Discoveries in Australia, Volume 2
John Lort Stokes
Part 5 out of 8
In the morning of the 5th, the boats reached the ship. During our absence
a few natives had made their appearance on the beach, attending some
fires, it seemed, on a hunting excursion. Several grampuses were seen at
the anchorage, also many dugongs and turtles.
In the evening the Beagle was standing across the Gulf towards Bountiful
Islands. I found that with the winds we had experienced the last few days
it would be the most expeditious way of completing our survey of the Gulf
to proceed at once to the head of it, as we should then have a fair wind,
to examine the coast back to Van Diemen's Inlet.
I also resolved to ascertain if the supply of water that Flinders found
on Sweers Island was still to be obtained; and on our way thither
determined on visiting Bountiful Islands, where we arrived accordingly on
the morning of the 6th. The greatest depth we had in crossing the Gulf
was 15 fathoms, the nature of the bottom being a fine dark sandy mud.
Bountiful Islands form the eastern part of a group called Wellesley
Islands, and were so named by Flinders from the great supply of turtle he
found there. As, however, it was two months before the season of their
visiting the shores, we only caught twelve, for the most part females.
Near the islands was noticed the same shrubby thick compact kind of
seaweed, that had previously been seen on the parts of the North-west
coast frequented by the turtle. Flinders speaks of finding here in one
turtle as many as 1,940 eggs; and such is their fecundity that were it
not for the destruction of the young by sharks and birds of prey, these
temperate seas would absolutely swarm with them.
Our anchorage was in 7 fathoms, three quarters of a mile South-East from
the highest hill, which I called Mount Flinders; it stands close to the
beach, near the east end of the island, and is in latitude 16 degrees 40
minutes 0 seconds South, longitude 7 degrees 45 minutes 25 seconds East
of Port Essington.
Bountiful Islands, two in number, are distant a mile and a half in a
North-East direction from each other. The northern and largest is two
miles and a half long, and three-quarters of a mile wide; whilst the
other is rather more than half a mile each way, and has at the northern
end a mound with a remarkable casuarina tree on its summit. Both are
fronted with coral reefs, particularly at the North-East extreme; there
are some cliffs on the south-east side of the large island of sand and
ironstone formation, the latter prevailing; and over the low
north-western parts a ferruginous kind of gravel was scattered. The
crests of the hills or hillocks were of a reddish sort of sandstone, and
so honeycombed or pointed at the top that it was difficult to walk over
Near the landing-place, at the foot of Mount Flinders, were a few
isolated gum-trees, and small clusters of the casuarina, which were the
only trees on the northern island. Some drift timber was on the
south-east and north-west sides. On the latter was a tree of considerable
size, doubtless brought from the shore of the Gulf by the North-West
monsoon. Its whole surface was covered with a long brown kind of grass,
interwoven with creepers. There were great quantities of a
cinnamon-coloured bittern seen, as well as quails, doves, and large
plovers, but not any of the bustards mentioned by Flinders. We saw no
traces of land animals of any kind; neither did we of the natives. A
flock of screaming white cockatoos had taken up their abode on the south
island, where also some bulbs of the Angustifolia were found. A few small
fish, besides sharks, were caught alongside the ship.
I was surprised to find the tides an hour later than at Van Diemen's
Inlet; their velocity, likewise, was increased to two knots; the
flood-stream came from the north-east at the anchorage.
At daylight, we left for Sweers Island; but owing to light winds, chiefly
easterly, did not reach Investigator Road, between Sweers and Bentinck
Islands, before the afternoon of the 8th. The soundings on the way were
generally 9 fathoms, fine sandy mud. A small islet, lying off the
South-East side of Bentinck Island, and forming the immediate eastern
side of the Road, I named after the first lieutenant of the Investigator,
now Captain Fowler.
Under Mount Inspection, a hill 105 feet high, and the most remarkable
feature hereabouts, on the South-East extreme of Sweers Island, a party
of twelve natives was observed as we passed. They gazed silently at us,
making no demonstration of joy, fear, anger, or surprise. It is possible
they may have been stupefied by the appearance of that wonderful creation
of man's ingenuity--a ship; in their eyes it must have seemed a being
endowed with life walking the waters, for purposes to them
incomprehensible, on a mission to the discovery of which they could not
even apply the limited faculties they possessed. Fortunately or
unfortunately for them--according as we determine on the value of
civilization to the aboriginal races of the South--they did not possess
the fatal, or salutary, curiosity that prompts most men to attempt
fathoming the depth of whatever is mysterious. Restrained by their fears,
or by their ignorant, or philosophical indifference, they did not again
show themselves: and though when we landed we once or twice thought we
heard sounds of life in our vicinity, the natives of the island never
again came under our observation. It is remarkable that the same
circumstance happened to Flinders. He also perceived human beings at a
distance; but when he endeavoured to communicate with them, they retired,
as he mentions, to some of the caverns that exist on the island, and were
seen no more.
Sweers Island appeared to be very woody, and bounded by low dark cliffs
on the north-east side. We found a long extent of foul ground, with a dry
reef near its outer end, extending off two miles in a South 33 degrees
East direction from the South-East extreme. Our anchorage was in 5 1/2
fathoms, nearly abreast of a remarkable and solitary sandy point on the
above-mentioned island. As we beat up, the navigable width between this
and Fowler Island was found to be one mile, and the depth 4 and 5
A party was immediately despatched in search of the Investigator's well.
Previous to landing, the whole island appeared to be perfectly alive with
a dense cloud of small flying animals, which, on our reaching the shore,
proved to be locusts in countless numbers, forming a complete curtain
over the island. They rose from the ground in such prodigious flights at
each footstep that we were absolutely prevented from shooting any of the
quails with which the island abounds. This annoyance, however, was only
experienced for the first day or two, as the locusts winged their flight
to Bentinck Island, leaving the trees only laden with them; out of these
they started, when disturbed, with a rushing noise like surf on a pebbly
The Investigator's old well was discovered half a mile eastward of the
point, to which I gave the name of Point Inscription, from a very
interesting discovery we made of the name of Flinders' ship cut on a tree
near the well, and still perfectly legible, although nearly forty years
old, as the reader will perceive from the woodcut annexed. On the
opposite side of the trunk the Beagle's name and the date of our visit
It was thus our good fortune to find at last some traces of the
Investigator's voyage, which at once invested the place with all the
charms of association, and gave it an interest in our eyes that words can
ill express. All the adventures and sufferings of the intrepid Flinders
vividly recurred to our memory; his discoveries on the shores of this
great continent, his imprisonment on his way home, and cruel treatment by
the French Governor of Mauritius, called forth renewed sympathies. I
forthwith determined accordingly that the first river we discovered in
the Gulf should be named the Flinders, as the tribute to his memory which
it was best becoming in his humble follower to bestow, and that which
would most successfully serve the purpose of recording his services on
this side of the continent. Monuments may crumble, but a name endures as
long as the world.
Being desirous of ascertaining if now, in the dry season, water could be
obtained in other parts of the island, I ordered a well to be dug on the
extreme of Point Inscription, a more convenient spot for watering a ship,
and at a depth of 25 feet met excellent water, pouring through a rock of
concreted sand, pebbles, and shells.
Our success may be attributed, as Flinders says, to the clayey
consistence of the stratum immediately under the sand, and to the
gravelly rock upon which that stratum rests; the one preventing the
evaporation of the rains, and the other obstructing their further
This was a very important discovery, as Investigator Road is the only
anchorage for vessels of all sizes at the head of the Gulf in either
monsoon, and possesses an equal supply of wood, fish, and birds, with
turtle close at hand on Bountiful Islands. Moreover, should an expedition
be formed for the purpose of exploring the interior from the head of the
Gulf, it is, as Flinders remarks, "particularly well adapted for a ship
during the absence of the travellers." In addition to this, it is a point
at which an expedition would first arrive to arrange plans for the
future; and lastly, I should observe that in case of our being fortunate
enough to find rivers or fertile country on the southern shores of the
Gulf, we at once saw that we might look forward to the time when
Investigator Road* should be the port from which all the produce of the
neighbouring parts of the continent must be shipped, and when it should
bear on its shores the habitations of civilized man, and the heavenward
pointing spires of the Christian Church. The feeling that we might be the
means of bringing about this happy state of things by discovering a
country habitable by Europeans, greatly added to the zest with which we
prosecuted our subsequent researches.
(*Footnote. This road fully deserves the name of a good port, being four
miles in length by one in breadth, with a depth of from 4 to 6 fathoms,
and sheltered at all points except from south to South-South-East, in
which direction the shoalness of the water prevents any sea from getting
SURVEY THE ANCHORAGE.
On duly weighing these considerations in my mind I determined to make an
accurate survey of this anchorage, including Sweers and the eastern
portion of Bentinck Island; and to despatch two boats to examine the
group of islands to the north-west, and the mainland from thence to
abreast of the south-west end of Bentinck Island. On the morning of the
9th, accordingly, Messrs. Forsyth and Parker proceeded with the
whaleboats on this service.
Near Point Inscription, I found a native skull on the shore, with
forearm, left tibia, and a portion of the inferior maxillary. They must
have been exposed some time, as they were very nearly destroyed by the
action of the air. How they could have come in this situation was a
mystery, as there was nothing indicating a place of burial.
On the eastern Point of Bentinck Island a number of rafts were seen,
which suggested the name of Raft Point. We also on one occasion perceived
some natives at a distance.
Mount Inspection being the highest land in the neighbourhood, became the
principal station of the survey. From it a glimpse was got of the
mainland, bearing South 17 degrees West about eighteen miles. The
north-eastern end of the island, also, could be seen, fronted with rocky
ledges extending three quarters of a mile off. This hill is a mass of
calcareous rock, similar to the high parts of Bountiful Island, with the
same honeycombed surface, as if it had been exposed to the action of the
sea. In other parts of the island there is a great quantity of ironstone;
and the cliffs on the eastern side are mixed with this and pipe-clay; on
the northern extreme are some lakes or swamps.
SOIL, ETC. OF BENTINCK ISLAND.
The soil is chiefly a mixture of sand and decomposed vegetable matter;
but it cannot boast of fertility. The wood on the island, which consisted
for the most part of gums, wattles, a few acacias, palms, and, near the
beach, a straggling casuarina or two, bespoke this by its stunted
appearance; but as cotton grows well at Port Essington, there can be
little doubt that it will thrive here. Several of the bustards spoken of
by Flinders, were noticed; but too wary to be killed. They were as large
as those seen in the neighbourhood of Port Phillip, but much browner. The
other birds, most common, will be found in an extract from the game book,
given in a future page. We saw no animals, except some large iguanas.
Investigator Road is sheltered to the northward by shoal water stretching
across between Sweers and Bentinck islands. The latter is slightly
elevated, and thickly wooded; it is large in comparison with its
neighbours, being about ten miles in extent either way. Its south side is
much indented, and the projections as well as the extreme of Fowler
Island, are lined with mangroves; they are fronted with coral ledges.
Near the south-east point, I noticed large patches of the ferruginous
sort of gravel, before alluded to in King's Sound.
On one occasion a party thought they heard a cooey--or cry peculiar to
the natives of Port Jackson--uttered by some of the aborigines in the
distance. It would have been exceedingly interesting to ascertain if this
actually was the case; as the sound generally emitted by the natives of
the northern coasts when they wish to communicate with each other afar
off, is the monotonous "oh! oh!"
