Discoveries in Australia/Volume 1/Chapter 8
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Chapter 8: Swan River to Sydney
|Chapter 9: Bass Strait.→|
CHAPTER 8. 
SWAN RIVER TO SYDNEY.
MIAGO'S RECEPTION BY HIS COUNTRYMEN—WHALE FISHERY—STRANGE IDEAS ENTERTAINED BY NATIVES RESPECTING THE FIRST SETTLERS—NEGLECTED STATE OF THE COLONY—TEST SECURITY OF OWEN'S ANCHORAGE—WEATHER—CELEBRATION OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE COLONY—FRIENDLY MEETING BETWEEN DIFFERENT TRIBES—NATIVE BEGGARS—PERSONAL VANITY OF A NATIVE—VISIT YORK—DESCRIPTION OF COUNTRY—SITE OF YORK—SCENERY IN ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD—DISAPPOINTMENT EXPERIENCED—SAIL FROM SWAN RIVER—HOSPITALITY OF COLONISTS DURING OUR STAY—AURORA AUSTRALIS—GALE OFF CAPE LEUWEN—STORMY PASSAGE—SHIP ON A LEE SHORE—SOUTH-WEST CAPE OF TASMANIA—BRUNY ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE—ARRIVE AT HOBART—MOUNT WELLINGTON—KANGAROO HUNT—WHITE KANGAROO—CIVILITY FROM THE GOVERNOR—TRAVERTINE LIMESTONE—LEAVE HOBART—SINGULAR CURRENT—APPEARANCE OF LAND IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF SYDNEY—POSITION OF LIGHTHOUSE—ENTRANCE AND FIRST VIEW OF PORT JACKSON—SCENERY ON PASSING UP THE HARBOUR—MEET THE EXPEDITION BOUND TO PORT ESSINGTON—APPARENT INCREASE OF SYDNEY—CAUSE OF DECLINE—EXPEDITION SAILS FOR PORT ESSINGTON—ILLAWARRA—BOTANY BAY—LA PEROUSE'S MONUMENT—ABORIGINES—MEET CAPTAIN KING—APPEARANCE OF LAND NEAR SYDNEY.
We were considerably amused with the consequential air Miago assumed towards his countrymen on our arrival, which afforded us a not uninstructive instance of the prevalence of the ordinary infirmities of our common human nature, whether of pride or vanity, universally to be met with both in the civilised man and the uncultivated savage. He declared that he would not land until they first came off to wait on him. Decorated with an old full-dress Lieutenant's coat, white trousers, and a cap with a tall feather, he looked upon himself as a most exalted personage, and for the whole of the first day remained on board, impatiently, but in vain prying into each boat that left the shore for the dusky forms of some of his quondam friends. His pride however could not long withstand the desire of display; yielding to the impulse of vanity, he, early the following morning, took his departure from the ship. Those who witnessed the meeting described it as cool on both sides, arising on the part of his friends from jealousy; they perhaps judging from the nature of his costume, that he had abandoned his bush life. Be that as it may, the reception tended greatly to lower the pride of our hero; who through generosity (expending all his money to purchase them bread) or from a fear of being treacherously speared, soon convinced his former associates how desirous he was of regaining their confidence. He did not, however, participate in the revelry then going on amongst the natives at Freemantle, where, at this period of the year, they assemble in great numbers to feast on the whales that are brought in by the boats of a whaling establishment—which I cannot allude to without expressing an opinion that this fishery, if properly managed and free from American encroachments, would become one of the most important branches of industry.
During the time that Miago was on board we took great pains to wean him from his natural propensity for the savage life by instilling such information as his untutored mind was capable of receiving, and from his often-expressed resolutions we were led to hope a cure had been effected; great was our disappointment then on finding that in less than a fortnight after our arrival, he had resumed his original wildness, and was again to be numbered amongst the native inhabitants of the bush. To us he had been the source of great mirth, by the absurd anecdotes he sometimes related about his countrymen. His account of their conjectures respecting the arrival of the first settlers may amuse the reader; he said, "the ships were supposed to be trees, and the cattle large dogs (the only animal besides the kangaroo known to them) whose size and horns excited such alarm, that one which strayed into the bush being met by a party of natives made them climb up the nearest trees in the greatest terror."
