Descriptive account of the panoramic view, &c. of King George's Sound, and the adjacent country

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Descriptive Account of the Panoramic View, &c. of King George's Sound, and the Adjacent Country  (1834) 
by Robert Dale

a pamphlet written by Robert Dale in 1834, containing description and commentary on the Panoramic View of King George's Sound, Part of the Colony of Swan River, a panorama of King George's Sound painted by Robert Havell. Together with prints of the Panorama, it was sold to attendees of an exhibition given in the home of Thomas Pettigrew.















&c. &c.

From documents deposited in the Colonial Office, and which I have had an opportunity of inspecting, I find the boundaries of Western Australia to extend from "Cape Londonderry, in latitude 13° 44' S., to West Cape Howe, in lat. 35° 8' S., and from Hertog's Island, on the west coast, in longitude 112° 15' to 129° E, including all the islands adjacent in the Indian and Southern Oceans, within the latitudes and longitudes aforesaid."

A high range of granite hills, terminating towards the sea, in bold promontories, runs each way along the coast from King George's Sound: of these two are remarkable; one, a narrow neck of land, (seen in the panoramic view on the right of the entrance to the Sound), is a large mass of granite stretching upwards of two miles into the sea, from which it rises almost perpendicularly to a height of five hundred feet; the other, although not so high, is still very bold; and between these is the entrance to the Sound, with the Islands of Breaksea and Michaelmas. The southern basis and the Sound are deep and capacious, and, together, form a magnificent harbour; but the passage of large vessels into the northern basin is obstructed by a bar, which is perhaps occasioned by the disemboguement of the Kalgan and King Rivers. The harbour at the Swan is two hundred miles to the north, and is said by naval men to be a good one; as the entrance is now buoyed off, and a fresh channel found, the dangers which vessels hitherto encountered on this stormy coast, will probably, by these means, be removed. Between Swan River and King George's Sound, a rich country intervenes; and upon comparing the reports of the exploring parties who have penetrated into the interior, it is quite evident that it possesses every capability of forming a valuable addition to the colonies of Great Britain. Its extensive tracts of pasture will afford great facility to the production of wool, which is at present the staple commodity, and the principal article of export at Sydney and Van Diemen's Land.

The country between the coast and the Porrongurup Range (in the panoramic view bounding the horizon, upon the extreme right,) consists of a succession of low hills, covered with dense forests of mahoganies, banksias, and other trees peculiar to Australian scenery; it is intersected by two small rivers, the Napier and King, and is well watered by springs and rivulets. Between these mountains, and those immediately beyond, a broad, wild valley, called the Vale of Kalgan, intervenes; through this runs the channel of a river, the water of which is brackish in summer. The most distant mountains, the Toolbrunnup, rise abruptly from an immense plain; the highest is estimated at three thousand feet, and the view from its summit is extensive and singular;—towards the coast the sea is distinctly visible at a distance of fifty miles; and towards the interior, small lakes, thick woods, and open patches, reach to the utmost bound of sight, almost without a rise. The range running along in a succession of high peaks and precipitous rocks, averages only five miles in breadth, which it extends longitudinally upwards of forty. Beyond this no European has at present penetrated; and, in fact, if the reports of the natives are true, there is little inducement for exploring; water, they say, in those districts, is so scarce, that the tribes who inhabit them are obliged to quench their thirst by making an incision with their hatchets into the bark of the white gum-tree. The view from the summit certainly seemed to confirm this account. To the westward the country is of a much superior character; it is watered by several small rivers; is rich and fertile; and the trees are of a large size.

The group of soldiers and natives make up a party returning from a kangaroo hunt: two or more large dogs of strength and speed are employed by the Colonists in the chase, very little of which is seen, unless the animal is found on the open plains, when a beautiful course, sometimes of several miles in length, is sure to take place. In the woods, during the pursuit, the huntsman sits down under a tree, and awaits the return of the dogs; he then looks at their mouths, and orders them, if they have been successful, to "go and shew," when they slowly lead the way to where the animal is lying dead. In some instances the dogs display great sagacity, and often "shew" three or four miles through a thick and entirely strange wood. The kangaroo is not so innocent an animal as might be supposed, and the dogs do not always return without a wound; when brought to bay he not unfrequently tears the throat, or rips open the body of his assailant with the strong claw which arms his powerful hind leg; or, when driven into the water, he will often deliberately put his paw upon the head of the assailant, and give him a good ducking. The tail makes excellent soup, and the meat is a good substitute for a beef-steak, which it resembles in flavour.

