Early Voyages to Terra Australis/Account of the Observations of Captain William Dampier

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Early Voyages to Terra Australis by Richard Henry Major
Account of the Observations of Captain William Dampier

ACCOUNT OF THE OBSERVATIONS OF CAPTAIN
WILLIAM DAMPIER ON THE COAST OF NEW
HOLLAND, IN 1687-88,

being an extract from his "new voyage round the
world
," published in lond.
, 1697, 8vo., pp. 461.




Being now clear of all the islands, we stood off south, intending to touch at New Holland, a part of Terra Australis Incognita, to see what that country would afford us. Indeed, as the winds were, we could not now keep our intended course (which was first westerly and then northerly) without going to New Holland, unless we had gone back again among the islands; but this was not a good time of the year to be among any islands to the south of the equator, unless in a good harbour.

The 31st day we were in latitude 13° 26', still standing to the southward, the wind bearing commonly very hard at west, and we keeping upon it under two courses, and our myen, and sometimes a main-top-sail rift. About ten a clock at night we tackt and stood to the northward, for fear of running on a shoal, which is laid down in our drafts in latitude 13° 50' or thereabouts: it bearing south by west from the east end of Timor: and so the island bore from us by our judgments and reckoning. At three a clock we tackt again, and stood S. by W. and S.S.W. In the morning, as soon as it was day, we saw the shoal right ahead: it lies in 13° 50' by all our reckonings. It is

a small spit of land, just appearing above the water's edge, with several rocks about it, 8 or 10 feet above high water. It lies in a triangular form, each side being about a league and a half. We stemm'd right with the middle of it, and stood within half a mile of the rocks, and sounded; but found no ground. Then we went about and stood to the north two hours; and then tackt and stood to the southward againe, thinking to weather it; but could not. So we bore away on the north side till we came to the east point, giving the rocks a small berth: then we trimb'd sharp, and stood to the southward, passing close by it, and sounded again, but found no ground.

This shoal is laid down in our drafts not above sixteen or twenty leagues from New Holland; but we did runne afterwards sixty leagues due south before we fell in with it: and I am very confident that no part of New Holland hereabouts lyes so far northerly by forty leagues as it is laid down in our drafts. For if New Holland were laid down true, we must of necessity have been driven near forty leagues to the westward of our course; but this is very improbable, that the current should set so strong to the westward, seeing that we had such a constant westerly wind. I grant that when the monsoon shifts first, the current does not presently shift, but runs afterwards near a month; but the monsoon had been shifted at least two months now. But of the monsoons and other winds, and of the currents, elsewhere, in their proper place. As to these here, I do rather believe that the land is not laid down true, than that the current deceived us; for it was more probable we should have been deceived before we met with the shoal than afterward: for on the coast of New Holland we found the tides keeping their constant course, the flood running N. by E. and the ebb S. by W.

The 4th day of January, 1688, we fell in with the land of New Holland, in the latitude of 16° 50', having, as I said before, made our course due south from the shoal that we past by the 31st day of December. We ran in close by it, and finding no convenient anchorage, because it lies open to the N.W., we ran along shore to the eastward, steering N.E. by E., for so the land lies. We steered thus about twelve leagues; and then came to a point of land, from whence the land trends east and southerly for ten or twelve leagues: but how afterwards I know not. About three leagues to the eastward of this point there is a pretty deep bay, with abundance of islands in it, and a very good place to anchor in or to hale ashore. About a league to the eastward of that point we anchored January the 5th, 1688, two miles from the shore, in twenty-nine fathom, good hard sand and clean ground.

New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a main continent; but I am certain that it joyns neither to Asia, Africa, nor America. This part of it that we saw is all low even land, with sandy banks against the sea, only the points are rocky, and so are some of the islands in this bay.

The land is of a dry sandy soil, destitute of water, except you make wells: yet producing divers sorts of trees: but the woods are not thick, nor the trees very big. Most of the trees that we saw are dragon-trees as we supposed; and these, too, are the largest trees of any where. They are about the bigness of our large apple trees, and about the same height: and the rind is blackish, and somewhat rough. The leaves are of a dark colour; the gum distils out of the knots or cracks that are in the bodies of the trees. We compared it with some gum dragon, or dragon's blood, that was aboard; and it was of the same colour and taste. The other sorts of trees were not known by any of us. There was pretty long grass growing under the trees, but it was very thin. We saw no trees that bore fruit or berries.