It may give some definite idea of the neglected state of this infant colony, to mention that during the entire period of our absence—a space of six months—there had been but one arrival there, and that not from England. The solitary visitor was H.M.S. Pelorus from the Indian station. The want of communication with the mother country was beginning to be felt severely, and in matters of graver moment than mere news. Many necessary articles of home manufacture or importation, scarcely valued till wanted, were now becoming almost unattainable: one familiar instance will illustrate at once how this state of things presses upon the comfort of the colonists; the price of yellow soap had risen to four shillings per pound!
The usual winter anchorage in Cockburn Sound, being seven miles from the town of Freemantle, the colonists were naturally very anxious to see tested the equal security of one which we had chosen within half that distance. The point was fairly tried, and very satisfactorily determined during the heavy weather which we experienced on the 31st of March, and 11th of June, which did not raise more sea than a boat at anchor could have ridden out with safety. These gales lasted about forty-eight hours each, commencing at N. by W. and gradually blowing themselves out at W.S.W. In each instance a heavy bank of clouds in the north-west gave us a day's notice of their approach. The indications of the barometer were less decisive; its maximum was 29.3.
The weather in the interval between these gales was wet and unsettled; but afterwards, until our departure, it continued remarkably fine with an average temperature of 60°.
The winds at this season prevail from the land, the seabreezes being both light and very irregular.
We were just in time to share in the annual festivities with which the inhabitants celebrate the formation of the colony. Horseracing, and many other old English sports showed that the colonists still retain the tastes and habits of home. Some of the aborigines took part in the amusements of the day with evident enjoyment: and we were surprised to find that in throwing the spear they were excelled by an English competitor. We hardly know how to reconcile this fact with our own favourite theories upon the perfection of the savage in the few exercises of skill to which he devotes his attention, and were obliged to take refuge in the inadequate suggestion that the wild man requires a greater degree of excitement than his more civilised competitor, to bring out, or call into action, all the resources of his art. Among the natives assembled were a small party from King George's Sound: they had come to Perth, bearing despatches from that place. The good understanding which appeared to exist between them and their fellow-countrymen in this district, led me to believe that by bringing different tribes more frequently together, under similar happy auspices to those which convened the meeting of to-day, much might be done to qualify the eager and deadly hatred in which they are too prone to indulge.
The natives in the town of Perth are most notorious beggars: the softer sex ply this easy craft even more indefatigably than the men. Their flattering solicitations and undeniable importunity seldom altogether fail of success, and "quibra (i.e. ship) man," after the assurance that he is a "very pretty gentleman," must perforce yield to the solicitation "tickpence give it um me."
There was one amongst them, who from some accident had lost several of his toes. When in conversation, if he fancied any person was observing his foot, he would immediately endeavour to conceal the part that was thus disfigured by burying it in the sand. Another instance, exemplifying how prevalent is the frailty of vanity in the heart of man in his primitive condition.
As a little time was required to give the ship a slight refit and the crew some relaxation, it afforded an opportunity of visiting York, situated about sixty miles east from Perth, and at that extremity of the colony. Accordingly, one murky afternoon a small party of us were wending our way over the Darling Range. Long after dark the welcome bark of dogs rang through the forest in the still dark night, assuring us that shelter was at hand, and we soon found ourselves before a large fire in the only house on the road, enjoying, after a dreary wet ride, the usual fare at that time at the out-stations—fried pork and kangaroo. About this tenement was the only spot of land along the whole line of road that could at all lay claim to anything like fertility; at which I was the more surprised, as our route intercepted the direction in which patches of good land are generally found in this part of the continent. The soil of this little piece was of a rich black mould and well watered by a neighbouring spring. Our road lay in some places over tracts of loose white sand, and in others round and over low ironstone hills. Descending from one of these heights to a rich narrow flat, the presence of three or four houses informed us we were within the township of York. The position of the level it occupies forms the western bank of the river Avon, which is now and has been for some time past nothing more than a chain of waterholes. In this neighbourhood the hills lie detached from one another in irregular directions, and are composed of granite; from the summit of one on the western side of the town we looked over a vast expanse of undulating forest land, densely wooded, with scarcely a grassy patch to break the monotony of the view. To give an idea of the personal labour early settlers are obliged to undergo, I may mention that we found Mr. Bland, the most wealthy colonist in Western Australia, engaged in holding the plough. I was disappointed in my visit to this part of the country as it did not leave a favourable impression of its fertility—still it afforded me an opportunity of judging by comparison of the quality of the soils in Western Australia and on the banks of the Fitz-Roy, and I was happy to find I had not overrated the latter.
