Discoveries in Australia/Volume 1/Chapter 10
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Chapter 10: Sydney to Port Essington
SYDNEY TO PORT ESSINGTON.
LEAVE SYDNEY—GALE AND CURRENT—PORT STEPHENS—TAHLEE—RIVER KARUAH—STROUD—WILD CATTLE—INCIVILITY OF A SETTLER—RIVER ALLYN—MR. BOYDELL—CULTIVATION OF TOBACCO—A CLEARING LEASE—WILLIAM RIVER—CROSSING THE KARUAH AT NIGHT—SAIL FROM PORT STEPHENS—BREAKSEA SPIT—DISCOVER A BANK—CAPE CAPRICORN—NORTHUMBERLAND ISLES—SANDALWOOD—CAPE UPSTART—DISCOVER A RIVER—RAISED BEACH—SECTION OF BARRIER REEF—NATIVES—PLANTS AND ANIMALS—MAGNETICAL ISLAND—HALIFAX BAY—HEIGHT OF CORDILLERA—FITZROY ISLAND—HOPE ISLAND—VERIFYING CAPTAIN KING'S ORIGINAL CHART—CAPE BEDFORD—NEW GEOLOGICAL FEATURE—LIZARD ISLAND—CAPTAIN COOK—BARRIER AND REEFS WITHIN—HOWICK GROUP—NOBLE ISLAND—CAPE MELVILLE—REEF NEAR CAPE FLINDERS—PRINCESS CHARLOTTE'S BAY—SECTION OF A DETACHED REEF—TIDE AT CLAREMONT ISLES—RESTORATION ISLAND—ISLANDS FRONTING CAPE GRENVILLE—BOYDAN ISLAND—CORRECT CHART—TIDES—CAIRNCROSS ISLAND—ESCAPE RIVER—CORRECT POSITION OF REEFS—YORK ISLES—TIDES—TORRES STRAIT—ENDEAVOUR STRAIT—BOOBY ISLAND—REMARKS ON BARRIER AND ITS CONTIGUOUS ISLANDS AND REEFS—CAPE CROKER AND REEF OFF IT—DISCOVER ERROR IN LONGITUDE OF CAPE—REEFS AT THE MOUTH OF PORT ESSINGTON—ARRIVE AT THE LATTER.
May 22.—We again bade adieu to our friends at Sydney, and sailed to explore the north-western part of the continent, which from the number of openings still unexamined, possessed the interest that invariably attaches to whatever is unknown. We submitted, accordingly, with impatience to the delay caused by light north-westerly winds, and a southerly current of nearly a knot per hour, which prevented us from reaching the parallel of Port Macquarie before the 29th; when about forty miles from it we experienced a gale,* from N.E. and E.N.E., that lasted till the evening of the next day, when we found ourselves about 140 miles S.E. of Port Stephens. During this gale the southerly current increased its velocity to two miles an hour, and its strength appeared to be about seventy miles from the land. This delay rendered it necessary to obtain a fresh chronometric departure, and as the winds prevented our returning to Port Jackson, we proceeded to Port Stephens, where we anchored, June 5th. We found the Admiralty chart of the coast in the neighbourhood very defective, some islands being completely omitted, whilst others were much misplaced.
- * This gale was from S.E. at Sydney, and the most severe they had experienced for many years; it blew many vessels adrift and did other damage.
I have before spoken of the change in the features of this portion of the eastern coast. Here a number of conical hills, from four to six hundred feet in height, suddenly presented themselves to our view, two of them, very remarkable headlands, and preserving the aboriginal names of Yacaba and Tomare, constitute the entrance points of Port Stephens. The sea-face of Tomare is a high line of cliffs, from which projects a sand-spit, leaving only a narrow entrance. When in this I noticed that a round hill at the south end of a distant range, was over the opening between the first island and the northern shore of the harbour. Within the entrance are extensive sandbanks, leaving between them and the south shore a narrow, and in some parts deep, channel, subject to a rapid stream of tide. Port Stephens may be considered a large estuary, about fifteen miles in length, contracted near the centre to a width of about a mile, which is further lessened by the presence of a woody islet, the same I have before alluded to. Nearly two miles within this narrow the Beagle anchored off the settlement of the Australian Agricultural Company, a straggling village called Carrington, on the western shore of the harbour.
On the side of a hill, half a mile to the westward, is the residence of the superintendent, a situation which, to enhance the pleasure of our visit, was held by Captain P.P. King, R.N. Tahlee, the name of this spot, surpassed in beauty all I have ever seen in Australia. It stands on the crest of a steep grassy slope, over which are scattered numerous small bushy lemon trees, the deep verdure of their foliage, interspersed with golden fruit, contrasting charmingly with the light green carpet from which they spring. At the foot of this declivity, a screen of trees rising to a considerable height, almost shuts out the view of the water, though breaks here and there allow small patches to be seen, athwart which a native canoe occasionally glides to and from the fishing grounds. These fairy boats, stealing along the water on a fine calm morning, greatly enhance the beauty of the scene. They belong to a party of natives who have taken up their quarters near Tahlee, and who, though by no means a fine race, have always been well disposed towards Europeans. Unfortunately they are much addicted to the use of ardent spirits, having acquired the habit from the whalers who frequent the place. A young woman and her husband form part of the domestic establishment at Tahlee.
We were as much delighted as surprised with the richness of the vegetation, when compared with its dry parched appearance at Sydney—another of the striking contrasts characteristic of Australia.
At Captain King's table I tasted the wonga-wonga pigeon; it is the largest of any of the Australian kinds, and the flesh is very white and rich. It is a difficult bird to shoot, as it always keeps in the thickest foliage, and is strong and quick on the wing.
Through the kindness of the same friend I was also enabled to enjoy a ride into the country, during the interval between the observations for rating the chronometers.
I had to ascend the Karuah river, flowing into the north-west corner of Port Stephens, for twelve miles, to a place called Boorral, the furthest point at which it is navigable, and where all goods are landed for the Company's stations up the country. Mr. Ebsworth the treasurer of the Company resides there in a charming cottage, almost covered with roses and honeysuckle, and commanding two picturesque reaches of the Karuah.
About two miles within the entrance, the river winds between high and steep banks, densely covered with creepers, acacias, and other vegetation of a tropical character, all quite matted together, and hanging in festoons, the ends of which are immersed in the water.
Mr. White, who had charge of the Company's stock, met me at Boorral, with horses, and we were not long in reaching Stroud, about seven miles higher up on the eastern bank of the river. It is the head-quarters of the Company, and has quite the appearance of a truly English village, each cottage having its neat little garden. I was very much pleased with the whole arrangement of the place, as I strolled through it in the evening, and was delighted to find the inhabitants of a remote part of Australia, retaining such vivid recollection of tastes so characteristic of Englishmen. Several experiments had been tried in clearing the land in the neighbourhood of Stroud, one of which was by what they call ringing the trees; that is to say, they cut off a large circular band of bark, which, destroying the trees, renders them easier to be felled. But the danger of this practice was, that in stormy weather they were blown down, thereby endangering the lives of persons or stock passing. In the thickets near Stroud, great numbers of the Lyre Bird are found. They receive their names from the shape of their tails, which one could hardly suppose so small a bird, having no other beauty, could possess.
At Mr. White's hospitable cottage, I met two gentlemen on their way to the Hunter river, and as fortunately the route I proposed taking, lay in that direction, we started together early the next morning. Crossing the Karuah, our road for some distance lay over a rugged country, along a winding path between very steep hills. Six miles W.S.W. from Stroud, we passed through a range trending N.W. from two to three thousand feet high, the debris from which enrich the flats of the Karuah on its eastern, and the Williams river on its western side. Our guide amused me by pointing to some of the steep parts of the range which he had galloped down, while hunting wild cattle, the most useful and exciting sport known in Australia—useful, inasmuch as it prevents the wild cattle from coming down to the plains and enticing away the tame herds; and exciting, from the rough nature of the country, in which the sport is pursued.
The wild cattle invariably keep on high ranges, and from their acuteness of smell, are difficult to get at, and it is only to leeward that one can approach them. The bulls being the leaders of the herds are always singled out, and after a desperate and trying gallop over a rugged country, the huntsman finds himself going stride for stride alongside one of these Kings of the Forest, and wondering how an animal so ungainly in his gait, can get over the country at such a pace. Jumping over fallen trees, and dodging round others, he at last finds himself on a clear spot, when drawing a pistol from his holster, and riding up so as almost to touch the animal's side, he lodges a well directed ball just behind the fore shoulder. This is the most critical moment. Great command of your horse is required, for the bull, if not mortally wounded, turns suddenly half mad with rage on his pursuer, and puts his nerves and judgment to a severe test.
On these occasions almost incredible feats of horsemanship are performed; and nearly precipitous slopes are descended. I have seen similar exploits nowhere but in Chile, where horses are ridden down the sides of frightful ravines on their haunches at half speed for bets; but in that country the severity of the bit gives the rider a power over his steed unknown elsewhere.
We crossed the Williams river, about fifteen miles S.W. from Stroud, and after nearly another hour's ride came to a place called Wallaroba. I was here doomed to experience the only instance of incivility I ever found in Australia. It was late in the afternoon of a cold blustering day, and having breakfasted early, we were prompted to test the hospitality of a Mr. Chapman, whose station we were passing. It was the only one we had seen during the day, and knowing the possibility of our being mistaken for bush-rangers,* we turned back our rough coats, and rode up to the house as smart as we could make ourselves. We met the owner standing in the gateway of the garden fronting the house, which he nearly filled; but although presenting a John Bull's exterior, there was a great deficiency of the national character within. After introducing ourselves we asked for a little milk, but were refused on the plea that there was none at the station. Our surly informant added, that we should find a comfortable inn eight miles farther on. First looking at the number of fine milch cows that were grazing near, and then at the speaker, we turned and left him in silent disgust.
- * Escaped convicts, who live by plundering the settlers, taking also their lives if any resistance is offered. I remember on one occasion, a party of gentlemen had their horses taken from them: one of them was of great value, and the owner thought he would try an experiment to recover him, by saying in a jocular manner, that he would tie a card with his address round the animal's neck, in order that when done with they might know where to return him. Strange to say his experiment succeeded, as the horse was sent back a short time afterwards.
