Discoveries in Australia, Volume 2
John Lort Stokes
Part 6 out of 8
Banda Neira, the next in point of size, is the residence of the
government officers, the troops, and the convicts. It is not so high as
Great Banda, and does not produce a single nutmeg. The third island is
called the Gounung Api, or Burning Mountain; and is, as its name implies,
a volcano, from which more or less smoke, impregnated with sulphur, is
constantly issuing; during the westerly monsoon, this smoke is blown over
the town, which it renders very unhealthy. One of the small islands is
inhabited entirely by lepers, who are sent there to prevent the disease
from spreading among the inhabitants.
Banda is used as a penal settlement by the Dutch Government, and, at the
period of our visit, there were from 3000 to 4000 convicts, guarded by
about 300 soldiers, most of whom were natives of Celebes and Amboyna,
being commanded by European officers. The town of Banda is clean, and
contains, besides the houses of the Government officers, ample
storehouses for the reception of the nutmegs grown upon Great Banda;
together with very commodious barracks for the troops, and an airy and
well appointed hospital. In addition to the Government officers and
troops, a considerable number of Chinese have settled in Banda Neira.
They reside in a part of the town by themselves; and some of them,
judging from the appearance of their houses, seem to be prospering in the
The harbour is well sheltered in both monsoons, and is easy of access,
but it is closed against foreign merchant vessels.* We found two merchant
vessels under Dutch colours, at anchor; one was commanded by an
Englishman, and the other, the property of a rich Chinaman living in
Banda, by an old friend, who piloted us last year into Dobbo Harbour.
(*Footnote. A shoal extends from Great Banda towards the Gounung Api,
leaving a deep passage of not more than a quarter of a mile wide. Upon
this shoal, a considerable portion of which is dry at low-water,
extensive bamboo fish-weirs are erected, which seem to be very
productive. The natives also use fish-pots formed of bamboo, resembling
in principle the common drum-net, which they leave down in shoal water
during the night, and generally find a good supply in the morning. On
another part of the shoal we observed a number of large stones, which are
said to have been projected from the volcano, during a violent eruption
some years ago.)
ADVENTURES OF A JAVANESE.
His history was a strange one. He was a half-caste, born in Java, who,
after various adventures in different parts of the world, had been
pressed into our naval service, and served some time on board a
man-of-war, where he learned the English language. On his discharge from
her, he was for some time in distress in London, and eventually he found
his way back to his native country, where his enterprise, knowledge of
seamanship, and facility in acquiring languages, of which he spoke seven
or eight, soon got him employment.
The commandant of the troops, Captain De Stuers, nephew to the
Governor-General of the Moluccas, who had very civilly pointed out the
best anchorage to us, and given us every information in his power, on our
first arrival, finding that we were interested in the manners and customs
of the natives, very kindly invited us to see a menado dance performed by
some of the native soldiers of the garrison. We landed with him in his
Oram-bay, a large native boat, pulled by twelve men, who kept time by
striking their round-bladed paddles against the gunwale between every
On landing, the prettiest sight possible awaited us. The barrack-square,
a green grass field of considerable extent, was covered with the native
soldiers, all dressed in their gayest holiday costume, and decorated with
scarves and handkerchiefs of the brightest colours, which streamed
loosely from their elbows. Some of the men were armed with narrow bamboo
shields, others with wooden swords, and the remainder with the light
stems of the sago-palm, which were to be used as javelins. Each of these
warriors came dancing up to us in turn, to make his obeisance, as we
advanced to the spot where seats had been prepared for us. As soon as we
were all seated the dance commenced. At first the spear-men advanced
towards each other, holding the spear in the right hand, and the bamboo
shields in the left, keeping time to the rude music of a couple of drums
with very great accuracy, and dancing quite as much with their arms as
their legs, in the most graceful manner possible. When they had
approached sufficiently near to each other, one threw his spear with
great force and dexterity, still keeping time to the music, and the other
parried the weapon with his bamboo shield. I only saw one instance of
failure, and then the unfortunate man received the blunt spear full on
his breast with such force that it sent him rolling head-over-heels, much
to the amusement of the spectators, and equally to his own discomfiture.
As one of the Port Essington natives, a very fine active man, had
accompanied us on shore, we persuaded him, with some difficulty, to join
in the dance, thinking that the quickness of eye, so common to all
savages, would enable him to avoid the spear; but in this we were all
disappointed, as he was struck nearly every time the spear was thrown.
After the dance was over sundry gymnastics followed, and the evening was
wound up by an exhibition of the Ombres Chinoises, in which the soldiers
seemed to take very great delight. The moving figures were very cleverly
managed; and, to judge from the shouts of laughter which accompanied the
storyteller in his tale, it must have been a very amusing one.
The Resident having invited us to visit the nutmeg plantations on Great
Banda, we accompanied him to the landing-place at Lontar, where we found
chairs waiting for us, fitted with long poles, like those of a sedan, and
were carried by eight men, who placed the poles on their shoulders, thus
raising the chair, with its occupant, above their heads, a position which
we found at first anything but pleasant.
In these conveyances we ascended to the summit of the island by a broad
flight of stone steps, leading up from the landing-place, at the top of
which we saw a ruined fort, and a church, that still retains traces of
having been a fine building, though it had been much shaken by an
earthquake. After passing the church, we entered the nutmeg plantations.
The scenery was most beautiful. Under the shade of large kanari trees,
whose luxuriant foliage most effectually excluded the sun's rays, were
thousands of nutmeg trees loaded with blossom and fruit in every stage of
development. After passing through above a mile of these, we arrived at a
house belonging to one of the planters, where we saw the process of
curing the nutmeg.
In nine months from the opening of the blossom, the fruit, which
resembles in appearance and shape an unripe peach, is gathered from the
tree, by means of a long stick with an iron hook at the end. The outer
covering, a tough fleshy skin which being opened divides in two halves,
is then pulled off, and the mace, which is found partly enveloping the
nut, is carefully separated and dried for two or three days in the sun.
The nutmegs are then placed on long bamboo platforms, under sheds built
for the purpose, where they are dried by means of wood fires. When
sufficiently dry, they are handed over to the Government (who monopolize
the whole produce of the island) and are then placed in the Government
stores, where they are heated with quick-lime, which has the effect of
preserving them from insects: they are then ready for exportation.
The annual produce of the island is said to average from 300,000 to
400,000 pounds of nutmegs; and about one-fourth that quantity of mace.
Nutmegs are the only produce of Banda. Cloves are grown upon the island,
but are considered to be so much inferior in quality to those produced at
Amboyna, that they are not exported.
In returning to the ship, the bearers amused themselves by racing with
each other, a proceeding far from agreeable to us who were carried,
particularly when we came to the flight of steps, which they descended at
full speed, shaking the chairs to such a degree that we had some trouble
in keeping our seats. On arriving at the bottom we were most hospitably
received by one of the nutmeg planters.
On the 6th July we sailed from Banda, passing out through the western
entrance, between the shoal extending from Great Banda and the Gounung
Api; though very narrow, it is quite safe, and by keeping over on the
Gounung Api shore, which is very steep, we found plenty of water.
BAY OF AMBOYNA.
We entered the bay of Amboyna; but light winds prevented our reaching the
anchorage till noon on the 8th. We found a Dutch frigate, the Bellona, a
14-gun brig, and several merchant vessels under Dutch colours lying in
On landing, I was most kindly received by the Governor-General of the
Moluccas, Colonel de Stuers, who gave me a most pressing invitation to
take up my abode at his delightful residence a short distance out of the
town, which was gladly accepted. During our stay at Amboyna the rain was
almost incessant. This prevented our seeing the clove plantations, which
were described as being very beautiful, and the cloves of Amboyna are as
much prized as the nutmegs of Banda.
VISIT A NATURAL GROTTO.
The only fine day was devoted to an excursion some miles inland to visit
a curious natural grotto. We started in chairs, borne on men's shoulders,
similar to those at Banda, and which seem to be the usual conveyance of
the country. Our party consisted of more than 100 natives, preceded by
drums, gongs, and two large Dutch flags. The men who were not employed in
carrying the chairs, ran by our side, and amused us by their songs and
war-cry, which was the most thrilling yell I ever heard. The grotto
itself, prettily situated on the side of a well wooded hill, was of
considerable length but not otherwise curious.
Having at last succeeded in getting a rate for the chronometers, which
the unsettled state of the weather had rendered a matter of some
difficulty, we sailed from Amboyna, much delighted with the kindness and
attention we had all received. During the night we passed a small
insulated volcano that was emitting a faint smoke, and in the morning
made the north side of Wetter, which ranges from 3000 to 4000 feet in
height, is very barren, and apparently thinly inhabited.
ISLAND OF KISSA.
We were beating to the eastward against a strong breeze and heavy swell
from the south-east till the 25th, when we reached the small island of
Kissa, off which we anchored, in 30 fathoms, a quarter of a mile from the
shore, to the great delight of Mr. Earl's servant, who was a native of
this place. His countrymen, on coming on board, received him with the
most extravagant expressions of joy; and kept him up all night, relating
the wonders he had seen since he left them; in doing which he talked to
such a degree that when he came on board in the morning he could hardly
speak from hoarseness. We found the natives had been suffering most
severely from famine, occasioned by a long-continued drought that had
dried up everything on the island, to such an extent, that the rice
crops, upon which they chiefly depend for food, had entirely failed; but
of livestock we found no difficulty in obtaining an abundant supply, and
at a very moderate price. A couple of fowls were purchased for two feet
of thin brass wire, highly prized by the natives for making fishhooks
(which they prefer to our steel ones) and bracelets. A large pig was
obtained for two fathoms of white calico, and everything else in
VILLAGE OF WAURITI.
On landing, we were met by a chief who had seen Mr. Earl on a previous
visit. He promised to procure chairs to carry us up to Wauriti, the
principal village on the island; and, while waiting for them, came on
board and dined with us, behaving with great decorum, and appearing much
interested in all he saw. After dinner we found the chairs waiting for us
on the beach, and proceeded to the village, ascending a deep ravine with
a streamlet running down the centre, overshadowed by the most luxuriant
After emerging from this ravine we found ourselves near the highest point
of the island, of which we had a good view. Every part exhibited abundant
signs of industry and cultivation, although parched up from want of rain.
The chief of Wauriti received us with great hospitality, and offered
refreshments of tea, rice cake, and a sort of beer, made from the Sago
He then escorted us round the village, which contains a very good church
and schoolhouse, constructed under the direction of a Dutch Missionary,
who had been for some years a resident on the island, with his family,
and who appeared to have been very successful in converting the natives;
but the distress occasioned by the want of rain was too great a trial of
their faith; they declared that their old gods had sent the drought upon
them as a punishment for deserting them, for they had never had such a
visitation before Christianity had been introduced into the island. The
poor Missionary's influence was over; he was obliged to quit the island,
and went to Amboyna. A mile north of Wauriti we visited a smaller village
inhabited by the descendants of some Dutch families, who had lived upon
the island many years ago. They were quite different in appearance from
the natives, and some of the women were very goodlooking. In returning to
the ship, we examined an old Dutch fort built on the beach, but now in a
very dilapidated state. It consisted simply of a square building, with
bastions at the opposite angles. At sunset we made sail for Letti, off
which we anchored the next day, in 13 fathoms; half a mile north of the
Missionary establishment; where we found a resident minister and his
family, and two others from another part of the island staying with them.
