Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also A descriptive vocabulary of the language of the aborigines/The colony (1)

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Nov. 12th, 1830.

I SEIZE the opportunity of almost the first leisure moment which I have had here, to give you a hurried account of my proceedings and prospects up to this time.

We anchored in Cockburn Sound on this day fortnight, and on the evening of the same day landed on Garden Island, where the first thing that struck us was the very unpromising appearance of the soil (which seemed to be little else than white sand) and the singularity of tolerably good crops, or rather patches, of peas, barley, turnips, radishes, &c., which it produced.

On Sunday we reached the mainland, where (on the beach) the embryo town of Fremantle is situated.

I was anxious to see the governor without loss of time, and therefore proceeded to Perth, about twelve miles up the river, in the boat of Mr. Brown, the Colonial Secretary, from whom I have received the kindest and most hospitable attention. In consequence of some depredations committed by the natives on the upper part of Swan River, Mr. Brown proceeded thither, accompanied by a few soldiers, and I took the advantage of going with him to that part of the country, but have not now time to give you a minute detail of our proceedings. Some natives were detected in the act of plundering a house, and enjoying the spoil, and seven were taken and brought prisoners to Perth, where they were kindly treated and dismissed after a detention of a few days.

It is hoped that the lesson taught them on this occasion, the superiority they must have perceived in our weapons, strength, and co-operation, with their subsequent kind treatment, may prevent any further annoyance from them. They are rather active than strong, slender in the limbs, but broad in the chest; and though generally far from being well-looking, yet not deserving the epithet of hideous, which has been applied to them; and they are quick of apprehension, and capable of reflecting on the difference between our manners and customs and their own, in a degree which you would scarcely expect. At King George's Sound, they call their wives by a name which sounds to us appropriate, "yoke," yokefellow. I have sketched for you Too-legat Wanty and his "yoke," who was in rather an interesting state when we saw her, which she intimated to us with very little reserve.

At her back she carries the bag containing some roots which they eat after roasting and pounding. At King George's Sound, it is said that they never molest white people, but they have deadly feuds with each other, tribe against tribe; if one person be killed, or even dies a natural death, it is an ordinance of their religion to sacrifice a victim from another tribe, just to preserve the balance of power.

One of our natives slept with his head on my knee in the boat, but not till he had asked permission, which I gave him; first taking the precaution of spreading paper on my trowsers to save them from the grease and red earth with which his hair was dressed.

I next went up the Canning River, my object being to obtain a grant without loss of time, and to take my people to it, but I find it difficult to get one. The only land available for present purposes is on and near the banks of the rivers: all this is now allotted on both sides of each river, almost to their source; but an offer is frequently made of giving one half to a new settler, on condition of his performing the location duties sufficient to secure the whole. I have an offer of this kind on the banks of the Swan River, and think of accepting it; if I do not, I must explore beyond the mountains, where a fine country is said to have been discovered twenty-five miles to the south, where three rivers fall into a lake, and thence into the sea, or still farther to the south to Port Vasse, or Cape Leschenhault; or it may be to Cape Lewin, where the soil and climate are good and the harbour is excellent. These, of course, are only my unarranged notions on the subject, not grounded yet on any firm foundation; for I have not been long enough here to form any decided opinion as to soil, situation, or probabilities. In general, the higher you go up the Swan River, which is an estuary, the better is the adjacent land, which is overflowed in winter, and like all alluvial soil productive for summer pasture. As to Mr. Fraser's account, I have no doubt it is strictly true, respecting every part which he describes; but it would not be safe to rely upon it, as a general description of the land.

Much disappointment has been felt by many over-sanguine persons here, who thought they had nothing more to do than scratch the ground and sow. But there are many difficulties to surmount; the proper seasons for sowing are scarcely yet ascertained; from this circumstance many have failed altogether in their crops, which throws them on their capital for another year, and but few have been able to raise as much as is sufficient for their own consumption.

I have seen two or three good fields of wheat, maize, barley, oats, and rye, and I have every reason to believe that crops of all sorts will thrive here with moderate care; melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, cabbages, peas, and all the ordinary garden vegetables, have been already produced.

