Narrative Of The Voyage Of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By The Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During The Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries And Surveys In New Guinea, The Louisiade Archipelago, Etc. To Which Is Added The Account Of Mr. E.B. Kennedy's Expedition For The Exploration Of The Cape York Peninsula. By John Macgillivray, F.R.G.S. Naturalist To The Expedition. In Two Volumes. Volume 1.
Part 2 out of 6
Of landshells, only two kinds, a Helix and a Succinea, were found upon
Facing Island. Of marine species, 41 were added to the collection; the
most important in a non-zoological point of view is a kind of rock oyster
of delicious flavour and large size.
LEAVE PORT CURTIS FOR THE NORTHWARD.
Sailed from Port Curtis for the northward, in company with the Asp, the
Bramble being sent to Moreton Bay in order to communicate the results of
the survey to the Colonial Government, and rejoin us at Cape Upstart. For
the next two days light northerly winds prevailed, after which we had the
wind from about East-South-East.
The Asp having made a signal for assistance, and it being ascertained
that she had lost her dinghy and bumpkin by a sea which struck her while
crossing a tide-race, it was judged necessary to run for the nearest
place where the damage could be repaired. We consequently anchored under
Number 2 of the Percy Isles, to leeward of its south-west point, in 10
fathoms, mud, between it and the Pine Islets of the chart.
Here it blew so hard from East-South-East that a second anchor was let
go; the yards were pointed to the wind, and the top-gallant masts sent on
deck. A party which attempted to land were forced to return, nor was it
thought expedient to repeat the attempt on the following day. We remained
at this anchorage until the 7th, and found the gale to subside into the
This is the largest of the Percy Isles, being about twelve or fourteen
miles in circumference. In structure, it may be said to consist of a
series of hills running in ridges, many of them covered with gumtree
scrub; and all with long grass growing in tufts, concealing the loose
stones, and rendering walking very laborious. On the western side of the
island, about a mile from the anchorage, the sea communicates, by a
narrow entrance, with a large basin partially blocked up with mangroves,
among which a creek filled at high-water, runs up for a mile. At the head
of this hollow a deeply worn dried up watercourse indicated the
periodical abundance of fresh water; and by tracing it up about a mile
further, I found many large pools among the rocks containing a sufficient
supply for the ship, but unavailable to us in consequence of the
difficulty in getting at it. Signs of natives were frequently met with,
but none were recent. From the quantities of turtle-bones about the
fireplaces, it is evident that these animals occasionally resort to a
small sandy beach near the entrance of the basin above alluded to.
The botany of the island afforded at this unfavourable season not more
than five or six species of plants in flower, some of which I had met
with elsewhere. A species of pine, Araucaria cunninghami, is found here
in small quantities, but more plentifully on the adjacent Pine Islets,
where it appears to constitute the only arboreal vegetation. A few
cabbage palms, Corypha australis, are the only other trees worth
mentioning. Among the birds observed, black and white cockatoos, swamp
pheasants, and crows were the most numerous. A fine banded snail, Helix
incei, was the only landshell met with. A Littorina and a Nerita occur
abundantly on the trunks and stems of the mangroves, and the creek
swarmed with stingrays (Trygon) and numbers of a dull green swimming
During our stay, the bush was thoughtlessly set on fire by some of our
people, and continued burning for several days, until nearly the whole
island had been passed over; the long dry grass and dead trees blazing
very fiercely under the influence of a high wind. At night the sight of
the burning scrub was very fine when viewed from a distance, but I did
not forget that I had one day been much closer to it than was
pleasant--in fact, it was only by first soaking my clothes in a pool
among the rocks, emptying the contents of my powder-flask to prevent the
risk of being blown up, and then making a desperate rush through a belt
of burning scrub, that I succeeded in reaching a place of safety.
Singularly enough, the Asp's dinghy was picked up uninjured on one of the
sandy beaches of this island, and on December 7th we left the anchorage
with a strong south-easterly wind, and anchored for the night under one
of Sir James Smith's group. On the following day we ran through part of
Whitsunday Passage, so named by Cook, and anchored in Port Molle, in
seven and a half fathoms, a quarter of a mile off shore. The best
anchorage here appears to be in the second bay as you round the end of
the island, forming the south-east side of the harbour; it may be known
by a sandy beach at the head.
During our stay of two days, search was made for water in every likely
spot, but none could be found. In the dried up beds of three shallow
lagoons (one of which I had seen half filled four years before) we found
native wells, one dug to the depth of six feet, but the water had
Port Molle, besides being a well sheltered harbour from all prevailing
winds, has a much more pleasing aspect than almost any place I have seen
on the north-east coast of Australia. To ourselves the change was
agreeable; instead of the monotonous gumtrees and mangroves of Port
Curtis and the scantily wooded stony hills of the Percy Isles, we had
here many varieties of woodland vegetation, including some large patches
of dense brush or jungle, in which one might observe every shade of green
from the sombre hue of the pine, to the pale green of the cabbage-palm.
Some rare birds were procured in the brushes--two of them appear here to
attain their southern limits of distribution upon the north-east coast of
Australia; they are the Australian sunbird (Cinnyris australis) reminding
one of the humming birds from its rich metallic colouring, and the
Megapodius tumulus, a rasorial bird, the size of a fowl, which constructs
great mounds of earth, leaves, sticks, stones, and coral, in which the
eggs are deposited at a depth of several feet from the surface, and left
there to be hatched by the heat of the fermenting mass of vegetable
matter. In addition to these, our sportsmen were successful in procuring
numbers of the pheasant-tailed pigeon, and the brush-turkey (Talegalla
lathami) the latter much esteemed, from the goodness of its flesh. Many
plants and insects as well as several landshells, new to science, which
will elsewhere be alluded to, were added to the collection. Doubtless
fish are also plentiful here, but we were prevented from hauling the
seine by the remains of a wreck in the centre of a flat of muddy sand at
the head of the bay where we were anchored; the vessel, I have since
heard, had come in contact with a coral reef, and been run on shore here,
in order to save a portion of her stores.
CAPE UPSTART. FIND NO WATER.
In company with the Asp we ran up to the northward to Cape Upstart, a
distance of about ninety miles, and anchored in five fathoms off the
sandy beach inside the point. Two boats were immediately sent to search
for water, but we found the pools where the Fly had watered, in 1844,
completely empty; and it was not until the deep rocky bed of the torrent
had been traced upwards of a mile higher up on the following morning,
that fresh water was met with; but at too great a distance from the
shore, to be available for our purposes. Judging from the almost total
want of water at all the places hitherto visited on this coast since
entering the tropics that there was little probability of our finding it
at Goold Island, Captain Stanley determined to proceed no further, but
return at once to Sydney, by way of Moreton Bay, and letters were left
for Lieutenant Yule signifying this intention.
RETURN TO SYDNEY.
Three days ago we sailed for Cape Upstart on our return to the southward,
working down the coast against a strong tradewind, the Asp keeping in
shore to survey the neighbourhood of the coastline, imperfectly and
erroneously laid down upon the Admiralty chart. We had calms and light
winds with thick rainy weather in the morning. While in Whitsunday
Passage, a small bark canoe with two natives came off to within a quarter
of a mile of the ship, shouting loudly and making gestures to attract
attention, but we did not stop; in fact, every moment now was precious,
as we were upon reduced allowance of water. Soon after noon we anchored
in Port Molle, and next day the Asp was stripped and hoisted inboard.
Since we left Port Molle, the winds have been variable from the northward
and eastward, with calms, and the weather quite unsettled with occasional
rain. While nearly becalmed, several opportunities were afforded for
dredging from the ship, and many new and curious marine animals were
Today we had the wind from East-South-East, gradually freshening to a
moderate gale with the sea getting up, and in the evening it was judged
expedient to bear up and run for an anchorage under the largest Keppel's
Isle, where we brought up in five and a half fathoms, sand. A line of
breaking water a quarter of a mile to leeward, was afterwards found to be
caused by a dangerous reef not indicated upon the chart, where, instead,
an anchorage was marked, a circumstance which might have led to serious
results, had we run in during the night.
Keppel's Isle is from ten to twelve miles in circumference--it is distant
from the mainland six miles. That portion of it seen from our anchorage
presented rather a pleasant appearance; some fine verdant grassy-looking
places were, however, found on closer inspection to be poor stony or
sandy ground, thinly covered with tufts of coarse grass. Behind a long
sandy beach abreast of the ship, an extensive hollow apparently running
back for two or three miles, flanked by low wooded hills, was found to be
a mangrove swamp traversed by several branches of a saltwater creek, by
which the flood-tide gains admittance. Here I found numbers of a singular
fish of the genus Chironectes leaping with great activity over the mud
among the arched roots of the mangroves, among which small crabs (Ocypoda
and Macrophthalmus) were making for their burrows in all directions.
Fresh water appeared scarce--I came upon one small well, and beside it a
large shell for the purpose of drinking from. I followed the recent
tracks of two natives, but they concealed themselves among the mangroves,
with their usual caution, although armed with spears, as I could see by
the marks left during their hurried flight, and they knew that I was
alone. A small group of women and children were afterwards met with by a
shooting party from the ship, but they ran off affrighted, leaving behind
their baskets, which were filled with a small blue gregarious crab,
common upon the sandy beaches.
After leaving our anchorage under Keppel's Island, we continued working
to the southward against a strong South-East wind. On the 24th while
standing in for the land, about 11 P.M., the ship was suddenly found to
be within a cable's length of the rocks off the North-East end of Facing
Island, on which we were fortunate in not having to spend our Christmas.
Next day a water-snake (Hypotrophis jukesii) four feet two inches long
was caught when we were several miles off the land; it had accidentally
been hooked by the tail by someone fishing for albacore, several of which
fine fish were taken hereabouts. We rounded Breaksea Spit on December
29th, and two days afterwards arrived at Moreton Bay, were we found the
During our stay at Yule's Roads, we had much gloomy blowing weather, with
drizzly rain, and a heavy gale from North-East to North-North-East.
ARRIVE AT SYDNEY.
After replenishing our nearly exhausted stock of water, we sailed for
Sydney, which we reached on January 14th, 1848. During this passage we
were much aided by the strong current, and had usually the wind between
South-East and East-South-East, with occasional calms.
RECENT OCCURRENCES IN SYDNEY.
February 2nd, 1848.
During our absence from Sydney, and since our arrival, some events of
great importance to the colony had occurred. Public attention had been
strongly directed towards the question of Steam Communication with India
and England, the facilitating of which was one of the principal objects
of the Voyage of the Rattlesnake.* Meetings to discuss the practicability
of forming railroads** had also been held. Dr. Leichhardt, the
well-known, indefatigable traveller, had started with a party to attempt
to traverse the Continent of Australia, and reach Swan River--and Mr.
Kennedy had returned from tracing the Victoria River of Sir Thomas
Mitchell, which he found to become lost in the stony desert of Sturt,
instead of disemboguing into the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria, as some
(*Footnote. This project, I regret to add, has not yet been carried into
effect, nor does there appear to be any reasonable prospect of its speedy
(**Footnote. I have lately heard that the first Australian railroad has
actually been commenced at Sydney.)
FOUNDATION OF THE COLONY.
During our stay the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the colony was
celebrated, and a large proportion of the 50,000 inhabitants of Sydney
and the neighbourhood joined in the festivities and amusements
commemorating so glorious a day in the annals of their adopted country.
When witnessing the gaieties of the regatta, I could not help reflecting
on the simple narrative of the first founder of what may hereafter become
a great empire, a mighty monument of the genius of the Anglo-Saxon race.