A visit from Europeans was, to them, an event of rare occurrence, and
must have been an interesting break in their monotonous lives; they had
been very successful in their labours, and had converted many of the
natives. They had several establishments on the island; the one we
visited consisted of a church, schoolhouse, and house for the missionary;
the church had been built more than 100 years, and was a very substantial
edifice. The school appeared to be well attended by the native children.
The island of Letti, which is about 10 miles in extent, had also suffered
much from the want of rain, but was fast recovering its green appearance.
A high ridge of hills extends along the centre of the island from east to
west; the sides of which, sloping gradually towards the sea, are covered
with trees, and the whole island presents an appearance of great
fertility. The anchorage off Letti, which we surveyed, is very good
during the south-east monsoon, but affords no shelter when the wind blows
in an opposite direction. There may be an anchorage on the south side of
the island, which we did not visit, that would be available during the
After completing our survey at Letti we worked to the eastward, against
the monsoon, keeping as close as possible under the lee of the Serwatty
group, which enabled us to make a rough survey of the islands composing
it. These proved to be very incorrectly laid down in the only chart we
had, and from what we saw they require a far more detailed examination
than we had time to devote to them; this would, I have no doubt, lead to
the discovery of many anchoring-places, where vessels might carry on
trade with the natives, with much greater ease and safety than they can
do when obliged to stand off and on with the vessel while the boats are
sent in to trade; since, by these means, the crew are necessarily
divided, are liable to fall an easy prey to the natives, should the
latter be inclined to treachery.
The various traders we met with, during this, as well as on our former
visit to the islands, all agreed in warning us against the inhabitants of
Timor Laut and Baba, as people not at all to be trusted. It is much to be
hoped that if Port Essington should ever become a place of much trade,
that these people will be more civilized, as from the easy communication,
in either monsoon, Timor Laut will be much frequented by the settlers at
Port Essington, in order to procure the tropical productions abounding
there, which they would not find on the Australian coasts. The Arrou
islands, for the same reason, will hold out great inducements to traders,
as the timber found there is infinitely superior, for most purposes, to
any found on the Cobourg peninsula.
RETURN TO PORT ESSINGTON.
As our provisions were running short, and the time had arrived when we
were expected to return to the settlement, I had not time to stop to
examine several places I wished to see, particularly the southern part of
the island of Timor Laut, where from information we received at Banda, a
very large and secure harbour is said to exist, available in both
monsoons. The island of Serra was another point, as it is stated to be a
very good place for obtaining supplies.
In crossing over to Australia we saw Timor Laut, off which we experienced
a very fresh South-East breeze and a heavy sea, which continuing to
prevail with a strong current setting to leeward, we were in consequence
eight days reaching Port Essington, where we found that all had gone on
well during our absence.
CHAPTER 2.11. PORT ESSINGTON AND THE NORTH-WEST COAST.
Appearance of Settlement.
Effects of climate.
Trade in teeth.
Lieutenant Vallack visits the Alligator Rivers.
Interview with Natives.
Prospects of Port Essington.
Lieutenant Stewart's Route.
Remarks of Mr. Bynoe.
Harbour of refuge.
Sail from Port Essington.
Arrive at Coepang.
Sail for North-west Coast.
Exploration of North-west Coast.
View of Interior.
Visit the Shore.
Arrive at Swan River.
The period of our arrival at Port Essington had been looked forward to by
all with deep interest, and, I may say, some anxiety. Two years had
elapsed since our last visit, and various and contradictory were the
reports in circulation respecting the welfare of the settlement. We were
accordingly truly rejoiced to find it in a state of prosperity that will
ever reflect the highest credit on the hardy few who have laboured so
earnestly for its welfare. It was an emblem of the rapidity with which,
in young countries, it is possible to recover from any disaster, that the
trees which had been uprooted, shattered, and riven in fragments by the
hurricane of 1839, were for the most part concealed by the fresh foliage
of the year; there was scarcely anything left to commemorate that
dreadful visitation, but the tombs of twelve brave fellows, of the
Pelorus, who lost their lives at the time.
There was a care-worn, jaundiced appearance about the settlers, that
plainly revealed how little suited was the climate for Europeans to
labour in; and yet there had been, I was told, no positive sickness. The
hospital, however, had been enlarged, and rendered a very substantial
building. Captain Macarthur had built a strong and well-contrived
blockhouse, of the excellent kind of wood, a species of teak, before
alluded to. A new garden also had been laid out, in which the banana and
pine, besides many other tropical fruits, were flourishing. The
arrow-root and sugar-cane grown here are allowed by those who have seen
these plants in the West Indies not to be surpassed in excellence; and
the cotton from Pernambuco, and Bourbon seed, has been valued in England
at sixpence-halfpenny a pound. The colonists were beginning to understand
the seasons; they had taken out of the ground sweet potatoes nearly
sufficient to last them until the next crop. This was the first time they
had been tried. I have never seen any in South America half the size. In
short, I may say that the settlement was fast approaching the state in
which was that at Raffles Bay when it was abandoned.
Considering the few days given to sporting, our game-book contains a very
tolerable list, comprising seven kangaroos, twenty quails, ten ducks,
seven pigeons, two pheasants, and two ibises.
The natives in the neighbourhood of Port Essington are, like all others
on the continent, very superstitious; they fancy that a large kind of
tree, called the Imburra-burra, resembling the Adansonia, contains evil
spirits. Here, also, as I have elsewhere observed, they fancy that after
death they reappear as whites; the bones of the dead are frequently
carried from place to place.
The reader will remember the native named Alligator, whom I have
mentioned on a previous visit to Port Essington. I witnessed in his
family an instance of affection for a departed child, which, though it
exhibited itself in this peculiar manner, was extremely touching. The
wife had treasured up the bones of the little one, and constantly carried
them about with her, not as a memento mori, but as an object whereon to
expend her tenderest emotions, whenever they swelled within her breast.
At such times she would put together these bones with a rapidity that
supposed a wonderful knowledge of osteology, and set them up that she
might weep over them. Perhaps, in her imagination, as she performed this
melancholy rite, the ghastly framework before her became indued with the
comely form of infancy; bright eyes once more sparkled in those hollow
cells, and a smile of ineffable delight hung where, in reality, was
naught but the hideous grin of death. I exceedingly regret that the
mother who could feel so finely was some time afterwards over-persuaded
to part with the bones of her child.
I may here mention that the medical officer of the settlement was in the
habit of extracting teeth for the natives, who found the European method
much more easy than their own mode of knocking them out. The supercargo
of a vessel, learning this fact, was anxious to become a purchaser of
teeth to some extent for the London market, being persuaded that they
would find a ready sale among the dentists; and it is more than probable
that many of our fair ladies at home are indebted for the pearls on which
the poets exhaust so much of their fancy to the rude natives of
Among the information I gained during this stay at Port Essington
respecting the Macassar people, who periodically visit the coast, was
that of their discovering a strait leading into the Gulf of Carpentaria,
behind English Company's Islands. Passing Cape Wilberforce, called Udjung
Turu, or Bearaway Point, they continue their course down the Gulf to the
Wellesley Islands, named by them Pulo Tiga, or The Three Islands; this is
the usual southern limit of their voyage. The Macassar proas that visit
Port Essington, amounting in one season to fourteen, usually brought for
barter tea, sugar, cloths, salt-fish, rice, etc. Several of the nakodhas,
or masters, have expressed a wish to abandon fishing, and occupy
themselves only in trade, if there is sufficient encouragement held out
During our stay a report was brought into the settlement by the natives
that there was a large vessel wrecked on the mainland, near the Alligator
Rivers, which was accompanied by so many details of place and
circumstance that Captain Stanley was induced to send Lieutenant Vallack,
of the Britomart, away in the decked tender to procure information, and
to render all assistance in his power. He was accompanied by several of
the Port Essington natives; and on arriving at the Eastern River, found
that there was no foundation for the report. But having got so far away
from the settlement, he ascended the river some little distance, and
towards sunset came on a tribe of natives. The anchor was let go, and
signs were made to induce them to approach, for some time without
success. At last, however, encouraged by seeing so many of their own
countrymen, two or three of the more courageous ventured to draw near.
The scene that followed was a curious illustration of the slight
communication that exists between natives of different tribes, and also
of the great difference in their language, as the strangers could hold no
conversation with the people from Port Essington, who, when they found
their own dialect was not understood, tried to explain themselves in such
few words of broken English as were then used at the colony, and seemed
very much surprised at their want of success. A large mess of boiled
rice, which had been prepared by way of a feast for the newcomers, was
then produced; but it was not before they saw their countrymen eagerly
devouring it that they could be induced to eat, as they evidently did not
know what it was. The result of Lieutenant Vallack's visit is hostile to
the idea entertained that clothes given to natives at Port Essington pass
into the interior, which I always much doubted. Had the fence before
alluded to by me been run across the neck, and an out-station formed
there, we should have had further acquaintance with the natives of the
main, besides other advantages that would necessarily have accrued.
As it seemed extremely probable that the course of events would not again
permit the Beagle to visit Port Essington, we naturally experienced some
regret on our departure, and were led to speculate, with interest, on its
future destiny. A young settlement, so remote and solitary, cannot fail
to awaken the liveliest sympathy in the voyager. How small soever may be
the circle of its present influence, the experience of the past teaches
us confidently to expect that wherever a knot of Englishmen locate
themselves, there are deposited the germs of future greatness. For Port
Essington, a sphere of action, of great extent and importance, appears
marked out by the hand of nature; though, to a careless observer,
unskilled in discerning the undeveloped capabilities of geographical
positions, it may appear in the light simply of an isolated military
post. And, certainly, whatever may be its actual resources, little or
nothing has, as yet, been done to ascertain them. We are still reduced to
base our opinions on conjecture and hypothesis; we know nothing of the
amount of commerce that might be carried on with the islands of the
Indian Archipelago--nothing of the productions of the mainland--nothing
of the extent to which colonization might be carried in the
neighbourhood. Without data of this kind it is impossible, with any
pretensions to accuracy, to estimate the probable future importance of
our settlement at Port Essington, the value of which does not depend on
the fertility of Cobourg Peninsula, any more than that of Gibraltar on
the productiveness of the land within the Spanish lines. Victoria, if we
regard its own intrinsic worth, might be blotted out of the list of our
possessions without any material detriment to our interests; but its
importance, as a commercial station, is incalculable. It is, indeed, to
the country behind--at present unvisited, unexplored, a complete terra
incognita--and to the islands within a radius of five hundred miles, that
we must look if we would form a correct idea of the value of Port
Essington to the Crown. At present it may seem idle, to some, to
introduce these distant places as elements in the discussion of such a
question; but no one who reflects on the power of trade to knit together
even more distant points of the earth, will think it visionary to suppose
that Victoria must one day--insignificant as may be the value of the
districts in its immediate neighbourhood--be the centre of a vast system
of commerce, the emporium, in fact, where will take place the exchange of
the products of the Indian Archipelago for those of the vast plains of
Australia. It may require some effort of the imagination, certainly, to
discover the precursor of such a state of things in the miserable traffic
now carried on by the Macassar proas; but still, I think, we possess some
data on which to found such an opinion, and I am persuaded that Port
Essington will ultimately hold the proud position I predict for it.
As steam communication, moreover, must soon be established between
Singapore and our colonies on the south-eastern shores of Australia,*
this port, the only really good one on the north coast, will be of vast
importance as a coal depot.