Nakinna — the native standing amongst the party returning from the kangaroo hunt—was chief of the King George tribe, and had been so far reclaimed from his former mode of life, as to live almost entirely at the settlement; but his wandering propensities at last prevailed, and he rejoined his companions in the woods, where he shortly afterwards died.

The dress of the native consists of the kangaroo cloak, fastened at the right shoulder by a bone or rush, a head-dress of emu feather, or the brush of the wild dog, and a fur band round the waist, head, and arm. An angular and tattooed body, smeared over with grease and red pigment, slender limbs, horny feet, long black hair, a tolerably wide mouth and thickish lips, a fine set of teeth, round face, flat forehead, a large but not prominent nose, with a bone[1] stuck through the septum, and eyes deeply sunk in the face, a throwing stick and spears in his right hand, and a torch in his left, complete the picture of an Australian savage.

The natives of the known parts are scattered over the country in thin tribes, which differ from one another slightly in appearance and customs, though much in dialect. Each tribe occupies a large and determinate tract, which is subdivided into smaller portions as hunting-grounds for individuals, who jealously watch over, and instantly retaliate encroachment upon their shares. Here, however, end nearly all ideas of property, for they steal largely, and almost without disguise, especially when any thing is in the way which can appease a voracious appetite. Hunting and fishing give the principal support. Besides individual pursuit, strong parties often muster, and enclose a large tract, driving the game towards the centre of the circle, which is gradually contracted, until the animals are collected together within reach of the spearsmen.

The stormy weather of winter is chosen for hunting, and the hot days of summer, when the shoals of fish back upon the shallows, for fishing. As soon as a shoal is perceived, those who are on the watch rush forward, shouting and splashing, and generally succeed in spearing some, and frightening many out of the water on to the shore. In the creeks and inlets weirs are used, made of the branches of trees, but as canoes are unknown, fishing operations cannot of course extend beyond the shores and shallows. The group of natives in the foreground, represent a fishing party returning with their sport from the coast. Roots and herbs form also a portion of food; frogs, too, and other reptiles, exempted from any preparatory process of cookery, are by no means distained, and a large grub found in the grass-tree, is reckoned a delicacy.

During our intercourse with the natives, they have shown great quickness; and it was quite amusing to see the dexterity with which any question was evaded, when they did not wish to answer; whilst the readiness of comprehension, when any thing was to be got by it, was instantaneous. All possess activity, skilfulness, and sagacity; some in a striking degree. The passions are strong and sudden, and as there is no authority to decree or enforce punishment, totally unchecked, except by fear of revenge. They are superstitious, and never mention the name of the dead without trembling. It is, perhaps, difficult to account, except through superstition, for the monstrous custom of the nearest of kin, upon the natural or violent death of a relation, to sacrifice a victim of any age or sex, it matters not whether of his own or of a neighbouring tribe, to the shades of the deceased. After death, an oval grave, about four feet long, is dug from east to west; the body is placed upon its side, with the legs bent, and the head towards the east, and then covered with earth taken from the north side of the grave, what had been thrown out remaining as a mound, somewhat in the form of a crescent. When Mokarree (the brother of the chief who is represented in the foreground of the view) was buried, green branches, and also his cloak, were placed in his grave; a fire was then lighted on the top, and the mourners, after beating or flapping themselves with boughs, and repeating at the same time some charm or incantation, threw themselves upon the fire, and ran away, as if afraid of something pursuing them The Womera was afterwards stuck up at the head of the mound, whilst the spears rested on its extremities; the know of the former and the blunt ends of the latter being broken, as if to denote that they were no longer useful. On the death of a relation or friend, they tear their faces with their nails, and streak their hair with the blood, uttering at the same time loud lamentations.

