Discoveries in Australia/Volume 1/Chapter 9
|←Chapter 8: Swan River to Sydney.||Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1 by
Chapter 9: Bass Strait.
|Chapter 10: Sydney to Port Essington.→|
LEAVE SYDNEY—ENTER BASS STRAIT—ISLAND AT EASTERN ENTRANCE—WILSON'S PROMONTORY—CAPE SHANCK—ENTER PORT PHILLIP—TIDE-RACE—COMMENCE SURVEYING OPERATIONS—FIRST SETTLEMENT—ESCAPED CONVICT—HIS RESIDENCE WITH THE NATIVES—SAIL FOR KING ISLAND—EXAMINE COAST TO CAPE OTWAY—KING ISLAND—MEET SEALERS ON NEW YEAR ISLANDS—FRANKLIN ROAD—SOLITARY RESIDENCE OF CAPTAIN SMITH—SOIL—ADVANTAGEOUS POSITION FOR A PENAL SETTLEMENT—LEAFLESS APPEARANCE OF TREES—EXAMINE W. COAST—FITZMAURICE BAY—STOKES' POINT—SEAL BAY—GEOLOGICAL FORMATION—EXAMINE COAST TO SEA ELEPHANT ROCK—BRIG ROCK—CROSS THE STRAIT TO HUNTER ISLAND—STRONG TIDE NEAR REID'S ROCKS—THREE HUMMOCK ISLAND—RATS—THE BLACK PYRAMID—POINT WOOLNORTH—RAISED BEACH—COAST TO CIRCULAR HEAD—HEADQUARTERS OF THE AGRICULTURAL COMPANY—CAPTURE OF A NATIVE—MOUTH OF THE TAMAR RIVER—RETURN TO PORT PHILLIP—WEST CHANNEL—YARRA-YARRA RIVER—MELBOURNE—CUSTOM OF NATIVES—MANNA—VISIT GEELONG—STATION PEAK—ABORIGINAL NAMES—SOUTH CHANNEL—EXAMINE WESTERN PORT—ADVENTURE WITH A SNAKE—BLACK SWANS—CAPE PATTERSON—DEEP SOUNDINGS—REVISIT KING AND HUNTER ISLANDS—FIRE—CIRCULAR HEAD—GALES OF WIND—REID'S ROCKS—SEA ELEPHANT ROCK—WILD DOGS—NAVARIN AND HARBINGER REEFS—ARRIVE AT PORT PHILLIP—SAIL FOR SYDNEY—PIGEON HOUSE—DROUGHT—MR. USBORNE LEAVES.
Before quitting Sydney I must express my gratitude for the hospitality we experienced during our stay, which prepared us with greater cheerfulness to encounter the difficulties we might expect to meet with in the boisterous waters that rolled between the then imperfectly known shores, and islands of Bass Strait. It was not until the 11th of November that we bade adieu to our friends, and sailed to commence our contemplated operations. On the 14th we passed the rocky islands (Kent's Group) at the eastern entrance of the Strait, their barren and bleak appearance bespoke the constant gales that swept over them, checking every tendency to vegetation. As we approached them the soundings decreased to 28 fathoms, the observation of which fact apprises vessels coming from the eastward in thick weather, of their proximity. After leaving these islands we progressed but slowly, and the passage through the Strait promised to be tedious: yet, as the wind was fair and the weather fine, we had no reason to complain, considering moreover the remarkably mild reception we met with in the Funnel, the name commonly and most appropriately given by the colonists to Bass Strait, from the constant strong winds that sweep through it.
On the 17th we passed Wilson's Promontory, the southern extremity of Australia, connected with the main by a low sandy isthmus, only left dry it is probable of late years. It is a very mountainous tract, rearing its many peaks in solemn grandeur from the waves and burying their summits* at most seasons of the year, in a canopy of grey mist. On some occasions, however, the bold outline of the mountains is relieved against a clear sky, and their loftiest points catch the first rays of the morning sun, as it rises from the eastern ocean. Many small islands are dispersed over the sea in front of this promontory, and partake of its character, being apparently the tops of mountains thrusting themselves up from the deep, and suggesting the belief that new countries are about to be disclosed. Passing Port Western, generally called Western Port, a high mound on the south-eastern extremity of Grant Island was the most conspicuous object. The next remarkable feature in the coast is Cape Shanck, a projection at the western end of a long line of cliffs. Lying close off it is a rock, named, from its exact resemblance, Pulpit Rock.
- * Nearly 3000 feet high.
In a small bay on the east side of this headland we caught a glimpse of some rich valleys; but from thence for a distance of 16 miles, the coast retains a barren sandy character to Port Phillip, which we reached on the afternoon of the 18th. We scarcely found any ripplings in the entrance, an occurrence of extreme rarity; for it will readily be imagined that a body of water required to fill a bay thirty miles deep and twenty broad, passing through an entrance one mile and a half in width, must rush with great violence; and when we take into account the extreme unevenness of the bottom (soundings varying from 40 to 25 and even 9 fathoms) no surprise can be felt that such a stream, particularly when opposed to a strong wind, should raise a dangerous sea. The force of it may be conjectured from a fact of which I was myself witness. Standing on one of the entrance points, I saw a schooner trying to get in with all sails set before a fresh breeze, and yet she was carried out by the current. Another observation is also recorded for the guidance of the stranger passing into the port. When in the middle of the entrance, a low clump of dark bushes breaking the line of white sand beach beyond Shortlands Bluff, was just seen clear of the latter.
The first appearance of Port Phillip is very striking, and the effect of the view is enhanced by the contrast with the turbulent waves without and in the entrance. As soon as these have been passed, a broad expanse of placid water displays itself on every side; and one might almost fancy oneself in a small sea. But the presence of a distant highland forming a bluff in the N.E. soon dispels this idea. Besides this bluff (called by the natives Dandonong) Arthur's Seat, and Station Peak are the principal features that catch the eye of the stranger. The latter, called Youang by the natives, is one of a small group of lofty peaks rising abruptly out of a low plain on the western shore of the bay; whilst Arthur's Seat towers over the eastern shore, and forms the northern extremity of a range subsiding gradually to the coast at Cape Shanck.
Anchoring close to the southern shore, about three miles within the entrance, we set to work in good earnest with our surveying operations—in the first place selecting a conspicuous spot for observation, from which all the meridians of our work in the western part of the Strait were to be measured. For the sake of my nautical readers I may mention that the western extreme of the cliffy patches on the south shore of the bay, marks the place chosen. The nature of our employment confining us to the neighbourhood of the entrance, we had no opportunity of visiting the town of Melbourne, situated near the northern side of the bay. This capital of Australia Felix had for a long time been known to some squatters from Tasmania; but to Sir Thomas Mitchell the inhabitants must ever feel grateful for revealing to the world at large the fertility of the districts in its neighbourhood. It is not a little singular that the attempt to form a settlement at this place in 1826 should have failed. A fort was built and abandoned, and of the party of convicts who accompanied the expedition, two escaped and joined the natives, by whom one was murdered, whilst the other, contriving by some means to ingratiate himself with them, remained in their company until 1835, when he was discovered by the settlers from Tasmania. During the eleven years he had passed in the bush, without coming in contact with any other European, he had entirely forgotten his own language, and had degenerated into a perfect savage. His intellect, if he ever possessed much, had almost entirely deserted him; and nothing of any value could be gleaned from him respecting the history and manners of the tribe with whom he had so long dwelt. He received his pardon and went to Hobart, but such was the indolence he had contracted that nothing could be made of him.
The southern shore of Port Phillip is a singular long narrow tongue of land, running out from the foot of the range of which Arthur's Seat is the most conspicuous point. I infer from the limestone prevailing in it, and containing shells of recent species, that it was once much beneath its present level; in fact, that it stops up what was formerly a broad mouth of the bay, leaving only the present narrow entrance at the western extremity. Over its surface are scattered hills from one to two hundred feet in height, in the valleys between which was found some light sandy soil supporting at this time rich grass, and at various places a thin growth of Banksia, Eucalypti, and Casuarina, all stunted and showing symptoms of having been roughly used by the south wind. Near the spot we had chosen for the centre of our observations was a well of inferior water, and we did not find any better in the neighbourhood. The point in question therefore will never be very eligible as a settlement. The kangaroos are numerous and large, and the finest snappers I have ever heard of are caught off this point, weighing sometimes as much as thirty pounds. Our fishing experiments, however, were not very productive, being principally sharks; thirteen young ones were found in a single female of this species.