MR. FORSYTH'S REPORT.
On the 13th the boats returned, having completed the work that had been
allotted them. Mr. Forsyth reported their proceedings as follows: Leaving
the north point of Bentinck Island, off which a reef extends nearly three
miles, they crossed over to the south end of Mornington Island, bearing
North 60 degrees West twenty-three miles, the depth, midway between being
7 and 8 fathoms. The south shore of this island was found to be low and
sandy, much indented, and fronted with reefs. From the south extreme, the
nearest part of the main, called Point Bayley, bore South 32 degrees West
eleven miles, the intervening space being occupied by four low isles,
which I named after Mr. Forsyth. With the exception of 5 fathoms two
miles south-west from the end of Mornington Island, the space between it
and the main is only navigable for boats; and westward of Forsyth
Islands, shoals, partly dry, extend off four miles from the main.
From Point Bayley,* where we found a native well, the coast trended on
one hand North 73 degrees West, in which direction, at the distance of
two and four miles, were small openings in the low mangrove shore;
whilst, on the other, it trended South 53 degrees East with inlets two,
three, and six miles distant, and a point ten miles and a half from Point
Bayley, which was named after the officer in charge of one of the boats,
Point Parker. A hillock elevated about thirty feet, which was great for
this part of the continent, rendered it conspicuous. Like Point Bayley,
it is fronted with a rocky ledge, and has a sandy beach on the south
side. From Point Parker the coast trended south ten miles, which was the
furthest the boats reached; beyond, it appeared to take a more easterly
(*Footnote. In latitude 16 degrees 35 minutes 10 seconds South, and
longitude 6 degrees 55 minutes 30 seconds East of Port Essington. )
The hillock on Point Parker, afforded Mr. Forsyth a slight view of the
interior: it was a vast plain with clumps of small trees interspersed
here and there; a growth of gums rose close behind the fringe of
mangroves that lined the coast to the southward, and in other places
constituted the only vegetable production of the country that could be
seen. Although there was little that could be called actually interesting
in the vast level that stretched away to an indefinite distance from
Point Parker, yet still, when the reflection presented itself that never
before had the eye of a European wandered over it, the feelings of the
exploring party were necessarily of a pleasing character.
This projection in the coast brought it within thirteen miles of the east
end of Bentinck Island. Allen's Isle lay between at the distance of three
miles and a half; on some ironstone cliffs at the south-east end of it,
Mr. Forsyth, after leaving, saw some natives; he speaks of this island as
being more fertile than any other part visited, being clothed with rich
grass, and with small trees and shrubs of a very green appearance.
APPEARANCE OF THE NATIVES.
It was on a little island, two miles to the eastward of it, that Flinders
succeeded in obtaining an interview with a party of natives; two of whom,
he says, were of the great height of six feet three inches, but with
features similar to those on the south and east coasts. They were
deficient in two front teeth of the upper jaw; their hair was short but
not curly; and with the exception of a fillet of network worn round the
head of one of them, they had not a vestige of clothing. Two of the older
men of the party, Flinders was surprised to find had undergone the rite
of circumcision; they had rafts of precisely the same construction as
those in use on the North-west coast.
On the 17th, very unusual gloomy weather was experienced, quite what we
should have expected from the opposite monsoon; indeed the wind was light
from the westward for a short time. The morning broke, however, with a
moderate South-South-East breeze, accompanied by constant heavy rain; the
temperature, before daylight, was 61 degrees.
(*Footnote. Our observations place Point Inscription in latitude 17
degrees 6 minutes 50 seconds South and longitude 7 degrees 28 minutes 30
seconds East of Port Essington; variation, 4 degrees 35 minutes easterly:
the time of high-water at the full and change, was 8 A.M., when the tide
rose 9 feet; the stream changes to the northward two hours before
high-water. At other times the change takes place about one hour before.
The direction of the flood is South by West and that of the ebb North;
the strength of the former is from half a knot to one knot an hour, and
of the latter, three quarters of a knot to one and a half. Near the full
and change days there is no slack water; the northerly stream is then
longer by two hours: during the neaps they are more equal, each being of
twelve hours duration.)
Our operations were completed by the 19th, but in consequence of strong
winds from the South-South-East we did not leave before the 21st; when,
beating out against a fresh breeze,* we stood over towards the main to
the south-west of Bentinck Island, but found the water so shallow that we
could not approach within eight miles.
(*Footnote. The west point of Sweers Island, bearing North 10 degrees
East and the east point of Bentinck Island, North 8 degrees East mark the
limits of each board. The north-west part of Sweers Island just shut in
with Point Inscription leads in, and the dry part of the reef off the
south-east end of Sweers Island, bearing South 85 degrees East, clears
the reef off the south end of Sweers and Fowler Islands. A white patch of
cliff to the northward of Point Inscription, in one with it, leads over
the extreme of the shoal off the south-east end of Fowler Island.)
PROCEED TO SURVEY THE MAIN.
The boats were again sent, with Messrs. Fitzmaurice and Pasco, to
continue the examination of the shore of the Gulf, towards the head of
it, where they were to meet the ship. We made the best of our way
thither, after securing some soundings to the South-West of Sweers Island
and carrying a line eastwards from it, midway across the gulf, where we
found a very even dark sandy mud bottom, with a depth of 7 fathoms.
Strong south and south-east winds, which reduced the temperature, on one
occasion, to 56 degrees about 4 A.M., generally prevailed, excepting for
a few hours in the afternoon; quite reminding us of the winds we
experienced at Depuch Island on the North-west coast, and preventing us
from reaching our destination till the morning of the 24th, when we
anchored two miles and a quarter from a particularly bare sand hillock,
bearing South 53 degrees West. This was named The Sandhill, par
excellence; there being no other on the shore of the Gulf. To the
eastward there appeared an opening with a remarkable quoin-shaped clump
of tall mangroves at the entrance. It being neap tide, we were enabled to
take the ship thus close to the shore, and as it was the nearest approach
we could make to the head of the Gulf, another boat expedition was set on
foot to explore it, consisting of the yawl and gig, in which Lieutenant
Gore and myself left the ship the same afternoon. The first spot visited
was The Sandhill, which we found to be forty feet high, in latitude 17
degrees 38 minutes 20 seconds South, longitude 7 degrees 48 minutes 00
seconds East of Port Essington. From its summit we immediately perceived
that our conjecture was right respecting the opening close to the
eastward. The shore was sandy to the westward, a remarkable circumstance,
considering that nearly everywhere else all was mangrove. Whatever we saw
of the interior, appeared to be low patches of bare mud, which bespoke
frequent inundations. We could also trace a low mangrove shore forming
the head of the Gulf, without any appearance of a large opening, which
was a bitter disappointment; in some measure, however, compensated by the
fact that it was all new, Flinders having expressed himself doubtful how
far back the shore lay.
The point on which The Sandhill is situated I called after Lieutenant
Gore, and the inlet, which we entered just before dark, Disaster Inlet,
from a circumstance of what may be called a tragical nature which
happened in it. Like all the other inlets, as we afterwards found, it had
a bar scarcely passable at low-water for boats; but within there was a
depth of two and three fathoms. It appears that the streams passing out
of these openings groove out a channel in the great flat fronting the
shores for from one to three miles; but as the distance from their mouths
increased, the velocity and consequent strength of the stream diminished
in proportion, and, as we afterwards found, at this season was never
strong enough to force a channel the entire way through the flat or bank
at the entrance, which was thrown out in consequence further from the
shore. The projection thus formed in the great flat indicated the
importance of the inlet.
We passed the night a mile within the mouth of Disaster Inlet, and next
morning, which was cool and bracing enough for a latitude twenty degrees
further south, we followed its upward course, which was more westerly
than suited our impatience to proceed direct into the interior. Four
miles and a half from the entrance, in a straight line, though ten by the
distance the boats had gone, we came on a reach trending south. This
improvement in the course was equally felt by all, as was shown by the
bending of the oars to the eager desire of the crew to push on; but
scarcely had the boats glided midway through the hitherto untraversed
piece of water, when the tragical event occurred, which the name of the
inlet serves to recall, although it is too deeply engraven on the
memories of both actors and spectators ever to be forgotten.
The mangroves that in patches fringed the banks, whilst all besides was
one flat grassy plain, were literally whitened with flocks of noisy
cockatoos, giving the trees an appearance as if they were absolutely
laden with huge flakes of snow--a somewhat remarkable aspect for a scene
in such a clime to wear. It seemed as if the rigid hand of winter had for
once been permitted to visit with its icy touch this tropical land; but
the verdure of all around, the serenity of the heavens, warm with the
fervid beams of the sun that gilded the rippling waters of the reach,
dispelled the illusion. And soon the huge masses of white plumage began
to float from tree to tree across the reach, whilst their screams as they
flew by seemed a fair challenge to the sportsman. Mr. Gore accordingly
resolved to secure a few of them for dinner, and put out his gun for the
The sudden arrest of the birds' flight--the flash of the gun--the volume
of smoke--caught the eye as it closed at the explosion; with some of us
it might have been for ever! Twas the affair of but a second. Death came
to our sides, as it were, and departed ere the report of the gun had
ceased to roll over the waters of the reach. Something whizzed past my
ear, deafening and stupefying me for a moment--the next I saw my
much-valued friend Gore stretched at his length in the bottom of the
boat, and I perceived at a glance the danger we had incurred and
ACCIDENT TO LIEUTENANT GORE.
His fowling piece had burst in his hand, and flown away in fragments,
leaving only a small portion of the barrel at my feet. How it happened
that the coxswain and myself were unhurt seemed a miracle. I was on the
right of Mr. Gore, in the stern-sheets of the yawl, and the coxswain was
a little on the left, and over him, steering. Our preservation can only
be attributed to Him whose eye is on all his creatures and who disposes
of our lives as it seemeth good in his sight. Without intending to be
presumptuous, we may be permitted to believe that we were spared partly
on account of the service in which we were engaged--so beneficial to
humanity, so calculated to promote the spread of civilization, which must
ever be the harbinger of Christianity. At any rate it is not, in my
humble opinion, any impeachment of the wisdom of the Almighty, to imagine
that he determines the fortunes of men according to the work in which
they are engaged.
Mr. Gore's hand was dreadfully lacerated; but no bones were broken; and
on recovering from his swoon, the first words he uttered were: "Killed
the bird!"--an expression truly characteristic of a sportsman, and
evincing how exactly the mind, when its perception has been momentarily
suspended, reverts, on recovering, to the idea last present to it.
My first impulse was to return to the ship; but at the earnest request of
Mr. Gore, who felt somewhat revived after I washed his hand in brandy and
tied it up, we continued; but the utter silence and grave demeanour of
all showed that each was occupied with thoughts of the danger some of us
had escaped of being ushered unprepared into the presence of our Maker. A
rustling in the bushes on the bank, as we wound round an island of some
size at the extremity of this nearly fatal reach, broke the reverie in
which we were indulging. Fancying it was a kangaroo, I fired at the spot,
when a half-grown wild dog came rolling down into the water. It was of a
dark brown colour, with large patches of white, differing from any of the
kind I had ever seen before.