We passed the night at the inn to which we had been directed, and next morning I separated from my companions, our roads being different. There had been a hoar frost during the night, and the morning was delightfully bracing. About ten miles in a N.W. direction, brought me to the end of my journey at Cam yr Allyn, the residence of Mr. Boydell. A few miles from this place, I passed the house of a Mr. Townsend, the road close to which was literally through a garden of roses, which in the freshness of the morning, diffused a delicious fragrance.
Mr. Boydell's residence is on a rich spot of ground, on the banks of the Allyn river, which runs among the spurs of a range of hills, trending N.N.W., and distant about six miles to the eastward, where it attains an elevation of three or four thousand feet.
The country in the neighbourhood is very hilly, and intersected by deep narrow valleys or ravines. I was very much amused by the sagacity displayed by the horses in crossing these. They make a point, as soon as they get near the bottom on one side, of dashing down at a most tremendous pace, in order to gain an impetus that shall carry them up the opposite acclivity. The first time the animal I rode exhibited this instance of forethought, I imagined he was about to run away with me; for suddenly, without giving the least warning, he made a rush in a downward direction and was across the valley before I could look round.
All the hills in this part of the country, showed singular sloping sides to the S.W., whilst on the opposite, they were almost perpendicular; old red sandstone is generally found on their sides, and granite on their summit. On the Allyn, I noticed the same kind of rich limestone, that I found on the west bank of the Karuah, two miles within the entrance. These two spots are about thirty miles apart. The rocks in the valley of the Karuah belong to the transition series, and on the shore of Port Stephens, they consist of porphyry, basalt, and greenstone.
An instance here came under my own observation of the beneficial results which sometimes arise from the punishment of transportation; knowing the difficulty of getting good servants, I was curious to learn how Mr. Boydell had procured his excellent butler, and on inquiry was surprised to learn that he had been sent out for robbing Madame Vestris of her jewels.
Mr. Boydell was cultivating tobacco to some considerable extent, with the hope of being able to supply the colony; others who speculated on a larger scale were ruined; for it soon turned out that it was impossible to compete in cheapness with American tobacco. This was in consequence of the extensive establishment required on the estate—the large drying sheds that had to be erected, the number of coopers necessary, and the general high price of labour.
Mr. Boydell was also cultivating the vine, of which he made a light kind of wine, a very excellent species of hock. The Messrs. McArthurs have been at great expense in promoting this branch of cultivation, and are entitled to their share of credit. But to Mr. Bushby the colony owes the first introduction of the grape, which will hereafter prove of inestimable benefit, from the great commerce to which it must give rise. I may here mention that the same gentleman has deserved highly of his fellow-colonists, by having been the means of bringing good water from some distance into Sydney. The importance of this to the town was very apparent even to us transient visitors, from the crowd of water carts we constantly saw during the severe drought, patiently waiting their turn to fill from the pump in Hyde Park.
I was fortunate enough to find two gentlemen to return with as companions, from Cam yr Allyn, which we left early, under the guidance of a native, mounted on one of Mr. Boydell's horses. We were to have made a short cut by crossing the hilly country; but after going some distance we found our guide at fault, and he very innocently acknowledged himself to be, as he termed it, "murry stupid." It was a long time, he said, since he had travelled that way. Having however provided myself with a sketch of the country and a compass, I was enabled to conduct the party out of this dilemma.
On reaching the banks of William river, we inquired our way at a cottage, whose occupants, I found, held a small piece of land on what is called a clearing lease—that is to say, they were allowed to retain possession of it for so many years, for the labour of clearing the land. Many an industrious poor man is raised to opulence by this means, a pair of oxen being all that is necessary to set them going. With them they drag away the fallen timber, and afterwards plough the land. It is astonishing to see what work oxen will do; they drag drays over almost incredible steeps, not quartering them as horses do, but going straight up, be the hills ever so steep.
We learnt here that the township of Dungog, through which our road to Stroud lay, was close by. We should readily know it, we were informed, by the lock-up, a place of confinement for misbehavers, and generally the first building in Australian towns. The particular erection alluded to, seemed to be well known in the neighbourhood. As we crossed the William river I was much struck with the richness of the flats on its banks.
In fording the Karuah, just before reaching Stroud, the effect was singular and startling. The thick foliage arching over the river, quite shut out the little light the stars afforded, and as we had to descend into it, down a very steep bank, it was like plunging into a dark bottomless pit; the noise of the stream over the stones alone told us we should find a footing below. Into this gloomy cave our party one by one descended, the foremost calling out when he had reached the bottom, that the way was clear, and hastening across to prevent the horseman who followed from being carried by the impetus into contact with him. Waiting my turn upon the verge of the bank, I contemplated with pleasure the heavy masses of the forest stretching like dark shadows behind me, and on the other side, the long winding line of verdure at my feet, from beneath which rose the splashing, rippling, gushing sound of the stream, whilst overhead, the vault of heaven was "thick inlaid with patterns of bright gold". But the plunge of my companion's horse in the water, and his voice calling out that all was right, soon drew me away, and in another moment I was fording in utter darkness the rapid though shallow stream of the Karuah.
We passed the night at Stroud, and next morning started for Port Stephens. There having been some delay in getting my horse, I was obliged to push over the first seven miles in little more than a quarter of an hour, the postman having waited for me over his time.
On the 15th, the requisite observations were obtained for rating the chronometers, which we found had altered their rates in a most singular manner; so much so, that in spite of the short interval that had elapsed since our departure from Sydney, we found the resulting meridian distance between that place and Port Stephens, to be very defective. This fact illustrates the unaccountable changes that sometimes occur in the rates of chronometers, and the necessity of repeated measures of difference of longitude to arrive at the truth.
On the morning of the 16th we again sailed for the N. coast with a fine southerly wind.
June 19.—At noon, when in 30 fathoms, with coarse sand bottom, we saw Indian Head, bearing N.N.W. 10 miles, it is a dark cliffy point; but there is another more remarkable in the shape of a quoin, three or four miles to the northward. At 8 p.m., we were in the same depth, Sandy Cape, so named by Cook for its being a low point streaked with patches of white sand, bearing W.S.W. eight miles. As it was now blowing very hard from E.S.E., with constant squalls and thick rainy weather, the ship was brought to the wind under snug sail, for the night.
June 20.—At daylight we were in 18 fathoms, the outer elbow of Breaksea Spit, bearing S.E. by S. three miles.
It was when anchored under this Spit that in H.M.S. Britomart, a monstrous shark was caught, about twenty feet long, in which were found the bones of some very large animal, possibly those of a bullock, that had been carried out to sea by some current. Steering N.N.W. we deepened the water in eight miles to 32 fathoms, and after rounding the northern extremity of Breaksea Spit, which appeared to be formed of a few detached breakers, steered W. by N. for Bustard Bay. In 28 fathoms, with fine sand, we passed three miles south of Lady Elliott's Island, a small level spot about seventy feet high, fringed with a coral reef, particularly to the S.E., and forming the south eastern isle of Bunker's Group. It was first seen at the distance of seven miles from the Beagle's poop, the height of the eye being fifteen feet, and at that number of miles east of it we had thirty fathoms. The weather was still very hazy, but the wind had subsided to a light breeze from E.N.E. After passing Breaksea Spit, a westerly current was felt of nearly a knot an hour, which was also found to be the case in June, 1841.
June 21.—The morning was bright and sunny, a happy change after several days of thick, rainy, and boisterous weather. The remarkable features in this part of the coast, consisting of Round Hill,* Peaked Hill, and Mount Larcom, stood out in bold relief against the pure blue of an Australian sky.
In the evening steering N.W. by W. we passed over a coral bank three miles wide, the least water on which was nine fathoms. From this depth we procured a specimen of living coral. This bank was again crossed in June, 1841, a mile and a half further to the S.W., when the depth was only seven fathoms. It lies eight miles S.S.W. from a low islet, four miles from which in a W.S.W. direction is a coral patch, nearly dry. This islet, in lat. 23° 34' S. to which we gave the name of Mast Head, forms the south-western of a group fronting Cape Capricorn. The latter has a hump on its extreme, resembling a haycock, and by our observations† is in lat. 23° 30' 30" S., which is two miles south of its position in the chart. As we were detained by light winds in the neighbourhood, I had more than one opportunity of detecting this error. By midnight we were about 18 miles N. by W. from Cape Capricorn, when we felt a swell from the eastward, which assured me there was an opening in the reefs on the north side of the group of islets fronting the Cape.
- * This hill was seen 35 miles from the Beagle's poop, and is a good guide for Bustard Bay. Peaked Hill we found to be 2000 feet high, and Mount Larcom 1800. They form admirable points for fixing the position of the groups of isles fronting this part of the coast.
- † Hummock Island is alike in error with Cape Capricorn, but all the distant points agree with the Beagle's observation.
June 22.—There was a light air from S.W. till near noon, then one from seaward which freshened and became in the afternoon steady at S.E., a quarter it afterwards prevailed from. We were at the time passing about three miles from Flat Island, in 27 fathoms, an increase in the soundings we had but just got into. We were glad to find the ship's position, fixed by points both far and near, agree with the observations, a fact I can only account for here, from the circumstance, that Flinders laid down the coast about Port Bowen by observations on shore, whereas that in the neighbourhood of Cape Capricorn, was from those made with the sea-horizon which he found differ very materially.
During the day we added to the chart the position of two peaks, 1900 feet high, lying about 20 miles S.W. by W. from Cape Manifold, and forming the northern end of a high rocky range. A current was also noticed setting north a mile an hour. The entrance of Port Bowen bore W.S.W. 15 miles at midnight, when the depth was 30 fathoms.
