular large patch of sand, 270 feet above the
sea, North 22 degrees East two miles and a half. North of this patch the
land changes its appearance; the bare sandhills cease, and a steep-sided
down, 300 feet high, faces the coastline. Our track was from two to three
miles from the shore, in 19 and 22 fathoms, fine white sand; a heavy surf
washing the beach. South-east of the Menai Hills the country appeared
much broken, with high table ranges of from 4 to 700 feet.
(*Footnote. This (in latitude 28 degrees 25 minutes South) may have been
one of the rivers discovered by Captain Grey, but which it was impossible
for us to determine, as no account of them had been left with the
Surveyor-general, Mr. Roe.)
It was now necessary to resume our examination of the Abrolhos, and
thirty-one miles on a West 1/4 South course, brought us between two
groups of them, where we anchored for the night in 23 fathoms. The
soundings in standing across Geelvink Channel, were 22 and 26 fathoms,
fine white sand; the current ran North-North-West, a mile an hour.
At daylight we found that the summit of a large island, in the centre of
the group to the northward, bore North 21 1/2 degrees West about nine
GOOD FRIDAY HARBOUR.
We now beat to the southward in search of a harbour, where the ship might
lie in safety whilst we went to work with the boats, and were fortunate
enough to discover one close to the north-east point of a large island
lying in the centre of the group to the southward; which we named Easter
Group, and the harbour Good Friday Harbour, to commemorate the season of
the Christian year, at which we visited it. Perhaps at some future
period, when the light of the gospel shall have penetrated to every part
of the vast Australian continent, these sacred names, bestowed by us upon
some of its outworks, may be pronounced with pleasure, as commemorative
of the time when the darkness of ignorance and superstition was just
beginning to disperse.
Good Friday Harbour, like all coral harbours, requires to be taken by
eye, being full of coral knolls, which necessitate the utmost vigilance.
In itself, however, it is an excellent port, capable of holding a large
number of ships, and with a general depth, between the coral patches, of
from 15 to 17 fathoms, with a fine muddy sandy bottom. The eastern
extremity of the large island bearing South by East 1/2 East led into the
harbour. As we threaded our way among the patches of coral, the view from
the masthead of the submarine forests through the still pellucid water
was very striking. The dark blue of the deep portions of the lagoon
contrasted beautifully with the various patches of light colours
We found to our surprise that the group into which we had penetrated was
entirely distinct from that under which we had first anchored to the
southward, so that we had already discovered the Abrolhos to form three
The centre island we named Rat Island, from the quantity of that vermin
with which it was infested. We also saw here a few seals, and numbers of
a very pretty lizard (figured in the appendix) with its tail covered with
spines. Several of these were brought away alive. I had two myself for
nine months on board, and afterwards presented them to Lady Gipps. Of
those taken by Lieutenant Emery, he was so fortunate as to bring one
alive to England, in 1841. It is still in his possession, and thrives
remarkably well. In one of his last letters he writes to me as follows on
the subject: "The Abrolhos lizard is very docile, and knows Mrs. Emery
quite well, and will eat and drink out of her hand; but is timid with
strangers. Its habits are rather torpid, but it becomes active when in
the sun or before the fire. It eats so very little that a piece of sponge
cake about the size of a small bean will satisfy it for three or four
weeks. It changes its skin twice a year."
The formation of Rat Island resembles that already noticed in Pelsart
Group; there were the same low overhanging cream-coloured limestone
cliffs, to the height of half the island; the greatest elevation of which
was 13 feet, with a similar soil, mixed with guano, and filled with
burrows of the sooty petrel, or mutton bird. Surrounding it is a low
coral reef, trending northward to the outer edge of the group.
This reef afforded me an opportunity of examining the coral formation of
the Abrolhos, which, with the exception of Bermuda, is the place farthest
removed from the equator where coral formation is found. The reef on
which Rat Island rests extends off four hundred yards on the inner side,
and has 12 fathoms just off it, on a grey sandy mud. The greater portion
is composed of a variety of corals intermixed, and forming a consolidated
mass, with brain-stones scattered over. It is nearly dry at low-water;
but a portion does not rise so high, projecting out so as to form a
narrow shelf, from the edge of which a wall descends almost sheer to the
depth of 54 feet. The upper 20 feet are formed of a peculiar kind of
coral, growing in the shape of huge fans, spreading out from stout stems
overlapping each other in clusters, and having angular cavities between.
The coral forming the lower 34 feet of the wall is of the common large
Whilst in Good Friday Harbour the quarter-master reported smoke on one of
the islands to the north-east. All eyes were instantly turned in that
direction, in curiosity to find what could have caused it. And sure
enough a long streak of smoke was curling upwards through the air. It
soon however appeared that it rose from some fire on the main, distant
about thirty-five miles, and that its being visible by us was owing to
the extreme clearness of the atmosphere.
The observation spot on Rat Island was on the north-east end, which we
placed in latitude 32 degrees 42 minutes 50 seconds South and longitude 1
degree 57 minutes 50 seconds West of Swan River. Having completed our
work in the harbour, we left, for the purpose of securing the requisite
material for the north-east part of this group, which we found to be a
detached cluster with deep-water between, and to be also similarly
separated from the extreme of the group--a small isle about five feet
high, composed of sand and dead coral. The average depth surrounding the
islands was 20 and 23 fathoms, being the same level as that of the great
flat or plain on which they rest, and which extends out from the
mainland, shelving off at the outer edge of the southern part of the
Abrolhos almost precipitously to no bottom with 250 fathoms. We now
proceeded southward, to examine the opening between Easter and Pelsart
Groups, and to complete the extremity of the northern part of the latter.
On our way we discovered a coral bank of 7 fathoms, a mile and a half
long, seven miles East-South-East from the north-east end of Easter
Group. We called it Snapper Bank, from the immense quantity of that fish
which we found on it. In half an hour we caught more than we could cure,
so that it became necessary to stop the sport. This shows what a
lucrative trade might be carried on by the people of Swan River with the
Mauritius; for the lake on the island of Rottnest affording a large
supply of salt, any quantity of fish might easily be caught and cured.
The whole group is abundantly supplied, though nowhere so plentifully as
at Snapper Bank.
From near the south-east end of this bank the main was visible from the
Beagle's poop. Here we anchored for the night in 24 fathoms, and next
morning stood out to sea between Easter and Pelsart Groups to ascertain
if there were any more reefs to the westward, though the long unbroken
swell was almost sufficient to convince us that there were none.
SOUNDINGS BETWEEN THE GROUPS.
In a line between the outer reefs of the two groups the depth was 36
fathoms; a mile and a half further in we had 29; but outside it deepened
off suddenly to no bottom with 70, and in two miles and a half to none
with 170. Before returning we tried for bottom with 250; but, as has been
already mentioned, without success. Outside the reef we felt a current
setting a mile an hour North-North-West. In standing in again we passed
close round the north-west end of the reef encircling Pelsart Group, in
31 fathoms, and anchored in 17, just without a line of discoloured water,
which we found to have 5 fathoms in the outer part, extending across the
mouth of the lagoon; the largest island bearing South by West one mile
GUN ISLAND. DUTCH REMAINS.
In the morning the boats were despatched on their ordinary work, and
Captain Wickham and myself landed on the largest island, a quarter of a
mile long, forming the north-western extreme of Pelsart Group, and which
we named Gun Island, from our finding on it a small brass four-pounder of
singular construction, now deposited in the United Service Museum (see
the cut annexed) with quantities of ornamental brasswork for harness, on
which the gilding was in a wonderful state of preservation; a number of
glass bottles and pipes, and two Dutch doits, bearing date 1707 and 1720.