"The spot chosen for our encampment," says Colonel Collins, "was at the
head of the cove near the run of fresh water which stole silently along
through a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then, for the first
time since the creation, been interrupted by the rude sound of the
labourer's axe, and the downfall of its ancient inhabitants; a stillness
and tranquillity which from that day were to give place to the voice of
labour, the confusion of camps, and the busy hum of its new possessors."*
(Footnote. Collins' New South Wales 2nd edition page 10.)
Finding that there was yet some time to spare before the arrival of the
usual period for leaving Sydney to pass through Torres Strait, Captain
Stanley resolved upon acting in accordance with the expressed wishes of
the Colonial Government, that he should make an inspection of the various
lighthouses in Bass Strait, and for that purpose sailed from Sydney on
February 2nd, with the Rattlesnake and Bramble. The Asp and one of the
galleys accompanied us as far as Botany Bay, which they were to be
employed in surveying during our absence, under the orders of Lieutenant
On February 8th, we passed between Kent's and Hogan's groups (in Bass
Strait); the lighthouse on the former of these, perched upon a hill 829
feet high, is admirably situated, and although the night was rather hazy,
the light (revolving) shone out with great brilliance, and was afterwards
seen from the Bramble's deck, when thirty-seven miles distant. We caught,
in the narrows of the Strait, numbers of baracoudas, a very bold and
ravenous fish, and withal a good-eating one, measuring from two to three
feet in length; they bite eagerly at a hook towing astern, baited with a
piece of red or white rag, and are taken in greatest numbers when several
miles distant from the land, and the vessel is going from four to eight
knots through the water.
Two days afterwards, the weather being extremely favourable for the
purpose, I got several hauls with the dredge in forty-five fathoms, sandy
bottom, and, in addition to many curious crustacea and shellfish, a
number of very fine zoophytes, almost all of them new to science, were in
such abundance as quickly to fill the net.
While standing off and on the land during a fog, a partial clearing up
showed the entrance to Port Phillip, with its lighthouse,* and after
passing through between the heads, with the usual strong tide ripple, we
reached the anchorage at Hobson's Bay after dark.
(*Footnote. Of this Captain Stanley remarks: "In consequence of being
placed so far within the heads, the light is visible to seaward only
between the bearings of South 1/2 West and South-west 1/2 West. A better
position would be on Lonsdale Point, when the light would be seen by
vessels coming from the eastward as soon as they rounded Cape Schank. It
would also serve as a leading mark for navigating the southern channel,
but the tower would require to be of considerable height to show the
light over Shortland's Bluff to vessels inside the harbour.")
I found no alteration in William's Town, since a former visit made two
years ago. The place appeared to be completely at a standstill, as a
small straggling village of 200 inhabitants, chiefly dependent upon the
shipping for support.
ARRIVE AT PORT PHILLIP. MELBOURNE.
Far different was it with Melbourne, the capital of the district. On our
way in a steamer up the Yarra-Yarra, several large and recently
constructed boiling-down establishments in full work indicated the
extensive operation of the tallow-manufacturing process. The town (or
city as it may, I believe, be termed) appeared to have wonderfully
increased of late, and a quiet business-like air prevailed. Everywhere we
met bullock-teams and drays recently arrived with wool, or on their
return to the sheep stations with supplies, but there were few loungers
like ourselves in the streets, nearly everyone seeming to have his time
It appeared to be the general and loudly expressed opinion, so far as we
could judge, that the separation of the Port Phillip district from New
South Wales, and its formation into an independent colony, would
materially advance the interests and conduce to the prosperity of the
former; and that the large surplus revenue which is annually transmitted
to Sydney ought to be spent among the people who have raised it.*
(*Footnote. These and other claims of the colonists have, I need scarcely
add, been fully admitted by the recent separation from New South Wales of
the Port Phillip district, now the colony of Victoria.)
One day some of us made up a party to visit Geelong, the town in this
district of next importance to Melbourne, from which it is distant, by
water, fifty-five miles. The western shores of Port Phillip, along which
we passed, are low, thinly wooded, and bear a very monotonous aspect.
Vast numbers of a large sea-jelly (Rhizostoma mosaica) gave the water
quite a milky appearance. I was surprised to find the town, only a few
years old, to be one already containing about 3000 inhabitants. It is
built on a range of low gravelly banks facing the harbour, from which it
extends backwards in a straggling manner towards the river Barwon, which,
at the distance of a mile and a half, was then 100 yards wide, deep, and
without current. The town of Geelong derives its consequence from being a
convenient outlet for the wool and other produce of the southern
districts of Port Phillip--perhaps the best sheep country in Australia.
Four or five vessels were then loading for England. Unfortunately, Corio
Harbour, on the shores of which the town is built, is blocked up by a
bar, and vessels of moderate size are obliged to remain in Geelong Bay,
about five miles off, while discharging or receiving cargo.
Five days after clearing the Heads of Port Phillip, we had crossed Bass
Strait,* and anchored in Port Dalrymple, on the northern coast of Van
Diemen's Land, and remained there sufficiently long to obtain rates for
the chronometers, and connect it by meridian distance with William's
Town, and Sydney.** The two lighthouses of Banks' Strait only now
remained unvisited, that on the Kent Group, and another on Cape Otway,
having been left to Lieutenant Yule.
(*Footnote. For every information required by navigators passing through
Bass Strait, I would refer to Discoveries in Australia, with an account
of the Coasts and Rivers explored and surveyed during the Voyage of
H.M.S. Beagle, in the years 1837 to 1843 by J. Lort Stokes, Commander,
R.N., and to the Admiralty chart by Captain Stokes. On this subject I
find a manuscript note by Captain Stanley: "Stokes has mentioned in his
chart that there is little or no tide in Bass Strait. Such may be the
case, but I have invariably found a very strong current, depending both
as to force and direction upon the prevailing winds. On one occasion,
during a westerly gale, it set to the eastward with a velocity of at
least three knots per hour. I mention this circumstance, as from Captain
Stokes' remarks, strangers might be led to suppose there were no currents
in the Strait, and neglect to take the usual precautions.")
(**Footnote. It is unnecessary to give separately the various meridian
distances obtained by the Rattlesnake and Bramble, as these will be
found, with the various circumstances affecting their value, in the
With the help of a strong westerly wind we reached Goose Island at 5
P.M., and a party from the ship landed immediately after anchoring. The
island is one and a half miles in length, by one in greatest breadth. The
rock is a coarse sienite, forming detached bare masses and ridges, but
none of considerable height. In the hollows the soil appears rich, dark,
and pulverulent, with much admixture of unformed bird-guano. The scanty
vegetation is apparently limited to a grass growing in tussocks, and a
few maritime plants. The ground resembles a rabbit warren, being
everywhere undermined by the burrows of the mutton-bird, a dark
shearwater (Puffinus brevicaudus) the size of a pigeon. A person in
walking across the island can scarcely avoid frequently stumbling among
these burrows, from the earth giving way under his feet, and I was told
by one of the residents that snakes are very numerous in these holes,
living upon the mutton-birds; I myself trod upon one which, fortunately,
was too sluggish to escape before I had time to shoot it, and ascertain
it to be the well-known black snake of the Australian colonists
(Acanthophis tortor) a very poisonous species. Among the seafowl, a large
gull (Larus pacificus) was exceedingly plentiful, together with a smaller
one (Xema jamesonii) and a few penguins (Spheniscus minor.) A fine flock
of wild geese (Cereopsis novae hollandiae) was seen, but they were too
wary to allow of close approach. About dusk clouds of mutton-birds came
in from the sea, and we amused ourselves with chasing them over the
ground among their burrows, and as many specimens as I required were
speedily provided by knocking them down with a stick. As usual with the
Petrel family they bite severely if incautiously handled, and disgorge a
quantity of offensive oily matter, the smell of which pervades the whole
island, a which the clothes I then wore retained for a long time
The party in charge of the lighthouse have numbers of goats, pigs, and
sheep, and also raise a few potatoes and other vegetables; still their
life is a hard one--more so comparatively, than that of the keepers of
the Eddystone or Bell Rock lights at home, as they communicate with Van
Diemen's Land only twice a year, and are often in want of fuel, which
they have to send for to a neighbouring island.
Aided by the remains of a strong westerly wind, with which we at one time
logged ten and a half knots--a great feat for the old Rattlesnake,
jury-rigged as she was for surveying service, we passed through part of
Banks' Strait, and anchored off Swan Island at 9 A.M. The rock is a
fine-grained basalt, exposed only on the shore, the remainder of the
island being a series of sandhills covered with low shrubs and luxuriant
grass growing in tufts. Having left Captain Stanley's party on their way
to the lighthouse, I found on the western side of the island a long sandy
beach strewed with marine rejectamenta, among which were many new species
of zoophytes; the number and variety of sponges was very great, but
nearly all had suffered so much from exposure to the sun and weather, as
to be useless as specimens. Returning to the ship before noon, we
immediately got underweigh for Sydney.
RETURN TO SYDNEY.
Yesterday morning we picked up a strong South-South-East wind, which
brought us off Botany Bay by 8 A.M., but the weather being thick with
rain, and the land doubtful, being seen only in occasional glimpses, it
was judged prudent to haul off, standing in again during a clearing. At
length the lighthouse was distinguished, when we bore up, and in little
more than an hour reached our former anchorage in Farm Cove.
Sail on our Second Northern Cruise.
Entrance to the Inner Passage.
Arrive at Rockingham Bay.
Land Mr. Kennedy's Expedition.
Commence the Survey at Dunk Island.
Communication with Natives.
Examine a New River.
Find the Coconut Palm.
The Will-o-the-Wisp and her Story.
Animals of a Coral Reef.
Stay at Lizard Island.
Howick, Pelican, and Claremont Isles.
Meet party of Natives in Distress.
Arrive at Cape York.
SAIL ON SECOND NORTHERN CRUISE.
The season for passing through Torres Strait from the southward having
arrived, we left Port Jackson on a ten-months cruise, in order to
complete the survey of the Inner Passage, or the clear channel between
the north-east coast of Australia and the inner edge of the outer reefs,
which again are bounded to seaward by the Great Barrier Reef, stretching
from north to south, for a distance of upwards of 1000 miles.
In the evening we were joined by the Tam O'Shanter, a barque having on
board a colonial overland expedition under Mr. Kennedy, which we are to
accompany to Rockingham Bay, 1200 miles north from Sydney, where we are
to assist in the disembarkation and starting of the party.
For the first nine days we averaged only thirty miles a day, owing to a
long continuance of calms and light winds with a strong adverse current,
which on one occasion set us to East-South-East fifty-three miles in
twenty-four hours. At length, on May 8th we picked up a strong southerly
breeze, accompanied by a northerly set. On May 12th we rounded Breaksea
Spit, and Captain Stanley finding his original intention of passing
inside of Lady Elliot's Island impracticable, or at least involving
unnecessary delay, determined to bear up North-West by West keeping
outside of the Bunker and Capricorn Groups, and try the channel
previously passed through by Captain F.P. Blackwood in H.M.S. Fly.
Captain Stanley's remarks on this subject are so important, that I give
ENTRANCE TO THE INNER PASSAGE.
"After reaching Lady Elliot's Island, we steered a course direct for the
High Peak of the Northumberland Islands, so as to pass between Bunker's
Group and Swain's Reef, which affords a far better entrance into the
Inner Passage, than the old route round Breaksea Spit inside the Bunker
Group; when the course requires to be changed, and the channel is much
narrower. We sounded every half hour without finding bottom, with from 80
to 120 fathoms, till we came to the soundings laid down by the Fly, which
we found to agree almost exactly with ours.
