Discoveries in Australia/Volume 1/Chapter 7
THE FITZ-ROY RIVER TO PORT GEORGE THE FOURTH, AND RETURN TO SWAN RIVER.
EXAMINATION OF THE FITZ-ROY RIVER—EXCURSION INTO THE INTERIOR—ALARM OF THE NATIVES—ASCENT OF THE RIVER—SUFFERINGS FROM MUSQUITOES—RED SANDSTONE—NATIVES AGAIN SURPRISED—APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY—IMPEDIMENTS IN THE RIVER—RETURN OF THE BOATS—AN ALLIGATOR—STOKES' BAY—NARROW ESCAPE OF AN OFFICER—CHANGE OF LANDSCAPE—PHEASANT-CUCKOOS—A NEW VINE—COMPASS HILL—PORT USBORNE—EXPLORE THE EASTERN SHORE OF KING'S SOUND—CONE BAY—NATIVE FIRES—WHIRLPOOL CHANNEL—GROUP OF ISLANDS—STERILE ASPECT OF THE COAST—VISITED BY A NATIVE—BATHURST ISLAND—NATIVE HUT AND RAFT—RETURN TO PORT USBORNE—NATIVE SPEARS—CASCADE BAY—RESULT OF EXPLORATIONS IN KING'S SOUND—INTERVIEW WITH NATIVES—CORAL REEFS—DISCOVER BEAGLE BANK—ARRIVAL AT PORT GEORGE THE FOURTH—EXAMINATION OF COLLIER BAY IN THE BOATS—BRECKNOCK HARBOUR—THE SLATE ISLANDS—FRESHWATER COVE—AN EAGLE SHOT—ITS SINGULAR NEST—ROCK KANGAROOS—A CONFLAGRATION—SANDSTONE RIDGES—DOUBTFUL BAY—MOUTH OF THE GLENELG—REMARKABLE TREE—FERTILE COUNTRY NEAR BRECKNOCK HARBOUR—RETURN TO THE SHIP—MEET WITH LIEUTENANT GREY—HIS SUFFERINGS AND DISCOVERIES—VISIT THE ENCAMPMENT—TIMOR PONIES—EMBARKATION OF LIEUTENANT GREY'S PARTY—SAIL FROM PORT GEORGE THE FOURTH—REMARKS ON POSITION OF TRYAL ROCK—ANECDOTES OF MIAGO—ARRIVAL AT SWAN RIVER—DIRECTIONS FOR ENTERING OWEN'S ANCHORAGE.
March 7, 1838.—We spent the morning in making the necessary preparations, and in the afternoon started to resume our examination of Fitz-Roy River. Captain Wickham and Lieutenant Eden in the gig, and myself, accompanied by Mr. Tarrant, in one of the whaleboats; we reached the mangrove isles at sunset, and spent the night between them and the eastern shore. On the 8th the tide suited us but badly, and we were only able to proceed about four miles beyond Escape Point, where we secured the boats in a creek out of the influence of the tide. We found much less water off Escape Point than on our former visit.
In the evening we made an excursion into the interior. It was one vast unbroken level, covered with a strong and wiry grass, intersected with numerous watercourses, which the tide filled at high-water, there were also indications of more important, but less regular, visits from the sea. Here and there a solitary tree assisted us in estimating the distance we had walked. We saw two emus in this plain, which appeared also a favourite resort of quail and a bronze-winged pigeon. We could not get within shot of the wary emus, but the quail and pigeons afforded us good sport, notwithstanding the ceaseless attacks of the musquitoes, which swarmed in the long grass, and defied anything less impenetrable than Mackintosh leggings, encumbrances not desirable for a pedestrian with the thermometer at 87°, particularly when worn over a pair of Flushing trowsers. Thus defended, I could, in some degree, defy these tormenting assailants, and at night, under the additional security afforded by a large painted coat, contrived to secure two or three hours of unbroken rest—a luxury few of my companions enjoyed.
It was with much disappointment that we found the channel occupied, at low-water, by a mere rivulet, draining the extensive mud flats then left uncovered. Hope, however, though somewhat sobered, was not altogether destroyed by this mal-a-propos discovery, and we still looked forward with an interest but little abated, to the results of a complete survey of our new discovery.