Bad weather prolonged our stay until the 26th of November. We had been chiefly occupied in determining the position of the mouths of the various channels intersecting the banks, that extend across the entire bay, three miles within the entrance. The most available passages appeared to be those lying on the south and west shores, particularly the former for vessels of great draught; but we did not conclude the examination of them at this time, sailing on the morning of the 26th to survey the coast to the westward. The first thirteen miles, trending W. by S. was of a low sandy character, what seemed to be a fertile country stretching behind it. Two features on this line are worthy of notice—Point Flinders, resembling an island from seaward, on account of the low land in its rear; and the mouth of the river Barwon, navigable for boats entering in very fine weather. On its northern bank, eight miles from the sea is the site of the town of Geelong. Passing this the nature of the country begins to change, and high grassy downs with rare patches of woodland present themselves, which in their turn give place, as we approach Cape Otway, to a steep rocky coast, with densely wooded land rising abruptly over it.
The above-mentioned Cape is the northern point of the western extremity of Bass Strait, and is swept by all the winds that blow into that end of the Funnel. The pernicious effect of these is evident in the stunted appearance of the trees in its neighbourhood. It is a bold projection in lat. 38° 51', and appears to be the S.W. extremity of a ridge of granite gradually rising from it in a N.E. direction. About half a mile off it, lies a small detached reef.
Having thus coasted the northern side of the Strait, we proceeded to cross over to Tasmania to examine the southern side. About halfway is King Island, extending in a north and south direction, thirty-five miles, and in an east and west thirteen. It lies right across the entrance of the Strait, about forty miles from either shore, and from its isolated position is well adapted for a penal settlement.
The more northern channel of the two formed by this island is the safer, and the water deepens from 47 to 65 fathoms as you approach it from the continent. Its outline is not remarkable, the most conspicuous point being a round hill 600 feet high over the northern point called Cape Wickham. We anchored in a bay on the N.W. side, under New Year Island, which affords shelter for a few vessels from all winds. There is a narrow passage between the two, but none between them and the southern point of the bay, which is open to the north-west. On the summit of one of these islands boulders of granite are strewed, and they exhibit a very remarkable white appearance from seaward when the sun has passed his meridian.
A sealer had established himself on the north island with two wives, natives of Tasmania. They were clothed in very comfortable greatcoats made of kangaroo skins, and seemed quite contented with their condition. Their offspring appeared sharp and intelligent. In another part of my work I shall touch more fully on the history of these sealers, who style themselves Residents of the islands. They further distinguish their classes by the names of Eastern and Western Straits-men, according to the position of the islands they inhabit.
The sealers on New Year Island had a large whaleboat, which I was somewhat puzzled to know how they managed, there being but one man among them. He informed me, however, that his wives, the two native women, assisted him to work the boat, which had been well prepared for the rough weather they have to encounter in Bass Strait by a canvas half-deck, which, lacing in the centre, could be rolled up on the gunwale in fine weather.
The principal occupation of these people during this month of the year is taking the Sooty Petrel, called by the colonists the Mutton Bird, from a fancied resemblance to the taste of that meat. It is at the present month that they resort to the island for the purpose of incubation. They constitute the chief sustenance of the sealers, who cure them for use and sale: their feathers also form a considerable article of trade. Many parts of the island were perfectly honeycombed with their burrows, which greatly impede the progress of the pedestrian, and are in some cases dangerous from snakes lying in them. The sealers told me that they had lost a cat which died within an hour after the bite of one of these reptiles. We here found cabbages and water, and the people informed us that it was always their custom to plant a few vegetables on the islands they frequented.
From the top of this island we had a good view of the Harbinger reefs, so-called from a convict ship of that name which was lost upon them and all hands perished. I was glad to find they were only two detached rocks lying three miles and a half from the shore, instead of, as reported, one continued reef lying six or seven miles from the land. They bore north six miles from our position.
The sealers informed us that a house which we descried in the bay, was occupied by a gentleman who had met with a reverse of fortune. We accordingly paid him a visit next morning, and found that he was a Captain Smith with whom the world had gone wrong, and who had accordingly fled as far as possible from the society of civilised man and taken up his residence on the shores of King Island with his family. He had given the name of Port Franklin to the bay, which we changed to Franklin Road, from its not being worthy of the title of a Port. He was led to choose his position from its being in the neighbourhood of the only secure anchorage from all winds, and near the best soil he had found after traversing the whole of the island. According to his account it was totally unfit for rearing sheep on a large scale; the bushes and grass being so full of burrs that the wool was completely spoiled. The soil was everywhere very inferior, and a few patches only of clean land was to be found, the principal part being overrun with dense scrub and impervious thickets. There were few elevations on the island, and those not of any great magnitude, the loftiest point being scarcely seven hundred feet. The formation of the neighbourhood of Captain Smith's house was granite: water abounds.
The house in which this modern Robinson Crusoe dwelt was what is called a Slab Hut, formed of rough boards and thatched with grass. He had a garden in which grew some cabbages and a few other vegetables; but he complained sorely of blight from the west winds. There are three varieties of kangaroos on the island, and plenty of wildfowl on some of the lagoons; so that supplies are abundant: but the few sheep he possessed were rendered of little value from the burrs I have before mentioned. I could not help pitying the condition of this gentleman and his interesting family—a wife and daughter and three or four fine boys. They had retained a few of the tastes and habits of civilized life, and I observed a good library with a flute and music in the Slab Hut. It was with great pleasure that I afterwards learned that Captain Smith's prospects had brightened. He is now, I believe, a comfortable settler on the eastern side of Tasmania.
On the 29th we passed down the western shore of King Island, finding the coast to be low, treacherous and rocky. We discovered some outlying rocks a mile and half from shore, and about eleven miles south from New Year Island. The most remarkable circumstance we noticed in this part of our cruise, was the leafless appearance of the trees on the higher parts of the island. It seemed as though a hurricane had stripped them of their verdure. They reminded me strongly of a wintry day in the north.
About eight miles from the extremity of the island we discovered a bay affording good anchorage in east winds. It was afterwards called Fitzmaurice Bay. From its neighbourhood a long dark line of black cliffs stretches southward until within about three miles of the point, when the ground sinks suddenly, whence vessels are apt to be misled and to fancy that the island ends there, whilst in reality it stretches out into a low dangerous rocky point, named after the writer, for about three miles more.
Rounding this we anchored on the eastern side of it in Seal Bay—a wild anchorage, the swell constantly rolling in with too much surf to allow of our commencing a series of tidal observations. This bay, in the mouth of which lies a small cluster of rocks, is separated from the one on the opposite side, by a strip of low sandy land, which, as I have said, may easily be overlooked by vessels coming from the westward. A ship indeed has been lost from fancying that the sea was clear south of the black cliffs that skirt the shore down from Fitzmaurice Bay. The Wallaby are numerous on this part of the island. Mr. Bynoe shot one (Halmaturus bellidereii) out of whose pouch he took a young one which he kept on board and tamed. It subsequently became a great pet with us all.
I noticed here a trappean dyke, but the general formation of this end of King Island exactly corresponded with that about Captain Smith's house, which shows that it is a continuous ridge of granite. The south-eastern shore is rather steep, and the ground which rises abruptly over it is almost denuded of wood.
Leaving Seal Bay—from the south point of which we saw the principal dangers at this extremity of Bass Strait, Reid's rocks bearing E. by S. ¼ S. 12 miles—we coasted round the eastern shore and anchored off a sandy bay about the centre of the island. The only remarkable object was a rock, lying one mile from the shore and five from Seal Bay, on which we bestowed a name suggested by its form, Brig Rock. Off the north point of the bay in which we anchored lies a white rock or islet called Sea Elephant Rock, with a reef a mile off its north point. Opposite this is a small inlet fed by the drainage of some lagoons or swamps behind the bay. N.ward the character of the coast, as far as we could see, changes considerably, being lower, with a continued line of sandy shore.