"Our soundings were obtained by using Massey's patent lead, with which we
found we could reach the bottom at twenty-six fathoms, when the ship was
going 9.2 knots an hour; and with such a guide any error in the reckoning
would be detected, even by night, as the Bunker Group gives warning by
the soundings. For a steamer going to Sydney by the Inner Route, this
channel would be invaluable as far as the Pine Peak of the Percy Isles.
One direct course will lead out to sea clear of all the reefs, a distance
of more than 200 miles, during which period there would be ample time to
ascertain by observations of the sun, whether any current had been
experienced sufficient to place the ship in danger, and, as the channel
between Swain's Reef and the Bunker Group appears to be clear, there is a
drift of thirty miles on each side the course from the High Peak."
After having at daylight sighted the land about Port Bowen and Cape
Townshend, we passed the Northumberland and Percy Isles to the westward,
the water being very smooth with light airs from South to
East-North-East. A very offensive smell which has been experienced in the
after part of the ship for a week back, was today traced to some
preserved meats prepared in Sydney; 1036 pounds of these being found
quite putrid were condemned.*
(*Footnote. It is but justice to state here that the English invention of
preserving meat in air-tight canisters had only recently been attempted
in Sydney; and it was then to be regarded merely as an experiment to try
whether a new and important article of colonial export could not be
produced. Since then, further experience in the process has enabled the
introducers of the plan to succeed so perfectly, that afterwards, the
colonial preserved meats supplied to the Rattlesnake, including some
which had been kept for eighteen months, were always preferred by us to
those prepared in England. The meat itself, I allude to beef and mutton,
was of better quality, and the cost much less.)
At length, after several days of light and contrary winds, the wind came
round to South-East and assumed the appearance of the trade, which we had
at last picked up. We ran round the north-east end of the Cumberland
Islands, passed Cape Gloucester, and in the evening anchored under Cape
Upstart in our former berth.
During a solitary ramble next day, chiefly in order to search for a kind
of rock wallaby, or small kangaroo, peculiar to this place, and which I
failed on this occasion (as during two previous visits) to procure, I
walked as far as the place where the Fly had watered some years
previously. The large rocky basin which we had found dry in December
last, when the whole plan of our first northern cruise had to be altered,
in consequence of this unexpected result, was now nearly full. The aspect
of the country had been considerably changed by the late abundant fall of
rain, and the vegetation everywhere looked quite green. No signs of
natives were seen--their visits to the immediate vicinity of the Cape
appear to be made only at rare intervals; and the just chastisement
bestowed upon them some years ago, in consequence of a wanton attack made
upon a seining party will, probably, for some time to come, render them
cautious of coming in contact with white men. While wading about among
the tall grass, the long sharp awns of the prevailing kind, an
Anthistiria, were more annoying than can be described, having forced
their way in hundreds through my thin clothing, causing an annoying and
painful irritation; to which, the bites of clouds of mosquitoes in a
mangrove swamp which I had entered in chase of some bowerbirds, added a
finishing touch, as if to test the powers of human endurance. Having
expended my stock of dust shot, I tried fine sand--which I had somewhere
read of as a substitute, but, although used under the most favourable
conditions, the experiment proved a complete failure. Sights for rating
the chronometers to get which was the only object in coming here, having
been obtained, we left for Goold Island in the afternoon.
Passing outside of the Palm Islands, and rounding Cape Sandwich, we
entered Rockingham Bay, and anchored on the North-West side of Goold
Island, where we found the Tam O'Shanter. This island is about seven
miles in circumference, gradually rising towards the centre, to form a
peak 1376 feet in height. The shores are rocky, with occasional sandy
beaches, and the island is well wooded up to its summit; Eucalypti
(gumtrees) frequently of great size, being the predominant trees. The
grass was very luxuriant and even difficult to wade through, indicating
an abundance of water, of which several small streams were seen. One of
these streamlets close to the anchorage is well adapted for watering a
ship at, as boats can approach within a few yards; and the supply can
never, I have good reason to believe, entirely cease.
NATIVES AND THEIR CANOES.
The natives, a small party of whom were here, have had frequent
intercourse with Europeans, and indeed the sight alongside the ship of
eight canoes, four of which carried two unarmed men, and the others one
each, would of itself, to most people, have been a convincing proof of a
friendly disposition. That such apparent desire to be on friendly terms
might often mislead strangers, is not to be wondered at. Yet these same
people, a few years ago, made a sudden and most wanton attack upon a
seining party belonging to H.M.S. Fly, and shortly after we left them,
they attempted to cut off a small vessel which had called there for
Their canoes are very simply constructed of a single sheet of bark of the
gumtree brought together at the ends, and secured by stitching. The
sitter squats down with his legs doubled under him, and uses a small
square piece of bark in each hand, as paddles, with one of which he also
bales the water out by dexterously scooping it up from behind him.
On May 23rd, a convenient spot for landing the overland expedition having
been found on the shores of Rockingham Bay, we shifted our berth in the
afternoon a few miles further to leeward, and anchored under the
westernmost of the Family Islands, in order to be near the place of
LAND MR. KENNEDY'S PARTY.
On the two following days everything belonging to Mr. Kennedy's party
(with the exception of one horse drowned while swimming it ashore) was
safely landed, and his first camp was formed on some open forest land
behind the beach, at a small freshwater creek.
The object of Mr. Kennedy's expedition, was to explore the country to the
eastward of the dividing range running along the North-East coast of
Australia at a variable distance from the shore, and terminating at Cape
York, where a vessel with supplies was to meet the party in October,
after which they were to start on their return to Sydney; proceeding at
first down the western side of the peninsula to the Gulf of Carpentaria,
and then shape such a course as was best calculated to bring them to the
settled districts of New South Wales.
Of the disastrous results of this unfortunate expedition, I need not here
speak; I shall afterwards have to allude to the melancholy death of its
gallant leader, within a day's journey almost of the goal which he was
struggling with desperate energy to reach--the nearest place where
assistance could be procured for the few remaining survivors of his
party, of whom, eventually, only three were saved. I last saw poor
Kennedy on the evening before he broke up his camp; he was then in high
spirits and confident of success.
THEY COMMENCE THEIR JOURNEY.
The party, of thirteen men and twenty-eight horses (with carts, a flock
of sheep for food, etc.) appeared to be furnished with every requisite
for their intended journey, and the arrangements and appointments seemed
to me to be perfect. Nor did I, despite the forebodings of others, argue
anything but a successful result to an undertaking, the blame of failure
of which was AFTERWARDS attempted to be thrown upon those who had planned
The small granite island (one of the Family Group) off which we were
anchored, afforded little of interest to us. Fresh water was found in
small quantities, not available, however, for the use of vessels. The
most curious production of the island is an undescribed plant of the
singular family Balanophoraceae, not before known as Australian, which
was found here in abundance in the gloomy brushes, parasitic upon the
roots of the tallest trees. We also met with here--in probably its
southern limit upon the coast--a species of rattan (Calamus australis)
with long prickly shoots, well illustrated in the annexed drawing by Mr.
Huxley, representing the process of cutting through the scrub, during an
excursion made with Mr. Kennedy, for the purpose of searching for a way
out from the low swampy district of Rockingham Bay.
COMMENCE THE SURVEY.
During the forenoon, the ship was moved over to an anchorage under the
lee (North-West side) of Dunk Island, where we remained for ten days. The
survey of the coastline and Inner Passage to the northward was here
commenced, and afterwards continued up to Torres Strait, by an unbroken
series of triangulation; it included a space varying in width from 5 to
15 miles, extending through 7 1/2 degrees of latitude and 4 1/2 of
longitude, with a coastline of upwards of 600 miles.
MODE OF CONDUCTING IT.
The programme of the survey may be briefly given as follows: at the
principal stations--chiefly islands off the coast--the various
observations for determining astronomical positions and theodolite
angles, were made by Captain Stanley and Mr. W.H. Obree, and the ship
remained there at anchor for several days. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Dayman,
in the Asp, laid down the coastline and neighbourhood as far as the next
station twenty or thirty miles in advance. Lieutenant Simpson with the
pinnace continued the soundings several miles further out, both working
in conjunction, and often assisted by another boat in charge of Mr.
Heath, while the outside soundings devolved upon Lieutenant Yule in the
tender. The Rattlesnake in shifting from place to place, aided by boats
in company, sounded the centre of the channel, usually following one of
the lines run by Captain P.P. King, and marked upon his charts. The
available boats permanently attached to the ship, were employed under
various officers in the neighbourhood of the different anchorages,
cutting up the ground, and filling up any gaps which might otherwise have
been left in the new charts.
The summit of a very small rocky island, near the anchorage, named by
Captain Stanley, Mound Islet, formed the first station. Dunk Island,
eight or nine miles in circumference, is well wooded--it has two
conspicuous peaks, one of which (the North-West one) is 857 feet in
height. Our excursions were confined to the vicinity of the watering
place and the bay in which it is situated. The shores are rocky on one
side and sandy on the other, where a low point runs out to the westward.
At their junction, and under a sloping hill with large patches of brush,
a small stream of fresh water, running out over the beach, furnished a
supply for the ship, although the boats could approach the place closely
only at high-water.
Among the most interesting objects of natural history, are two birds, one
a new and handsome fly-catcher, Monarcha leucotis, the other a swallow,
which Mr. Gould informs me is also an Indian species. Great numbers of
butterflies frequent the neighbourhood of the watering place--one of
these (Papilio urvillianus) is of great size and splendour, with dark
purple wings, broadly margined with ultramarine, but from its habit of
flying high among the trees I did not succeed in catching one. An
enormous spider, beautifully variegated with black and gold, is plentiful
in the woods, watching for its prey in the centre of a large net
stretched horizontally between the trees.
The seine was frequently hauled upon the beach with great success--one
evening, through its means, in addition to plenty of fish, no less than
five kinds of star-fishes, and twelve of crustacea, several of which are
quite new, were brought on shore.
Among the plants of the island the most important is a wild species of
plantain or banana, afterwards found to range along the North-East coast
and its islands as far as Cape York. Here I saw for the first time a
species of Sciadophyllum, one of the most singular trees of the eastern
coastline of tropical Australia; a slender stem, about thirty feet in
height, gives off a few branches with immense digitate dark and glossy
leaves and long spike-like racemes of small scarlet flowers, a great
resort for insects and insect-feeding birds.
COMMUNICATION WITH NATIVES STOPPED.
Soon after the ship had come to an anchor, some natives came off in their
canoes and paid us a visit, bringing with them a quantity of shellfish
(Sanguinolaria rugosa) which they eagerly exchanged for biscuit. For a
few days afterwards we occasionally met them on the beach, but at length
they disappeared altogether, in consequence of having been fired at with
shot by one of two of the young gentlemen of the Bramble, on a shooting
excursion, whom they wished to prevent from approaching too closely a
small village, where they had their wives and children. Immediate steps
were taken, in consequence, to prevent the recurrence of such collisions,
when thoughtless curiosity on one side is apt to be promptly resented on
the other, if numerically superior in force. I saw nothing in the
appearance of these natives to distinguish them from those of Goold
Island, and the canoes are the same. The men had large prominent
cicatrices on the shoulders, and across the breast and belly, the septum
of the nose was perforated, and none of the teeth had been removed. I saw
no weapons, and some rude armlets were their only ornaments.
THE BARNARD ISLES.
On June 6th we ran to the northward 15 1/2 miles, and anchored at noon
under Number 3 of the Barnard Isles, a group consisting of six high rocky
wooded isles, the two southernmost of which are separated from the rest
by an interval of four miles. I landed upon the two largest (1 and 3 of
the charts) on the first only once. I there found nothing of much
interest, except some very thick beds of conglomerate superimposed upon a
compact basaltic-looking rock. Number 3, on the other hand, consists of
mica slate, much contorted, and altered from its usual appearance, and
containing lead ore (galena) with several veins of quartz, one of which,
about two feet in thickness, traverses the island from side to side.