March 9.—We moved on when the tide served, keeping close to the eastern bank of the river, where there appeared at low-water, the largest stream, then barely two feet deep. Following the sinuosity of the shore, our general direction was south, and after we had thus proceeded two miles, we found the width of the river suddenly contract from three miles to one. The banks were low and covered with a coarse grass.
Here we saw three natives, stretching their long spare bodies over the bank, watching the leading boat with the fixed gaze of apparent terror and anxiety. Sso rivetted was their attention, that they allowed my boat to approach unnoticed within a very short distance of them; but when they suddenly caught sight of it, they gave a yell of mingled astonishment and alarm, and flinging themselves back into the long grass, were almost instantly out of sight. They were evidently greatly alarmed, and as Miago, whose presence might have given them confidence, was not with us, it seemed hopeless to attempt any communication with them, much as we should have liked to convince them, that these strange white creatures were of a race of beings formed like themselves, though even of our existence they could have had no previous idea.
Six miles from our last night's bivouac, still keeping our southerly direction, brought us to some low, grassy islets, extending almost across the river, and leaving only confined and shallow channels; through one of which we had, at half tide, some difficulty in finding a passage for the boats. The river now widened out a little, and we found the deep water near the western bank, the appearance of the country remaining unaltered. We landed to pass the night at a rocky point on the east side of the river, one mile south from the most western islet of the chain just described as almost preventing our ascent. The depth of the river at this point was about twelve feet at low-water; and its breadth some four or five hundred yards. We found the water fresh at all times of tide, which here rose only eight feet; being ten feet less than its greatest rise eight miles nearer the mouth, where the time of high-water at the full and change of the moon occurs at 4h. 10m. p.m.
This was the first rock formation we had noticed since leaving Point Torment, a distance of nearly thirty miles; it was a very fine-grained red sandstone, darkened and rendered heavy by the presence of ferruginous particles. The appearance of the country now began to improve, the eastern bank was thickly wooded, and a mile higher up, the western appeared clothed in verdure. I noticed here the same kind of tree, seen for the first time behind our last night's bivouac; it was small and shrubby-looking, with a rough bark, not unlike that of the common elm, and its little pointed leaf, of a deep, dark green, contrasted with the evergreen Eucalypti by which it was surrounded, reminded me of the various tints that give the charm of constant variety to our English woods, and lend to each succeeding season a distinctive and characteristic beauty.*
- * The diameter of the largest tree of this kind was only eight inches: it was exceedingly hard, and of a very dark red colour, except a white rim about an inch in thickness. This wood worked and looked the best, in a table I had made out of various specimens of woods collected on the N.west coast of Australia.
I must be pardoned for again alluding to our old enemies the musquitoes, but the reception they gave us this night is too deeply engraven on my memory to be ever quite forgotten.
They swarmed around us, and by the light of the fire, the blanket bags in which the men sought to protect themselves, seemed literally black with their crawling and stinging persecutors. Woe to the unhappy wretch who had left unclosed the least hole in his bag; the persevering musquitoes surely found it out, and as surely drove the luckless occupant out of his retreat. I noticed one man dressed as if in the frozen north, hold his bag over the fire till it was quite full of smoke, and then get into it, a companion securing the mouth over his head at the apparent risk of suffocation; he obtained three hours of what he gratefully termed comfortable sleep, but when he emerged from his shelter, where he had been stewed up with the thermometer at 87°, his appearance may be easily imagined.
Our hands were in constant requisition to keep the tormentors from the face and ears, which often received a hearty whack, aimed in the fruitless irritation of the moment at our assailants, and which sometimes ended in adding headache to the list of annoyances. Strike as you please, the ceaseless humming of the invincible musquito close to your ear seems to mock his unhappy victim!
One poor fellow, whose patience was quite exhausted, fairly jumped into the river to escape further persecution.
We had the wind from S.W. to S.E. during the afternoon, but at 6 p.m. it veered round to N.N.W.
While getting the observations for time and latitude, some of us were compelled to remain quiet, an opportunity our tiny assailants instantly availed themselves of, covering our faces and hands. To listen quietly to their hum, and feel their long stings darting into your flesh, might put the patience of Job himself to a severe trial.