The odium of a recent murder in the vicinity committed by natives had led to their absenting themselves just now from York, but a few of their numbers too young for suspicion were employed in the capacity of servants and appeared sharp and intelligent lads.
On the 20th of June we took leave of our friends in Western Australia, proceeding out of Owen's anchorage by a passage recommended by the Harbour-Master, in which we found half a fathom less water than the one through which we entered. During our stay there, nothing could exceed the kindness with which we were welcomed, and we experienced that proverbial hospitality of colonists which in this instance we shall ever remember with feelings of the most sincere and heart-felt pleasure.
It may appear out of place inserting it here but on our first arrival at Swan River in November last, we saw the Aurora Australis very bright.
At midnight of the 23rd of June we passed Cape Leuwen, the south-western extremity of the continent; named by the first discoverer in 1622, Landt van de Leuwen or the land of Lions. The wind which had increased since the morning to a fresh gale from the northward, now suddenly veered round to the westward, accompanied with rain and causing a high cross-sea.
These sudden shifts of wind frequently raise a very dangerous sea off Cape Leuwen.* This made the third gale we had experienced since the 30th of May, and is recorded here from its commencing at N.E. instead of at north, the usual point at which gales in these regions begin. During the stormy weather which prevailed throughout the passage, we were unceasingly attended by those majestic birds and monarchs of the ocean—the White Albatross (Diomedia exulans) which with steadily expanded wings sailed gracefully over the surface of the restless main in solemn silence, like spectres of the deep; their calm and easy flight coursing each wave in its hurried career seemed to mock the unsteady motion of our little vessel as she alternately traversed the deep hollows and lofty summits of the high-crested seas.
- * In a gale off this Cape in 1836, H.M.S. Zebra was compelled to throw her guns overboard.
July 6.—It was our intention to have passed through Bass Strait, but finding we were unable to weather King Island bore up on the 6th for Hobart. On the evening of the same day we were by a sudden change of the wind placed in one of those perilous situations in which both a good ship and sound gear are so much required; the wind, which had been northerly throughout the day, about 8 p.m. veered round to west, blowing a heavy gale with a high sea; and since we had now run about halfway along Van Diemen's Land, left us with an extensive and dangerous shore under our lee. Through the dismal gloom of the night, during which there was incessant rain with a succession of heavy squalls, the angry voice of nature seemed indeed to be raised in menace against us, and it was not until the close of the next day that a slight abatement of the weather relieved our anxiety for the safety of the ship. During the night the wind backed round to the N.W. and the sky became once more partially clear. Early on the morning of the 8th we descried the south-western extremity of the land of Van Diemen, discovered in 1633 by the celebrated Dutch Navigator, Abel Tasman, and so named by him after the Governor of Batavia, under whose authority the voyage thus crowned with success had been performed.
To this portion of Australasia I shall systematically apply the name of Tasmania, in honour of that adventurous seaman who first added it to the list of European discoveries. The same principle appears to have been recently acted upon by the Government in creating the Bishopric of Tasmania, and I may therefore plead high authority to sanction such innovation:* higher perhaps than will be required by him who calls to mind that hitherto the navigator who added this island, and the scarcely less important ones of New Zealand to the empire of science, has been left without a memorial, the most befitting and the most lasting that universal gratitude can consecrate to individual desert. The insular character of Tasmania was not fully ascertained till the year 1798, when the intrepid Bass, then surgeon of H.M.S. Reliance, while on a whaleboat cruise from Sydney, discovered the strait which bears his name.
- * Mr. Greenough, late President of the Geological Society, in his anniversary address to that body on the 24th of May, 1841, remarks that, "It is much to be regretted that Government has not recognised Tasmania as the name of that island, improperly denominated Van Diemen's Land. The occurrence of a second Van Diemen's Land on the northern coast of Australia occasions confusion; and since Tasman, not Van Diemen, was the first discoverer of the island, it would be but just that whatever honour the name confers should be given to the former navigator." Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London vol. xi. 1841 part 1.
Towards 10 a.m. steering E. by S. before a long rolling sea, we passed about six miles from the South-west Cape of Tasmania. There was no opportunity at the time of determining exactly the amount of error in the position assigned to it in the present charts, but we were satisfied that it was placed at least five miles too far south. The Maatzuyker Isles, a group a few miles to the south-east of this cape, are also incorrectly laid down. The view of this headland was of a very impressive and remarkable character, and to add to the usual effect of its lonely and solitary grandeur, a heavy sea still vexed and swelling from the turbulence of the recent gale, was breaking in monotonous regularity against its white and aged face; rising a thousand feet precipitously above the level of the sea, and terminating in a peak, rendered yet more conspicuous by a deep gap behind it.
