Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia
Phillip Parker King
Part 5 out of 6
Examination of the coast between Cape Londonderry and Cape Voltaire,
containing the surveys of Sir Graham Moore's Islands, Eclipse Islands,
Vansittart Bay, Admiralty Gulf, and Port Warrender.
Encounter with the natives of Vansittart Bay.
Leave the coast at Cassini Island for Coepang.
Obliged to bear up for Savu.
Anchor at Zeeba Bay, and interview with the rajah.
Some account of the inhabitants.
Disappointed in not finding water.
Leave Zeeba Bay, and beat back against the monsoon to Coepang.
Complete wood and water, and procure refreshments.
Return to Port Jackson.
Pass the latitude assigned to the Tryal Rocks.
Arrival in Sydney Cove.
1819. October 1.
We had now reached a part of the coast which, excepting a few of the
islands that front it, the French expedition did not see: we should
therefore have commenced its examination with more pleasure had we been
in a state better fitted for the purpose; for we were rapidly consuming
our stock of water without any prospect of finding a supply at this
season; and this, added to the loss of our anchors, considerably lessened
the satisfaction we should otherwise have felt in viewing the prospect
After a calm and sultry morning a breeze from the North-East carried us
towards the land, the situation of which was pointed out by the smoke of
natives' fires. A little before three o'clock it was seen from the deck
and as we stood towards it we narrowly escaped striking on a part of the
shoal that extends off Cape Londonderry: our course was then directed
towards some broken land in the South-West which proved to be a group of
islands with a considerable sinuosity in the coast behind them; the
eastern head of the bay was called Cape Talbot after the then Lord
Lieutenant of Ireland. Between this and Cape Londonderry the coast is
very low and defended by an extensive reef, which in many parts was dry.
During the night we stood off shore.
And at daylight were eight miles from the islands. At nine o'clock, being
calm, we anchored to the north of the group, which was named Sir Graham
Moore's, in compliment to the gallant admiral then holding a seat at the
Admiralty Board. The principal island is more elevated than the rest and
has a flat tabular summit: it bore from the anchorage South 19 degrees
East three miles and a half.
The sea-breeze set in from North-West with the change of tide; as soon as
the sun's meridional altitude was observed we got under sail and steered
to the West-South-West; but were soon after obliged to alter the course
to avoid a shoal on which the sea was breaking within fifty yards of us.
After passing this danger we found ourselves in a deep channel the
seaward limit of which was formed by an extensive reef connected with
Jones' Island. At sunset we anchored within one mile and a half of the
shore in five fathoms and a half, soft sandy mud, off the entrance of a
considerable bight or bay; which appeared to be so nearly blocked up by a
reef of dry rocks that it was doubtful whether we should be able to
penetrate without going round the Eclipse Islands; these islands were so
named in consequence of an eclipse of the moon that took place in the
evening; and the flat-topped mount which is conspicuous on the principal
island of the group was named Eclipse Hill.
The next morning was passed in examining the reefs to the southward; we
first landed on the south-east end of Long Island, where a set of
bearings and a tolerable view up the bay were obtained. Long Island is of
a rugged character and formed principally of large water-worn masses of
quartzose sandstone superincumbent upon a basis of the same rock. The
spaces between them were occupied by a variety of plants, the examination
of which fully employed Mr. Cunningham: natives' traces and fireplaces,
and the remains of a turtle-feast were observed; but there were no signs
of the islands having been very recently visited by the Indians: we
afterwards landed upon some dry rocks that lie in the mid-channel, and
whilst I was occupied in taking bearings the boat's crew fished, but with
little success on account of the rapidity of the tide.
After this we found and examined a tolerably wide and deep channel on the
eastern side of the Middle Rocks; through which, as it appeared to be
free from danger, the cutter was worked the next morning, and afterwards
anchored near the western side of the bay; where the verdant appearance
of the grass and trees that clothed the sides of the hills induced me to
land for the purpose of searching for water; we were, however,
disappointed: large streams of water had evidently very lately poured
down the gullies; but there was not the least vestige of any remaining.
On the beach of one of the sandy bays the traces of natives were more
numerous than usual; for we counted as many as forty small fireplaces
arranged in a straight line along the beach; near to each were lying the
stones on which the Indians had evidently been bruising seeds,
particularly of the fruit of a new species of sterculia, the husks of
which were strewed about: near the fireplaces were the remains of two
huts; one of them was thrown down, but the other was perfect enough to
give us an idea of its form and for us to recognise its resemblance to
some we had seen on the East coast.
A curious implement was found on the shore, the use of which we could not
at all conjecture, unless it had belonged to the Malays; it was fifteen
feet long and five inches in diameter, and composed of three saplings
firmly and closely united and covered with grass secured to it by rope
twisted of strips of bark; it might have been a fender for the purpose of
hanging between the Malay proas when moored together, to prevent their
being injured by their sides coming in contact.
The shores and hills were thickly scattered over with large masses of a
dark red-coloured sandstone covered with a crust of quartz; the latter
substance was not however found in a crystallized state. Everything bore
the most parched and arid appearance; the country was certainly seen by
us at the most disadvantageous season; but although the hills are thickly
wooded the dwarf and stunted habit of the trees is a proof, if we had
required it, of the shallow and unproductive quality of the soil. The
smoke of three or four large fires were noticed on the opposite side of
the bay, the flames of which blazed up as the seabreeze set in. Recent
and numerous tracks of the kangaroo were observed in all directions. Fish
were abundant, but none were caught. Before returning on board we visited
two other places in the bay to make further search for water, but with no
better success; and we began to despair of finding any upon the coast.
We weighed the next day with the sea-breeze, and anchored in the
south-east corner of the bay: in the evening we landed on a projecting
point close to the anchorage and ascended its summit, which was so
thickly covered with climbing plants that it was called Vine Head. From
this station an extensive view was obtained of the bottom of the bay; and
as it was nearly low water the time was favourable for my purpose. Near
the anchorage was a small mangrove opening, the entrance of which was
blocked up by a dry mud bank.
When we landed we found a piece of wood upon the beach with a nail-hole
in it: it had probably been part of a Malay proa; for a fleet of such
visitors, consisting of twenty-six vessels on the trepang fishery, was
seen in this neighbourhood by the French in 1801;* and, according to
their report, annually visit this part of the coast.
(*Footnote. Freycinet Terres Australes page 24.)
This day was spent in examining the shores of the bottom of the bay. We
first pulled up the arm to the eastward of Vine Head which trends in for
one mile, and then examined the bay on its western side, which was found
to be both shoal and rocky. We next rowed inside of Jar Island whose
peaked summit forms a very good mark for the channel between the Middle
and Long Rocks. In pulling towards the west side of the bay, at the back
of Jar Island, a native was perceived running along the rocky shore
towards the point we were steering for; round which, as we passed it
yesterday, there appeared to be a deep cave or inlet. As we pulled along
the shore we were amused in watching how nimbly the Indian leaped from
rock to rock: he was alone and unarmed. At one time we pulled close to
the shore and endeavoured to entice him to approach us, but he stood
looking at us from the summit of a rocky eminence close to the beach,
without attending to our invitations; and, upon our repeating them and
resting on our oars, he retreated towards the smoke of a fire that was
burning behind the mangroves on the south shore at the bottom of the
inlet into which we were pulling; on approaching it we found that the
native had already arrived and given the alarm to a family of Indians,
consisting of three men, two women, and four children, who had been
cooking their repast.
As soon as our approach was discovered the women took their baskets and
moveables and hurried away with the children, whilst the men seized their
spears to protect their retreat; but as our object was not to alarm these
poor savages, we pulled over to the opposite shore, which was about sixty
yards across, and landed: Mr. Cunningham and I then ascended a steep hill
that rose immediately from the shore, the summit of which promised to
afford us a prospect of the surrounding land. The view however from this
eminence, although extensive, did not answer my expectation: a low
country of an arid and barren appearance extended to the southward; the
northern part of the land on which we were appeared to be that described
by the French as Bougainville Island, but it was now clearly and
distinctly ascertained to be a peninsula: our view to the north-west was
intercepted by higher hills than those we were upon. After taking all the
bearings that the confined prospect permitted, without having very
materially improved my knowledge of the surrounding country, I began to
think of returning to the boat, and on looking towards the natives
perceived that they had left the tree and were standing about fifty yards
farther back, attentively engaged in consultation and in watching our
movements: besides their spears they carried short pieces of wood like
throwing sticks, and one of them also held in his hand a shield. After
some deliberation they moved quickly forward towards the foot of the hill
on which we were, evidently with an intention of intercepting our return
to the boat, but when we began to descend the hill they stopped and
slowly retired to their former station; had they persevered they would
have easily cut off our retreat, and as we had forgotten the precaution
of arming ourselves the consequence might have been serious. This
movement of the natives made us suspicious of no very friendly intentions
on their part and hurried our return to the boat; but, the descent being
steep and strewed with rocks which were concealed by grass higher than
our middles, we did not reach the bottom of the hill without several
Upon re-embarking we perceived that the natives had again ascended the
tree to watch our movements; but when they saw the boat pulling across
the stream towards them they leaped down and retired among the trees.
After repeated calls which had not the effect of inducing them to
approach, we rowed out of the cove, and, on passing a projecting point
that was less wooded than other parts, Mr. Cunningham expressed a wish to
collect some specimens of the plants that were growing upon it. Whilst
meditating upon the propriety of landing so near to the natives, whose
conduct we had already some reason to suspect, a dog which we had before
seen with them came from behind a bush near the water's edge and walked
up to its knees in the water towards us; the boat was backed in and we
endeavoured to entice it within our reach by throwing some food; but the
animal, upon discovering that we were strangers, became shy, and after
smelling about ran back towards a bush about fifty yards off; from which
the natives, who had all the time been concealed behind it, rushed out
and with loud shouts ran towards us: upon reaching the water's edge they
threw several stones, one of which nearly struck the boat; they then
prepared their spears, when it was found necessary to deter them by
firing a musket over their heads; the noise of which had the desired
effect; for, struck with a sudden panic at the report which echoed
through the trees, they turned and fled; and as they scampered off two
more balls were fired over them, which, if possible, increased the
rapidity of their flight until the trees concealed them from our view;
after this we neither heard nor saw anything more of them.
This circumstance gave the name of Encounter Cove to the inlet. On our
return we called at Jar Island and walked over it, but with difficulty,
on account of the confused heaps of rugged stones that were strewed over
its rocky surface. The spinifex that grew in the interstices of the rocks
was also no inconsiderable hindrance to our movements. Behind the beach
was a large basin full of salt water that, in the wet season, would
doubtless furnish fresh, since it appeared to have been formed by the
runs from the rocks, the upper surfaces of which were hollowed out by the
effect of the rain: these holes or cisterns are probably full of water in
the wet season.