BOTANY OF THE BARNARD ISLES.
The islands of the North-East coast of Australia hitherto and
subsequently visited during the survey, afford all the gradations between
the simplest form of a sandbank upon a coral reef scantily covered with
grass, a few creeping plants and stunted bushes on one hand--and on the
other a high, rocky, well-wooded island with an undulating succession of
hills and valleys. In those of the latter class, to a certain extent only
in the islands of Rockingham Bay, but in a very striking degree in those
to the northward, there is so great a similarity in the vegetation, that
an illustration of the botany may be taken from one of the Barnard Isles,
Number 3--exhibiting what may be termed an Indo-Australian Flora.
The upper margin of the coral beach is overrun with Ipomoea maritima, a
large purple-flowered Bossiaea, and some other leguminous plants, of
which the handsomest is Canvallia baueriana, a runner with large
rose-coloured flowers. To these succeeds a row of bushes of Scaevola
koenigii, and Tournefortia argentea, with an occasional Guettarda
speciosa, or Morinda citrifolia, backed by thickets of Paritium
tiliaceum, and other shrubs supporting large Convolvulaceae, vine-like
species of Cissus; Guilandina bonduc, a prickly Caesalpinia, Deeringia
coelosioides, and a variety of other climbers. Penetrating this shrubby
border, one finds himself in what in New South Wales would be called a
brush or scrub, and in India a jungle, extending over the greater part of
the island. Overhead are trees of moderate size, whose general character
is constituted by a nearly straight stem, seldom branching except near
the top, and furnished with glossy dark-green leaves. Interspersed with
them there are many which attain an enormous size, as in the case of a
Hernanda, a Castanospermum, two fabaceous trees, and others of which
neither flowers nor fruit were observed. Two palms, Seaforthia elegans,
and Livistona inermis, also occur here. By far the most remarkable
vegetable productions are the larger kinds of climbers. The principal of
these, with a leafless and almost branchless cable-like stem, sometimes
two or three hundred yards in length, rises over the summits of the
tallest trees, and connects one with another in its powerful folds,
occasionally descending to the ground. Another climber, Lestibudesia
arborescens, rises by its slender stems to the tops of the trees, hiding
them in its cascade-like masses and graceful festoons of exuberant
foliage. Besides several other exogenous woody climbers, of which a very
remarkable one is a Bauhinia, with a compressed stem spirally twisted
round its axis--the most interesting is Calamus australis, rising in a
clump, then arching along the ground and from tree to tree in a similar
manner to Flagellaria indica, here also abundant. Among the other plants
of these brushes, are the curious Dracontium polyphyllum, with large
simple and pinnatifid leaves, creeping like ivy up the trunks and lower
branches of the trees--parasitical Loranthaceae, with long dependent
tufts of rush-like leaves--enormous masses of Acrosticum alcicorne and A.
grande, with an occasional Hoya carnosa, Dendrobium, or other epiphyte.
When the soil is rich Caladium macrorhizon grows gregariously in shady
places, and Hellenia coerulea on their margins--and among stones and
sometimes on trees, tufts of Grammitis australis spread out their large
and handsome undivided fronds.
Two species of rat occur here--one is the large bandicoot of India, Mus
giganteus, doubtless introduced by some wrecked vessel, the other is the
pretty little Mus indicus, found on all the islands of the north-east
coast and Torres Strait. Among the birds, we found numbers of the
Megapodius, always a welcome addition to our bill of fare; but our
greatest prize was a new and splendid rifle-bird, which Mr. Gould has
since described from my specimens and named Ptiloris victoriae, as a mark
of respect and gratitude for the patronage bestowed upon his great work
on the Birds of Australia, in the forthcoming supplement to which it will
be figured along with some other novelties of the Voyage of the
Before taking leave of the natural history of the Barnard Group, I must
not omit a pretty butterfly inhabiting the densest parts of the brush; it
is the Hamadryas zoilus of the Voyage of the Astrolabe, erroneously
supposed in that work to be a native of New Zealand.
EXAMINE A NEW RIVER.
One day I crossed over to the mainland in a boat sent for the purpose of
examining a small river seen there to open upon a long sandy beach. We
found a depth of four feet on the bar at low-water, so had no difficulty
in entering--at a quarter of a mile from the mouth the water was quite
fresh. We ascended about two miles and a half, when it became necessary
to return on account of the shoalness of the stream, the boat* having
grounded repeatedly. A party of about twenty natives made their
appearance as soon as we entered the river, and after making ineffectual
and repeated attempts to induce us to land, two or three of their number
followed us along the bank, while the others made a straight course so as
to cut off the windings and meet us at our turning place. The current
here ran one and a half knots, but the quantity of water was trifling and
the channel throughout very narrow, at times sweeping under the bank, so
as not to allow room for the oars. At first the river was fringed with
mangroves, afterwards with dense brush. The natives followed us down
until we anchored for dinner in one of the reaches, when they all left on
hearing the report of my gun while shooting on shore. They were painted
with red and white, two of them being smeared all over with the former
colour, mixed up with some greasy substance. They seemed peaceably
disposed, as we saw no arms among them, and they approached close enough
to take biscuit from our hands.
(*Footnote. Our first cutter, very serviceable on such occasions from her
light draught; with fourteen men, arms, provisions, and stove for
cooking, etc. she drew only a foot of water.)
Near the mouth we again landed for half an hour, and found a cluster of
three or four dome-shaped huts, large and roomy, of neat construction,
covered with sheets of melaleuca bark, and having one, sometimes two
entrances. Some fishing nets, similar to those used at Moreton Bay, were
seen. The men retired into the bush when we landed, nor would they come
out to me when I advanced alone towards them, in order to look at the
huts. We anchored for the night under Number 1 of the Barnard Isles.
Megapodii were here very plentiful, and about daylight very noisy,
running about in all directions, repeating their loud call of
chro-co--chro-co. Some of the bushes presented a fine show of the scarlet
flowers of Disemma coccinea, a kind of passion-flower, before only found
at Endeavour River by Sir Joseph Banks, during Cook's first voyage. In
the morning we returned to the ship.
On June 12th, while passing a small opening in the land, a little to the
northward of Double Point, the Asp was observed on shore with a signal
for assistance, which was immediately sent, when she was got off without
damage. At this place, as Lieutenant Simpson informed me, a boomerang was
obtained from the natives; we had not before observed this singular
weapon upon the north-east coast, and its use is quite unknown on the
north coast from Cape York to Port Essington. This one too was painted
green, a colour which I never heard of elsewhere among the Australians,
whose pigments are black, white, yellow, and red.
Near this place, while tacking close in shore, a native dog was seen by
Lieutenant Simpson, in chase of a small kangaroo, which, on being close
pressed, plunged into the water and swam out to sea, when it was picked
up by the boat, leaving its pursuer standing on a rock gazing wistfully
at its intended prey, until a musket ball, which went very near its mark,
sent it off at a trot. The kangaroo lived on board for a few days, and
proved to constitute quite a new kind, closely allied to Halmaturus
We anchored in the evening off the northern extreme of Frankland Isle,
Number 4 about three quarters of a mile off shore. At night a party was
sent on shore to look for turtles, but, after remaining there for three
hours, having walked several times round the island, they returned
without having seen the slightest trace of these animals.
The Frankland Group consists of four islands, two of which are very
small, and each of the other two (1 and 4) about a mile in length. To
these may or may not be added another high and much larger detached
island situated about five miles to the North-West, about midway between
the remainder of the group and the mainland. Number 4 is formed of two
wooded rocky eminences at its extremes, connected by level ground,
consisting of dead coral and sand, thickly covered with trees at one
part, and scattered bushes at another. The low woody portion of this
island is strewed with flat blocks of the same kind of recent coral
conglomerate that occurs in situ on the beach, also with quantities of
pumice twelve feet above high-water mark of spring tides. There is little
underwood, the trees overhead forming a shady grove. Herbaceous plants
are few in number--of the others I shall only mention a wild nutmeg,
Myristica cimicifera, not, however, of any commercial importance.
The Torres Strait rat was exceedingly plentiful here, in hollow trees and
logs, also about the roots of the pandanus trees and under blocks of
coral. Our dogs caught many, as they do not show so much agility as is
usual in the genus. The principal bird is the megapodius--a gecko, and
another small lizard are abundant--of landshells we found a new Scarabus
and a small brown Helix, in great abundance under blocks of coral, and on
the trunks and branches of trees, a pretty Cyclostoma (C. vitreum)
formerly found by the French in New Caledonia, also a new and pretty
Helix, remarkable for its angular sinuated mouth and conical spire--this
last has been named H. macgillivrayi by Professor E. Forbes. The reef
furnished many radiata and crustacea, and as usual the shell
collectors--consisting of about one-half the ship's company, reaped a
rich harvest of cowries, cones, and spider shells, amounting to several
hundredweight. One day I was much amused when, on hailing one of our men
whom I observed perched up among the top branches of a tree, and asking
whether it was a nest that he had found, the answer returned was: "Oh no,
Sir, its these geotrochuses that I am after."
THE COCONUT PALM.
The southernmost island of the group differs from Number 4 in being
higher and more rocky. Many of the trees here were very large, straight,
and branching only near the top. It appeared to me that they would be
highly useful as timber, and so regretted being unable to procure
specimens, on account of their great height. With the exception of a low
sandy portion, overgrown with shrubs and small trees, the remainder of
the island is quite free from underwood. Two small clumps of
coconut-trees, loaded with fruit, were found on the eastern side of the
island, within reach of the spray, in a place where they might have
originated from a floating nut or two thrown upon the beach. This is the
only instance in which I have seen this useful plant growing wild in any
part of Australia, or the islands strictly belonging to it. We succeeded
in shooting down a number, and I know no more grateful beverage than the
milk of a young coconut, especially under the influence of tropical
noonday heat, on an island where there was not a drop of fresh water to
be found. As usual the megapodius was plentiful, and one of our party
killed six in a few hours. I also shot a fine large crested pigeon, of a
species hitherto considered peculiar to the settled parts of New South
Wales, and to which the singularly inappropriate specific name of
antarcticus is applied; it thus ranges 380 miles within the tropics.
After anchoring for a short time to form a station, we finally came to
under Fitzroy Island, half a mile from the shore. This island is about
five miles in circumference, high and well-wooded, with two peaks, one of
which is 861 feet in height. The rock, when exposed, is granitic. The
small bay on the western side of the island, where the ship lay, has a
steep beach of fragments of dead coral, through which oozes the water of
two streamlets, at one of which the ship completed her stock with great
facility. Following upwards one of the two branches of the principal
stream through a narrow gully, one reaches a small basin-like valley,
filled with dense brush, through which it is difficult to pass, on
account of the unusual quantity of the prickly Calamus palm. Several
trees of the pomegranate (Punica granatum) were met with bearing fruit;
as this plant is found wild in India, and here occurred in the centre of
a thick brush not likely to have been visited by Europeans, it is
probably indigenous. A kind of yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) was found here,
and proved good eating. In consequence of this, a party from the ship was
sent to dig for more, but, having mistaken the plant, they expended all
their time and trouble in rooting up a convolvulus, with small, inedible,
and probably cathartic tubers.
FIND A NEW VAMPIRE BAT.