This was a very interesting discovery, and left no doubt that we had
found the island on which the crew of the Zeewyk were wrecked, in 1727,
and where they remained so long, whilst building, from the fragments of
their vessel, a sloop, in which they got to sea by the passage between
Easter and Pelsart Groups, which has consequently been called Zeewyk
Passage. The scene of their disaster must have been on the outer reef, a
mile and three-quarters south-west from Gun Island, along which ran a
white ridge of high breakers.
The glass bottles I have mentioned were of a short stout Dutch build, and
were placed in rows, as if for the purpose of collecting water; some of
them were very large, being capable of holding five or six gallons; they
were in part buried in the sand, and the portion which was left exposed
to the air presented a singular appearance, being covered with a white
substance that had eaten away the glaze. A number of seal bones were
noticed on this island; and I have no doubt they are the remains of those
that were killed by the crew of the Zeewyk for their subsistence. On the
north end of the island was a hole containing brackish water; when we dug
it deeper the salt water poured in. The next small islet to the
East-South-East we discovered to be that on which the Dutchmen had built
their sloop. On the west side of it was a spot free from coral reefs,
thus offering them facilities, nowhere else afforded, for launching the
bark which ultimately carried them in safety to Batavia.
A mile and a half to the southward of Gun Island, opposite a
singular-looking indentation in the outer side of the reefs, a small
cluster of cliffy islets approaches within half a mile of them. It is
rather singular that in another of the group--larger than Gun Island,
lying in the centre of the lagoon, and the only one not visited by the
Beagle's boats--water should have been found by a party who came from
Swan River to save the wreck of a ship lost in 1843, close to the spot on
which the Batavia struck more than two hundred years ago. This island is
called in the chart Middle Island. The well is on the south point, and
the water, which is very good, rises and falls with the tide. Doubtless
this must have been the island on which the crew of Pelsart's ship found
water, though for some time they were deterred from tasting it by
observing its ebb and flow, from which they inferred it would prove salt.
The north point of Gun Island, which our observations placed in latitude
28 degrees 53 minutes 10 seconds South, longitude 1 degree 53 minutes 35
seconds West of Swan River, is fronted for half a mile by a reef.
The ship was now moved to the north-east extreme of the lagoon, to which
we crossed in 17 fathoms--the depth we anchored in, a mile north-west
from a cluster of islets covered in places with mangroves, from which
they receive their name. To the southward the depth in the lagoon, as far
as a square-looking island, was 15 and 16 fathoms. The north extreme of
the south island lay three miles to the south east of the Mangrove
Islets, by which we found that its length was nearly ten miles, with a
general width of about a tenth of a mile.
One of the eastern Mangrove Islets was a mere caY, formed of large flat
pieces of dead coral, of the same kind as that of which I have before
spoken as resembling a fan, strewed over a limestone foundation one foot
above the level of the sea, in the greatest possible confusion, to the
height of five feet. In walking over them they yielded a metallic sound.
Pelsart, like Easter Group, is marked by a detached islet lying a mile
off its north-east extreme.
We fetched in under the Lee of Easter Group as the north-west gale of
this morning commenced. The barometer did not indicate the approach of
the gale, falling with it, and acting as in those we had encountered at
The sunset of the two days preceding had presented a very lurid
appearance, and the most fantastically shaped clouds had been scattered
over the red western sky. It seemed as though nature had determined to
entertain us with a series of dissolving views. Headlands and mountains
with cloud-capped pinnacles appeared and faded away; ships under sail
floated across the sky; towers and palaces reared their forms
indistinctly amid the vapour, and then vanished, like the baseless fabric
of a dream.
The winds since the 29th had been very easterly; but early on the 1st
became fresh from north-east; a stagnant suspicious calm then succeeded,
during the forenoon of the 2nd. At noon the glassy surface of the water
began to darken here and there in patches with the first sighing of the
breeze, which soon became steady at north-west, and troubled the whole
expanse as far as the eye could reach.
It was not, however, as I have said, before daylight of the 3rd that the
gale commenced in earnest, continuing with great violence, accompanied
with heavy squalls of rain, till noon next day, when the wind had veered
to South-South-West. During this time the whole aspect of the scene was
changed; immense dark banks of clouds rested on the contracted horizon;
the coral islands by which we were surrounded loomed indistinctly through
the driving mist; and the decks were drenched by heavy showers that
occurred at intervals. The wind blew hardest from West-North-West, and
began to moderate about nine on the morning of the 4th, when it had got
round to south-west. The current during this breeze set a mile and a half
East-South-East, changing again to the northward as the wind veered round
to the southward. This clearly shows how certainly, in this
neighbourhood, the movements of the air influence those of the sea.
It was the evening of the 5th before all was again clear overhead. In the
morning, however, we shifted our berth, which had been a mile from the
south extreme of the detached cluster of islets forming the north-east
end of Easter Group. Several small water-spouts formed near the ship as
we were about to weigh, which induced us to wait a little until they
On the 8th we bore away for the northern group in 26 and 27 fathoms; the
space between was named Middle Passage.
Passing outside of a patch of breakers, lying two miles to the northward
of the eastern islet, we hauled up south-east, and by feeling our way
with the boats got the ship into a snug harbour on the south-east side of
the highest island of the Abrolhos, which was afterwards named East
Wallaby Island; another large one, named West Wallaby Island, lying two
miles to the West-South-West with three small flat islets just between.
To these we gave the name of Pigeon Islands, the common bronze-winged
pigeon being found there in great numbers. The harbour we named Recruit
Harbour, from its affording fresh supplies of the small kangaroo, in
addition to the fish found everywhere else. Like the other ports in the
Abrolhos, it is full of coral patches; the south point of north Pigeon
Island, in one with a bare sandhill on the South-East point of West
Wallaby Island, bearing South 50 degrees West, leads into the harbour
clear of the spit on the north-west side and some coral patches on the
east. In entering we had 7 and 8 fathoms, but the depth inside is 11 and
12; it is perfectly sheltered on all sides.
These islands, after the others, of which the greatest height is 12 feet,
appear of considerable altitude; though the loftiest point rising on the
north-east extreme of East Wallaby Island, measures no more than 50 feet.
This island is upwards of a mile each way; whilst the west one is two
miles and a half long, and one broad. In the centre of the eastern is a
low flat, with hills rising all around, with the exception of the south
The loftiest, which is called Flag Hill, is, as I have mentioned, on the
north-eastern extreme, and has a long finger-shaped point running out
from its foot in a north-east direction, to which we gave the name of
Fish Point, from the number of snappers we caught there. They were so
voracious that they even allowed themselves to be taken with a small bit
of paper for a bait. Flag Hill is a rock formed of sand and comminuted
shells; while the flat which stretches to the south-west from its foot is
of limestone formation. In it we found a kind of cavern, about 15 feet
deep, with a sloping entrance, in which was some slightly brackish water,
that in percolating through the roof had formed a number of stalactites.
A reef, which dries in patches at low-water, connects the east and west
Wallaby Islands. On the south-west point of the latter are some sandhills
30 feet high; and on that side also is a dense scrub, in which the mutton
birds burrow, so that it forms rather troublesome walking.
SLAUGHTER POINT. NEW SPECIES OF WALLABY.
The northern end is a level, stony flat, terminating towards the sea in
projecting cliffs six or eight feet high; with patches of bushes large
enough to serve as fuel here and there, all full of a new species of
wallaby, which, being plentiful on both the large islands, suggested
their name. The reader will obtain a good idea of the numbers in which
these animals were found, when I state that on one day, within four
hours, I shot 36, and that between three guns we killed 76, averaging in
weight about seven pounds each; which gave rise to the name of Slaughter
Point for the eastern extreme of the island.
As there is no record of the Dutch having visited the northern group, it
is impossible to say whether wallaby were then found on it or not. How
they could have got there is a mystery, as there were no large floating
masses likely to have carried them from the main. The species has been
described from a specimen we obtained, as Halmaturus houtmannii; it is
distinct from Halmaturus derbyanis, found on most of the islands on the
southern parts of the continent.
