Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia
Phillip Parker King
Part 6 out of 6
On the 25th the gentlemen visited Sims' Island, where they found a
considerable quantity of fresh water in holes that had apparently been
dug for the purpose by the Malays. Among the insects which they brought
back with them was a very fine species of cimex; it was found in great
numbers upon the foliage of Hibiscus tiliaceus.
In the evening we left the bay.
And the next morning passed to the northward of New Year's Island in
order to avoid the calm weather which was experienced at the same season
Off the entrance of Van Diemen's Gulf (Dundas Strait) we passed through
large quantities of sea sawdust, some of which was put into a bottle; and
when the process of putrefaction had taken place the substance sunk to
the bottom and coloured the water with a crimson tinge.
1820. September 3.
After passing the meridian of Cape Van Diemen our course was directed
towards Captain Baudin's Banc des Holothuries near Cape Bougainville; but
being impeded by calms and light winds did not reach it until the 3rd of
September, when we passed between its south-east extremity and Troughton
Island. Before dark we passed over the north extremity of the long reef
to the westward of Cape Bougainville.
The following day at noon we were near Condillac Island, after which a
sea-breeze from the westward enabled us to pass Cape Voltaire, at which
point our last year's survey terminated. When we were within the Cape we
found an ebb-tide setting out of a bight, which trended deeply in to the
southward and appeared to be studded with rocky islands. This adverse
tide continued to run all the evening and prevented our reaching the
bottom; so that at sunset we dropped the anchor a few miles to the south
of Cape Voltaire.
To the westward of this position we counted twenty-three islands, the
northernmost of which were supposed to be the Montalivet Isles of Baudin.
The whole have an uninteresting and rocky appearance but are not
altogether destitute of vegetation: a greenish tinge upon the nearest
islet saved them from being condemned as absolutely sterile.
The next morning a boat visited the outer north-easternmost islet, named
in the chart Water Island, which was found to be as rocky in reality as
it was in appearance. It is formed of a hard granular quartzose
sandstone, of a bluish-gray colour; the basis is disposed in horizontal
strata but the surface is covered with large amorphous rocks of the same
character that have evidently been detached and heaped together by some
convulsion of nature: over these a shallow soil is sprinkled, which
nourishes our old acquaintance spinifex, and a variety of plants of which
Mr. Cunningham collected more than twenty distinct known genera. The
exposed surfaces of the rocks are coloured by the oxide of iron, which is
so generally the case upon the northern and north-western coasts that the
name of Red Coast might with some degree of propriety be applied to a
great portion of this continent.
Mr. Hunter found a large quantity of bulbous-rooted plants; they proved
to be a liliaceous plant of the same species as those which we had before
found upon Sims' Island, the islands of Flinders' Group on the eastern
coast, and at Percy Island.
A meridional altitude of the sun was obtained on the north side of the
island; and before we embarked the boat's crew found fresh water enough
to fill our barica: this was so unusual a discovery that the island was
complimented with a name which will serve rather to record the fact than
to distinguish it as a place where so important an article of refreshment
may be procured with certainty. In the rainy season a large quantity may
always be obtained from cisterns, or holes, which were observed naturally
formed upon the surface of the rocks.
The marks of a turtle were noticed upon the beach; and near them was the
impression of a native's foot as well as the broken shells of some
turtles' eggs which had very recently been eaten. This discovery set the
boat's crew on the search for other nests but they were unsuccessful.
An extensive view of the surrounding islands was obtained from its
summit, as well as a set of bearings for the survey of this Sound, which
was named at Mr. Hunter's request after Robert Montagu, Esquire, Admiral
of the White.
A sea-breeze set in before we left the island: upon arriving on board we
got underweigh and at four o'clock anchored near the bottom of the bay
(Swift's Bay) in the entrance of a strait separating Kater's Island from
In the evening we landed upon the south-east end of Kater's Island and
found it to be in character, both geologically and botanically, very
similar to Water Island; excepting that there was more vegetation upon it
in the shape of shrubs and trees. The surface of the ground was covered
by spinifex, which rendered our walking both difficult and painful; this
plant diffuses a strong aromatic odour, which quality it possesses, as it
were, to counterbalance the annoying effects of its prickly foliage.
The next day Mr. Bedwell examined a small inlet at the bottom of the bay.
It proved to be merely a salt-water creek bounded by rocks and mangroves.
Traces of natives were observed; and he brought on board with him the
remains of a fish-pot, nine feet long, made of strips of Flagellaria
indica, but so imperfect and disfigured that we could not readily
convince ourselves either of its particular construction or use. In the
evening we found a few gallons of water in a hollow near the beach upon
the south shore of the strait. During Mr. Bedwell's absence a hot
land-wind from South-East sprung up and raised the temperature to 90
The peculiar verdure of the vegetation in all parts hereabout was a proof
that this part of the country had suffered less from drought than the
coast to the eastward. The traces of a small species of kangaroo were
found in every part but our appearance had frightened them away. The food
of this animal appeared to be principally the seeds and leaves of an
acacia which they reach easily from the rocks.
Mr. Cunningham, who was as usual most indefatigable in adding to his
collection, observed one of the large nests that have been so frequently
before described. It was six feet in diameter, formed principally of
sticks, among which was found a piece of bamboo about five feet long,
that had evidently been cut at its extremities by a sharp-edged tool,
probably by the Malays. Whatever the inhabitant of this nest might have
been it was doubtless a bird of considerable size and power to have
transported a stick of such a length.
The next morning after Mr. Roe had sounded the strait that separates
Kater's Island from the main we got underweigh and passed through it; and
then rounding a high island named after Dr. W.H. Wollaston, we steered to
the westward through a group of islets which were too numerous to be
correctly placed in a running survey. To the westward of Wollaston Island
is a deep bay which, from the broken appearance of the coast at the back,
there is some reason to think may prove the embouchure of a small
rivulet; but as it was not of sufficient importance to cause delay it was
passed with the appellation of Mudge Bay. In the evening we anchored off
an island named on account of the peculiar shape of a rock near the beach
Capstan Island; and as it wanted yet an hour to sunset we landed and
ascended the summit which, from its very rugged ascent, was no easy task.
A view however from this elevated station, and an amplitude of the
setting sun, repaid me for my trouble; and Mr. Cunningham increased his
collection by the addition of some interesting plants and a few papers of
The distance that the French expedition kept from this part of the coast,
of which M. De Freycinet so often and so justly complains, prevented it
from ascertaining the detail of its shores: in fact very few parts of it
were seen at all. Commodore Baudin's Cape Chateaurenaud must be some low
island which we did not see, unless it was the outermost of our Prudhoe
Montagu Sound is bounded on the west by an island of considerable size
which was named in compliment to John Thomas Bigge, Esquire, his
Majesty's late Commissioner of Inquiry into the state of the colony of
New South Wales. Bigge Island is separated from the main by a strait
named after the Reverend Thomas Hobbes Scott, now Archdeacon of New South
Wales, formerly Secretary to the above commission.
The next morning we steered through Scott's Strait but not without
running much risk on account of the muddy state of the water, and from
the rocky nature of its channel. It was however passed without accident;
but as the tide prevented our doubling Cape Pond the anchor was dropped,
and the evening spent on shore upon a rocky island that fronts the Cape,
from the summit of which an extensive set of bearings was taken. The land
was observed to trend in very deeply to the southward of Cape Pond and
the western horizon was bounded by a range of islands on which were two
hills of sugarloaf form. This island, like Capstan Island, is a heap of
sandstone rocks, clothed with the usual quantity of spinifex and small
shrubs. A path of the natives was observed winding among the grass and on
the beach were the marks of feet. The tide fell whilst we were on shore
The next morning we steered round Cape Pond and entered the opening; but,
the wind being contrary, we did not reach farther than Anderdon's
Islands, where the night was passed.