June 22.—From thence we steered to pass between Number 1 and Number 2 of the Northumberland Isles, in order that we might lay down their outlines correctly, and also determine the positions of some small islets lying on the S.W. side of Number 1. The most remarkable land in sight in the morning was Mount W.all, named by Flinders after the talented artist who accompanied him, and which forms the highest part of the eastern shore of Shoalwater Bay. The soundings during the night were very regular, only varying from 30 to 33 fathoms with a soft muddy bottom, mixed occasionally with which the lead brought up small stones. The summit of Number 1 of the Northumberland Isles forms a remarkable peak 720 feet high; a sandy bay on the west side promised good anchorage, and on its south-east and northern sides were some high detached rocks. The heights of the other parts of the group vary from two to six hundred feet. The crests of the western isles are covered with pine trees, which give them a curious jagged appearance. In the afternoon we passed in 34 fathoms four miles from the eastern side of the Percy Isles, which enabled us to add their eastern extremity in the chart. The mainland falling so much back soon after passing Port Bowen, we could form no idea of its character, but certainly what we had seen did not leave a favourable impression of its apparent fertility.
Captains Flinders and King, having given a description of the Percy Isles, it will not be necessary for me to say anything about them, further than that they are composed of a trap-like compound with an aspect of serpentine, and that either on them or the Northumberland Isles, sandalwood has been found of late, and taken by a Tasmanian vessel to the China market. Just before dark, the soundings decreased to 29 fathoms, Pine Peak of Percy Group, bearing S.W. 10 miles. Our course was now shaped for Cape Gloucester, the extreme of the Cumberland Isles; and about this time we felt the flood-tide setting S.W. by W. nearly a knot an hour, a sure indication of there being openings in the barriers in that direction. The great distance at which this part of it lies from the islands will render its examination a difficult and hazardous undertaking. The night was anything but favourable for sailing among islands, being very hazy, with passing rain squalls. At midnight we passed nearly two miles from the N.E. side of k of the Cumberland Group, in 27 fathoms, in which depth we continued till getting abreast of Pentecost Island, the next evening, the 24th, when it increased to 35 fathoms, but still on the same kind of green sandy mud bottom. At 10 p.m. we passed about seven miles from Cape Gloucester, which at that part was nearly 1600 feet high. Yet the night was so hazy, that it was only visible at intervals. Here we noticed many ripplings which we afterwards found indicated a N.N.W. current of a knot and a half an hour, caused no doubt by the proximity of a part of the barrier, the distance between it and Cape Gloucester being only 13 miles. I may here observe that the barometer was very high with these fresh S.E. winds and hazy weather, and rather low during the light North-West winds we experienced in the neighbourhood of Cape Capricorn.
June 25.—At daylight the Beagle was a few miles east of Cape Upstart, in 17 fathoms, having passed two miles from the north side of Holborn Island, in 28 fathoms. The above headland received its name from Captain Cook, and peculiarly deserves it, appearing in fact from the lowness of the land behind, actually to start up out of the water.
Chronometers being chiefly affected by changes of temperature, it was necessary to ascertain the rates of those in the Beagle again before reaching Port Essington, for a correct measurement of the difference of meridians between that place and Port Stephens. The bay on the west side of Cape Upstart had been recommended by Captain King for that purpose, as he had considered it likely to be the mouth of an opening. This conjecture the low land in the head of the bay, together with a singular break in the distant hills seemed fully to justify. We accordingly entered the bay and anchored half a mile within the N.E. point. This took us till the afternoon to reach, in consequence of our having a light land breeze until 3 p.m. when it became steady from N.E., drawing round to south, after sunset, and veering to S.W. again in the morning. This alternation of land and seabreezes continued during our stay, for three or four successive days.
In the evening we landed and ascended the N.E. extremity of the Cape, from whence we saw at once that hopes of discovering any opening were delusive, the low shores of the Bay could be traced all round, except in the N.W. corner, where a point shut out our view.
On sweeping the western shore with a spyglass, I discovered the mouth of a river about a mile to the north of a hillock marked in Captain King's chart. This river was made the object of an exploring party, and next day Captain Wickham and Lieutenant Eden, went on that interesting service. It has two entrances, both very shallow, and is of little importance, being on a lee shore and fronted by a bar, which seems to break at all times of the tide. However, as there is such very safe anchorage near, the discovery may hereafter prove of some value. Captain Wickham found it fresh ten miles from the entrance, but at that point it is nearly lost in the sands, and so very shallow that the natives have a fishing weir across it. The land, which appears to be much cut up with creeks, is very flat on both sides, and is subject to inundations. This was evident from the signs of drift, to the height of six feet, on the trees that grew along the banks, themselves not more than a couple of yards above high-water mark.
The exploring party saw a few natives, but they were too shy to communicate. One was discovered on a long flat, crawling on his hands and knees, to catch a glimpse of the strange intruders, and looking more like a great insect than a man. In the distance up the river a good many smokes appeared; but I doubt whether this may be considered as denoting a densely populated country, as fires are kindled by the Australian natives, both as signals and for the purposes of hunting.
Previous to my departure from England, I had the pleasure of hearing a valuable paper by my friend Mr. Darwin, on the formation of coral islands,* read at the Geological Society; my attention being thus awakened to the subject, the interest of this important paper was to me greatly enhanced by a series of queries, kindly furnished by Mr. Darwin, and drawn up with a view to confirm or invalidate his views, his purpose being to elicit truth from a combination of well attested facts, and by inducing the research of others to further the objects of science.
Among these queries was the following: "Are there masses of coral or beds of shells some yards above high water mark, on the coast fronting the barrier reef?"
- * See also the Hydrographer's Instructions supra. p.21.
Captain King, in answer to the above states, that some of the islands within the reef have beaches of broken coral; and, as an instance, he refers to Fitzroy island.
I will, myself, here adduce what may be deemed an important fact; and which, if allowed its due weight, will go far to weaken the arguments brought forward in favour of the subsidence of the N.E. coast of Australia. I found a flat nearly a quarter of a mile broad, in a quiet sheltered cove, within the cape, thickly strewed with dead coral and shells, forming, in fact, a perfect bed of them—a raised beach of twelve feet above high-water mark. On the sandy beach fronting it, also a few feet above high-water mark, was a concretion of sand and dead coral, forming a mass about fifty yards long. Fronting this, for about the width of one hundred and fifty feet, was a wall of coral with two feet water on it; and immediately outside, five fathoms, with a fine sandy bottom, slightly sloping off. The annexed woodcut will better explain what we have here endeavoured to bring before the reader.
This small coral-strewed flat where our observations were made, and the results of which are as follows; lat. 19° 42¾' S.; long. 15° 36½' E. of Port Essington, is surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills. Had it been on the seaward side of the Cape, I might have been readier to imagine that it could have been thrown up by the sea in its ordinary action, or when suddenly disturbed by an earthquake wave; but as the contrary is the case, it seemed impossible to come to any other conclusion, than that an upheaval had taken place. The whole of Cape Upstart is a granite mass, and its crests are covered with boulders, some of which have rolled down and form rather conspicuous objects on the shores and points of the bay.
Near the N.W. extremity of the Cape just at high-water mark, I noticed some pumice stones, small and not having the appearance of belonging to a recent eruption, which seems to agree with the opinion expressed by the Rev. W. G. Clarke in the Tasmanian Journal. He considers, and I think justly, that its origin may be in the Solomon, New Caledonia, or some other of the volcanic islands to the east of Australia, from whence it drifted, as it has been found on all parts of the coast, to the southern portion of which it has doubtless been carried by the current. Captain Wickham did not remark any above the entrance of the river he explored, on the western side of the bay, which bears out the opinion I have above expressed. A curious fact, mentioned by Mr. Clarke is, that one piece, perfectly water-worn, was found upon a high mountain, full twenty-five miles inland from the mouth of Clarence River. Was this carried thither by one of the natives, or does it indicate that pumice drifted to this part of the continent at a time when, if ever, it was on a level with the ocean? I further remarked in this place, many of the land shells common to this and other parts of the coast.
There was great difficulty in attaining the loftiest point of the Cape, which I found to be two thousand feet high. From thence our party commanded a view of the whole of the bay, and discovered that we were, strictly speaking, standing upon an island, a small creek winding round the southern foot of the high land, and connecting the bays on the eastern and western side of Cape Upstart.
The break in the hills seen by Captain King, and supposed to indicate an opening, has been already alluded to. On reaching the summit I found that this was merely a valley, containing the head of the plain which stretched from the shores of the bay. On its southern side rose Mount Abbott; but one of the most remarkable features on the coast is Mount Elliott, lying about forty-five miles W. and by N. from our position. It is a long level hill, with a peak at its northern extremity. All those in the neighbourhood, as far as I could judge with the spyglass, seemed to be of the same formation with Cape Upstart.
We found this a convenient stopping-place for vessels making the inner passage, wood and water being easily procured. The latter is found in a considerable reservoir fed by two streams from the high land of the Cape, lying a mile within the mouth of the bay. From appearances, I should say it would yield an abundant supply at any season of the year.
There were a few natives loitering about on Cape Upstart when we arrived; and I think we should have communicated with them had it not been for the fright into which they were accidentally thrown. A boat's crew on landing surprised a small party, which instantly dispersed in various directions. A lad, however, instead of escaping with the rest, stowed himself away in a crack between two boulders of granite. Every endeavour was made to get him to come out of his hidingplace; biscuit was offered him, but he snapped savagely with his teeth at the hand that held it. Finding all attempts fruitless he was left; and no doubt, the account he gave his comrades of us, while under the influence of fright, was sufficiently terrible to take them all away from the neighbourhood. These natives used nets similar to those I had seen on the N.W. coast, and in their make, resembling, in a remarkable manner, the ones employed by Europeans.
In the valley, just within Cape Upstart, a few palms and a species of cotton were growing; and in other places, the never-failing Eucalyptus, of small growth. Certain bulbs* were also found, apparently of the same species as those on the Percy Isles; several of which we removed and presented to the Botanical Garden at Sydney, where we afterwards had the gratification of seeing them in a flourishing state.
A few quails were shot of the same large kind as that found on all other parts of the continent, also one or two pheasant cuckoos.† They did not differ from those we killed on the N.W. coast, although nearly five degrees further south. A very large pigeon was also shot, resembling in colour the common blue rock, but without a bronze mark. We had not seen this species before; it was a very wary bird, and was found in the rocks.
But the greatest prize our sportsmen shot was a specimen of a small female kangaroo, of a new kind.‡
- * Crinum angustifolium. They belong to the Narcissus, but are in themselves a new order of plant.