A new species of large fruit-eating bat, or flying-fox (Pteropus
conspicillatus) making the third Australian member of the genus, was
discovered here. On the wooded slope of a hill I one day fell in with
this bat in prodigious numbers, presenting the appearance, while flying
along in the bright sunshine, so unusual in a nocturnal animal, of a
large flock of rooks. On close approach a strong musky odour became
apparent, and a loud incessant chattering was heard. Many of the branches
were bending under their loads of bats, some in a state of inactivity,
suspended by their hind claws, others scrambling along among the boughs,
and taking to wing when disturbed. In a very short time I procured as
many specimens as I wished, three or four at a shot, for they hung in
clusters--but, unless killed outright, they remained suspended for some
time--when wounded they are to be handled with difficulty, as they bite
severely, and on such occasions their cry reminds one of the squalling of
a child. The flesh of these large bats is reported excellent; it is a
favourite food with the natives, and more than once furnished a welcome
meal to Leichhardt and his little party, during their adventurous journey
to Port Essington.
One day we were surprised to see a small vessel approaching the anchorage
from the southward. She proved to be a cutter of twenty-five tons, called
the Will-o-the-Wisp, fitted out by a merchant in Sydney, and sent in a
somewhat mysterious way (so as to ensure secrecy) to search for
sandalwood upon the north-east coast of Australia. If found in sufficient
quantity, a party was to be left to cut it, while the vessel returned to
Moreton Bay with the news, and communicated with the owner, who was to
send a larger vessel to pick it up and convey it at once to the China
market.* An inferior kind of sandalwood, the produce of Exocarpus
latifolia (but which afterwards turned out to be useless) was met with in
several localities--as the Percy Isles, Repulse Bay, Cape Upstart, Palm
Islands, etc. At this last place they had much friendly intercourse with
the natives, who were liberally treated with presents.
(*Footnote. In 1847 nearly 1000 tons of this wood, procured chiefly from
New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, etc. were exported from Sydney to China,
where it is burnt with other incense in the temples. The sandalwood trade
in these islands gives employment to about six small vessels, belonging
to Sydney. In China it realises about 30 pounds per ton.)
AFFRAY WITH NATIVES.
It is supposed that the sight of so many valuable articles had excited
the cupidity of these savages, for, one morning, at half-past three
o'clock, a party came off in large canoes with outriggers, and boarded
the cutter when all hands were below. Their first act was to throw into
the cabin and down the fore hatchway some lighted bark, and when the
master and one of the crew rushed on deck in a state of confusion, they
were instantly knocked on the head with boomerangs and rendered
insensible. At this crisis, had it not been for the successful courage of
the mate, who cleared the deck with a sword, and allowed the remainder of
the crew to come up to his assistance, the natives would probably have
obtained possession of the vessel; as it was the survivors retired in
confusion, which was further increased by the discharge among them of a
swivel gun, mounted on a pivot amidships.
At Goold Island, where the Will-o-the-Wisp next went in search of water,
they had another affray with the natives, of whom several were shot, but
whether justifiably, or from revengeful motives, is known to themselves
only. Knowing that the Rattlesnake was upon the coast they proceeded in
search of her to obtain surgical and other assistance, and, meeting two
of the surveying boats, they were directed to Fitzroy Island.
Some parts of this account appeared so extraordinary, and others so
improbable, that Captain Stanley felt it his duty to report it to the
Colonial Government, along with the depositions of the men. Some days
afterwards, the master, whose skull had been fractured, being pronounced
to be in as fair a way to recovery as was possible under the
circumstances the Will-o-the-Wisp sailed for Moreton Bay, which we
afterwards learned she reached in safety.
EXAMINE TRINITY BAY.
A party left before daylight in the pinnace and first galley, to examine
an opening in Trinity Bay, marked upon King's chart. We found it to
present the appearance of a wide creek running through low mangrove
swamps, and with the eye could trace its windings for the distance of two
or three miles. In all probability this is the embouchure of a
considerable freshwater stream, but the shallowness of the head of the
bay and the usual bar off the mouth of the supposed river, determined
Captain Stanley to return to the ship, as the time which would otherwise
have been spent in exploring a useless creek might be devoted to some
Left Fitzroy Island for an anchorage under Cape Grafton, where we
remained for the three following days. While running down to the
anchorage we entered a large patch of discoloured water, with a perfectly
defined margin, yet the lead showed no difference in the depth or nature
of the bottom. It would also appear that since Captain King's survey the
water has been shoaling hereabouts. On a small island inshore, the skull
of a crocodile was found upon the beach, and this reminds me that several
of these animals were seen in one of the rivers of Rockingham Bay. The
Australian alligator, as it is usually called, is a true crocodile,
identical, according to Mr. Gray, with the common Indian species.
ISLET IN TRINITY BAY.
Ran to the north-west fifteen miles, and, after having anchored midway to
form a surveying station, brought up finally under a small unnamed islet
in Trinity Bay. This island, viewed from our anchorage on its north-west
side, presents the appearance of a ridge connecting two rounded
eminences, with a sharp sea-face exposing the stratification of the rock.
This is a micaceous rock, assuming at one place the appearance of mica
slate, and at another being a conglomerate, with frequent veins of
quartz. The strata, which are often flexuous, or slightly contorted, have
a westerly dip of 60 degrees, and the strike is North-North-West and
South-South-East. On the windward side there is a long gradual slope,
covered with tall coarse grass, among which many quail were found. The
shore is fringed with the usual maritime trees and bushes, and an
extensive mangrove bed runs out upon the reef in one place. This reef is
of great extent, stretching out to windward upwards of a mile, as far as
a small rocky isle like a haycock.
On July 7th we anchored to leeward of the Low Isles, in the northern part
of Trinity Bay, in eight fathoms, mud, half a mile from the shore, and
remained there for the four succeeding days. This small group may be said
to consist of three islets. One is low, sandy, and well wooded, about 300
yards in diameter, and is situated at the north-west extremity of a
horse-shoe reef, with its concavity to leeward; the other two may be
looked upon as merely groves of mangroves on the reef, the roots of which
are washed at high-water, except in a few places, where narrow ridges of
dead coral have afforded footing for the growth of a samphire-looking
plant (Salicornia indica). The sandy islet presents no remarkable
feature. The remains of burnt turtle bones indicate the occasional visits
of natives from the mainland. A solitary megapodius was shot, but the
only other land-birds are a little yellow Zosterops, and the larger
ground-dove (Geopelia humeralis).
ANIMALS OF A CORAL REEF.
During our stay we were fortunate in having fine weather, light winds,
and low tides, which enabled such as were inclined to look for shells
upon the reef to do so under the most favourable circumstances. This reef
is of great extent, with all the varieties of coral, mud, and sand, and
proved a most productive one. A sketch of the distribution of the
principal of its productions may be of interest to some. Many kinds of
fishes, Muraena, Diodon, Balistes, Serranus, etc. are found in the pools
among the coral blocks; the first of these, of bright colours variously
striped and spotted, resemble water-snakes, and are exceedingly active,
gliding through the interstices in the coral and hiding in its
hollows--they bite savagely at a stick presented to them, and are by no
means pleasant neighbours while wading about knee-deep and with bare arms
turning over the coral which they frequent. On a former occasion I had
been laid hold of by the thumb, and the wound was a long time in healing.
Crustacea are also numerous; blue and green Gonodactyli leap about with a
sharp clicking noise--legions of Mycteris subverrucata traverse the dry
sands at low-water--and in the shallow muddy pools, dull green Thalamitae
and Lupeae swim off rapidly, and smooth Calappae seek refuge by burrowing
under the surface.
Of mollusca, two species of olive (O. Erythrostoma and O. leucophoea)
were found on the sandy margin of the islet--several Cerithia and Subulae
(S. maculata and S. oculata) creep along the sand flats, and, with some
fine Naticae, and a Pyramidella, may be found by tracing the marks of
their long burrows. Several Strombi and Nassa coronata inhabit the
shallow sandy pools; the egg-shell and many Cypraeae occur under coral
blocks, which, when over sand, often harbour different kinds of cones--of
which the handsome C. textile is the commonest. A delicate white Lima
(Lima fragilis) is abundant here, merrily swimming away in the pool under
an upturned stone, and leaving its fringe-like tentacles adhering to the
hand when seized. Lastly, it would be improper to omit mentioning the
very fine oysters adhering to the roots of the mangroves. But these are
only a small portion of the shellfish collected here. Among radiate
animals, several Ophiurae and Ophiocomae and other Asteriadae, with two
kinds of Echinus, are also plentiful under blocks of coral (Astraea and
Maeandrina) in the pools; one of the last, remarkable for its very long,
slender, black spines, has the power of giving an exceedingly painful
puncture, if carelessly handled--for a few minutes the sensation is
similar to that caused by the sting of a wasp; of the others, a fine
Ophiura is remarkable for its great size and grass-green colour, and an
Ophiocoma for the prodigious length of its arms.
Six days ago we anchored under the lee of the reef on which the Hope
Islands are situated, but in a position which afforded little shelter.
While off Cape Tribulation, a remarkable hill in the background so
strongly reminded us of the Peter Botte at Mauritius, that it was so
named upon our chart--it is 3,311 feet in height, the Cape itself being
1,454 feet. For about six days lately the weather has been very
boisterous, blowing hard from East-South-East with a considerable sea.
The weather having at length moderated, I yesterday and today visited the
islands composing the group. A deep and clear channel of a mile in width
separates these islands, the larger of which is surrounded completely,
and the smaller partially, by an extensive reef. The former, or western
one, is merely a long strip of heaped-up coral and shells, with a little
sand and some driftwood running parallel to the outer edge of the reef,
in the direction of the prevailing wind. It is overrun with low bushes,
and a few other plants, such as the large purple-flowered Bossioea, and
Ipomoea maritima. A long bank of dead coral only a few feet above
high-water mark, with an intervening ditch-like hollow, separates it from
the sea to the eastward; while on the other side, towards the reef, it is
margined with tall mangroves. Small and barren though this spot be, it is
yet inhabited by lizards and a species of rat. Besides the usual waders
on the reef, I found great numbers of doves and honeysuckers, and, among
the mangroves, fell in with and procured specimens of a very rare
kingfisher, Halcyon sordida. Among the mangroves a rare shell, a species
of Quoyia, occurred.
The eastern and northern islet is nearly circular, half a mile in
circumference--formed of coral and shell-sand, covered with bushes and
small trees. The most conspicuous plant is the prickly Guilandina bonduc,
the long briar-like trailing and climbing shoots of which impede one
while traversing the thickets. A pair of white-headed sea-eagles had
established their aerie in a tree not more than twenty feet from the
ground, and I could not resist the temptation of robbing them of their
Anchored under the Three Isles, between Capes Bedford and Flattery. The
principal one of the group, situated to leeward of an extensive reef, is
margined towards the reef by beds of coral--conglomerate, and elsewhere
by a sandy beach--it is half a mile in length, composed of coral sand,
the highest part not more than twelve feet above high-water mark, with
several groves of low trees, and is overrun with tall sedge-like grass;
the second is composed of a strip of heaped-up fragments of coral, to
windward covered with bushes, and to leeward separated from the reef by a
belt of mangroves; the third is a mere clump of mangroves not deserving
of further notice. The botany of an island of this class, of which there
are many on the North-east coast of Australia, may serve as a specimen,
as the plants are few. Mimusops kaukii constituted the principal part of
the arboreal vegetation, Clerodendrum inerme and Premna obtusifolia form
low straggling thickets--scattered bushes of Suriana maritima and Pemphis
acida fringe the sandy margin of the island, and behind these the
beautiful Josephinia grandiflora, a large white-flowered Calyptranthus,
Vitex ovata and a Tribulus creep along the sand, or spread out their
Traces of natives, but not very recent, were met with in a dried-up well
dug to a great depth, and several low, dome-shaped huts, and numerous
fireplaces, around which remains of shellfish and turtles were profusely
scattered. Many of the heads of these last animals were here and
elsewhere seen stuck upon branches of trees, sometimes a dozen together.