A breeze from the eastward prevented our completing the survey of the northern side of the island; but one important result we had arrived at, namely, that safe anchorage may be obtained in west winds within a moderate distance of this part of the shore in less than fifteen fathoms.
We now crossed over to the group of islands fronting the north-western point of Tasmania, and confining the southern side of the mouth of the Strait. The tide setting to the S.W. at the rate of three knots an hour* brought us within five miles of Reid's rocks. Passing at that distance from their eastern side we had 28 and 30 fathoms sand and rock: and the greatest depth we found in crossing was 37 fathoms towards the south side of the Strait.
- * This set of the tide being rather across the channel renders the passage between King Island and Reid's rocks by no means recommendable. Captain King on returning to New South Wales, used this passage and was very nearly wrecked; the set of the tides at that time not being known. It appears they saw the south point of King Island just at dark, and shaped a course well wide of Reid's rocks; they found themselves, however, drifted by the tide close on them. We made the time of high-water at the full and change of the moon in this entrance of the Strait to be half an hour before noon; but the western stream began three hours and a half before, and the eastern again precedes low-water by the same amount of time.
Early on the morning of December 3rd, we reached a secure anchorage between Three Hummock Island, and Hunter, formerly called Barren Island; and we had every reason to be thankful at finding ourselves in such a snug berth, for during our stay, we experienced gales from east and west, with such sudden changes that no ship could have saved herself. This made us sensible how necessary it was to choose anchorages sheltered from both winds. Our surveying operations were sadly delayed by this boisterous weather.
Three Hummock Island receives its name from three peaks rising on its eastern side. The south rises abruptly from the water and forms a singular sugarloaf 790 feet high. It is composed of granite, boulders of which front many of the points, forming strange figures. The whole of the island is clothed with an almost impervious scrub, which growing laterally forms a perfect network, so that it is impossible to traverse it. Mr. Bynoe procured few specimens of birds in consequence. The woodcutters one day cut a small brown opossum in half: it seemed to be a very rare if not a new animal; but unfortunately the head part could not be found. Small brown rats were very numerous, they had rather short tails with long hind feet, and sat up like kangaroos.
The trees on this island are small and stunted, being chiefly Banksia and Eucalypti. Water is plentiful. We supplied the ship from wells dug on the north point of a sandy bay on the S.E. side of the island.*
- * The reef that so nearly sealed the Mermaid's fate with Captain King, we found to lie half a mile north-west from the north-east end of Three Hummock Island.
Hunter Island well deserves its former name of Barren, for it is perfectly treeless; a green kind of scrub overruns its surface, which at its highest point is three hundred feet above the level of the sea. In form it is like a closed hand with the fore-finger extended, pointing north. The inclination of its strata differs, dipping to the sea on both sides, east and west. These at first sight appeared to be of the same kind of sandstone that we had seen so much of on the N.W. coast, but on closer inspection I found they were raised beaches; the prevailing mass of the island was a granitoid rock.
From stations on Hunter Island we were enabled to determine the positions of the numerous dangers fronting its west or seaward side, and also that of a dark mass of rock, 250 feet high, appropriately named the Black Pyramid, lying 16 miles W. by N. from the centre of the island, and in latitude 40° 28' S. which places it nearly five miles south of its position in the old charts. It is quite a finger-post to this entrance of the Strait, and all ships should pass close to it. When I looked at these islands and rocks I could not help thinking of poor Captain Flinders and his enterprising companion Mr. Bass, the discoverers of the north-western part of Tasmania. What a thrill of excitement must have shot through their frames when on rounding Hunter Island, in the little Norfolk cutter, they first felt the long swell of the ocean and became convinced of the insular character of Tasmania! This discovery must have amply repaid them for all their toils and privations. Nothing indeed is so calculated to fill the heart of the navigator with pride, as the consciousness that he has widened the sphere of geographical science, and added new seas and new lands to the known world.
The south end of Hunter Island is about three miles from a point of the mainland, called Woolnorth; but from the rocks and inlets that encumber the passage and the rapid rush of the tide it is only navigable for small vessels with great caution. Point Woolnorth is a rather low sloping point composed of the same rock as Hunter Island. Ten miles south of it a raised beach again occurs 100 feet above the level of the sea. Behind Point Woolnorth the country swells into hills nearly six hundred feet high. Three miles from its extreme is an out-station of the Van Diemen's Land Agricultural Company, of which I shall say more anon. Some forty persons are here located under the care of a German, who amused himself by making a large collection of insects, which he has since taken to Germany. The soil on this extremity of Tasmania is most productive; but much labour is required in clearing for the purposes of cultivation. From thence to Circular Head, bearing E. ½ S. 26 miles, the shore is low and sinuous, forming three shallow bights.
Walker and Robbins islands, which lie together in the shape of an equilateral triangle, with sides of nine miles, front the coast about midway, and leave only a narrow boat-channel between them and the main.
On Walker Island our boats met the wives of some sealers whose husbands had gone to King Island on a sealing excursion. They were clothed like those on New Year Island. One was half European and half Tasmanian, and by no means ill-looking; she spoke very good English and appeared to take more care of her person than her two companions, who were aborigines of pure blood. A few wild flowers were tastefully entwined with her hair, which was dressed with some pretensions to elegance. They had a pack of dogs along with them, and depended in a great measure for their maintenance on the Wallaby they killed. The skin also of these animals constitutes to them an important article of trade.
It was the 15th before we had completed for the present our survey of this part, owing as I have before observed, to the constant bad weather, which was doubly felt by the boats in which all the materials for the chart of this neighbourhood were collected.
We now examined the coast to Circular Head, under the north side of which we anchored in 7 fathoms on the morning of the 18th, after spending a day under the S.E. corner off Robbins Island, where we found good anchorage in westerly winds. Making too free with the shore with a low sun ahead, we grounded for a short time on a shingle spit extending off the low point N.W. from Circular Head. Three quarters of a mile E.N.E. from this point is a dangerous rocky ledge just awash, on which several vessels have run. By keeping the bluff extreme of Circular Head open it may always be avoided.
The latter is a singular cliffy mass of trappean rock, rising abruptly from the water till its flattened crest reaches an elevation of 490 feet.
This strange projection stands on the eastern side of a small peninsula. On the parts broken off where it joins the sandy bay on the north side, we found the compass perfectly useless, from the increased quantity of magnetic iron ore they contain.
It is on this point that the headquarters of the Van Diemen's Land Agricultural Company are established under the charge of a Mr. Curr, whose house with its extensive out-buildings and park, occupying some rising ground on the northern part of the point, greets the eye of the stranger, to whom the reflection is forcibly suggested by the sight, that the natural graces of the scene, must soon yield to the restraining regularity with which man marks his conquests from the wilderness. The name of this faint memento of home was, we were informed, Hyfield; a straggling village occupies a flat to the left, and in the bay on the south side of the head, which is the general anchorage, is a store with a substantial jetty.
English grasses have been sown at this establishment with great success, one acre of ground now feeding four sheep, instead of as before, four acres being required for one; the improvement in the grass was also made evident by the excellent condition in which all the stock appeared to be.
The garden at Hyfield was quite in keeping with the other parts of the establishment, and it was not a little pleasing to observe a number of English fruit trees. I was told, however, that they suffered exceedingly from blight which was brought by the west winds. In one corner that at first escaped my curiosity, so completely had it been shut out from the gaze of all by a winding bowery walk, I found in a sort of alcove, the tomb of a child; upon it lay a fresh bouquet of flowers, revealing that the dead was not forgotten by those who were left behind. It was easy to divine, and I afterwards learned this to be the case, that it was the mother, Mrs. Curr, who came every morning to pay this tribute of affection to the departed. A weeping willow drooped its supple branches over the tomb; some honey-suckle and sweet-briar surrounded it, loading the air with their rich fragrance; not even the chirping of a bird disturbed the solemn silence that reigned around; everything seemed to conspire to suggest holy and melancholy thoughts, and I lingered awhile to indulge in them; but perceiving by the few footmarks that I was an intruder, hastened to retire, by no means sorry, however, to have discovered this evidence of the enduring love a mother bears her offspring.