The next day we took advantage of the flood-tide and before high water
anchored where the depth at low water was three fathoms. The tide
subsequently rose twenty-eight feet.
We were now at the bottom of a very extensive harbour bounded by bold and
irregular ranges of precipitous rocky hills, particularly on its eastern
side, where three or four peaks were noticed, among which were Manning
Peak and Mount Anderdon. Under these hills was the mouth of a large
opening; and to the eastward of the anchorage we observed another of
greater size but not so interesting in its appearance as the former.
The country hereabout, although equally rocky and rugged, is more wooded
than that to the north-east; and from the number of fires that were
burning there is reason to suppose it is more populous. We therefore
prepared to examine the two openings in view, with sanguine expectations
of finding something to repay us for the numerous disappointments we had
And the next morning Mr. Hunter accompanied me to explore the opening
under Manning Peak whilst Mr. Roe and Mr. Cunningham embarked in another
boat to examine the river that falls into the bottom of the bay.
After landing at the entrance of the opening we proceeded up a
considerable reach, bounded on either side by precipitous rocks, in some
parts from two to three hundred feet in height. This reach extends four
miles; and being from five to seven fathoms deep, and more than half a
mile wide, forms an excellent port: half way up on the north side is a
wide inlet; probably the embouchure of a mountain stream, for it appeared
to wind under the base of Manning Peak. We landed in many parts on search
of fresh water but were on all occasions unsuccessful. At the end of this
reach the river, for such it now appeared to be, gradually narrowed and
wound with a more serpentine course under the base of the hills which
still continued to be rugged and steep; but the banks were now thickly
lined by mangroves, whereas in the first or sea reach they are formed
principally of large rounded masses of rock that had been detached from
the summits of the overhanging hills by the effect of the cascades, some
of which must have fallen from a height of 200 feet without interruption
in their descent. During the rainy season it would be dangerous to expose
a vessel to the strength of the freshes in this river.
At the distance of six miles from the end of the first reach we arrived
at the termination of the river where its width was not more than
twenty-five yards. Here its bed was blocked up by large water-worn masses
of sandstone and, as the boat could not proceed farther, we landed to
await the turn of the tide.
About a mile below this part we had unexpectedly found a spring of fresh
water bubbling up among the mangroves and yielding a very considerable
quantity: whilst we were examining it the tide was nearly up so that we
had only time to fill our barica and kettle before the salt water flowed
over and mixed with it.
During our detention here we ascended the hills over the landing-place to
examine the country; but on reaching the top after a rugged and difficult
walk, higher hills obstructed our view in every direction. The bed of the
river appeared to continue for some distance through a deep gully formed
by precipitous hills. In the wet season this is doubtless a very
considerable stream; and then perhaps the water is fresh as low as the
upper part of the first reach. At this time the holes in the rocks were
filled with fresh water but the tide flowed up as far as it was navigable
for our boat. The trees on the tops and sides of the hills had lately
been burned: in the shady parts however near the water, the shore was
lined with several plants which had escaped destruction; among them was a
species of nutmeg (Myristica insipida, Brown), a tree of twenty-five feet
high (Maba laurina, Brown), and on the top of the hills and shelving
places halfway down were observed several coniferous trees that resembled
the Callitris ventenat, or Australian cypress, which grows in the
interior of the colony at Port Jackson: they were at this season in
A steep peaked hill near our landing-place was named Donkin's Hill after
the inventor of the preserved meats; upon a canister of which our party
dined. This invention is now so generally known that its merits do not
require to be recorded here; we had lately used a case that was preserved
in 1814 which was equally good with some that had been packed up in 1818.
This was the first time it had been employed upon our boat excursions and
the result fully answered every expectation, as it prevented that
excessive and distressing thirst from which, in all other previous
expeditions, we had suffered very much.
On our return we landed at the spring. The tide had covered it; but upon
searching another was found farther back among the mangroves, supplying
at the rate of two to three gallons a minute; a discovery so valuable
that the river was thought worthy of a name and it was called after my
companion Mr. Hunter, who shared my pleasure in the gratification of
finding what we had hitherto thought, at this season, totally wanting
near the coast.
No signs of natives were observed, unless the country, having been lately
fired, might indicate their having been in these parts; but, from the
very rugged nature of the hills, it is not probable they frequent the
neighbourhood of the river.
Kangaroos' tracks were seen and a small opossum observed skipping about
the rocks. On our return down the river we landed on several parts where
the depth of the gullies and the verdure of the trees indicated a
probability of our finding fresh water, but in vain; not a drop was
On returning we were left by the ebbing tide upon a bank of mud; being
however near low water, we had only to exercise our patience for two
hours. We reached the vessel by eleven o'clock at night.
Mr. Roe did not return until sunset of the following day from his
examination of the river which falls into the bottom of the port. When he
left the cutter he pulled to a hill at the entrance of the river, which
had been pointed out to him as probably affording an easy ascent and from
which he would obtain a commanding view of the country to guide his
proceedings. From this elevation the country around appeared to be very
stony and barren, although he fancied there was some approach towards
improvement; the banks of the river were low and lined with mangroves and
intersected by many small saltwater inlets extending through the low
country to the foot of the back hills; at low water the shore is fronted
by a bank of mud, ten or twelve yards wide, and so soft as to prevent
landing. Whilst he was employed at the summit of the hill in taking
bearings, twelve natives with two dogs made their appearance on the
opposite shore which was separated from the hill on which Mr. Roe landed
by a soft mud flat. The natives attempted to cross to him, shouting
loudly as they advanced, but when halfway over they desisted and slowly
returned. When Mr. Roe descended he perceived several fresh prints of the
human foot on the mud, from which he supposed that there were already
some natives upon the island. There were several large fires burning in
various directions and one was kindled by the natives on the opposite
(*Footnote. The natives of this part were seen by Tasman, according to
the following note of Burgomaster Witsen, as published in Mr. Dalrymple's
Papua. "In 14 degrees 58 minutes South, longitude 138 degrees 59 minutes
(about 125 degrees East) the people are savage, and go naked: none can
A snake about seven feet long was the only animal our party saw, but the
dung of the kangaroo was as usual plentifully spread in all directions.
From this station, which was seven miles from the mouth, they followed
the course of the river, first on an easterly direction for ten miles,
and then it took a sudden turn to the southward and trended alternately
South by East and South by West for fifteen miles; at this part the river
was upwards of seventy yards wide; the banks were lined with mangroves
but the rocks rose precipitously behind them to the height of three
hundred feet. Here our party landed to pass the night, and before dark
Mr. Roe and his companion Mr. Cunningham with one of the boat's crew
climbed the ridge over their heads but encountered much difficulty before
they reached the summit, from which they could discover nothing but
ridges beyond ridges of rocky wooded hills, precisely similar to what
they were upon. One higher than the rest was discerned about ten miles
off to the eastward. No signs of human beings were noticed.
The top of the hill was strewed about with ant-hills constructed of dry
dusty sand, and this was the only substance that could be called soil;
but notwithstanding all this sterility there were trees of the eucalyptus
family growing from twenty to forty feet high; and one was measured whose
diameter was as much as eighteen inches.