The adjacent coast had a singularly wild, bare, and storm-beaten appearance. We beheld the rugged and treeless sides of barren hills; and here and there, where vegetation struggled with sterility, its stunted growth and northern inclination caused by the prevailing winds testified to an ungenial clime; high, bare-faced peaks appeared occasionally through the thick clouds that girdled them, and the whole coastline forcibly reminded us of the dreary shores of Tierra del Fuego.
On opening d'Entrecasteaux Channel, we observed a splendid lighthouse erected by Sir John Franklin, on the S.W. extremity of Bruny Island, and which serves to guide entering vessels clear of the shoals in the mouth of that channel, formerly fatal to so many a luckless voyager, wrecked within sight of the hoped-for shore, upon which he might never set his foot. The situation of the lighthouse appears admirably chosen, and it may readily be seen in the daytime, a wide gap being cut in the woodland behind it. In alluding to the great improvement in the navigation of d'Entrecasteaux Channel, by the erection of the lighthouse on Bruny Island, it must be remembered that we are indebted to the indefatigable exertions of Lieutenant Burnett, R.N., who had been appointed Marine Surveyor to the colony by the Admiralty, for a knowledge of the exact position of its dangers. In prosecuting this service, I grieve to say, his life was lost, by the upsetting of a boat in one of those sudden gusts of wind which sweep down the steep valleys on the sides of that channel. This sudden termination of Lieutenant Burnett's labours has been deplored alike by the colony, and by the profession of which he was so bright an ornament.
We entered Storm Bay after dark against a strong N.W. wind, which quite vindicated the title of the bay to the name it bears, and so much delayed our progress, that it was morning before we were abreast of the Iron Pot lighthouse at the entrance of the Derwent River, and after dark before we reached Sullivan's cove, Hobart.
Although the passage up the river was tedious and annoying from the adverse and squally wind that prevailed throughout the day, we were almost repaid for the delay by the scenery each tack brought to our view, and to which the remembered aspect of the shores we had so recently quitted, seemed by contrast to add a yet more delightful verdure.
As we proceeded, we noticed since our last visit, several bare patches in the woodlands, where the axe and the brand of the enterprising colonists had prepared the way for that cultivation under the influence of which the landscape wore in places an almost English aspect. This fancied resemblance—inspiring by turns delightful anticipation and fond regret—was heightened by the occasional addition of many pretty little cottages scattered along the sloping banks of the river, and adding to the luxuriant appearance of the country, the peaceful grace and sanctity of home.
July 19.—We were detained at Hobart till the 19th, the bad state of the weather rendering it impossible to complete the requisite observations for rating chronometers, etc.
We had two or three snowstorms during the time, but even in fine weather the proximity of Mount Wellington, towering above Hobart, and throwing its strange square-headed shadow across the still waters of Sullivan's cove, must always render Fort Mulgrave an unfavourable spot for observations, from its arresting the progress of each passing cloud. The pleasure of our return was very much enhanced by the kind hospitality with which we were received by the inhabitants, and the officers of Her Majesty's 21st regiment. From Sir John Franklin the Governor, we experienced all the attention and courtesy—all the frank and generous hospitality which it was in his power to bestow. Had we been without the claims of previous acquaintance to have recommended us to his best offices, the fact that our voyage was intended to advance the cause of science, would have been quite sufficient to interest in our welfare, one who has achieved a reputation as enduring as it is honourable, amid the perils and trials connected with an Arctic campaign of discovery.
The unfavourable state of the weather also prevented us from visiting and enjoying the alpine scenery in the neighbourhood of Hobart.
We did, however, get a few miles from the town upon one occasion, when the fox-hounds of a gentleman, Mr. Gregson, who will be long remembered in the colony for his pedestrian and equestrian performances—met in the neighbourhood to hunt the kangaroo. A thoroughly English appreciation of all that promised sport, led a large party of us to join the meet, at a place called the Neck. The turnout was by no means despicable: the hounds were well bred, though rather small—perhaps an advantage in the sort of country over which their work lies. A tolerable muster of red coats gave life and animation to the scene, and forcibly reminded us of a coverside at home.