March 10.—After such a night of torment, we hailed the morning with delight; and having partaken of an early breakfast, proceeded on our interesting discovery. The first reach took us more than a mile, in a S.W. by W. direction, the width of it being towards the latter end nearly a quarter of a mile; the deepest water (from seven to eight feet) was on the west side, and a dry flat of sand fronted the other for some distance. The course of the river now changed, first to S.E. then round to W.N.W. enclosing a mile of ground. We had great difficulty, owing to the water being very shoal, in getting our boats through the next reach, which was rather more than a mile in a W. by S. direction. After threading our way through three more reaches, trending S.S.W.—S.W., and S. and from half to one mile in length, the shades of evening and fatigue attending a long and unsatisfactory day's work, warned us that it was time to seek a resting-place for the night, although we had but little hopes of obtaining any. We had made good but six miles during the day in a general S.W. by W. direction. Our progress being delayed by the difficulty we had in getting the boats over the shallows, and by a current running at the rate of from one to two miles an hour.
The depth of the river varied during the day from one to fourteen feet, and its width from three to five hundred yards. In the deep reaches were the wrecks of large trees, rearing their decayed heads, in evidence of the resistless fury of the torrent that had torn them from their roots, during some vast inundation, traces of which still remain on the banks, many feet above the present level of the river.
The general aspect of the country had improved, and the eastern bank reached an elevation of 20 feet; it was covered with long, green grass, and thickly wooded with a luxuriant growth of the white eucalyptus, while the almost total absence of every appearance of animal life, impressed an air of solemn tranquillity upon the whole scene. Perhaps it was from there being little to admire in the surrounding scenery that we were so much struck with the beauty of the western sky, as its gilded clouds marked the departure of the great ruler of the day. It was scarcely possible to behold a more splendid sunset; but with us, after another sleepless night, his rise, as he tinged the eastern sky, was hailed with even greater delight.
March 11.—At daylight I climbed the highest tree I could find on the eastern bank of the river, in order to get a peep at the surrounding country. The prospect, however, was but limited. The landscape presented to my view, was an almost uninterrupted level; open woodlands, with here and there a few grassy spots, were its prevailing features. I could see nothing of the river itself beyond the reach in which the boats were lying; its upper extremity bore S. by W. and was about half a mile from our halting place. I made a discovery in climbing this tree, which I hoped to make available in our farther ascent of the Fitz-Roy, should we be so fortunate as to accomplish its further exploration, or in any similar circumstances during our examination of these untrodden wilds. It was this, and I mention it, as the hint may be useful to others: I found our enemies the musquitoes did not resort to the higher portions of the tree, and that by climbing some thirty feet from the ground, a night's repose, or at least a night undisturbed by their attacks might be obtained.
Hastening back to the boats, we pushed on, but were some time getting to the end of the reach, the shallowness of the water rendering our advance difficult and tedious; entering at length the next, which trended S.W. for about half a mile, the river gradually widened out until it attained a breadth of about half that space. An extensive flat of sand fronted the eastern bank, which was very low, and though now dry, bore undoubted marks of being not unfrequently visited by floods. The western bank of the next reach was low and broken, evidently forming a group of low grassy islands when the river is in a higher state.
Some yellow sandstone cliffs, from ten to sixteen feet in height, formed the opposite bank of this reach, which extended barely a quarter of a mile, in from a S. by E. to a S. by W. direction; and varied in width from one to two hundred yards. We now entered a lake-like reach of the river, trending south for a mile and a quarter, having a breadth of about a hundred yards, and a depth in many places of twelve feet; being twice that which we had usually found in any of the lower reaches, with scarcely any stream. Soon after entering this remarkable sheet of water, we noticed a rock formation in its western banks; this we found to be a coarse-grained red sandstone, with fragments of quartz, and extended for nearly a quarter of a mile along the edge of the water. Over many parts of it was a coating of a dark and metallic appearance, about three inches thick; and the surface in places presented a glazed or smelted appearance. Mr. Darwin, in his work upon volcanic islands, page 143, alludes to this formation, under the head of "Superficial ferruginous beds," and thus concludes his observations: "The origin of these superficial beds, though sufficiently obscure, seems to be due to alluvial action on detritus abounding with iron."