- † Centropus phasianellus. Gould.
- ‡ Deposited in the British Museum, and figured as Petrogale inanata, by Mr. Gould, who being misinformed, has described it as inhabiting the north coast of Australia.
It measured as follows, just after it was killed: Length of body from tip of nose, 18 inches; length of tail from stump to tip, 19 inches; weight 8½ pounds. Its colour was a slate or light grey on the back, and dirty yellow or light brown on the belly; extreme half of tail black, with hair gradually increasing in length, from the centre to the tip and terminating in a tuft. On the back of the hind legs the hair is longer than on any other part of the body. The nails on the hind feet were short, covered with long hair, and did not project over the pulpy part of the foot, which is well cushioned and rough, giving a firm hold to projecting rocks. The head was small, and sharp towards the muzzle; the ears were short and slightly rounded, the eyes black, and the forearms very short. In this animal the pouch was very superficial. It inhabits the most rugged summits, taking refuge in the clefts of the rocks.
June 30.—In the afternoon we left the anchorage we had been the first to occupy, and standing out of the bay, were much struck by the rugged outline Cape Upstart presents. The huge boulders scattered over the crest of the hills, give it the appearance of a vast mass of ruins, the clear atmosphere bringing it out in bold relief against the sky. We stood over N.W. for the opposite shore, and closing to within three miles of the land changed our course and ran along the singular low point forming the coastline to the N.W. of Cape Upstart; and by 9 p.m. rounded its northern extreme called Cape Bowling Green, at a distance of six miles, in 17 fathoms, steering then to pass about four miles outside the Palm Isles. During the whole night our soundings only varied from 17 to 19 fathoms.
The weather was gloomy with passing showers of rain and a moderate S.S.E. breeze; but all was bright again by daylight (July 1st) when Magnetical Island bore S. 9° W., and the south and largest of the Palm Isles N. 81° W., which, corresponding with the log, showed there had been no current during the night. Magnetical Island was so named by Cook, because he fancied it affected the Endeavour's compass in passing it. There is good anchorage on the west side, where it is densely covered with trees, amidst which a few straggling pines reared their lofty and angular-shaped heads, giving by their variety a picturesque appearance to the scene.* We passed the Palm Islands early in the forenoon. The largest we found to be 750 feet high, with a remarkable white rock off its S.E. extreme.
Behind these isles we saw numerous blue streaks of smoke from the fires of the natives, indicating the state of population on the slope of that lofty range of hills, which may be called the Cordillera of Eastern Australia, and which at this point, tower to a great height, overlooking the coast.† We were abreast about noon of its most remarkable feature, Mount Hinchinbroke, in lat. 18° 22' S., rising to the height, according to our observations, of 3500 feet.
- * See the view annexed.
- † The proximity of this high land to the coast, may account for the gloomy weather of the previous night.
Although a number of fires being once seen is not always a sign in Australia of a densely populated part of the country, yet when they are constantly visible, as in this part of the continent, it is fair to infer, that the inhabitants are numerous, and the soil fertile. I might further remark, that Captain King found the natives well disposed; and at Goold Island, in this neighbourhood, they even came on board his vessel uninvited, an evidence of friendship and confidence, rarely characterizing a race of beings so wary as are generally the inhabitants of Australia.
It is not a little singular that the altitude of Mount Hinchinbroke should be identical with what Strzelecki considers the mean height of the Cordillera, which he traced continually on foot, from 31 to 44° S. latitude giving to the highest point, 6500 feet in lat. 36° 20' S., the name of Mount Kosciusko, for reasons most admirably and feelingly expressed, and which we therefore, in justice to his patriotic sentiments, give below in his own words.* It will thus be seen that there is a northerly dip in the cordillera of 3000 feet in 18 degrees of latitude.
- * "The particular configuration of this eminence struck me so forcibly, by the similarity it bears to a tumulus elevated in Krakow, over the tomb of the patriot Kosciusko, that although in a foreign country, on foreign ground, but amongst a free people, who appreciate freedom and its votaries, I could not refrain from giving it the name of Mount Kosciusko."
The great height of this range, and the extreme abruptness of its eastern face, where no waters are thrown off, renders it more than probable that on the western side there is land of great fertility. Whatever waters originate on its summit and slopes, must flow towards the interior, and there give rise to rivers emptying themselves into the Gulf of Carpentaria, or by first forming lagoons, feed streams of some magnitude even, during their overflow.
It is the general opinion of every voyager who has sailed along the coast of Halifax Bay, that it is the most interesting portion of the north-east side of the continent; as, combining the several facts which we have above given, we have every reason to believe that the discovery of fertile and therefore valuable land, will one day reward the labours of the explorer.
Nothing was seen by us of the San Antonio reef, laid down in the charts as fronting the Palm Isles; but this was subsequently accounted for by Captain Stanley, who found that it was sixteen miles north of its supposed position, being in lat. 18° 17' S., and twenty-four miles distant from the nearest land, Hillock Point.
This fact is the more satisfactory and important that, from its present position, as laid down in the chart, being supposed to be near the Palm Islands, it was apt to create an unpleasant state of anxiety in the mind of those navigating these waters during thick weather or at night.
From noon we steered N.N.W., and at 6 p.m. Dunk Island bore S.W. eight miles distant; our soundings varying, during that period, from thirteen to fifteen fathoms. During the day we had several opportunities of satisfactorily testing the accuracy of Captain King's chart. While passing Barnard's Group, soon after dark, we found a current setting W.N.W. nearly a mile an hour, a rate at which it kept during the whole night, but in a N.N.W. direction. During the day we had a light breeze from S.S.E., which shifted to W.S.W. during the night. Numerous native fires were observed burning on the shore during the first watch, at the foot of the Bellenden Ker hills, remarkable mountains of considerable altitude.
July 2.—Soon after midnight we were abreast of Frankland Group, and at 7 a.m. passed three miles to the eastward of Fitzroy Island, where our soundings increased to seventeen fathoms, with a current running upwards of a mile an hour to the N.W., an increased velocity, which may be accounted for by the proximity of the reefs to a projection of the coast forming Cape Grafton. I must not, however, pass an island which like Fitz-Roy, carried in its name a pleasing association to many on board the Beagle, without a word of notice, particularly as its features are in themselves sufficiently remarkable, having a singular peaked summit 550 feet high, near the north-east end. On the western side is a little cove where Captain King found snug anchorage.
Passing midway between Green Island, which is about twenty feet high, encircled with a coral reef, and Cape Grafton, we steered N.W. ½ N. for a shoal on which Her Majesty's Ship Imogene grounded; and at noon, were exactly on the spot, in lat. 16° 24¼' S. by observations and bearings of the land, Low Isles being W.N.W. four miles. Here we found sixteen fathoms, not having had less than seventeen since the morning. There was no appearance of any such reef nearer than that laid down by Lieutenant Roe, bearing east from the above-mentioned Low Isles and under which Her Majesty's Ship Tamar anchored. It must therefore have been on the N.W. part of this reef that the Imogene struck, and the south part must be the reef laid down in the chart as having been seen by her to the southward, which accounts for our not seeing it from the Beagle. We passed through several patches of discoloured water, caused by washings from reefs to windward, which are very deceptive. At sunset the anchor was dropped in thirteen fathoms, for the first time since leaving Port Stephens. The south point of Weary Bay bore W.N.W. three miles, and Cape Tribulation S. by E. six miles. Near the middle of the former, I noticed a patch of discoloured water, which has since been found by a merchant vessel to be a shoal.
The land over the latter place is very high, presenting several singular peaks, one more prominent than the rest, in the shape of a finger. That over Trinity Bay, which we were the greater part of the day crossing, is also of great altitude. In its south corner we noticed the river-like opening spoken of by Captain King, lying in the rear of some remarkable peaks. We had been informed by him, that the greater part of the coast between Weary Bay and Endeavour River, including the Hope Islands, had been altered from his original survey, a tracing of which he had furnished us with previous to leaving Sydney. The few bearings we obtained while at anchor, induced us to consider it correct, a fact we further proved during the early part of the next day's run, as the course steered from our anchorage N. by W. ½ W., carried us a little more than a mile west of the Hope Islands. Had their assigned position in the chart been correct, our course would have led us right over the western isle. On detecting this error, we found it necessary to re-survey this part of the coast, and it affords me much pleasure, after so doing, to be able to bear testimony to the extreme correctness of Captain King's original chart above alluded to. Soon after passing the Hope Islands, we saw the reef where Cook's vessel had so miraculous an escape, after grinding on the rocks for 23 hours, as graphically described in his voyages. It is called Endeavour Reef, from this circumstance.
Continuing on the same course, we passed three miles from Cape Bedford, at 4 p.m. This is one of the most remarkable features on the coast, being a bluff detached piece of tableland, surmounted by a singular low line of cliffs, reminding me forcibly of the lava-capped hills on the river Santa Cruz, in eastern Patagonia. As far as I could judge, by the aid of a good glass, it seemed to be composed of a mixture of red sand and ironstone, of a very deep red hue, bearing a great similarity to the country on the N.W. coast, in lat. 15¼° S.
Leaving Cape Bedford, we went in search of a shoal laid down by H.M.S. Victor, as lying two miles to the W.S.W. of Three Isles. Both Captain King and Lieutenant Roe had expressed a doubt of its existence in the position marked, a doubt which our researches fully justified; and therefore, as it at present stands, it should be expunged from the chart. From thence we steered north for Lizard Island, the remarkable peak on which soon rose in sight; this course took us within three miles of Cape Flattery, where a couple of peaks, with a slope between them, render it a conspicuous headland.
About seven miles west from thence, there is a strange alteration in the appearance of the country, changing from moderately high conical-shaped hills, to lofty table ranges about 500, or 600 feet in height, trending about S.W. and by W.
Having still a little moonlight, we were enabled to keep underweigh part of the night, and during the first watch came to in 13 fathoms, in a bay on the west side of Lizard Island, the extremes bearing from S. ½ E. to E.N.E. During the day we experienced a northerly current, varying from three quarters to half an knot an hour.