The rocks are of sandstone, in nearly horizontal strata, coated with a
crust of crystallized quartz and coloured by a ferruginous oxide.
On their return to the tent they made preparations to pass the night; and
as it was prudent, if possible, to keep the boat afloat, one of the men
was stationed in her for that purpose; but, overpowered by fatigue, he
fell asleep and the boat in a short time was left dry upon the mud; the
party on shore were continually disturbed during the night by what was
thought to be the rushing of alligators into the water beneath them, but
the noise was probably occasioned by stones and lumps of mud falling into
it as the tide ebbed; a splash, however, that they heard on the opposite
side was very likely an alligator, for they had seen one swimming as they
pulled up the river. On hearing this Mr. Roe became very much alarmed on
account of the boat-keeper, but no pains to apprize him of his danger had
any effect: the only reply that could be got from him was, "Damn the
alligators," and the next moment he was asleep again; fortunately for him
no alligator came near enough to make him repent his foolhardy
The width of the stream at low water, which was quite salt, was not more
than twenty-five feet. When the flood commenced it came in so rapidly
that the water rose five feet in ten minutes: altogether it rose
twenty-four feet; but driftwood and dead branches of trees were noticed
among the rocks at least fourteen feet above the ordinary high-water
mark, indicating, at other seasons, the frequency of strong freshes or
floods. One of the pieces of driftwood had been cut by a sharp
Mr. Roe further says, "From the appearance of the country and the steep
hills, generally about three hundred feet high, among which this river
winds, there can be little doubt of its being, during the rainy season, a
considerable fresh-water stream; and as I consider the length of its
various windings to be twenty-six or twenty-seven miles, there is every
prospect of its being navigable for our boat for at least half that
distance farther. Fish were plentiful, but principally of that sort which
the sailors call cat fish; of these several were caught. Small birds were
numerous, together with white cockatoos, cuckoos, some birds with very
hoarse discordant notes, and one whose note resembled the beating of a
blacksmith's hammer upon an anvil. At daybreak they all exerted
themselves in full chorus, and I should then have proceeded farther, but
the tide was half out, and a soft mud-bank forty feet broad fronting the
shore cut off our communication with the boat."
As soon as the ebb-tide began to make Mr. Roe embarked on his return; and
during his passage down saw as many as twelve alligators. Two were fired
at but the balls glanced off their tough coats of mail without hurting or
scarcely frightening them. A small trickling of water was noticed among
the rocks, which they found to be fresh but in too small a quantity to be
of any use. The boat was six hours and a half pulling down although for
the first five hours the tide was favourable.
The river was named after the rector of Newbury, the reverend father of
my zealous and diligent assistant Mr. Roe. It appears to be a very
considerable stream and, as Mr. Roe justly observes, in the rainy season
or at any other time of the year than during the months of September and
October, which terminate the dry season, will doubtless afford a large
quantity of fresh water.
The opportunity that offered in Hunter's River of filling our water-casks
was not to be lost.
And the day after the boat returned from the examination of Roe's River
the cutter was moved to an anchorage about half way up the first or sea
reach of Hunter's River.
And the next morning before daylight the boats were despatched; but owing
to the darkness of the morning and the ebb-tide having left the shores
dry and almost inaccessible, from the quantity of mud that lined them,
they did not reach the spring until late in the day. In the mean time,
however, they contrived to wade through the mud to the shore; and then
explored the bed of the river for half a mile beyond where our previous
In this space they passed several pools of fresh water which, in some
parts, was running over a pebbly bottom; but the supply was so trifling
as to be not sufficient to alter the taste of the seawater.
Our gentlemen described the country to be as destitute of soil as we had
found it lower down; and so rugged as to be scarcely passable. The ravine
is formed by precipitous rocks of sandstone rising perpendicularly on
both sides to the height of two hundred feet, here and there lightly
sprinkled with a few shrubs which had lately been burnt.
Some of our party thought they saw both an emu and a black swan amongst
the bushes on the banks of the river. In some parts of the north coast we
have certainly noticed marks on the sand like the impressions of an emu's
foot, but as we have never seen the bird it is probable that we have
mistaken them for the traces of the Ardea antigone. Black swans we have
never seen at all within the tropic and it is equally likely that in this
instance we may have also been deceived by the appearance of a bird of
similar size and plumage. On the return of the boat two alligators swam
After completing our water we left the river; but owing to light winds
did not succeed in getting out of the harbour until the following
morning. Its examination had been performed as narrowly as time and
circumstances admitted: it is of considerable size and in most parts
offers good and secure anchorage; with abundance of wood for fuel and
perhaps always water of good quality. Its western side was very
indistinctly seen; and it was thought probable from appearances that, in
the space between Cape Pond and Anderdon Islands, there are perhaps two
or three small mountain streams.
The harbour was called Prince Frederic's, and the sound that fronts it
York Sound, in honour of his Royal Highness the Duke of York.
After passing Point Hardy we entered a fine harbour bounded on the west
by a group of islands, and on the east by the projection of land that
forms the western side of Prince Frederic's Harbour. The flood-tide was
not sufficient to carry us to the bottom so that we anchored off the east
end of the southernmost island of the group; which on the occasion of the
anniversary of the late king's coronation was subsequently called the
Coronation Islands. The harbour was called Port Nelson, and a high rocky
hill that was distinguished over the land to the southward received the
name of Mount Trafalgar.
Notwithstanding we had constantly experienced since the period of our
leaving the east coast both fine weather and smooth water, yet the leaky
state of the vessel had been gradually increasing; leading me to fear
that the injury received at Port Bowen had been much more serious than we
had then contemplated. Having the advantage of smooth water and a fair
wind during our passage up the east coast, the damage had not shown
itself until we reached Cairncross Island: after this it was occasionally
observed, but with more or less effect according to the strength and the
direction of the wind and the state of the sea. At the anchorage off
Booby Island, being exposed to a swell, she made four inches of water in
an hour; but during the examination of Montagu Sound and the harbour we
last left it did not show at all: upon leaving Hunter's River and working
against a fresh sea-breeze, the leak gained more than three inches in the
hour; and in passing round Cape Torrens, the vessel being pressed down in
the water from the freshness of the sea-breeze, it gained as much as nine
inches in one hour and twenty minutes.
From the alarming increase of the leak it became absolutely necessary to
ascertain the full extent of the damage, in order that we might, if
possible, repair it, so as not to prevent the further prosecution of the
voyage, or at least to ensure our return to Port Jackson.
We were fortunately upon a part of the coast where the tides had a
sufficient rise and fall to enable us to lay her on shore without
difficulty; but the beaches in York Sound and Prince Frederic's Harbour
were all too steep for the purpose.
The spring tides were now at hand; and, it being on this account very
important that it should be done as speedily as possible, I left the
cutter the following morning in search of a convenient place, in which I
was fortunately very soon successful; for at the bottom of the port in
which we had anchored we landed on the sandy beach of a bay which, to my
inexpressible satisfaction, was found in every way suitable for the
object we had in view. Deferring therefore any further examination for a
more convenient opportunity, I hastened on board and in the course of the
morning anchored the cutter close to the beach.
It has been already stated that the construction of the Mermaid was
rather sharp, so that it was necessary to land everything before it would
be safe to lay her on the ground: her masts were therefore struck and the
sails, being sent on shore, were suspended to trees and converted into
tents for the preservation of our provisions and stores and for
habitations for the officers and crew.