The hounds found a large kangaroo almost immediately upon throwing off, and went away with him in good earnest. There was a burning scent, and from the nature of the country, over which we went for some distance without a check, the riding was really desperate. The country was thickly wooded, with open spaces here and there, in which fallen trees lay half hidden by long grass. Riding to the hounds was therefore as necessary as dangerous, for once out of sight it was almost impossible to overtake or fall in with them. Most of the field rode boldly and well, yet I remarked one or two casualties: early in the run, a gentleman was swept off his horse by the projecting branch of a tree, under which he was going at a reckless pace, and another had his hat perforated immediately above the crown of his head. Yet notwithstanding the annoyance of ferrying our horses across the Derwent, we returned to Hobart, very much pleased with the day's sport.*
- * In the The Tasmanian journal of natural science, agriculture, statistics, &c/Volume 1|first volume]] of the Tasmanian Journal, will be found an animated description of Kangaroo-hunting with these hounds, by the Honourable H. Elliot, who mentions that on one occasion a large kangaroo gave them a run of eighteen miles.
In a gentleman's house there, I saw for the first time, a specimen of an Albino or white variety of kangaroo, Halmaturus bennettii.* Another object that interested me greatly was a quarry of travertine limestone, in the neighbourhood of Hobart, where I saw the impression† of leaves of plants, not in existence at present, and of a few shells of ancient species.
- * One of this rare kind, was presented by Sir John Franklin to her Majesty, in whose menagerie at Windsor it died, and was sent afterwards to the British Museum, where it now may be seen.
- † Drawings of these impressions, together with the shells will be found in Count Strzelecki's scientific work.
We sailed from Hobart on the 19th of July and carried a strong fair wind to within a few days' sail of Sydney, when we experienced a current that set us 40 miles S.E. in 24 hours; this was the more extraordinary as we did not feel it before, and scarcely afterwards; and our course being parallel to the shore, was not likely to have brought us suddenly within the influence of the currents said to prevail along the coast. The ship's position was 40 miles east of Jervis Bay when we first met it.
July 24.—This morning the clearness of the atmosphere enabled us at an elevation of 50 feet, to distinguish the light near the entrance of Sydney Harbour, while at a distance of thirty miles from it. Its site has been admirably chosen for indicating the position of the port from a distance at sea, but it has been placed too far from the entrance to be of much service to vessels when close in shore.* The low land in the vicinity of Sydney and Botany Bay, presents a striking contrast with the coast of the Illawarra district, a little further southwards; where the sea washes the base of a lofty range of hills, which sweeping round some distance in the rear of the two former places, leaves an extensive tract of low country between them and the sea. Upon the summit of these hills there rest almost invariably huge clouds, which serve even through the gloom of the darkest night, to assure the anxious navigator of his position.
- * Some years since a ship with convicts was driven at night by a S.E. gale, close in with the light, and was obliged to run for the harbour, but being then without anything to guide her into the entrance, was wrecked on the south point. The loss of life was dreadful. The light lately erected near the Sow and Pigs reef, has in some measure remedied the evil here pointed out: but being too far within, and on the south side of the entrance, it is not made out till, with southerly winds, a ship has approached dangerously close to the N. Head.
On approaching Sydney, a stranger cannot fail of being delighted with his first glance at the noble estuary which spreads before and around him. After sailing along a coastline of cliffs some 200 feet in height, and in general effect and outline not unlike those of Dover, he observes an apparent breach in the sea-wall, forming two abrupt headlands, and ere he has time to speculate upon the cause of that fancied ruin, his ship glides between the wave-worn cliffs into the magnificent harbour of Port Jackson. The view which solicits the eye of the sea-wearied voyager as he proceeds up the harbour, is indeed well calculated to excite a feeling of mingled admiration and delight—the security and capacity of the port—its many snug coves and quiet islets with their sloping shores, sleeping upon the silver tide—pretty white cottages and many English-looking villas peeping out here and there from their surrounding shrubberies, and the whole canopied by a sky of ethereal blue, present a picture which must at once enchant the most fastidious observer.
We found lying in the famous cove of Sydney, H.M.S. Alligator and Britomart, commanded by Captain Sir Gordon Bremer, and Lieutenant (now Captain) Owen Stanley, going to form a settlement at Port Essington on the N. coast; an expedition of much interest, particularly to us, from having some old shipmates engaged in it.