July 3.—We remained at this anchorage, until the following morning, for the purpose of determining the position of the island, and of visiting the peak, which we found to be nearly twelve hundred feet high. I ascended by a slope rising from the shore of the small bay where our observations were taken, and which may be easily distinguished, from being the second from the north point of the island. Their result was to place it in lat. 14° 40¾' S. long. 13° 17¾' E. of Port Essington. Variation by the mean of five or six needles was 7¾° E. being half a degree more than it was at Cape Upstart. Other magnetic observations were also made, consisting of those for the dip and intensity.
In a valley to the left of the slope by which we ascended the peak, were noticed several very remarkable, low and spreading trees, with a dark green foliage, and leaves large, ovate, and obtuse. The branches, from which, when broken, a milky juice exuded, were thick and glossy, of an ash colour; at their extremity they were thin, with long pendulous stems, supporting a bell-shaped flower, of a rich crimson hue; these hung in great profusion, and contrasting with the surrounding dark green verdure, presented a very beautiful and striking appearance. The diameter of the trunk of the largest tree was 20 inches, and the height 25 feet. Lieutenant Emery painted a most faithful representation of one of them, by means of which we found on our arrival at Port Essington, that neither the professional nor amateur botanists, had any knowledge of it. To them and to ourselves it was alike perfectly new.
On the preceding evening I had refreshed my memory by reading Cook's account of his visit to the same spot, and was thus able minutely to follow in the footsteps of the immortal navigator. There is an inexpressible charm in thus treading in the track of the mighty dead, and my feelings on attaining the summit of the peak, where the foot of the white man, had perhaps but once before rested, will easily be understood. Below to the eastward stretched a vast expanse of water, broken at the distance of about eight miles, by a long narrow line of detached reefs, on which there ran a white crest of foaming breakers, marking the outer edge of the Great Barrier, a name which few seamen could hear with indifference when in its vicinity. If I felt emotions of delight, on first perceiving the extent of a danger so justly dreaded, how much stronger must have been the feelings of Captain Cook, when from the same spot years before, he saw by a gap in the line of broken water, there was a chance of his once more gaining the open sea, after being confined to the eastern shores of the Australian continent, for a distance of 750 miles.
Though the dangers of this inner channel had proved so nearly fatal to his ship, the truth of the homely adage, which describes all as happening for the best, was here fully borne out, as the very fact of his position enabled Captain Cook to make considerable discoveries along the coast—just as by the mishap on Endeavour Reef, the presence of a river was made apparent, and some slight knowledge of the aborigines obtained, as well as numerous facts illustrative of the natural and vegetable productions of the locality.
Little did he think at that time, however, when standing on the summit of the peak, that he was about as it were to thread the eye of a needle, by passing through another break, in a manner which can only be designated as providential. This gap in the great reef is now known as Providence Channel, a name which must ever remind us of Him, who in moments when our lives hang as by a thread, is ever watchful, and spares us in the exercise of his inscrutable will.
Carried back to times past, we stood upon the summit of the height, dwelling in thought upon the adventurous career of the great navigator, when suddenly, as if by magic, the whole scene below and around was obscured, and we found ourselves wrapped in a dense cloud of vapour, which came sweeping across the island, drenching us to the skin, with a rapidity which spoke volumes for the penetrating character of an Australian fog. Cold and shivering we hailed the temporary re-appearance of the sun with delight, and our clothes were dried almost as speedily as they had been wetted. Our satisfaction was however but of short duration, as the same agreeable operation, of alternate drenching and drying, occurred several times during our stay on the Peak.
The opening through which Captain Cook passed out to sea, bore about N. by E. 9 miles, the outer line of the Barrier Reef, curving from thence to the N.W., and following the trend of the land. When this singular wall of coral, the most extensive perhaps in the world, is surveyed, it will I think be found to follow the direction of the coast it fronts with such exactness, as to leave little doubt that the vast base on which rests the work of the reef-building Polypifers, was, contrary to the opinion which I am aware prevails, upheaved at the same time with the neighbouring coast of the Australian continent, which it follows for a space of upwards of a hundred miles.
From the elevation on which I stood, I had an excellent view of some reefs within the Barrier; whether they encircled an islet, or were wholly beneath the water, their form was circular, although from the ship, and indeed anywhere, viewed from a less height, they appeared oval-shaped. This detection of my own previously erroneous impressions, seemed to account for the recurrence in charts of elongated-shaped reefs, others having doubtless fallen into the same error. It is very remarkable that on the S.E. or windward side of these coral reefs, the circle is of a compact and perfect form, as if to resist the action of the waves, while on the opposite side they were jagged and broken.*
- * In the Pacific the islets are generally on the weather side of the lagoon reefs.
The S.W. side of the peak rises perpendicularly from a grassy flat, which stretches across that part of the island, separating two bays, the beaches of which with the rest on the island are composed of granulated quartz, and coarse shingle. A stream of water, rising in the peak, runs through the green, while a few low gumtrees grow in small detached clumps; a ship may therefore procure both water and fuel; finding this to be the case, and as it was a convenient stopping place, we made a plan of the island, connecting it with those in the immediate neighbourhood. It is the more advantageous as an anchorage, in that it can be reached during the night, whereas this could not be done in the inner channel near Turtle Islands, it lying so much to the westward, and being more intricate. Indeed it is not prudent to approach these isles even in the afternoon, from the number of reefs, and the difficulty in seeing them with the sun ahead.
Mr. Bynoe was not fortunate enough to add to his collection of birds; those he observed being only doves and parrots, besides a flycatcher common to parts of the coast, and often before met with by us.
A couple of vampires of the larger and darker species were also seen, and numerous land shells (Helix) similar to those on Cape Upstart; found near the roots of trees, buried in the decayed vegetation. Two old coconuts and large quantities of pumicestone were picked up on the south-east side of the island. The prevailing character of the rocks was granitic, out of which some beautiful specimens of hornblende were procured. The entire island was fringed with a narrow strip of coral, but I noticed none of it above high-water mark.
July 4.—We took our departure at an early hour, and after running round to sketch the north-east side of the island, stood to the westward for Howick Group. The weather being thick we did not discover the somewhat remarkable peak on Number 1, until we were close to it. Our progress was accelerated by a current running half a knot an hour, and finding the passage between Number 1 and 2 of Howick Group, much impeded by rocks, we hauled up between 2 and 3 isles, and on keeping away again W.N.W. for Point Barrow, found ourselves close to a reef, almost dry, and extending nearly a mile further off the N.E. side of Coles Island, than is laid down in the chart; thus contracting the channel between it and Number 4 island, to a space of not more than two miles. When the course was shaped for Point Barrow, Noble Island, a very remarkable pyramidal-shaped rocky height, was a point on the port bow. Its singular appearance makes it conspicuous amid the recollections of this part of the coast.
We now once more approached to within a distance of seven miles of the mainland, which presented to our view a low sandy shore, with a few remarkable hummocks rising over it, and somewhat high, broken, rocky land immediately behind.
Passing Point Barrow we anchored near the north end of a large reef, Cape Melville bearing W.N.W. ten miles. Here we felt a swell rolling in from seaward, and during the day there had been a current in our favour, of about a mile an hour. From the haze on the horizon, noticed from this anchorage, as well as on passing Cape Melville, I believe the outer edge of the Barrier Reef to be not more than four or five leagues distant from the land.
Our attention had been previously directed by Captain King and others, to the singular appearance of the rocks on Cape Melville; indeed no one can pass this remarkable projection without being struck by the strange manner in which piles of reddish-coloured stones are scattered about in the utmost confusion, and in every possible direction over this high ridge. I much regretted that on passing next morning there was no opportunity of landing to see the nature of this confused mass; judging, however, from the result of my examination of a similar appearance presented by Depuch Island on the north-west coast, I believe this point to be of volcanic origin.
Between the rocks off Cape Melville, and a reef encircling two small islets, the channel is not more than a mile in width: indeed, I consider passing this point and Cape Flinders the most intricate part of the inner route. After rounding the rocks off the former we steered for the latter Cape, keeping it a little on the port bow; this course led us on reef a, lying midway between the Cape and a low island to the N.E. When on the southern extremity Cape Flinders bore S. 70° W. 3 miles, and Clack Island N. 39° W. The latter is a remarkable cliffy lump, interesting from the circumstance of Mr. Cunningham having found native drawings in its caves.
After clearing this danger, and passing the Cape, we steered across Princess Charlotte Bay, keeping wide to the southward of the reefs fronting it, in order that we might the more easily distinguish them; the sun at that time of the day being in the direction of the ship's head. The soundings gradually decreased with a soft muddy bottom, as we approached the eastern shores of the bay; which is so large and free from shoals, that a vessel not wishing to anchor might pass the night standing off and on with perfect safety. There is over the head of this bay a remarkable level-topped hill, called by Captain Cook, Janes' tableland; rendered the more conspicuous from the low nature of the surrounding country.
In the evening we anchored a mile from the S.W. side of a small detached reef, marked F in the chart, and distant 22 miles from Cape Flinders; the solitary position of this reef, it being four miles from the inner edge of the Great Barrier, and nine from the nearest part of the main, gave us a good opportunity of making a section, with a view of illustrating the progressive structure of coral edifices, in the still waters within the barrier reef; we accordingly visited the spot in the evening, and being an interesting object, we give a drawing of the section.
It proved a good specimen of the circular or lagoon reef. One young mangrove was growing on the elevated part marked C in the woodcut. The rim which rose on all sides was quite black, but white when broken; the highest part being about three feet above the water. The nature of the bottom within the reef was a white sand mixed with small pieces of dead coral: without, we found on either side soft green sandy mud with shells, the inclination of the bottom on which the reef rests, being only one degree, we may fairly infer it to be superimposed on a most extensive basis.
July 7.—To-day being Sunday we did not proceed further than Number 4 of the Claremont Isles, a low rocky group encircled by coral reefs, to give the ship's company a run on shore during the afternoon; in order to remind them of its being a day of rest appointed by the Lord. When we anchored, we found, contrary to the usual north-westerly tendency of the current, a tide setting S.S.W. three quarters of a knot an hour, this lasted for a space of four hours, when it changed, and ran N.N.W. from half to three quarters of a knot during the remainder of our stay. The wind was moderate from E.S.E.