In the Park at Hyfield were some fallow deer, imported from England, and seeming to thrive exceedingly well. There were also two emus, the sight of which reminded me of a very curious observation I had before made, and the truth of which again struck me forcibly, namely, that the face of the Emu bears a most remarkable likeness to that of the aborigines of New South Wales. Had there been any intimacy between the native and the Emu, I might have been disposed to resort to this circumstance as an explanation; for some maintain that the human countenance partakes of the expression and even of the form of whatever, whether man or beast, it is in the habit of associating with.
The Company have another station about sixty miles S.E. from Circular Head, at the Surrey hills, from whence the road to Launceston is good and wide. But between it and Circular Head there are several rivers to ford, and the country is not only very hilly, but densely wooded with enormous trees, some of which I was informed were 30 feet in circumference. This causes great difficulty in clearing the land. They accomplish about fifty acres every year. The establishment consists of one hundred persons, many of whom are convicts. They are kept in excellent order; and their being strictly forbidden the use of spirits no doubt contributes materially to prevent their giving trouble. I could not help thinking that the Company conducted its operations on too extensive a scale to render their undertaking profitable. The high pay of their officers, and the difficulties encountered in clearing the land, are in themselves considerable drawbacks; especially when we consider, that after all the pains bestowed, the soil acquired for the purposes of cultivation is often of very inferior quality.
The soil on the peninsula, of which Circular Head forms the most remarkable feature, is generally speaking of a poor light character, and not well watered. The country lying immediately behind it is low and cut up with branches from a large estuary.
My esteemed friend, Count Strzelecki, traversed the country between Circular Head and Point Woolnorth (N.W. extreme of Tasmania) and describes it as presenting "eight rivers as difficult to cross as the Scamander, with deep gullies and rocky ridges, and marshes more difficult to overcome than either ridges or rivers."
We learned there were some mineral waters about fifteen miles to the westward of Circular Head. The ingredients they contain, and their medicinal properties, were discovered by Count Strzelecki, who in speaking of them, says, "I have endeavoured to ascertain both—the latter on my own constitution, and the former by chemical analysis. They belong to a class of carbonated waters." From his examination he concludes, "that they are aperient and tonic, and sufficiently disgusting to the palate to pass for highly medicinal."
Whilst here, I was informed that a small party of natives were still at large, though seldom seen, keeping in the remotest recesses of the woods. They thus succeeded in avoiding for some years their enemy the white man. Indeed it was only when pressed by hunger that these aboriginal possessors of the soil ventured to emerge from their hiding-places, and rob some of the Company's out-stations of flour. By these means, however, it was that a knowledge was obtained of their existence. For, though they managed so secretly, that it was some time before they were found out, a shepherd at an out-station, began at last frequently to miss flour and tobacco* in a very mysterious manner. He determined accordingly to watch, but was for a long time unsuccessful. At length he saw a native woman steal into the hut, when he drew the door to by a line which communicated with his place of concealment. Of the treatment this poor woman received from the hands of her captor I shall treat hereafter. After being kept a prisoner some time, she was sent to Flinders Island; but it was long before the discovery was made that she had any companions. I was informed that the shepherd who took her, afterwards lost his life by the spear of a native, probably impelled by revenge.
- * The fondness exhibited by the aborigines who inhabit the southern parts of Australia for smoking is extraordinary.
We completed our operations on the evening of the day on which we arrived, namely, December 18th, and left for the Tamar river, in order to measure a meridian distance. Passing six miles from Rocky Cape, we had 28 fathoms; and steering east, the depth gradually increased to 42 fathoms, with a soft muddy bottom, being then twenty miles N.W. by W. from Port Dalrymple, the mouth of the Tamar.
The 19th was one of the few fine days it was our good fortune to meet with, and we enjoyed a splendid view of the Alpine features of Tasmania. Towering peaks connected sometimes by high tablelands, glittered in the sun as if capped with snow.*
- * Near Hobart, in February 1836, I saw snow on the side of a mountain.
Early in the afternoon, the lighthouse on Low Head appeared like a white speck resting on the blue horizon; and by evening we found ourselves at anchor just within the reefs fronting the west entrance point of Port Dalrymple. The first appearance of the Tamar river is not very inviting to the seaman. A rapid stream, thrown out of its course, hemmed in by numerous reefs, and passing over a bottom so uneven as to cause a change in the soundings from 12 to 26, and then 18 fathoms, with a ripple or line of broken water across the mouth renders it impossible in strong N.W. winds for a stranger to detect the channels, and raises so much sea that the pilots cannot reach the vessels that arrive off the mouth.
As the Beagle passed through the west channel, the shear or first beacon on the west reefs was on with a round-topped hill some distance up the river. Although there is very apparent difficulty in navigating the Tamar, still the first glance shows it to be a stream of importance. Its valley, although not wide, may be traced for miles abruptly separating the ranges of hills. We can easily imagine, therefore, the joy experienced by Captain Flinders on first discovering it in 1798, and thus bestowing a solid and lasting benefit on the future Tasmanian colonists. This is not, however, the only portion of Australasia whose inhabitants are indebted for the riches they are reaping from the soil, to the enterprising spirit of Captain Flinders.
George Town is a straggling village lying two miles within the entrance of the Tamar; in its neighbourhood were found greenstone, basalt, and trappean rocks. Launceston, the northern capital of Tasmania, lies thirty miles up the river, or rather at the confluence of the two streams called the N. and S. Esk, which form it.
We found that the Governor was attending not only to the present but the future welfare of the colonists, by examining into the most eligible spots for erecting lighthouses at the eastern entrance of Bass Strait, fronting the N.E. extreme of Tasmania, the numerous dangers besetting which have been fatal to several vessels. These buildings will be lasting records of the benefits the colony derived from Sir John Franklin's government.
As we subsequently visited the Tamar, it is needless to give here the little information we gathered during our brief stay. Our observations were made on the south point of Lagoon Bay, where we found a whaleboat belonging to a party of sealers just arrived with birds' feathers and skins for the Launceston market. They had left their wives and families, including their dogs, on the islands they inhabit.
On the morning of the 22nd, we were again out of the Tamar, and making the best of our way to Port Phillip for a meridian distance. There was little tide noticed in the middle of the Strait; the greatest depth we found was 47 fathoms, 68 miles N.W. from the Tamar, where the nature of the bottom was a grey muddy sand or marl.
At noon on the 23rd, we entered Port Phillip, and ran up through the West Channel in three and three and a half fathoms.
Point Lonsdale, the west entrance point, being kept open of Shortland bluff—a cliffy projection about two miles within it—leads into the entrance; and a clump of trees on the northern slope of Indented Head, was just over a solitary patch of low red cliffs, as we cleared the northern mouth of the channel. From thence to Hobson's Bay, where we anchored at 3 p.m., the course is N. by W. 22 miles across a splendid sheet of water, of which the depth is 11 and 13 fathoms.
William Town, the seaport town of Australia Felix, named after his Majesty King William IV., stands on a very low piece of land forming the southern shore of Hobson's Bay, called Point Gellibrand, after a gentleman from Hobart, one of the first who brought stock to Port Phillip. He was lost in the bush in a very mysterious manner in 1834. No trace of him or his horse was found till 1842, when some of the natives showed where his mouldering bones lay. The point that bears his name scarcely projects sufficiently to afford large ships shelter from south winds in Hobson's Bay. In the N.W. corner of the latter is the mouth of the Yarra-yarra river; but although only one mile and a half from the general anchorage, it is very difficult to be made out. The following anecdote will illustrate the difficulty of detecting the mouths of rivers in Australia. Soon after we anchored in Hobson's Bay, a small schooner passed, going to Melbourne. Several of the officers were at the time standing on the poop, and each selected a spot at which the schooner was to enter the river; and although, as I have before stated, we were only one mile and a half from it, none of us was right. A single tall bushy-topped tree, about a mile inland, rose over the schooner as she left the waters of Hobson's Bay.