We shall now fulfil our promise to the reader by laying before him the
result of Mr. Bynoe's interesting observations on the Marsupiata, which
the number of wallaby killed at Houtman's Abrolhos afforded him the means
of perfecting. I may preface his remarks by stating, that all the
information I could gain from the colonists on the subject was, that the
young of the kangaroo were born on the nipple, which my own experience
appears to corroborate.
MR. BYNOE'S OBSERVATIONS ON THE MARSUPIATA.
"My first examination," says Mr. Bynoe, "of the kangaroo tribe, to any
extent, occurred at the Abrolhos; there I had an extensive field for
ascertaining the exact state of the uteri of the wallaby of those
islands. I opened between two and three hundred, and never found even the
rudiments of an embryo; but in the pouch I have seen the young adhering
to the nipple from the weight of half a dram to eight ounces and upwards.
On examination, the only substance found in the womb when the animal was
young and full grown, was a cheese-like substance of a straw colour: I
likewise found a similar substance in the pouch around the nipples, and
in many instances where the nipples were much retracted, it completely
covered them, but it was of a darker hue than that in the uterus, and of
a saponaceous or greasy feel; the aperture of the pouch so much
contracted as scarcely to admit two fingers; wombs with their cornua
remarkably small, and nipples in the pouch scarcely pointing, and in many
"Animals with these appearances, I concluded, had never borne young.
Examinations frequently took place immediately after they were shot. In
those that had recently discarded their young from the pouch, one nipple
and frequently two were found much lengthened, and very often one more
than the other. I have seen them in the wallaby frequently two inches in
length, and with pouches so large, that you could with ease thrust your
hand into them; the uteri with their appendages enlarged and apparently
very vascular, as well as thickened; but in no one instance at the
Abrolhos could I detect a gravid uterus; but I have seen the young
adhering to the nipples less than half an inch in length, and in a
perfectly helpless state. It is generally supposed that the uterus in the
adult animal is not supplied with much arterial blood, merely sufficient
to nourish that viscus. If such be the case, can it have the power of
retaining the germ in the womb, when on the most minute examination of
the young, I could not detect, by cicatrice or line of abrasion on any
part of the abdomen, that they ever possessed umbilical vessels, or had
been in any way nourished by a placenta? Let us take into consideration
the small size of the animal found in the pouch, its utter helplessness,
its slight power of motion, and its firm attachment to the nipple. The
more it is in the embryonic state the firmer is its attachment to the
mother; to separate it from the nipple requires some force; the
surrounding parts of the opening of the mouth, after separation, bleed
profusely, and the animal has no power to close it; the opening remains
gaping and circular, the animal lies on its side, and if very young, soon
dies. On each side of the opening is a line showing the extent of the
mouth. When arrived at greater maturity it can make no noise until the
mouth is fully developed, and then a faint hissing note; it has no power
to stand until very large, and the hair is about to shoot out from the
skin. An animal in so helpless a situation could not possibly, with all
the aids and contrivances of the mother, attach itself to the nipple and
produce adhesion of the oral aperture, when even at a later period it has
no motion of life or power to close that opening. The retention in the
uterus must be of short duration. I have been led to these conclusions
from examinations on the banks of the Victoria River. A flying doe,
inhabiting the grass flats, of more than ordinary size, was killed. In
thrusting my fingers into the pouch, I found that the mammary glands were
remarkably enlarged, pressing forcibly into that cavity. I questioned the
seaman who took up the animal, immediately after being shot, whether he
had taken the young out, and received a negative answer. Finding the
mammary glands so extremely enlarged, I was induced (although pressed for
time) to examine the uterus, and posterior and internal parts of those
glands--the cornua as well as the other parts of the uterus were much
thickened, and apparently highly injected with blood. On opening the
cavity I found it throughout thickly coated with slimy or mucal secretion
(the only uterus found by me in this state.) I now extended my
examination in front of the womb to the posterior part of the mammae, and
in doing so discovered a small gelatinous mass, about twice the size of a
pea. On a closer inspection, it appeared to be retained in a thin
transparent tube. I watched the substance narrowly and could distinctly
perceive the rudiments of an animal. The feet were not developed, but
pulsation and motion were not only observed by me, but by two of the men
with me, both exclaiming "look at the little animal!" although I feel
convinced that they did not know what I was searching for. There was not
time to examine further into its state. I carefully removed the uterus,
the apparent embryo and the mammae, and put it in a wide-mouthed bottle
with some spirits, and gave it in charge of the seaman who was to carry a
portion of the animal for the dinner of that day. It was placed in a
canvas bag, but on crossing a Deep watercourse he had the misfortune to
break the bottle, which he never mentioned until the following day. The
contents soon dried up and became an uniform mass. The intense heat had
rendered it so firm that nothing could be made of it; all the gelatinous
parts had adhered so firmly to the bag, that I was compelled to abandon
it. My object was to ascertain if there was a communication in a greater
state of development between the womb and posterior part of the mammae,
during the period of gestation; and I was fancying I had arrived at some
conclusion, but all my hopes were destroyed by one fatal smash! So many
theories have been formed on that point--that to advance this as a fact,
would be treading too firmly on tender ground. At the first view of the
gelatinous mass I seriously considered whether it could have been a
gland, and whether the pulsation might have been communicated from
muscular twitchings; I took my eye off the substance for some time, and
on again looking at it, felt more confident than ever, that it was not a
glandular substance. Its peculiar configuration and want of solidity
proved it indeed not to be gland; its motion, on touching it with the
point of the finger, was so much that of an embryonic animal, that I at
once, without further investigation, pronounced it a kangaroo.
"Might not the tube I discovered convey the animal to the posterior part
of the mammae, where it might become attached to the nipple in an
inverted state? At any rate it was not in the body of the uterus. Had the
mass been saved I should have taken one more look of inquiry without
attempting to alter its structure, and left the matter for the judicious
decision of some of the professors of comparative anatomy at home."
It may here be remarked that the birds met with on Houtman's Abrolhos,
with the exception of one, resembling in shape and colour a small quail,*
were known and common on the mainland. The aquatic species were also
familiar to us; but the habit of one kind, of a sooty-black colour,
generally called noddies, was quite new--that of building their nests,
which are constructed of seaweed and contain only one egg, in trees.
There were not many varieties of fish, the most abundant being snappers;
of those that were rare Lieutenant Emery made faithful sketches.
(*Footnote. Haemapodicus scintilans, Gould.)
Half a mile west from Slaughter Point we found two caverns similar to
that on East Wallaby Island, from which we got three tons of excellent
APPEARANCE OF THE REEFS.
The reefs surrounding this group appeared very much broken; and even at
Easter Group we had found them to be not so regular as at Pelsart's. This
suggests the idea, which appears to be borne out by all we saw, that the
reefs are compact in proportion to the exposed position of the islands;
the shelter afforded by Pelsart Group, in fact, did not require the reefs
to be so united round the other islands to the north.
From the highest part of East Wallaby Island we discovered a patch of
land bearing North-West 1/2 North eleven miles. The outer reef extended
in that direction from the south-west point of West Wallaby Island,
though it could only be traced by detached patches of breakers. To the
south-east of its commencement lies Evening Reef. The observations were
made on the north end of the north-east Pigeon Island, bearing West by
South half a mile from our anchorage, in latitude 32 degrees 27 minutes
21 seconds South and longitude 2 degrees 1 minute 10 seconds West of Swan
River, variation 4 degrees 10 minutes westerly. The temperature of
Houtman's Abrolhos is rendered equable by the fact that they lie at the
limit of the land breezes; during the month we were there the thermometer
averaged 71 degrees.