On the beach we found a broken earthen pot which decidedly proved the
fact of the Malays visiting this part of the coast and explained the
mischievous disposition of the natives. Before we returned to the cutter
we landed on some rocks in the bay, at the back of Jar Island, to fish,
but having very little success we did not delay, and by sunset reached
On the 7th we left the anchorage under Vine Head, and by the aid of a
breeze from the North-West worked out of the western entrance of the bay,
which appeared to be quite free from danger of every sort.
At sunset we anchored in the outer part of the entrance in nine fathoms
and a half, muddy bottom. On the west side of the peninsula we passed
three bays, from one to two miles deep and one mile broad; in each of
these inlets there appeared to be good anchorage.
The bay was named Vansittart after the late Chancellor of the Exchequer.
At daylight (8th) we weighed and stood out to the North-West between
Troughton Island and Cape Bougainville. Round the latter projection the
land trends so deeply in to the southward that it was lost to view; but
two flat-topped islands were seen in the South-South-West, which
afterwards proved to be some of Captain Baudin's Institute Isles; we were
now obliged to steer down the western side of the cape, for our further
progress to the westward was stopped by a considerable reef extending
north and south parallel with the land of Cape Bougainville. During the
afternoon we had the wind and tide against us so that we made no
progress. Some bights in the coast were approached with the intention of
anchoring in them but the water was so deep and the ground so
unfavourable for it that the stream anchor was eventually dropped in the
offing in twenty-two fathoms: where during the night the tide set with
unusual velocity and ran at the rate of one knot and three-quarters per
In the morning a view from the masthead enabled me to see a confused mass
of rocks and islets in the South-West. At eight o'clock the flood tide
commenced and the anchor being weighed, we steered towards the bottom of
the gulf; on our way to which the positions of several small rocks and
islets, which form a part of this archipelago, were fixed. At noon our
latitude was 14 degrees 7 minutes 15 seconds, when the hill, which we
ascended over Encounter Cove in Vansittart Bay, was seen bearing South 88
1/2 degrees East. The land to the southward was still far distant but
with a fresh sea breeze we made rapid progress towards it and by four
o'clock entered an extensive port at the bottom of the gulf and anchored
in a bay on its western shore, land-locked, in four fathoms and
three-quarters, mud. In finding this anchorage we considered ourselves
fortunate for the freshness of the breeze in so dangerous a situation
made me feel uneasy for our only anchor, which we must have dropped at
night, however exposed our situation might have been: by midnight the
breeze fell and we had a dead calm.
The next day we landed on the west head of the bay, Crystal Head, where
the meridional altitude of the sun was observed and sights for the
chronometers taken; in the evening we ascended its summit and by a
bearing of the land of Cape Bougainville the survey was connected with
In the morning a young kangaroo was started by Mr. Cunningham but made
its escape; the traces of these animals were very numerous on the sides
of the hills; several birds new to us were seen, and we also found about
the bushes the tail-feathers of the Cuculus phasianus (Index Orn. Sup.
page 30). The summit of Crystal Head is of flat tabular form; and the
sides, which are both steep and rugged, are covered with stunted trees
and high grass, now quite dry: the geology of this part is principally of
siliceous sandstone; and on the beach we found large detached water-worn
masses of the same rock, incrusted with quartz and epidote in a
(*Footnote. The Centropus phasianus Tem. anal. plate 24. Polophilus
phasianus Shaw's Gen. Zool. volume 9 page 48 plate 11. Zool. Misc. plate
46. Pheasant Cuckow Gen. Syn. sup. 11 page 137.)
No natives were seen; but, from the large fires that were burning, a
numerous party was probably collected at the bottom of the port.
On the 11th we got under weigh and anchored again at a few miles further
up the port, near a small rocky island where the latitude was observed to
be 14 degrees 32 minutes 45 seconds. In the afternoon Mr. Roe and Mr.
Cunningham accompanied me in the whale-boat to examine the bottom of the
port; which was found to terminate in two inlets winding under either
side of a bold prominent range of steep rocky hills, thickly clothed with
stunted trees. We pulled up the south-eastern arm; and having proceeded
as far as prudence allowed, for from not calculating upon being absent
long we had brought no provisions, we returned on board with the
intention of examining it further on the following day. In rowing back, a
kangaroo was seen skipping over the hills; and an alligator was lying
asleep on the beach, but it rushed into the water as we passed the spot.
The next day Mr. Roe, accompanied by Mr. Cunningham, explored both arms;
and from his report the plan is made: but as they are merely salt-water
inlets, they are of little importance. During the absence of the boat the
state of our provisions and water was examined, on both of which, as we
had anticipated, the rats had made considerable havoc; two of the casks
were quite empty from holes gnawed by these animals to get at the water;
and several were so short of their contents that we had but a fortnight's
allowance left: this discovery induced me to determine on taking the
first opportunity that should offer of leaving the coast and resorting to
Timor; for, besides our want of water, several of the crew were attacked
by scurvy, so that it was also necessary to visit it to procure some
fresh provisions for them.
Port Warrender, which name was bestowed upon this fine harbour, is of
considerable extent; the land is very rugged and rocky; but although the
soil is shallow the hills on the western side are thickly covered with
grass and trees; which grew so luxuriantly in the gullies and bore so
verdant an appearance that fresh hopes were revived of finding water; we
were however very soon convinced of its being entirely destitute of it.
On the eastern side of the port the land is much broken and fronted by
several islands which were named after Sir John Osborn, one of the Lords
of the Admiralty; among them is a conspicuous steep rocky head, like
Mount Cockburn in Cambridge Gulf; it appeared to be perfectly
At daylight (13th) we left the port; we had very little wind during the
day and by sunset had only reached an anchorage off Point Pickering, so
named after a late much-respected friend.
A bay trends to the westward of Point Pickering, which was called
Walmsley Bay; it probably affords good anchorage.
During the night we had lightning from the North-West, and the next day
the wind was so light that we did not make much progress; an anchorage
was occupied during the ensuing night to the eastward of Point Biggs,
half a mile to the northward of a small rocky island in ten fathoms and a
half, muddy bottom. Every succeeding day the weather was getting more and
more unfavourable for our purpose; which increased my anxiety to escape
from this labyrinth of islands and shoals; for we had evidently no time
to spare in order to leave the coast before the rainy season should
The whole of this gulf is admirably formed for the trepang fishery and
the animal is extremely abundant among the reefs. Both fish and turtle
are plentiful, the latter are of very large size; none however were taken
to determine its species. We have seen very few inhabitants on this part
of the coast but at this season they are doubtless divided into small
detached parties for the greater facility of procuring sustenance, and of
making their reservoirs of water, wherever they may be, last longer.
The next day, after an ineffectual attempt to pass out through the
islands in the vicinity of Cape Voltaire, we anchored about midway
between three of high flat-topped form; and at night the boat was
despatched to the easternmost island, to watch for turtle, but it
returned without having seen any. During the night the wind blew a
moderate breeze from South-West with dark cloudy weather.
At daylight we weighed, but from light baffling winds it was some time
before we cleared the islands. The tide however swept us out and drifted
us half a mile to windward of a small peaked island which must be the
Pascal Island of the French: this islet is of small size but remarkable
for its conical shape and having, as it were, its apex cut off. It is
surrounded by a rocky shoal of small extent.
The wind had now veered to West-North-West and obliged our passing to the
eastward of Cassini Island (of Captain Baudin); and, from the immense
numbers of turtle-tracks that were seen upon its beach, we would gladly
have anchored near it, had a convenient place offered; but the bottom was
so deep that we could not with safety drop our anchor. The plan given by
M. de Freycinet of this archipelago is so defective that many of his
islands could not be recognised; but those which were made out preserve
his names. Cassini Island is sufficiently well placed by him, and was a
useful point for the sake of comparing our longitudes. In the space
between Cape Bougainville and Cape Voltaire, which was named the
Admiralty Gulf, we have given positions to at least forty islands or
Having now emerged from the archipelago of islands which front this part
of the north-west coast we seized the opportunity of taking leave of it
for the present and directed our course for Timor. At 4 hours 19 minutes
p.m., when the centre of Cassini Island bore South 4 degrees 30 minutes
West, distance 6 minutes 8 seconds by survey, sights for the chronometers
made the centre of the island in 125 degrees 41 minutes 22 seconds, which
is 2 minutes 32 seconds to the eastward of the longitude assigned to its
centre in M. de Freycinet's chart.
On the 20th in the evening after a succession of damp weather with
squalls of thunder, lightning, and rain, and variable baffling winds, a
fresh breeze set in from East-South-East.
At six o'clock the next morning it settled in the South-East with heavy
rain, thunder, and lightning, and afterwards the weather cleared up. As
soon as day dawned, sail was made to the North-West and before noon we
hauled up North-North-West to allow for a westerly current; at two p.m.
the weather clouded in and was followed by squalls of wind and rain from
the North-East, which, after passing over us, returned again from the
westward with more rain but less wind.
At daylight (22nd) we saw the Island of Rottee, but instead of being,
according to our account, to windward of it, we were very little to the
eastward of its south-west end; having been set forty-three miles to the
westward since yesterday noon. During the day, as the wind was at
South-East, we endeavoured to pass round its windward side, but the
current was setting with such strength to the westward that, finding we
had lost ground during the night, we bore up the next morning for the
island of Savu, a proceeding which, if we should succeed in procuring
refreshments and fresh water there, would be more advantageous than going
to Timor: for in the first place there was less chance of incurring
sickness among the crew; and secondly we should be farther advanced on
our voyage back. Captain Cook, on his visit to Savu in 1770, found a
Dutch resident there; and I recollected having been assured by Mr.
Hazaart, the Resident at Timor, that the people were well-disposed
towards the English: Captain Horsburgh also mentions in his description
of Savu that the Dutch have residents on all these islands; and, as a
corroboration of these accounts, I had been informed by the master of a
merchant schooner at Port Jackson, who had lately been among these
islands, that abundance of good water could be procured there. Opposed to
this last report, Captain Cook says, "We were upon the coast at the
latter end of the dry season (September), when there had been no rain for
seven months, and we were told, that when the dry season continues so
long, there is no running stream of fresh water upon the whole island,
but only small springs, which are at a considerable distance from the sea
side:"* this conflicting account was discouraging; but as we had lately
had much rain it was hoped that there would be a sufficiency in the
springs for our use.
(*Footnote. Hawkesworth Coll. volume 3 page 277.)
Having fully weighed all these circumstances we bore up for Savu, and at
four p.m. on the 24th anchored in Zeba Bay, on the north-west side of the
island. The bank on which the anchor was dropped was so steep that,
although the anchor was in twelve fathoms, the vessel was, at the length
of forty fathoms of cable, in twenty-two fathoms. As we were bringing up,
two muskets were fired from the shore, and a white flag, or rather a rag,
was suspended to a pole, around which a group of people had collected.
This flag gave us no very favourable idea of the respectability of the
place, and the meaning of the muskets we could not divine, nor indeed
ever did discover, unless it was that we had anchored on bad ground: the
boat was then hoisted out and I went on shore, accompanied by Messrs.