July 8.—We weighed at 6 a.m., and about the same hour in the evening again anchored under Restoration Island. The ship's track during the day followed the trend of the land, keeping about seven miles from it, except when opposite Cape Direction, where we were about half that distance from the shore. We found little to add to Captain King's chart, with the exception of some reefs lying about ten miles east from the above-mentioned headland.
The coast here again attained a moderate height, and a round hill ten miles south of Cape Direction, reached the height of 1250 feet; its latitude being 13° S. is nearly five degrees and a half north of where the Cordillera is 3500 feet high, and 23½ degrees of where it attains its greatest elevation, that of 6500 feet; a fact which will at once demonstrate the northerly tendency in the dip of the chain of hills. This degree is further illustrated by the height of Pudding-pan Hill in 11° 19' S. being only 384 feet. From the data given, despite the limited number of our facts, it will be seen that the dip becomes gradually more rapid as you advance to the northward.
S.E. from Cape Sidmouth the passage was much contracted by a covered rock in the very centre of the channel; this may be avoided by keeping close to the W. side of island Number 6. Restoration is a lofty rocky lump, terminating in a peak 360 feet high. A smaller islet of the same character lies about half a mile off its S.E. side; there is also a remarkable peak on the shore, four miles to the southward. This part of the coast is thus rendered very conspicuous from seaward, and may be discerned outside the Barrier reefs. Restoration Island is a point of some interest from having been first visited in 1789 by Captain Bligh, during his extraordinary and unparalleled voyage in the Bounty launch, from the Society Islands. The dangers and perils undergone by this undaunted voyager, and our consciousness of the joy which the sight of land must have brought to his heart, gave much zest to our feelings with regard to the locality. There is always an interest in connection with scenes associated with a name such as that of Bligh, but to us the interest was double; it was the sympathy of seamen with a brother sailor's misfortunes.
As Captain King had not examined this interesting spot, we thought his chart would be greatly improved by our passing a day in the place; this was the more necessary as we found it to be a snug anchorage and convenient place for ships passing. The name of Restoration Island was given it by Bligh, from the circumstance of his having made it upon the anniversary of the recall of Charles II. to the throne of England.
July 9.—The surveying operations necessary to perfect the chart of this neighbourhood, afforded ample employment during the day. The weather being dull, with passing rain, and squalls, the view I had anticipated enjoying from the summit of the island was quite destroyed. Like Cape Upstart and Lizard Island it is a granite mass. Dead coral was found on the western side, ten feet above high-water mark, a fact which in some measure supports what I have stated in connection with the raised beach on Cape Upstart. A low sandy tongue of land forms the S.W. extreme, leaving a narrow passage between it and the main. This flat is covered with brushwood, gumtrees, and a few palms. The observations were made on this point, and the results were as follow: lat. 12° 37' 30" S., long. 11° 16¾' E. of Port Essington.
July 10.—The morning broke with the same dull, gloomy weather, the wind fresh at S.E. and continued thus during the day, slightly diversified by a few passing rain squalls. Soon after daylight we were again on our passage, the cloudy weather enabling us to make out the Eastern reefs, which at high-water are covered, and consequently difficult to be seen in that direction in the morning. They front Quoin and Forbes Islands, remarkable rocky lumps, more so, however, from the extreme lowness of those in their vicinity, than from their own magnitude. The latter was found to be 340 feet high. A N.W. by N. course from Restoration brought us to Piper Islands. The soundings were from 11 to 13 fathoms, with a greater proportion of sand in the quality of the bottom than had been before noticed.
Passing between them and reefs H and I also between Young Island (an elevated reef, with one small mangrove growing on the highest part) and reef M, we hauled up N.E. by N. round the north end of the latter, to weather Sir Everard Home's Islands, a low group connected by shoal water and extending about four miles from Cape Grenville. We passed midway between them and Haggerston's Islands, a square lump 240 feet high.
Sir Charles Hardy's and the Cockburn Isles are also conspicuous objects in this neighbourhood, particularly the former, which is visible from outside the Barrier, and thus forms a leading mark for ships making their way through these reefs.
In the evening the anchor was dropped about a mile from the north side of the Bird Isles in ten fathoms, a sudden degree from fifteen, just before standing in W.S.W. to the anchorage. Five miles S.E. by E. from these isles, we passed close to the position of a patch of shoal water, according to the chart: its presence, however, was not detected, the depth at the time being nineteen fathoms. The only additions made to the chart during the day were a few soundings, besides increasing the number and altering the position of Cockburn Islands, with the reefs fronting them. The number of these isles is thus increased from two to four; they are square rocky lumps, the largest being three hundred feet high. The current during the day set steadily N.W. almost a mile an hour. On anchoring we found it setting W.N.W. at the same rate. At midnight it changed its direction to E.S.E. from a quarter to half a knot an hour. The time of high-water being about 6 a.m., it is evident the flood-stream came here from S. or S.E. The islands passed during the day, were of a small lagoon character and the reefs oval-shaped, with an elevated patch of dead coral at their north extreme, which had the appearance, at a distance, of sand. The mainland had much changed in outline, having subsided into a wearisome series of undulating hills, varying from five to seven hundred feet in height. The coast was, therefore, utterly void of any feature of interest, after passing Fair Cape.
July 11.—At daylight we were again underway and steered N. by E. for the purpose of ascertaining if there were any reefs to the eastward of u and v. When Number 1 of a group next south of Cairncross bore N. 43° W. four and a half miles the course was changed to W.N.W. to pass between the reef fronting its south side and reef w where we had a depth of 20 fathoms; both of these we found it necessary to enlarge on the chart. At the time of altering the course, the ship was W.N.W. two miles from the position of an island according to chart; but as we did not see it, and as Captain King has not laid it down upon his own authority, we may safely conclude that it either does not exist, or that it is much out of position.
Rounding the reef off its south extremity, we anchored in 18 fathoms, one mile S. 65° W. from the centre of the island before mentioned—Number 1 of the group S. of Cairncross—shortly before noon. This Captain King supposes to be Bōydǎn, that on which the crew of the Charles Eaton were massacred. It was therefore determined that the remainder of the day should be spent in examining the place, with a view to ascertain the correctness of this supposition. The melancholy interest of the search was to me greatly enhanced, from having seen at Sydney young D'Oyly, one of the survivors of this ill-fated party, and son of an Indian officer returning from furlough. Being an infant, his helplessness excited the sympathies of an Indian woman, who snatched him from the arms of his murdered mother, and sheltered him within her own. Nor did her kindness stop here, the never-failing maternal solicitude of the sex, inducing her to protect and console the child.
We had just read Captain P.P. King's interesting pamphlet in relation to this sad event, detailing with minuteness all the circumstances of the tragedy, and with our minds so recently imbued with the horrors it inspired, naturally advanced to the search with zeal and activity; anxious, if possible, to place the locality of its occurrence beyond a doubt. The isle was easily traversed, being of small extent, not more, indeed, than a mile in circumference. We crossed it accordingly in every direction, and discovered the remains of native fires, near which great quantities of turtle bones, and some coconut shells were scattered about. It was remarkable that wherever boughs were cut, an axe or some other sharp instrument had been used. A topmast with the lower cap attached to it, was found on the S.E. side of the island, which we afterwards discovered to be a portion of the brig William, wrecked on the outer barrier three months before.
Captain King drew his conclusions relative to this island from the circumstance of young Ireland's stating, that on their way to it in the canoe, after leaving the raft, they first passed three islands on the right northward, and one on the left southward.
From the bearings, however, and from our run on the following morning we found it necessary to correct the chart, thus decreasing the number of islands. We found that marked 5, to have no existence, and 6, far too much to the westward, while 8 and 10 were placed to the eastward of their true position. These errors occasionally occur where they are numerous, much alike, and are passed quickly. The change in the number and position of the islands is in some measure hostile to the views of Captain King, and I am further inclined, from these corrections, to draw the conclusion that Number 4 of the group is Boydan island, a name given by the Murray islanders, to the spot rendered notorious by the cold-blooded massacre we have already alluded to, and which will be described more in detail in Captain Stanley's highly interesting narrative, further on in the present work.
On examining the reef fronting the island, which is a more perfect specimen of a lagoon than any we had yet seen, we found that the outer edge consisted of a wall higher than any of the parts within, rising at low-water, to an elevation of ten feet, while inside, pools or holes existed, three or four feet deep, containing live coral, sponges, sea-eggs, and trepang. Scattered about on different parts of the reef were many Chama gigas, not, however, so large as those I had formerly seen at Keeling or Cocos Islands, in the Indian Ocean, weighing 220 pounds.
Singular to say, at 3 p.m., I observed the latitude by a meridian altitude of Venus, although a bright sunny day. The result agreed with Captain King's chart, placing the centre of the island in lat. 11° 28' S.
We experienced more tide here than at any anchorage we had yet occupied during the passage. From 1 to 5 p.m., it set half an knot an hour to the southward, then changed to N.W. by N., increasing its rate to one knot by 10 o'clock, and decreasing it to a quarter of a knot by 2 a.m., when it again set to the S.S.W. The stream thus appears to set nine hours N.W. by N. and three S.S.W. The short duration of the latter, which is the ebb, is caused by the northerly direction of the prevailing current. This also was the only spot where our fishermen had any success; in a few hours several dozen of a species of small red bream being caught.
Three or four ships passing together would find a secure berth about two miles N.N.E. of where the Beagle anchored, where the depth is moderate, with good holding ground. It has great advantage in this particular over Cairncross, where but one vessel could lie snug, and still greater over Turtle Island, more exposed even than the former with a strong tide, and where vessels ride very uneasily. Moreover the supposed Boydan, or Number 1 isle, can be left a full hour before daylight, there being nothing in the way to impede a ship's progress for some miles. Those who are not desirous of passing the reefs off Wednesday and Hammond Islands, late in the day, with the sun in an unfavourable position, can find a convenient stopping place in Blackwood Bay under the largest York isle, or under the Cape of that name.