On first arriving at Sydney from South America, I was much struck with the strange contrast its extensive and at the same time youthful appearance presented to the decrepit and decaying aspect of the cities on that continent. We had then been visiting colonies and settlements founded centuries ago, by a nation at that time almost supreme in European influence, and planted with every circumstance of apparent advantage upon the shores of a fertile and luxurious continent given by the immortal Genoese to the crown of Spain. We had found them distracted by internal commotions, disgraced by ignorance, debased by superstition, and defiled by slavery.
In Sydney we beheld with wonder what scarce half a century had sufficed to effect; for where almost within the memory of man the savage ranged the desert wastes and trackless forests, a noble city has sprung as though by magic from the ground, which will ever serve both as a monument of English enterprise, and as a beacon from whence the light of Christian civilisation shall spread through the dark and gloomy recesses of ignorance and guilt. The true history of our Australian possessions; the causes which have led to their settlement; the means by which they have been established; the circumstances by which they have been influenced; and the rapid, nay, unexampled prosperity to which they have attained; present some of the most curious and most important laws of colonisation to our notice. Without attempting so far to deviate from my present purpose as to enter here on a deduction from the data to which I have alluded, it cannot be denied that, in the words of an eloquent writer in Blackwood, "a great experiment in the faculty of renovation in the human character, has found its field in the solitudes of this vast continent: that the experiment has succeeded to a most unexampled and unexpected degree: and that the question is now finally decided between severity and discipline." What else remains, what great designs and unfathomed purposes, are yet reserved to grace this distant theatre, I pause not now to guess. The boldest conjecture would probably fall very far short of the truth. It is sufficient for us to know that Providence has entrusted to England a new empire in the Southern seas. Nor can we doubt that there as elsewhere throughout the various regions of the habitable globe, the same indomitable spirit which has achieved so many successes, will accompany those whom heaven has appointed as pioneers, in that march of moral regeneration and sound improvement long promised to the repentant children of earth.
We were sorry to find that it had been necessary to form a quarantine establishment in the N. Harbour, in consequence of the diseases brought to the country by emigrant ships. A number of tombstones, whitening the side of a hill, mark the locality, and afford a melancholy evidence of the short sojourn in the land of promise which has been vouchsafed to some.
It not being the favourable season for commencing operations in Bass Strait, we remained at Sydney until November, and embraced the opportunity of clearing out the ship. Our stay was undiversified with incidents, and it may as well therefore be briefly passed over. Among the few occurrences worth mentioning, was the departure of the expedition sent out to form a settlement at Port Essington on the northern coast. Its object was simply military occupation, it having been deemed advisable about that time to assert practically the supremacy of Great Britain over the Continent by occupying some of its most prominent points; but as soon as its destination became known in the colony, several persons came forward as volunteer-settlers, and expressed the greatest anxiety to be allowed to accompany the expedition. Their views extended to the establishment of a trade with the islands in the Arafūra sea; and certainly they would have been far more likely to draw forth the resources of the country, than a garrison, whose supplies are brought to them from a distance, whose presence holds out no inducement to traders, and who are not impelled by any anxiety for their own support to discover the riches of the soil. For these reasons the determination of Government not to throw open the lands, and their refusal to hold out the promise of protection to the individuals who expressed a desire to accompany the expedition, are greatly to be regretted. In a vast continent like Australia, so remarkably destitute of fixed inhabitants, it would seem that every encouragement should be afforded to persons desirous of locating themselves on unoccupied tracts. There is a great difference besides, between giving rise to delusive hopes—inducing people as it were under false pretences to repair to new settlements—and checking the spirit of colonisation when it manifests itself. Every young establishment must go through a certain process. It is necessary that some should pioneer the way for others; and endure hardships the beneficial results of which may be enjoyed only by their successors. Had advantage been taken of the enterprising spirit that prevailed at the time of which I speak, the germs of a fresh settlement would have been deposited at Port Essington, which must ultimately have risen into importance. A great stream of emigration was pouring into the south-eastern portion of Australia, and it would have been wise to open a channel by which some portion of it might have been drawn off to the northern coast. But such were not the views entertained by the authorities concerning this matter. They seemed apprehensive of incurring the blame of encouraging the speculating mania which raged so extensively at Sydney, and which has reacted with so pernicious an effect upon the colony.* the expedition accordingly retained its purely military character. However, I may add, that the Bishop of Australia attended to the spiritual wants of the settlement by sending with it a church in frame.