Bedwell and Cunningham, to where the flag was displayed. On approaching
the shore three people came down to direct us to the proper landing
place; for in all other parts of the beach a heavy surf was breaking. We
were then conducted to a hut in the rear of the flagstaff, where we found
from fifteen to twenty persons assembled; two of whom appeared, by their
dress and from the respect paid to them by the rest, to be chiefs. To
these I addressed myself and inquired for the Dutch resident, but soon
found there was none, and that one of those to whom we were speaking was
the Rajah himself. I afterwards found he was the identical Amadima of
whom interesting mention is made by Peron in his historical account of
Captain Baudin's expedition.*
(*Footnote. Peron tome 1 pages 119, 151, 161, and 162.)
My inquiries were made partly by signs and partly by a few terms in the
Malay language that we had collected from Captain Cook,* and from
Labillardiere's account of D'Entrecasteaux's voyage. Aer (water) was
among the foremost of our inquiries, to which we added the terms for
pigs, sheep, fowls, and coconuts, (vavee, doomba, mannu, and nieu).
Everything but water was plentiful and could be supplied by paying for
them in rupees or bartering them for gunpowder. On repeating the question
for water, their constant reply was, trada aer! trada aer! (no water, no
water). No misunderstanding could have taken place, for on our inquiry,
thinking it was for present use, they brought us some to drink. They
afterwards conducted us to a shallow well or spring in which there were
about ten or fifteen gallons; and this was all there was near the sea.
(*Footnote. Hawkesworth Coll. volume 3 page 298.)
Amadima, on our landing, sent a horseman to the town with a message, who
soon after returned with a paper which was shown to us; but, the
substance being in Dutch, we could not understand its purport; the sum of
seventy-four rix-dollars was, however, sufficiently plain to show that
money was wanted, and this conjecture was afterwards strengthened by a
petition whispered in my ear by Amadina himself for sato rupee (one
rupee); but, not having provided myself with any, I could not satisfy his
Gunpowder was in great request among them and we were given to understand
that we might obtain everything we required, excepting water, for money
or for gunpowder. Trada aer was so often repeated that we re-embarked
On our way to the boat we were accompanied by the whole mob, which had
now increased to forty or fifty people: all the men were armed with
cresses, and two amongst them had swords and spears; but there was no
appearance of hostility or of any unfriendly disposition towards us. When
they saw our empty barica in the boat they intimated by signs that we
might fill it, and Mr. Bedwell and Mr. Cunningham accordingly accompanied
one of our people to the well to take advantage of their offer; for a few
gallons of water were now of great importance to us.
We then took a friendly leave of these islanders under the full
expectation on their part of our returning in the morning with rupees and
powder to barter with their commodities; whereas I had quite determined
to leave the bay the moment that the day dawned.
The two following modes of proceeding were now only left to us; namely,
either to beat back to Coepang which bore East by North 120 miles, or to
bear up and pass through the straits of Lombock or Allas, and go to
Madura or Sourabaya for water, of which, on a reduced allowance, we had
enough on board for fifteen days.
To do the first would probably take a week or ten days, even if favoured
by the wind. At Coepang we could procure everything we wanted; and the
only arguments against such a measure were the probable length of the
voyage, and when there, the chance of being delayed until the adverse
monsoon should set in against us, by which our return to Port Jackson
would be perhaps prevented. To undertake the second would, from our being
weakly manned, subject us to danger from the Malay piratical proas in
passing the Straits; but as the latter mode of proceeding could be
resorted to in the event of our failing in the other, our united opinion
was that, of the two plans, the better was to go to Timor. Upon this
decision all hands were immediately set to work to fill our empty
water-casks with salt water and to get all the weighty things off the
deck into the hold, in order to give the vessel more stability.
This was completed by night and at break of day we left the anchorage
with a fresh breeze from East-South-East.
Considering the short time we were on shore it would be the greatest
presumption for me to say anything respecting Savu, when so good an
account is already before the public in Captain Cook's voyage.* Every
circumstance that we could compare with it is still correct, except that
the women appear to have lost the decency he describes them to possess;
for there were several whom curiosity and the novelty of our arrival had
brought down to see us, naked to the hips, which alone supported a
petticoat or wrapper of blue cotton stuff that exposed their knees.
(*Footnote. Hawkesworth Coll. Volume 3 page 277 et seq.)
The beach was lined with the areca, or fan-palm tree, from which the
well-known liquor called toddy is procured. During our conference with
these people they were all busily employed in eating the fruit spike of
the piper betle,* which they first thickly covered with shell-lime; after
chewing it for some time, they spit it out into the hand of the attendant
slave who completes the exhaustion of this luxurious morceau by conveying
it to his own mouth.
(*Footnote. Persoon, in his description of areca catechu, makes the
following observation: E fructu ab extima pellicula libero, simul cum
foliis piperis betle, addito pauxillo calcis ex ostreis, fit
masticatorium, quod Indiani continue volvunt in ore, ut malus anhelitus
corrigatur, et dentes ac stomachus roborentur. Persoon, Syn. Plant. pars.
They have a small-sized breed of horses at Savu, similar to that of
Rottee; and pigs, sheep, and poultry appeared to be very plentiful. No
observations were taken during our stay in Zeba Bay. The tides were
scarcely perceptible and their rise and fall uncertain from the steep
bank on which we had anchored.
After quitting the bay we made every possible progress towards Timor; and
as long as we kept between the Islands of Savu and Rottee we found no
perceptible current against us, although the wind was constantly from the
On the 26th the contents of one of our remaining casks of water was found
to be so bad that it could not be used for any purpose; upon examination
it turned out that the cask had been constructed at Port Jackson of the
staves of old salt-provision barrels. This loss, amounting to two days'
water, we could but ill spare: two or three gallons were collected from
the rain which fell during the evening; and this trifling supply,
although it had a tarry taste, was acceptable in our present
The next morning was calm. A small coasting proa was seen to the
northward but soon afterwards lost sight of, steering towards Timor.
At daylight (28th) land was seen bearing East 1/2 North; at noon our
latitude was nine degrees 45 minutes 32 seconds; and by the morning and
evening sights for the chronometers a current had set us to the North 81
degrees West at nearly one mile and a quarter per hour. The wind, hanging
between South-East and South-South-East, prevented our tacking to the
southward to get out of the current, which, on our first experiencing it,
was thought to have been occasioned by a set through the strait of
Rottee; it was however afterwards found that we were on the southern edge
of the current that sets to the westward, down the north coast of Timor,
and that between Rottee and Savu the current is of trifling consequence.
The next morning land was again indistinctly seen bearing East 12 degrees
South. At ten a.m. it was clearly visible, as well as a peaked hill which
bore East 1/2 North. We were now in a current setting rapidly to the
westward and soon lost a great portion of the ground that we had been so
long toiling to gain. In the evening the wind veering to East-South-East
enabled us to steer to the southward and to get out of the influence of
October 30 to 31.
From this to the 31st we had made little progress to the eastward; but in
the afternoon a breeze set in from West-South-West and brightened our
prospects: our water being now nearly expended, no time was to be lost,
and we steered for the Strait of Rottee in order to pass through that of
Samow; but the wind was so light that, not being sufficiently advanced
before dark, we bore up, and passed round the west side of Pulo Samow
with a breeze from South-East which continued during the night...
1819. November 1.
And by daylight had carried us near the north-west end of the island; at
nine a.m. the sea breeze set in from South-West and West, and gradually
increasing, we happily succeeded in arriving off the town of Coepang
where we moored at one-fifth of a mile from the flagstaff of Fort
Concordia, bearing South 14 1/2 degrees East.
Mr. Roe went on shore soon after anchoring to wait upon the Resident, and
to inform him of the purport of our visit: he found that our former
friend Mr. Hazaart was at Batavia, and that his place was temporarily
supplied by Mr. Halewyn; from whom we experienced such assistance and
attention as enabled us to complete our wood and water and to obtain
refreshments for the crew by the eighth day.
November 1 to 9.
The refreshments consisted of sheep, coconuts, limes, bananas, mangoes,
and the Jaca fruit. The sheep weighed from twelve to sixteen pounds and
were charged at about seven shillings and seven pence each. Limes were
very scarce, and oranges, pompions, and other vegetables which were most
wanted, were not to be procured at this season. Honey was very plentiful
and good and was preferred by our people to the gulah, of which we got
large quantities last year.
The weather during the first three or four days of our stay was fine but
afterwards damp and showery with a succession of land winds, which
affected us all with colds; so that we lost no time in leaving the bay
the moment that our wants were supplied, which was at sunset on the
From the secretary to the government we obtained information that Captain
de Freycinet of the French Corvette L'Uranie had visited Coepang in
October last, and remained there fifteen days. L'Uranie was fitting out
at Toulon when we left England in 1817 for a voyage round the world, and
was expected on her way to touch upon the western coasts of New Holland;
but it appeared that the only place which Captain De Freycinet visited
was Shark's Bay on the western coast; he remained there a short time for
the purpose of swinging his pendulum, and of completing the astronomical
observations that had been previously made during Commodore Baudin's
voyage. We also heard that the master and four of the crew of the ship
Frederick, the wreck of which we had seen at Cape Flinders, had arrived
at Coepang in a ship that was in company with her at the time of the
accident; but what became of the Frederick's longboat, which left the
wreck with twenty-three of the crew, in company with the master's boat,
in which were ONLY FOUR OR FIVE people, never afterwards transpired.
After leaving Coepang the wind, which freshened up from the East by
North, continued steady until the following day, when we were at noon in
10 degrees 36 minutes 47 seconds South, the summit of Savu bearing North
83 degrees West. The wind then fell and veered to South-South-East, but
towards evening freshened from South-East and South-East by South.
By eight o'clock we steered a South-West course, and passed the islands
of Savu and Benjoar; the breeze then freshening veered round to the
eastward and brought on heavy rain with much thunder and lightning.
November 12 to 14.
After passing the meridian of Sandelwood Island, the wind varied between
north and south by way of east, often suddenly changing eight or ten, and
sometimes thirteen points of the compass at once.
On the 15th we were at noon in latitude 15 degrees 14 minutes 7 seconds
and longitude 115 degrees 2 minutes when the wind changed to
West-North-West and cleared up the weather: it then gradually veered
round by South-West and South-South-West to the south-east trade.
At noon on the 21st we had reached the latitude assigned to the Tryal
Rocks by the Dutch sloop, namely, 19 degrees 32 minutes 30 seconds; our
longitude was 108 degrees 8 minutes 36 seconds. Other accounts place
these rocks in 20 degrees 50 minutes; we therefore stood on with caution,
for the wind and the currents to the North-West were too strong for us to
lie to with safety for the night.