Our anchorage was four hundred yards distant from the beach; which, since
the vessel took the ground at low water, was as near as we could
prudently approach it but sufficiently close to protect our property from
the natives until everything was landed. None had as yet appeared, but,
the country having been lately fired, and the impression of a man's foot
having been noticed on the sand when we landed in the morning, gave
evident proofs that they were not far off. On the beach were the remains
of several huts; but they did not appear to have been recently occupied:
in order however to avoid surprise or loss, the stores and provisions
that had been landed in the evening were placed at a distance from the
grass and trees and covered over with a sail: near this pile our
four-pounder was planted, loaded with musket balls, ready to be fired at
a moment's warning.
Having thus taken all possible precaution our people returned on board to
pass the night. My anxiety however prevented my retiring to bed so early
and I continued watching our property in the momentary expectation of
something occurring. The moon was fortunately at her full and shone
sufficiently bright to enable me to distinguish any moving object near
the tent. At eight o'clock a light was suddenly observed on the summit of
the hill that rises over the beach; but after being stationary for ten
minutes it disappeared: at first it was thought to be a native's fire;
and afterwards it was suspected to be occasioned by an insect. At
midnight, as the light had not again been seen, I retired to rest,
leaving a watch on the deck to give alarm should anything occur; but in
less than an hour was disturbed by the cry, "The tent's on fire!" On
reaching the deck I found the alarm had not been made without reason, for
a flame was actually blazing close to them.
At the first appearance of the flames two muskets were fired in the
direction of them and our people were immediately landed. On reaching the
tent everything was secure and quiet but the fire was still burning at
about twenty yards behind it. Having cautiously approached it we found
our fears had been groundless and that they were occasioned by no less
innocent an enemy than a half-consumed log of wood, in the heart of which
a fire had been lying dormant for some days, having been lighted by the
fires which had lately passed over the country; it had been fanned into a
flame by the land-breeze which sprung up at midnight. The light seen in
the early part of the night originated, most likely, from a similar
cause; so that we returned to the vessel without further apprehension.
The following day all our wet and dry provisions, our wood and guns were
landed; and the greater number of the crew slept on shore.
A discovery of great importance was this day made which enabled us to
carry on our operations with much greater facility and comfort; this was
our finding near the tents some deep holes containing a great abundance
of excellent water; so that by emptying our water-casks we avoided the
trouble and delay of hoisting them out: our operations were in
consequence so much expedited that the next morning at high tide the
vessel was warped and secured as far up the beach as the water would
allow, preparatory to her taking the ground, which event we awaited with
When the tide left her dry we proceeded to examine her bottom, and having
stripped the copper off the stern-post, the full extent of the injury she
had sustained was detected and found to be greater even than our fears
September 22 to 28.
The after-part of the keel was rent for two feet in an horizontal
direction and its connexion with the stern-post and garboard streak so
much weakened that, at the first impression, there was every reason to
fear we could not remedy the defects sufficiently to ensure even an
immediate return to Port Jackson; but when the full extent of our means
were considered it was thought not only possible to repair the injury,
but to do it so effectually as to permit our completing the voyage
according to our original intention.
As it now appeared certain that some considerable time must elapse before
we could reload the cutter, she was secured at the next tide in a
situation nearer the high-water mark. At low water a deep hole was dug
under her bottom, to enable the carpenter to work with his auger; and
this operation was necessarily renewed every tide, since the hole was
always found filled up after the high water. An armourer's forge and
tools were now much wanted but the deficiency of an anvil was supplied by
the substitution of a pig of ballast; and some chain plates that we had
fortunately taken from the Frederick's wreck, and some bar-iron which was
brought out from England by the Dromedary, enabled us to place our vessel
in a state of security which we were by no means in before.
In order to connect the keel and stern-post, both of which were almost
separated from the frame of the vessel, two bolts, each twenty-four
inches long, were driven up obliquely through the keel and two of the
same size horizontally through the stern-post into the dead wood; besides
which they were also united by a stout iron brace which was fitted under
the keel and up each side of the stern-post; by which method the injury
appeared to be so well repaired that we had no fears for our safety if
the weather should be but moderately fine.
These repairs were completed by the 28th but, just as we were
congratulating ourselves upon having performed them, a fresh defect was
discovered which threatened more alarming consequences even than the
other: upon stripping off some sheets of copper, the spike nails which
fastened the planks were found to be decaying; and many were so entirely
decomposed by oxidation that a straw was easily thrust through the vacant
holes. As we had not nails enough to replace the copper, for that was now
our only security, we could not venture to remove more than a few sheets
from those parts which appeared to be the most suspicious, under all of
which we found the nails so defective that we had reason to fear we might
start some planks before we reached Port Jackson, the consequence of
which would unquestionably be fatal to the vessel and our lives. All that
we could do to remedy the defect was to caulk the water-ways and counter,
and to nail an additional streak of copper a foot higher than before.
This further temporary repair was finished by the 30th.
1820. October 5.
But we were detained until the 5th of October before the tide rose high
enough to float the cutter.
During the time that the carpenter was thus occupied all the crew were
employed either in assisting him or in cutting wood and filling water; so
that I had no opportunity either of visiting the surrounding islands or
of examining the country in the vicinity of the bay: but when the repairs
were completed and the people were more at leisure I made an excursion as
far as Bat Island, off Cape Brewster.
From the summit of this island a set of bearings was obtained,
particularly of the islands to the northward and westward. The ascent, on
account of its steep and rugged nature, was very difficult and even
dangerous, for the stones were so loose and decomposed that no solid
footing could be found. The top of the rock is covered with a thick brush
of Acacia leucophoea (of Lacrosse Island) many trees of which were
obliged to be cut down or cleared away before the various objects could
be seen from the theodolite. Mr. Cunningham collected here specimens of
eighteen different sorts of plants.
Bat Island is a mass of sandstone superincumbent upon a quartzose basis
and intersected by nearly vertical veins of white quartz, the surface of
which was in a crystallized state. The floor of the cavern was covered
with heaps of water-worn fragments of quartzose rock, containing copper
pyrites, in some of which the cavities were covered by a deposit of
greenish calcedony. The sides of the cavern had a stalagmitical
appearance but the recess was so dark that we could not ascertain either
its formation or extent; it did not however appear to be more than twelve
or fourteen yards deep. On first entering it we were nearly overpowered
by a strong sulphureous smell which was soon accounted for by the flight
of an incredible number of small bats which were roosting in the bottom
of the cave and had been disturbed by our approach. We attempted to grope
our way to the bottom, but, not having a light, were soon obliged to give
up its further examination.
The island is connected to the cape by a narrow ridge of rocks which the
spring-tides may probably cover. The main corresponds with the island in
character and general conformation, being extremely barren and rocky, and
of the same description of sandstone, the strata of which appear nearly
horizontal; the greatest deviation from that position not being more than
an inclination of 5 degrees to the south-east.