- * On our arrival at Sydney in 1838, we found speculation at its height: land-jobbers were carrying on a reckless and most gainful trade, utterly regardless of that revulsion they were doomed soon to experience. Town allotments that cost originally but 50 pounds were in some instances sold, three months afterwards, for ten times that sum. Yet amid all this appearance of excessive and unnatural prosperity there were not wanting those who foresaw and foretold an approaching change. To the withdrawal of the convicts, solely at the expressed wish of some of the most wealthy colonists, has been traced much of the decline that followed; and the more recent pages in the history of Sydney will fully bear out the opinions expressed by Captain Fitz-Roy when he visited it in 1836: he says, "It is difficult to believe that Sydney will continue to flourish in proportion to its rise. It has sprung into existence too suddenly. Convicts have forced its growth, even as a hot bed forces plants, and premature decay may be expected from such early maturity."
During our stay at Sydney we paid a visit to Botany Bay, which from the circumstance of its being the point first touched at by Captain Cook, naturally possesses the greatest interest of any place in the neighbourhood. Our way thither lay over a sandy plain, into which the coast range of low hills subsides. There is little or no verdure to relieve the eye, which encounters aridity wherever it turns; and the sand being rendered loose by frequent traffic, the foot sinks at every step, so that the journey is disagreeable to both man and beast. These inconveniences, however, were soon forgotten on our arrival at our destination, amidst the feelings excited and the associations raised by the objects that presented themselves.
Within the entrance of the bay, on the northern side, stands a monument* erected to the memory of La Perouse, that being the last spot at which the distinguished navigator was heard of, from 1788, until 1826, when the Chevalier Dillon was furnished with a clue to his melancholy fate by finding the handle of a French sword fastened to another blade in the possession of a native of Tucopia, one of the Polynesian group. By this means he was enabled to trace him to the island of Mannicolo, on the reefs fronting which his ship was lost.
- *On the eastern side is engraven— A la Memoire de Monsieur de la Perouse. Cette terre qu'il visita en MDCCLXXXVIII. est la derniere d'ou il a fait parvenir de ses nouvelles.
- Also—Erige au nom de la France par les soins de MM. de Bougainville et Du Campier, commandant la fregate La Thetis, et la corvette L'Esperance, en relache au Port Jackson, en MDCCCXXV.
- On the western side—This place, visited by Monsieur de la Perouse in the year MDCCLXXXVIII, is the last whence any accounts of him have been received.
- Also—Erected in the name of France by MM. de Bougainville and du Campier, commanding the frigate the Thetis and the corvette the Hope, lying in Port Jackson, A.D. MDCCCXXV.
- On the north—Le fondement pose en 1825; eleve en 1828.
- On the south—Foundation laid in 1825, completed 1828.
Close by, on the same point, stands the tomb of a French Catholic priest, named Le Receveur, who accompanied La Perouse, as naturalist, in his circumnavigation of the globe, and died at this great distance from his native land. A large stump of a tree rising near, "marks out the sad spot" where lie mouldering the bones of the wanderer in search of materials to enrich the stores of science. No doubt many a hope of future fame expired in that man's breast as he sank into his last sleep in a foreign clime, far from his home and friends and relations, such as his order allowed him to possess. The applause of the world, which doubtless he fancied would have greeted his labours at the end of his perilous journey, he was now robbed of; and he must have felt that few would ever recollect his name, save the rare voyager who, like myself, having encountered the same dangers that he had braved, should chance to read his short history on the narrow page of stone that rests above his grave.
Another object of greater interest to the Englishman is observable on Cape Solander, the opposite point of the bay. It is a plate set in the rock, recording the first visit of the immortal Cook, to whose enterprise the colonists are indebted for the land that yields them their riches, and which must now be invested in their eyes with all the sanctity of home. Surely it would become them to evince a more filial reverence for the man who must be regarded as in some respects the father of the colony. Let us hope that they will one day raise a monument to his memory, which to be worthy of him must be worthy of themselves—something to point out to future generations the spot at which the first white man's foot touched the shore, and where civilisation was first brought in contact with the new continent.