Above this island we pursued a general West-South-West direction; but to
our great mortification there was water for the yawl only four miles
further. In the gig I was able to ascend nearly two miles higher in a
South-West by South direction. Our position was then nine miles
South-West 1/2 West from the mouth in a direct line; but thrice that
distance by the meandering course of the inlet through this vast level.
The width had decreased from three hundred yards at the entrance to
scarcely one hundred, and the depth from two fathoms to a quarter. The
banks were, at intervals fringed with mangroves, the country behind being
very open plains, with patches of dwarf gums scattered here and there.
DUCKS, PIGEONS, ETC.
The brown whistling wood-ducks were in great abundance at the yawl's
furthest; and in three shots I bagged twenty. The native companions were
also numerous, of two kinds, one with black on the back, and the other,
which kept more on the plain, of a blue or slate colour. Pigeons, too,
were abundant; and the rare large brown rail was frequently observed at
low-water, running along the edge of the mangroves, too wary, however, as
before, to be shot. There were few alligators seen; and the only fish
caught was the catfish, common in the Adelaide and Victoria Rivers. Where
the yawl lay the bank was clear, forming cliffs ten feet high, in which
no stone or rock was found; neither had we seen any before.
ARRANGE FOR A PEDESTRIAN EXCURSION.
In the evening and early part of the night observations were made for our
position.* A party was also arranged for a pedestrian excursion in the
morning, as I was determined on seeing a few miles more of the interior
than it was our good fortune to have obtained by water conveyance. I had
ordered a gun to be fired in the evening to inform Mr. Fitzmaurice and
his party of the ship's position; and we distinctly heard it booming over
the plain, for the first time awakening the echoes to the sounds of
warfare peculiar to civilized man. May many years elapse ere they be once
more roused by the voice of cannon fired with a less peaceful intent!
(*Footnote. Latitude 17 degrees 42 minutes 55 seconds South, longitude 7
degrees 42 minutes 30 seconds East of Port Essington.)
The first grey streaks of the morning were scarcely visible in the
horizon, ere my party were scrambling up the eastern bank, eager to
penetrate where no European foot had hitherto pressed. After leaving the
inlet some distance behind, we took a South 1/2 East direction. The
morning was deliciously cool for our purpose, the temperature being 56
degrees; and there was a most delightful elasticity in the air, quite in
unison with the buoyant spirits that sustained us, as we stepped out over
what we felt to be untrodden ground.
APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY.
It had often before been my lot to be placed in a similar position, and I
have necessarily, therefore, given expression already to identical
sentiments; but I cannot refrain from again reminding the reader how far
inferior is the pleasure of perusing the descriptions of new lands,
especially when attempted by an unskilled pen, to that which the explorer
himself experiences. All are here on an equal footing; the most finished
writer and the most imperfect scribbler are on the same level; they are
equally capable of the exquisite enjoyment of discovery, they are equally
susceptible of the feelings of delight that gush upon the heart as every
forward step discloses fresh prospects, and brings a still more new
horizon, if I may so speak, to view. And it may be added, that to the
production of the emotions I allude to, beauty of landscape is scarcely
necessary. We strain forward incited by curiosity, as eagerly over an
untrodden heath, or untraversed desert, as through valleys of surpassing
loveliness, and amid mountains of unexplored grandeur; or perhaps, I
should say, more eagerly, for there is nothing on which the mind can
repose, nothing to tempt it to linger, nothing to divert the current of
its thoughts. Onward we move, with expectation at its highest, led by the
irresistible charm of novelty, almost panting with excitement, even when
every step seems to add certainty to the conviction that all that is
beyond resembles all that has been seen. In the present case, with the
exception of a clump of trees to the southward, there was nothing to
break the vast level that stretched before us, its rim sharply defined
against the morning sky. Here and there a charred stump, the relic of
some conflagration, reared its blackened face, serving to keep us in the
direction we had taken at starting, which was over a rich alluvial soil,
that seemed to hold out a promise of a future brilliant destiny to this
part of the continent. A partially dry lagoon communicating with another
that was wet, to the eastward, and with a slight drain from the inlet to
the westward, was crossed at the distance of four miles, when the
direction we pursued was changed to South by West and a mile further we
gained the raised patch of woodland already mentioned, where we put up a
small light-coloured kangaroo. Descending from this we entered a low
plain, the northern part of which is evidently at times under water. It
is five miles across, surrounded with trees of small and open growth.
Continuing over a clayey soil till we had made six miles from the boats,
we turned off to the eastward, for the wood on that side, distant two
miles, with the hope of getting a better view of the country around from
the top of a tree; but there was nothing for my eager eyes to wander over
but alternate plain and patches of stunted wood, stretching away in
unbroken monotony on every side. The furthest we saw of this new country
was in latitude 17 degrees 55 minutes South. It was with great reluctance
that we turned our backs on a route so direct to the interior of the
continent, now comparatively a proximate point; and the tide of animal
spirits that flowed so high during our advance to the southward ebbed
rapidly as soon as the retreat commenced; and our return appeared
We now varied our track, and traced the head of the inlet, where we saw
the smokes of the natives and heard them shouting to each other, though
they did not come in sight; the prints of their feet also seemed quite
recent. Near the partially dry lagoon a small freshwater lake was found,
and the only rock formation yet seen; it was a sand and ironstone. About
two miles south of the boats we discovered another freshwater lake,
literally alive with waterfowl, whose varied colours contrasted
charmingly with the bright verdure of the banks that seemed to repose on
the silent waters, and were reflected on its glassy surface, now and then
disturbed by the birds as they winged their way from one part to the
other. Spoonbills and ibises, some white and some glossy rifle-green, and
two kinds of a small grey duck, seen once only before on the Victoria,
are among those worth enumerating. In the afternoon we got back to the
boats. I may here mention, that as in Van Diemen's Inlet, the water
appeared to be less salt at low tide.
RETURN TO THE SHIP.
At daylight the boats moved off on their return; and soon after the sun's
bright orb had sunk into the same vast dead level from which it rose, we
reached the entrance. Being anxious that the surgeon should see Mr.
Gore's hand, I sent the gig on with him to the ship; next morning, as we
crossed the bar, he rejoined us, and I was very happy to find the
ablution in brandy had been of great service to his wound.
After leaving Disaster Inlet, the coast was examined to the eastward, and
at the distance of fifteen miles, in an East 5 degrees South direction,
we came to a projection that we called Middle Point. The shore between
fell back, forming a bight three miles deep, in latitude 17 degrees 44
minutes South, the most southern shore of the Gulf. A growth of mangroves
prevented our landing at high-water, and at low, soft mud flat fronted
the shore for the distance of a mile and more. Five miles from Disaster
Inlet there was a small creek; with others, three, four, and six miles
westward of Middle Point.
Two miles south-east of it was another opening of more importance, almost
forming a channel quite through the flat at the entrance, which extended
three miles off the north-west side of Middle Point. I named this Morning
Inlet, from the time at which I entered it; and after proceeding a mile
in a southerly direction landed for observations, just within the
mangroves that fringe the entire coast. My view of the interior was very
limited: for some distance were patches of bare mud, whitened with a salt
incrustation, which appeared the character of the country immediately
behind the mangroves; afterwards it rose into plains, on which small
gum-trees were to be seen in the distance.
From Morning Inlet the coast was slightly waving and trended East 20
degrees North. At the end of twelve miles we found a little opening on
the south-east side of a small point which concealed the boats from two
natives, who were out on the mud flats, till we got close to them. They
gazed for a moment at the strange apparition, and then made off as fast
as the nature of the ground would admit; they were quite naked, and we
were not a little amused to see them floundering through the soft mud.
Close to the westward of this opening are two clumps of tall mangroves,
the only remarkable objects on the shore of the Gulf from Disaster Inlet.
There was another small inlet four miles further on; and what is
remarkable for this neighbourhood, a sandy beach midway between them.
EXPLORE AN OPENING.
On the evening of the 28th we entered a large and promising opening,*
distant twenty-one miles from Morning Inlet; its importance was made
manifest by its forming a channel of two feet at low-water through the
flat at the entrance, which it threw out considerably.
(*Footnote. The mouth is in latitude 17 degrees 36 minutes 40 seconds
South, and longitude 8 degrees 27 minutes 0 seconds East of Port
The boats proceeded up the opening at daylight on the 29th; our hopes
were considerably raised by finding a depth of three and, in some places,
five fathoms, and a width of about a hundred and twenty yards. The banks
were, as usual, lined with mangroves; behind which, on the eastern side,
retreated vast plains, with trees of some size scattered over them. They
extend to the coast eastward of the entrance, which is sandy for some
distance, with casuarinae, acacias, and small gums, which was not only a
pleasing change from the monotonous mangrove shore, but had also its
utility, serving to show the mouth of the opening from the offing.
We pursued a general South-South-East direction, though from the
windings, and the tide being against us, our progress was slow; and at
the end of eleven miles were obliged to wait its changing. Here we landed
in the mouth of a small creek at the end of a clear bank on the eastern
side; the opposite one also began to wear the same character, and our
eyes therefore were permitted to wander over an immense extent of very
level open grassy country, dotted with clumps of trees.
The tides changing only twice in twenty-four hours presented a great
impediment to our exploration, and it was evening before we could again
Whilst waiting the tide, the note of a bird resembling the cuckoo broke
the deep stillness that prevailed. It was evening; all around was calm:
the wide extended plain dimly stretching away on every side, the waters
as they imperceptibly swelled between the curving banks, the heavens in
which the last rays of the sun still lingered, gilding the few clouds
that hovered near the horizon. A pleasing sadness stole over the heart as
these familiar sounds--the note of this Australian cuckoo, if I may
venture to name a bird from its voice--floated through the tranquil air.
Recollections of the domestic hearth, and the latticed window shaded with
vines and honeysuckles, and the distant meadows, and glades, and
woodlands, covered with the bursting buds of spring; and--pervading all
and giving a charm to all--the monotonous but ever welcome and thrilling
note of the cuckoo sounding afar off: recollections of all these things,
I say, rushed o'er each fancy, and bore us for a moment back in
imagination to our island home.
DISCOVERY OF FLINDERS RIVER.
The more rapid flow of the tide and the announcement that there was now
sufficient water for the boats to proceed, broke our reverie; and we were
soon once more cleaving the moonlit reach. I may here mention that this
bird, and another with a more mournful cry, the same before spoken of up
the Victoria River, were heard again at eventide.
Avoiding a large shoal, which threatened to arrest our further progress,
by a narrow channel close to the west bank, we continued to pursue the
upward course of this inlet or river--we were yet uncertain what to call
it--in a general southerly direction; though the reaches were singularly
tortuous, resembling the folds of a snake. The depth was now only about
one fathom, and our progress was much impeded by banks; but by the
friendly aid of the moon we were able to proceed, and many of the sudden
bends were revealed by the silvery stream of light it shed over the still
waters as they lay between banks now overhung by mangrove thickets, now
receding in plains dotted with gloomy clumps of gumtrees, as far as the
eye, from our low position and by the imperfect light afforded, could
reach. As we advanced, the measured plash of the oars frightened from
their roosting places in the trees, a huge flock of screeching vampires,
that disturbed for a time the serenity of the scene by their discordant
notes; and a few reaches further up, noisy flights of our old friends,
the whistling-ducks, greeted our ears. Their presence and cries were
hailed with delight, not exactly because they gave rise to any romantic
associations, but because they promised to recruit our victualling
department, which had not been supplied with such dainties since leaving
Disaster Inlet. Had our taste resembled that of some of the natives of
the western coast of Africa, the vampires would have answered our
The yawl grounding repeatedly, occasioned so much delay, that after
proceeding seven miles I pushed on with the gig alone. Our course was
still South by East and the reaches were less crooked. Four miles further
we were delighted to find our progress rendered hazardous by sunken
trees, so much so indeed, that I was most reluctantly obliged to wait a
few hours for daylight. There could now no longer be a doubt that we were
in a river, and I immediately embraced the opportunity of gratifying my
earnest and heartfelt desire of paying the promised tribute to our
scientific predecessor; and accordingly named this, our first discovery,
after him, The Flinders.