I landed this morning with Mr. Obree, on one of the Two Isles off Cape
Flattery, and we were picked up by the ship in passing. It is
well-wooded, chiefly with the Mimusops kaukii, trees of which are here
often sixty feet high and 3 in diameter. Under the bark I found two new
land-shells (to be described in the Appendix) one of them a flattish
Helix, in prodigious numbers--and this more than ever satisfied me that
even the smallest islands and detached reefs of the north-east coast may
have species peculiar to themselves, nor did I ever return from any one
of the 37 upon which I landed without some acquisitions to the
STAY AT LIZARD ISLAND.
We remained a fortnight at Lizard Island, at the usual anchorage, off a
sandy beach on its north-western side. Lizard Island is conspicuous from
a distance, on account of its peak*--the central part of a mountainous
ridge running across the island, and dividing it into two portions, of
which the eastern is hilly and the western low, and intersected by small
ridges of slight elevation. The island is about 2 1/2 miles in greatest
diameter; the rock is a coarse grey granite, easily decomposable. A large
grassy plain enters westward from the central ridge--a portion of this,
half a mile from the beach, densely covered with coarse grass and reeds
and scattered over with Pandanus trees, is usually a marsh. At present it
is dry, with a few pools of fresh water, connected below with a mangrove
swamp opening upon the beach by a narrow creek. Formerly boats could
ascend this a little way, but now the entrance dries across at
low-water--nor could the fresh water conveniently be conducted to the
beach by the hose and engine, as I had seen done in the Fly in the month
of May. Fortunately, however, we found a small stream in a valley on the
northern corner of the island, which supplied our wants.
(*Footnote. Captain Stanley's azimuth and altitude observations, taken at
two stations at the base, the distance between having been measured by
the micrometer, give its height as 1,161 feet; and Lieutenant Dayman's
barometrical measurement makes it 1,151 feet, above the sea level.)
Although the dry barren nature of the soil--varying from coarse quartzose
sand (from the disintegrated granite) to reddish clay--is not favourable
to the growth of luxuriant vegetation, still several interesting plants
were added to the herbarium. Of these the finest is a new Cochlospermum,
a low-spreading tree, nearly leafless at this time, but covered with
clusters of very large and showy golden blossoms. A heath-like shrub
(Chamaelaucium) common here, was remarkable for existing on the open
plains as a weak prostrate plant, while in the scrub it formed a handsome
bush 10 feet high, with a stem 6 inches in diameter.
Of quail, which in 1844 were very abundant, I saw not more than one or
two--probably the burning of the grass during the breeding season had
effected this partial clearance. Snakes appear to be numerous--two out of
three which I examined were poisonous--the other was the diamond snake of
New South Wales. A very fine land shell, Helix bipartita, was found in
colonies at the roots of the trees and bushes. A large and handsome
cowrie, Cypraea mauritiana, generally distributed among the islands of
the Pacific, was here found for the first time in Australia.
I crossed over to Eagle Island with Mr. Brown, and spent a day and night
there. This place was so named by Cook, who states in explanation of the
name--"We found here the nest of some other bird, we know not what, of a
most enormous size. It was built with sticks upon the ground, and was no
less than 26 feet in circumference, and two feet eight inches high."* An
American professor** conjectures the above nest to have possibly been
that of the Dinornis, the gigantic New Zealand bird, known only by its
fossil remains. A very slight knowledge, however, of ornithology, would
be sufficient to confute the notion of any struthious bird constructing a
nest of this kind, or of a wingless land bird of great size inhabiting an
islet only a quarter of a mile in length. Both Mr. Gould and myself have
seen nests of the same construction, the work of the large fishing-eagle
(*Footnote. Hawkesworth's Voyages volume 2 page 599.)
(**Footnote. In Silliman's Journal for July 1844.)
This island is low and sandy, with a few casuarinas, or she-oaks, a
fringe of Suriana maritima, some Tournefortiae, and thickets of
Clerodendrum inerme. Landrail and other birds were numerous. The reef,
which is very extensive, did not dry throughout at low-water, but some
sandbanks along its lee margin were exposed, and upon them I found the
greatest assemblage of pretty shells that I ever met with at one place.
What would not many an amateur collector have given to spend an hour
here? There were fine Terebrae in abundance, orange-spotted mitres,
minutely-dotted cones, red-mouthed Strombi, glossy olives, and
magnificent Naticae, all ploughing up the wet sand in every
direction--yet, with two exceptions, they are to be seen in every
collection in Europe.
FIND A HUMAN SKULL.
As usual we found plentiful remains of recent turtle feasts. One of the
boat's crew, not over-stocked with brains, during his rambles picked up a
human skull with portions of the flesh adhering. Accidentally learning
this from the conversation of the men at our bivouac during supper,
inquiry was made, when we found that he had foolishly thrown it into the
sea, nor could it be found during a subsequent search. I was anxious to
determine whether it was aboriginal or not. On the one hand, the natives
of all parts of Australia usually evince the strongest desire to bury or
conceal their own dead; on the other, there might have been some
connection between the skull and the remains of a hut of European
construction, portions of clothing, a pair of shoes, some tobacco, and
fragments of a whaleboat seen here. But all is mere conjecture.
After leaving Lizard Island, we passed to the southward of Number 3 of
the Howick Isles, and anchored off the North-West extremity of Number 1
in 6 1/2 fathoms, mud. This is the largest of a group of about ten
islands, which agree in being low, and covered for the most part with
mangroves. Number 1, however, is distinguished by having three bare
hillocks at its south-eastern end, the central one of which forms a
rather conspicuous peak. A party of natives was there seen watching our
movements, but no communication with them was attempted. Opposite the
ship we landed on a small sandy, bushy portion of the island, slightly
elevated, fronted by the reef, and backed by mangroves. We found here the
usual indications of occasional visits of the natives in a pit dug as a
well, and numerous remains of turtle and fish about the fireplaces. A few
quails, doves, and other common birds were met with.
On August 18th we removed to an anchorage under Number 6, the second
largest of the group. With the exception of a sandy, grassy plain, half a
mile in length, the whole of the island is densely covered with
mangroves, and fringed with a reef of coral, chiefly dead. Great numbers
of large turtle-shells were scattered about, showing the periodical
abundance of these animals. Another large vampire-bat, Pteropus funereus,
differing from that of Fitzroy Island, was met with in great numbers
among the mangroves--a very large assemblage of these animals on the
wing, seen from the ship while approaching the island, quite resembled a
flock of rooks. Here, as elsewhere on the mangrove-clad islands, a large
honeysucker (Ptilotis chrysotis) filled the air with its loud and almost
incessant, but varied and pleasing notes--I mention it, because it is the
only bird we ever met with on the north-east coast of Australia which
produced anything like a song.
We ran to the North-East about twenty-eight miles, and anchored off Cape
Melville, a remarkable granitic promontory; here the Great Barrier Reef
closely approaches the coast, being distant only ten miles, and visible
from the ship. A few miles to the south some pine-trees were seen on the
ridges, as had previously been noticed by Cunningham, during King's
Voyage. They appeared to be the same kind as that formerly alluded to at
the Percy Isles, in which case this useful tree has a range on the
north-east coast of 500 miles of latitude, being found as far south as
Next day we shifted our berth to a more secure anchorage under the
neighbouring Pipon Islets, where the Bramble joined us in the evening.
The schooner had been sent on in advance of the ship to the northward
nearly a month before, in order to be at the head of Princess Charlotte's
Bay during the first week in August, according to an arrangement made by
Captain Stanley with Mr. Kennedy, but no signs of the overland expedition
were met with during ten days spent at the rendezvous.*
(*Footnote. We afterwards learned that it was not until the middle of
October (or two months afterwards) that Kennedy's party reached the
latitude of Princess Charlotte Bay, at a considerable distance too, from
While at this anchorage, the Bramble, being in want of water, filled up
at a small stream, inside of Cape Melville, assisted by some of our boats
and people. The party so employed was one day attacked by a number of
natives, but, the usual precaution of having sentries posted and a guard
of marines close at hand prevented the loss of life on our part.
After a run of 45 miles, we reached Pelican Island, the survey of the
space thus rapidly gone over being left to Lieutenant Yule and the
Bramble. The island is rather more than a quarter of a mile in length,
with a large reef to windward; it is low and sandy, covered with coarse
grass, and a bushy yellow-flowered Sida. Great numbers of birds frequent
this place; of these the pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) are the most
remarkable, but, incubation having ceased, they were so wary that it was
not without some trouble that two were killed out of probably a hundred
or more. A pair of sea-eagles had their nest here, placed on a low bush,
an anomaly in the habits of the bird to be accounted for by the
disappearance of the two clumps of trees, mentioned by King as formerly
existing on the island, and the unwillingness of the birds to abandon the
place. The shell collectors picked up nothing of consequence, but the
sportsmen met with great success. On the 29th, about twenty brace of
quail and as many landrail were shot, in addition to many
oyster-catchers, plovers, godwits, and sandpipers. Shooting for the pot
is engaged in with a degree of eagerness commensurate with its
importance, now that our livestock has been exhausted, and we have little
besides ship's provisions to live upon. Three turtles, averaging 250
pounds weight, were caught by a party sent for the purpose of searching
for them, and it was supposed that one or two others which had come up to
lay escaped detection from the darkness of the night.
On August 31st, we removed to an anchorage under Number 5 of the
Claremont group, and remained there during the following day. The island
is about two-thirds of a mile in circumference, low and sandy, with a
large reef extending to windward. The island is thinly covered with
coarse grass and straggling bushes, with one large thicket containing a
few trees, of which the tallest is a solitary Mimusops. We found quail
here in great plenty, and they afforded good sport to a First of
September shooting party, provided with a setter. At length the poor
quail had their quarters so thoroughly beaten up, that several, in
attempting to escape from the island, were observed to fall into the
water from sheer exhaustion. Nor did the birds receive all the benefit of
the shot, for Captain Stanley, while observing with the theodolite,
became unwittingly a target for a juvenile shooter; but, fortunately, no
damage was done. Some turtles were seen at night, but they were too wary
to be taken. I found several nests with eggs, by probing in all the
likely places near their tracks with my ramrod; in passing through an
egg, the end of the rod becomes smeared with the contents, and comes up
with a little sand adhering to it, directing one where to dig.
Number 6 of the Claremont group was next visited. This, which is only a
quarter of a mile in length, is situated on the lee side of an extensive
reef. It is quite low, being composed of heaped-up fragments of shells
and coral, overrun with a suffruticose Sida, and stunted bushes of
Clerodendrum and Premna, with a glossy-leaved euphorbiaceous plant
occasionally forming small thickets. Seafowl and waders were very
numerous, but the breeding season was over. Landrail existed in such
great numbers that upwards of fifty were shot.
I cannot see the propriety of considering the sandbank, marked Number 7,
as a member of the Claremont group, as, at high-water, it is a mere strip
of sand 200 yards in length, with a few plants of Salsola on the highest
On September 8th, we anchored to the westward of the north end of Night
Island, a mile off shore, and remained there for the two succeeding days.
This island is two miles in length, and half a mile in breadth,
surrounded by a narrow reef of dead coral and mud. With the exception of
a very narrow portion fronted by a sandy beach, the place is densely
covered with mangroves. A sandy portion, of about five acres in extent,
is thickly covered with bushes and small trees, of which the most
conspicuous is a Bombax or cotton-tree, 20 to 30 feet in height, with
leafless horizontal branches bearing both flowers and fruit. Numbers of
the Torres Strait Pigeon (Carpophaga luctuosa) crossed over from the
mainland towards evening to roost; and at that time, and early in the
morning, great havoc was usually made among them. Even this small spot
produced a fine white, brown-banded Helix, not found elsewhere--it
occurred on the branches of the cotton-trees.