Our protracted stay enabled us to get a tolerable series of tidal
observations, which present some singular results. The time of high-water
at the full and change was six o'clock when the tide rose 30 inches. It
appeared that during the night there was a short flood of six hours with
a rise of seven inches, and an ebb of two hours with a fall of only five
inches; but that during the day the flow and ebb were nearly equal, the
former being eight hours and twenty minutes, the latter eight hours and
five minutes, and the rise and fall in each being 25 and 26 inches
A difference was also noticed between the day and night tides at Rat
Island, where the time of high-water at the full and change of the moon
was ten o'clock, and the rise varied from 8 to 32 inches, from the result
of twenty-five observations; by which I found, moreover, that the tides
ebbed five hours and a half in the night, and six hours and a half during
the day, and the water fell 9 inches with the night, and 18 with the day
ebb. The difference between the length of the night and the day floods
was an hour; the duration of the former being six hours, whilst that of
the latter was seven; whilst the difference in the rise was 7 inches, the
greatest general height, which was during the night tides, being 20
We were detained in Recruit Harbour until May 21st, determining the
position of the number of small islands and detached reefs to the
south-east of Wallaby Islands; but at length, after completing the
soundings on the north-east and north side and ascertaining the extent of
the reef to the north-west, we proceeded to the isolated patch of land
before mentioned as seen from Flag Hill, and which, from its relative
position to the remainder of Houtman's Abrolhos, we called North Island.
An anchorage was found in 12 fathoms, three quarters of a mile from a bay
on the north-east side, and half a mile from the reef extending to the
northward. The island was about a mile across, and nearly circular. It
was surrounded by a range of hills, with a flat in the centre, covered
with coarse grass, where a great many quails were flushed, affording good
sport, but not a single wallaby.
The highest hill on the south-west point, measuring 42 feet, received the
name of Record Hill, from our leaving a paper in a bottle, giving an
account of our cruise. A contiguous reef stretched out from the west side
of the island for the distance of a mile, beyond which was the open sea.
This reef extended two miles and a half to the North-North-West and four
miles and a half to the southward. Our observations were made on a
sandhill 36 feet high, immediately over the bay, which they placed in
latitude 32 degrees 18 minutes 5 seconds South longitude 2 degrees 9
minutes West from Swan River.
LEAVE HOUTMAN'S ABROLHOS.
From Record Hill we had perceived that the sea was quite clear to the
north and west beyond the reef, and being satisfied that we had reached
the extremity of Houtman's Abrolhos,* we weighed in the morning, and
passed about a mile and a half from the reef to the north of the island
in 26 fathoms; and hauling up South-South-West, along the western side of
the reefs, gradually deepened the water to 42 fathoms over a rocky
ground, Record Hill bearing North 70 degrees East six miles and a half.
We then had no bottom with 50 and 60 fathoms until noon, when we had 122
fathoms, sand and coral; Record Hill then bearing North 52 degrees East
eleven miles and a half, just barely visible from the poop. It is
singular that we should have had bottom at that distance from the group,
whereas, when we had not proceeded half so far from the southern portion
we had no bottom with 200 fathoms.
(*Footnote. Their extent in latitude therefore nearly corresponded with
the old chart; and the apparent confusion in the shape given them, no
doubt arose from their extremes only having been seen and then extended
towards each other.)
To ascertain if there were any more reefs to the westward, we now steered
West-South-West, sounding occasionally with 200 and 220 fathoms
After running thirty-two miles without seeing any indication of further
dangers, of which, moreover, the long ocean swell rolling in convinced
us, we steered to the northward.
It may be proper to conclude our account of Houtman's Abrolhos with a few
general remarks. They form three groups instead of one, as was formerly
supposed; Pelsart Group being separated from Easter Group by a channel,
the least width of which is four miles, whilst the middle passage between
the latter and the Northern Group is six miles wide. The Abrolhos extend
in a North-North-West direction forty-eight miles, diminishing in breadth
towards the north; the greatest width of Easter and Pelsart Groups being
twelve miles in a West-South-West direction. In Easter Group the outer
reefs are most distant from the islands, being there four miles from the
nearest, which is Rat Island. In the Northern Group the islands are more
detached than in the others, and North Island is separated from them by a
distance of ten miles.
We have already alluded to the regularity and sameness in the soundings
in these groups, and between them and the main, clearly showing that they
are not connected with each other, but rest on the outer extremity of a
level or bank, stretching out from the main, and having a slight
southerly inclination, the depth (29 fathoms) between the southern group
and the coast being greater by four fathoms than between the coast and
the northern group. On either side of the Abrolhos, at the same distance
from land, the depth is more than 100 fathoms. The general nature of the
bottom, in the quiet places between the reefs, is a fine grey sandy mud
or marl, but in more exposed situations this is not so compact, whilst
broken shells are more abundant. This bottom bears a striking resemblance
to that within the Great Barrier Reefs.
After leaving the Abrolhos, as I have narrated, our progress to the
northward was unusually slow, and between the parallels of 26 degrees 50
minutes South and 25 degrees 40 minutes South we again got into soundings
varying from 187 to 81 fathoms, fine grey sand. At the greatest depth the
ship was forty miles from the land, and twenty miles at the least, which
was off Dirk Hartog's Island, at the south point of Sharks Bay. In
passing round the north-west extremity of the continent we delayed, again
endeavouring to get sight of Ritchie's Reef; but, on this occasion, as on
our passage from the Victoria to Swan River, it was not seen, and as no
bottom was obtained with 200 and 240 fathoms in its assigned position on
the chart, it must either have a very different one or does not exist.
PROCEED TO THE COAST.
The part of the North-west coast that had not been seen by Captain King,
commencing a short distance to the east of Depuch Island, it was resolved
that our survey of that part should begin there, and on the 9th of June
the Beagle reached an anchorage off a sandy bay on the north-east side of
that island. As we drew near our progress was impeded by a fierce
south-east breeze during the forenoons, which we found to prevail during
our stay, being stronger at the full and change of the moon. Although
coming directly from the land they quite made us shiver, reducing the
temperature on one occasion to 59 degrees. These winds began about
daylight at south, gradually veering and drawing round to the eastward as
the day advanced, and subsiding again as rapidly after noon, leaving the
evening and night generally calm.
SEARCH FOR WATER.
A search was immediately made for the stream of fresh water reported to
have been found by the French, in Freycinet's voyage, on Depuch Island.
As our stock was now very much reduced, and as our stay on the coast
depended on the supply we could procure here, we were greatly concerned
to find that our examination was in vain. Everything appeared parched up;
wells were forthwith commenced, and we dug as many as eight, but at the
depth of twenty-one feet the water that poured into them was salt.
Fortunately Mr. Bynoe found a reservoir of water in the main valley
leading up from the north end of the sandy beach, and about a mile from
the sea. From this we got about six tons of tolerable water, although the
labour of carrying it on the men's shoulders in seven-gallon barecas was
very great, the only road lying through the valley, which, as may be
inferred from the rounded stones it is strewed with, sometimes conveys a
torrent to the sea. Large columnar blocks of the greenstone of which the
island is composed, present, as the sun falls on their iron rusty
surface, an appearance as if the sides of the valley were lined with red
warriors. The section presented to our view, by the deepest well we sank
at the mouth of this valley, consisted of a light kind of mould for six
feet, then a layer of sand and shells of the same depth, resting on a
coarse soft kind of reddish sandstone.
Depuch is the centre of a string of islands which bears the name of
Forestier Group, fronting the coast at the distance of from one to three
miles. It is much larger than the others, being about eight miles in
circumference, and reaching an elevation of 514 feet; whereas the smaller
islands, some of which are thickly covered with brushwood and coarse
grass, are none of them above 50 feet high. They are of a formation
totally different, being of a very coarse gritty yellow sandstone, in
many places quite honeycombed, with some low sandhills superimposed.