(*Footnote. By this arrangement Sydney could be brought within nearly
sixty days of England.)
As I have already observed, however, little pains have been taken to
ascertain all the capabilities of the place, and to extend our
acquaintance with the country behind. No European has ever yet penetrated
any great distance beyond the neck that connects Cobourg Peninsula with
the mainland; and even the report of the existence of the settlement has
scarcely travelled farther. At least in 1841, when Lieutenant Vallack
visited one of the Alligator rivers he found the natives completely
ignorant that we had established ourselves in their neighbourhood.
From the account of Lieutenant P.B. Stewart,* of which I have given a
brief abstract above, it appears that there is some good land on the
Peninsula, though such is decidedly not the case near the settlement.
(*Footnote. This officer has since forwarded me his route. It appears
that on leaving Victoria he proceeded to the south-west side of the
Peninsula, and followed the shore to the neck, when taking an east
direction he crossed it, and then pursuing a northerly course made his
way to Middle Head, on the side of the harbour opposite the settlement.
The frequent opportunities Lieutenant Stewart had of determining his
positions by cross-bearings of the islands, leave no doubt as to the
correctness of his route.)
The reports of late sent in respecting the climate have, in some measure,
been unfavourable; and, as I have observed, the appearance of the
garrison was rather sickly; but may not this arise partly from the
indifferent manner in which they are housed? Small, low, thatched
cottages, in a temperature much too warm for Europeans to labour in
constantly, are apt to engender disease. There is, besides, a mangrove
swamp immediately behind the settlement, which at present decreases its
salubrity. With regard to the range of the thermometer, it has been known
as low as 62 degrees, and it is never so high, by ten or twenty degrees,
as I have seen it in South Australia during the hot winds: the average,
however, is about 83 degrees. The fact that the site of Victoria lies so
far from the entrance of the harbour is injurious to its prosperity, as
it prevents many vessels from calling, and deprives it of the breezes
that constantly prevail on the coast, and would of course conduce to its
(*Footnote. The following remarks from Mr. Bynoe, on the climate of
Northern Australia, corroborate the views put forward in the text:
I find on a reference to the Medical Journals, as well as to a
Meteorological table kept by me during a period of six years, on the
coasts of Australia, and under every variety of climate, that we had no
diseases peculiar to that continent, and I am led to believe it a
remarkably healthy country. On the North and North-west coasts, where you
find every bight and indentation of land fringed with mangroves,
bordering mud flats, and ledges formed by corallines in every stage of
decomposition, with a high temperature, no fevers or dysenteries were
Our ship's company were constantly exposed, in boats, to all the
vicissitudes from wet to dry weather, sleeping in mangrove creeks for
many months in succession, pestered by mosquitoes during the hours of
repose, yet they still remained very healthy; and the only instance where
the climate was at all prejudicial (if such a term can be applied) was in
the Victoria River, on the north coast, where the heat was, at one
period, very great, and the unavoidable exposure caused two of the crew
to be attacked with Coup de Soleil.
Our casualties consisted of two deaths during our stay on the Australian
coast, one from old age; and the other, a case of dysentery, contracted
It may not be uninteresting to state, that from the time that Port
Essington was settled in 1838, up to the period of our last visit to that
military post, and for some time after, no endemial form of disease had
manifested itself, and the only complaints that the men had been
suffering from were diseases such as were usually to be met with in a
more temperate clime, and those were few. But we must take into
consideration their isolated position, the constant sameness of their
life, their small low thatched cottages, mostly with earthen floors;
their inferior diet, and also the absence or scantiness of vegetables.
Most of the men, moreover, experience a constant yearning for home,
which, yearly increasing, terminates in despondency, and leaves them open
to the attacks of disease. Scorbutic symptoms were at one period very
prevalent, arising principally from the poor form of diet; similar cases
occurred in a former settlement on that part of the coast, from the same
causes; but although Port Essington has been of late visited by sickness,
I do not consider it by any means an unhealthy spot.)
Considering Port Essington as a harbour of refuge for the crews of ships
wrecked in Torres Strait, it is certainly far removed from the scene of
distress; and looking upon it in this light only, a military station at
Cape York would probably be attended with greater benefit and less
expense, though, as it might be expected to meet with annoyance from the
natives of the islands in Torres Strait, who are badly disposed and
wander over a great space in search of plunder, the party should not be
very small. There is, moreover, no real harbour; but, at the same time,
as the post would be on a low narrow projection, with a seabreeze
sweeping over it in either monsoon, it would doubtless be cooler than at
I may observe that the only instance that came under my immediate notice
of the benefit of a harbour of refuge on the north coast, was that of a
vessel wrecked too far to the westward to reach Cape York, the crew of
which arrived at Port Essington in their boats.
It was in some measure at the request of the surgeon, in order to
alleviate Mr. Fitzmaurice's great sufferings by a little rest, that our
stay was lengthened to September 7th, when we left in the morning.*
(*Footnote. While steering North by East 1/2 East for Point Record, we
discovered a bank of 4 1/2 fathoms, with 7 and 8 on each side. When just
off it, to the northward, in 7 fathoms, the west extreme of Point Record
bore North 19 1/4 East, and its east extreme North 35 1/4 East, and the
north-east end of Spear Point North 59 degrees West.)
By noon we had cleared the heads of Port Essington, and a course was then
shaped for the supposed Sahul Shoal, the northern and central parts of
which we passed over without finding any remarkable decrease in the
(*Footnote. This clearly proved that our knowledge of the extent of the
Sahul Bank was very imperfect. It appears that between the latitudes 11
degrees 0 minutes South and 11 degrees 25 minutes South, and the
longitudes 125 degrees 20 minutes East and 125 degrees 50 minutes East,
there are no less than six patches of coral known, of 12 and 16 fathoms.
It is my belief that the whole of this shoal, if it merit the name, lies
between the latitudes of 11 degrees 15 minutes South and 11 degrees 35
minutes South, and the longitudes of 123 degrees 35 minutes East and 124
degrees 15 minutes East.)
ARRIVE AT TIMOR.
The winds were singularly light from the eastward, until we approached
Timor, the South-West end of which we saw in the morning of the 15th,*
when, after passing through Samow Strait,** we anchored in 13 fathoms off
Coepang; the flagstaff of Fort Concordia bearing South-South-East a
quarter of a mile.
(*Footnote. In passing the north-east end of Rottee a good lookout was
kept for a 5-fathom patch, laid down in the Admiralty Chart as lying four
miles east of it. Nothing, however, could be discovered of it; and close
to the place we had 50 fathoms. In Flinders' Atlas we find 50 fathoms
marked on this spot; and it is probable that the mistake has occurred in
copying, the 0 being left out, and the space dotted round, to draw
attention to the supposed shoal-water.)
(**Footnote. The tides in Samow Strait run from one to two knots an hour,
eight hours to the northward, and four in the opposite direction. The
time of high-water at Coepang at the full and change is half-past eleven,
when the rise is twelve feet. On the north side of Timor, between it and
Ombaye, the current sets to the westward at the rate of from two to four
knots an hour, in the south-east monsoon; but close to the Timor shore it
sets to windward. Ships make the passage to the eastward during its
prevalence by keeping close to the north sides of the Lomblen, Pantar,
and Ombaye Islands, where they find a favourable current, and winds from
the southward drawing through the straits separating the islands. There
is no anchorage between Pantar and Ombaye; but on the south side of
Timor, at the mouth of the Naminie River, and twenty-five miles further
eastward, and also at the east point, inside the small island of Pulo
Jackie, there are good anchorages in from 10 to 15 fathoms. The southern
coast of Timor is washed by heavy surf in either monsoon.)
Arrangements were immediately made for watering the ship, by having the
barecas filled and carried to the boats by persons from the shore,
thereby saving our crew from exposure in this, I believe at all times,
unhealthy climate. When our stock was completed, with the additional
casks procured at Port Essington, we had sufficient for eighty days.
We found the Resident, Mr. Gronovius, as usual, very communicative; he
was much astonished at the size of some bananas I gave him from Port
I may take this opportunity of giving some additional information
respecting the Timorees. It appears that after killing an enemy they,
like the New Zealanders, preserve the head by baking it; and, during
meals, place food in the mouth of their bodiless foe. On the death of a
Rajah, a favourite slave or two is killed and buried with him; some
weapons, also, are laid in the grave, in order that the deceased may not
want for anything in the next world; this clearly shows that they have an
idea of a future state.
The mode in which trade is carried on with the wild natives of Timor is
extremely singular. The goods intended for barter are left in parcels on
the shore; the natives come down and place against them, generally, bees'
wax, and a kind of cotton cloth, to the amount which they conceive to be
the value, when they also retire. The trader returns, and if satisfied,
takes the native's goods, leaving his own; if not, he goes away without
touching either. The natives again come down and weigh the relative value
of the heaps of merchandize, and either consent to the proffered bargain
or take away their own property. Neither party ever comes in sight of the
other; and the strictest honour is preserved in the transaction. Most of
my readers will recollect that a similar method of trading is attributed
to one of the nations of antiquity.
A tribe of Sumbawa,* who call themselves the Danga people, have a custom
worth mentioning. They are the only tribe on that island not Mahomedans,
and worship the evil spirit, to appease whom they frequently leave a
roasted pig, with rice, at a well near a tree, a species of wild mango;
the priest, of course, reaps the benefit of this pious offering. A
similar custom prevails among the natives of Eastern Patagonia.
(*Footnote. I may here mention, that when the great eruption took place
on this island, the report of it was heard at Macassar, nearly three
hundred miles distant, and the motion was felt by the ships at anchor
SAIL FROM COEPANG.
By the morning of September 24th the rough charts were completed, and
tracings, with other despatches, being deposited with the Resident, to be
forwarded to England, we sailed from Coepang. On the 26th the first
lieutenant, the surgeon, and the master, were seized with a violent
attack of cholera, which lasted twenty-four hours--another evidence of
the unhealthiness of Timor.
The work that now lay before us was, perhaps, one of the most interesting
features of the North-West coast--a remarkable indentation, south of
Roebuck Bay, many parts of which had never been seen. Its peculiar
configuration naturally suggested the idea that a river must exist there;
and it was accordingly with great anxiety that we looked forward to the
result. I had intended to examine the eastern part of Scott's Reef in the
way; but westerly winds, which were, however, favourable for reaching our
destination, prevented us. The track we pursued was entirely new, and in
order to see if any shoals existed, we sounded every twenty miles,
without, however, getting bottom, at nearly 200 fathoms, until the 1st,
when in latitude 14 degrees 24 minutes South, and longitude 123 degrees
23 minutes East we had 70 fathoms.*
(*Footnote. From the result of our soundings on the passage to the coast,
it would appear that a ship in 60 or 70 fathoms would be about the same
number of miles from the land between the latitude of 14 or 15 degrees
South--quality of bottom, a greyish sand, which becomes coarser as the
After midnight on the 3rd and 4th we had strong breezes of short duration
from South-East, and although a hundred miles from the nearest land to
windward, a fine kind of dust was found on the rigging, which, on
examination by a microscope, proved to consist of sand and wood ashes.
REACH THE NORTH-WEST COAST.
We saw the land to the southward of Roebuck Bay on October 8th, and at
noon passed four miles from Cape Bossut, which we found to be in latitude
18 degrees 42 minutes South and longitude 121 degrees 45 minutes East.*
On the south side opened a bay two miles deep, with a small high-water
inlet at its head. From thence we held a general South by West 1/2 West
course, passing along the land at the distance of from three to four
miles, in soundings of 5 and 6 fathoms, and at sunset anchored four miles
from a low sandy coast, on which the sea broke heavily. Cape Joubert,**
distant sixteen miles, was the last projection of any kind we passed.