At two a.m. being in latitude 20 degrees 41 minutes 14 seconds and
longitude 107 degrees 11 minutes 36 seconds we sounded without success
with ninety fathoms of line, and at four o'clock, having ran seven miles
on a South-West by South course, had no bottom with ninety-five fathoms:
at noon our latitude was 21 degrees 23 minutes 24 seconds, and longitude
106 degrees 41 minutes, when no bottom was reached with eighty fathoms.
The wind continued with little variation between South-East by South and
South-East by East until we reached the latitude of 27 1/2 degrees and
102 degrees 20 minutes East; here we had light southerly winds for two
days after which the South-East winds carried us as far as 32 degrees
South and 99 degrees 45 minutes East; between this and 34 degrees South
we had variable light airs from East-South-East to South-South-West.
Afterwards alternate northerly and southerly winds, with fine weather and
top-gallant breezes, carried us as far as latitude 38 degrees and
longitude 117 1/2 degrees. From this we ran along the south coast of New
Holland, with strong gales between South-South-West and West; but on
approaching Bass Strait the winds hung to the southward, and veering
afterwards to South-East we were driven to the northward.
1819. December 24.
On the 24th December at eight p.m. we made the land between Cape
Northumberland and Cape Buffon.
But from light baffling winds had advanced no farther by noon (27th) than
four or five miles South-South-West of Lady Julia Percy's Isle. This
island is incorrectly laid down in Captain Flinders' chart, owing to the
very unfavourable weather which he experienced in passing this part of
the coast; we found it to lie East 3 degrees South (true) seventeen miles
and a half from Lawrence Island: a second island has a place in Captain
Flinders' chart, but we saw nothing of it. The coast also lies farther
back in proportion to the error of the island's position.
1820. January 2.
At four o'clock p.m. 2nd January we entered Bass Strait by the channel on
the north side of King's Island.
After passing through the strait we experienced so much bad weather and
contrary gales of wind that we did not arrive at Port Jackson until the
morning of the 12th, having been absent thirty-five weeks and four days.
The result of our proceedings during this voyage has been the survey of
540 miles of the northern coast, in addition to the 500 that were
previously examined. Besides which we had made a running survey of that
portion of the intertropical part of the east coast that is situated
between the Percy Isles and Torres Strait; a distance of 900 miles; the
detailed survey of which had never before been made, for Captain Cook
merely examined it in a cursory manner as he passed up the coast. The
opportunity, therefore, was not lost of making such observations on our
voyage as enabled me to present to the public a route towards Torres
Strait infinitely preferable on every account to the dangerous navigation
without the reefs, which has hitherto been chiefly used.
As it was not intended that I should make the survey of this extensive
tract of coast I did not feel myself authorized to examine in any very
detailed way the bottom of every bay or opening that presented itself;
but merely confined myself to laying down the vessel's track and the
positions of various reefs that were strewed on either side of it; and
also to fixing the situations of the head-lands. In doing this enough has
been effected to serve as the precursor of a more particular examination
of the coast, the appearance of which, from its general fertile and
mountainous character, made me regret the necessity of passing so hastily
Equipment for the third voyage.
Leave Port Jackson.
Loss of bowsprit, and return.
Observations upon the present state of the colony, as regarding the
effect of floods upon the River Hawkesbury.
Re-equipment and final departure.
Visit Port Bowen.
Cutter thrown upon a sandbank.
Interview with the natives, and description of the country about Cape
Leave Port Bowen.
Pass through the Northumberland, and round the Cumberland Islands.
Anchor at Endeavour River.
Summary of observations taken there.
Visit from the natives.
Vocabulary of their language.
Observations thereon in comparing it with Captain Cook's account.
Mr. Cunningham visits Mount Cook.
Leave Endeavour River, and visit Lizard Island.
Cape Flinders and Pelican Island.
Entangled in the reefs.
Haggerston's Island, Sunday Island, and Cairncross Island.
Cutter springs a leak.
Pass round Cape York.
Anchor under Booby Island.
Remarks upon the Inner and Outer routes through Torres Strait.
1820. June 21.
In preparing our little vessel for a third voyage, it became requisite to
give her a considerable repair; and among many other things there was an
absolute necessity for her being fresh coppered; but from the pretended
scarcity of copper sheathing in the colony and other circumstances that
opposed the measure, we found more than a common difficulty in effecting
it. The cutter was careened at a place appointed for the purpose on the
east side of Sydney Cove; and whilst undergoing her repair the crew lived
on board a hulk hired for the occasion. This offered so favourable an
opportunity for destroying the rats and cockroaches with which she was
completely overrun, a measure that, from the experience of our last
voyage, was considered absolutely necessary for our comfort as well as
for our personal safety, that, as soon as the operation of coppering and
caulking was finished, she was secured alongside of the hulk, and there
immersed in the water for several days, by which process we hoped
effectually to destroy them.
Upon the vessel being raised and the water pumped out, I was rejoiced to
find that the measure appeared to have had the desired effect; but,
before we left Port Jackson, she was again infested by rats, and we had
not been long at sea before the cockroaches also made their appearance in
great numbers. In sinking the cutter it seemed, in respect to the
insects, that we had only succeeded in destroying the living stock, and
that the eggs, which were plentifully deposited in the recesses and
cracks of the timbers and sides, proved so impervious to the sea-water,
that no sooner had we reached the warmer climate, than they were hatched,
and the vessel was quickly repossessed by them; but it was many months
before we were so annoyed by their numbers as had been the case during
the last voyage.
Our crew, after they had returned the stores and fitted the standing
rigging, were paid their wages; when, with only two exceptions, they were
at their own wish discharged, and it was some time before a new crew was
collected. Whilst we were repairing the defects, H.M. store-ship
Dromedary arrived from England and brought us a selection of stores, for
the want of which we should otherwise have been detained many months.
By this ship orders were received from the Admiralty to rig the cutter
with rope manufactured from the New Zealand hemp (Phormium tenax) but
there was a considerable difficulty in procuring enough even for a
boom-sheet. This specimen was prepared by a rope-maker of the colony, and
the result of the trial has fully justified the good opinion previously
formed of its valuable qualities.
In my communication to the Admiralty in June, 1818 from Timor, I had
mentioned the necessity of a medical man being attached to the vessel;
and upon my last return I found one had arrived with an appointment to
the Mermaid; but, to my great mortification, he was unable to join, from
being afflicted with mental derangement which continued so long and so
severely that I was under the necessity of sending him back to England.
We had now every prospect of encountering a third voyage without the
assistance of a surgeon. Hitherto we had been fortunate in not having
materially suffered from the want of so valuable an officer; but it was
scarcely probable we could expect to continue upon such a service much
longer without severe sickness. As any assistance therefore was
preferable to none, I accepted the proffered services of a young man who
was strongly recommended by his Excellency the Governor, and he was on
the point of joining me, when a surgeon of the navy, Mr. James Hunter,
who had just arrived in charge of a convict ship, volunteered his
services which were gladly accepted, and he was immediately attached to
the Mermaid's establishment.
The accession of a surgeon to our small party relieved me of a greater
weight of anxiety than I can describe; and when it is considered that Mr.
Hunter left an employment of a much more lucrative nature to join an
arduous service in a vessel whose only cabin was scarcely large enough to
contain our mess-table, and which afforded neither comfort nor
convenience of any description, I may be allowed here to acknowledge my
thanks for the sacrifice he made.
After all our defects were repaired, and we were otherwise quite ready
for sea, we were detained nearly a month before our crew was completed.
And it was not until the 14th of June that we left Port Jackson.
For a day or two previous to our departure the weather had been very
unsettled; and when we sailed, there was every appearance of an
approaching gale of wind: we had however been detained so long in
collecting a crew that I was glad to sail the moment we were ready:
besides I hoped to get to the northward before the threatening storm
commenced. Unfortunately however we had no sooner put to sea than it set
in; and by the time we were abreast of Smoky Cape the wind, after flying
about, fixed itself in the eastern board, and blew extremely hard with
thick weather and heavy rain.
June 20 to 22.
The gale lasted with little intermission during the 20th and 21st; and at
four o'clock the next morning we had the misfortune to lose our bowsprit
by the vessel's plunging into a head sea. We had however made a
sufficient offing to enable us to keep away two points, so that, by
rigging the wreck of the bowsprit, which was barely long enough to spread
the storm jib, we contrived to steer a course we had every reason to
think would carry her clear of Port Stevens. We continued to run to the
southward until the afternoon, when, supposing we had passed that port,
we bore away to the South-West. At midnight the gale fell, and the wind
changed to the westward.
At daylight land was seen to windward, which, from the distance we had
ran, was supposed to be about Port Stevens; but we found ourselves at
noon by a meridional observation, off Jervis Bay; so that the current
during the gale had set us one hundred and fifty miles to the southward,
and for the last twenty-four hours at the rate of nearly three knots per
Owing to this we did not arrive at Port Jackson until the following day
at noon; and it was sunset before the cutter anchored in the cove.
It appeared on our arrival that the weather had been even worse on the
land than we had experienced it at sea. The Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers
had been flooded, by which the growing crops had been considerably
injured, but happily the colony has long ceased to suffer from these once
much-dreaded inundations: a great portion of upland country out of the
reach of the waters is now cultivated, from which the government stores
are principally supplied with grain. Individuals who, from obstinacy,
persist in the cultivation of the low banks of the Hawkesbury, alone
suffer from these destructive floods, which have been known to rise in a
few hours to the height of eighty feet above the usual level of the
river's bed. The evil, however, deposits its own atonement; and the
succeeding crop, if it escapes a flood, repays the settlers for their
previous loss: this it is that emboldens them to persist in their
ill-advised temerity. At no very distant period a time will arrive when
these very lands, the cultivation of which has caused so much distress to
the colony and ruin to individuals, will, by being laid down in grass for
the purposes of depasturing cattle, become a considerable source of
wealth to their possessors.
There has been no general want of grain in the colony since the year
1817, although there have been several floods upon the Hawkesbury and the
other rivers that fall into it, which have greatly distressed the farmers
of that district. One of the arguments, therefore, with which the enemies
of colonizing in New South Wales have hitherto armed themselves, in order
to induce emigrants to give the preference to Van Diemen's Land, falls to
We were fortunate in finding in the naval yard, a spar of the New Zealand
cowrie pine (dammara) large enough for our bowsprit.
1820. July 13.
And on the 13th of July, having had our damages repaired, we resumed our
voyage under more favourable omens, for we sailed with a fair wind and
On the 17th July we were off Moreton Bay, and in the afternoon
communicated with a whaler which heaved in sight off the Cape (Moreton).
My object was to learn whether she had heard any tidings of a boat
belonging to the Echo whaler, which ship had been lately wrecked on the
Cato's bank: one of her boats, with part of her crew, arrived at Sydney a
few days before we sailed; but another boat, in which the master and the
remainder of her people embarked, had not been heard of; and I
entertained hopes that this vessel had picked them up, but, on the
master's coming on board, I found that he was quite ignorant of her loss.