Our vessel was the first that came during the season; and being just in time, everything sold enormously high. If this colony be supported as it ought, during the trying period of its infancy, I am convinced, from all I hear, that it will succeed. Cockburn Sound is an excellent harbour in winter; Gage's Roads in summer. From the nature of the coast, the climate, and the relative circumstances of the interior, it is unlikely that another harbour so good will be found in this quarter. All the rivers in this neighbourhood seem to be small, and to have bar harbours. A river has lately been discovered, beyond the range of hills running to the north-west. Beyond those hills, the interior, for forty or fifty miles back, has an undulating appearance, and is then succeeded by plains good for pasture. On this side, the only good pasture is on the alluvial flats, which are flooded every winter. Those who speculate on keeping large flocks speak of going next summer over the hills, which are of trifling elevation, and present no serious obstacle to carriage, or the formation of roads, when the colony is strong enough to make or require them. The expense and labour of conveying goods up the river, at present, is very great; boats in summer must be unloaded, and dragged over the flats, but above these the water is deep, and the navigation only occasionally impeded by fallen trees, which may easily be removed. Every settler should have a boat, and learn how to manage it.

Friday 19th.—I wrote the foregoing observations at the house of Captain Irwin, from whom I have received the greatest kindness. I have since been up the Canning River, about a mile above the navigable part, to look at some grants which are undisposed of. The country there is beautiful, covered or rather studded with magnificent trees, but the substratum is ironstone, the clay strongly impregnated with it, hard and unmanageable, and having very little grass on it, which (for immediate use) is the chief requisite. Besides, the river there is salt in summer, and fresh water it is difficult to find. The Canning (with this exception) is located up to the mountains. It is intended to build a town near its source, where there is some fine ground.

About Fremantle, where I am now sitting, in my tent, the land is mere sand; but we must not judge of this by similar-looking places at home, for all vegetables flourish on it, and cattle thrive on the herbage, scanty though it be.

Until you have gone above Perth, the ground is of the same nature; it changes to alluvial flats, and the higher grounds consist of sandy loam of different qualities. Brick and pottery clay is abundant, and they are making bricks in many places, which will soon supersede wood as a material for building. I saw a wooden house burned down some nights ago, and have therefore a dread of one—a mud edifice for me. The great mistake committed by settlers has been bringing too many articles of machinery and implements, which are not necessary, or suited to the soil. Some ploughs, cars, saws, and mill machinery are lying even yet on the beach.

If I were coming again, I should content myself with grubbing hoes, felling axes (mine are too long and narrow), spades, some kitchen utensils, plenty of provisions, and a hammock; these would do to begin with. Those who brought great apparatus and stock were sadly burdened with the first, and did not know what to do with the second. Many of their cattle ran into the bush and were lost, and some of the more delicate died from want of care and fodder on ship-board, or on landing. The emigrant should not encumber himself with any superfluous articles; let him bring plenty of provisions and a few common utensils for cooking them; no cattle from England; very little furniture, and that of the strongest and most portable kind; no large packages; every thing in stout square boxes, not exceeding 2 cwt. each; and he should keep as much of his property as possible in cash, which in many cases clears 25 per cent.

25th.—I have taken half of Mr. Lamb's grant; it is nearly at the head of the navigable part of the Swan River; how it may look after enduring the heat of the summer I know not but it had a fine appearance when I was there. It is singular that it is just about the spot where we had the skirmish with the natives. There are several very respectable persons settled near it, and there is now a party of soldiers stationed there. Since I wrote the first part of this, two vessels have arrived from Van Diemen's Land, with provision, which has caused a most beneficial effect on prices;—other ships are expected soon, so that we shall have plenty; but it is evident that, until the colony is able to produce something substantial for its support, we must depend on contingencies and have a fluctuating market. That it will succeed ultimately, I have not the least doubt; but we shall have two or three years of hard struggling to contend with. The servants I brought with me are all happy, contented, and healthy, and it must be my care to keep them so. As to myself, with the exception of several scrapes, cuts and bruises on my hands from dragging, carrying, and other works (for I have not spared myself), I never was in better health—thanks to the beneficent Giver of it. I have not as yet suffered any difficulty or privation, which I think worthy of mentioning. I hope to get all my luggage and articles to Perth on Monday; paying £5 for taking one boat-load so far, and I must then push them over the flats.

I have endeavoured (without regard to the connexion of my sentences, which I have not time to reduce into order) to give you my first impressions, neither disguising nor overlooking any thing,—so far as it goes, good and bad, you may depend upon the accuracy of my report. When leisure and and time may permit, I shall write more satisfactorily.

Yours ever,

&c. &c.