(*Footnote. The longitudes depend on the meridian of Coepang. which has
been considered in 123 degrees 37 minutes 0 seconds East.)
(**Footnote. In latitude 18 degrees 58 minutes South and longitude 121
degrees 42 minutes East. It is crested with bare white sand, and although
only forty-five feet high is a remarkable headland on this low coast.)
APPEARANCE OF NORTH-WEST COAST.
From that headland commenced a low, wearisome, sandy shore, which we
traced for sixty-five miles in a South-West by West direction, looking in
vain for some change in its character. Nothing beyond the coast
sand-dunes, sprinkled with vegetation, and only twenty feet high, could
be seen from the masthead, although the ship was within three miles of
the beach. This cheerless aspect was heightened by the total absence of
native fires, a fact we had never before observed in such an extent of
country, and truly significant of its want of fertility. Still, in our
sight it possessed a greater charm than it may, probably, in that of
others; as every fresh mile of coast that disclosed itself, rewarding our
enterprise whilst it disappointed our expectations, was so much added to
the domains of geography. That such an extent of the Australian continent
should have been left to be added to the portion of the globe discovered
by the Beagle was remarkable; and although day by day our hopes of
accomplishing any important discovery declined, a certain degree of
excitement was kept alive throughout.
It was the 13th before we had made good the distance I have above
mentioned, when a reddish hillock, of fifty-six feet in elevation, in
latitude 19 degrees 48 minutes South, and longitude 120 degrees 36
minutes East, promising a view of the interior, we went to visit it.
There was less surf on the beach than we expected, and we landed without
much difficulty. Our old friend, the black and white red-bill, or
oyster-catcher, was in readiness to greet us, accompanied by a few
families of sanderlings, two or three batches of grey plovers, and a
couple of small curlews. Crossing the beach, a line of reddish sandstone
cliffs, twelve feet in height, was ascended, and found to face a bank of
sand, held together by a sort of coarse spinifex. This bank, which ran
parallel to the coast, was narrow, subsiding into a valley three quarters
of a mile wide, on the opposite side of which rose a hummocky ridge of
coarse ferruginous sandstone formation. The valley was covered with brown
grass and detached stunted bushes. Water had recently lodged in it, as
appeared from the saucer-like cakes of earth broken and curled up over
the whole surface. The nature of the soil was shown by the heaps of earth
thrown out at the entrances of the holes of iguanas, and other burrowing
creatures; it was a mixture of sand, clay, and vegetable matter.
VIEW OF INTERIOR.
From the highest hillock beyond the valley a view of the interior was
obtained: it presents, like most of the portions of the continent we had
discovered, the aspect of a dreary plain, clothed with grass and detached
clumps of green brushwood. "What a strange country!" was the exclamation
that naturally burst from us all, on beholding this immense and
apparently interminable expanse, with no rise to relieve the tired eye.
As we gazed, our imaginations transported us to the Pampas of South
America, which this vast level greatly resembled, except that the motions
of no startled deer or ostriches scudding over the country, and leaving a
train of dust behind, gave life and animation to the scene. No trace of
kangaroos, or of natives, not even the sign of a fire, greeted us on this
inhospitable coast. The evidences of animal were as scanty as those of
Two brown bustards rose out of the grass; they were of the same size and
colour as those seen in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and quite as wary, which
was very singular. A couple of specimens of land birds were shot; one of
them resembled a Meliphagus, although its stomach was filled with small
beetles, finely broken up;* its head was covered with yellow pollen, out
of a flower resembling the mallow, which is frequently resorted to by
small beetles during the heat of the day, when the petal closing over
them they are extracted, with some difficulty, by the bird. The other
specimen was a brown grain-feeding kind; it invariably rested on the
ground, where in its habits, head erect, tail down, and short, sudden
run, it greatly resembled a tit-lark.
(*Footnote. Usually observed in the specimens of this species procured by
At daylight on the 14th we continued our exploration from the spot where
we visited the shore, marked on the chart as Red Hill; and found that the
coast trended West by South to the part fronting the Amphinome Shoals,
and that instead of the continued sandy beach were occasional low rocky
projections. Eleven miles from Red Hill, a detached rocky ledge extended
two miles from the shore, and at the end of twenty, commenced a line of
low red sandstone cliffs five miles in extent. Here we, for the first
time, saw native fires; and the country was evidently higher.
In the evening the ship was anchored five miles from a small island,
bearing South-South-East, which we found to be in latitude 19 degrees 55
minutes South, longitude 120 degrees 55 minutes East; and which, from its
lonely situation, was named Solitary Island. Six and nine miles North by
East from it we had crossed several lines of ripplings and shoal patches
of 4 and 5 fathoms. On visiting it next morning (16th) it was found to be
of red sandstone formation, thirty feet high, and devoid of vegetation.
Although lying a mile from the shore it is connected at low-water by a
flat of sand. From its summit the view of the interior presented a slight
change. At the distance of six miles there was a bank or rise in the
country having rather a fertile aspect, above a hundred feet high,
trending South-West with dense woodland intervening.
On the same afternoon the ship was moved fourteen miles further on. The
many patches of ripplings we now saw in every direction westward, assured
us that the Amphinome Shoals were close at hand; on patches one and two
miles west and south of the ship there was only six and nine feet.
VISIT THE SHORE.
In the morning another party visited the shore, landing under a low
sandhill, sixty feet high, bearing South by East six miles, called Mount
Blaze, in latitude 20 degrees 0 minutes South and longitude 119 degrees
40 minutes East. This was found to stand on a projection, with two small
rocky islets on either side. Eastward from it cliffy points separating
shoal mangrove bays, formed the character of the coast; whilst in the
opposite direction extended a bay, fifteen miles wide, over the western
point of which we recognised the sandhills seen on our visit to this part
in July, 1840; the shores of this great bay were fronted for some
distance by shoal water.
Behind Mount Blaze the country was swampy, with mangroves, for a few
miles; it then gradually rose, and on the bearing of South 7 degrees
East, distant nearly fifteen miles, were seen conical-sided flat-topped
hills about two hundred feet high. This was the first remarkable
elevation in the country we had seen during the two hundred miles of the
coastline traced by the Beagle; it appears to be the North-East
termination of the high land seen southward from the Turtle Isles.
Some small burrowing animal had so excavated the ground in the vicinity
of Mount Blaze, that at each step we sunk in knee-deep; a few quails were
shot, but no varieties of birds were seen beyond what had been already
observed at the other points of the coast visited.
Weighing, we stood to the westward, after making a short stretch to the
north-east; but shoal water, at the end of six miles, obliged us to go on
the other tack. The change in the direction of the flood- tide, from
westerly to northerly, did not leave much hope of our finding a passage
to the westward. At sunset the anchor was dropped in 9 fathoms, with a
shoal patch of 5 fathoms two miles to the eastward, Mount Blaze, just
visible from the masthead, bearing south sixteen miles. During the
afternoon we had crossed no less than five lines of ripplings, on which,
at low-water, there was only from 2 to 5 fathoms.
After the noon observation another attempt was made to find a passage to
the westward; but at the end of eighteen miles we found ourselves embayed
among patches of ripplings and breakers. The western sandhills, seen
yesterday, bore at this time South by East fifteen miles. Two-thirds of
the distance from the shore was a continued line of broken water.
Finding, by sounding with the boats, that there was no passage for the
ship, we retraced our track east; and in the evening anchored again in 7
fathoms, between two ridges of 4.
The outer breaker of the Amphinome Shoals bore North 37 degrees West
three miles, which placed it in latitude 19 degrees 41 minutes South and
longitude 119 degrees 24 minutes East; and as these shoals extend
eighteen miles off such low land, they may fairly be considered
Next evening we anchored off the east side of Bedout Island, having, in
the morning, nineteen miles to the east of it and twenty-two from the
mainland, passed over a ridge of 5 fathoms.
We spent the day on Bedout, the centre of which we found to be in
latitude 19 degrees 35 minutes 45 seconds South, longitude 119 degrees 08
minutes 45 seconds East. It is a circular sand islet twenty feet high,
and half a mile in extent. Off its western side ripplings and rocks
extend nearly three miles; in other parts it is fronted by a circular
reef a mile in extent, and of a different kind from the Turtle Isle
reefs, being composed of live corallines and fan-like leaves, which
giving way readily to the feet, we suddenly found ourselves immersed
almost up to our necks; within fifty yards of the island this became
worse. The reefs and beaches abounded with turtles of two kinds, the
Mydas and a species of the Imbricated. We were in time for the noddy's
eggs; but the other birds had hatched theirs, and left for sea, returning
only at night. From their great abundance and constant visits they had
formed a kind of guano on the island. Among the varieties of the
feathered tribe was the golden plover.
On the following afternoon we stood over, South-South-East for the main;
but were again prevented by shoal water from approaching within twelve
miles of the nearest part, which was the western point of the bay seen
from Mount Blaze. Broken water and dry sands extended between south and
east, and to the south-west the entrance of Breaker Inlet and other parts
of the last year's survey were readily distinguished.
During the forenoon the boats completed the soundings, and in the evening
the ship was anchored under the North Turtle Isle. Thus terminated the
examination of this hitherto unexplored part of the coast, which had been
the field of many years' speculation. One of the most remarkable points,
is the great rise of twenty-eight feet in the tide, which can only be
accounted for by the fact of the water being heaped up in the concavity
formed by the coast; on the first part of the bight the direction of the
flood was from West, and on the latter from West-North-West. We had found
that no river or other interesting feature existed; and that it was the
most dull and uniform portion of the continent we had seen, or that could
possibly be imagined.
While I have no reason to believe that an examination of Breaker Inlet,
which, from the numerous sandbanks forming the Amphinome Shoals, has
probably a considerable outlet, would lead to a discovery of any
importance, nevertheless, I regret that the heavy surf which breaks
across its entrance at this season of the year entirely prevented my
The winds we had experienced on this part of the coast were light, from
the eastward, during the night, and moderate from North-North-West to
West-South-West towards the latter part of the day, the morning being
frequently calm. On one or two occasions in the night we had slight
squalls from South-East accompanied by lightning; but, commonly speaking,
the weather was very fine, the temperature on board being generally 77,
the maximum being 82 and the minimum 75 degrees. On shore it was about
five degrees higher.
The necessary chronometric and magnetic observations were completed, and
a supply of turtles taken on board by the evening of the 26th, when after
leaving a paper in a bottle, recording our visit and describing the
nature of the coast eastwards, we left with the intention of exploring
Exmouth Gulf, which was the only remaining portion of the north-western
shore of the continent that had not been visited by Captain King or
ourselves. But as we were forced away from the land by southerly winds as
we approached the North-West Cape, and as there was no certainty of
procuring water, I have been obliged to content myself with the report of
a whaler who went in there and found it to be the mouth of a large inlet
conveying a vast body of water into the interior, occasionally, I
imagine, even as far as the neighbourhood of the north-east shore of
Shark's Bay, as Captain Grey speaks of finding there extensive plains of
mud and sand, at times evidently flooded by the sea and presenting no
limit in a north-east direction.
Continuing our passage we arrived at Swan River on November 23rd.
Set out for Australind.