As soon as the blackened heads of the fallen trees, evidences of how
fierce a torrent had borne them hither, could be discerned, we proceeded.
The reaches became again tortuous, but we still made some progress. The
mangroves were no longer to be seen fringing the banks with their garden
shrubbery appearance. In a broad easterly reach, some natives were
burning the country close to the west bank, but they did not show
themselves. At the end of it the river expanded into a beautiful sheet of
water a quarter of a mile in width, though only three feet deep.
ACCIDENT TO THE BOAT.
Some low grassy islets were scattered here and there, reposing in emerald
verdure on the surface of the stream, which was reverting under the
influence of the tide, towards its source, and now hurried the boat so
rapidly through a narrow channel between the west side of a large island
and a low line of earthy cliffs, as to carry her foul of a submerged tree
and half fill and almost capsize her. In order to ascertain the extent of
the damage, we landed on a small sandy beach, in which was the fresh
print of a native's foot; but we neither heard nor saw him or his
companions, although columns of smoke from their fires stole upwards
through the calm still air on all sides. A fine sheet of water now lay
before us, trending southwards for upwards of two miles, with a width of
about a quarter; and it was with increasing interest and anxiety that we
pulled up it.
APPEARANCE OF THE RIVER.
Passing a line of cliffs, twenty feet high, the banks became green and
grassy, descending with an almost imperceptible slope into the stream,
and blending with their vivid reflections so as to render it difficult to
determine where was the point of contact. It seemed as if we were gliding
through an indefinite expanse of limpid water reposing between two vast
plains, that here rose higher than we had before seen the land on this
part of the continent.
Hurrying on with a still favourable tide, but at a rate much too slow for
our impatience, we passed two other small grassy islets, and a third was
before us. The eastern bank had become steep, overhanging, and clothed
with a mass of luxuriant creepers; whilst on the opposite side was a low
woody patch, partly immersed by the lake-like glassy water of the river,
into which one slender tree dipped its feathery crest, appearing like
another Narcissus, to admire its own beauty in the stream. In front, the
eye could penetrate far down the reach hemmed in as it was by trees that
clustered thick on the water's brink.
NATIVE BURIAL TREE.
To the right was what might be called an open glade; in the midst of it
rose a tree the branches of which were laden with a most singular looking
bundle or roll of pieces of wood. Struck with its appearance, we rested
on our oars to observe it;* but scarcely had we done so, when from a
point higher up, that appeared to divide the river into two branches,
rose a thick volume of smoke that soon filled the air, as if a huge black
cloud had lighted on the earth in that direction. We endeavoured to
proceed in order to satisfy our curiosity, but a rocky ledge extending
across the river arrested our further progress at this time of the tide.
Landing, accordingly, I advanced for nearer inspection, towards the huge
bundle of sticks before mentioned. It seemed almost like the nest of some
new bird, and greatly excited my curiosity. As I approached a most
unpleasant smell assailed me; and on climbing up to examine it narrowly,
I found that it contained the decaying body of a native.
(*Footnote. See the view annexed. )
Within the outer covering of sticks was one of net, with an inner one of
the bark of the papyrus tree enveloping the corpse. According to the
singular practice of uncivilized people, of providing for the wants of
those who have nothing more to do with earthly things, some weapons were
deposited with the deceased in this novel kind of mortuary habitation;
and a little beyond was a rill of water.
There was an air of loneliness in the spot, perfectly in keeping with the
feelings this strange discovery naturally called forth; and from the few
recent signs of the natives, it would appear that here, as in other parts
of the continent, spots where the dead lie are kept sacred. Some dark
brown and black hawks were perched on the trees near, looking like so
many mutes stationed to show respect to the departed; but their
intentions were of a different character, as they were waiting, I
imagine, for some friendly gust of wind to shake off the covering of the
While we were making these observations, the conflagration on the point
above continued to rage with great fury; and I have no doubt that it was
kindled in order to attract our attention and prevent us from visiting
this sacred spot. Though we saw not the form of a living being, I am
persuaded that the eyes of the natives were upon us, and that our every
movement was watched. The method they adopted to lure us away from the
neighbourhood of the dead was simple and ingenious, and might have proved
successful had not the interposing ledge of rocks prevented our further
progress. To effect their purpose they must have burnt up a very large
space, as the smoke that arose obscured all that quarter of the heavens.
We observed also that the ground about the burial tree had been submitted
to the flames, as if to keep away the few kangaroos that visit this spot.
This singular mode of disposing of the dead among the aborigines of
Australia, extends to the banks of the Murray River, on the south coast,
as we learn from Mr. Eyre's vivid narrative; and as we know that it
exists in New Guinea, we may fairly infer that so far we can trace the
migration of the population of the fifth division of the globe.*
(*Footnote. It is a curious circumstance to observe that the same custom
prevailed among the ancient Scythians, as we learn from Mr. St. John's
History of the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Greeks volume 3 page
REMARKS ON NATIVE RITES.
I have always considered that Eastern and Western Australia were
originally separated by the sea; and that when they were thus separated
(which the narrow space, and as I conjecture, lowness of the country
between the Gulf of Carpentaria and Lake Torrens fully bears out) the
habits of what is now the northern side of the continent found their way
to the southern. It is true I have in another place conjectured, that in
cases where similar habits are found to prevail at widely distant points,
they may be looked upon as relics of a former universal state of things,
now preserved only in particular localities; yet without invalidating
this general rule, I think that the facts of the mode of burial I have
described, and likewise the rite of circumcision, existing in the bottom
of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and on the south side of the continent,
strongly support the opinion that there once existed water communication
However this may be, the discovery we had made highly interested the
whole party, and suggested the name of Burial Reach for that part of the
river. Knowing, or at least feeling, that we were narrowly watched by
those into whose territories we had penetrated, I did not venture far
inland. In the few miles traversed there was little of interest, except
that we felt the pleasure which almost surpasses that created by beauty
of scenery, of traversing a country totally new to the European. It is
astonishing how charming mere plains covered with clumps of trees appear
under such circumstances. But this feeling can be enjoyed but once; for
it is the explorer alone who can either experience or deserve it.
This part of the country, though to all appearance equally level with any
other, was higher, and may perhaps have attained to the elevation of
thirty-five feet above the level of the sea. Over the plains were
scattered flocks of beautiful rose-coloured cockatoos, several of which I
shot; they were precisely the same as those on the southern parts of the
Beyond Burial Reach the river separates into two branches, one taking an
easterly and the other a southerly direction; but neither of them,
unfortunately, was it at that time in my power to explore. Here we again,
for the second time only, met with a rocky formation: it was of a red
ferruginous character. Our furthest position on the Flinders was in
latitude 17 degrees 51 minutes South in a general South by East 1/2 East
direction from the entrance, nearly thirty miles by the distance the
boats had traversed.
MOVE DOWN THE RIVER.
After noon observations, the gig moved down the river. On passing the
large island, I shot an animal resembling a water-rat, of large
dimensions, particularly expanded across the loins, with stout hind legs
and palmated feet, of a light slate colour and soft fine hair approaching
fur, the colour gradually becoming lighter under the abdomen; the head
was flatter than that of the usual tribe of water-rats, and resembled an
(*Footnote. There is a species of water-rat inhabiting the coast of
Australia, called Hydromys chrysogaster; but this was the first time we
met with anything like it.)
RETURN TO THE SHIP.
It was not until long after dark that we reached the mouth, where,
meeting the yawl, both boats ran out of the river on their return to the
ship, distant thirty-three miles. The prevalence of light winds made it
noon before we got on board, when I found that in consequence of the
tides approaching the springs and falling 12 instead of 6 feet, it had
been necessary to move the ship farther off.
During our absence light winds had prevailed; on several days land and
seabreezes. The cessation of strong southerly winds kept the temperature
about 60 degrees. Mr. Fitzmaurice had returned and gave the following
account of his examination.
MR. FITZMAURICE'S EXPLORATION.
Commencing at Mr. Forsyth's furthest, he found the southerly trend of the
coast change in the course of nine miles to the eastward, forming a large
shoal bay, which at low-water had a mud flat extending off nearly two
miles. The east point of this bay, named Point Tarrant,* I had seen from
the south-east end of Sweers Island, bearing South 17 degrees West
eighteen miles. It is rendered remarkable by a slight rise in the land
behind it, forming low mounds or hillocks. Two miles to the westward Mr.
Fitzmaurice discovered an inlet, which he followed a league in a general
south-west direction, when it had in no way lost the promising appearance
it possessed from its breadth at the mouth, which was further increased
by the manner in which the bank was thrown out off it.
(*Footnote. After one of the officers who had shared all the hard work, a
practice generally adopted.)
Nine miles further westward were two other small openings. Mr.
Fitzmaurice's exploration terminated seventeen miles South 56 degrees
East from Point Tarrrant, where another inlet was found of still greater
magnitude and importance. The coast between fell back slightly, forming
two shallow bights with the usual low monotonous mangrove shores, and
extensive frontage of mud. At the distance of six and ten miles from
Point Tarrant were two other inlets, the latter of which was large and
received Mr. Pasco's name. It was examined for a short distance in a
South by West direction, and presented the usual low banks lined with
mangroves. Near the entrance a native came down to the shore to look at
the boat; he was very tall and quite naked, and would not allow our party
CHAPTER 2.9. GULF OF CARPENTARIA.
Explore an opening.
Discovery of the Albert.
Birds and Fishes.
Beauty of the Landscape.
The Plains of Promise.
Halt the party and proceed alone.
Description of the country.
Return down the Albert.
Mouth of River.
Arrive at Van Diemen's Inlet.
Find Mr. Fitzmaurice severely wounded.
General result of the survey of the Gulf.
Winds and Temperature.
Reach Port Essington.
ANOTHER BOAT EXPEDITION.
Mr. Fitzmaurice reported so favourably of the last opening he discovered,
bearing West by South fifteen miles from the ship, that I determined on
making up a party to explore it, while another expedition, consisting of
the yawl and whaleboat, was to examine the coast to the eastward from
Flinders River to Van Diemen's Inlet. My party, including Lieutenant Gore
and Messrs. Forsyth and Dring, left the ship with the gig and the other
whaleboat on the evening of the day we returned from the Flinders.
The prospect that lay before us raised our spirits to the highest; and
the weather, clear, cool, and bracing, could not have been more
favourable, the temperature being 60 degrees. The ripples rolled rapidly,
expanding from the boat's bows over the glassy smooth surface of the
water, whilst the men stretched out as if unconscious of the exertion of
pulling, every one of them feeling his share of the excitement. From the
western sky the last lingering rays of the sun shot athwart the wave,
turning it, as it were, by the alchemy of light into a flood of gold.