It so happened that both ships belonged to the same owner, Messrs.
Bennetts of London; and we had the satisfaction of afterwards hearing
that the information we had thus afforded proved useful; for the vessel
subsequently succeeded in finding the boat, and preserving the lives of
the crew. After giving our visitor some information respecting the coast
and the reef off Cape Moreton, which he claimed as his discovery, but
which, much to his surprise, we showed him already laid down on Captain
Flinders' chart of 1801, he returned to his ship, and we resumed our
course to the northward.
At nine o'clock the next evening, having passed Indian Head in the
morning, we rounded Breaksea Spit, and at midnight brought to the wind in
order to make Lady Elliot's Island.
But, finding at daylight that a current had drifted us past it, we
steered on, and at ten o'clock discovered a group of low woody islets.
They were named Bunker's Isles. It has been since ascertained that they
abound with turtle and beche de mer, the latter of which, if not both,
will at some future time become of considerable importance to the
coasting trade of New South Wales.
On the 20th we anchored on the south side of Port Bowen, in the entrance
of the inlet that extends to the southward within the projection of Cape
Clinton; but in doing this we were unfortunate enough to get aground, and
receive very serious damage. After passing the Cape and hauling round its
inner trend towards the sandy bay, we had to beat to windward to reach
the anchorage, and, in the act of tacking on the western side of the
inlet, the tide swept us upon a sandbank, over which, as the wind was
blowing obliquely upon it, the cutter continued to drive until the sails
were taken in and an anchor laid out astern to check her; but before we
could extricate her from the dangerous situation in which she was placed,
it was found necessary to lay out another bower-anchor, for there was a
rolling swell upon the bank, and every time it left her she struck very
hard upon the ground. Happily the tide was flowing, and as soon as the
vessel floated she was warped into a secure birth within the heads of the
During the time that the cutter had been on the bank, which was two hours
and a half, she was continually striking; and at one time we heard a loud
crash which gave us reason to fear that some serious damage had happened.
At first it was thought either that the pintles of the rudder were broken
or that the stern-post was rent; but upon examination both appeared to
have escaped; and as no leak was observed during the night I indulged the
hope that the noise was not occasioned by any accident that would
inconvenience us, or oblige our premature return to Port Jackson. That
this hope proved to be fallacious will soon appear; and, had the extent
of the damage received been discovered before we left this anchorage, I
should not have ventured further up the coast, but have immediately
returned to Port Jackson. Had the tide been falling when the vessel
struck, instead of the reverse, our situation must have been attended
with more serious damage, if not our total loss; and therefore, comforted
by an ideal security, we consoled ourselves under our comparatively good
The next day was spent in watering, getting provisions to hand in the
hold, and refitting some temporary damage to the rigging. Mr. Hunter and
Mr. Cunningham ranged about the vicinity of the shore whilst Mr. Roe,
with a boat's crew, was employed in filling our empty water-casks from a
gully at the back of the beach.
Soon after the watering-party commenced their work some shrill voices
were heard near them among the trees: in a short time two natives made
their appearance and were easily persuaded to approach. They were
unarmed, and communicated with confidence, and apparently were disposed
to be friendly; one of them gave Mr. Roe a fishing-line spun and twisted
of strips of bark, to the end of which was attached a hook made from a
Our gentlemen revisited the shore in the afternoon but without seeing the
natives. In wandering about they discovered some stumps of trees close to
the beach that bore marks of having been felled with a sharp instrument;
and near some huts they found several strips of canvas lying on the
ground, from which it would appear that the place had recently been
visited by Europeans.
I landed the next morning with a theodolite in order to obtain some
bearings from the summit of the hill over the beach, but my intention was
frustrated by a visit from the natives, five of whom made their
appearance upon the hills as the boat arrived at the shore. The party
consisted of three men and two boys: one of the men carried a spear,
another had a boomerang* of a smaller size but otherwise similar to that
which the Port Jackson natives use; and the boys each carried a short
branch of a tree in their hands: they met us halfway and allowed us to
approach with our muskets, a circumstance which dispelled all suspicion
of any unfriendly feeling towards us; nor do I think any did exist when
we first met.
(*Footnote. The boomerang is a very formidable weapon; it is a short,
curved piece of heavy wood, and is propelled through the air by the hand
in so skilful a manner that the thrower alone knows where it will fall.
It is generally thrown against the wind and takes a rapid rotary motion.
It is used by the natives with success in killing the kangaroo, and is, I
believe, more a hunting than a warlike weapon. The size varies from
eighteen to thirty inches in length, and from two to three inches broad.
The shape is that of an obtuse angle rather than a crescent: one in my
possession is twenty-six inches long, its greatest breadth two inches and
a half, thickness half an inch, and the angle formed from the centre is
140 degrees. Boomerang is the Port Jackson term for this weapon, and may
be retained for want of a more descriptive name. There is a drawing of it
by M. Lesueur in Plate 22 Figure 6 of Peron's Atlas; it is there
described by the name of sabre a ricochet. This plate may, by the way, be
referred to for drawings of the greater number of the weapons used by the
Port Jackson natives, all of which, excepting the identical boomerang,
are very well delineated. M. Lesueur has however failed in his sabre a
In order to divert them and obtain as much information as we could whilst
the boat's crew were filling the water-casks, we seated ourselves on the
grass and commenced a conversation that was perfectly unintelligible to
each other, accompanied with the most ridiculous gestures, a species of
buffoonery that is always acceptable to the natives of this part of the
world, and on more than one occasion has been particularly useful to us.
An attempt was made to procure a vocabulary of their language, but
without success, for we were soon obliged from their impatience to give
it up. Not so easily, however, were they diverted from their object, for
every article of our dress, and everything we carried, they asked for
with the greatest importunity; our refusal disappointed them so much that
they could not avoid showing the hostile feelings they had evidently
begun to entertain towards us. Seeing this, I took an opportunity of
convincing them of our power, and after some difficulty persuaded the
native that carried the spear to throw it at a paper-mark placed against
a bush at the distance of twelve yards. He launched it twice, but, much
to his mortification, without striking the object. Mr. Hunter then fired
and perforated the paper with shot, which increased the shame that the
native and his companions evidently felt upon the occasion: Mr. Hunter
then killed a small bird that was skipping about the branches of an
overhanging tree; upon the bird being given to them, they impatiently and
angrily examined it all over, and particularly scrutinized the wound that
caused its death.
We now found that the proved superiority of our weapons, instead of
quieting them, only served to inflame their anger the more; and we were
evidently on the point of an open rupture. One of them seized the
theodolite-stand, which I carried in my hand, and I was obliged to use
force to retain it. They then made signs to Mr. Hunter to send his gun to
the boat; this was of course refused, upon which one of them seized it,
and it was only by wrenching it from his grasp that Mr. Hunter
repossessed himself of it.
Many little toys were now given to them, on receiving which their
countenances relaxed into a smile; and peace would perhaps have been
restored, had we not unfortunately presented them with a looking-glass,
in which they were, for the first time, witnesses of their hideous
countenances, which were rendered still more savage from the ill-humour
they were in. They now became openly angry; and in very unequivocal terms
ordered us away. Fortunately the Indian that carried the spear was the
least ill-tempered of the party, or we should not perhaps have retreated
without being under the necessity of firing in self-defence.
We retired however without any farther rupture and left them seated on
the bank, whence they continued to watch our movements until the boat was
loaded and we left the shore. They then came down to the beach and
searched about for whatever things we might accidentally have left
behind; and after examining with great attention some marks that, for
amusement, some of our party had scratched upon the sand, they separated.
The old man and the two boys embarked in a canoe and paddled round the
point towards the Cape, in which direction also the other two natives
bent their steps.
The tall, slender form of the Port Jackson natives and their other
peculiarities of long curly hair, large heads, and spare limbs are
equally developed in the inhabitants of this part. The bodies of these
people are however considerably more scarified than their countrymen to
the southward, and their teeth are perfect. One of our visitors had a
fillet of plaited grass, whitened by pigment, bound round his head, and
this was the only ornament worn by them.
The spear was of very rude form and seemed to be a branch of the
mangrove-tree, made straight by the effect of fire: it did not appear
that they used the throwing-stick.
The soil of the hills of Cape Clinton is of good quality but the country
at the back of the port appears to be chiefly marshy land. Mr. Hunter
sowed orange and lemon seeds in various places in the neighbourhood of
the cape; the climate of this part is so well adapted for those trees
that, if it were possible to protect them from the fires of the natives,
they would soon grow up, and prove a valuable refreshment to voyagers.
Captain Flinders describes the soil at the northern part of the port to
be "either sandy or stony, and unfit for cultivation."* The country
around Mount Westall is also formed of a shallow soil, but the low lands
are covered with grass and trees, and the ravines and sides of the hills
are covered with stunted pine-trees which were thought to be the
(*Footnote. Flinders volume 2 page 38.)
The country between Port Bowen and Shoalwater Bay is low and overrun with
mangroves; but Captain Flinders* speaks more favourably of the land about
the latter bay, particularly in the vicinity of his Pine Mount, where he
describes the soil as being fit for cultivation. At Upper Head in Broad
Sound the country appears to be still better;** in addition to which the
great rise of tides might be of considerable importance to that place,
should a settlement there ever be contemplated.
(*Footnote. Flinders volume 2 page 51.)
(**Footnote. Idem volume 2 page 71.)
Having obtained sights on the beach at Cape Clinton for the time-keepers
we sailed out of this port by the same track that we entered; and held
our course to the northward towards the Northumberland Islands.
At midnight we were abreast of the Percy Islands.
At noon the next day we passed to the westward of the islet, marked kl,
and thence steered between the Three Rocks and k2, and, before sunset,
were near l2, the island on which Captain Flinders landed.
The night was passed under sail and at daylight, when we resumed our
course towards the Cumberland Islands, Linne Peak and Shaw's Peak, and
the land about Capes Hillsborough and Conway were seen. At noon we were
off Pentecost Island.
Hence we steered to the northward within a string of rocky islets. On
passing this part, some natives came down to a point, and kindled a fire
to attract our attention. At four o'clock in the evening we rounded the
north extreme of the Cumberland Islands; and by sunset obtained a set of
bearings to connect the present survey with that of last year. A lofty
peak on the main, distinctly visible from all parts, particularly from
Repulse Bay, was named after the late Jonas Dryander, Esquire; it was
ascertained to be 4566 feet high.
The Cumberland Islands are all high and rocky and are covered on their
windward or south-east sides with stunted timber and pine-trees; but the
leeward sides, being sheltered from the wind, are generally well clothed
with grass and timber. The pine-trees on these islands do not appear to
be of large dimensions but several vessels have cut spars upon the
islands near the south end of Whitsunday Passage, large enough for
topmasts and bowsprits for vessels of 400 tons burthen. It is not
probable that larger spars can be obtained: they are very tough, but full
of knots; and, when carried away by the wind, break short without
We passed Capes Gloucester and Upstart during the night and early part of
the next morning. Between the latter cape and the low projection of Cape
Bowling-green, we experienced an in-draught of three-quarters of a knot
per hour. This also occurred last year; and it should be guarded against
by ships passing by: for the land about the latter cape is so low that it
cannot be seen at night.