Correspondence with Mr. Clifton, etc.
Sail from Gage Road.
Examination of coast.
Reach Champion Bay.
Visit Mount Fairfax and Wizard Peak.
Arid nature of country.
Want of water.
The Greenough river.
Leave Champion Bay.
Reach South Australia.
Visit Mount Barker.
Return to Adelaide.
Sail from South Australia.
Tour in the interior.
View from the Sugarloaf.
Visit Cape Bridgewater.
Sail for Hobart.
Liberality of Sir John Franklin.
Arrive at Sydney.
Among the news that most interested us on our arrival at Swan River, was
the report of the discovery of a harbour on the west coast, near
Moresby's Flat-topped Range. In the Surveyor General's office I was shown
a map of that portion of Western Australia by Mr. Arrowsmith, "from the
surveys of Captain Grey," whose name the port bore; and the united
authorities of this talented explorer, and this celebrated geographer,
would have removed all doubt from my mind as to the correctness of the
report to which I have alluded, even if the alleged discovery had not
taken place on a portion of the coast unvisited by Captain King or
myself. In the colony, however, very different opinions were held; and it
was confidently maintained that Port Grey, although placed, by accident
or otherwise, twelve miles to the southward, was no other than the bay we
had previously visited, called by us Champion Bay. It is true I could
trace a resemblance between their southern parts; but they differed so
widely in their northern--Port Grey being represented in the chart, and
printed description, to be perfectly safe, and sheltered in that quarter
by a point and a reef--that I saw no grounds for giving credence to the
opinion industriously circulated at Swan River, that the reef and point,
or perhaps the whole port, had been fabricated by the land-jobbers at
home. Such an opinion, however, was quite a disinterested one on their
part; as an extension of the colony northwards, and the establishment of
a settlement near Moresby's Flat-topped Range, would have led to a result
much desired by them, the occupancy, namely, of the intervening country.
It was in the neighbourhood of the harbour, the existence or identity of
which was thus called in question, that Captain Grey had reported to have
seen a fertile district; and a company had actually arrived from England
for the purpose of forming a settlement there. Mr. Clifton, the Chief
Commissioner, however, on hearing the opinion prevalent in the colony,
did not think proper to risk the lives of the people under his charge, by
conveying them to a port that might be fabulous, and to a country the
fertility of which was absolutely denied; and the destination of the new
settlement was, accordingly, provisionally changed to the shores of the
Leschenault Inlet, which held out a prospect of solid, if not brilliant,
success, and possessed advantages, which, if not dazzling, were at least
exempt from the suspicion of being visionary.
Anxious to have further information on this subject through a personal
interview with Mr. Clifton, I accompanied His Excellency Governor Hutt
and the Surveyor General on a tour in the direction of the new
settlement, whilst the ship underwent a slight refit, and the men had a
run ashore. The survey of the Swan, from the entrance to Perth, was,
meanwhile, undertaken by Mr. Forsyth.
Leaving Fremantle, the first part of the road lay between low ranges of
limestone hills, and through quite a forest of grass-trees, gums
(Xanthorroea) some knobby, old and crooked, others erect and reaching the
height, occasionally, of perhaps seventeen feet, with their tufted and
overarching crests towering above those of smaller growth that were
scattered over the earth around.*
(*Footnote. These trees, called Blackboys by the colonists, from the
resemblance they bear, in the distance, to natives, attain, it is said, a
great age, and there is a vague report that when fifty years old they are
only a foot above ground.)
ROAD TO AUSTRALIND.
The road passes through the township of Pinjarra, on the fertile banks of
the Murray. Where it crosses the river, the first and only great affray
took place with the natives, whose blood on that unfortunate occasion
stained the waters of the reach that now slept in peaceful beauty, as if
strife had never polluted its banks.* Here we met Mr. Clifton, who
accompanied us to his new township of Australind, to plant the germs of
which, in the wilds of Western Australia, he and his worthy family had
left England and all the comforts of society. This interesting spot is
situated on the east side of Leschenault Inlet; the approach is laid out
with much taste, the road leading along the foot of a hill covered with
wood, whilst on the right is an open growth of trees, affording every now
and then a glimpse of the beautiful estuary, with its surface just
ruffled and glittering in the rays of the setting sun. I was much struck
with the beauty of the scenery during this evening's and the morrow's
excursion, having had no idea that there was such a fertile, well
watered, and heavily timbered district so near the coast in Western
(*Footnote. A spirited painting of this encounter I saw ornamenting the
walls of Captain Mears' cottage at Guildford.)
(**Footnote. Her Majesty's dockyards are now availing themselves of this
supply of excellent timber; and its proximity to the sea must greatly
enhance the value of this part of the continent.)
CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. CLIFTON, ETC.
Having conversed with Mr. Clifton on the subject of the settlement he had
intended to make near Port Grey, and been made acquainted with his
reasons for doubting the existence of the harbour, and the fertility of
the surrounding country, as well as with his desire to have the question
satisfactorily set at rest, I requested him to write to me on the
subject; and on the receipt of his letter,* I communicated, also in
writing, with his Excellency, Governor Hutt, and the Surveyor-General,
Mr. Roe; the result of which correspondence was, that I determined to
examine that portion of the coast; and to afford Mr. Clifton the
opportunity of accompanying me, and with his own eyes convincing himself
of the policy or impolicy of the course he had adopted.
(*Footnote. From which the following is an extract: Your arrival at Gage
Roads, in her Majesty's surveying vessel, Beagle, under your command,
affords me an opportunity of soliciting your able assistance towards the
solution of a question of great interest, not only to the Western
Australian Company, whom I represent, but to this colony at large; and I
feel assured that your known zeal in the cause of Geographical and
Hydrographical research will induce you, if it be within your power, to
comply with the request which I now take the liberty to make. Under these
feelings I proceed to state to you, that the Western Australian Company,
after all their plans had been formed for founding their intended Colony
of Australind, in Leschenault inlet, were led under circumstances which
occurred, and information which reached them, to abandon that intention
and to determine to fix their settlement at a port discovered by Captain
Grey, designated in England by the appellation of Port Grey, and lying on
the North-West coast of this colony, in or about the latitude of 29
degrees south, within the limits of the district between Gantheaume Bay
and the River Arrowsmith, in which district her Majesty's Government had
permitted the Company to take possession of extensive tracts of land in
lieu of their property in other parts of Western Australia.
Upon my arrival, however, in March last, at Port Leschenault, with the
intention of conveying in the Parkfield, with the first body of settlers
and emigrants to the new district, the Company's surveying establishment
already employed in this neighbourhood, I received such communications
from his Excellency the Governor, and such information respecting the
supposed Port Grey, and the country in its vicinity, together with a
tracing of the partial survey made by you in Champion Bay, lying in
latitude 28 degrees 47 minutes South which is presumed to be identical
with Port Grey, that I was induced, after full consultation with his
Excellency, to unite with him in opinion, that it would be proper for me
to depart from my instructions, and to found the colony under my charge
on the spot originally contemplated in Leschenault Inlet, instead of at
Port Grey, which determination I accordingly carried into effect under
the Governor's sanction.
It naturally was my most anxious wish, as it would have been my duty, if
it had been practicable, to visit myself the supposed port, before I
took, in conjunction with his Excellency, a step involving so great a
personal responsibility, and so seriously affecting all the predetermined
plans of the company, settlers, and emigrants. I have since made every
practical endeavour, but without success, to obtain means of proceeding
to the district in question, in order to establish the fact by actual
observation and research, whether that district does or does not afford a
proper site for the establishment of a new settlement on an extensive
scale, or is totally inapplicable for it, according to the information
which led to the decision come to. And as the result of such examination
involves measures which may prove of very great importance to the local
interests of this colony, and even to the interests of the
mother-country, I venture to submit to your consideration, whether you
would not deem that inquiry of sufficient importance to justify your
proceeding to Champion Bay, in her Majesty's sloop, Beagle, under your
command, to ascertain fully the capabilities of the country in its
immediate vicinity, and to determine whether there be another harbour or
not at the place assigned to Port Grey on the map recently published by
If your proceeding to that part of this coast should be within the scope
of the service assigned to you by the Lords Commissioners of the
Admiralty, or the importance of the solution of these questions, on which
such extensive interests and operations depend, should induce you to take
upon yourself the responsibility of going there, I earnestly request you
will allow me the honour of accompanying you, for the purpose of
fulfilling my duty to the Directors of the Company, and to the very
numerous body of persons interested in the formation of the intended
settlement under them.)
EXAMINATION OF COAST.
On the 12th, accordingly, we sailed from Gage Roads, and next morning
closed with the land in latitude 29 degrees 13 minutes South being
thirteen miles south of the position assigned to Port Grey in
Arrowsmith's map, before alluded to. From thence we followed the shore at
a distance of between three and five miles, in soundings of 7 and 12
fathoms; the first part trended North by West two miles, and then
North-West 1/2 West to Point Grey, lying five miles South by East of
Point Moore (a bight of that width being formed between) without any sign
of the sought-for harbour. The general appearance of the coast was that
of high sandhills, partly covered with vegetation; immediately in the
rear of which there appeared a range rather higher, and of a less barren
appearance; behind these again, at a distance of eight or nine miles,
rose a series of singular table-topped broken ranges, terminating
southwards in about latitude 29 degrees 5 minutes South. Mount Fairfax
and Wizard Peak are the most conspicuous objects in this range.
REACH CHAMPION BAY.
Owing to the water being very smooth, we found ourselves embayed on
approaching the point of the above mentioned bight, by a reef, the outer
part of which bore South 37 degrees West fifteen miles from Mount
Fairfax. The delay caused in clearing this danger, made it evening by the
time we reached Champion Bay, in latitude 28 degrees 47 minutes South,
from whence we had previously examined the coast northward for nearly
thirty miles. We had, therefore, now satisfactorily ascertained that,
excepting Champion Bay, there was no good anchorage on the coast between
the latitudes of 28 degrees 20 minutes South and 29 degrees 20 minutes
(*Footnote. For a description of Champion Bay, see above.)
From what I have said it will appear, that the point represented in
Arrowsmith's map, as sheltering the north side, has no real existence. It
is probable, that the following passage from Mr. Moore's Journal, may
have had some share in suggesting the contrivance.
"To the south of the tongue of land which forms the bay, there is also
another bay, which would be completely sheltered from all northerly
winds, so as to combine, between the two bays, perfect shelter at all
seasons of the year."
VISIT MOUNT FAIRFAX.
This point being set at rest, we proceeded with a large armed party at
daylight on the morning of the 15th, to examine the country. Landing, we
took an East by South direction for Mount Fairfax, the nearest and most
commanding point. About one mile and a half from the beach, we crossed
the dry bed of a stream, trending South by East about twenty yards wide,
with banks from twenty to thirty feet high, composed of reddish earth and
sand, having considerable portions of ironstone in it. A few small
tea-trees of the colonists grew in the sand that formed the dry bed of
the stream. Our course continued afterwards uninterrupted, over a
gradually rising plain, of a sandy scrubby nature, until reaching the
foot of Mount Fairfax, when we crossed another small watercourse,
trending South by West where, for the first time, we noticed a solitary
stunted casuarina. Mount Fairfax is the southern and most elevated part
of an isolated block, forming Moresby's Flat-topped Range. It rests on a
reddish, sandy, sloping plain, on which were occasionally noticed
fragments of quartz and ironstone, which latter formation is the
character of Mount Fairfax, and apparently of the neighbouring heights.