July 12.—We left at an early hour, steering N.N.W. ½ W. for Cairncross Island, which we passed at a distance of half a mile from the eastern side in 16 fathoms. Its height is seventy-five feet to the tops of the trees, which, according to Mr. Bynoe, who subsequently visited it in the month of September, are dwarf gums. The tea-tree of the colonists is also found here, in addition to some small bushes. This island is the resort of a large bright cream-coloured pigeon (Carpophaga leucomela) the ends of the wings being tipped with black, or very dark blue. Mr. Bynoe found the island quite alive with them; flocks of about twenty or thirty flying continually to and from the main. They not only resort but breed there, as he found several old nests. As this bird was not met with in the Beagle on the western coast, we may fairly conclude it only inhabits the eastern and northern; the furthest south it was seen by the officers of H.M.S. Britomart was lat. 20°. In addition to these, Mr. Bynoe saw the holes of some small burrowing animals, which are doubtless rats. On a sandy spit, close to the bushes or scrub, he saw a native encampment of a semicircular form, enclosing an area of about ten yards. The occupants had but recently left it, as a fire was found burning, and the impression of their feet still fresh in the sand. It appears that at this season of the year, being the favourable monsoon for ships passing through the Barrier reefs on their voyage to India, the islands to the southward are much frequented by the natives of Murray and others of the northern isles, waiting, like wreckers of old, the untoward loss of some ill-fated ship, when their canoes appear as if by magic, hastening to the doomed vessel; just as in the Pampas of South America, no sooner has the sportsman brought down a deer than the air is filled with myriads of vultures winging their way towards the carcass, though a few minutes before not a feather was stirring. The long-sightedness of these Indians resembles that of the carrion bird itself,* while their rapacity and recklessness of blood is fully equal to that of the lower animal.
- * As some of our readers may imagine that vultures and birds of prey are attracted to the carcasses of animals by smell, I may state that an experiment was tried with a condor in South America; being hoodwinked, he passed unnoticed a large piece of beef, but as soon as the bandage was removed, he rushed eagerly towards and devoured it.
We left our readers at Cairncross Island, and now return to our narrative by describing the neighbouring coast. The most remarkable feature on this part of the mainland, generally speaking a dull monotonous level, is a hill bearing over the extremity of the reef fronting the south side of Cairncross, S. 45° W., to which Captain Bligh has given the quaint name of Pudding-Pan Hill. It received this appellation from a resemblance to an inverted pudding dish, commonly used by sailors, and is 354 feet high. The coast about ten miles to the northward projects a mile and a half further eastward than is marked in the chart. This error did not however appear to be so great south of Escape River, where the character of the coast is low and cliffy, separated by small sandy bays; instead of a continued line of cliffs as at present represented.
At noon we were in the parallel of the south point of Escape River, in lat. 10° 58' S., observations and bearings both agreeing. This river receives its name in record of one of those narrow escapes to which surveying vessels are subject, Captain King having been nearly wrecked in the Mermaid. Attempting to enter the river he found it not to be navigable, a reef extending across its mouth, on which his vessel struck very heavily.
Avoiding Captain King's track, we passed to the eastward of reef x, being thus afforded a better opportunity of determining its position than he had. This we did by transit bearings with different points, which placed it nearly two miles S. by E. of the spot assigned it on the charts.*
- * On mentioning this afterwards to Captain P.P. King, he told me his survey of that part of the coast had never given him satisfaction; for there the monsoon blows fresh, and his small vessel was hurried past without his being able to land in search of better data for the chart. The reader must not, from these corrections (few, when we consider the extent of the survey) be led to imagine that our object is to pick out errors in the surveys of others; but from being in a larger and better appointed vessel, our opportunities of examination were necessarily greater than those afforded to Captain King, who was always most anxious to detect errors in his own charts. Without dwelling on the fact that the result of our examination afforded us the satisfaction of restoring parts of the chart, before erroneously corrected, to his original construction, we would venture to hope that, while desirous as much as possible to perfect our knowledge of the coast, we were in no manner actuated by that spirit of fault-finding, so pithily described by Liebeg, when he says that it is "startling to reflect that all the time and energy of a multitude of persons of genius, talent, and knowledge is expended in endeavours to demonstrate each others' errors.")
This error we found to extend also to reefs y and z. X is one of the oval-shaped reefs, with the singular white patch of dead coral on its northern extremity which I have before spoken of. Z is similarly marked, and dries at last quarter ebb, while the S.E. part of y is never covered, a few mangroves growing on it. When abreast of x, we saw from deck the curious flat-topped hill on the largest York island, Mount Adolphus, and when over the centre of reef z, it bore N. 23½° W. We now steered to the westward between reefs, x and y, and afterwards N.N.W. for Mount Adolphus. Between the Brothers and Albany Islands the depth was 10 fathoms; these are both black rocky lumps, particularly the latter, the outer being a mere pointed rock. Altogether they assume a sterile and dreary appearance, in excellent keeping with the inhospitable character of the adjoining coast. Several shoals and much shoal water were noticed in Newcastle Bay.
At 4 p.m., we anchored in Blackwood Bay, in a depth of 10 fathoms. Point Dicky bearing S. half a mile, and Mount Adolphus N.E. In the evening a plan was made of this very convenient stopping place for ships, and all the angles taken to the N.W. extremity of the group, place them a mile and a half to the eastward of their position in the chart. Observations were also obtained near Point Dicky, which we found to be in lat. 10° 38¾' S. and long. 10° 28' E. of Port Essington. The N.W. extremity of the singular flat-topped hill being 1' 05" N., and 45" E. of this spot. The first question interesting to ships is the supply of wood and water; the latter we had no time to look for, but of the former there was an abundance, though from the shore being fronted by extensive coral flats, it is difficult to be attained.
The appearance of the island is similar to that of the Albany cluster, it having the same rocky, bleak, and almost wild look; from which I conclude they are of the same formation, which in general terms we may call porphyritic. Parts of the island appeared to be intersected by a growth of mangroves.
There appeared great irregularity in the tides at this anchorage, as if there were a meeting of various streams. At 5 p.m. it was setting S.W. about an hour, and continued to run in that direction until 8 hours 30 minutes, gradually decreasing its rate. It then took a N. and by E. direction with the same velocity, until half an hour after midnight, when it again changed back to S.S.W., a course it pursued during the remainder of our stay. By the rise of the water on the shore it would appear that the flood came from the westward.
On reaching York Island we considered ourselves within the Strait, which took its name from the Spanish navigator Torres, who sailed in 1605, second in command under Pedro Fernandes de Quiros, from Callao in Peru, with the object of discovering the Tierra Austral, then supposed to be a continent occupying a considerable portion of the southern hemisphere, lying westward of America. Torres passed through this strait in 1606, but despite the great importance of the discovery, its existence remained unknown until 1762, from the jealousy of the Spanish monarchy, which kept the reports of its navigators a secret from the world. At the time in question, however, Manila fell into our hands, and in the archives of that colony, a duplicate copy of Torres's letter to the king of Spain was found by the hydrographer, Mr. Dalrymple. The passage was now made known, and in tardy justice to the discoverer it received the appellation of Torres Strait; a tribute to the reputation of man, the greatest perhaps which could be bestowed, since no more sure road to immortality can be pointed out, than giving a name to the great and imperishable works of the Creator's hand. It was not however until 1770, that the world received full confirmation of this great acquisition to our geographical knowledge; the immortal Cook then passing through and settling the question of its existence. This being the high road between our growing Eastern and Australian possessions, the reader will at once see the importance which must ever attach to the discovery, and will the more readily comprehend our enlarging in some degree upon the circumstance.
July 13.—There had been noticed last evening a slight rippling outside the bay, and on leaving this morning we found it to be a ridge about two cables width, the least water on it being three fathoms. From the shoalest part, Mount Adolphus bore N. 56° E., and Point Dicky S. 26° E. It appeared by the ripples continuing towards the north-west of York Island, that this rocky ledge extended in that direction. Vessels entering Blackwood Bay may always avoid this shoal, by keeping close to Point Dicky, or by steering for Mount Adolphus, when it bears N.E. ½ N.
Being desirous to know if there were a practicable channel through Endeavour Strait, by which the inconvenience before alluded to, of passing the reef fronting Hammond's Island late in the afternoon, might be avoided, we proceeded in that direction, passing along the north-eastern extreme of the continent, and between the Possession Islands we entered Endeavour Strait. This termination of the shores of Australia, being level and of moderate elevation, presents nothing remarkable, save a peak over Cape York and fronting the Possession Isles.
It has an inhospitable appearance, being apparently similar in formation with York Isles, and subsides rapidly to the S.W. forming the south side of Endeavour Strait, where it scarcely reaches an elevation of fifty feet: contrasting forcibly with the high rocky land of the opposite side of the Strait, formed by the largest of the Prince of Wales Islands; upon which former navigators not having bestowed a name, we conferred that of the immortal navigator. Not but that the Strait known by the name of his ship, is quite sufficient to recall the mind of posterity to his perils and dangers in these seas; but that we his humble followers in the great cause of discovery might add our mite to the wreath of glory which must ever encircle the name of Captain Cook.
On the N.E. extremity of this island is a remarkable peak, in the shape of a horn, called by him Horn Hill. Captain King having only passed between the eastern of the Possession Isles, little was known of the western shores. A few angles and bearings were accordingly taken, as we passed between them to assist in remedying this deficiency.
There was no impediment to our passage through the Strait, until we got abreast of Wallis Isles, Cape Cornwall bearing E. by N. ½ N.; when the water shoaled to four fathoms and a half. Finding by hauling up on either tack, that we were on a ridge extending from the Cape, we ran to the westward, until we could cross it, which we did in three and a half fathoms, N. Wallis Island bearing S.W. five miles.