Three days afterwards we ran to the northward ten miles, and anchored
under the Sherrard Isles, where our stay was protracted until the 16th by
blowing weather. These islets are two in number, a quarter of a mile
apart, surrounded and connected by a reef. One is 120 yards in length,
sandy, and thinly covered with coarse grass and maritime plants, with a
few bushes; the other is only 30 yards across, and is covered by a clump
of small trees of Pemphis acida and Suriana maritima, appearing at a
distance like mangroves.
A small low wooded islet off Cape Direction, where I landed for a few
hours, was found to be composed entirely of dead coral with thickets of
mangrove and other bushes, and presented no feature worthy of further
notice. We were detained at an anchorage near Cape Weymouth for seven
days by the haziness of the weather, which obscured distant points
essential to the connexion of the survey.
After having anchored once for the night under the lee of reef e of
King's chart--one of the most extensive we had hitherto seen, being
fourteen miles in length--on September 26th, the ship anchored under the
largest of the Piper Islets.
This group consists of four low bushy and wooded islets, situated on two
reefs separated by a deep channel. The larger of the two on the
south-eastern reef, off which the ship lay, is about half a mile in
circumference. The trees are chiefly a kind of Erythrina, conspicuous
from its light-coloured trunk and leafless branches; one of the most
abundant plants is a Capparis, with long drooping branches, occasionally
assisted by a Cissus and a Melotria, in forming small shady harbours. In
the evening, vast numbers of white pigeons came over from the mainland to
roost, and of course, all the fowling-pieces were put in requisition.
Some deep pits dug in the centre of the island were perfectly dry, and
are probably so during the latter half of the dry season, or after the
month of July. On this island we observed the remains of a small
establishment for curing trepang--a large seaslug found on the reefs and
in shoal water, constituting a valuable article of commerce in the China
market, where in a dried state it fetches, according to quality, from 5
to 200 pounds a ton. This establishment had been put up by the crew of a
small vessel from Sydney, and several such have at various times made
voyages along this coast and in Torres Strait, collecting trepang and
tortoiseshell, the latter procured from the natives by barter.
On our way to the northward today, we passed Young Island, of King, which
had been previously examined in one of our boats, and found to be merely
a reef covered at high-water. Twenty-nine years before it was an embryo
islet with two small trees upon it. And as the subject of the rate of
increase of a coral reef, and of the formation of an island upon it, is a
subject of interest and of great practical importance, I give below in a
note* two records of the former appearance of Young Island.
(*Footnote. "...Passed at about three-quarters of a mile to the northward
of a small rocky shoal, on which were two small trees. This particular is
recorded as it may be interesting at some future time, to watch the
progress of this islet, which is now in an infant state; it was named on
the occasion Young Island." Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical
and Western Coasts of Australia, performed between the years 1818 and
1822, by Captain P.P. King, R.N., volume 1 page 226. Its appearance in
1839 is described as "an elevated reef, with one small mangrove growing
on the highest part." Stokes' Voyage of the Beagle volume 1 page 57.)
Passing inside of Haggerstone Island, we rounded Sir Everard Home's group
and anchored under Sunday Island, where the Bramble joined us after a
month's absence. This is a small, high, rocky island, of flesh-coloured
compact felspar. On one side is a large patch of brush with some
mangroves and a coral reef.
A few days afterwards we ran down to the Bird Isles, and anchored. They
are three low, wooded islets, one detached from the other two, which are
situated on the margin of a circular reef.
NATIVES IN DISTRESS.
On the north-west island we saw a small party of natives from the
mainland, consisting of two men and a boy, in great distress from want of
water, until Lieutenant Yule kindly supplied their wants. They had been
wind-bound here for several days, the weather for some time previously
having been too boisterous to admit of attempting to reach the shore,
although only a few miles distant, in their split and patched-up canoe.
This was of small size, the hollowed-out trunk of a tree, with a double
outrigger, and altogether a poor imitation of that used by the islanders
of Torres Strait; the paddles were of rude workmanship, shaped like a
long-handled cricket-bat. Their spears and throwing sticks were of the
same kind as those in use at Cape York, to be afterwards described. These
people were wretched specimens of their race, lean and lanky, and one was
suffering from ophthalmia, looking quite a miserable object; they had
come here in search of turtle--as I understood. Each of the men had lost
a front tooth, and one had the oval cicatrix on the right shoulder,
characteristic of the northern natives, an imitation of that of the
islanders. They showed little curiosity, and trembled with fear, as if
suspicious of our intentions. I made a fruitless attempt to pick up some
scraps of their language; they understood the word powd or peace of
On this island the principal trees are the leafless Erythrina, with waxy,
pink flowers. Great numbers of pigeons resorted here to roost. I found
here a large colony of that rare and beautiful tern, Sterna melanauchen,
and mixed up with them a few individuals of the still rarer Sterna
We anchored under Cairncross Island, on the afternoon of September 3rd,
and remained during the following day. The island is about a quarter of a
mile in length, low and sandy, covered in the centre with tall trees, and
on the outskirts with smaller ones and bushes. These large trees (Pisonia
grandis) form very conspicuous objects from their great dimensions, their
smooth, light bark, and leafless, dead appearance. Some are from eighty
to one hundred feet in height, with a circumference at the base of twenty
feet. The wood, however, is too soft to be useful as timber. Nowhere had
we seen the Torres Strait pigeon in such prodigious numbers as here,
crossing over in small flocks to roost, and returning in the morning; yet
many remained all day feeding on the red, plum-like fruit of Mimusops
kaukii. In the first evening not less than one hundred and fifty-nine
pigeons were brought off after an hour's work by seven shooters, and next
day a still greater number were procured. Being large and well flavoured
birds, they formed no inconsiderable addition to our bill of fare, and
appeared on the table at every meal, subjected to every possible variety
of cooking. Some megapodii also were shot, and many eggs of a fine tern,
Onychoprion panaya, were picked up.
Water the Ship.
Vessel with Supplies arrives.
Natives at Cape York.
Description of the Country and its Productions.
Port Albany considered as a Depot for Steamers.
Sail from Cape York and arrive at Port Essington.
Condition of the Place.
History of the Settlement.
Would be useless as a Colony.
Leave Port Essington.
Arrive at Sydney.
At length, on October 7th, we reached Cape York, and anchored in the
northern entrance to Port Albany. At daylight next morning two parties
were sent in various directions in search of water. I found no traces of
natives in Evans Bay, but at another place, while digging in the bed of a
watercourse, we were joined by a small party of them, one of whom turned
out to be an old acquaintance. They seemed to be quite at home in our
company, asking for pipes, tobacco, and biscuit, with which I was
fortunately able to supply them. Indeed, a day or two before, some of
them had communicated with the Asp in a most confident and friendly
manner. Had water been found near the best anchorage in Port Albany, it
was Captain Stanley's intention to have taken the ship there, but, as it
appeared from the various reports, that Evans Bay was preferable at this
time for watering, both as affording the largest supply, and the greatest
facilities for obtaining it, the ship was accordingly removed to an
anchorage off the south part of the bay, and moored, being in the
strength of the tide running round Robumo Island.
Shortly after our arrival at Cape York, the two sets of old wells, dug by
the Fly, were cleared out, and we completed water to seventy-five tons.
These wells are situated immediately behind the sandy beach--they are
merely pits into which the fresh water, with which the ground had become
saturated during the rainy season, oozes through the sand, having
undergone a kind of filtration. At times a little surf gets up on the
shore, but never, during our stay of three weeks, was it sufficient to
interrupt the watering.
COMPLETION OF THE SURVEY.
While the ship remained at Cape York, the Bramble, Asp, pinnace, and our
second cutter, were engaged, under their respective officers, in the
survey of Endeavour Strait and the Prince of Wales Channel, which they
finished before we left, thus completing the survey of the Inner Route
between Dunk and Booby Islands. Previous to leaving for that purpose, the
pinnace had been sent to Booby Island, for letters in the post office
there, and some of us had the good fortune to receive communications from
our friends in Sydney, which had been left by vessels passing through.
Most passing vessels heave-to off the island for an hour, the dangers of
Torres Strait having been passed, and record their names, etc. in the
logbook kept there, and by it we found, that with one exception, all this
season had taken the Outer Passage, and most of them had entered at
Raine's Islet, guided by the beacon erected there in 1844, by Captain
F.P. Blackwood, of H.M.S. Fly, thus demonstrating the superior merits of
this passage over the other openings in the Barrier Reef, and the
accuracy of the Fly's survey.
On October 21st, the long and anxiously looked-for vessel from Sydney
arrived, bringing our supplies, and the letters and news of the last five
months. We had for a short time been completely out of bread, peas, and
lime juice, and two cases of scurvy had appeared among the crew.
It had been arranged that Mr. Kennedy with his expedition should, if
possible, be at Cape York in the beginning of October to communicate with
us, and receive such supplies and assistance as might be required; but
the month passed away without bringing any signs of his being in the
neighbourhood. During our progress along the coast a good lookout had
been kept for his preconcerted signal--three fires in a line, the central
one largest--and bushfires which on two occasions at night assumed
somewhat of that appearance had been answered, as agreed on, by rockets
sent up at 8 P.M., none of which however were returned. A schooner from
Sydney arrived on the 27th with two additions to his party, including a
surgeon, also supplies, consisting chiefly of sheep, with instructions
from the Colonial Government to await at Port Albany the arrival of the
expedition. The livestock were landed by our boats on Albany Island,
where a sheep pen was constructed, and a well dug, but the water was too
brackish for use. A sufficient supply however had previously been found
in a small cave not far off, where the schooner's boat could easily reach
I shall now proceed to give an account of the neighbourhood of Cape York,
derived from the present and previous visits, as a place which must
eventually become of considerable importance--and first of the
NATIVES AT CAPE YORK.
On the day of our arrival at Cape York, a large party of natives crossed
over in five canoes under sail from Mount Adolphus Island, and
subsequently their numbers increased until at one time no less than 150
men, women, and children, were assembled at Evans Bay. But their stay was
short, probably on account of the difficulty of procuring food for so
large an assemblage, and the greater part dispersed along the coast to
the southward. While collecting materials for a vocabulary,* I found that
several dialects were spoken, but I failed then to connect them with
particular tribes or even find out which, if any, were the resident ones.
Among these were two or three of the Papuan race, from some of the
islands of Torres Strait. It appeared to me that a constant friendly
intercourse exists between the natives of the southern portion of Torres
Strait and those of the mainland about Cape York, which last, from its
central position, is much frequented during their occasional, perhaps
periodical migrations. This free communication between the races would
account for the existence in the vocabulary I then procured at Cape York
of a considerable number of words (at least 31 out of 248) identical with
those given by Jukes in his vocabularies of Darnley Island and Masseed,
especially the latter.
(*Footnote. In illustration of the difficulty of framing so apparently
simple a document as a vocabulary, and particularly to show how one must
not fall into the too common mistake of putting down as certain every
word he gets from a savage, however clearly he may suppose he is
understood, I may mention that on going over the different parts of the
human body, to get their names by pointing to them, I got at different
times and from different individuals--for the shin-bone, words which in
the course of time I found to mean respectively, the leg, the shin-bone,
the skin, and bone in general.)
The physical characteristics of these Australians seen at Cape York
differ in no respect from those of the same race which I have seen
elsewhere. The absence of one or more of the upper incisors was not
observed here, nor had circumcision or any similar rite been practised,
as is the case in some parts of the continent. Among these undoubted
Australians were, as already mentioned, two or three Papuans. They
differed in appearance from the others in having the skin of a much
lighter colour--yellowish brown instead of nearly black--the hair on the
body woolly and growing in scattered tufts, and that of the head also
woolly and twisted into long strands like those of a mop. On the right
shoulder, and occasionally the left also, they had a large complicated,
oval scar, only slightly prominent, and very neatly made.