Having completed our observations, which place Mount Fairfax 582 feet
above the level of the sea, we continued our journey to the south-east,
in the direction of Wizard Peak. Two miles, over a scrubby sandy plain,
brought us again to the Chapman or Greenough. Here, for the first time,
there was an appearance of fertility; but only in the valley of the
river, which was about a quarter of a mile wide.
With the exception of a few brackish pools, the bed, as where we before
crossed it, was dry, and formed of white sand, growing in which was a
small crooked kind of drooping gum, besides a species of wattle and
tea-tree. Its course was about South by West and appeared to come from
the valleys, formed by the ranges in the rear of Mount Fairfax, and north
of Wizard Peak. Continuing our journey, we proceeded over an undulating
plain, on the higher parts of which a reddish sand and ironstone gravel
universally prevailed; in the lower parts, and near the watercourses, the
soil approached a light mould, and produced the warran, so much sought
after by the natives. In all this district the vegetation was of the
worst description--the trees, which grew only in the valleys, were small
kinds of banksia, wattles, and drooping gums--not large enough to furnish
ASCEND WIZARD PEAK.
In the course of the afternoon we reached the summit of that remarkable
and almost solitary pyramidal hill, Wizard Peak,* which we found composed
of large blocks of ironstone, having a most powerful effect on the
needle, and changing its direction in different places ten degrees. Here
we noticed two or three stunted xanthorrhoeas growing on the South-West
side of the hill; and a few small casuarinas, and wattles were thinly
scattered on its summit, which, by barometric measurement, was found to
be 715 feet above the level of the sea. Part of the range lying
immediately north was absolutely a mass of bare ironstone. This view was
very commanding--to the North-North-West and North-East lay extensive
valleys, all of which appeared through a spy-glass to be of the same arid
nature; for a few miles to the eastward, and a great many to the
northward, the formation of the country was of the same flat, broken, and
irregular character, but no part visible appeared to be of greater
elevation than that on which we stood; to seawards the appearance of the
country was that of an undulating plain, with patches of stunted woodland
(*Footnote. Distant eleven miles from Champion Bay.)
APPEARANCE OF COUNTRY FROM WIZARD PEAK.
After attentively examining with my glass, resting on the ground, all
that lay within the extensive range of vision afforded by Wizard Peak,* I
could not help congratulating Mr. Clifton on his display of judgment, in
taking the responsible step I have mentioned; and it is to be deeply
regretted, that one so energetic, and so well adapted for the duty he had
undertaken, should have been totally abandoned by those who sent him out.
It was now clear that this part of the country was not fit for the
settler, being deficient in the three most necessary articles, water,
timber for building, and food for stock.** It was also now clear that the
opinion expressed at Swan River, regarding both the harbour and the
quality of the country was substantially correct. But it was not until it
became apparent to my own eyes, that I could believe anyone could be so
reckless as to induce a large number of individuals, including women and
children, by false, or at least exaggerated representations, to sever the
ties of kindred and of friendship, and become voluntary exiles to a far
country, in search of a new and more prosperous home; whilst in lieu of
the promised streams and fertile plains, nothing in reality awaited them
but sterility--the certain loss of property, and the imminent risk of
(*Footnote. The reader will see my position, at this time, together with
the track of the Beagle's party, and that of Captain Grey's, laid down in
one of the charts accompanying this work.)
(**Footnote. Mr. Moore's description of the country near Champion Bay, is
as follows: "Judging by the eye at that distance, the entire space, as
far as we had any opportunity of seeing, after going a little way back
from the coast, on the slope to the hills, upon the hills, among the
hills, beyond the hills, and, in short, everywhere, as far as the eye
could discern, appeared a grassy country, thinly sprinkled with some low
trees or shrubs, perhaps acacias. If this be the case, and there be water
sufficient, of which there is no reason to doubt, this may certainly turn
out to be the finest district for sheep pasture that this colony can
possess." This testimony, one would have thought, was much too vague to
justify the expression of any decided opinion as to the capabilities of
the country. Mr. Moore judged entirely from a distant view with the naked
eye: he could not discern the nature of the trees, does not assert
positively that the land was grassy, is unable to speak with certainty as
to the existence of sufficient water, and ventures only to draw the
conditional conclusion that this district MAY turn out to be the finest
the colony can possess.
Mr. Bynoe, who accompanied me in my excursion over this part of the
continent, writes as follows respecting it: "There can be but one opinion
of the country in the vicinity of the supposed Port Grey, namely, that it
is comparatively sterile. All the soil passed over, during our two days'
journey, was of a sandy nature; and the gumtrees, particularly in the
open country, were stunted and gnarled. Isolated clumps, however, of a
taller, straighter, and smoother character, were met with in the dried
watercourses. Near Wizard Peak, the warran, or native yam seemed to grow
in great abundance, and to some considerable depth. There the soil could
be pretty well judged of; and the deeper the holes had been dug by the
natives to obtain the root, the more pure was the sand; it was only the
surface soil that held decayed vegetable matter. Twice during the trip,
near the bases of cliffs, I saw a few acres of alluvial deposit, two very
circumscribed beds, which were lost in the bottom of a watercourse,
sliding, as it were, gradually under the sand. Near Moresby's Range,
where the soil became freely mixed with ironstone and pebbles, the
vegetation was more stunted, consisting principally of a prickly bush,
mingled with coarse brown grass. During the whole time of our ramble, we
saw only three kangaroos, and five emus; and in some parts of the tall
scrub were wallaby tracks.")
Descending, we found the party left below in the dry bed of a watercourse
had failed in their endeavour to procure water by digging; we, therefore,
as we supposed, had no resource but to return, exhausted as we were, to
the brackish water-pools we had seen in the Chapman or Greenough.
NATIVE WELL AND BURIAL PLACE.
Happily, however, our dog discovered a deep hole under a drooping gum,
which proved to be a native well, and after clearing and digging deeper,
afforded our thirst relief. The soil through which this well was sunk was
a light alluvial deposit, based on sand six feet below the surface.
Numerous native paths and deep holes, from which the warran root had been
extracted, encircle this spot; some neighbouring huts of a superior
structure gave us snug quarters for the night; Wizard Peak bearing South
50 seconds East about a mile distant.
At break of dawn we resumed our exploration. The morning was dull and
cloudy, thermometer 59 degrees; on the previous day its greatest height
had been 85 degrees. Two miles from our bivouac, we fell in with a recent
native grave--a circular pit three yards in diameter, filled within a
foot of the surface with sand, carefully smoothed over. Small sticks,
some with red horizontal marks painted on them, and others scraped, with
the shavings tastefully twisted round, ornamented the edge of the grave;
a large semicircular fence fronted the south-east side; and the
neighbourhood bore evidence, in the shape of several destroyed huts, of
its having been deserted by the companions of the dead. After walking at
least five miles, we again made the Chapman or Greenough, above a mile
south of the point at which we before met it, and pursuing its usual
course between South and South-South-West. The bed was still dry sand,
but we found a small hole of brackish water in a hollow. Crossing, we
continued our west direction, and were surprised to find ourselves again
on the river; a line of red cliffs thirty feet high, forming the south
bend, had changed its course to the northward. We subsequently again
crossed two dry parts of it; from an elevation on the South-West side of
the last, Mount Fairfax bore North 50 degrees East and Wizard Peak South
58 degrees East.
Hitherto I had been in doubt whether this was the Chapman or Greenough of
Captain Grey; but here finding that a branch trended southwards, I was
convinced it was the latter, and gave this part the name of Recognition
Bend, as it further led to my discovering that Captain Grey had mistaken
the hills in Captain King's chart,* and that, therefore, his description
of the country refers to another portion; and it is only justice to him
to state, that considering he was travelling for his life, and the great
hardships he endured, it is surprising how the information collected was
(*Footnote. This error Captain Grey candidly acknowledged in the
following letter to me, afterwards published by his authority in the
South Australian Register.
Government House, Adelaide, January 28th, 1842.
My dear Sir,
I have attentively read your letter to the Honourable the
Surveyor-General of Western Australia; I have also considered the
observations made by you to me, relative to the error you suppose I have
fallen into in mistaking the Wizard Peak of Captain King for the hill
named by him Mount Fairfax; and I find that I have certainly fallen into
this error, a by no means unlikely one, considering the very similar
character of the singular group of hills, called Moresby's Flat-topped
Range, and the circumstances under which I was journeying. Consequently
the country I have described as lying near Mount Fairfax, lies near some
other hill to the north of Mount Fairfax, and the country I have
described as lying near Wizard Hill lies near Mount Fairfax, being placed
from ten to twelve miles south of its true latitude.
The mistake arose thus: I carried Captain King's chart, and having only a
Kater's compass with me, on recognizing what I considered to be Mount
Fairfax, I assumed the latitude of that hill as laid down on the chart to
be my true latitude, and made an entry in my journal accordingly.
On substituting the name of Mount Fairfax for Wizard Hill, the
description of the small portions of the country traversed by us in
common, will be found to coincide almost exactly...I am, my dear Sir,
yours faithfully, G. GREY.
I need scarcely add, that Captain Grey having been obliged to assume his
latitude, none of his positions, during this harassing journey, can be
expected to be accurate.)
MOUTH OF THE GREENOUGH.
From this point we proceeded one mile west over a dry, arid plain,
covered with yellow and white everlasting flowers of small growth: a
little patch of woodland, consisting of a species of wattle and a very
small kind of gum, here delayed our progress. The ground beneath these
trees was entirely barren of vegetation; but emerging from them, we came
upon the only piece of grass of a useful nature seen in the route; it
was, however, quite parched, and occupied a space only of three or four
acres. From thence to the coast dunes, to reach which we made a detour to
the South-West walking over about six miles of country, all was scrub and
sand. On the low ridge, lying immediately behind the coast range of
sandhills, limestone occasionally cropped out. Embarking, we proceeded in
a boat to examine a small estuary, seen from Mount Fairfax, at the
northern part of the bay. This we found to be separated from the sea by a
low bank of sand, thirty feet wide and five high, over which the sea
appeared in gales to enter; but from the manner in which the sandhills
overlapped at the mouth, it was not possible to detect the entrance from
seawards. We landed and traced it for a mile in an east direction, until
we proved it to be the mouth of the Greenough; the water was entirely
salt, and the banks, in some places seventy feet high, were composed of
limestone. Near the head of this estuary we discovered the place where
Captain Grey crossed it, as described in the following extract from his
notes communicated to Lord John Russell, then Secretary for the Colonies.
CHARACTER OF COUNTRY.
"The character of the country again changed, and for the next two miles
and a half the plains were sandy, and covered with scrub. At the end of
another mile we reached a river, about twenty-five yards wide; it was
salt where we made it, and it was so shallow, that we soon found a place
where, by jumping from rock to rock, we could cross it. This river
discharged itself into a bay;* it ran rather from the South of East.
[East of South?] Four miles further, South by East, were sandy plains,
with scrub, etc."
(*Footnote. This was doubtless Champion Bay; but in our examination of
the coast, we did not see anything of the bay or harbour which Captain
Grey speaks of in his work (volume 2 page 35) about nine miles north of
the Greenough, and which he supposed to be Champion Bay, "since
denominated," he says, "Port Grey." According to the true latitude of
Champion Bay, the bay in question would be in about 28 degrees 38 minutes
South or nearly twenty-two miles north of the position assigned to Port
Grey in Arrowsmith's map, before alluded to.)