From the period of our entering among the Northumberland Islands, the
weather, although fine, had been more than usually hazy; the wind during
the day blew moderately from South by East and South, and veered towards
night to South-East by East and East-South-East; but when we passed Cape
Cleveland it blew a fresh breeze, and was so very hazy that we could not
take advantage of our vicinity to the coast by verifying or improving any
part of our former survey, except the outer or seaward side of the Palm
Island Group, near which we passed in the evening.
The next morning we were off the southernmost Barnard's Island, and as
the coast between Double Point and Fitzroy Island had not been
satisfactorily laid down on the previous examination of this part, we
steered near the shore in order to improve it; but the land was much
overcast and the summits of Bellenden Ker's Range were so enveloped in
clouds that very little improvement was effected.
A breeze, however, in the evening from South-East dispersed the vapours
that had collected during the day on the sea horizon. In passing outside
of Fitzroy Island, a sandbank situated nine miles East 1/2 South from the
island was noticed, and other banks were reported from the masthead; but
on my going up I saw nothing more than a bright appearance on the
horizon, which is however an indication of their existence that seldom
failed in being correct, whenever an opportunity offered of proving it.
Bearing up between Cape Grafton and Green Island we steered North-West
1/2 North, by compass to make the Low Isles in Trinity Bay. The weather
was thick and misty with showers of rain; but, as a sight of these
islands was of consequence in crossing this bay, we continued to steer
for them, and at midnight they were seen. This enabled us to direct the
course with more confidence towards Cape Tribulation over Captain Cook's
At daylight we were off the cape and soon passed to the eastward of the
Hope Islands; between which and Endeavour River we had an opportunity of
laying down the reefs in the offing, particularly that on which the
Endeavour struck, and which so nearly proved fatal to her enterprising
commander and his companions.
As it was our intention to visit Endeavour River to complete our former
observations for the determination of its longitude, we hauled in for the
land and upon reaching the entrance, with which I was sufficiently
acquainted, steered over the bar on which the least water was ten feet,
and secured the cutter to the beach on the same spot occupied at our last
Being anxious to see what change had taken place during an absence of
twelve months, our steps were naturally first directed to the spot where
our boat had been built; the remains of our encampment were still
visible, and the carpenter's bench was exactly in the same state as it
had been left: the Mermaid's name, which had been carved on a tree, was
also legible; but in a short time would have been defaced by the young
bark which had already nearly covered it. Upon visiting our former
watering place we were mortified to find that it was quite dried up; and
this may probably account for the absence of natives, for there was not a
single vestige of their presence on this side of the port; but as large
fires were burning at the back of the north shore it was presumed they
were in that direction. On setting fire to the grass to clear a space for
our tent, it was quickly burnt to the ground, and the flames continued to
ravage and extend over the hills until midnight.
The following day we erected tents and commenced some repairs to the
jolly-boat, which was hauled up in the usual place; the other two boats
were sent to the north end of the long sandy beach on the opposite side
to examine the state of the rivulet which we had noticed there last year.
On their return they reported it to be still running with a plentiful
stream; and although it was rather inconvenient, from the beach being
exposed to the swell and surf, yet our boats made daily trips to it
without any ill consequences, notwithstanding one of them was once
swamped in loading; it did not however sustain any injury.
Another stream of water was subsequently found on the south side, a
little without the entrance of the harbour, but too brackish for the
purposes of drinking; it was therefore merely used during our stay for
the common purposes of washing and cooking.
Whilst our people were thus employed I was assisted by Mr. Roe at the
observatory. As the particulars of our observations for this and the
preceding years are inserted in the Appendix it will be sufficient here
merely to record the position of the observatory; it was situated on the
south shore opposite the low sandy north point; and was found to be in:
Latitude: 15 degrees 27 minutes 4 seconds.
Longitude: 145 degrees 10 minutes 49 seconds.
Variation of the compass: 5 degrees 13 3/4 minutes East.
Dip of the south end of the Needle: 38 degrees.
High water at full and change: at eight o'clock.
On the 29th Mr. Bedwell went to Captain Cook's Turtle Reef but he was
unsuccessful in his search for that animal; neither did he find any
shells different from what we had previously seen; only a few clams
(Chama gigas) were brought away, besides a small fish of the shark tribe
(Squalus ocellatus, Linn.). At high water the reef was overflowed
excepting at its north-west end where a patch of sand not larger than the
boat was left dry. At low tide the key, or the ridge of rocks heaped up
round the edge of the reef, was left dry and formed a barricade for the
interior, which is occupied by a shallow lake of circular shape in which
many small fish and some sharks were seen swimming about. It was from
this reef that Captain Cook, during the repair of his ship, procured
turtle for her crew; and, this being the same season, we were
disappointed in not obtaining any. On the return of the boat she was
placed in some danger from the number of whales, of the fin-back species,
that were sporting about the surface of the water and occasionally
leaping out of it and lashing the sea with their enormous fins.
On the 30th, having hitherto carried on our occupation without seeing or
hearing anything of the natives, whilst I was busily employed with Mr.
Roe in observing the sun's meridional altitude, I happened on looking
round to espy five natives standing about forty or fifty yards off among
the high grass watching our movements. As soon as they perceived we had
discovered them they began to repeat the word itchew (friend) and to pat
their breasts, thereby intimating that their visit had no hostile motive.
As the sun was rapidly approaching its meridian I called Mr. Bedwell from
on board to amuse them until our observations were completed. The only
weapons they appeared to carry were throwing-sticks, which we easily
obtained in exchange for some grains of Indian corn.
A few words were obtained by Mr. Cunningham which served to confirm many
we had possessed ourselves of last year; and which, being afterwards
compared with the vocabulary of the New South Wales language given by
Captain Cook, proves that he obtained it at Endeavour River. And here it
is not a little curious to remark that, of the only two words which
materially differ in the two accounts, one of them is the name of the
kangaroo. This word was repeatedly used to them last year, as well as
this, accompanied by an imitation of the leap of the animal, which they
readily understood; but on repeating the word kangaroo they always
corrected us by saying "men-u-ah." This animal has therefore been
distinguished by a name which chance alone gave it; and not, as has
always been supposed, from the term applied to it by the natives of the
part where Captain Cook first saw it.
The resemblance of the words in the following vocabulary proves that the
language of these people has not changed since Captain Cook's visit; and
that in the term for kangaroo he has been mistaken.
COLUMN 1: ENGLISH WORD.
COLUMN 2: WORD ACCORDING TO OUR VOCABULARY.
COLUMN 3: WORD ACCORDING TO CAPTAIN COOK.
Kangaroo : Men-u-ah : Kangaroo.
Canoe : Mar-a-gan : Maragan.
Eye : Ca-ree, or Me-ell : Meul.
Nose : E-mer-da, or Po-te-er : Bon-joo.
Ear : Mil-kah : Melea.
Teeth : Mol-ear.
Knee : Bon-go : Pongo.
Toes : Eb-e-rah.
Navel : Tool-po-ra : Tool poor.
A quail : Kah-kee or Mool-lar.
Friend : It-chew.
Pigment : Wo-parr.
Feathers : Te-err.
Hair of the head : Mor-re-ah : Morye.
Beard : Wol-lah : Wallar.
Nipples : Coy-o-ber-rah : Cayo.
Fingers : Mun-gal-bah.
Elbow : Ye-er-we.
Huts : Ye-er-kah.
Go along, go away, or go on : Tattee or Tah-tee.
Among the presents made to them were some beads which they appeared to
consider of little value; but what pleased them most was a bird that Mr.
Hunter shot previous to their appearance.
Their visit did not last longer than a quarter of an hour during which
they were very pressing for us to accompany them; finding us however
unwilling to trust ourselves in their power, for from our experience of
their mischievous behaviour last year we had good reason to be suspicious
of their intentions, they went away, but after walking a short distance,
one of them returned, and stooping, picked up something with which he
immediately slunk off, evidently with the hope of having escaped our
notice: but in this he was disappointed; for Mr. Hunter and Mr.
Cunningham followed him and ascertained that he had returned to carry
away his spear which had been concealed close at hand during their
communication with our party; and by the limping gait of the rest it was
probable that they all carried spears between their toes; a practice that
has been frequently observed among the natives in many parts of New South
Wales, when they wish to conceal their being armed; and which generally
indicates a mischievous intention.
Shortly after their departure the country towards the back of the harbour
was perceived to have been set on fire by them; as the wind was fresh the
flames spread about in all directions; and in the evening our people
being allowed to range about for amusement, increased the conflagration
by setting fire to the surrounding grass; so that the whole surface was
in a blaze.
The next day, whilst busily employed at the tent in calculating some
lunar distances, we were suddenly alarmed by the rapid approach of the
flames; but having previously taken the precaution of burning the grass
off round the tent, their advance was received with unconcern: the
rapidity and fierceness however with which they approached made me fear
that the sparks might set fire to the tent, upon which the instruments
were moved to the water's edge and the tent pulled down; but, had not the
grass been previously cleared away, we could not have saved any article,
from the rapidity with which the flames spread through that which had
been left standing and which was not more than ten yards from the tent.
1820. August 2.
Three days after the visit from the natives, Mr. Bedwell and Mr. Hunter
proceeded to examine among the mangroves at the back of the harbour for a
communication with some fresh water ponds which we had discovered the day
before; but they returned in the afternoon without success. They had
penetrated up two or three openings in the mangroves; in one of which was
found a canoe, similar to that described by Woodcut 3: it was hollowed
out of the trunk of the erythrina and was furnished with an outrigger. A
turtle-peg was found in it, which Mr. Hunter brought away; it measured
seventeen inches in length and was in other respects similar to that used
by the natives of Rockingham Bay. (See Woodcut 4.) On the mud and close
to the canoe the gentlemen noticed the impression of a human foot, that
must have been made since the previous high tide. They also saw an
alligator but it was not more than eight feet in length.
Mr. Cunningham returned in the evening from a walk to the summit of Mount
Cook, much fatigued from the difficulty he experienced in the ascent: he
brought with him however a collection of specimens and seeds, which fully
repaid him for the toil of his excursion. He also rendered his expedition
useful to me by taking the bearings of some reefs in the offing and by
furnishing a sketch of the bay on the south side of the mountain, and of
the rivulet which falls into it. This did not appear to him to be deep
enough for a vessel larger than a boat. It was this bay that Captain Cook
first examined for a place to repair his ship after his escape from the
reef; but he found it much too inconvenient and exposed for his purpose;
and it was after this that Endeavour River was discovered.