Upon our return we landed at Caper Point near the bottom of the bay;
where, on taking some bearings, a considerable local magnetic attraction
was detected, for the needle of the theodolite was nearly eight degrees
in error. Whilst I was thus employed Mr. Cunningham, who was my companion
upon this excursion, ranged about among the shrubs in the vicinity and
was fortunate in finding the fruit of a tree that was first seen by us at
Cambridge Gulf, and had for some time puzzled us from its immense size
and peculiar appearance. It proved to be a tree of the natural order
Capparides, and was thought to be a capparis; the gouty habit of the
stem, which was soft and spongy, gave it an appearance of disease: but as
all the specimens, from the youngest plant to the full-grown tree,
possessed the same deformed appearance, it was evidently the peculiarity
of its habit. The stem of the largest of these trees measured twenty-nine
feet in girth whilst its height did not exceed twenty-five feet. "It was
at this time in the earliest stages of foliation, the extremities of the
naked branches appearing green; and one bud that was opened exhibited the
character of Folium quinatum."* One of these trees has been introduced in
the view of the encampment at Careening Bay. It bore some resemblance to
the adansonia figured in the account of Captain Tuckey's expedition to
(*Footnote. Cunningham manuscripts.)
The only quadruped that was seen upon this excursion was a small opossum
which appeared to be the same animal that the colonists at Port Jackson
call the native cat: its colour was light red with small white spots.
The principal object of my investigation was to find an opening in the
bottom of the bay communicating with a large sheet of water that we had
seen from the hills to the southward; but as we were not successful in
finding any it was supposed that its communication with the sea must be
to the westward of Cape Brewster. Mr. Hunter and Mr. Cunningham had
previously made an excursion in that direction to the summit of a hill,
named by the latter gentleman after Thomas Andrew Knight, Esquire, the
President of the Horticultural Society. From this elevation they had a
good view of the water which appeared to be either a strait or an inlet
of considerable size; it was subsequently called Rothsay Water. The
country between it and our encampment was very rocky and rugged; but
although almost destitute of soil it was sprinkled with some dwarf timber
of various descriptions; and, had it not been for the late fires, there
would have been a good share of grass.
The fires were still burning; and while we were employed upon the vessel
the little grass that had before escaped the flames was consumed before
our eyes, which greatly increased the oppressive heat we were
experiencing. The thermometer during the day, exposed to a current of air
and shaded from the sun, generally indicated a temperature of between 94
and 98 degrees; and on one occasion although it was exposed to a fresh
sea-breeze the mercury stood at 101 degrees at noon: at night however we
were usually relieved by its falling to 75 degrees; and at two o'clock in
the morning it generally stood at 73 degrees. The maximum and minimum
temperature during fourteen days was 101 degrees and 72 1/2 degrees. The
daily range of the thermometer was as much as 20 degrees, while the
mercury on board did not rise or fall more than 3 or 4 degrees. This
great difference is to be attributed to the cooling power of the dew
which was precipitated most copiously every night upon the surface of the
earth; whilst the water, not being so easily affected by this nightly
radiation, took so much longer to cool. In the daytime the reverse took
place; for the earth being much more heated by the action of the sun's
rays than the water, the temperature on shore was much greater than on
We had no thermometer with us that could measure the heat of the sand
upon which our tents were erected. Mr. Hunter placed his
pocket-thermometer in it but the mercury reaching the top of the tube,
which was graduated to 130 degrees, he was obliged to withdraw it to
preserve the instrument from being damaged. On one occasion we had a hot
land-wind from the South-East that veered round as the day advanced to
North-East, during which the thermometer stood at 96 degrees; generally
however we had a fresh sea-breeze from the north-west, with clear and
fine weather; but towards the latter part of our visit we had some very
cloudy dull days and a few showers of rain: this change hurried my
departure; and we considered ourselves fortunate in embarking our
provisions and bread without getting them wetted.
On the 5th, after two ineffectual attempts to heave the cutter off the
ground, she floated.
And by the 8th, everything being embarked, we made preparations to quit
this place which had afforded us the means of repairing our damage and
stopping for the present the progress of an injury which had been every
day assuming a more serious aspect.
The country in the vicinity of the bay which, from the use we made of it,
was called Careening Bay, is only slightly covered with a poor, stony
soil; but notwithstanding this drawback the hills are well wooded and
vegetation so abundant that, had it not been for the conflagration which
has lately spoiled the trees of their leaves, the country would have
appeared pleasing and verdant.
The following is a list of some of the trees indigenous to the shores and
neighbourhood of Careening Bay, for which I am indebted to Mr.
COLUMN 1: NATURAL ORDER NAME.
COLUMN 2: LINNAEAN SYSTEM NAME.
COLUMN 3: ENGLISH NAME.
COLUMN 4: QUALITY OF THE WOOD.
COLUMN 5: HEIGHT OF TREE IN FEET.
COLUMN 6: DIAMETER OF TREE IN INCHES.
Leguminosae : Bauhinia microphylla. Cunn. manuscripts : Mountain Ebony :
Hard, coarse grain, wet, black-heart : 10 to 20 : 5 to 8.
Mimoseae : Inga, sp. : Acacia-podded Inga : Unknown : 12 to 25 : 4 to 5.
Sterculiaceae : Sterculia, sp. : Variegated-flowered Sterculia : Soft and
spongy : 12 to 20 : 4 to 6.
Oleinae : Chionanthus axillaris. Brown : Axillary-flowering Fringe Tree :
Unknown : 10 to 15 : 4.
Oleinae : Olea paniculata. Brown : Panicled-flowering Olive : Unknown :
15 to 25 : 6 to 8.
Rhamneae : Zizyphus, sp. : Australian Jujube : Close grain, wood white :
10 to 30 : 4 to 16.
Proteaceae : Hakea arborescens. Brown : Tree Hakea : Like Eucalyptus,
hard and heavy : 15 : 4 to 6.
Ebenaceae : Maba laurina. Brown : Laurel-leaved Date-plum : Soft, white
wood, sap yellow : 10 to 20 : 4 to 6.
Malvaceae : Hibiscus tiliaceus. L. : Lime Tree-leaved Hibiscus : Brown
wood, moderately hard : 10 to 25 : 4 to 8.
Santalaceae : Exocarpus latifolia. Brown : Tropical Native Cherry : Hard,
white wood, bark green : 10 to 15 : 4 to 6.
Myrtaceae : Eucalyptus, sp. : Small-flowering Gum : Moderately hard, but
useless for mechanical purposes : 20 to 35 : 18.
Myrtaceae : Eucalyptus, sp. : Large-fruited Gum : Moderately hard, but
useless for mechanical purposes : 20 to 35 : 18.
Verbenaceae : Vitex. sp. allied to glabrata. Brown : - : Unknown : 20 to
25 : 6.
Capparides : Capparis sp. (?) : Gouty-stemmed Capparis : Soft, spongy,
and full of sap : 30 : 9 feet.
Cycadeae : Cycas media. Brown : Australian Cycas, or Sago Palm : Fibrous
and coarse, similar to Palm : 4 to 15 : 4 to 6.
Sapoteae : Mimusops parvifolia. Brown : Small-leaved Zapadilla : Close
grain : 10 to 15 : 4 to 5.
Meliaceae : Carapa, sp. closely related to molluccensis. Lam. : Maritime
Carapa : Soft and brittle (a mangrove) : 25 : 6.
"From the summit of the ridge," says Mr. Cunningham, "immediately above
Careening Bay, the country continues in a series of barren, stony hills
of ordinary elevation, divided by small valleys equally sterile and
rugged; clothed, nevertheless, with small trees of a stunted growth, and
of species common to the bay of our encampment; nor was there remarked
the least change in the habit or state of fructification of the several
plants, throughout the whole space of an estimated distance of six miles
south of the tents.