Although Depuch Island is one vast pile of reddish-coloured blocks,
scattered about in the greatest possible confusion, sometimes resembling
basaltic columns, its outline from seaward appears even. In the valleys,
and on some of the more level spots near the summit, there are
occasionally slight layers of soil, affording nourishment to a coarse
grass, a few bushes, and several stunted eucalypti; but on the whole the
vegetation of the island is extremely scanty. From the highest point we
had a view over the main, extending inland for a great distance. It
appeared to be flat, with the exception of some isolated rocky hills, of
a formation similar to that of Depuch, from 200 to 500 feet in height,
and about six miles from the shore. We could also see at a distance of
twenty-eight miles a very remarkable pyramidal hill, surmounted by a
tower-like piece of rock, bearing from our position South 30 degrees
West. From the white appearance of many large patches of the level
country, we inferred that they were covered with a salt efflorescence;
and it is probable that a very great portion of it is occasionally
flooded, being cut up by a number of creeks, which must overflow at
spring tides, especially when they occur simultaneously with the
north-west winds that prevail on this coast during the monsoon.
This group of islands is so connected with the main by extensive
sandbanks, that at low-water it is possible to walk across to them; and
of this facility the natives no doubt avail themselves to procure turtle.
It appears indeed to be only on such occasions that they can visit
Forestier Group, as we saw no traces of rafts on this portion of the
coast. Depuch Island would seem to be their favourite resort; and we
found several of their huts still standing. They were constructed of
boughs and twigs fixed in the ground, and joined overhead in a circular
shape. Over this was thrown a loose matting of twisted grass.
The natives are doubtless attracted to the place partly by the reservoirs
of water they find among the rocks after rain, partly that they may enjoy
the pleasure of delineating the various objects that attract their
attention, on the smooth surface of the rocks. This they do by removing
the hard red outer coating, and baring to view the natural colour of the
greenstone, according to the outline they have traced. Much ability is
displayed in many of these representations, the subjects of which could
be discovered at a glance. The number of specimens was immense, so that
the natives must have been in the habit of amusing themselves in this
innocent manner for a long period of time. I could not help reflecting,
as I examined with interest the various objects represented*--the human
figures, the animals, the birds, the weapons, the domestic implements,
the scenes of savage life--on the curious frame of mind that could induce
these uncultivated people to repair, perhaps at stated seasons of the
year, to this lonely picture gallery, surrounded by the ocean-wave, to
admire and add to the productions of their forefathers. No doubt they
expended on their works of art as much patience and labour and enthusiasm
as ever was exhibited by a Raphael or a Michael Angelo in adorning the
walls of St. Peter or the Vatican; and perhaps the admiration and
applause of their fellow countrymen imparted as much pleasure to their
minds as the patronage of popes and princes, and the laudation of the
civilized world, to the great masters of Italy. There is in the human
mind an irresistible tendency to indulge in a sort of minor creation--to
tread humbly in the footsteps of the Maker--to reproduce the images that
revolve within it, and to form, from its own ideas, a mimic
representation of the actual world. This is the source of all art and all
poetry; of every thing, in fact, which tends to adorn and refine our
nature. It is this uncontrollable desire to work on and fashion the rough
materials that lie under our hands that gives the first impulse to
civilization, and impels us onward in the progress of improvement. And
wherever we discern the faintest indication that such a principle is at
work, there we may securely hope that development will ultimately take
place. Until we find a nation which has never attempted to emerge from
the circle of its mere animal wants--which has never exhibited the least
inclination to develop the most ordinary arts--which not only rejects
clothing, but is absolutely indifferent to ornament--which leaves its
weapons uncarved, its skin unpainted, free from tattoo, we must not
despair of the general efficacy of civilization. These savages of
Australia, as we call them, who have adorned the rocks of Depuch Island
with their drawings, have in one thing proved themselves superior to the
Egyptian and the Etruscan, whose works have elicited so much admiration
and afforded food to so many speculations--namely, there is not in them
to be observed the slightest trace of indecency.
(*Footnote. See the accompanying lithographic impression of the copies
made by Captain Wickham of the native drawings on Depuch Island.)
During our stay we did not see any of the natives on the island; but on
the main several of them were observed, though they would not allow us to
communicate, moving off as soon as any attempt was made to get near them
in the boats. On one occasion, when Mr. Fitzmaurice, in a whaleboat, was
examining a part of the coast to the eastward of Depuch Island, he
entered a creek, which soon, however, became too confined by the
mud-banks for them to use the oars.
HOSTILITY OP THE NATIVES.
While in this position a shout attracted his attention, and he perceived
a party of natives, armed with spears approaching the boat, with evident
hostile designs. They of course naturally looked upon us as intruders;
and as the point was not worth contesting, the creek being of no
importance, Mr. Fitzmaurice thought it better to withdraw, rather than
run the risk of a collision that could have led to no beneficial results.
TOM'S TERROR OF THEM.
The native youth we had brought with us from Swan River did not at all
approve of these excursions. He was generally taken, with a view of
giving confidence to any of his wild countrymen who might be encountered;
but he exhibited the greatest possible repugnance to this service. His
terror for the northern men fully equalled that of Miago, from whom
doubtless he had received the most terrific accounts. It was only by
giving him a gun that he could be at all induced to go. He evidently felt
himself more secure with European arms than with his own rude ones; and
appeared to have learnt their superiority by experience, for he was a
very fair shot. When I first asked him why he did not prefer his spear,
his simple reply was, "Can't look out;" meaning that the northern men
could not see the contents of a gun coming, whereas if a spear were
hurled at them they could avoid it. His bravery was of much the same
complexion as that of Miago; and he threatened magnanimously to inflict
the most condign punishment on the fellows who opposed Mr. Fitzmaurice's
landing. He had a strong impression that these northern people were of
gigantic stature; and in the midst of the silent and gaping interest with
which he listened to Mr. Fitzmaurice's account of his adventure, the
words big fella often escaped from his lips; and he appeared quite
satisfied when assured that his opinion was correct.
The agility this native exhibited in spearing fish was astonishing. In
shallow water he would actually course the fish till he got them within
spearing depth, when, although his prey darted past, he struck it with
the most surprising precision. The quiet, splashless manner in which he
ran through the water was really singular. When his spear required new
pointing, the sole of his foot was turned up and the spear's head pared
down upon it with a knife. When the latter was not to be procured the
teeth were made use of; and I may here remark that the constant use which
some savages make of their teeth may have much to do in producing the
projecting jaw. It seems almost evident to common sense that the constant
employment of the teeth must have a material effect in causing a change
in the facial angle.
ANCHORAGE AT DEPUCH ISLAND.
We found the anchorage at Depuch Island to form a tolerable port, being
protected from the north-east by one of the group, distant about three
miles, from which a reef extends to the West-North-West, leaving the
mouth of the harbour exposed only between North-West by North and
West-North-West. Our observations placed the centre of the sandy beach on
the north-east side of the island in latitude 20 degrees 37 minutes 47
seconds South and longitude 2 degrees 0 minutes 20 seconds West of Swan
River, variation 2 degrees westerly; and the time of high-water, at the
full and change, at half past ten, when the tide rose 15 feet, but only 5
NEW BIRD AND KANGAROO.
Although Depuch Island had been visited before, there still remained
something quite new to reward the diligent search that was made after
objects of natural history: namely, a small kind of kangaroo, a land
bird, and a shell, a species of Helix. The bird was shot by Mr. Bynoe; it
was a finch,* and beautifully marked with stripes of crimson down the
breast, on a black ground with white spots; the throat, and a patch round
the stump of the tail, were crimson. It is remarkable that all the beauty
and brilliancy of colour in this bird is underneath, the back being of a
common earthy brown.