We saw no sort of animals, nor any track of beast, but once, and that seemed to be the tread of a beast as big as a great mastiff dog. Here are a few small land-birds, but none bigger than a blackbird: and but few sea-fowls. Neither is the sea very plentifully stored with fish, unless you reckon the manatee and turtle as such. Of these creatures there is plenty, but they are extraordinarily shy, though the inhabitants cannot trouble them much, having neither boats nor iron.

The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest people in the world. The Hodmadods of Monomatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen to these; who have no houses and skin garments, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the earth, ostrich eggs, etc., as the Hodmadods have; and setting aside their human shape, they differ but little from brutes. They are tall, straight-bodied, and thin, with small long limbs. They have great head, round foreheads, and great brows. Their eyelids are always half closed, to keep the flies out of their eyes, they being so troublesome here that no fanning will keep them from coming to ones face; and without the assistance of both hands to keep them off, they will creep into ones nostrils, and mouth, too, if the lips are not shut very close. So that, from their infancy, being thus annoyed with these insects, they do never open their eyes as other people do; and therefore they cannot see far, unless they hold up their heads as if they were looking at somewhat over them.

They have great bottle-noses, pretty full lips, and wide mouths. The two fore-teeth of their upper jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young: whether they draw them out I know not: neither have they any beards. They are long-visaged, and of a very unpleasing aspect, having no one graceful feature in their faces. Their hair is black, short, and curl'd, like that of the negroes; and not long and lank, like the common Indians. The colour of their skins, both of their faces and the rest of their body, is coal black, like that of the negroes of Guinea.

They have no sort of clothes, but a piece of the rind of a tree ty'd lyke a girdle about their waists, and a handful of long grass, or three or four small green boughs, full of leaves, thrust under their girdle to cover their nakedness.

They have no houses, but lye in the open air without any covering, the earth being their bed and the heaven their canopy. Whether they cohabit one man to one woman, or promiscuously, I know not; but they do live in companies, twenty or thirty men, women and children together. Their only food is a small sort of fish, which they get by making wares of stone across little coves or branches of the sea; every tide bringing in the small fish, and there leaving them for a prey to these people, who constantly attend there to search for them at low water. This small fry I take to be the top of their fishery: they have no instruments to catch great fish, should they come, and such seldom stay to be left behind at low water, nor could we catch any fish with our hooks and lines all the while we lay there. In other places at low water they seek for cockles, mussels, and periwincles. Of these shell-fish there are fewer still, so that their chiefest dependance is upon what the sea leaves in their wares, which, be it much or little, they gather up, and march to the places of their abode. There the old people, that are not able to stir abroad by reason of their age, and the tender infants, wait their return; and what Providence has bestowed on them, they presently broil on the coals and eat it in common. Sometimes they get as many fish as makes them a plentiful banquet, and at other times they scarce get every one a taste; but, be it little or much that they get, every one has his part, as well the young and tender as the old and feeble, who are not able to go abroad as the strong and lusty. When they have eaten they lie down till the next low water, and then all that are able march out, be it night or day, rain or shine, 'tis all one; they must attend the wares or else they must fast, for the earth affords them no food at all. There is neither herb, root, pulse, nor any sort of grain for them to eat that we saw; nor any sort of bird or beast that they can catch, having no instruments where-withal to do so.

I did not perceive that they did worship anything. These poor creatures have a sort of weapon to defend their ware or fight with their enemies, if they have any that will interfere with their poor fishery. They did endeavour with their weapons to frighten us, who, lying ashore, deterr'd them from one of their fishing places. Some of them had wooden swords, others had a sort of lances. The sword is a piece of wood, shaped somewhat like a cutlass. The lance is a long strait pole, sharp at one end, and hardened afterwards by heat. I saw no iron, nor any other sort of metal; therefore it is probable they use stone hatchets, as some Indians in America do, described in chapter iv.

How they get their fire I know not, but probably, as Indians do, out of wood. I have seen the Indians of Bon-Airy do it, and have myself tryed the experiment. They take a flat piece of wood, that is pretty soft, and make a small dent in one side of it; then they take another hard round stick, about the bigness of one's little finger, and sharpening it at one end like a pencil, they put that sharp end in the hole or dent of the flat soft juice, and then rubbing or twirling the hard piece between the palms of their hands, they drill the soft piece till it smokes, and at last takes fire.