"The summits of the hills are, for the most part, very rocky and bare of
soil; and that of the valleys, or lower lands, appeared very shallow, of
a reddish colour, and of a very poor, hungry nature. The rocks, with
which the ground is very generally covered, are of the same sort of
sandstone as is found upon the hills above the encampment; but among them
we observed a good deal of quartz, remarkable for its purity, of which
some specimens were observed in a crystallized state."
"In the season that succeeds that of the rains, the hills are covered
with a lofty, reedy grass, whose dead stalks now form a matted stubble
among the trees, as was remarked on some patches of the lower lands that
had escaped the conflagrations, which at this period are extending their
ravages far and wide. Several well-worn watercourses, long since dry,
were crossed in the route, and, having the descent to the westward, show
at what point their waters, during the rainy season, make their exit.
"No quadrupeds were seen upon this excursion, and only the usual
indications of kangaroos: a few birds were observed on the wing, chiefly,
however, of the pigeon kind."
We saw no kangaroos or opossums of any kind during our visit; but if we
may judge from the number of snakes at so advanced a period of the dry
season when they are generally in a dormant state, reptiles are very
numerous. Mr. Cunningham found a very curious species of lizard,
remarkable for having a thin, membranaceous appendage attached to the
back of its head and round the neck and falling over its shoulders in
folds as low as the fore arm. It was sent by Mr. Cunningham to the
College of Surgeons where it is now preserved. Small lizards, centipedes,
and scorpions were numerous about our encampment; and the trees and
bushes about the tents were infested by myriads of hornets and other
insects, particularly mosquitoes and small sandflies which annoyed us
very much in the evenings.
Besides the huts on the beach which were merely strips of bark bent over
to form a shelter from the sun, there were others on the top of the hill
over the tents of a larger and more substantial construction; no two
however were built after the same fashion. One of them was thus erected:
Two walls of stones, piled one upon the other to the height of three
feet, formed the two ends; and saplings were laid across to support a
covering of bark or dried grass: the front, which faced the east, was not
closed; but the back, which slanted from the roof to the ground, appeared
to have been covered with bark like the roof.
The other huts were made somewhat of a similar construction, as they are
represented in Woodcut 5, but all differed in shape: it did not appear
that they had been very recently inhabited for the greater part of the
thatch was burnt.
The natives did not make their appearance during our stay; and although
an interview with them would have afforded us both amusement and
information yet their absence was perhaps more desirable since all our
provisions and stores were on shore; and their intimacy would probably
have produced a quarrel which, for our own sakes as well as for the
safety of future visitors, was best avoided.
The fireplaces near them were strewed with the nuts of the sago palm, the
fruit of which appears to be generally eaten by the natives of the north
and north-west coasts.
On the 9th we left Careening Bay; and passing out between Cape Brewster
and the Coronation Islands entered a spacious sound which was called
Brunswick Bay in honour of that illustrious house. From Cape Brewster the
land extended for six miles to Cape Wellington round which there appeared
to be a communication with the water seen over the hills of Careening
In front of the bay a cluster of islands extends from the north end of
the Coronation Islands to the westward and south-westward and approaches
the mainland; which, to the westward of Cape Wellington, was only seen in
The next day, having passed the previous night at anchor off Cape
Brewster, it was calm until noon: the sea-breeze then set in and carried
us quickly round Cape Wellington into a considerable opening, trending to
the southward and bearing a river-like appearance. Having the wind and
tide in our favour we stood on and continued to run up until high-water;
when, as no anchorage had been found, we were obliged to proceed against
the tide. At seven miles from the entrance we passed Rothsay Water, a
considerable opening on the east side, and opposite to it was another
which was called Munster Water; in front of it were several rocky islands
covered with grass and trees. We continued to steel up the main stream
and passed a point whence the direction of the river changed to
South-East; and after running five miles farther entered an extensive
sheet of water, St. George's Basin, in which were the two large islands
of St. Andrew and St. Patrick. The evening was now drawing near and we
hauled round Strong-tide Point into a strait separating St. Andrew's
Island from the main; here we were at last successful in finding an
anchorage out of the strength of the tide which, in the narrower parts of
the river, was setting at the rate of four and a half and five knots.
October 11 to 12.
The further examination of the opening was continued by our boats; and
whilst Mr. Roe explored the northern and eastern shores of the basin I
was occupied in examining the river which falls into it at its south-east
Mount Trafalgar is a conspicuous object on the north-eastern side of the
basin; and another hill close to it being equally remarkable was called
Mount Waterloo. These two hills rise precipitously from the plain; and
being capped by a wall-like battlement bear a strong resemblance to Steep
Head in Port Warrender.
Upon leaving the cutter we crossed St. George's Basin which appeared to
receive several streams on the south side and landed on a small wooded
islet for bearings; from which the summits of Mounts Waterloo and
Trafalgar bore in a line. About two miles farther on the banks of the
river again contracted and trended to the south-east on so direct a
course that, from the distant land being hidden by the horizon, the river
bore the appearance of being a strait. We were now twenty-two miles from
the sea and as there was every appearance of this proving a considerable
stream it was honoured by the title of Prince Regent.
While I was employed upon the island with the theodolite Mr. Hunter, my
companion, shot seven or eight brace of birds: they were of two kinds;
one a species of oyster-catcher and the other a sandpiper.
The island is of small extent and is connected to the land by a shoal
communication; it is rocky and thickly wooded; the trees were chiefly
acacias. The marks of considerable floods were noticed upon its shores;
and the wrecks of very large trees were thrown up ten or twelve feet
above the high-water mark.
We re-embarked at a quarter to twelve o'clock and pulled fourteen miles
farther up the river when a slight turn hid the island on which we had
landed from our view; from the width of a mile and a half at the entrance
it had decreased to about two-thirds of a mile and still continued
gradually to get narrower: its banks throughout are bounded by steep
rocky hills rising to the height of two or three hundred feet which, in
some parts, were nearly overhanging the water; several mangrove-inlets
communicated with the river on either side but they were all salt-water
The rocks on the hills are formed of a close-grained siliceous sandstone;
and the ground is covered with loose masses of the same rock, with
spinifex growing between them; this plant is of itself sufficient to
indicate the poverty of the soil. As we passed a small round islet an
alligator which had been basking in the sun alarmed at our approach,
rushed into the water, and, as we came near the spot, rose to reconnoitre
us, but instantly sunk again.
The sea-breeze being unimpeded by the intervention of land blew so strong
that, when the flood ceased, we were enabled to proceed for some time
against the ebb-tide. It also prevented our suffering from the heat which
would otherwise have been very oppressive for the thermometer stood all
day at 96 and 98 degrees.
At the distance of about seventeen miles from the basin we were surprised
by hearing the noise of a fall of water; but distrusting our ears we were
not convinced of the fact, until an opening in the mangroves exposed to
our view a cascade of water of one hundred and sixty feet in breadth,
falling from a considerable height. As the breeze still enabled us to
make way against the tide we did not stay to examine it; and therefore
deferred our visit until our return.
Three miles farther up we put ashore to rest and refresh the boat's crew;
and whilst I was occupied at the beach Mr. Hunter ascended the hill to
examine the country but found only a continuation of the same rocky hills
and sterile desert. The character of the river had assumed nearly the
same appearance as Hunter and Roe's Rivers in Prince Frederic's Harbour,
excepting that the hills were less precipitous and rather more wooded.