(*Footnote. Named by Mr. Gould from this specimen, Emblema picta.)
The kangaroo I had myself the good fortune to knock over on the summit of
the island; it was the only one shot during many an excursion made over
that dreary heap of desolation, the metallic sound the rocks yielded to
our step giving ample warning of our approach to their quick ears. The
colours of this specimen, the prettiest we had seen, were a dark grey,
with a large angular patch of white down the side, extending from the top
of the shoulders nearly to the hips. Down the centre of the back, ran a
streak of black, which was also the colour of the extremity of its
slightly bushy tail. The face and belly were likewise darker than other
parts of the body, and the feet were black and well cushioned, giving it
a firm hold of the rocks over which it bounded with surprising agility,
through it never ran very far, always popping into the cavities caused by
the loose manner in which the blocks forming the island are thrown
(*Footnote. Mr. Gould has figured an animal very like this I have
described, as Petrogale lateralis, or the Stripe-Sided Rock Wallaby, from
a specimen he some time afterwards got from Western Australia; but he has
not noticed the beautiful kangaroo of Depuch Island.)
The specimen of the species of Helix I have above mentioned was found by
Mr. Dring, one of our most successful collectors in that department. In
the Appendix are figured some of the new shells discovered during the
Leaving Depuch Island, we examined the coast to the eastward as far as
the Turtle Isles, a distance of eighty-five miles, the first twenty-seven
of which trended North 55 degrees East, and the remainder North 67
degrees East curving slightly inwards. As the French had obtained a
distant view of this coast, it did not possess to us the interest of
being a new portion of the continent.
EFFECTS OF MIRAGE.
Still the effect of the treacherous mirage, which has often deluded the
way-worn thirsty traveller with the false appearance of water, raised
many parts of the interior that had not before met the eye of an
European. These presented a very level outline. The interior was, for a
great distance, a vast plain, so low that we could scarcely see it from
the ship's masthead over the sandhills, which did not exceed the height
of 40 feet. Six or seven miles from the Turtle Isles this extensive level
was interrupted by the presence of a group of hills, from 200 to 300 feet
in elevation, apparently of the same character as the heights behind
Depuch Island. As seen through the medium of mirage, they often had a
most curious appearance: high continuous ranges, changing again to lofty
islands, danced in the tremulous air. I should remark that when the land
was subject to this distortion, it was always during the forenoon, and on
those days the winds were invariably light.
APPEARANCE OF THE COAST.
The shore, for nearly fifteen miles from Depuch Island is very low, lined
with mangroves, and intersected by creeks, which at high-water, when the
tide rises sometimes 18 feet, are of some magnitude, and inundate much of
the low land, leaving large portions of it whitened by a salt
incrustation. Beyond, as far as the Turtle Isles, the coast is fronted
with a ridge of sandhills, scantily covered with vegetation (the highest,
as I have already said, rarely exceeding an elevation of 40 feet) forming
a barrier between the sea and the low lands behind, which, from the
masthead, appeared to be thickly covered with small trees, and slightly
raised from three to seven miles from the coast. Several of the natives
showed themselves at a distance, and from the numerous fires, it appeared
to be a well inhabited part of the continent. Still we saw no appearance
of a stream of fresh water; and, though there were several creeks, the
only opening of any consequence was forty-three miles from Depuch Island.
From its abounding with oysters we named it Oyster Inlet. Across the
mouth of it lies an islet, just within the north-eastern end of which
there was a sufficient depth for the Beagle. The formation of the island
was a reddish porous sandstone. At a native fire-place I found a piece of
quartz and a large pearl oyster-shell. The tide rose here 15 feet near
THE GEOGRAPHE SHOALS.
The only outlying dangers on this extent of coast were the Geographe
Shoals, two rocky patches some distance from each other. The outer one
was thirteen miles from the main, and bore North 22 degrees East
twenty-three miles from Depuch Island.
The shore fronting the north Turtle Island projects, leaving a space of
only ten miles between, of which, on account of the shoals, only a small
portion lying near the island is navigable. Nearly opposite the latter is
another opening, of some extent at high-water; but from the impediments
that offered to our examining it, we named it Breaker Inlet. During
spring tides it must carry a large body of water over the very low land
The South Turtle Isle is a mere bank of sand and white coral; the
northern is about half a mile across, of the same formation precisely as
the low isles of Forestier Group. It is fronted on all sides with a coral
reef extending off from a mile to a mile and a half, which dries at
low-water, leaving an abrupt wall of from two to three feet at the outer
edge, with pools between it and the island, in which several luckless
turtles, who had deferred leaving until too late, were found. Though we
only took what was required for our own consumption, the number that
could have been here obtained was enormous.
In the course of four hours thirty green turtles were brought on board,
one of which, and not the largest, weighed 385 pounds. A small hawk's
bill, the first and only one seen, was also taken. On this part of the
coast grows a peculiar small kind of weed, on which they feed; it was
first seen near Depuch Island. I have been informed that the turtles at
Ascension Island, when fresh caught, have a large ball of a curious kind
of weed in their stomach, and that as soon as it is consumed, they become
watery and lose their flavour. Though many diligent inquiries have been
made after this weed, it appears to be still unknown.
A sandhill on the south-east end of the North Isle our observations
placed in latitude 19 degrees 53 minutes 48 seconds South, and longitude
3 degrees 09 minutes 10 seconds East of Swan River; variation 1 degree 0
minutes westerly. The tide ran between the island and the shore nearly
two knots an hour; the flood stream came from the north-west; and the
rise at springs was 18 feet, the time of high-water being 11 o'clock.
SEARCH FOR WATER.
A fruitless attempt was made to procure water on this island, by digging;
and as we were now reduced to a supply for only ten days, it became
necessary that we should immediately proceed to Timor in search of some.
This was much to be regretted at the present moment, as the coast to the
east had never been seen, and therefore possessed the charm of being a
new part of the continent. We consoled ourselves for not being able to
visit it by the reflection that it would hold out some inducement for us
to return to this land of sterility.
On Turtle Island was found a broken jar, probably left by some of the
Macassar people, who are occasionally blown in upon this part of the
The unusual fogs that had prevailed for three days dispersing, allowed us
to leave our anchorage under the south-east side of North Turtle Isle,
and soon after dark we occupied another near Bedout Island, having
crossed some rocky ledges of seven fathoms on the way. When the Beagle
was midway between these islands, they were both visible from the
masthead. In the night, and during the early part of next day, it blew
strong from south-east, causing a high-topping sea. Time being precious,
we could not wait for a quiet day to land on Bedout; its position was
therefore determined by observations with the sea horizon, and differs
very materially from that given by the French.
We weighed early in the afternoon of the 15th, and passed round the
north-west end of Bedout, where there is much uneven ground with
ripplings. We carried soundings until abreast of the north end of Rowley
Shoals and twenty-five miles from their inner side, in from 45 to 154
fathoms. These shoals, like the Abrolhos, appear to stand on the outer
edge of a bank projecting off this portion of the coast, as we did not
get bottom after leaving their parallel.