On one of Mr. Cunningham's explorations he found several cabbage palms
(Seaforthia elegans, Brown); but they were too distant from the tents to
induce me to send for any for the ship's company. Besides this he also
found a species of yam (Caladium macrorhizum, Cunn. manuscripts) the
roots of which would have furnished an excellent substitute for
vegetables for us, had the plants been found in abundance and convenient
During our stay at this harbour our gentlemen visited every part of the
country within five or six miles from the tents. The soil, although
covered with grass, was generally remarked to be shallow and of inferior
quality; as was sufficiently indicated by the small size of the trees.
The distance to which we had penetrated was by no means sufficient to
give a fair idea of the nature of the country in the interior; which from
its hilly appearance might be expected to possess both a rich soil and a
better pasturage than the parts we had seen; but for the latter, the
neighbourhood of the entrance of Endeavour River was by no means
The small number of our crew prevented my sending away a party to examine
the interior with any certainty of protection either to the travellers or
to those left in charge of the vessel; and this circumstance, on several
occasions, precluded us from forming any correct idea of the productions
of the places we visited, which we probably might have been partially
enabled to do by a walk of two or three miles from the sea.
Some kangaroos were seen by us during our visit; and Mr. Hunter shot a
few birds: among the latter was a specimen of the Psittacus haematodus,
or Blue-mountain parrot of Port Jackson; and a crane-like bird, similar
to the Ardea antigone, was seen at a distance. Some of our gentlemen
observed the impression of a bird's foot, resembling that of an emu; it
was nine inches broad: very few insects were found here. We saw no more
of the natives after their visit on the 30th but the smokes of their
fires were frequently observed in the interior. Mr. Cunningham found some
traces of their having eaten the fruit of the pandanus, of which he says,
"Pandanus pedunculatus, Brown, forms ornamental clumps on these arid
downs, and, being now heavily laden with its compound fruit, afforded me
an ample supply of seeds in a well-ripened state. These tempting
orange-coloured fruits had induced the natives to gather a quantity for
the sake of the little pulp about their base, and I observed that, in
order to enjoy themselves without trouble, they had lately kindled their
fires immediately beneath some of the trees laden with fruit, which with
some shellfish had afforded them a good repast." Cunningham manuscripts.
The weather during our visit has been oftener clouded and hazy than
clear: the wind veered between South-South-East and East-South-East, and
was generally fresh and accompanied with squalls. The thermometer ranged
on board in the shade between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat
was by no means oppressive.
Having sufficiently attained our object in visiting this place, and
having also taken the opportunity of completing our wood and water and
repairing our boat, we prepared to sail.
And on the 5th at seven o'clock in the morning weighed anchor and made
for the bar; but the wind was so baffling and unsteady that we had great
difficulty in passing over it.
Our course was then directed round Cape Bedford towards Lizard Island. On
our way we noticed several shoals. Off the south-west end of the island
we saw a great many whales: soon after three o'clock we anchored in a
sandy bay on its south-west side.
The wind during the night and the following day blew so fresh as to
prevent our proceeding; the delay was therefore taken advantage of by our
gentlemen to land and examine the island. It may be recollected that it
was from the summit of Lizard Island that Captain Cook discovered the
openings in the reefs through which he passed and got to sea; little
thinking that, by so doing, he was incurring a greater risk than by
remaining within the reefs and steering along the coast. Some of our
people walked round the island where they found a whaler's ton butt cast
upon the beach: it had probably belonged to the Echo. Near the cask were
lying several coconuts, one of which was quite sound and perfect. The
beach was strewed with pumice-stone heaped up above the high-water mark.
The basis of the island is a coarse-grained granite. A shallow soil on
the sides of the hills, the surface of which was thickly strewed with
stones and large masses of rock, nourished a slight clothing of grass and
other herbage. The summit of the island forms a peak, and is perhaps
about a thousand feet high; the island is thinly wooded with small trees
which scarcely deserve the appellation of timber.
No natives were seen but it was evident they had lately been upon the
island from the recent appearances of their fireplaces and the perfect
state of a hut, which was a more comfortable habitation than we have
usually found: it was arched over in the usual way, by twigs bent in the
form of a dome; and was neatly thatched with dry grass. No turtle marks
were noticed on the beach so that I should think this was not the season
for laying their eggs.
We were detained at this anchorage from the unfavourable state of the
weather until the 8th, on which day we sailed and steered for Howick
Group on a direct and unimpeded course. The channel appeared equally free
on either side of the group; but as it was a material object, on account
of the unfavourable state of the weather, to make sure of reaching the
anchorage under Cape Flinders, we did not attempt to pass round the
northern side but steered through the strait between 2 and 3, and then
over our former track round Cape Melville. At six o'clock we anchored
under Cape Flinders. Between Point Barrow and Cape Melville I had an
opportunity of improving my chart with respect to the reefs in the
offing, and of observing the outer limit of the barrier reefs which were
distinguished by the heavy breakers that lined the horizon. On rounding
Cape Melville, the remarkable feature of which has been previously
described above, a pine-like tree was noticed growing on the summit of
the ridge: Mr. Cunningham thought it was the Araucaria excelsa; if his
conjecture was right this tree occupies a space of 900 miles of coast,
between 14 degrees 10 minutes and 29 degrees 30 minutes. It might however
have been a callitris.
On passing round Cape Flinders the remains of the Frederick's wreck were
still seen scattered over the rocks but appeared much reduced in
Upon visiting it the next morning we observed evident proofs that some
ship had lately been there and taken away several of her principal spars;
and that a great portion of the smaller planks had been destroyed by the
natives' fires. We took the opportunity of collecting some iron-work and
teak planks, which afterwards proved more serviceable than we at the time
Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Hunter walked about the island but did not meet
the natives. The traces both of men and dogs were so recent as to make us
conjecture they were at no great distance; but from our subsequent
knowledge of the inhabitants of these islands there is no doubt but that
they would have shown themselves had they known of our visit. Mr.
Cunningham also ascended a remarkably rugged-looking hill at the south
point of the bay on the east side of the island, which, from its
appearance, received several appropriate names from our people, such as
Mount Dreary and Mount Horrid. Mr. Cunningham calls it Rugged Mount, and
says, "it is thinly covered with a small variety of plants similar to
those of Cape Cleveland. This mount is a pile of rugged rocks, towered up
to a considerable elevation above the sea which washes its base: the
stones of the summit being of angular or conical forms (apparently
basaltic) whilst the general mass on the slopes or declivities are deeply
excavated, furnishing spacious retreats to the natives. I entered one of
the caverns (the walls of which were of a decomposing sandstone) having a
window formed in it by the falling down of a portion of the side rock.
The cave was a large natural chamber, capacious enough to hold
conveniently a large tribe of natives; who, from the numerous fireplaces,
broken turtle staffs, and other relics, had not very long since dwelt
there. I also found numerous fragments of quartzose rocks lying about and
pieces of a kind of marble, of a brown colour, were abundant in the
cavities, as well as upon the face of the mount." (Cunningham
Upon leaving Cape Flinders we crossed Princess Charlotte's Bay and
steered at half to three-quarters of a mile within the reefs: soon after
noon it fell calm and we anchored under the lee of Pelican Island, and
landed upon it to examine an appearance of turtle marks on the sand; they
were however found to be of an old date.
This island, which does not measure more than two-thirds of a mile in
circumference, is surrounded by a considerable reef and is remarkable for
two clumps of trees upon it, that, standing separately, give the
appearance at a distance of its being two distinct islets. It is, like
all the islets near it, little better than a sandy key.
While I was employed in levelling the theodolite the gentlemen directed
their steps to a flight of pelicans that was seen collected upon the
beach; at their approach the old birds took wing and left their unfledged
young, to the number of eighteen or twenty, waddling about the sand, all
of which were killed and skinned before we embarked for the sake of their
white down. On the islet three very neatly-constructed natives' huts were
observed, that, from their appearance and the very recent state of the
fish-bones and turtle-shells scattered about, had been lately occupied.
The reef is of circular shape; the surface is formed principally of a
rotten, crumbling coral rock and was destitute of shells or any animal
production except the beche de mer: of which the black sort (batoo)
appeared the most abundant.
Among the bearings obtained from this station was that of the highest
summit of Flinders' Group, which bore South 61 degrees 26 minutes East
(magnetic) and, as a connecting bearing, was of considerable importance
to the survey.
The day was too far advanced to make further progress with any advantage;
we, therefore, remained until the following morning when we steered
North-North-West, but were soon impeded by a very extensive reef, m, that
crossed our course, trending to the North-East. Wishing to ascertain its
extent to seaward, as well as to pass round its windward side, we steered
along its south-eastern edge; and after proceeding for some time, first
in a North-East, then a North, and afterwards in a North-North-West
direction, found ourselves running through a narrow channel formed by
another considerable reef, l, to the eastward, and lying in a parallel
direction with m: the breadth of this pass, or channel, varied between
one and two miles. At nine o'clock, having run about ten miles, a break
appeared in the innermost reef, m, through which we made an attempt to
pass. As we approached it our soundings quickly decreased, yet still we
hoped to effect our object; but suddenly shoaling the water to five
fathoms, and at the next heave to ten feet and a half, with the coral
rocks almost grazing the vessel's bottom, the helm was put down;
fortunately she stayed and we escaped the danger. There was every
appearance of a termination of the reef a few miles further to the
north-east, but the glare of the sun was so deceptious that I preferred
returning by the way we came; and having a leading fresh wind, we were by
noon steering between the south-west end of the reef m and the woody
islands 2 and 3 of Claremont Isles.
Between this and Cape Sidmouth several reefs were seen to seaward that we
had not noticed last year. In passing the cape we kept nearer to the
sandy islet 7 than before, and had not less water than seven fathoms.
The next morning, having passed the night under Night Island, we resumed
our course and steered round Cape Direction, with the intention of
passing to windward of the long reef, f; but being prevented by its
extending too much to the eastward to allow of our weathering it we bore
up, and, passing to the eastward of Piper's Islands and of reef l,
anchored under Haggerston's Island.
As I did not intend running farther than Sunday Island for my next
anchorage we did not weigh the following day until we had visited the
island and obtained a meridional altitude for its latitude and sights for
the time-keeper. It is about a mile and a half in circumference and forms
a high rock of steep ascent; its windward side is clothed with a stunted
brush, but the lee or north-west side is tolerably well wooded, and is
fronted by a sandy beach, on which the traces of natives' fireplaces,
scattered with fish-bones and turtle shells, were found in all
directions. A considerable coral-reef extends to the northward, having
some dry sandy keys at its north extremity. An extensive view of the
neighbouring reefs and islands was obtained from the summit, particularly
of the reefs n and o, and of the deep-water channel between them.
Our next anchorage was under Sunday Island, and on the 14th we proceeded
outside the Bird Isles and between two coral reefs, v and w, that
appeared last year to be connected. Several reefs were also noticed to
seaward that had escaped our observation last year, but they are all of
small extent, and on the greater number there is a dry bank of sand which
on some is bare, whilst others are covered with bushes and small trees.