The women are far from receiving very refined or gentle treatment: although their husbands appear passionately fond of them, they are beat and sometimes knocked down upon slight occasions, employed in the more laborious occupations, and compelled to make themselves useful in seeking for roots and frogs, preparing food, making spears, or constructing the wigwam. In addition to the Kangaroo cloak of the men, they carry two bags; one for roots or any stray delicacy; the other for an infant; whilst a child of larger growth is seated across the shoulders. The infant is betrothed as soon as born, and often married at the age of thirteen, and sometimes sooner. Polygamy exists, although the females appear to be the less numerous of the population; hence they are objects of much solicitude, and abductions and elopements frequently occur; in some instances a reconciliation takes place; in others, the frail runaway is punished by a good beating, or a spear wound through the leg. Some, when young, are tolerably good-looking, but the prevalent fashion of adorning their persons by painting and smearing is bewitching only to the native taste; the proportions are not much more round or graceful than those of the men; and most of the old women are perfectly hideous, and invariably the instigators of mischief and quarrel.

The small town on the shores of the inner harbour has been named Albany, and contains about one hundred inhabitants: the houses are low, and built of brick, mud, and wood, and thatched with rushes. The public buildings consist of a barrack, store, and wooden gaol. The soil in the neighbourhood is, with few exceptions, sandy, but the climate gives great luxuriance to the vegetable productions of the gardens and surrounding country. The tobacco-plant, which grows wild, has been cultivated with success; and as many English and tropical plants have lately been introduced, the colonists have every prospect of enjoying, in the course of a few years, the fruits and productions of almost every climate.

The cleared space to the left of the Sound is a garden belonging to Government, called Strawberry Hill: the flat immediately beyond, is a large plain, interspersed with small lakes, and wooded with clumps of Melaleuca and Banksia trees.

The Nuytsia,[2] when covered, in summer, with its profusion of rich orange-coloured flowers, is by far the most ornamental tree in the Australian forests. It is peculiar to this part of the continent, and is further remarkable, in the family to which it belongs, for not being parasitical.

The Banksia is another of the trees which are peculiar to Australia. The natives gather the flowers, from which they extract a sweet juice resembling honey.

The Kingia.—The tallest of the tufted trees in the foreground is only found on this part of the continent.

The small-tufted tree, with the spear springing from the centre, represents the Xanthorrhea, or grass-tree. A resinous substance exudes from its bark, which is used by the natives in fastening the barbs of their spears — in fixing the sharp quartz blades into the wooden hafts of their knives — and in cementing the stone heads of their hammers: the stem is a good substitute for coal, and makes a cheerful fire.

The Melaleuca, or, as it is termed in the colony, the tea tree, (fronting Albany in the foreground) is a low tree, generally growing on the borders of swamps, although it is sometimes found on the high land. The bark is lamellated, and the inner folds may be familiarly described as resembling tissue paper. It is used by the natives as a covering for their wigwams.

The Mahogany, (a species of Eucalyptus) although at present little known in England, is likely soon to become valuable as an article of export. Immense forests of these trees extend for hundreds of miles on the mountains behind the west coast. The wood is admirably adapted for ship-building, and makes handsome furniture. H.M.S. Success was repaired with it—and the report made to the Admiralty on her arrival in England was so favourable, that a high price was offered for its importation for the use of the navy.

There are not many beautiful varieties of birds. The most ornamental are the parrot and cockatoo tribes, which possess great variety of plumage, and are very enlivening on the wing and amongst the trees. The bronze-winged pigeon resembles the turtle-dove in shape, with a wing adorned with shining and changeful shades of bronze; and the blue bird is rather smaller than the English goldfinch, and covered with a rich and brilliant hue. The whole of the continent seems to be singularly deficient in the feathered tribe; and it is not unusual to travel through the forests and scarcely see an animal of any description to break the almost universal solitude. As the country is not thickly inhabited, and the forests are extensive, it is difficult to account for the scarcity of animation. The fires, which are periodically spread over vast tracts of country for the purpose of driving objects of chase from the fastnesses, must be very destructive at the time that birds and animals are rearing their young. The natives are also quick-sighted bird nesters, and seek after eggs with much eagerness.

The animals that have been found consist of several kinds of the kangaroo and opossum—the native dog, which resembles the wolf or fox in shape—the dasyurus, a dark yellow animal with white spots, bearing some resemblance to the cat—and a small animal lately found in the interior about the size of a squirrel, or a yellowish colour, with light and dark shaded strips across the hinder parts of the back, and a tongue very long in proportion to the body.