On the 20th, in the afternoon, we passed, having no soundings with 200
fathoms, along the western side of Scott's Reef, at the distance of three
miles, and determined its position. It forms a large lagoon, with an
opening, not appearing to be a ship passage, midway on its western side;
marked by a dry bank just within it, in latitude 14 degrees 3 minutes 30
seconds South and longitude 6 degrees 4 minutes 45 seconds East of Swan
River. The eastern extreme of the reef was not seen; the southern limit
is in latitude 14 degrees 15 minutes South; and the north-west extreme
being in 13 degrees 55 minutes South, and longitude 6 degrees 2 minutes
East of Swan River, gives it an extent of twenty miles in a north and
Captain Owen Stanley, in March, 1840, discovered a shoal about sixteen
miles to the North-North-East of Scott's Reef; he considered its extent
from east to west to be about five miles; but from the masthead the south
end of it could not be seen. It did not appear to have more than two or
three feet water on it. The north point, Captain Stanley places in
latitude 13 degrees 39 minutes South, longitude 121 degrees 56 minutes
East; or 6 degrees 11 minutes East of Swan River.*
(*Footnote. This reef was seen by the Seringapatam merchant ship in
We now began to feel a westerly current, which increased to a knot and a
half as we got near Rottee; the winds being moderate, between East and
The weather was hazy: the high land of Rottee was seen in the forenoon,
the highest part of the island, a rather pointed hill, bearing North 60
degrees East. At 1 P.M. we saw Pulo Douw, which we endeavoured to
weather, but the current prevented us. It is a remarkable island, with a
gap in the centre and a clump of trees, that looks like a sail when first
seen, on the north-west end, which terminates in a low sandy point. This
is also the case with the south-east extreme, off which a reef extends
for about half a mile; indeed, there appeared to be no ship passage
between the sandy islets that lie to the east of Pulo Douw and Rottee. We
rounded the north-west end of the former at the distance of a mile and a
half, passing through some heavy ripplings, apparently an eddy setting to
the north-east round the island. Pulo Douw appeared to be thickly
inhabited, and was encircled by a reef, except at its North-North-West
point, where there is a cliffy projection. Angles were taken for fixing
the position of the islets between Pulo Douw and Rottee, which we found
to be wrongly placed. The Scotch Bonnet, a remarkable rocky lump, seen
over the south-west end of Rottee, and in line with the south side of
Pulo Douw, bore South 60 degrees East. During the night we had a fresh
wind from East-South-East and sailed through several ripplings, our first
entering suddenly upon which caused some anxiety, though the lead gave no
bottom with 60 and 70 fathoms. We passed some distance from the western
end of Samow Island in the morning; but the high peaks of Timor were not
seen till near noon. The eager eyes of the native whom we had brought
with us from Swan River were the first to descry them; and he exclaimed
in tones of rapturous astonishment, "Land! big fella! all the same
cloud!" I shall not easily forget the amazement of this savage,
accustomed as he was to behold the level plains of his native land, when
he saw, towering in alpine grandeur to the sky, the pinnacled heights of
Timor. He seemed scarcely able to conceive, even when assured by the
evidence of his own senses, that it was possible for mountains to be so
high and ranges so vast as those that now developed themselves before
In crossing the mouth of Coepang Bay towards Samow, in the evening, the
appearance was truly grand. A vast heap of vapour was slowly moving
across the mountains, disclosing at intervals their jagged summits
towering towards the sky, and occasionally allowing the eye to penetrate
for a moment into the depths of mysterious valleys that seemed to stretch
for unknown distances into the recesses of the great Timoree Range. Some
wild flying clouds that rapidly traversed the heavens imparted a curious
alternation of light and shadow to the lowlands that presented themselves
to our view--chequering the whole with gloomy patches and light spots,
and revealing or hiding in rapid succession the extensive woods and the
patches of cultivation that lay within the bosom of the Bay. The dazzling
white sand beaches, too, strongly marked by the dark blue sea, heightened
the beauty of the scene; which to us, who had for some months seen
nothing but the monotonous north-west coast of Australia, appeared truly
During the first watch we beat up the bay, and at midnight anchored; the
barking of dogs, the crowing of cocks, and the tolling of bells assuring
us that we were once again in the vicinity of civilization. In the
morning we found ourselves off the town of Coepang, when we shifted our
berth farther in; the flagstaff of Fort Concordia bearing south a quarter
of a mile.
SWAN RIVER NATIVE.
Our Swan River native came up to me after we had anchored, dressed in his
best, shoes polished, and buttoned up to the chin in an old uniform
jacket. "Look," said he, pointing to some Malay lads alongside in a
canoe, "trousers no got 'um." A toss of the head supplied what was
wanting to the completeness of this speech, and said as plainly as words
could have done, "poor wretches!" I tried in vain to point out their
superiority, by saying, "Malay boy, work, have house; Swan River boy, no
work, bush walk." I then drew his attention to the country, the delicious
fruits and other good things to eat (knowing that the surest road to an
Australian's heart is through his mouth) but all was in vain! my simple
friend shook his head, saying, "No good, stone, rock big fella, too much,
can't walk." Home, after all, is home all the world over, and the dull
arid shores of Australia were more beautiful in the eyes of this savage
than the romantic scenery of Timor, which excited in him wonder not
delight. It was amusing to see how frightened he was on going ashore the
first time. With difficulty could he be kept from treading on our heels,
always, I suppose, being in the habit, in his own country, of finding
strangers to be enemies. He was instantly recognised by the Malays, who
had occasionally seen natives of Australia returning with the Macassar
proas from the north coast, as a marega,* much to his annoyance.
(*Footnote. I have never been able to learn the meaning of this word.
They told us at Coepang it signified man-eater; which explains the
native's annoyance; and may serve as a clue to the discovery that the
aborigines of the northern part of the continent occasionally eat human
bodies as they do in the south.)
LAND AT COEPANG.
Being anxious to make the acquaintance of the Resident, who bore the
reputation of being a most intelligent person, a party of us paid him a
visit the second day after our arrival. The narrow streets, lined with
Chinese shops and pedlars of every description, from the long-tailed
Chinaman to the thick, crisp-haired, athletic Timoree, were soon passed.
We then entered a rich green valley, with some fine houses on the left:
the sight was strange and new to us in every way. What we most enjoyed
was the vegetation--a feast for our eyes, after the dull arid shores of
North-western Australia: and we gazed with intense pleasure on the rich
green spreading leaf of the banana and other tropical fruit-trees, above
which towered, the graceful coconut. Is it possible, thought I, that
Timor and Australia, so different in the character of their scenery, can
be such near neighbours, that these luxuriant valleys, nestling among the
roots of these gigantic hills, are only separated by a narrow expanse of
sea from those shores over which nature has strewed, with so niggard a
hand, a soil capable of bearing the productions characteristic of the
latitudes within which they lie?
A meagre-looking apology for a soldier, leaning against a tree, suggested
to us that we must be near the Resident's dwelling: we were so. It soon
appeared that it was the last of the large houses before mentioned, and
that the soldier was the sentinel.
VISIT THE RESIDENT.
We were speedily ushered into the presence of D.T. Vanden Dungen
Gronovius. What sort of person, reader, do you picture to yourself with
such a name? Great of course; and in truth such was he, not only in
height and bulk, but as he soon informed us, in deeds likewise; he talked
fast, and smoked faster, and possessed a general knowledge of all the
recent discoveries. We learned from him that the Zelee and Astrolabe were
laid on their beam ends for twenty-four hours in the hurricane of last
November, when the Pelorus was lost at Port Essington. After listening to
some strange and amusing stories about Borneo, where the Resident had
been Superintendent for twelve years, we took our leave. I was glad to
find that Mr. Gronovius entertained views more liberal than Dutchmen
generally do. He had, as he told me, written to the Governor-General at
Batavia, requesting that Coepang might be made a free port, and
emigration allowed. He most kindly offered us horses and guides for
riding or shooting.
The observations for latitude, longitude, etc. were made in Fort
Concordia,* near the flagstaff. I was surprised to find this fort so much
out of repair; the only guns fit to be fired out of were two brass
six-pounders, the carriages indeed of which were not trustworthy. On
these guns I noticed the same mark as on that we found at Houtman's
Abrolhos, namely, two sides of a triangle bisecting two small circles. I
never see an old fort without thinking of the anecdote of a party from
the Beagle visiting one at Valdivia on the west coast of South America.