Overhead, the cope of heaven was gradually growing soberer in hue from
the withdrawal of those influences which lately had warmed and brightened
it; but in the west a brilliant halo encircled the declining ruler of the
day. In these latitudes the sunset is as brief as it is beautiful. Night
rapidly came on, and presently the masts of the ship could no longer be
discerned, and we were pursuing our way in darkness towards the mouth of
After vainly endeavouring to get over the bank extending off the mouth of
the opening, in the dark, we anchored the boats outside. The awnings were
spread, and the kettle for our evening's meal was soon hissing over a
blazing fire. Of all things tea is the most refreshing after a day of
fatigue; there is nothing that so soon renovates the strength, and cheers
the spirits; and on this occasion especially, we experienced a due
portion of its invigorating effects. Grog was afterwards served out,
pipes and cigars were lighted, the jest was uttered, the tale went round;
some fished, though with little success; and the officers busied
themselves with preparations for the morrow's work. But all things must
end; the stories at length flagged; the fishermen grew tired; and getting
into our blanket bags, with a hearty good night, we resigned ourselves,
with the exception of the look-out, to the arms of slumber.
EXPLORE AN OPENING.
The morning broke with a strong breeze from South-South-East and although
the temperature was not below 52 degrees, we were all shivering with
cold. Soon after daylight we entered the opening, which for three miles
was almost straight, in a South by West direction, with a width of two
hundred yards, and a depth of from 2 1/2 to 5 fathoms. The banks were
fringed with mangroves, behind which stretched extensive mud flats, which
from being encrusted with salt and glistening in the sun were mistaken at
first for sheets of water.
The inlet now became slightly tortuous, pursuing a general South-West by
South direction; but the width being greater our hopes rose as we
proceeded. Eight miles from the mouth two islands were passed, and two
others four miles further on. The breadth at this point was nearly a
mile, but the depth was scarcely two fathoms; one less than we had before
found it. The above-mentioned islets, one of which was of some size, lay
at the upper end of a reach, trending south, where this inlet or river,
as we anxiously hoped it would prove to be, divided into two branches,
one continuing in a southerly direction, and the other turning short off
to the westward.
EXAMINE THE SOUTHERN BRANCH.
Though the latter had a greater volume of water passing through it than
the other, I still, from the direction and size of the south arm, decided
on ascending it first. For some distance the banks had been less fringed
with mangroves, leaving clear patches covered with coarse grass. The
trees on the side of the first reach in the southerly arm were laden with
the snowy plumage of a large flock of cockatoos. After proceeding about
five miles further we rested a few hours, continuing again soon after
midnight. As the tides run twelve hours each way, it was necessary that
we should take advantage of the favourable stream, whatever might be the
hour, though this plan kept the men for a very long time together at the
The general direction we pursued was still south, for six miles by the
windings of the stream, which was so reduced in breadth and volume, as to
be scarcely a hundred yards wide, and not a fathom deep. There was now
little hope that it would lead into fresh water, although, from the
number of trials that were made, I am sure there was salt water enough
drunk to have physicked a whole village.
APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY.
The banks were still of the same monotonous character. In one of the
reaches I was fortunate enough to shoot a specimen of the large wary
brown-coloured rail I have before mentioned. From this, the only one
obtained, it has been described as Eulabeornis castaneoventris. It is
doubtless the bird called by the Port Essington natives, Morduggera, the
eggs only of which were found there, the bird itself not having been
seen. They were equal in size to those of a guineafowl, of a dirty white,
finely speckled with reddish brown.
Our course now changed to south-west, and as the width and tortuousness
began to decrease--a sure indication that the country was rising--we soon
made another six miles. But after this the boats could no further
proceed--the inlet, in short, having become a mere ditch at low-water.
The head of a large alligator was found on the bank near the upper part;
where might be seen an occasional acacia mingled with the mangroves.
Behind, the country was very open, consisting of plains covered with
coarse grass, interspersed with patches of dwarf gums. About seven miles
in an East by North direction the country was thickly wooded, and
appeared to be a little higher--the only interruption to the level
monotony of the portion of the continent by which we were surrounded. The
soil was of a light brown colour void of sand, and of considerable depth.
Nothing now remained but to retrace our steps and try the other branch;
and as our want of success in this case rather heightened our expectation
we hurried back with some rapidity. It was dark before we reached the
point of separation, where the boat's crew regaled themselves on some
large brown hawks, in the absence of better fowl. There was this evening
a beautiful eclipse of the moon. The temperature had again fallen to 60
degrees; at noon it was 87 degrees; and at four A.M. 52 degrees.
As time and tide wait for no man we were obliged to move off at one in
the morning. The earth's shadow having passed over the moon, the pale
light of her full orb fell in a silvery stream on the tortuous reaches,
as the waters swelled in silence between the growth of mangroves fringing
DISCOVERY OF THE ALBERT.
At the end of three miles in a West by South direction, nearly double by
the windings, we passed an island on the left. The depth at low-water, so
far, being nearly 2 fathoms, and the width about 250 yards, promised
well. Water-tasting had now become rather out of fashion. However, it so
happened that one of the whaler's crew put his hand over, and gave us the
delightful news that the stream was quite fresh! A general tasting
followed, each being anxious to get the first draught of the water of our
new-found river; and the agreeable intelligence was confirmed. Of the
importance of our discovery there could now no longer be any doubt, and
the exhilarating effect it produced on all was quite magical, every arm
stretching out as if the fatigue they had experienced had suddenly passed
There could be little difficulty in finding a name for our new discovery.
We had already called two rivers, explored by the Beagle's officers, the
Victoria and the Adelaide; and we were glad of such an opportunity of
again showing our loyalty to Her Majesty, by conferring the name of her
noble consort upon this important stream; it was accordingly christened
The boats now glided rapidly onwards, and West by North another mile
brought us to three islands, which we passed on the right; after landing
for observations, with the stars Achernar and Aldebaran, at some earthy
cliffs ten feet high on the left bank. The river now wound round a point
to the westward, three-quarters of a mile wide; in the first bend we
passed four islands on the right, with a creek on either side, and
towards the end of the next, two more on the left.
CHANGE IN THE VEGETATION.
Daylight now burst upon us with tropical rapidity. The banks had assumed
a very different appearance; the monotonous mangroves had given place to
gumtrees and acacias, which drooped over the stream, partly concealing a
rich growth of large flags. This change in the character of the foliage
was not only in itself a relief, but evinced that we had at length, in
some sort, escaped the influence of the sea, and that we were in reality
penetrating towards the interior of the continent.
Our course was now North-West 1/2 West for a mile and a half, with an
increase in the width, and a depth of nine feet. Here we found the river
suddenly turn round to the southward and eastward, bringing us back
within five hundred yards of where we started from, which was one mile
West by South 1/2 South from the morning's observation spot. Brown
whistling wood-ducks now made their appearance, and being unaccustomed to
man and his destructive weapons, allowed us to revel in wildfowl for some
PROCEED UP THE ALBERT.
The morning sun was hailed with delight, as sitting cramped up in a boat,
with the unusually low temperature of 53 degrees made us very chilly, and
brought flushing jackets and trousers into great request, whilst in
midday the light clothing natural to the latitude was sufficient. We
found the tides rise here four feet, and both flood and ebb ran from one
to two knots. After following a reach, trending South-East 1/2 East a
mile, with a string of islets in the upper part, our westerly progress
became more rapid and direct, and with the exception of one bend to the
northward we made three miles in a West-South-West direction.
But we were once more doomed to be interrupted by the sudden turning of
the river short off to the northward, when it wound round a point a mile
long, and a quarter wide, the extremity of which is low and sandy, a
character only this once observed in the Albert; on the opposite side
were cliffs thirty feet high.
Near the sandy point we observed some fires; and on our return, by
crawling up the bank, I got a peep at a small party of natives engaged
intently in digging for the esculent called warran. As they were few in
numbers our abrupt appearance would have too much terrified them to leave
any chance of an interview; and we accordingly did not disturb them, but
contented ourselves with watching their movements for a while. The
spectacle was an interesting one. Both men and women were engaged in
delving for their food, whilst a little beyond a few more were burning
the bush, and looking out for game and snakes. It does not often fall to
the lot of the white man to behold the wild people of the earth, engaged
in their daily avocations, completely unconscious that the gaze of a
superior class of beings is upon them. We have seen savages exhibited to
us professedly in all the simplicity of the woods; but how can the
children of nature retain their freedom of action and manners under the
curious gaze of a civilized multitude? We may depend upon it that we
gather nothing but erroneous ideas from such a display. If we would
understand, truly, what our savage brethren are like, we must penetrate
into the woods and the wilds where they are to be found; we must mingle
with them in the exercise of their domestic avocations; we must see them
as they are, in all their excusable degradation; and not invested with a
fictitious dignity, or a theatrical simplicity; we must observe them,
also, unawares, and see how they conduct themselves under the ordinary
influences that beset them.
It was with great reluctance that I departed without making our presence
known; but I could not refrain from leaving, at the place where we
landed, the perplexing legacy of a few presents. With what curious
anxiety must these people have traced our footmarks, from which alone
they could gather evidence that we belonged to a different race!
After making two miles in a south and nearly three in a west direction,
with but few interruptions from windings, we opened a splendid sheet of
water, trending South-West 1/2 South. A mile back I had found, in a
crooked reach, some native huts, built of sticks and neatly plastered
over, with doors so narrow that none of our broad-shouldered fellows
At this place we saw the last whistling-ducks on our way up; further on,
other species, to be hereafter mentioned, were found. A large alligator
also afforded us sport, although we did not secure him.
The country was gradually becoming perceptibly higher, and the scenery
extremely picturesque. Tall palm-trees and bamboos were now to be seen
among the rich foliage on the lower slope of the banks, that rose here to
an elevation of fifty feet, and were much intersected with watercourses.
Onwards we hurried; the influence of the tide being scarcely felt, and
the river preserving its South-West 1/2 South direction, with a width of
two hundred yards, and a depth of two fathoms and a half. At the end of
three miles no change was perceptible, and we began to congratulate
ourselves on, at last, having found a stream that would carry the boats
far towards the point it was always the height of my ambition to reach,
the centre of the continent.
To this part of the Albert that had given rise to such expectations we
gave the name of Hope Reach. A little higher up we landed on the right
bank to cook a meal and examine the country. I shall here attempt, with
the aid of Lieutenant Gore's sketch,* to give the reader some idea of the
beauty of the scene that now presented itself to our anxious gaze.
(*Footnote. See the view annexed.)
It was in truth as glorious a prospect as could greet the eye. A
magnificent sheet of water lay before us in one unbroken expanse,
resembling a smooth translucent lake. Its gentle repose harmonized
exquisitely with the slender motionless boughs of the drooping gums,
palms, and acacias, that clustered on the banks, and dipped their
feathery foliage in the limpid stream, that like a polished mirror bore,
within its bosom, the image of the graceful vegetation by which it was
bordered. The report of our guns, as they dealt destruction among the
quails that here abounded, rolled for the first time along the waters of
the Albert, breaking in on the hush of stillness that appeared to reign
over all like the presence of a spirit. The country that stretched away
from either bank was an extensive plain, covered with long coarse grass,
above which was occasionally seen the head of a kangaroo, listening, with
its acute ear, for our approach.