But though Botany Bay is interesting from the associations connected with it—I am quite serious, though the expression may raise a smile on some of my readers' lips—the tract of country best worth seeing in the neighbourhood of Sydney, is Illawarra, commonly called the Garden of New S. Wales. By a change in the formation from sandstone to trap, a soil this here produced capable of supporting a vegetation equal in luxuriance to any within the tropics. In the deep valleys that intersect the country, the tree-fern attains a great stature, and throwing out its rich spreading fronds on all sides forms a canopy that perfectly excludes the piercing rays of even an Australian sun. It is impossible to describe the feelings of surprise and pleasure that are excited in the mind of the traveller as he descends into any one of these delightful dells: the contrast in the vegetable kingdom strikes him at once; he gazes around on the rich masses of verdure with astonishment, and strongly impressed with the idea that enchantment has been at work, involuntarily rubs his eyes and exclaims, "Am I in Australia or in the Brazils?"
Few only of the aborigines of the neighbourhood of Sydney are now to be seen, and these are generally in an intoxicated state. Like most savage tribes they are passionately addicted to spiritous liquors, and seek to obtain it by any means in their power. Out of a sugar bag, with a little water, they manage to extract a liquor sufficient to make half a dozen of them tipsy; and in this condition, as I have observed, they most frequently presented themselves to my view. They are in every respect a weak, degraded, miserable race, and are anything but a favourable specimen of the benefits produced by intercourse with polished nations on an uncivilised people. However, the natives of Australia vary as strangely as its soil; the members of the tribes that dwell about Shoalhaven and the small southern ports, and come up in coasting vessels, are good-looking, useful fellows, and may hereafter be made much of. I noticed also, in my circumnavigation of the continent, a remarkable diversity in the character of the natives, some being most kindly disposed, while others manifested the greatest hostility and aversion. My whole experience teaches me that these were not accidental differences, but that there is a marked contrast in the dispositions of the various tribes, for which I will not attempt to account. I leave in the hands of ethnologists to determine whether we are to seek the cause in minute variations of climate or in other circumstances, physical or historical. This I can say, that great pains were formerly taken to civilize the natives of Sydney, gardens were given them, and numerous attempts made to inculcate habits of order, and communicate a knowledge of European arts; but no advantageous results ensued, and it was at length deemed impossible not only to improve them, but even to prevent their deterioration. I cannot determine whether this evinces a natural inaptitude in the savage to learn, or too great impatience in the teachers to witness the fruits of their labours, and a proneness to be discouraged by difficulties.
In the journal of my residence at Sydney I find as the result of one day's experience, the following laconic and somewhat enigmatical memorandum: "Is this grass?" The question implies a doubt, which it would not be easy for any person unacquainted with the circumstances of time and place, to solve: but the reader, when he has seen the explanation, will understand why very pleasing associations are connected with this brief note. I was going down to the jetty late one evening, when I met a party just landed, evidently complete strangers in this quarter of the world. Their wandering and unsteady glances would have convinced me of this fact, had their whole appearance left any doubt about the matter: among them were some ladies, one of whom suddenly detached herself from her companions, and directed as it were by instinct through the gloom, hastened towards a few sods of turf, pressed them exaltingly with her foot, and exclaimed in a light, joyous, happy voice—through which other emotions than that of mere gladness struggled—"Is this grass?" The words were nothing. They might have been uttered in a thousand different tones and have not fixed themselves on my memory; but as they fell in accents of delight and gratitude from the lips of the speaker, they told a whole story, and revealed an entire world of feeling. Never shall I forget the simple expression of this newcomer, whose emotions on first feeling the solid earth beneath her tread, and touching a remembrance of the land she had left in quest of another home, will be incomprehensible to no one who has crossed the ocean.
We met several persons at Sydney from whom we received valuable information, and particularly Captain King, who, as the reader may recollect, commanded the first expedition on which the Beagle was employed. His great scientific attainments must ever attach respect to his name, and his explorations on the Australian coast, previous to the survey in which we were engaged, together with his father's services as Governor of New S. Wales, give him and his children a lasting claim upon the country. The information he furnished on this and subsequent occasions was extremely valuable.
An observation of his gave rise in my mind to very curious conjectures; he told me that where he used formerly to anchor the vessel he commanded in the head of Sydney cove, there was now scarcely sufficient water to float even a boat. As the deposits of the small stream that flows into it could not have produced this change, I was led to examine the shore of the harbour, when I found what seemed to me to be the marks of the sea higher than its present level; this, coupled with the decrease in the soundings we found in Darling Harbour, leads to the legitimate inference that this part of the continent is rising; and my reader will recollect that it is a prevalent theory that the whole of the vast plains of Australasia have but recently emerged from the sea.