William Town consisted, at that time, of only a few houses. One disadvantage under which this place labours is badness of water, while the country around it is a dead level, with clumps of very open woodland. The formation is whinstone, but the soil's fertile quality shows an absence of sandstone.
Proceeding up the Yarra-yarra, we found that about two miles from the mouth, the river divides, one branch continuing in a northerly direction, and the other, a narrow sluggish stream, turning suddenly off to the eastward. The banks are so densely wooded, that it is seldom if ever that its surface is ruffled by a breeze.
The township of Melbourne on its north bank, five miles from the river's mouth, we found a very bustling place. Nearly two thousand persons had already congregated there, and more were arriving every day, so that great speculation was going on in land. We were delighted with the park-like appearance of the country, and the rich quality of the soil. This was the most fertile district we had seen in all Australia; and I believe everyone allows that such is the case. Its reputation indeed was at one time so great, that it became the point of attraction for all settlers from the mother country, where at one time the rage for Port Phillip became such, that there existed scarcely a village in which some of the inhabitants, collecting their little all, did not set out for this land of promise, with the hope of rapidly making a fortune and returning to end their days in comfort at home. Everyone I think must leave with such hopes; for who can deliberately gather up his goods and go into a far country with the settled intention of never returning?
A rocky ledge extends across the river fronting the town, upon which the plan had been formed of erecting a dam for the purpose of keeping the water fresh; whereas now the river is salt above the town, and the well water is not particularly good. The Yarra-yarra is not navigable even for boats many miles beyond Melbourne, on account of the numerous falls. Some of the reaches above the town are very picturesque—still glassy sheets of water stretch between steep banks clothed with rich vegetation down to the very edge of the stream—the branches of the trees droop over the smooth surface, and are vividly reflected; and substance is so perfectly blended with shadow, that it is impossible to detect where they unite.
At the western extremity of Melbourne is a low round hill, fifty-seven feet above the level of the sea by our observations, and about thirty above the town. There are now none of the aborigines in the neighbourhood of Melbourne; but I learned that some of their old men remember the time when the site of the town was under water, in consequence of one of those sudden inundations that happen in Australia, and are so much in keeping with the other strange things that occur there.
Having alluded to the natives, I may here mention a singular custom that came under notice some time after, at the Protectorate in the valley of the Loddon, in the vicinity of Melbourne. Several women were observed having their faces completely concealed by their opossum-skin mantles. Not satisfied with this moreover, in passing a party of men, they moved in a sidelong manner, so as to render it impossible, even if the covering came to be displaced, that their faces should be seen. In the evening at the Corobbery, these persons, three in number, were seated in the circle of women, so as to have their backs turned to the dancers or actors, their faces still being wholly concealed. They remained seated, motionless, taking no part in the singing or the gestures of encouragement indulged in by the other women. It was subsequently explained by a protector, that these were women who had daughters betrothed to the men of their tribe, and that during the period of betrothment the mothers are always thus rigidly veiled.
Near Mount Macedon, thirty miles N.W. from Melbourne, there has been discovered, I was informed, a quarry of marble of a very fine quality; and in the same neighbourhood is an extinct crater. The formation at and in the immediate vicinity of Melbourne, is of tertiary deposits associated with arenaceous older rocks.
We returned to the ships by a short route leading direct from Melbourne to the northern shore of Hobson's Bay. During the walk I was much struck with the great risk that people run in selecting land from a map of this country, half of our road lying over a rich loam, and the other half over soft sand. The trees swarmed with large locusts (the cicada) quite deafening us with their shrill buzzing noise.
We found the branches of these trees and the ground underneath strewed over with a white substance resembling small flakes of snow, called by the colonists manna. I am aware that an erroneous idea exists that this matter is deposited by the locusts; but in fact it is an exudation from the Eucalyptus; and although I saw it beneath another kind of tree, it must have been carried there by the wind. A different sort, of a pale yellow colour, is found on a smaller species of Eucalyptus growing on highlands, and is much sought after for food by the natives, who sometimes scrape from the tree as much as a pound in a quarter of an hour. It has the taste of a delicious sweetmeat, with an almond flavour, and is so luscious that much cannot be eaten of it. This is well worthy of attention from our confectioners at home, and it may hereafter form an article of commerce, although from what has fallen under my own observation, and from what I have learnt from Mr. Eyre and others, I should say it is not of frequent occurrence. The first kind, being found strewed underneath the tree probably exudes from the leaf, whilst the second oozes from the stem. The wood of the latter is much used for fuel by the natives, especially in night-fishing, and burns brightly, without smoke, diffusing also a delicious aromatic smell.
On Christmas day, which we spent in Hobson's Bay, we experienced one of those hot winds which occasionally occur coming off the land. During its prevalence, everything assumes a strange appearance—objects are seen with difficulty, and acquire a tremulous motion like that which is imparted to everything seen through the air escaping from an over-heated stove. The thermometer on a wall under the glare of the sun, stood at 135°.
We surveyed Hobson's Bay during our stay, and connected it by triangulation with Melbourne. Our observations were made at the inner end of a small jetty. The mouth of the Yarra-yarra is closed up by a bar, which from its soft muddy nature may be easily removed. The deepest water we found on it at high tide was nine feet.
Having completed our operations, we next morning, January 1st, 1839, departed for Corio Harbour, situated at the head of a deep inlet midway on the western shore of Port Phillip. We found our progress impeded as we beat up it by a long spit, extending two thirds of the way across from a low projecting point lying midway on the north shore. On the opposite side, the land is of moderate elevation, and has in many places a most inviting rich park-like appearance, swelling on all sides into grassy downs, with patches of open woodland interspersed. In the afternoon we anchored in three fathoms, about a quarter of a mile from the south point of Corio Harbour. This is a level expanse of land named Point Henry, from which a long spit extends, leaving only a shoal channel between it and the northern shore. Thus, though the harbour has apparently a broad open mouth, it is impossible for a large vessel to enter it.
January 2.—After breakfast a party of us went to visit Captain Fyans, the police magistrate of the district, for the purpose of arranging a trip to Station Peak. We landed on the S.W. corner of Corio Harbour, where we found four fathoms close to the beach, immediately over which is the north end of the township of Geelong. A kind of store and two other wooden buildings pointed out its locality. Captain Fyans was living in a log-hut on the banks of the Marabul River. Our road thither lay west about three miles across a woody down.
The Marabul runs to the southward, and joins the Barwon flowing from the west; after which the united streams take a south-easterly direction. The course of the latter I was anxious to trace, having seen its mouth in passing along the coast west from Port Phillip. Very opportunely I met with Mr. Smith, belonging to the colonial surveying department, who being employed in the neighbourhood, took me to a commanding station on some low hills about three miles to the south, called by the natives Barabul. We crossed the Barwon running to the south-east at the foot of them, near where it fell some height over a rocky shelf forming a pretty waterfall. Turning to the left from this roar of water, you find the stream meandering silently between rich grassy flats. On one of these Mr. Smith's tents were pitched, overlooked by a craggy height on the opposite side of the river; and the blue stream of smoke that arose from the fire of his party, helped to impart life and beauty to the scene. From the Barabul hills I almost traced the Barwon to its confluence with the sea. Five miles to the south-east from where we stood it communicated with a large lagoon; after leaving which, I was informed there was only a depth of three feet, and a width of one eighth of a mile. It is not, however, this alone that renders the Barwon useless for water-carriage to the town of Geelong; for the exposed situation of its mouth almost always prevents boats from entering.
The singular sloping treeless sides of the Barabul hills, and the declivities of the valley of the Marabul river, bear a striking resemblance to many parts of Eastern Patagonia. They appear as if they had just emerged from the sea, which had as it were scooped out their hollows and smoothed their sides. A remarkable high round hill, perfectly bare of trees, and called by the natives Moriac, bore W. ½ S. six miles from where we stood. On our return we met some of the natives; they were the first I had seen of the aborigines of this part of the continent, and were certainly a finer race than the people on the western coasts. They complained of the white men bringing animals into their country that scare away the kangaroo, and destroy the roots which at certain seasons of the year form part of their sustenance. This, Mr. Smith told me, was a very general complaint.