Thus terminated our exploration of this part of the country, called, by
Captain Grey, the Province of Victoria; and certainly all we had seen of
it deserved the character of sterility, which in some measure it appears
to retain further northward, as we learn from the report of Lieutenant
Helpman, who has recently visited it in the colonial schooner Champion.
We did not, on our route, fall in with any native, but on reaching the
boat, found that a party of five men had approached the beach, and held
friendly communication with Mr. Pasco, who, in exchange for a
handkerchief or two, had obtained from them a hunger belt, composed of
wallaby furs, a throwing stick, and a nose-piece of kangaroo bone. They
were entirely naked, and slightly scarred, but were not smeared with the
red pigment called wilgy, and had their hair knotted upon the crown of
their head, like the natives of the neighbourhood of King's Sound.
SAIL FROM CHAMPION BAY.
On the morning of the 16th we were again on our way southwards, with,
strange to say at that season of the year, westerly winds, which
prevailed for the three succeeding days.
After touching at Swan River (where, finding His Excellency the Governor
still absent, an account of our cruise was left with the
Surveyor-General) we reached Koombanah Bay on the 27th. Mr. Forsyth, whom
I had sent overland, had completed the survey of this anchorage, and
Leschenault Inlet, which it joins in the south corner by a narrow boat
channel. The wreck of a large whale ship in the head of the bay shows the
folly of attempting to ride out the winter gales to which it is exposed;
but this may be remedied by a breakwater thrown out from Point Casuarina,
of which nature has laid the foundation in the reef that extends out
across the bay in the desired direction. The strong outset from the
estuary during the rainy season materially lessens the strain upon the
cables of ships caught there by a gale. The peculiarity in the formation
of this neighbourhood consists in some basaltic columns on the coast
close to Point Casuarina.
We devoted the 28th to making observations,* etc.; and I was surprised to
find that this part of the coast was laid down four miles too much to the
(*Footnote. These observations were made on the beach, midway between
Point Casuarina and the mouth of the estuary, which spot they place in
latitude 33 degrees 19 minutes 10 seconds South and longitude 0 degrees 7
minutes 00 seconds West of Swan River. From a sandhill, 190 feet high,
bearing South 11 degrees West, six-tenths of a mile from that spot, I
found that the highest part of the Darling Range, Mount William, bore
North 40 degrees 6 minutes East thirty-three miles, and was in height
1720 feet; and that Mount Leonard, another excrescence on this range bore
South 81 degrees 44 minutes East distant thirteen miles and seven-tenths,
and was of an elevation of 1270 feet; whilst the summit of Cape
Naturaliste bore South 65 degrees West and the visible extreme South 66
degrees 50 minutes West which confirmed the error I had before remarked
in the position assigned it in the chart, being four miles too far north.
All the above bearings are true. The rise of the tide, and the time of
high-water, are the same as at Swan River.
ARRIVE AT SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
Daylight, on the 29th, found us outside Koombanah Bay, running to the
westward before a light land breeze. From the offing, this part of the
western shore of the continent was much more prepossessing than any we
had before seen. The outline of the Darling Range, here approaching
within fourteen miles of the sea, and broken only by Mount Leonard and
the gorge of the Harvey, was sharply pencilled against the eastern sky
that glowed with the pure light of morning; whilst the country between
was clothed with trees of such magnitude that their verdant summits could
be seen, over the coast sandhills, stretching away in one sea of foliage
as far as the eye could reach.
The course we held led us within five miles of the north side of
Naturaliste Reef,* in 29 fathoms; the depth we found sixteen miles west
of it was 60 fathoms, and half a mile south of it 26 fathoms. It partakes
of the error in latitude previously discovered in Cape Naturaliste, which
is distant sixteen miles, and bears, when over the centre of it, South 2
1/2 degrees West (true).
(*Footnote. A circular patch of breakers half a mile in extent, with,
according to report, six and nine feet water on it.)
Being desirous of confirming our meridian distances along the south
coast, we visited for the purpose King George's Sound and South
Australia, at which latter place we arrived on the morning of January
26th, 1842. Since our former visit, a change had taken place in the
governorship of the colony; and though it was with great regret that we
learnt Colonel Gawler had left for England, we were glad he had found a
worthy successor in our brother explorer Captain Grey.
His Excellency and the merchants expressing a wish that the Beagle should
visit the port, no man of war having yet done so; and being anxious
myself to examine the capabilities of the place, as well as to complete
our survey of twenty-three miles of the eastern shore of Spencer's Gulf,
on the afternoon of the 29th the Beagle was running into Port Adelaide.*
The ladies of the Governor, the Surveyor-General, and others, honoured us
with their presence on the passage round.**
(*Footnote. Besides the light vessel off the bar at Port Adelaide, a
flagstaff close to the southward at the pilot station serves to point out
the entrance to strangers.)
(**Footnote. I have already given some account of this port; and here,
therefore, I need do no more than refer the reader to the accompanying
It was the examination I made on this occasion of Colonel Gawler's
excellent road between the port and Adelaide, which convinced me that a
portion of it might easily be converted into a railroad, as there is
sufficient width for a single line of rails without detracting from its
present value. That such an undertaking would prove of great advantage to
the colony there can be no doubt; and it is equally certain that it would
be profitable to those engaged in it. The exports and imports of South
Australia are, year by year, rapidly increasing; and now that its vast
mineral resources have been discovered, and are in progress of
development, no bounds can be set to its probable wealth and prosperity.
A railroad would be sure to attract a large amount of traffic even at
present. As, however, the Port of Adelaide only admits vessels of
moderate draught, large ships must discharge part of their cargo outside,
or at Holdfast Roads; between which place and Adelaide a railroad might
also be carried without any difficulty, there being a complete level the
VISIT MOUNT BARKER.
Being desirous of seeing a little more of this fertile part of the
continent, I left Adelaide accordingly, after sunset, on January 31st,
for Mount Barker,* and before sunrise next day visited its summit, nearly
1700 feet high, in order, if possible, to obtain a view in the clear
atmosphere of early morning of Lake Alexandrina, or Victoria, and the
river Murray. In this, however, I was disappointed, the weather being
hazy in that direction, so that nothing could be seen but the extensive
scrub on the eastern side of the river, stretching away like a
brown-coloured sea. Mount Barker, which may be recognised by a
saddle-shaped hill to the south of it, lies about thirty miles South-East
by East from Adelaide; the latter part of the road between is hilly; from
its foot a strip of very rich land, about one mile wide and three long,
extends to the south-west, in the direction of Willunga, on our way to
which I noticed several similar blocks. Following the southerly course of
the Finnis, at that time a dry rich flat, we entered a hilly picturesque
country with deep fertile valleys. Tracks of wild cattle were numerous on
the ridges, but we saw none, and were again disappointed by the haze that
prevailed throughout the day, of a view of the surrounding country. In
the evening we reached Willunga, distant thirty-five miles from Mount
Barker; though sight-seeing had taken us, during the day, over fifty
miles of country. This township is prettily situated at the western foot
of the hills on a woodland slope, bordered by the waters of the Gulf, at
a distance of about six miles.
(*Footnote. Named after the unfortunate Captain Barker by his friend
Our party was to have been here joined by Governor Grey, who, however,
did not arrive till late next morning; when, after examining the slate
quarries in the neighbourhood, where the cleavage and quality equalled
any I have seen in Wales, we left for Encounter Bay, bearing nearly
south-east. The first three miles of the road lay over stony ridges; and
the next eighteen traversed the worst part of the province, a sandy,
scrubby, slightly undulating country, about five hundred feet above the
sea. We were glad to find ourselves descending from this wearisome
sterile tract upon some rich flats at the head of the river Hindmarsh,
named after the first governor of the colony. These we followed four
miles in a South-South-East direction, where meeting the river, its
tortuous course led to the southward for about five miles. Where it joins
the sea, in the north-western corner of Encounter Bay, a township, also
named Hindmarsh, had been laid out, which will, doubtless, be a pleasant
summer residence, as we felt a great change in the temperature; indeed
the evening was quite bleak, with a moderate breeze from seaward.
I was naturally much interested in this part of my journey, being anxious
to see if the shelter here existing merited the name, given in the chart,
of Victor Harbour; but the only protection, excepting for a small vessel
in the north-west corner, and from northerly and westerly winds, is under
a little island, where it is possible one or two vessels may lie. From
Hindmarsh I saw the entrance of Lake Alexandrina, among some sandhills at
the entrance of which Captain Barker was murdered by the natives; a
circumstance which gave rise to the name of Encounter Bay, and attached a
melancholy interest to the spot.
NATIVE MODE OF FISHING.
Here for the first time, I met a Murray River native among a party of
others. He was certainly the finest Australian in make I had ever seen,
being robust and stout, like a South Sea Islander. A German Missionary,
who had a native school at Hindmarsh, took us to see a curious method of
catching fish resorted to at this place, which, as it has not been
noticed by Mr. Eyre, I shall describe. A party of natives, each provided
with a large square piece of net, rolled up, with a stick at either end,
swam out to a certain distance from shore, and spread themselves into a
semicircle. Every man then relinquished one of the sticks round which his
piece of net was rolled, to his right-hand neighbour, and received
another from his left; when, bringing the two together, a great seine was
formed. They now swam in, followed by other natives, who, by throwing
stones and splashing the water, frightened the fish, and prevented them
from getting out.
VISIT RAPID BAY.
Leaving Encounter Bay, we for some distance followed the left bank of the
Inman, when the road turned off to the westward. The country was good in
patches, till we made a cattle-station of Mr. Hacks, near Yankalilla Bay;
when, instead of a succession of forested hills and dales, we passed over
extensive treeless downs, contrasting strikingly in appearance with the
woody country around. Here we pitched our tents for the night: and next
morning were deprived of the company of His Excellency, who was obliged
to return to Adelaide; whilst Messrs. Macfarlane, Burr, and myself, who
were mounted from the station, went to Rapid Bay, lying about fifteen
miles South-West by West. As there was some difficulty in catching the
horses, it was 10 A.M. before we got away. I was by no means pleased with
my mount; I had suspected that all was not right by an exchange of looks,
I caught the overseer and stockman indulging in, as I threw my leg over
as ugly a hammer-headed, standing-over brute as ever man crossed; but
with the aid of a severe bit and a sharp pair of spurs I kept him alive,
and he only came down twice during the journey, which, although over a
very hilly country, was performed in four hours. After taking some
refreshment, we started at 4 P.M. for Adelaide, distant nearly sixty
We crossed the Myponga; and led our horses down a winding path on the
almost precipitous side of Mount Terrible, well worthy its name, just as
the sun was shedding his last rays over the waters of the Gulf, that
stretched away westward, apparently, from our feet; the white sails of a
coaster here and there dotting the blue expanse. Hitherto the road had
been over a succession of hills and dales, with occasionally a patch of
pretty scenery; but from the foot of Mount Terrible a level,
lightly-timbered piece of country extended to the Unkaparinga, which we
crossed, passing through the township of Noarlinga, on its north bank.
After stopping to bait the horses, we continued our ride; but it was now
so very dark that I lost all the beauty of this part of the country, and
from the undulations in the road I could easily imagine that many a
pretty glen was veiled from us by the darkness. Getting off the track, we
became entangled among some high five-railed fences, from which we were
extricated by the sagacity of my horse, belonging to the mounted police;
on being given his head, he soon brought us back upon the road to
Adelaide, where we arrived about midnight, having ridden, since 10 A.M.,
nearly ninety miles. We had scarcely reached the town before a hot wind
set in, which lasted forty-eight hours, when a squall from seaward
relieved the gasping inhabitants: at one time the thermometer at the
public offices was 158 degrees.