I saw at the time from the masthead, a blue streak of water to the southward, still affording hopes of there being a deep outlet to Endeavour Strait; but as the day was far advanced, with a fresh breeze from E.S.E., it was not deemed prudent to get the ship entangled in shoal water; therefore, after crossing the ridge extending off Cape Cornwall we steered N.W. ½ W. for Booby Island, in regular soundings of six and seven fathoms, and late in the afternoon anchored nearly a mile from its western side, a flagstaff bearing S. 65° E. This we found on landing had been erected in 1835 by Captain Hobson,* of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, who at the same time placed in a large box, made for the purpose, a book with printed forms, which every ship passing filled up, with the addition of such remarks as were thought of consequence. Over this box in large letters were painted the words Post Office, a name by which Booby Island must be quite familiar to all who have navigated these seas; ships being here in the habit of leaving letters for transmission by any vessel proceeding in the required directions. I noticed a similar practice prevailing among the whalers at the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. We are indebted for the book to the public spiritedness of an Indian army officer. The beneficial results of the plan were experienced by ourselves, as here we first heard of the Port Essington expedition, having passed eight months previously; also of the schooner Essington, that left Sydney in advance of the expedition for that place, having succeeded in determining the fact of the non-existence of the other young D'Oyly, one of the passengers of the ill-fated Charles Eaton. This result of the enterprising merchant-man's researches, fully bears out the fact mentioned by Captain King, on the authority of the Darnley islanders, that he shared the fate of his parents, being devoured by their savage captors. All the ships which have recorded their passage in the book, appeared to have entered the Barrier between the latitude of 11° 30' and 12° 10'; generally about 11° 50' reaching Sir Charles Hardy's Island the same day. They all spoke of a strong northerly current outside the reef, in some instances of nearly three knots. The time occupied in making the passage from Sydney by the outer route, varied from fourteen to twenty days, it being certainly shorter than the inner, though attended with much greater risks. One objection made against the latter is the necessity of anchoring every evening, somewhat laborious work to the crews of merchant ships; this might be obviated in some measure by using a light anchor, which could be done with perfect safety in the still waters within the reefs. We found two barques at anchor, which had arrived on the preceding day. In accordance with a practice very generally observed, they were giving themselves a short period of repose and relaxation after the anxieties and danger of the outer passage; which, short as it is, has doubtless sprinkled grey hairs over many a seaman's head.
- * Afterwards Governor of New Zealand.
Although Booby Island is a mere rock, from the various associations connected with it, being during one half of the year the constant resort of Europeans, it becomes at once a place of interest, and imperatively demands some notice at our hands. It is a quarter of a mile in diameter, flat, and about thirty feet high, the summit being bare porphyry rock. A valley intersects the north-west side of the island, in which a few creepers, some brushwood, and two or three trees of tolerable size, with a peculiar broad green leaf, bearing a great resemblance to that of the wild almond of the W. Indies, were seen, giving shelter to some pigeons and quails, in which latter the island abounds, even more than in the bird which gives its name to the locality. Still, however, from the white colour of the top of the island, produced by the boobies, it is clearly one of their temporary haunts; and indeed, subsequently, in the month of September, their season of incubation, Mr. Bynoe saw them there in great abundance. The contrary was the case with the quail, which, by that time, had completely deserted the island. Turtle were once found on this isle, but they are now never taken. A few of the stones mentioned by Captain King are still to be seen on the summit.
This being a point at which ships correct or test the going of their chronometers, it was necessary to obtain observations for longitude. The spot chosen for the purpose was the landing-place near the S.W. corner of the islet, and which we found to be 9° 45' E. of Port Essington.
Our opportunities of examination with regard to the inner edge of the Great Barrier, and its contiguous islands and reefs, terminating at Booby Island; it may not be deemed irrelevant to hazard a few remarks in recapitulation. In the first place there was a very perceptible increase in the elevation of the reefs and of those islands resting on similar constructions, as we advanced to the northward. Cairncross Island, in lat. 11¼° S., composed of heaped up consolidated fragments, attains an elevation of 17 feet; but its trees rise to a height of 75 feet, whilst to the southward, in lat. 13½° S. the islands were partially flooded by a tide, rising only about six feet. The reefs are all either circular or oval-shaped, with a rim rising round them. The description of that fronting the isle we visited for Boydan will illustrate their general character. Their northern ends are the highest, and are almost invariably marked by a heap of dead coral and shells, which as we have mentioned, in one or two instances, from its white appearance has often been taken for sand.
The remarkable breaks in this singularly great extent of coral reefs, known as the Barrier of Australia, being in direction varying from W. to W.N.W. generally speaking N.W., leads me to believe that the upheaval by which the base of this huge coral building was formed, partakes of the general north-westerly direction, in which a large portion of the eastern world apparently emerged from the water. A glance at the map of that portion of the globe, will strengthen this hypothesis, placing as it does this singular fact at once before the reader's mind. Starting with the stupendous heights of the Himalaya mountains, and proceeding thence to several groups of the Polynesian islands, New Caledonia, and others, this remarkable similarity in the trend of these portions of the earth is plainly distinguishable. It would appear, therefore, from the general north-westerly tendency of these upheavals, that the cavernous hollows beneath the crust of the earth, within whose bosom originated these remarkable convulsions, have a strong inclination in one direction, a circumstance in connection with the earth's history of great and curious interest. With this general statement of facts, which we note for the benefit of scientific men, and in illustration of the singular changes which are taking place on the surface of the globe, we return to our narrative, from which we have wandered at some considerable length.
As the duration of our cruise on the north-west and most interesting portions of the coast, depended in a great measure on the supply of provisions to be obtained at Port Essington, we were naturally anxious to satisfy ourselves upon the point, and accordingly spent but a few hours at Booby Island, taking our departure at 8 p.m. on the day of our arrival.
Proceeding towards Port Essington, we experienced a constant current setting between N.W. and W., from half to three quarters of a knot an hour, except when crossing the mouth of the Gulf of Carpentaria, when from the indraught its direction was changed to W.S.W. The winds were as Captain King has described them, veering from S.S.E. in the morning, to E. in the evening, and blowing fresh towards the middle of the day.
Beyond this nothing occurred worthy of remark, until the morning of the 17th, when soon after daylight we found ourselves steering rather within a large patch of discoloured water, extending off Cape Croker, the N.E. extreme of the Coburg Peninsula, a low point with a slight hummock on it; on the north side of this peninsula is situated Port Essington, thirty miles to the westward of the Cape.
The light-coloured water off the latter, we knew indicated the reef discovered by the brig Tigris, belonging to the Indian navy, which in company with the New S. Wales colonial schooner, Isabella, was returning from rescuing the survivors of the Charles Eaton, from the natives of Murray Island. When half a mile from the N.E. side, in 22 fathoms rocky bottom, Cape Croker, bearing S. 29° E. six miles; we steered out, keeping at the same distance round this patch of light water in twenty and twenty-one fathoms, seven or eight miles from the Cape, which bore when over what appeared the shoalest part, S. 42° E.
This conclusion I afterwards found, on meeting Captain Stanley, to be correct, as that bearing led over the part of the reef he struck on in H.M.S. Britomart. But being on the inner part he was distant only three miles from Cape Croker, whilst the outer edge of the reef I believe to be seven miles from it on the same bearing. In hauling up to the southward, round the N.W. extreme of the discoloured water, the soundings were as follows, 17, 12, and 19 fathoms, with rocky bottom. The Cape bore when in the least depth S. 58° E. nine miles.
We were fortunate in having such good means of determining the longitude of Cape Croker, by observation of a twilight star when in the meridian, and others with the sun soon afterwards. These both agreeing, place the Cape 27¼ miles east of Port Essington, instead of 20, as it is laid down in the chart. This discovery is of vital importance to ships proceeding to Port Essington; we were therefore glad of so good an opportunity for rectifying the error.
Expectation was on tip-toe as we were fast approaching Port Essington, feeling naturally anxious to see what progress had been made at the new settlement, and to learn the fate of the expedition. There was, however, nothing striking in the first appearance of the land, a low woody shore; the most remarkable object being a sandy islet, with a tree in its centre, about a mile east of Point Smith, the eastern point of Port Essington: Vashon Head forming the western.
As we drew near, a boat came alongside belonging to H.M.S. Britomart. From Mr. Pascoe we heard that the Alligator had just sailed for Sydney, leaving the former to await her return at Port Essington. The people forming the settlement had been very healthy, bearing out Dr. Wilson's account of Raffles Bay; and had found the natives exceedingly well disposed. For this advantage we are indebted to the excellent judgment displayed by the unfortunate* Captain Barker, late Commandant of Raffles Bay, he having during his stay in that place, treated them with kindness, to which they were fairly entitled from men so far their superiors in knowledge and power, and who were moreover intruders upon their soil. Had this noble conduct of Captain Barker been more universally accepted as an example, the results would, we doubt not, have been equally satisfactory elsewhere.
- * This expression may to some of our readers require explanation, and we therefore quote a brief extract from Dr. Wilson's voyage round the world, page 284. "In obedience to orders from the Colonial Government, he was examining the coast in the vicinity of Encounter Bay, principally with the view of ascertaining whether any available communication existed between the river Murray (lately discovered by Captain Sturt) and the Sea. While in the execution of this duty, he was barbarously murdered by the natives, and his body thrown into the sea." In Sturt's two Expeditions volume 2 page 239, a detailed narrative of this tragedy is given.
We also heard with much regret,* of the wreck of the Orontes, which accompanied the expedition from Sydney. She left the settlement, with the intention of proceeding to some port in the E. Indies; and when just clearing the harbour struck on a reef, knocking a hole in her bows. She filled so rapidly that they had barely time to reach the shore under Vashon Head, ere she sank. The reef, which now bears her name, is according to Mr. Tyers' plan, received from Mr. Pascoe, a mile in extent east and west, and half a mile north and south; while the nearest part of it is distant from Vashon Head and Point Smith very nearly five miles. From its extremes the following are the bearings; from the western, Vashon Head S. 49° W., Point Smith S. 55° E.: and from the eastern the same points bear S. 60° W. and S. 48° E.
- * The loss of a ship is always looked upon as a most untoward event, on the occasion of a new settlement being formed, and is ever forcibly imprinted upon the memory of all ship-masters. This was felt to a most serious extent at Swan River; and many masters of vessels in speaking of Port Essington, have at once expressed their fear of proceeding thither, deterred by the loss of the Orontes.
The least depth on the Orontes reef is about a fathom, but the generally discoloured state of the water, renders it impossible to determine its exact position, and thus greatly increases the injury done by its presence to the mouth of the harbour. The same difficulty prevents the end of the reef fronting Point Smith from being made out. After rounding the latter, we hauled to the wind, S.W. by S. up Port Essington.