I spent a very pleasant evening at Captain Fyans' comfortable quarters, in the course of which arrangements were made for next day's journey to Station Peak, Mr. Smith kindly offering to lend me a horse and to accompany me.
January 3.—We started for Station Peak very early. The morning air had a delightfully bracing effect; and the grass glittered with a copious fall of dew. The first five miles of road lay over a high down, with pretty patches of woodland interspersed; and the remaining ten over a low plain that stretches to the foot of the peak. Six miles from the latter we crossed a hollow where I noticed some calcareous matter, in which were included shells of recent species, evidently showing that an upheaval had taken place in this part of the continent. We saw on the plain several large bustards resembling a light brown domestic turkey.
Leaving our horses at the foot of the peak, we ascended it by a sloping ridge on the south-east face. Huge blocks of granite—some poised on a point as if the slightest touch would send them rolling and thundering to the plains below—covered the sides and summits of this and the smaller peak, to the north of which are several others scattered over about a mile of ground.
On reaching the summit, I hastened to a pile of stones which Captain Flinders had erected to commemorate his visit; but, alas, the bottle and paper left by him were gone, and I have not since been able to learn who it was that took away this interesting and valuable record.
The view commanded all points of the splendid sheet of water called Port Phillip, which stretched away its shining expanse seemingly almost from our very feet; whilst north-east two long wavy lines of trees showed the course of the Little and Weariby rivers meandering through the plain.
The natives call this cluster of peaks Udē (great) Youang, and the other W.N.W. seven miles, Anukē (little) Youang. Another solitary high round hill, fifteen miles further nearly, in the same direction, is called Bununyong.
We have thus five native names of places in the immediate neighbourhood of Port Phillip, having the termination ng, and we may perhaps add another, the Barwon being probably Barwong. At King George's Sound in Western Australia, the names end in up, and again to the eastward, near Gipps' Land, the final letter is n. These observations may probably assist in directing the attention of philologists to the subject of the distribution of the Australian dialects or languages.
Udē Youang, or as Captain Flinders named it, Station Peak, is a granite mass elevated 1370 feet above the sea. At Geelong there is some confusion in the formation. The rocks, however, that prevail are trappean.
In digging a well there, a fossil cowrie (Cypræa eximia) of an extinct species was once found at the depth of sixty feet. Another specimen of the same shell was dug up at Franklin village near Launceston, from a hundred and forty feet below the surface of the soil. Count Strzelecki gives a figure of it in his interesting work.
Mr. Ronald Gunn, in his observations on the flora of Geelong, observes that out of a hundred species of plants collected indiscriminately, sixty-seven were also to be found in Tasmania, leaving only thirty-three to indicate the peculiarities of the Geelong vegetation.
Some of the officers of the Beagle exhibited at this place symptoms of being infected with the land-speculating mania we had witnessed at Melbourne, by bidding for some of the allotments of the township of Geelong, which were just then selling. One that was bought for £80 might have been sold a year afterwards for 700l. I mention this fact that the reader may see what a ruinous system was then in vogue.
On the morning of January 5, we left Geelong, touched at Hobson's Bay for a chronometric departure, and proceeded to sea by the south channel. Arthur's Seat is a good guide for its entrance from Hobson's Bay, the channel passing close under the foot of it. The eastern extremity of the northern banks, we found very difficult to make out, from the water being but slightly discoloured on it. It is, moreover, on account of its steepness, dangerous to approach. From this eastern corner of the bank, Arthur's Seat bears S. 50½° W. and a solitary patch of cliff, westward of the latter, S. 68° E.
In consequence of bad weather it was three days before we passed through the channel, which, we were pleased to find navigable for line of battle ships. A W. ¾ N. course led through, and the least water was five fathoms on a bar at the eastern entrance, where the width is only three-tenths of a mile, whilst in the western it is one mile, with a depth of seventeen fathoms. When in the latter we saw Flinders Point between Lonsdale and Nepean Points, and as we came down the channel, the last two points were just open of each other.
Leaving Port Phillip, we surveyed the coast to the eastward, and anchored in the entrance of Port Western, after dark on the 10th. Next morning we examined the south-west part of Grant island, and moved the ship to a more secure anchorage off its N.E. point. Port Western is formed between Grant and French islands in rather a remarkable manner: two great bays lie one within the other, the inner being nearly filled up by French island, whilst the outer is sheltered by Grant Island, stretching across it almost from point to point, and leaving a wide ship-channel on its western side, whilst on the eastern the passage is narrow and fit only for boats and small vessels.
Gales between N.W. and S.W. detained us here until the 19th. We found water by digging on the N.E. extreme of Grant Island, which at high tide is a low sandy islet. On first landing there, we found in a clump of bushes a kangaroo, very dark-coloured, indeed almost black. His retreat being cut off he took to the water, and before a boat could reach him, sank. This not only disappointed but surprised us; for in Tasmania a kangaroo has been known to swim nearly two miles. Black swans were very numerous, and it being the moulting season, were easily run down by the boats. Their outstretched necks and the quick flap of their wings as they moved along, reminded us forcibly of a steamboat. At this season of the year when the swans cannot fly, a great act of cruelty is practised on them by those who reside on the Islands in Bass Strait, and of whom I have before spoken as sealers: they take them in large numbers and place them in confinement, without anything to eat, in fact almost starve them to death, in order that the down may not be injured by the fat which generally covers their bodies.
Scarcely any traces are now to be found of the old settlement on a cliffy point of the eastern shore of the harbour. The rapid growth of indigenous vegetation has completely concealed all signs of human industry, and the few settlers in the neighbourhood have helped themselves to the bricks to build their own homes.
We noticed, however, one or two remaining indications of the fact that a settlement had formerly existed on that spot, among others an old flagstaff still erect, on a bluff near the N.E. end of Grant Island. A very large domestic cat, also, was seen on the S.E. point, doubtless another relic of the first settlers.
The rocks chiefly to be met with at Port Western are analogous to those of the Carboniferous series. Over its eastern shore rises a range of woody hills to the height of between five and seven hundred feet, stretching away in a N.E. direction. This harbour presents one very curious feature, namely, a sort of canal or gut in the mud flats that front the eastern side of Grant Island. Its depth varies from six to seven fathoms, whilst the width is half a mile. The most remarkable object, however, is the helmet-shaped headland, rising abruptly from the sea to the height of 480 feet, and forming the S.E. extreme of Grant Island. It is the more conspicuous from the circumstance that all the rest of the island is covered with low hills, clothed in an almost impervious scrub. The land at the head of the inner of the two bays I have alluded to in describing Port Western, partakes of the same character, and is intersected by a number of creeks. This greatly increases the difficulty of the overland communication between Port Phillip and the available land on Port Western, travellers being compelled to take a very circuitous road in order to avoid this almost impassable tract, and reach the banks of Bass river, where the best soil is found, and which has been named after the enterprising man whose memory must for ever remain intimately connected with this part of the world.
A few rare insects were collected by Mr. Emery, whose adventures with snakes bear a great resemblance to some of Waterton's. He was walking out once on Grant Island, when his attention was attracted by the pitiful cries of a bird in a tree close at hand. He soon discovered that a snake* was in the act of robbing the nest, whilst the mother fluttering round, was endeavouring to scare away the spoiler. Mr. Emery immediately climbed up, and with a courage which few other men would have exhibited, seized the reptile by the back of the neck and killed it. We found that it had already swallowed one of the young ones, which had so extended the skin, and made so large a lump, that we were quite puzzled to know how it could have been got down.
- * Lieutenant Emery has this snake still in his possession, stuffed in a masterly style, and set up with the bird in its mouth.
We were astonished to find the tide here nearly an hour later than at Port Phillip, and higher by six feet. The cause of this peculiarity is no doubt to be attributed to the fact of the tides at Port Western being influenced by the easterly flood-stream. The bad weather we experienced during our stay enabled us to judge of the capabilities of the Port, which we were glad to find the finest we had yet seen in Bass Strait, not so much, however, from its size, for above Grant Island the extent of deep water is limited, as from the great facility of access.