SAIL FROM SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
We sailed from South Australia on February 7th, but it was not until the
forenoon of the 9th that we cleared Backstairs Passage, passing half a
mile from the reef fronting the east end of Kangaroo Island, in 16
fathoms; the south-eastern part of this island is a steep rocky shore,
with few sinuosities. Southerly winds brought us in sight of the land at
daylight on the 11th. The most remarkable features were Mounts Gambier
and Schanck; the summit of the latter, the least conspicuous, is flat,
with a hollow in the centre. According to my observations, it is in
longitude 10 degrees 29 minutes West of Sydney. The ship's position, just
before dark, was ten miles North 65 degrees West from Cape Bridgewater,
which is a hummocky cliff-faced point of land, separated from the main by
a low neck.
ARRIVE AT PORTLAND BAY.
Finding ourselves still off this part of the coast, which was laid down
three miles too much to the northward, I resolved, for the better means
of determining this fact by observations on shore, to go to the nearest
anchorage, Portland Bay, where we arrived in the evening. I had another
object in visiting this place, namely, that of helping to determine the
141st meridian, which had been fixed on as the western boundary of the
colony of New South Wales.
The approach to this anchorage is remarkable, and cannot escape the
memory of anyone who has seen it; for the information of those who have
not, I give a woodcut.*
(*Footnote. Lawrence Isles lie off the point forming the south side of
Our anchorage was in 7 fathoms, midway between the bluff on either side
of the settlement, which we were surprised to find had already assumed
the appearance of a town, lying in the western corner of the bay, on a
sloping grassy bank.
Here I met Mr. C.J. Tyers, government surveyor, who had laid out the
township of Portland. As he had also made an accurate survey of the Bay,
little remained for us except to test its qualities, which the prevalence
of easterly winds gave us an opportunity of doing. They at first caused a
little anxiety, as the anchorage was exposed in this quarter; but this
feeling rapidly subsided on our discovering the excellence of the holding
ground--mud with a coating of sand, out of which we had some difficulty
in weighing our anchors.
NEW SOUTH WALES BOUNDARY. SQUATTERS.
At Portland I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mr. Stephen
Henty,* the leader of an enterprising family who had been the hardy
pioneers of civilization, in discovering and laying open the fertile
districts of this part of the continent, and under whose fostering care
Portland has risen from a mere whaling station to its present prosperity.
Such being the case, it is with regret that I am obliged to say that Mr.
Henty received no consideration from Government when the land was put up
for sale, being obliged to bid against the public for ground he had
brought under notice, and spent years of labour in getting into
(*Footnote. My observations refer to this gentleman's new house, which
they place in latitude 38 degrees 20 minutes 45 seconds South and
longitude 9 degrees 36 minutes 22 seconds West of Sydney, by satisfactory
meridian distances to the latter place, and from South Australia.
Preferring Mr. Tyers' difference of longitude by triangulation to the
east entrance point of the Glenelg River, 37 minutes 29 seconds, which is
1 minute 27 seconds more than his chronometric measurement; the mouth of
the Glenelg will be 10 degrees 13 minutes 51 seconds West of Sydney. By
Mr. Tyers' triangulation, calculated by Captain Owen Stanley from Port
Phillip, Batman's Hill, with my longitude of the latter 6 degrees 16
minutes 17 seconds West of Sydney, the Glenelg is West of Sydney 10
degrees 14 minutes 02 seconds, which is 57 seconds less than Mr. Tyers'
calculation. The longitude of Sydney, by different observers, ranges
between 151 degrees 12 minutes 0 seconds and 151 degrees 17 minutes 0
seconds; but, as I myself believe 151 degrees 16 minutes to be within a
minute of the truth, the Glenelg will, accordingly, by my observations be
in 141 degrees 02 minutes 09 seconds East and therefore within the New
South Wales territory, the limit of which it had been supposed to mark.
If the 141st degree had been selected as the boundary of the colony, with
reference to the longitude of Sydney, there would not be much difficulty
attending its determination.)
(**Footnote. The squatter, who often at great risk locates himself in a
remote spot, and renders such essential service to the mother country by
finding new lands, yea new homes, for the surplus population, merits much
greater encouragement than he receives, particularly in instances similar
to that of Mr. Henty, whose station at Portland was, for years, hundreds
of miles removed from other occupied parts. This gentleman's case makes
it clear at once that something ought to be done for the squatter. His
comfortable house and garden he was obliged to leave to make room for a
street of the new township; but this would not have been very hard had he
been given an allotment in lieu; which, however, as I have stated, was
not done; and he was compelled to witness the labour of his hands
entirely swept away, and found himself, after years of toil, placed
exactly in the same position with those who came to enjoy the fruits of
But the greatest hardship sustained by the squatter is the Special Survey
system, according to which, anyone desirous to become a purchaser to the
extent of twenty thousand acres may choose his land where he pleases. A
party clubs together and finds out spots, that have been improved by
squatters, with a view of purchasing them when able; many of these are
often included in one special survey block: and even if the squatter is
able to purchase the rich and hardly-won small patch he occupies, the
special survey party, generally a knot of jobbers, have the preference.
This is apparently for the benefit of the crown, twenty thousand pounds
being thus added to the revenue under the pound per acre system; but it
is certainly not advantageous to the country, as the large purchasers
seldom buy for occupation, but for sale; and the smallholder, the
squatter, is driven from the land in distress. I have seen instances of
persons being utterly ruined in this way. My own opinion is, that the
squatter ought to be allowed to purchase the land he occupies by private
contract from government; or that an allowance should be made him,
equivalent to his improvements.)
The detention we had experienced afforded me an opportunity of visiting
the country; and having just seen between two and three hundred miles of
the Province of South Australia, I was glad of the chance of comparing
these two parts of the continent. Accordingly, after making a series of
magnetical observations, and others for the errors of the chronometers, I
left Portland one morning in company with Mr. Tyers. Taking Mr. Henty's
road to the northward we soon passed the rich land surrounding Portland,
and entered a stringybark forest, eight miles in extent. Then crossing a
heathy tract we came to the Fitzroy, distant fifteen miles from Portland.
Here, as elsewhere, the presence of water improves the soil, for along
the banks of the river there was some good land. This was also the case
near a hill just beyond it, called Mount Eckersley. where I saw Sir
Thomas Mitchell's initials cut in a tree at the time when he explored
this country, and found to his surprise that Mr. Henty had a station in
EXCURSION INTO THE INTERIOR.
With the exception of the flats near the Crawford, twenty miles from the
Fitzroy, the road lies through a poor country, until it approaches Mr. J.
Henty's station, fifteen miles further. Here we appeared to have turned
our backs on the bad land; and entered a tract of country in which the
herbage is so excellent that an acre is capable of feeding one sheep,
whereas in other parts three or four are required.
From a pointed hill, called the Sugarloaf, fifty-eight miles from
Portland, I had an extensive view of this fertile district: the outlines
of those magnificent mountains, the Victoria and Grampian ranges, that
completed the distant part of the landscape, to the eastward, were
distinctly defined against the clear morning sky; whilst, in the
foreground, grassy round-topped hills, rose on either side of wide
valleys sparingly dotted with trees, marking the course of the streams
that meander through them, and the margin of the singular circular
waterholes, with sides so steep as to render it necessary to cut through
them to enable the cattle to drink, that were distributed around as if
formed by art, rather than by nature. Westward, I saw the winding course
of the Glenelg, and was told that some of the squatters had located
themselves on its banks, and that others were even talking of stations
(which they have since made) as far as the volcanic mountains, Schanck
and Gambier, where there is some rich country, recently visited from
Adelaide, by Governor Grey, who has discovered that the barrier of desert
between New South Wales and South Australia, is less marked than was
supposed; there being patches of good land intervening, so that at no
very distant day, we may hope to see the whole of the coast, from Port
Phillip to Spencer's Gulf, supporting a scattered white population.
I noticed that there was a vast superiority in the soil on the north-west
side of the hills; but saw none equal in richness to the five-mile patch
at Mount Eckersley.
The steep sides of a part of the valley of the Wannon, however, a few
miles to the eastward of the Sugarloaf, are very fertile, and being
clothed with patches of woodland, form extremely pretty scenery. The
rocks of this part of the country are chiefly trappean; in the immediate
neighbourhood of Portland, they consist of limestone, ferruginous
sandstone, and trap.
After having extended our ride to above seventy miles, we returned,
having satisfied ourselves, from what we had seen and heard, that there
was a greater extent of good land here, than at South Australia; though
it was more scattered, and farther from the sea. On our way, we met a
party of natives; and seeing a bundle of spears leaning against a tree, I
rode up to examine them, but the owner instantly ran and seized them, in
a manner that confirmed the report I had before heard, to the effect,
that the settlers and the aborigines of this part, either through the
mismanagement of the one, or the evil disposition of the other, are not
on very good terms.
I went this day to Cape Bridgewater, to make a sketch of the coast, and
visit some caves lying four miles north of it. These we found to be from
forty to fifty feet high, and of the same depth; the ceilings were
encrusted with stalactites and the mouths overlooked some pretty
freshwater lakes, three miles in extent separated from the sea by a
narrow chain of sandhills; upon these were a few swans, and a black and
white kind of goose, one of which Mr. Bynoe shot; it resembled the
species we had seen flying over the Albert in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
ARRIVE AT HOBART.
A slight cessation of the easterly wind allowed us to leave Portland Bay
in the morning; but scarcely had we got outside, when it blew strong
again from the same quarter: accordingly, it being highly desirable that
I should consult with His Excellency, Sir John Franklin, before we
commenced the survey of Bass Strait, we proceeded direct to Hobart, where
we arrived on the 26th. The latitude of the south-west cape was
determined on the passage to be 42 degrees 35 minutes South: and a
running survey was made of the south coast of Tasmania.
Our stay in the Derwent, during which land and seabreezes prevailed,
afforded me an opportunity of comparing our compasses at the magnetic
observatory, established since our last visit by the Antarctic
expedition, and left in charge of Lieutenant Key and Messrs. Dayman and
Scott, officers belonging to it. This place His Excellency, who took part
in the observations made there, named after the leader of the expedition,
Ross Bank Observatory: I found it to be 20 seconds west, and 1 minute 10
seconds, north of the Beagle's observation spot in Fort Mulgrave.
Sir John Franklin, who has always taken great interest in the Beagle's
voyage, testified every wish to afford me assistance: and in the most
liberal manner placed at my disposal the colonial cutter, Vansittart, to
assist in the survey of the Strait. Messrs. Forsyth and Pascoe were
selected for the service, the former being in command. After giving the
Vansittart a slight refit, and a few alterations which were expedited in
a most praiseworthy manner by Captain Booth, commandant at Port Arthur,
she was to proceed to the scene of operations near Banks Strait. In the
meantime the Beagle sailed for Sydney to receive the stores we expected
This was our second day from the Derwent; but owing to the prevalence of
North-East winds we had not made further progress than to be at noon,
thirty miles east from Cape Pillar. The atmospheric changes during this
day were curious. The morning broke hazy, with a moderate breeze from
North-North-East, which gradually subsiding and veering at the same time
to East-South-East, left us becalmed for three or four hours; thick
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