As the day was too far advanced to permit us to pass round Cape York
before night we anchored in the afternoon under Cairncross Island and
spent the evening on shore. This island is low and wooded like the other
and is not more than a mile in circumference. It is thickly covered with
bushes and trees, among which Mr. Cunningham found a great many plants
that interested him, particularly the bulbous roots of a species of
pancratium, and some large specimens of Mimusops kauki in fruit, besides
which he observed a remarkable tree which he has described in his journal
by the name of Gueltarda octandra. "It is a strong luxuriant tree, having
a stem six feet diameter, whose base is much like the spurred bulb of a
tropical fig." (Cunningham manuscripts.)
The island is situated at the north-west end of the reef which is two
miles and a half long and one mile broad, and composed like that of
Pelican Island, of dead coral hardened by the weather and cemented by its
own calcareous deposit into masses of compact rocks which, being heaped
up by the surf, form a key that probably the high-tide scarcely ever
covers. The interior is occupied by a shoal lagoon in which, although not
more than two feet deep, our people saw a great variety of fish, and
among them a shark five feet long, which, notwithstanding there was
scarcely sufficient water for it to float in, contrived to escape. A few
shells of the Voluta ethiopica and some clams (Chama gigas) were found,
but neither sort was plentiful. The natives, as appeared from their
traces, occasionally visit the island: our people found some deserted
turtles' nests, and Mr. Cunningham saw a pigeon that appeared to be new;
it was of large size and of black and white plumage: besides this no
other bird was seen.
We now began for the first time to feel the effects of our accident at
Port Bowen, for the tide, setting against the wind, caused a short swell,
in which the cutter strained so much that she made two inches and a half
of water per hour.
At noon the next day we rounded Cape York; and, as we had last year taken
the route to the northward of Wednesday Island, we now steered round the
south side of Prince of Wales Islands through Endeavour Strait.
And passing the night under one of the Possession Islands, Number 2, the
next day reached Booby Island off which we anchored. On our course to the
westward of Cape Cornwall and across the line of shoals that extend from
it to Wallis Isles we had not less water than four fathoms.
In the afternoon we landed on Booby Island and at night procured turtles,
and about a thousand eggs.
On the summit of the island, or rather the rock, several piles of stones
were observed that had been heaped up by the crews of the various ships
passing by, as relics of their visit: among other notices of a similar
nature we found a board indicating the safe passage through the strait of
the ship Sea-Flower, which our logbook informed us left Port Jackson on
the 21st of last May; and from the memorandum on the board we found that
she took the outer passage, entered Torres Strait at Murray's Island, and
arrived off Booby Island, after a voyage of twenty-two days.
A good opportunity was here offered, by comparing our voyage with that of
the Sea-Flower, of proving the superiority of the inshore route: the
Mermaid left Port Jackson on the 12th July, and passed Booby Island on
the 16th August, which is an interval of thirty-five days; from this
fifteen must be deducted for the delays occasioned by the survey; namely,
at Port Bowen two days, at Endeavour River nine days, at Lizard Island,
Cape Flinders, Haggerston's Island, and the Possession Islands, one day
each; this leaves twenty days for our passage, being two days shorter
than the Sea-Flower's. This comparison therefore is in favour of the
inshore route. But it is not only superior to the passage without the
reefs, from its being shorter, there are also other advantages: the
principal of which are that the weather is more generally fine; the sea
is always perfectly smooth; and wood or water may be procured upon
various parts of the coast: with only common attention there is no risk;
and however laboriously the day may be spent the night is passed without
disturbing the crew; for safe and good anchorage may be taken up every
night under the lee of an islet or a reef, which in the event of bad
weather may be retained as long as is requisite or convenient. No time is
lost by the delay, for the anchor may be dropped in the ship's immediate
track; and if the cargo consists of live animals such as horses, cattle,
or sheep, grass may be obtained for them from the islands near the
In the outer passage the sea is strewed with numerous reefs, many yet
unknown,* which render the navigation at night extremely dangerous; and
if, on approaching the part where it is intended to enter the reefs, the
weather should be thick, and the sun too clouded at noon to procure an
observation for the latitude, the navigator is placed in a very anxious
and a very unenviable situation; for the currents are so strong that the
position of the ship is by no means sufficiently known to risk running to
leeward to make the reefs. The ensuing night must therefore in all
probability be passed in the greatest uncertainty and in the vicinity of
extensive coral reefs.
(*Footnote. When this sheet was in the press an account was published in
one of the daily newspapers (Morning Herald 3rd of March 1825) recording
the discovery of some low coral islands and reefs by the ship Avon,
September 18, 1823, in latitude 19 degrees 40 minutes South, longitude
158 degrees 6 minutes East.)
Cross the Gulf of Carpentaria, and anchor at Goulburn's South Island.
Affair with the natives.
Resume the survey of the coast at Cassini Island.
Survey of Montagu Sound, York Sound, and Prince Frederic's Harbour.
Hunter's and Roe's Rivers, Port Nelson, Coronation Islands.
Transactions at Careening Bay.
Repair the cutter's bottom.
General geognostical and botanical observations.
Prince Regent's River.
Leave the coast in a leaky state.
Tryal Rocks, Cloates Island.
Pass round the west and south coasts.
Escape from shipwreck.
Arrival at Port Jackson.
1820. August 17.
We did not leave our anchorage off Booby Island until the next morning,
in order that we might obtain sights for the watches, and have the
advantage of daylight for passing over the position assigned to a shoal,
said to have been seen by the ship Aurora. After weighing we steered
West-South-West for sixty miles without seeing any signs of it; and on
this course our soundings very gradually increased to thirty fathoms.
August 18 to 19.
On our passage across the Gulf of Carpentaria we had very fine weather
but the horizon was enveloped in haze. The South-East monsoon was steady
but very light; and the wind during the day veered occasionally to
North-East, which might here be called a sea-breeze.
On the 19th we passed Cape Wessel. Hence we steered for Goulburn Islands.
And on the afternoon of the 21st anchored in South West Bay, off the
watering-place, which was running very slowly; a hole was dug to receive
And the next morning we commenced operations, but, from the small supply
of water, our progress was very slow.
The natives had not made their appearance, but knowing whom we had to
deal with, every precaution was taken to prevent surprise: an armed party
was stationed to protect the remainder of our people who were cutting
down the trees which grew immediately over the watering-place on the
brink of the cliff; and the officers and men were severally cautioned
against straying away from the shore party without taking the precaution
of carrying arms.
Mr. Hunter and Mr. Cunningham ranged about the island near our wooding
party; the former gentleman shot for us several birds, among which was a
white cockatoo that differed from the species that is common at Port
Jackson in being smaller and having a very small white crest or top-knot
without any yellow feathers in it: its mandibles and feet were white but
the feathers on the under part of the wings had the usual yellow tinge.
Mr. Cunningham was successfully employed in adding to his collections,
but the dry season was so far advanced and the country so parched up that
everything bespoke the last season as having been unusually dry.
On the following day, when our people resumed their occupation, they were
again cautioned not to trust to the apparent absence of the natives. In
the afternoon Mr. Roe walked along the beach with his gun in quest of
birds: on his way he met Mr. Hunter returning from a walk in which he had
encountered no recent signs of the Indians. This information emboldened
Mr. Roe to wander farther than was prudent, and in the mean time Mr.
Hunter returned to our party in order to go on board; he had however
scarcely reached our station when the report of a musket and Mr. Roe's
distant shouting were heard. The people immediately seized their arms and
hastened to his relief and by this prompt conduct probably saved his
It appeared that, after parting from Mr. Hunter, he left the beach and
pursued his walk among the trees; he had not proceeded more than fifty
yards when he fired at a bird: he was cautious enough to reload before he
moved from the spot in search of his game, but this was scarcely done
before a boomerang* whizzed past his head, and struck a tree close by
with great force. Upon looking round towards the verge of the cliff,
which was about twenty yards off, he saw several natives; who upon
finding they were discovered set up a loud and savage yell, and threw
another boomerang and several spears at him, all of which providentially
missed. Emboldened by their numbers and by his apparent defenceless
situation, they were following up the attack by a nearer approach, when
he fired amongst them, and for a moment stopped their advance. Mr. Roe's
next care was to reload, but to his extreme mortification and dismay he
found his cartouch box had turned round in the belt and every cartridge
had dropped out: being thus deprived of his ammunition, and having no
other resource left but to make his escape, he turned round and ran
towards the beach; at the same time shouting loudly to apprize our people
of his danger. He was now pursued by three of the natives, whilst the
rest ran along the cliff to cut off his retreat.
(*Footnote. See Note above.)
On his reaching the edge of the water, he found the sand so soft that at
every step his feet sunk three or four inches, which so distressed him
and impeded his progress that he must soon have fallen overpowered with
fatigue had not the sudden appearance of our people, at the same time
that it inspired him with fresh hopes of escape, arrested the progress of
the natives, who, after throwing two or three spears without effect,
stopped and gave him time to join our party, quite spent with the
extraordinary effort he had made to save his life.
Whilst this event occurred I was employed on board in constructing my
rough chart, but upon Mr. Roe's being seen from the deck in the act of
running along the beach pursued by the Indians, I hastened on shore,
determined if possible to punish them for such unprovoked hostility. Upon
landing, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Roe, and one of the men joined me in pursuit of
the natives; but from our comparatively slow movements and our ignorance
of the country, we returned after an hour without having seen any signs
of them; in the evening before our people left off work we made another
circuitous walk, but with the same bad success. The natives had taken the
alarm and nothing more was seen of them during the remainder of our stay,
excepting the smokes of their fires which appeared over the trees at the
back of the island.
Previous to this attack upon Mr. Roe the natives had probably been
following Mr. Hunter; and were doubtless deterred from attacking him by
witnessing the destructive effects of his gun among a flight of
cockatoos, five or six of which he brought away, and left as many more
hopping about the grass wounded and making the woods re-echo with their
screams. When Mr. Hunter parted from Mr. Roe the natives remained to
watch the latter gentleman; and no sooner had he discharged his gun,
which they found was of no use until it was reloaded, than they commenced
their attack; and from the known dexterity of the natives of this country
in throwing the spear it was not a little surprising that they missed him
Before we embarked for the night I walked with Mr. Roe to the place where
he was attacked, in order to look for the spears that had been thrown at
him and for the cartridges he had lost; but as neither were found, we
were revengeful enough to hope that the natives would burn their fingers
with the powder, an event not at all unlikely to occur, from their
ignorance of the dangerous effect of placing the cartridges near the
fire, which they would be sure to do.
During our visit we were fortunate in having very fine weather; and
although it was very hazy we did not experience that excessive heat
which, from the advanced state of the season, had been expected. The
thermometer ranged between 73 and 83 degrees; but the regularity and
strength of the sea-breezes tended materially to keep the air cool and
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