The climate of King George's Sound is very fine: extreme heat has only been experienced during a few days of the year, when a north-east wind has occurred and the thermometer has risen to 100°, but the oppression did not last beyond the day time: it was probably increased by the natives having at that season set fire to the country around for many miles. With the exception of the summer months, abundance of rain falls, accompanied generally by strong westernly winds; and fires, during a great portion of the year, are by no means to be dispensed with. The mean temperature may be taken at little more than 60°. At Swan River the climate is warmer and rain not quite so frequent; and it may be worth remarking, that no drought has as yet been experienced on the western side of the continent, although it is nearly in the same parallel as Sydney.

The rivers of this part of the colony are of inconsiderable size; and although they are navigable for boats only a few miles from their mouths, their channels penetrate far into the interior. The same observation applies to nearly all the rivers of Australia; and although the island is almost as large as Europe, few have been found of sufficient magnitude to admit vessels of burden. One, after traversing upwards of a thousand miles of country, is not, according to the account of its discover, Captain Sturt, H. M. 39th regiment, deep enough, where it communicates with the sea, for the entrance of the smallest boats.

One of the largest rivers in the interior is salt water. Most of the others, in the dry season, are either a chain of ponds, or else disappear in marshy, plains; "and as, on approaching the coast they have to pass through tracts scarcely elevated above the sea, their current is almost entirely exhausted before reaching it, and their embouchures are consequently blocked up by bars."

Yagan, whose portrait (by Mr. George Cruikshank) forms the frontispiece, was chief of the tribe of natives inhabiting the banks of the Swan, over whom his remarkable character had acquired an unusual ascendancy. He was strong and active, perfectly fearless, and the best spearsman of his tribe—but passionate, implacable and sullen; in short, a most complete and untameable savage. He very soon made his first essay against the settlers, by decamping with a bag of flour belonging to the commandant: the robbery was discovered, and a native, who gave information, led a party upon his trail with the quickness and sagacity of an Indian, until they found the flour, but not the thief, in a thick swamp. After leading his tribe in an unsuccessful attack upon the barracks at the Canning River—in which, it is said, he performed the romantic feat of burying the head of his spear in a tree from a distance of sixty yards—he was the principal actor in two murders, and a reward was offered by Government for his apprehension. For a considerable time he evaded pursuit, but was at length, with two other natives, enticed into a board by some fishermen, who pushed off into deep water, and, after a desperate resistance, secured him. Being removed for safety to an island off the coast, he made his escape, with his companions, and soon afterwards, accompanied by his own and another tribe, entered Fremantle in the night, and plundered the stores of a merchant, but not without the loss of one killed, and several who were wounded by the inhabitants, who fired on the marauders. To revenge this death, Yagan immediately proceeded to the Canning, and, having laid an ambuscade, killed two men who were driving a cart in advance of a party of settlers, who were moving up the river. He was now outlawed, and constantly pursued from place to place for three months. At length two brothers, shepherds, one eighteen the other fourteen, met him in the woods along with Weeip, a mountain chief, and five other natives. The boys instantly armed themselves each with a gun, and the elder, engaging Yagan in conversation until his head was in a line with the muzzle of his gun, shot him. The boys did not both escape; the elder was overtaken and speared. Yagan always shewed an inveterate hostility towards the Europeans. He certainly was a dangerous character, and decided steps were necessary to be taken, nor merely on account of his past behaviour, but also of a determination which he expressed, and would have no doubt carried into effect, of taking the lives of three "white men," in revenge for the death of his father, who had been shot by order of Government, upon being tried and convicted of murder. The justice of his death appears to have been recognised by his tribe; for after have propitiated the shade of their chief by taking—not, as had been their practice when one of their number had been killed by the Europeans, a white man's life, but—the lives of two individuals of an unoffending tribe, all hostility ceased, and a friendly feeling was soon established.

Immediately after death his head was cut off by a settler's servant, who suspended it for three months in a hollow tree, over a fire made with the wood of the Eucalyptus. During this process of smoking, the nose and features generally shrunk. The following observations on its phrenological structure have been kindly contributed by T. J. Pettigrew, Esq., F.R.S., F.S.A., and F.L.S.