The custom of smoking, so general throughout Torres Strait, has been
introduced at Cape York. Those most addicted to it were the Papuans
above-mentioned, but many of the Australians joined them, and were
equally clamorous for tobacco. Still it was singular to notice that
although choka (tobacco) was in great demand, biscuit, which they had
corrupted to bishikar, was much more prized. Their mode of smoking having
elsewhere* been described, I need not allude to it further than that the
pipe, which is a piece of bamboo as thick as the arm and two or three
feet long, is first filled with tobacco-smoke, and then handed round the
company seated on the ground in a ring--each takes a long inhalation, and
passes the pipe to his neighbour, slowly allowing the smoke to exhale. On
several occasions at Cape York I have seen a native so affected by a
single inhalation, as to be rendered nearly senseless, with the
perspiration bursting out at every pore, and require a draught of water
to restore him; and, although myself a smoker, yet on the only occasion
when I tried this mode of using tobacco, the sensations of nausea and
faintness were produced.
(*Footnote. Jukes' Voyage of the Fly Volume 1 page 165.)
These people appeared to repose the most perfect confidence in us--they
repeatedly visited the ship in their own canoes or the watering-boats,
and were always well treated; nor did any circumstance occur during our
intimacy to give either party cause of complaint. We saw few weapons
among them. The islanders had their bows and arrows, and the others their
spears and throwing-sticks. As the weather was fine, at least as regarded
the absence of rain, no huts of any kind were constructed; at night the
natives slept round their fires without any covering. During our stay the
food of the natives consisted chiefly of two kinds of fruit, the first (a
Wallrothia) like a large yellow plum, mealy and insipid; the second, the
produce of a kind of mangrove (Candelia) the vegetating sprouts of which
are prepared for food by a process between baking and steaming. At
low-water the women usually dispersed in search of shellfish on the
mudflats and among the mangroves, and the men occasionally went out to
fish, either with the spear, or the hook and line.
THE COUNTRY. ITS PRODUCTIONS.
The country in the immediate vicinity of Evans and Cape York Bays
consists of low wooded hills alternating with small valleys and plains of
greater extent. The coastline, when not consisting of rocky headlands, is
either a sandy beach, or is fringed with mangroves. Behind this, where
the country is flat, there is usually a narrow belt of dense brush or
jungle. In the valleys, one finds what in the colony of New South Wales
would be termed open forest land, characterised by scattered eucalypti
and other trees, and a scanty covering of coarse sedge-like grass growing
in tufts on a red clayey soil, covered with nodules of ironstone and
coarse quartzose sand. As characteristics of this poor soil, the first
objects to attract the attention are the enormous pinnacled anthills of
red clay and sand, often with supporting buttresses. These singular
structures, which are sometimes twelve feet in height, are of great
strength and toughness--on breaking off a piece, they appear to be
honeycombed inside, the numerous galleries being then displayed. The ants
themselves are of a pale brown colour, a quarter of an inch in length. In
sailing along the coast, these anthills may be distinctly seen from the
distance of two or three miles.
The rock in the immediate neighbourhood of Cape York is a porphyry with
soft felspathic base, containing numerous moderately-sized crystals of
amber-coloured quartz, and a few larger ones of flesh-coloured felspar.
It often appears in large tabular masses split horizontally and
vertically into blocks of all sizes. At times when the vertical fissures
predominate and run chiefly in one direction, the porphyry assumes a
slaty character, and large thin masses may be detached.
One of the most interesting features in the botany of Cape York, is the
occurrence of a palm, not hitherto mentioned as Australian. It is the
Caryota urens (found also in India and the Indian archipelago) one of the
noblest of the family, combining the foliage of the tree-fern with a
trunk a foot in diameter, and sixty in height. It is found in the dense
brushes along with three other palms, Seaforthia, Corypha, and Calamus.
Another very striking tree, not found elsewhere by us, is the fine Wormia
alata, abundant on the margin of the brushes, where it is very
conspicuous from its large yellow blossoms, handsome dark-green foliage,
and ragged, papery bark of a red colour.
One day I explored some caves in the sandstone cliffs at Port Albany in
quest of bats, and was fortunate enough to get quite a new Rhinolophus or
horseshoe bat. In one of the caves, which only admitted of entry on the
hands and knees, these bats were so numerous, and in such large clusters,
that I secured no less than eleven at one time, by using both hands.
Small kangaroos appeared to be plentiful enough, but we were not so
fortunate as to shoot one. The natives one day brought down to us a live
opossum, quite tame, and very gentle; this turned out to be new, and has
since been described by Mr. Gould under the name of Pseudocheirus
In the brushes the sportsman may find the megapodius, brush-turkey, and
white pigeon, and in the forest flocks of white cockatoos, and various
parrots and parakeets, besides thrushes, orioles, leatherheads, etc., but
I shall not now enter upon the ornithology of the district. A very large
lizard (Monitor gouldii) is common at Cape York--it climbs trees with
great agility, and is very swift, scampering over the dead leaves in the
scrubs, with nearly as much noise as a kangaroo. Snakes, although
apparently not very plentiful, yet require to be carefully looked for in
order to be avoided; one day I killed single individuals of two
kinds--one a slender, very active green whip-snake, four feet in
length--the other, the brown snake of New South Wales, where its bite is
considered fatal. Fish are plentiful at Cape York; they may be caught
with the hook and line from the rocks, or at a little distance off, and
the sandy beach of Evans Bay is well-adapted for hauling the seine upon.
A curious freshwater fish (Megalops setipinnis) is found in the lagoon
here, and even in the wells dug by the Fly, there were some full-grown
individuals; it much resembles the herring, in shape, colour and size.
The shells may be very briefly dismissed. The principal landshell is a
very large variety of Helix bipartita, here attaining its greatest size.
The most striking shell of the sandflats is a handsome olive (O.
ispidula) remarkable for its extraordinary variations in colour, size,
and even form.
ABUNDANCE OF FRESH WATER.
In viewing Cape York as the probable site of a future settlement or
military post, an important feature to be noticed is the comparative
abundance of fresh water at the very close of the dry season. In Evans
Bay it may always be procured by digging behind the beach, especially at
the foot of some low wooded hillocks, towards its western end. Native
wells were met with in most of the smaller bays, and the size of the
dried-up watercourses indicates that during the wet season, a
considerable body is carried off by them from the flats and temporary
Were one inclined, from interested motives, to extol the natural
capabilities of the immediate neighbourhood of Cape York, it would be
very easy to speculate upon, and at once presume its peculiar fitness for
the growth of tropical produce. Thus, any swampy land might at once be
pronounced peculiarly adapted for paddy fields, and the remainder as
admirably suited to the growth of cotton, coffee, indigo, etc. With the
exception of a piece of rich soil, several acres in extent, on the
eastern margin of a watercourse, leading from the small lagoon behind
Evans Bay, and which would be a good site for a large garden, I did not
see much ground that was fit for cultivation. Very fine rich patches
occur here and there in the brushes removed from the coast, but in the
belts of brush along the beaches the soil, despite the accumulation of
vegetable matter, is essentially poor and sandy. It may be added that the
value of the garden land above alluded to, is much enhanced by its
proximity to a constant supply of water, to be procured by digging in the
bed of the lagoon. Nearly all the grass is of a coarse sedge-like
description, mixed, however, in places with grasses of a finer kind.
Towards the end of the dry season, the grass, when not burnt off by the
natives, presents a most uninviting, withered appearance, being so dry as
almost to crumble into dust if rubbed between the palms of the hand.
PORT ALBANY AS A DEPOT FOR STEAMERS.
As one of the more immediate beneficial results of our survey of the
Inner Passage, would be to facilitate its use by steamers, should
arrangements at present contemplated for the continuance of the overland
communication by Great Britain and India, from Singapore to the
Australian colonies, by way of Torres Strait, ever be carried into
effect, so it was of importance to find some place in the neighbourhood
of Cape York, convenient as a coaling station during either monsoon. An
eligible spot for this purpose was found in Port Albany, the name given
by Lieutenant Yule, who surveyed it in 1846, to the narrow channel
separating Albany Island from the mainland. Here a small sandy bay with a
sufficient depth of water close inshore, was, after a minute examination
by Captain Stanley, considered to be well adapted to the running out of a
jetty, alongside of which the largest steamer could lie in perfect
safety. This little bay has anchorage close inshore for three or four
vessels only, as a little further out they would be in the stream of tide
which runs with great strength, especially in the neighbourhood of the
various points; however, it is completely sheltered from any wind which
may be experienced on this part of the coast.
On several occasions I landed on Albany Island, and walked over the
place. It is three miles in length, and one in greatest breadth, its
outline irregular from the number of bays and small rocky headlands. On
its western side the bays are small, and the shores generally steep and
rocky, with sandy intervals, the banks being covered with brush of the
usual Australian intertropical character. The rock here is either a
stratum of ironstone in irregular masses and nodules cemented together by
a ferruginous base, or a very coarse sandstone, almost a quartzose
conglomerate, forming cliffs, occasionally thirty feet or more in height.
The latter stone is suitable for rough building purposes, such as the
construction of a pier, but is much acted on by the weather. On the
northern and eastern sides the bays are large and generally sandy, with
the land sloping down towards them from the low undulating hills, which
compose the rest of the island. These hills are either sandy or covered
with ironstone gravel* over red clay. They are thinly covered with a
sprinkling of Grevillea, Boronia, and Leucopogon bushes, with occasional
tufts of the coarsest grass. There must always be, however, sufficient
pasturage for such cattle and sheep as a small party in charge of a
coaling depot would require. There is also sufficient water in the island
for their support, and by digging wells, no doubt the quantity would be
greatly increased. In addition there are several small spots where the
soil is suitable for gardening purposes, thus ensuring a supply of
vegetables during the greater part, perhaps the whole of the year.
(*Footnote. A sample of this ironstone picked up from the surface has
furnished materials for the following remarks, for which I am indebted to
the politeness of Warrington W. Smyth, Esquire, of the Museum of
On examining the specimens which you presented to our Museum, I see that
they consist for the most part of the red or anhydrous peroxide of
iron--similar in chemical character to the celebrated haematite ore of
Ulverstone and Whitehaven. It is, however, less rich in iron than would
be inferred from its outward appearance, since the pebbles on being
broken, exhibit interiorly a loose and cellular structure, where grains
of quartz and plates of mica are interspersed with the ore, and of course
reduce its specific gravity and value.
Such an ore, if occurring in great quantity, and at no great distance
from abundant fuel and from a supply of limestone for flux, may prove to
be very valuable; but I should fear that your suggestion of employing the
coral and shells of the coast, for the last-mentioned purpose, might
impair the quality of an iron thus produced, for the phosphoric acid
present in them would give one of the constituents most troublesome to
the iron-master, who wishes to produce a strong and tough iron.)
SAIL FROM CAPE YORK.
On November 2nd we sailed from Cape York on our way to Port Essington and
Sydney, but owing to the prevalence of light airs, chiefly from the
eastward, and calms, we did not reach Booby Island until the 4th, having
passed out of Torres Strait by the Prince of Wales Channel. The Bramble
was left to perform some work in Endeavour Strait* and elsewhere along
the Inner Passage, and after its completion to make the best of her way
to Sydney down the eastern coast of Australia against the trade-wind,
before successfully accomplished by only two other vessels besides
herself. Of course a considerable degree of interest has been excited by
this intended procedure, as the two vessels start under pretty equal
circumstances to reach the same place by two very different routes, of
the merits of one of which comparatively little is known.
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