On the 19th we left Port Western, passing out by keeping an isolated piece of tableland, called Tortoise Head, on the S.E. extremity of French Island, open of the N.E. point of Grant Island. The only danger is a sandbank, lying in the centre of the channel, four miles within the entrance. It may always be avoided by keeping a cable's length from the eastern shore.
The western half of the south side of Grant Island, is a line of cliffs, from one to three hundred feet in height. A remarkable pyramidal rock marks the point where this terminates, after which a long range of low hills, covered with scrub, stretches to Cape Wollami, the helmet-shaped headland before-mentioned. A light N.E. wind rendered our progress slow towards Cape Patterson, we reaching it by daylight of the 20th. It is a low point, covered with scattered sand hillocks; a few rocky patches here and there front its sand beach.
Finding from the succession of dense fogs that we could not prosecute an easterly examination of the coast, we returned towards Port Phillip, and experienced some unusual swells off Port Western. The soundings were in general tolerably regular; but in the same neighbourhood we had some extraordinary ones—seventy fathoms, on a gravelly bottom. This was nearly one third of the way across from Grant Island to Cape Shanck, seven miles from the latter. The same strange depth was likewise found three miles south from Cape Wollami, with the same kind of gravel bottom, or a very fine kind of shingle. It was a single cast of the lead. On either side in this last case were 39 and 33 fathoms fine sand and shells. Had it not been for the change in the quality of the bottom, I should have doubted so great a depth, which is the more remarkable from its being the greatest within the Strait.
The next day towards evening we again anchored in Hobson's Bay, where we stayed till the 23rd. This time in getting out of Port Phillip through the southern channel, we met with an accident. I have before mentioned the difficulty of seeing the eastern part of the north bank, which, on this occasion, combined with the dazzling effect of the sun's rays ahead, was the cause of our grounding for a short time near the inner entrance. It was, therefore, noon next day before we were again outside, when we steered across for the north end of King Island.
January 26.—In passing Franklin Road the next morning, we saw a cutter at anchor, doubtless the colonial vessel which is occasionally allowed to visit Captain Smith, and afford him supplies. We passed down four miles from the western side of King Island, carrying an outer line of soundings, varying from 40 to 50 fathoms; and in the evening anchored in Fitzmaurice Bay.
Next morning we proceeded in search of Bell Rock,* lying in the middle of the south entrance of Bass Strait, eight miles S. from the northern and largest of Reid's Rocks; but there being only a light air stirring from the westward, we were almost wholly at the mercy of the tide, which carried us midway between its assigned position and the last-mentioned dangers. We passed near several small eddies and slight whirlpools, in which no bottom was found in the boats with 25 fathoms. The N.W. extremity of Reid's Rock might with propriety be described as a small islet, it being a dark mass some half a mile long, and rising 25 feet out of the water. The French charts exhibit some sunken rocks to the north of this; but, if they really exist, of which there is great doubt, we saw nothing of them. I may here mention, that great circumspection should be used by vessels in the neighbourhood of Reid's Rocks, as the soundings do not indicate their approach, and as the tide runs among them with great rapidity.
- * A rock was seen in H.M.S. Conway five miles W.S.W. from Bell Rock.
Between them and the Black Pyramid we had 35 and 32 fathoms.
We passed the night standing to and fro close to the Pyramid, which I have before described as a dark rocky lump 240 feet high. Its western side is a sombre storm-beaten cliff, whilst to the east it slopes away almost to the water's edge. A few patches of coarse grass may be seen on some sheltered spots. Sealers, I am informed, have landed upon it on certain rare occasions of fine weather, and have been repaid for their daring by capturing a few fur-seals from the rookery that there exists. The Black Pyramid from some points of view, greatly resembles Curtis Island, near the eastern entrance of the Strait. A mile and a half from its eastern side, there was only 24 fathoms, which was the least water we were in during the night.
January 27.—We found ourselves at daylight in 35 fathoms, two miles S.W. from the Pyramid, when we stood away E.S.E., to sound and have a seaward view of the entrance between Hunter Island and Point Woolnorth. This examination confirmed our former opinion that no ship-channel existed there. But even if there had been one, the passage is so strewed with rocks and disturbed by such heavy tide ripples, that it wears a most dangerous appearance from the offing.
Rounding the south side of the south Black Rock, we went between it and Steep Island in 19 fathoms. From thence we steered between the north Black Rock and the west point of Hunter Island in 24 fathoms, having 15 fathoms midway between.
Continuing our northern course, we passed a mile from the west side of Albatross Island, in 30 and 33 fathoms. It is a dark cliffy isle, the summit of which although 125 feet high, appears to be sometimes washed by the sea. There are one or two finger-shaped points of rock at the south end; and a singular split in the entire island may be seen on the bearing of N. 75° E. The wind had now increased to a gale from the westward, and we were obliged to seek shelter under Hunter Island.
January 28.—In the morning the breeze was moderate from N.E., to which quarter it had changed suddenly during the night, veering round from west by the north. By noon it had shifted to E.N.E. and had increased to a gale. At 8 p.m. it blew a strong gale with gusts from that quarter. The barometer had now just begun to fall, and was at 29.9. During the day it had been steady at 30.02. This gale lasted, blowing with the same violence (latterly from E.) until 1 p.m. the next day, when after a calm of about a quarter of an hour the wind changed suddenly to N. with rain, thunder, and vivid lightning, and by 4 p.m. had veered to west and increased once more to a strong gale with heavy squalls. The barometer at the same time began to rise; it had been stationary at 29.6 since the morning.
It was the evening of the 31st before this gale blew over, after veering to the S.W. The barometer at the time was at 29.9, having risen to that height in the morning. The rotatory character of this storm, which resembled those we had experienced on our former visit, induces me to enter thus into details respecting it. These observations, too, may evince more plainly, the necessity of an anchorage at this time of the year being sheltered from both east and west winds.
The fire that had been accidentally kindled on Three Hummock Island, when we were last there, was still burning. This conflagration had almost been fatal to Mr. Bynoe, who was out in the scrubs when it burst forth, having with great difficulty forced his way among them in search of specimens for his collection of birds. His attention was suddenly roused by the roaring of the flames as they swept down the sides of the hills, wrapping them in a sheet of fire. The predicament in which he was placed was a most critical one, as he hardly knew which way to turn to avoid the pressing danger. Even when, fortunately, he had taken the right direction, it was with the greatest exertion that he burst through the matted thicket and reached the water's edge before the fire.
Our fishermen were very successful with the hook and line, taking near the rocks great numbers of fish, some of which were a species of rock cod. Alongside the ship we only caught sharks, one of which contained thirty-six young ones.
Although the barometer remained stationery at 29.9 the weather continued so boisterous, and westerly squalls followed each other in such rapid succession, that it was the 3rd of February, before we could commence work in earnest. On that day the ship was moved to near the south end of Hunter Island, where we found a nice quiet anchorage with scarcely any tide off a long sandy beach.
By the 6th we completed what remained to be done of the survey of this part, and proceeded to collect the necessary soundings between Three Hummock Island, and Circular Head, anchoring under the latter the same evening. Here we met Mr. Curr, the Company's Superintendent, who was absent during our first visit. From him we experienced so great hospitality, that our stay appeared shorter than it really was. On the morning of the 9th we again left. It was our intention to have stood over midway across the Strait in search of some islands reported by the French to be thereabouts, though all the local information we could gain on the subject tended to induce a disbelief of their existence.
But the sky assuming a threatening aspect, and the wind increasing from the westward, we sought shelter under the S.E. end of Robbin Island. And it was well we did so; for during the following two days, it blew the heaviest gale we had yet met with in the Strait. A succession of violent gusts from the west, with loud thunder, vivid lightning, and much rain, constantly reminded us of the wisdom of our cautious proceeding. At Port Phillip this same storm was felt very severely. Such was its strength and violence, that many houses were unroofed, and other damage done to a large amount. It passed over both Melbourne and Geelong, darkening the air with the clouds of dust it bore along with it, and filling the minds of the inhabitants with the greatest terror and apprehension. They called it a tornado; and it appeared to have quite the rotatory character of a hurricane.