No high land presented itself in any direction, and the eye was only
relieved by the growth of trees and shrubs that marked the line of the
watercourses, the natural drains of the country, which had formed deep
channels through the banks. The gumtrees, near the river, were of
considerable size, though small on the plains. A light kind of mould of
great depth, without a particle of stone of any kind, was the character
of the soil.
BIRDS AND FISHES.
One of the boats tried the hooks and lines during our rambles over the
country, and from the number of catfish and a dark kind of bream that was
caught, we are enabled to state that this part of the Albert abounds with
them. Besides quails, pigeons and a beautiful finch, before seen on the
Victoria, are to be numbered among the land birds. Those of the water
consisted of large brown, and small grey ducks, spoonbills, black and
white geese, and a dark blue kind of rail, bearing a great resemblance to
the English moor-fowl, that afforded us excellent sport, as they flew out
in great numbers from the long flags that border the banks on the upper
part of Hope Reach. We did not see any black swans, neither were they
noticed by us on the north-west coast. I, myself, believe they are not to
be found to the northward of latitude 27 degrees 0 minutes South. This
part of the river is subject to a tidal influence, producing a slight
rise, which takes place about four hours after the time of high-water at
In our eagerness to proceed we moved off rapidly up the river, after a
hasty meal. All beyond was mystery; and it seemed that we were destined
to remain long in suspense; for the day soon closed in, leaving only the
pale light of the moon to guide us. The depth continued regular, at two
and a half fathoms, and the width two hundred yards. We hastened onwards;
the night scenery being almost more beautiful than the day. The heavens
seemed more deep, the water more glittering, the trees more graceful and
feathery; and here and there a tall palm reared its thin and spectral
form above the dense foliage through which the moonlight broke at
intervals, and fell, as it were, in showers of silver on the placid
Nearly seven miles had been traversed in the same South-West 1/2 South
direction, when our hopes of proceeding further were suddenly for a time
destroyed, by the appearance of a dense woody mass ahead. A little
further on, the moon peering through the matted foliage showed one branch
of the river turning off to the southward, whilst another, in the mouth
of which we found ourselves, trended west. The lead giving the great
depth of six fathoms, we were induced to follow the latter. Utter
darkness soon surrounded us; the trees, on either side, over-shadowing
the river, which in this branch was not eighty yards wide.
Our progress, also, at length began to be impeded by fallen or sunken
trees, which not only rendered the ascent dangerous, but at the end of
about two miles fairly brought us to a standstill, and forbade our
further advance. This detention was a bitter disappointment to us all,
and we crept into our blanket-bags with disgust, but with the hope that
in the morning a passage might still be found.
Daylight brought no better hopes of our taking the boats higher up by
this branch, as a succession of large trees lay across it a quarter of a
mile above. It was a gloomy corner we had got into, and so sheltered that
it seemed as though a breath of wind had never swept through it; the
leaves of the low-spreading palms that drooped over the water, damp with
the morning dew, had unbroken edges, as if an eternal quietude had
pervaded the spot.
BEAUTY OF THE LANDSCAPE.
This triste appearance wore off as the sun rose, and the scenery under
his smiles was soon clothed with beauty. Trees with every variety of
foliage overhung each other, connected, as it were, by bowers of creepers
depending in festoons and concealing odd-shaped fragments of fallen
timber, which here and there reared their blackened heads out of the
water, the unruffled smoothness of which was occasionally disturbed by
the splash of some wildfowl, and chequered with alternate spots of gold
and gloom by the sun's rays, as they pierced through the dense
Returning, we entered the south branch; the opening of which was almost
equal in beauty, as the reader will perceive from the view in the
beginning of the first volume; but we were again stopped by fallen trees
after proceeding about a mile and a half.
Here we observed driftwood and rushes in the trees, fifteen feet above
our heads. It was now quite clear that all hopes of water carriage
towards the interior were at an end. The boats were at this time above
fifty miles from the entrance, and our provisions only admitting of the
remainder of this day being spent in land exploration, a party was
immediately selected for this service.
Following up a short woody valley, on reaching the summit of the level a
view burst upon me, the nature of which the reader may learn from the
accompanying plate. A vast boundless plain lay before us, here and there
dotted over with woodland isles. Whilst taking the bearings of one of
these to guide us in the direction we were to steer, I sent a man up a
tree to have a further view; but nothing beyond an extension of the plain
was to be seen. The river could be traced to the southward by a waving
line of green trees; the latter were larger at this spot than in any
other part, and consisted of tall palms, and three kinds of gums. No
trace of the western branch could be discovered.
Time being, as I have before said, very precious, we moved off in a
South-South-East direction, at the rate of almost four miles an hour, in
spite of the long coarse grass lying on the ground and entangling our
THE PLAINS OF PROMISE.
The soil* was still a light-coloured mould of great depth, and according
to one so well qualified to judge as Sir W. Hooker, who kindly examined
some that I brought to England, is of a rich quality, confirming the
opinion I entertained of it, which suggested for this part of the
continent, the name of The Plains of Promise.
(*Footnote. My immediate visit to Port Essington afforded me an
opportunity of comparing the qualities of the two soils; and the result
was that the richest land I saw there, in spite of the aid of manure,
etc. was very inferior to that on the Plains of Promise.)
We were now once more stepping out over a terra incognita; and though no
alpine features greeted our eyes as they wandered eagerly over the vast
level, all was clothed with the charm of novelty. The feelings of delight
which are naturally aroused in those whose feet for the first time press
a new and rich country, and which I have so often before endeavoured in
vain to express, burst forth on this occasion with renewed intensity.
At the end of nearly four miles we turned off to the westward for a rise
at a short distance, concealing the line of trees that marked the course
of the river, from which we had been gradually receding. We found it to
be on the opposite side of a watercourse twenty-five feet deep. From its
summit we got a view of the country to the south-west, over the growth of
trees at the margin of the river.*
(*Footnote. See the view annexed. )
On this rise we met an emu, which, after several bad shots, got away from
the whole of us. This, in some measure was owing to our over-eagerness,
as the bird was at first inclined to approach. Proceeding a little
farther we observed a small lake bearing north half a mile. Attracted by
the beauty of the vernal tints on its borders we went to taste the
waters. On the same refreshing errand was a luckless beautiful
slate-coloured egret, which Mr. Gore shot. Holding our west course we
made the river at the end of another mile. Its size was reduced to a mere
rivulet; being scarcely fifteen yards wide, with a depth of five feet.
Yet it had greater velocity than we had before observed, running at the
rate of a mile an hour, a clear babbling brook, over which, acacias and
drooping gums formed a leafy tunnel; its course was still from the south.
HALT THE PARTY AND PROCEED ALONE.
Whilst the rest of the party halted I proceeded, with the freshest man,*
in a southerly direction; urged on by what was, perhaps, now the
unjustifiable hope of discovering some distant point rising above the far
horizon as a definite result and reward of my exploration. It seemed,
however, almost impossible that this same wearisome monotony could long
continue; and I experienced much of that painful depressing excitement
which is created by a series of similar impressions when we are longing
(*Footnote. A marine, of the name of John Brown, possessing great powers
of endurance. He died in 1845, in a situation I got him under the Trinity
House, on his obtaining a pension for long
We soon gained almost another two miles, when I availed myself of the
opportunity to satisfy a second time my ambition of outstripping my
companions in approaching towards that land of mystery, Central
Australia. Desiring Brown to make the river abreast, I ran a short
distance further, when I again met the Albert, flowing on as before, with
undiminished size. Even this short distance was something to gain in a
new and untrodden country.
The line of verdure still pointed out the southerly course of the river
across the endless plain; and it became natural to speculate on its
source or origin; whether it was the drainage of a swamp, or the outlet
of some lagoon, fed by the Cordillera to the eastward. But to speculation
alone was I reduced, it not being permitted me to clear up this point.
All I could do was to give one long lingering look to the southward
before I returned. In that direction, however, no curling smoke denoted
the presence of the savage; all was lonely and still; and yet even in
these deserted plains, equally wanting in the redundance of animal, as in
the luxuriance of vegetable life, I could discover the rudiments of
future prosperity, and ample justification of the name which I had
bestowed upon them. I gazed around, despite my personal disappointment,
with feelings of hopeful gratitude to Him who had spread out so fair a
dwelling place for his creatures; and could not refrain from breathing a
prayer that ere long the now level horizon would be broken by a
succession of tapering spires rising from the many christian hamlets that
must ultimately stud this country, and pointing through the calm depths
of the intensely blue and gloriously bright skies of Tropical Australia,
to a still calmer and brighter and more glorious region beyond, to which
all our sublimest aspirations tend, and where all our holiest desires may
The recent formation of this part of the country was very striking. We
met no rocks during our walk; a porphyritic pebble or two being the only
stones noticed; they were flattened, evidently showing that the water by
which they were carried had a slow motion, which supports the view I have
put forward in an early page of this volume, with reference to the
gradual northerly discharge of the accumulated waters of Central
EXPLORATION OF THE INTERIOR.
My position was in latitude 17 degrees 58 1/2 minutes South longitude 7
degrees 12 1/2 East of Port Essington, or 139 degrees 25 minutes East of
Greenwich; and within four hundred miles from the centre of the
continent. What an admirable point of departure for exploring the
interior! A few camels, with skins for conveying water, would be the
means of effecting this great end in a very short time. In one month
these ships of the desert, as they have been appropriately called, might
accomplish, at a trifling expense, that which has been attempted in vain
by the outlay of so much money. When we consider that Australia is our
own continent, and that now, after sixty years of occupation, we are in
total ignorance of the interior, though thousands are annually spent in
geographical research, it seems not unreasonable to expect that so
important a question should at length be set at rest.
RETURN DOWN THE ALBERT.
In the whole continent there exists no point of departure to be compared
with the head of the Albert. The expedition should, as I have before
remarked, go to Investigator Road, fulfilling my prediction of the
ultimate importance of that port, which lies only twenty-seven miles
North-North-West from the entrance. Here the flat-bottomed boats, taken
out in frame, for the purpose of carrying up the camels, should be put
together, and towed from thence to the river.
A shout from Brown, who, alarmed at my lengthened absence, had come in
search of me, roused me from the reverie in which I was indulging, and
which had carried me rolling along on the back of a camel, girded round
with an anti-pleurisy belt, over many miles of the new lands of
Australia. Returning with him I rejoined the rest of the party, and we
all moved back in the silence that usually succeeds great excitement,
towards the boats. Mr. Forsyth having made the necessary observations for
latitude, we were soon following the downward course of the Albert.