About two miles beyond our station the width began to decrease and the
stream to take a more winding course: the banks were also lower and the
mangroves appeared to increase in quantity; but unlike the other rivers
the bottom was of sand and there was scarcely any mud, excepting on the
banks where the mangroves grew. Several places were observed upon the
hills where the trees and grass had been burnt by fire, but otherwise
there was no sign of the banks of the river ever being frequented by
By the time we had refreshed ourselves it was getting late and we set out
on our return; the tide had now ebbed considerably and exposed several
banks which, having been covered, had before escaped our observation; we
grounded on several as we proceeded, which detained us so long that it
was dark when we passed the cascade, and by the time we reached the
island on which we had seen the alligator in the morning, the tide had
commenced to flow.
Here we determined upon remaining until the ebb; and after satisfying
ourselves that there were no alligators upon it landed, and kindled a
fire upon the dry summit of the island under a large log of wood that had
been washed down the river and deposited there by the freshes. Whilst our
refreshment was preparing we searched about for alligators, but not
finding any and being quite overpowered by the fatigues of the day, we
composed ourselves to rest; during which, although the alligators did not
trouble us, we were greatly incommoded by sandflies and mosquitoes; but
neither our fear of the former, nor the annoyance of the latter,
prevented our sleeping as soundly as we should have done on a more safe
and luxurious couch. Mr. Hunter also, who for some time after the rest
had fallen asleep walked about in order to keep on the alert, very soon
followed our example and we happily passed the night without accident.
At three o'clock the tide began to ebb and the boat-keeper awakened us to
re-embark on our return. On looking about we were surprised to find that
the tide had reached within three feet of our fireplace and must have
risen at least thirty feet since we landed. The air was now so cold from
a copious fall of dew that we were obliged to resort to our blankets and
cloaks for warmth; but with the sun the mercury rose from 80 to 88 and 90
degrees; and the morning being quite calm became excessively sultry.
On reaching the cutter we found that Mr. Roe had returned the preceding
evening from having examined the north-east shore of the basin and traced
two openings that trend for a short distance in on either side of the
mounts. On his return he pulled round the south side of St. Andrew's
Island and landed at its south-west end where he made a fire which spread
rapidly through the dried grass and set the surface of the island in a
blaze. It continued to burn for several days afterwards.
During our absence the shore of the bay of anchorage had also been
examined and several pools of water were discovered, from which we filled
our empty casks. Mr. Cunningham ascended the hills which rose nearly
perpendicularly for at least 400 feet; they were thickly clothed with
trees and plants from which he obtained a large addition to his
collection. In wandering about through the spinifex upon the cliffs he
saw four small kangaroos; and near the waterholes one of the crew saw a
fifth, of a gray colour and of a larger size than usual.
Our people were now all laid up with sores upon their feet and legs from
cuts and bruises received in scrambling over the rocks; and several were
affected by ophthalmia. Besides this the rainy season was approaching; it
commenced last year about the 18th of October, and as the weather was now
close and sultry and daily getting more unfavourable, the change was
evidently at hand.
We therefore determined upon quitting the coast as soon as possible; and
as there was nothing to detain us here any longer we weighed the
following afternoon as soon as the tide commenced to ebb.
Our distance from the mouth was sixteen miles and the breeze blew
directly against us but, as the tide was running out with great strength,
we succeeded in reaching an anchorage in Brunswick Bay before dark; not
however without incurring considerable danger in passing through strong
tide ripplings when abreast of Rothsay Water; which caused me to suspect
that it communicated with Prince Frederic's Harbour.
In beating out of the river the cutter leaked a good deal, which showed
that our late repair at Careening Bay had not placed us without the pale
of danger: and I now began to fear that the leak had been occasioned more
from the defect of her fastenings than from the accident that happened to
her keel; so that we were in every respect as badly off as before the
cutter was careened. This made me decide upon instantly returning to Port
Jackson; but it was with great regret that I found it necessary to
resolve so; for the land to the westward appeared so indented as to
render the necessity of our departure at this moment particularly
The next day therefore we passed out to sea to the westward of Baudin's
The wind, upon leaving the coast, being West-South-West and
West-North-West, carried us as far to the north as 11 degrees 43 minutes
before we met with southerly winds; after which they gradually veered to
the south-east trade.
On the 30th at midnight we were upon the parallel of 19 degrees 33
minutes, on which the Tryal rocks have been said to exist; in order
therefore to be on the safe side we tacked to the northward for four
hours and then passed back again until daylight when we resumed our
At ten o'clock a.m. we were in the latitude assigned to these rocks by
the brig Greyhound, the master of which vessel, on his arrival at Port
Jackson from China last year, published an account in the Sydney Gazette
of his having seen them at a distance. Had he been certain of the fact he
would not have hesitated to approach sufficiently near them to have made
all on board sensible of their existence; but it appears that the greater
part, if not the whole, of the crew were so obstinate that they either
would not, or could not, see them.
Were the tracks of every vessel that has passed over this part laid down,
I think there would remain very little belief of their existence; in my
own opinion I am convinced that there is no danger of the sort between
the coast of New Holland and the meridian of 102 degrees east longitude.
The Dutch account records this danger to be forty miles in extent from
east to west and fifteen miles in breadth; and the Danish account
describes it to extend for twenty-four miles from north-east to
south-west. Was there a danger of so considerable an extent in existence
in the direct track of outward-bound China-ships, it is hardly possible
to conceive it could be passed without having been repeatedly seen.
The existence of Cloates Island also, of which there are so many
undeniable and particular descriptions, has been for a long time
questioned by navigators; I think however there is no doubt that it does
exist but that it is no other than the mainland to the southward of the
North West Cape. The descriptions of this island by Captain Nash of the
ship House of Austria, as well as that of the Haeslingfield in 1743, and
subsequently by Captain Pelly, accord exactly with the appearance of this
promontory; nor is the longitude much in error when we consider the
strength of the currents which set to the north-west, during the easterly
monsoon, in the space between New Holland and Java. Captain Nash places
Cloates Island 7 degrees 26 minutes East of Java Head, and the
Haeslingfield 7 degrees 12 minutes; the mean of the two accounts is 7
degrees 19 minutes; the true difference of the meridians of Java Head and
the North West Cape is 9 degrees 3 minutes, a difference only of 1 degree
May not the Tryal Rocks also be some of the low islands that skirt the
coast? The account of them by the Dutch sloop in 1718 places them in
latitude 19 degrees 30 minutes and eighty leagues from the coast of New
Holland; but, unless it is Bedout Island (a sandy islet seen by Captain
Baudin, in longitude 118 degrees 50 minutes) there is no part of the
coast that can at all accord with the description in respect to latitude.
The rocks seen by the Fredensberg Castle in 1777 are certainly the
Montebello Isles, which answer the Dane's description exactly; for they
are very low and rocky and abound in reefs, one of which extends a long
distance to the north-west from Trimouille Island. There remains no doubt
in my mind but that Barrow's Island and Trimouille Island, and the
numerous reefs around them, are the identical Tryal Rocks which have been
the theme and dread of every voyager to the eastern islands for the two
last centuries.* Captain Flinders** spent some days in an ineffectual
search for them and has, I think, decidedly proved their non-existence
between the parallels of 20 1/4 and 21 degrees, and the meridians of 103
1/2 and 106 1/2 degrees. The above islands accord exactly as to latitude;
and the only argument against the probability of this supposition is
their longitude; but during the month of July the current sets with great
strength to the westward and might occasion considerable errors in ships'
reckonings, which, in former days, were so imperfectly kept that no
dependence can be placed upon them.