These people speak somewhat through the throat, but we could not understand one word that they said. We anchored, as I said before, January the 5th, and seeing men walking on the shore, we presently set a canoe to get some acquaintance with them, for we were in hopes to get some provisions among them. But the inhabitants, seeing our boat coming, run away and hid themselves. We searched afterwards three days, in hopes to find their houses; but found none; yet we saw many places where they had made fires. At last, being out of hopes to find their habitations, we searched no farther; but left a great many toys ashore, in such places where we thought that they would come. In all our search we found no water, but old wells on the sandy bays.

At last we went over to the islands, and there we found a great many of the natives: I do believe there were forty on one island, men, women, and children. The men, at our first coming ashore, threatened us with their lances and swords; but they were frighted by firing one gun, which we fired purposely to scare them. The island was so small that they could not hide themselves; but they were much disordered at our landing, especially the women and children, for we went directly to their camp. The lustiest of the women snatching up their infants ran away howling, and the little children run after squeaking and bawling, but the men stood still. Some of the women, and such people as could not go from us, lay still by a fire, making a doleful noise as if we had been coming to devour them; but when they saw that we did not intend to harm them they were pretty quiet, and the rest that fled from us at our first coming returned again. This, their place of dwelling, was only a fire, with a few boughs before it, set up on that side the wind was of.

After we had been here a little while the men began to be familiar, and we cloathed some of them, designing to have some service of them for it; for we found some wells of water here, and intended to carry two or three barrels of it aboard. But being somewhat troublesome to carry to the canoes, we thought to have made these men to have carried it for us, and therefore we gave them some cloathes; to one an old pair of breeches, to another a ragged shirt, to a third a jacket that was scarce worth owning, which yet would have been very acceptable at some places where we had been, and so we thought they might have been with these people. We put them on them, thinking that this finery would have brought them to work heartily for us; and our water being filled in small long barrels, about six gallons in each, which were made purposely to carry water in, we brought these our new servants to the wells, and put a barrel on each of their shoulders for them to carry to the canoa. But all the signs we could make were to no purpose, for they stood like statues, without motion, but grinned like so many monkeys, staring one upon another; for these poor creatures seem not accustomed to carry burthens, and I believe that one of our ship-boys of ten years old would carry as much as one of them. So we were forced to carry our water ourselves, and they very fairly put the cloathes off again and laid them down, as if cloathes were only to work in. I did not perceive that they had any great liking to them at first, neither did they seem to admire anything that we had.

At another time, our canoa being among these islands seeking for game, espy'd a drove of these men swimming from one island to another; for they have no boats, canoes, or bark-logs. They took up four of them and brought them aboard; two of them were middle aged, the other two were young men about eighteen or twenty years old. To these we gave boiled rice, and with it turtle and manatee boiled. They did greedily devour what we gave them, but took no notice of the ship or any thing in it, and when they were set on land again they ran away as fast as they could. At our first coming, before we were acquainted with them or they with us, a company of them who lived on the main came just against our ship, and standing on a pretty high bank, threatened us with their swords and lances by shaking them at us; at last the captain ordered the drum to be beaten, which was done of a sudden with much vigour, purposely to scare the poor creatures. They hearing the noise ran away as fast as they could drive, and when they ran away in haste they would cry, Gurry, Gurry, speaking deep in the throat. Those inhabitants also that live on the main would always run away from us, yet we took several of them. For, as I have already observed, they had such bad eyes that they could not see us till we came close to them. We did always give them victuals and let them go again, but the islanders, after our first time of being among them, did not stir for us.

When we had been here about a week, we hal'd our ship into a small sandy cove, at a spring-tide, as far as she would float; and at low water she was left dry, and the sand dry without us near half a mile, for the sea riseth and falleth here about five fathoms. The flood runs north by east, and the ebb south by west. All the neep-tides we lay wholly aground, for the sea did not come near us by about a hundred yards. We had therefore time enough to clean our ship's bottom, which we did very well. Most of our men lay ashore in a tent, where our sails were mending; and our strikers brought home turtle and manatee every day, which was our constant food.

While we lay here, I did endeavour to persuade our men to go to some English factory, but was threatened to be turned ashore and left here for it.

This made me desist, and patiently wait for some more convenient place and opportunity to leave them than here; which I did hope I should accomplish in a short time, because they did intend, when they went from hence, to bear down towards Cape Comorin. In their way thither they design'd to visit also the Island Cocos, which lieth in latitude 12° 12' north, by our drafts: hoping there to find of that fruit, the island having its name from thence.