"Saville Row, Sept. 11, 1834.

"My dear Sir,

"The head of Yagan appears to me to exhibit a specimen of that variety of the human species, established by the learned Professor Blumenbach, of Gottingen, as the fifth, or Malay, in which the face is not so narrow as in the Negro, yet projecting downwards. This variety embraces a very extensive list of inhabitants, including all the natives of the Asiatic Islands, and of the Great Pacific Ocean. These vary from each other in a very considerable degree, so much so, that it had been found exceedingly difficult to include them within any one distinctly marked character. On the whole, however, they would appear to form an intermediate link between the European and the Negro.

"As an instance, not frequently to be obtained, or an individual, uninfluenced by education, presiding over, and directing a savage tribe in all its undertakings and enterprises, I conceived it to be a desirable opportunity of putting to the test the inferences offered by Phrenological inquiry, and having therefore submitted the head to the examination of some friends who are ardently attached to this interesting subject, I herewith offer to you the character of the individual; and it is necessary I should guard you against assuming it to be that of the national one, as it is purely the result of the examination of this particular head. The character will be found to agree with that which you have related to me as belonging to the chieftain Yagan, and I therefore think it highly deserving of attention.

"It is but just to state the several obstacles that have presented themselves to a more minute examination of the head: the length of the hair, the fracture of the skull (extending across the head,) from the musket-shot, and the absence of all data as to the relative size of the hea to the body. Added to these, and perhaps of all the most important, is the want of knowledge respecting the constitutional temperament of the individual, of which those to whom the examination was committed were entirely ignorant.

"In respect both to sentiments (feeling), and intellect, Phrenologists arrange mankind into different classes:—

"1. Those who from the felicity of their natural constitution, desire only what is good, who act from love and manifest pure morality in all their actions. In these happy beings the superior feeling predominate over those common to men and animals.

"2. Those in whom all the faculties are more equally balanced; those who act according to education and external circumstances, and conform without examination to the moral and religious principles of those among whom they live.

"3. Those in whom certain inferior faculties are very active, and all the superior very weak. Such individuals are exposed to the danger of being overwhelmed by vice, in proportion to the weakness of the superior motives, especially when subjected to temptation.

"In the latter class may be ranked the chieftain Yagan, with all others of a similar organization.

"The sexual feeling, and the animal attachment to offspring, are prominent in the character.

"Of the social feelings, his attachment to his friends or tribe would be very strongly manifested.

"There are indications of an impatient, irritable, and violent temper; of a domineering and overbearing character.

"He would be more remarkable for cunning than for caution, and if uninfluenced by moral education, or good patriarchal legislation, (the controlling influence of fathers and elders), the property of others might be endangered. "The elements of self-estimation, self-love, fondness of show, and jealously of rivalship, exist; in short, pride and vanity, in all their Protean shapes, would with difficulty be successfully opposed by such an organization, while traits of kindness would be seldom conspicuously manifest.

"The practice of religious observances would result more from regard for the custom of his tribe than from his own natural inclination.

"His disposition would be more energetic and impulsive than constant and persevering; if there be an exception, it would exist in his thirst for revenge, in which he would be insatiable and unrelenting.

"There is manifested much power for the observation of surrounding objects and passing occurrences; but those faculties which should turn the obtained knowledge to account, as means to an end, are decidedly feeble; in fact, the reasoning faculties are the most deficient in the whole organization.

"His memory would be considerable and accurate, especially with regard to things, events, and places; an instinctive love of order would also be a feature of the character.

"His natural disposition would incline to cruelty, cunning, malevolence, and revenge, and from the deficiency of those faculties proper to man, and which especially constitute his humanity, it is likely the animal propensities would be in danger of uncontrollable action if not of brutalizing sway.

"Believe me to be, Dear Sir,

"Yours very faithfully,

"To Lieut. R. Dale,
"&c. &c. &c."



Printed by J. Cross, Holburn, opposite Furnival's Inn.

  1. This is said to be the small bone of the leg of the kangaroo.
  2. This tree is represented on the extreme right of the view.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.