We reached the mouth before daylight on the 6th. This was the coldest
morning we had experienced; the thermometer being at 51 degrees with a
strong breeze from South-South-East, which rendered somewhat dangerous
the task of collecting the requisite soundings on the bar at the mouth;
the gig being once or twice nearly half filled in doing so. Behind the
eastern entrance point, was seen a large light-coloured kangaroo, which,
for want of a better, afforded us a name. Our observations refer to this
spot, Kangaroo Point, which they place in latitude 17 degrees 35 minutes
10 seconds South and longitude 7 degrees 35 minutes 50 seconds East of
Port Essington. Instead of the usual mangrove shore, the coast to the
eastward was sandy; but the most remarkable feature, hereabouts, is a
clump of tall mangroves, towering over their fellow evergreens, close to
the western entrance point. They are called in the chart the High Trees
of Flinders, having been noticed by that celebrated navigator whilst
passing at a distance from the coast. Bearing South-West 1/2 South they
guide a ship to the bar, which can only be taken at high-water springs,
when the depth averages eleven feet.* When the eastern part of this clump
of trees bears South 45 degrees West, and Kangaroo Point South 10 degrees
West the bar will have been passed, and the depth, at the same time of
tide, will be seventeen feet; when the bearing of Kangaroo Point, given,
leads up the channel, which deepens in a quarter of a mile to
twenty-three and soon after to thirty feet. The impetus given to the
water, from the first reach of the Albert, being straight, forces a
channel of two miles in extent; with a width of nearly a quarter of a
mile, growing gradually shallower towards the outer part, and,
ultimately, becoming lost in the great flat fronting the shore, which is
thrown out in proportion to the length of the channel, beyond which the
bar extends for above a mile. Part of its inner side, however, is
intersected by a narrow channel of thirteen and seventeen feet; the guide
through which, is the eastern edge of the clump of trees before
mentioned, bearing South 45 degrees West. The Albert is navigable, for
vessels of a draught suited to the bar, thirteen miles; and within five
of where the water is fresh.
(*Footnote. The tides in the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria appear to be
a compound of many others, obliterating the common daily difference, and
producing only one tide in 24 hours. The direction of the flood stream
commences at South-South-East, changing gradually to South-South-West as
it terminates; that of the ebb changes from North-West to
North-North-East. The strength of each is from a quarter to one knot. The
rise at springs is from 9 to 12 feet, and at neaps from 3 to 8 feet.)
After observing the latitude, we took advantage of the afternoon's lull
to make the best of our way to the ship, which we met underweigh, running
down towards us; Mr. Parker, the master, having become anxious at our
In the evening and next morning, we got more soundings off the mouth of
the river; and found that there was only six feet at low-water springs, a
mile and a quarter outside the bar. We afterwards carried a line along
the south-eastern shore of the gulf; and at noon, on the 9th, anchored
off Van Diemen's Inlet, where I had arranged to meet Mr. Fitzmaurice's
ACCIDENT TO MR. FITZMAURICE.
The whaleboat was soon seen hastening from the shore without the yawl,
which made us suspect all was not right; and I was much distressed to
hear that Mr. Fitzmaurice had been seriously wounded in the ankle by the
discharge of a gun which had gone off within a few yards of it. Mr. Bynoe
went on shore immediately to assist in bringing him on board. The
accident having happened several days ago, and the whole charge of shot
being buried in his foot, his sufferings were intense. It was thought for
some time that amputation would be necessary; but though this was not the
case, he was maimed for life; for which, in some measure, he has been
compensated by promotion and a pension. By this melancholy accident the
service sustained a great loss, which was at no time felt more than when
COMPLETION OF THE SURVEY OF SOUTH SHORE OF THE GULF.
Mr. Fitzmaurice had fortunately, before he was disabled, completed his
examination of the coast between the Flinders and Van Diemen's Inlet,
with his usual praiseworthy activity. On leaving the former he found that
the shore trended North 47 degrees East, with a large inlet at the end of
ten miles. This was only examined a short distance in a south direction;
but from the bank being thrown out six miles from its mouth, with a
channel nearly halfway through, it evidently disembogues a large volume
of water, and we may reasonably infer it to be a river. It is named in
the chart Bynoe's Inlet. Seven miles beyond was another inlet, with a
sandy beach extending for two miles to the south-west of it. Five miles
further, the trend of the coast changed to North 4 degrees East,
continuing almost straight in that direction to Van Diemen's Inlet,
distant twenty-five miles; and, with the exception of the first five, is
sandy throughout. Thirteen miles from Van Diemen's Inlet is an opening of
some magnitude, near the south entrance point of which are ponds of fresh
water. Two and four miles south of it were small openings; and two and
seven miles north of it, two others.
During his excursion Mr. Fitzmaurice had killed one of the rare species
of kangaroo, seen for the first time by us at King Sound, called Macropus
unguifer; this was a somewhat important discovery, as it showed the
extent to which the animal is diffused over the continent. I may here
mention, that the night before we reached Van Diemen's Inlet a flight of
rose-coloured cockatoos,* several of which were caught and kept alive for
some time, alighted on the rigging.
(*Footnote. Cacatua eos.)
Thus terminated our exploration of the southern shores of the Gulf of
Carpentaria, nearly two hundred miles of which had been minutely examined
in the boats.* Twenty-six inlets had been discovered, of which two proved
to be rivers, whilst three more were nearly as promising. That all the
others may contain fresh water in the rainy season there is every reason
for supposing, from the fact of deep channels being found in their banks;
from what I have already observed regarding the water being less salt
towards the heads at low tides; and from the report we afterwards heard
at Port Essington that Malay proas occasionally visit the southern shores
of the Gulf, and fill fresh water from alongside, some distance off the
land. If we receive this statement as correct, we must suppose that at
certain seasons the discharge from the various inlets and rivers we
discovered is sufficiently powerful to force back the great body of
seawater, as is the case at the embouchures of many large rivers.
(*Footnote. As the reader will perceive by a glance at the chart
accompanying this work.)
The general appearance of the head of the Gulf is that of a low mangrove
shore, between ten and thirty feet high, over which the interior is not
visible from the offing.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE CLIMATE AND WINDS IN THE GULF.
During our visit to this part of the continent we found the climate well
suited for Europeans; but what it might be in the middle of the
north-west monsoon we had no opportunity of ascertaining. At its
commencement in the month of November, Flinders found the thermometer to
range on board between 81 and 90 degrees; but on shore, he says, that in
the course of the day it might have been about seven degrees higher; the
temperature, however, being alleviated by constant breezes either from
sea or land, it was seldom oppressive. In July, as I have already stated,
the thermometer, on one occasion, at 5 A.M., was down to 51 degrees; and
on another, at noon, up to 87 degrees, being, in the first instance, six
degrees lower than it was on board, and in the second, seven degrees
higher, which gave an excess in the shore range of thirteen degrees.
Generally on the land it was below 62 degrees before 7 A.M. and after 6
P.M. The range of the barometer in November was from 29.70 to 30.06;
whilst with us, in July, its maximum height was 30.08, and minimum 30.02;
the lowest being in both seasons with winds from the land, coinciding
with what had been observed on other parts of the continent, that winds
from the sea raise the mercury, and those from the land depress it.
The winds in July were fresh from South to South-East for about two days
before and after the change in the moon. They began at midnight,
increasing to almost a strong breeze between five and six in the morning,
and dying away again towards noon, when a calm of five hours duration
succeeded; at other times light land and seabreezes prevailed.
It will appear from this description of the winds in the Gulf of
Carpentaria that they bear a great similarity to those experienced at the
same season on the North-West coast, near Depuch Island; and the
circumstance of the temperature being lowest when they were strongest
from the land is also the same. This was there supposed to have been
occasioned by the great radiation of heat from the land over which they
blew; but as the country at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria is not of
a cold clayey nature, the idea is naturally suggested that there must be
a great extent of swampy ground in the interior, which strengthens the
opinion I have before expressed.
After hoisting in the boats we shaped a course along the eastern shore of
the Gulf towards Booby Island. Our being obliged to return thither, for a
chronometric departure prevented our examining the middle of the upper
part of the Gulf, where, according to certain vague reports, there exist
islands. It is stated, for example, that after the south-west monsoon has
set in strongly, numbers of coconuts are thrown on the north-west shore
of the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the year 1839, moreover, a small proa was
driven off the coast of Timor Laut during the north-west monsoon. The
wind blowing hard drifted them to the South-East for three days and three
nights, when they came to a low island, with no traces of inhabitants,
and abounding in coconut trees, upon the fruit of which they lived until
the monsoon changed, when they sailed back to Timor Laut. Flinders, when
off Batavia River, on the North-East side of the Gulf, was led to suppose
that an island existed to seaward of him, from seeing some flocks of
geese coming from that direction one morning. Wilson, also, in his Voyage
round the World, speaks of the Macassar people reporting an island in the
Gulf of Carpentaria, with sandalwood growing on it.
EXAMINE ENDEAVOUR STRAIT.
Soon after daylight on the 13th, we anchored under Booby Island,* the
flagstaff bearing East-South-East half a mile to the south. The weather
looked unusually threatening the previous night. Between the observations
for rating the chronometers I fulfilled my intention of making a cursory
examination of the entrance of Endeavour Strait, and anchored a mile and
three quarters off the North Wallis Island, bearing South 23 degrees
East. It is a conical rocky isle, upwards of 70 feet high, of a coarse
sandstone formation; an extensive coral reef fronts it on all sides,
except the north. The result of a night's observations on shore placed
the summit in latitude 10 degrees 51 minutes 25 seconds South; the true
bearing of Booby Island was North 22 degrees 13 minutes West. The natives
appear to make a cemetery of this island; for on a small sandy point on
the north side we found a large grave, covered with turtle backs, and
containing several skeletons. This is a very different mode of burial
from that noticed in Flinders River.
(*Footnote. The result of the whole of our observations at this island
are as follows: Latitude of the west point 10 degrees 36 minutes 42
seconds South, longitude, 141 degrees 57 minutes 45 seconds East;
variation, 7 degrees 0 minutes East. The tides are equally strange here
and in Endeavour Strait; the stream setting to the westward
(West-South-West to West-North-West) from nineteen to twenty hours, and
to the northward and eastward (North to North-East) only from four to
five hours. The latter stream commences about an hour before high-water,
which takes place at 4.30, on the full and change days, when the rise at
springs is 12 feet, and at neaps 7; the length of flood and ebb is nearly
Leaving our anchorage, we steered West 1/4 North, six miles, in soundings
of 6 and 7 fathoms. We then crossed in 4 1/2 and 5 fathoms, North Wallis
Island bearing South 75 minutes East, a ridge which appeared to be an
elbow of the spit extending off the latter, and forming the south side of
the channel. Continuing the same course, the depth soon increased to 6
and 7 fathoms. This was highly satisfactory, as it proved there was water
for the largest vessels.* In the afternoon we anchored again under Booby
(*Footnote. Captain Blackwood's recent survey of this Strait confirms my
opinion of its being the best passage through this part of Torres
(**Footnote. The following is the extract from the game book referred to
in a former page: Booby Island (June and August) 145 quails, 18 pigeons,
12 rails, of two kinds, 3 doves; Van Diemen's Inlet (July) 14 doves, 6
pigeons, 1 native companion; Bountiful Island (July) 8 quails, 11 doves,
1 pheasant, 3 plovers, 4 white cockatoos; Sweers Island (July) 151
quails, 87 doves, 20 pigeons, 3 pheasants, 8 white and 2 black cockatoos,
5 spurwing plovers; Disaster Inlet (July) 36 ducks, 9 white cockatoos, 2
native companions, 1 green ibis; on the coast (July) 10 curlews and
plovers; Flinders River (July) 10 ducks, 5 rose-coloured cockatoos, 4
pigeons, 3 spurwing plovers, 1 rail of a new species, 1 white ibis, 1
spoonbill; Albert River (August) 20 ducks, 4 large water rails, 2
pheasants; between Van Diemen's Inlet and Flinders' River (August) 12
cockatoos, 1 kangaroo (Macropus unguifer); Wallis Isles (August) 6
quails, 6 doves, 1 pigeon.)