(*Footnote. The Tryal Rocks obtained their name from the English ship
Tryal, said to have been lost upon them in 1622 (vide Horsburg's Indian
Directory volume 1 page 100). This danger having been once laid down
will, perhaps, never be erased from the chart, although it is generally
believed not to exist. It has been placed in various positions according
to the account which the compiler gives most credence to. In Arrowsmith's
large chart of the South Sea it is laid down in 20 degrees 40 minutes
South and 104 1/2 degrees East.)
(**Footnote. Flinders volume 2 pages 261 to 263.)
1820. November 1.
The following afternoon the man at the masthead reported breakers in the
West-North-West, and when I went to examine from thence I was for some
time equally deceived: the helm was put up and we bore down towards them
but, as we approached, they vanished and we found we had been deceived by
the reflection of the sun's rays upon the water.* After being
sufficiently assured of our mistake, the course was resumed.
(*Footnote. The deceptious appearances that are frequently observed at
sea, such as the reflection of the sun, ripplings occasioned by the
meeting of two opposite currents, whales asleep upon the surface of the
water, shoals of fish, fog-banks, and the extraordinary effect of mirage,
than which, as an optical illusion, nothing is more deceiving, have
doubtless given birth to many of these non-existing shoals and islands.
Were charts to be published (one does exist in manuscript, in the
Hydrographical Office at the Admiralty) with all the islands and dangers
laid down that have been reported by good and respectable authorities,
the navigator would be in a constant fever of anxiety and alarm for the
safety of his vessel. The charts of the present day teem with examples of
this sort and many islands and reefs are laid down which have not been
seen since their first discovery, and which perhaps never existed at all,
unless, like Sabrina Island, they were thrown up by a submarine volcano,
and disappeared immediately afterwards.)
And by the following noon we had passed the parallel of the southernmost
limit assigned to these redoubtable rocks.
When we were on the starboard tack two nights before, the cutter leaked
so much that we were upwards of an hour pumping out the water that had
collected in three hours.
On the 2nd of November we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn in 100 1/2
And on the 4th in latitude 28 degrees the trade-wind ceased: the winds
were however variable between South and South-East until we reached the
latitude of 31 1/2 degrees and longitude 95 degrees 20 minutes; when the
wind veered by North-East to North-West and West-North-West and we made
rapid progress to the south-east. Between the parallels of 40 and 42
degrees, we had the wind always to the westward of North by East and
South by West, with the current uniformly setting to the northward,
sometimes at the rate of three-quarters of a mile per hour; to the
south-west of Cape Leeuwin it affected us more than one knot: scarcely
any easterly current was observed.
On the 27th at eight p.m. we sounded in forty-eight fathoms.
And at one o'clock the following morning saw the Black Pyramid and soon
after entered Bass Strait by the passage on the south side of King's
Island. After running into the latitude of Sea Elephant Bay on the east
side of King's Island, in an unsuccessful search after some rocks laid
down in the French charts but not noticed in those of Captain Flinders,
we bore up; and at eleven p.m. passed Sir Roger Curtis Island.
And the next day cleared the strait.
1820. December 2.
On the 2nd we were off Mount Dromedary; and the wind blew strong from the
East, the weather assuming a threatening appearance.
The next day we passed the heads of Jervis Bay at the distance of three
or four leagues, and the course was altered to North and North by West
parallel to the coast. At noon an indifferent observation for the
latitude and a sight of the land, which for a few minutes was visible
through the squalls, showed that our situation was very much nearer to
the shore than we had expected, a circumstance that was attributed to a
current setting into the bight to the northward of Jervis Bay. The wind
from the eastward was light and baffling and this, added to the critical
situation we were in, made me very anxious to obtain an offing before
night for there was every appearance of a gale from the eastward.
After two or three squalls a breeze sprung up from the East-South-East
with heavy rain, and a North-North-East course was steered, which should
have taken us wide of the coast: having run thirty-seven miles on that
course we steered North by East four miles and then North 1/2 West that
we might not be more than twenty miles from the shore in the morning and
sufficiently near to see the lighthouse on the south head of Port
Jackson; but, from an unusual westerly current, we found ourselves, very
nearly to our destruction, considerably out of our reckoning.
At 2 hours 40 minutes a.m., by the glare of a flash of lightning, the
land was suddenly discovered close under our lee: we hauled to the wind
immediately but the breeze at the same moment fell, and the swell being
heavy, the cutter made but little progress. Sail was made as quickly as
possible and as the cutter headed North-North-East there was every
likelihood of her clearing the land; but a quarter of an hour afterwards,
by the light of another flash, it was again seen close to us, stretching
from right ahead to our lee-quarter and so near that the breakers were
distinctly seen gleaming through the darkness of the night. A third flash
of lightning confirmed our fears as to the dangerous situation we were
in; and as there was not room to veer the helm was immediately put a-lee;
but, as was feared, the cutter refused stays. We were now obliged to veer
as a last resource, and the sails being manoeuvred so as to perform this
operation as quickly as possible, we fortunately succeeded in the attempt
and the cutter's head was brought to the wind upon the other tack without
her striking the rocks: we were now obliged to steer as close to the wind
as possible in order to weather the reef on which the sea was breaking,
within five yards to leeward of the vessel: our escape appeared to be
next to impossible: the night was of a pitchy darkness and we were only
aware of our situation from time to time as the lightning flashed: the
interval therefore between the flashes, which were so vivid as to
illumine the horizon round, was of a most awful and appalling nature, and
the momentary succession of our hopes and fears which crowded rapidly
upon each other, may be better imagined than described. We were evidently
passing the line of breakers very quickly; but our escape appeared to be
only possible through the interposition of a Divine Providence, for, by
the glare of a vivid stream of forked lightning, the extremity of the
reef was seen within ten yards from our lee bow; and the wave which
floated the vessel the next moment broke upon the rocks with a surf as
high as the vessel's masthead: at this dreadful moment the swell left the
cutter, and she struck upon a rock with such force that the rudder was
nearly lifted out of the gudgeons: fortunately we had a brave man and a
good seaman at the helm, for instantly recovering the tiller, by a blow
from which he had been knocked down when the vessel struck, he obeyed my
orders with such attention and alacrity that the sails were kept full; so
that by her not losing way, she cleared the rock before the succeeding
wave flowed from under her, and the next moment a flash of lightning
showed to our almost unbelieving eyes that we had passed the extremity of
the rocks and were in safety! This sudden deliverance from the brink of
destruction was quite unexpected by all on board our little vessel and
drew from us a spontaneous acknowledgement of gratitude to the only
source from whence our providential escape could be attributed.
It was now doubtful whether we could clear the point under our lee which
we first saw, but as the next flash of lightning showed that we were
between the heads of Botany Bay, and that the point on which we had
nearly been wrecked was, according to Captain Hunter's plan, Cape Banks,
its northern head, we bore up and in half an hour were safe at anchor.
Daylight now broke and with it the weather began to get worse, so that we
were obliged to remain at this anchorage, which was on the south side of
the bay near Point Sutherland, until the next morning; when we got under
sail and anchored near the opposite shore, under the guard-house, from
which the soldiers supplied us with some refreshments.
On the 6th His Excellency the Governor was informed of our arrival and of
our intention to go round to Port Jackson as soon as the weather cleared
up; but we were detained by it until the 9th; when with some difficulty
we cleared the entrance of the bay; at noon the anchor was once more
dropped in Sydney Cove, after an absence of twenty-five weeks and three
END OF VOLUME 1.
Back to Full Books