February 11.—We left this anchorage, and passed three miles from the N.E. side of Three Hummock Island where we found only six fathoms, apparently on a bank thrown up by the tide sweeping round its sides. From thence we steered across the Strait to Sea Elephant Rock on the eastern shore of King Island. We saw nothing of the islands laid down by the French, thirteen leagues east of it, and it was my firm belief that they had no existence. Subsequent observation has confirmed this belief. We however found the shoal water supposed to exist thereabouts.
The northern termination of the highland over the south-eastern part of the island which marks Sea Elephant Bay was very apparent as we approached. In the evening we anchored in seven fathoms on the north side of Sea Elephant Rock, which we visited the following morning. It is nearly a mile in circumference, and 120 feet high, clothed with a coarse wiry grass. A small vessel if properly moored might find shelter under it from easterly gales. We were surprised to find the time of high-water here nearly two hours earlier than at Three Hummock Island; the flood-stream came from the southward.
Of the number of wild dogs that we had heard of as being on this island, we saw only two. From the bones we found of others it is more than probable that they live upon each other at the seasons of the year when the mutton birds having departed; they would otherwise have to depend solely for subsistence on the few shellfish adhering to the rocks. This reminded me of what I once witnessed on an island off the eastern coast of Patagonia. Several herds of deer had once existed upon it; but some persons having turned a number of dogs loose, the original inhabitants were soon destroyed, and the newcomers afterwards devoured each other, so that when I saw them, but a small remnant remained. The dogs on Sea Elephant Rock, which were left by sealers, had grown so wild that they would not allow us to approach them. I saw here some small penguins, a bird we rarely met with in the Strait.
This part of King Island is clothed with thick scrubs, among which we saw numerous tracks of kangaroos, a certain sign that it is not much frequented by civilized or uncivilized man. Leaving this anchorage we examined the eastern shore of the island which we found, as I have before described, to be low and sandy. Passing along two miles from it, we had a depth of from 8 to 12 and 15 fathoms. As we approached the northern end, the character of the coast changed, it being formed by rocky points with small sand bays intervening. The reef laid down by the French, two miles from the N.E. extremity of the island, we found to be only half a mile S.S.W. from it, one of the many errors we discovered in the French chart of the strait. It is a small ugly ledge quite beneath the water, and from the absence of rocky points on the low sandy shore it fronts, is quite unlooked for.
The next day, February 13th, we examined the dangers fronting the north side of the island, consisting of Navarin and Harbinger Rocks, neither of which we found so formidable or so far from the shore as had been reported. The former lies only a mile and a half off the north end, and although we did not pass between it and the shore, there is little doubt that a passage exists. We passed between the Harbinger rocks in 27 fathoms; this great depth in their immediate vicinity, gives no warning of their proximity in the night or during thick weather.
As it was now necessary for us to think of preparing for our return to the N. coast, the proper season for passing through Torres Strait also approaching, and the increasing importance of Port Phillip, rendering it desirable to complete our survey of its entrance before our departure; we consequently proceeded thither. We found even soundings of 53 fathoms extend twenty miles N. by E. from Harbinger Reef, but from thence northwards, the depths gradually decreased. Calms and light winds rendered the passage across very tedious. We spent one night at anchor in 31 fathoms near the entrance, about six miles south from Point Flinders, where the tide scarcely ran a knot an hour; the flood-stream set N.E. With these operations closed our work in Bass Strait, for the present. We had completed the western entrance from Port Western on the north shore and Circular Head on the south. The weather had prevented our doing more, and obtaining as many soundings as we could have wished. It had been unusually boisterous and unsettled, much more so than the winter generally is. From all I could learn such a season had not been experienced in the memory of the oldest inhabitants.
March 1.—Bidding adieu to our hospitable friends, we left Port Phillip, and having spent a night at Port Western, stood out from it next morning, and passed over in 12 and 15 fathoms, the patch of discoloured water discovered by Flinders, two miles south of the remarkable round islet, that lies off the western extreme of Grant Island. Pursuing our course to the eastward, we were detained by contrary winds for some time among the islands at the eastern entrance of the Strait. All these we found to be considerably out in position, showing the necessity of an accurate survey. We were exceedingly delighted when on the 5th we were enabled fairly to turn our back on Bass Strait, that region of storms, which stretched behind us as we receded like a black mass resting on the horizon. A strong south-wester soon carried us far away from it in the direction we had been so long endeavouring to pursue.
At noon on the 8th, we were close in with the land in the neighbourhood of Jervis Bay. A long line of cliffs fronts the shore; but the highlands recede as in the neighbourhood of Sydney, leaving a low tract of country between them and the sea.
To the S.W. of this bay, we had an excellent view of that singular landmark, which Captain Cook, with his usual felicity in the choice of names, called the Pigeon House. It was just open of the south end of some tablelands, and resembled a cupola superimposed upon a large dome.
Next day in the forenoon, we again arrived at Sydney; where we remained from March 10th to May 21st, employing the time in completing our charts, sending home tracings of them, and preparing for our cruise on the Northern coast. I was glad to find the return meridian distance between Port Phillip and Sydney agree with the going one, placing the jetty at William's Town 6° 19' 14" west of Fort Macquarie.
Everything was still suffering from one of those fearful droughts that occasionally visit this colony, but are as yet unknown in Western Australia, where the seasons are certain, although available land is scarce. An idea may be formed of the nature of this visitation, when I say, that for some time previous to our former departure from Sydney, during the whole of our absence, and for several months subsequent to our return, not a drop of rain fell. The consequence of this was, that the whole country was dried up, and the dust lay on the roads, especially towards Parramatta, at least a foot thick. Whoever attempted to travel, therefore, seemed, if the wind blew, as though he had been passing through a mill. It will readily be imagined that so long a succession of dry seasons, did prodigious injury to the stock, and utterly ruined the wheat crops. To add to the distress then occasioned, the people of Tasmania seizing on the opportunity, raised the price of grain, expecting to make a large profit. But their avidity in this instance over-reached itself. Instead of sending to them for corn, the people of Sydney despatched vessels to South America, and as the early cargoes that arrived sold to advantage, a great deal of money was embarked in the speculation. Soon, however, the natural consequence ensued. The market became glutted, cargo after cargo came in, the purchasers held back, prices fell, and in many instances the importers were glad to dispose of their wheat at a rate far inferior to what it had been shipped at. I have no doubt that the financial derangement caused by so large an amount of bullion going out of the country (for all these cargoes were bought with ready money) had much to do with the subsequent depression.
I may here take an opportunity of remarking that, as a general rule, it is the labouring classes that thrive best at Sydney. They can in tolerably prosperous times, earn sufficient in three or four days, to support themselves throughout the week. During the remainder of the time, the sober and industrious man employs himself in building a house; but I am sorry to say that the generality repair to the vast number of public houses that swarm on every side, and get drunk. This is evident from the annual revenue derived from rum, which in 1839 was 190,000 pounds, amounting to more than seven gallons for every individual in the colony.
It caused us extreme regret that before our departure from Sydney, we were deprived of Mr. Usborne's valuable services. He was compelled to return home in consequence of the dreadful wound he had received from a musket ball, which, as has already been related, passed through his body. In him the expedition sustained a great loss; his presence and society were missed by all; and his departure was generally felt. It may easily be conceived indeed that the separation from a friend and messmate under such circumstances, must have cast for a time a shade of sadness over our minds. Mr. Usborne took charge of the charts which we sent to England on this occasion.
I cannot leave Sydney without alluding to our meeting with Mr. Cunningham, the Botanist, whose death I have already mentioned, as having taken place two months after our departure from Sydney. Though worn out by disease, and evidently on the brink of the grave, the fire of enthusiasm kindled in his frame, and his eyes glistened as he talked of our projected enterprise; and it was with difficulty that he could be dissuaded from accompanying us. His name, which will be remembered by his friends on account of his many amiable qualities, will not be forgotten by posterity; for it has become associated with the lands he explored, as well as with the natural productions he described. The presence and attention of his valued friend Captain P.P. King, contributed to soothe his last moments.