LOOK FOR CAPE WESSEL.
On the evening of the next day, the 17th, we weighed, and steered West by
South across the Gulf; and in the afternoon of the 18th passed eleven
miles from Cape Wessel, according to the position assigned to it in the
chart: but as the weather was tolerably clear, and nothing was seen of
it, there appeared to be some truth in the report I had previously heard
of its being to the southward of the position given to it.
The wind freshened by midnight, and, as usual, became more southerly,
that is to say, South-South-East, whilst during the day it was generally
East-South-East and East, and very much lighter. The current was steady
at North-West by West from half a knot to three-quarters per hour,
maintaining about the same direction and strength as in 1839. On the
evening of the 19th we crossed the meridian of the centre of New Year
Island, which our observations placed in 8 degrees 52 minutes west of
Booby Island, one mile less than Flinders.
RETURN TO PORT ESSINGTON.
It was late in the afternoon of the 20th before we reached an anchorage
off the settlement of Victoria, where we met Captain Stanley, who had
just returned in the Britomart from a cruise in the Arafura Sea, of which
the reader will find an interesting account, from his own pen, in the
CHAPTER 2.10. INDIAN ARCHIPELAGO.
Leave Port Essington.
Visit from the Schoolmaster.
Trade of the Arrou Islands.
Visit from Natives.
The Banda Group.
Adventures of a Javanese.
Captain de Stuers.
Native dance and sports.
Mode of preserving the fruit.
Visit a natural grotto.
Sail from Amboyna.
Island of Kissa.
Village of Wauriti.
Return to Port Essington.
SAIL FOR DOBBO.
We sailed from Port Essington on the 19th of June, and found a very heavy
confused sea running outside, which made the topsides leak so much that
we were obliged to have recourse to the pump every hour. On the second
day we made the south end of the Arrou Islands, the latitude of which
agrees with the position assigned to it in the Admiralty Chart. On
attempting to close the land, which is very low, we shoaled the water
suddenly from 15 to 6 fathoms, when at some distance from the shore, and
from the heavy sea running, and the appearance of the land, I did not
think it prudent to stand in closer, but steered to the northward towards
Dobbo. At sunset we anchored off the village of Maykor, situated at the
entrance of a small inlet, and had a visit from an old man who had been
lately appointed Orangtua by the Captain of a Dutch frigate, that had
touched on the coast. He was very dirty, talked a great deal, and imbibed
a considerable quantity of brandy and arrack. We allowed him to remain on
board till daylight, when he returned to his village, leaving one of his
boat's crew behind to pilot us round to Dobbo.
After leaving Maykor, we had very deep water until we came abreast the
island of Babi, off which a shoal extends to the eastward two miles. We
crossed the end of it in 8 fathoms, and immediately afterwards deepened
our water to 15; and did not again strike soundings until we were close
off the old Dutch fort, at the entrance of Dobbo harbour. Here we
anchored, as I wished to see the native village close to it.
The anchor was hardly let go, when the monotonous sound of a tom-tom gave
notice of the approach of some chief; and shortly afterwards, a boat,
carrying a huge Dutch flag, was seen pulling towards the brig, with a
great many round-bladed paddles.
VISIT FROM THE SCHOOLMASTER.
Seated in state, in the stern sheets, was an old man dressed in a long
black serge coat and trousers, with a white shirt and handkerchief. His
servant who sat behind him, attempted to protect him from a heavy shower
by holding over his head, with very great care, an old Chinese umbrella
that leaked like a sieve.
The old man, on coming on board, introduced himself as the schoolmaster
of the village, and gave us a pressing invitation to land and inspect the
church, of which he seemed to be very proud. A younger man, who
accompanied him, he introduced as the Orang kaya of the village. As the
rain still continued, I invited them into the cabin, where they were much
delighted at all they saw; and, during the conference, they expressed
much surprise at being told that all Englishmen were Christians. The
chief of Wakan, an island which forms the other side of the entrance to
Dobbo harbour, also favoured us with a visit. He came to request us to
assist him in waging war against the chief of a neighbouring island, and
did not at all understand our refusing his petition.
CHURCH AT DOBBO.
As soon as the rain cleared off, our visitors landed, and Mr. Earl and
myself soon followed them to their village, where they were all drawn up
to receive us, and saluted us with one musket. We were conducted to the
village in state, and immediately taken to see the church, which had been
a nice building, capable of holding all the inhabitants of the place; but
it had latterly been allowed to get very much out of repair. In the font
they had placed a saucer containing a small coin, as a hint that we
should contribute something towards the restoration of the church, which
was not thrown away, and most probably led to the largest donation the
church had received for some time. After inspecting the church and
village, we walked for some distance along the beach, and saw a great
many parrots, parakeets, and large wood-pigeons, of varied and beautiful
plumage, flying amongst the splendid kanari* trees, which, from all
accounts, afford most valuable timber for ship-building.
(*Footnote. Cannarium commune.)
Mr. Earl and myself visited the village of Dobbo. We found it very little
changed since our last visit. The trading vessels had all sailed, but the
village was occupied by a few Dutch traders from Macassar, some dozen
Chinese, and about 300 Bughis and Macassars; the greater portion of whom
were preparing to visit the eastern side of the group to collect the
produce for the vessels expected to arrive at the setting-in of the
The only sea-going vessels in the harbour were two large Macassar proas
and a Ceramese junk; which were to sail in a few days.
Whilst I was employed, making astronomical observations to determine the
position of the point, Mr. Earl obtained considerable information from
TRADE OF THE ARROU ISLANDS.
The commerce of these islands appears to have increased considerably of
late years, four or five ships and brigs, with a number of Macassar and
Bughis proas, whose united crews were said to have amounted to 5,000
persons, having sailed with cargoes about two months previous to our
The produce of the Arrou Islands consists chiefly of pearls,
mother-of-pearl shell, tortoise-shell, birds of paradise, and Trepang;
but the trade of Dobbo is not dependent on the productions of the Arrou
Islands alone. The Bughis proas import large quantities of British
calico, iron, hardware, muskets, gunpowder, etc. from Singapore, to
obtain which Dobbo is visited by the natives of Ceram, Buru, New Guinea,
and of all the adjacent islands, it being the only spot in this part of
the world where British manufactures can at present be procured. The
articles brought for sale from New Guinea consist of nutmegs, tortoise
and mother-of-pearl shell, ambergris, birds-of-paradise, ebony, clove,
and Massay bark, rosamala (an odoriferous wood) and Kayu-buku, a wood
much prized for cabinet-work. British calicoes and iron are the principal
articles taken in exchange for these by the proas from New Guinea.
The closeness with which the native traders conceal their commercial
transactions, even from each other, rendered it impossible for me to
learn the amount of exports and imports. Each Bughis proa imports to the
amount of from 10,000 to 30,000 dollars, and at least one half of her
cargo consists of British goods. Taking the yearly average of thirty
proas, and the amount of her import cargo at the lowest above stated,
this will give 150,000 dollars, or 32,500 pounds sterling, as the amount
of British goods imported annually into Dobbo. This appears a large
amount; but it will be found, upon examination, that it is rather under
than above the actual value. In fact, the greater portion of our cotton
manufactures sold at Singapore is consumed in the less civilized parts of
the Indian Archipelago, where the natives prefer cheap goods and gaudy
patterns; while the people of Java, Celebes, etc. prefer their own or
Indian manufactures, which, although dearer, are far more durable than
The value of a return cargo of a Bughis proa at Singapore is about 200
per cent on the outlay. Of the timber of the Arrou Islands there are
several varieties, highly spoken of by the Bughis (who build and repair
their proas there) for their durability, and the ease with which they are
worked. Although of immense size, the trees are almost invariably sound;
and as they can be felled within a few yards of the beach, it is not
impossible that at some future period timber may form a valuable article
The western islands of this group are very thinly inhabited. Wamma,
though nearly forty miles in circumference, contains only between 200 and
300 inhabitants, who are scattered along the coast in little villages,
each containing about half a dozen houses. The eastern islands are said
to be more thickly inhabited. The natives appear to be a harmless race;
and though their country is so rich in produce, the greater portion are
in a state of poverty. This is to be attributed to the immoderate use of
spirituous liquors, large quantities of which are brought by the traders
from Java and Macassar. From their language and personal appearance, the
natives appear to be a mixture between the Malayan race and the
PRODUCTIONS OF THE ISLANDS.
We also learnt that the emu and a small species of the kangaroo are found
in the islands. From the varieties of birds, insects, butterflies, and
parasitical plants, etc. that we saw, these islands promise a rich field
to the naturalist and botanist.
We were shown some of the pearls that had been collected, some of which
were very large, and highly prized by the Chinese; though from their
irregular form and golden hue, they would not suit the European market.
The smaller pearls, about the size of Number 1 shot, were very perfect in
figure but tinged with colour.
As soon as the observations were concluded we returned on board, and got
underway to proceed to the Ki Islands. On the 25th we passed the north
end of the Great Ki, and along its western side, which appeared to be as
steep as the eastern, and to afford no anchorage whatever. At 2 P.M. we
were off the Lesser Ki, and anchored nearly in our old berth, in 14
fathoms. As soon as the brig was secured, Mr. Hill and myself commenced a
survey of the harbour, with which we were rather disappointed, as on
further examination the water proved to be too deep for convenient
NATIVES ON BOARD.
The natives came on board in great numbers, bringing abundance of yams,
coconuts, bananas, pumpkins, and a few fowls. As our usual hour for
divine service approached, Mr. Earl explained to them what we were going
to do, and that they must go on shore till we had finished; but the
chiefs requested so earnestly to be allowed to remain, that I permitted
them to do so, upon the condition that they would be quite silent during
the service. This they promised, and seating themselves on the hammock
nettings all round the ship, remained the whole time most quiet and
attentive spectators of the scene before them, which they seemed to
understand and appreciate perfectly.
In the afternoon we landed, and accompanied by one of the chiefs, walked
into the interior of the island for some distance. The country was very
low, and covered with an impenetrable jungle, through which a path had
been cut with considerable care; on each side, we noticed some patches of
ground surrounded by stone walls, very neatly constructed. Our guide
informed us that they had been farms, but the soil was exhausted. As only
the underwood had been cleared away, the crop must have been produced
beneath the shade of the large trees, through which the rays of the sun
could scarcely penetrate. At Ki Doulan we saw nothing new. The
inhabitants had sold nearly all their canoes to the Bughis, who had
touched here on their return from Arrou to their own country.
THE BANDA GROUP.
As soon as our survey was finished, we sailed for Banda, where I hoped to
find some vessel in which our shipwrecked passengers* might find their
way to a more civilized part of the world.
(*Footnote. Crew of the Montreal, lost in Torres Strait, who reached Port
Essington in their boats.)
At 8 A.M. we saw Banda, and at 11 entered the harbour; which is formed
between the two islands of Great Banda and Banda Neira; and were here
advised by the Resident to take the seamen on to Amboyna; where the
papers requisite for their embarkation, in a Dutch merchant vessel, could
be procured with less difficulty.
The Banda group consists of three large islands and two smaller ones. The
nutmegs, which form the only export of the place, are all grown upon
Great Banda, the largest of the three islands. It averages 500 feet in
height, and is luxuriantly wooded.
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