The guns were very much out of repair, and when the remark was made to
the old Spaniard who showed the fort, that they would not bear to be
fired out of ONCE, with a shrug of his shoulders he replied that he
thought they would bear it TWICE! But to return to Fort Concordia: it
stands on a madreporic rocky eminence, about 60 feet in elevation,
commanding the straggling town of Coepang, which, certainly, from the
anchorage** does not impress the stranger with a favourable opinion of
the industry of its inhabitants, though it improves in proportion as you
retreat from the beach. The foot of the height on which the fort stands
is washed by a small rapid stream that skirts the south side of the town.
Its course from the eastward is marked by a deep gorge, on the sides of
which a stranger might feast his eyes on the riches of tropical scenery.
Here and there above the mass of humbler vegetation, a lofty tapering
coconut tree would rear its graceful form, bowing gently in the passing
breeze. On every hill was presented the contrast of redundant natural
verdure, clothing its sides and summit, and of cultivated fields along
the lower slopes. These by irrigation are turned into paddy plantations,
the winds blowing over which give rise to those insidious fevers,
intermittent, I am told, in their character, which are so prevalent at
Coepang, as well as dysentery, from which indeed the crew of the Beagle
(*Footnote. Latitude 10 degrees 10 minutes 11 seconds South, and
longitude 9 degrees 50 minutes 00 seconds West of Swan River.)
(**Footnote. See the view annexed.)
DUTCH MILITARY FORCE.
The whole force the Dutch have at Coepang is sixty soldiers, half of
whom, too, are Javanese. Yet the subjection in which this small force
keeps the natives, is beyond belief. A sergeant is the commandant at
Rottee, and such power has he over the inhabitants, that he can at any
time raise a thousand armed men in the course of a few hours. Many of the
largest ponies used at Coepang, are brought from Rottee. Their origin no
one could give me any information about; all agree in saying they were
found with the island, and the natives have no traditions.
THE RESIDENT'S TALES.
My second visit to the Resident was for the purpose of accepting his
offer of a guide, and of making arrangements for a day's shooting. I
found him as usual, sitting smoking in a large cool room. We were soon in
the interior of Borneo, the scene of his former exploits. Some of these
were of so sanguinary a character, that they do him very little credit;
and many of his tales partook of the marvellous. Among the Dyaks, natives
of the interior, it is a custom, he said, that when a man wishes to
marry, he must produce a certain number of human heads. He related that
he had once seen a very handsome young woman, to whom a number of heads
had been delivered, swimming about in some water, and playing with them.
At another time he averred that he saw a woman mix human brains with
water and drink it! Mr. Gronovius also informed me that the land on the
western sides both of Timor and Borneo was gaining on the sea,
particularly at the latter place; and a report prevailed that on some of
the elevated parts of the former chama shells had been found. In answer
to my inquiries about earthquakes, I was told that, only the last month
the island of Ternate in 0 degrees 50 minutes North had been visited by
one, which had thrown down all the houses, and that in 1690, the town of
Coepang had also been destroyed. From the Resident also, I received
accounts of three ports in Rottee, one on the north-west side, another on
the south-east, and a third, on the north-east, opening into Rottee
Among the fresh information gained from Mr. Gronovius during this visit,
was an account of the natives of Timor called Timorees. They are very
superstitious, and when a person of consequence dies, a number of
karabows (buffaloes) pigs, and ponies are killed and placed over his
grave, as an offering to the evil spirit. Some, in case of sickness,
imagine, that by eating a whole buffalo, even the horns and hoofs, by
degrees, they can appease the anger of the demon to whom they attribute
all their misfortunes.
Many of the Timorees have really handsome features, strikingly different
from the Malays. Their hair, which is neither woolly nor straight, but
crisp, and full of small waves, is worn long behind, and kept together by
a curiously formed comb. There is altogether a degree of wildness in
their appearance that ill accords with their situation; for nearly all
the Timorees in Coepang are slaves sold by the Rajahs of the different
districts, the value of a young man being fifty pounds.
A powerful Rajah, commonly called the Emperor of Timor, visited Coepang
during our stay there. Unfortunately we all missed seeing him. He was
attended by a large and well-armed guard, and appeared to be on very good
terms with the merchants of the place, who made him several presents, no
doubt through interested motives; probably he supplies them with slaves.
His character is notoriously bad; it was only the other day that he had
one of his wives cut to pieces, for some very trifling offence.
A SHOOTING EXCURSION.
On taking my leave of the Resident, I fixed the day for our shooting
excursion. We were to go to a place called Pritie, on the northern shore
of Babao Bay, and distant some fifteen miles from the ship, which
rendered it necessary therefore to make an early start.
Daylight on Monday morning accordingly found us on the northern shore of
the bay, but we soon ascertained that our guide knew very little about
the matter; and what was still worse, there was no getting near the
shore, a bank of soft mud fronting it for some distance, at this time of
tide, and particularly in the vague direction our guide gave us of
Pritie. The day was fast advancing; so we made our way back to a cliffy
projection we had passed before light, where, after some difficulty, we
got on shore. Whilst the breakfast was cooking, I made a sketch of the
bay, and took a round of angles, all the charts and plans I had seen
being very erroneous.
Our guide appeared to take our not going to Pritie greatly to heart; but
we made the best of our way to some clear spots on the side of the high
land seen from the boat. We met a few natives, who all agreed there were
plenty of deer close by, which we believed, for we saw numbers of very
recent tracks. But the jungle was impenetrable; so, after rambling for an
hour or two, at the expense of nearly tearing the clothes off our backs,
and emulating the folly of the wise man of Thessaly, we again determined
to make for Pritie, or at least to try and find it. The tide too now
served, and after a pull of some hours, carefully examining every creek
and bight, we spied at length two canoes hauled up among a patch of
mangroves. Landing, we soon found some houses, and a person to show us
the road to Pritie; for we had still a walk of three miles across a well
watered flat piece of country. We were highly pleased with this, to us,
novel sight; and our enjoyment was heightened by beholding the tricks and
grimaces of some impudent monkeys perched on the tops of the lofty trees,
out of shot range, and too nimble to be hit with a ball.
VALE OF PRITIE.
We at last reached our destination, on the eastern side of a beautiful
stream. Immediately to the northward some lofty peaks reared their rugged
summits in an amphitheatre round the rich and picturesque vale of Pritie,
which lay at the feet of their varied slopes, one mass of tropical
vegetation. Trees of enormous height shot up by the waterside, and
between them, as we approached, the little sharp-roofed houses of the
village of Pritie could be seen scattered here and there amidst their
Our old guide, who had by this time recovered his serenity of mind, led
us direct to the Commandant, a mild and very civil old Javanese, to whom
orders had been sent by the Resident at Coepang to show us every
attention. His room was adorned by a magnificent pair of antlers which,
we were rejoiced to hear, had been lately taken from a deer shot within a
hundred yards of the house. After a repast of young coconuts, and gula, a
kind of honey; it was arranged that a party should be collected to go
with us on the morrow to shoot deer and pigs.
Our host now took us to see the village, and then conducted us to the
house we were to occupy during our sojourn at Pritie, which was a large
homely-built edifice erected for the Resident's use when he visits this
neighbourhood. We spent the dusk of the evening in pigeon-shooting, but
did not meet with much success; for the birds perched for the most part
on the summits of trees so lofty that they were quite out of shot-range.
Many of these giants of the forest must have attained the height of at
least two hundred feet. They formed a grand element in the landscape,
especially when their huge trunks rose by the side of the limpid water of
the stream that intersects the vale of Pritie. Between their topmost
boughs, to the north, the amphitheatre of hills which I have mentioned
lifted up their indistinct forms, round which the shades of night were
gathering, towards the heavens, that soon began to glisten with a
multitude of faint stars.
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