As we proceeded along this canal, for such was the appearance of the reach we were now ascending, we surprised a small party of natives. They were at the water's edge, beneath a high mound of loose white sand, over which the children were some time in making their escape, struggling and screaming with anxiety and fear, as they half buried themselves beneath its treacherous surface; and sometimes, after almost gaining the summit, sliding back again to the base. All parental care seemed for the moment lost in the overwhelming sense of present danger, caused by the strange and unknown spectacle thus suddenly presented to the gaze of these poor savages. Our white faces, curious garments, moving boats, the regular motions and unaccustomed sounds of our heavy oars, must indeed have filled them with amazement. I have since frequently remarked, that our oars created more wonder, or alarm, among the various tribes who first learnt through us the existence of their white brethren, than almost any other instrument of which they could at all understand the use; perhaps, as they propel their frail rafts with a spear, they jumped to the conclusion, that our oars were also immense spears, which, being their chief weapons, must have given us a formidable appearance. We noticed, among the trees on the banks of this natural canal, two varieties of the palm; both kinds had been observed by Mr. Brown in the Gulf of Carpentaria, during Captain Flinders' voyage.
At the end of this reach, which extended for a mile and a half in a S.E. by S. direction, the river was scarcely 50 yards wide, and the depth had decreased from 12 to 6 feet; the current, scarcely perceptible in the deep water, now ran with a velocity of from one to two miles per hour. Here, therefore, the Fitz-Roy may be said to assume all the more distinctive features of an Australian river: deep reaches, connected by shallows, and probably forming, during the droughts which characterize Australia, an unlinked chain of ponds or lagoons; and in places, leaving no other indication of its former existence than the water-worn banks and deep holes, thirsty and desolate as a desert plain. At this point, the river divided into two branches, one having an E.S.E., and the other a S.S.E. direction. Anxious to determine, which, as the larger, best deserved our exploration, we landed at a high grassy point on the west bank. From the top of the highest tree in the neighbourhood, I commanded an extensive view of the wide and far-spread landscape then first submitted to the scrutiny of a European. Varied and undefined are the thoughts called forth at such a moment; the past, the present, and the future, at once occupy, and almost confound the imagination. New feelings accompany new perceptions; and gazing for the first time upon a vast and unknown land, the mind, restless and active, as the roving life by which it is informed, expands for the reception of the crowding fancies, called into life as by the wand of the magician.
After yielding for a while to the influence of the scene, I was glad to perceive the greater magnitude of the southerly branch of the river, which offered the most direct line into the interior. I could trace each stream for nearly three miles, but that which trended to the east was a mere rivulet. Both flowed through a perfectly level country. Seven miles was about as far as the eye could reach over this wearisome-looking level. To the westward the country was open; the trees were small, and in clumps, with green grassy patches between; but in other directions, it was densely wooded, and on the eastern bank the trees were large. In the branches of the one I ascended, rushes, deposited by the current, were found 20 feet above the present level of the stream. This part of the country is therefore sometimes visited by heavy floods; they do not, however, seem to depend immediately upon the quantity of rain, for while the whole face of the landscape indicated large and recent supplies, the river appeared little, if at all, affected by them.
Having determined to follow the larger branch of the Fitz-Roy, we continued on our course, and found that beyond this point the river again widened to nearly 200 yards; but that a chain of small islets, extending from bank to bank, nearly stopped our proceeding further. This obstacle was, however, overcome after some difficulty; and still proceeding upwards another mile, we came to a narrow rapid and shallow reach, which brought us into another still and deep, about 100 yards wide, and bounded by high grassy banks. Through this we pursued our way right merrily, indulging in the golden anticipation that the Fitz-Roy would yet convey our boats some distance into the interior of that vast and unknown continent, with the present condition and future destiny of which our thoughts were so often busy.
Scarcely, however, had we made good another mile, when we found ourselves entangled among a cluster of small islets, and sunken trees, which almost wholly choked up the channel. The river thus pent up, ran through the small openings in this barrier with great velocity; while above, it had again assumed the deep still character which I have before had occasion to describe.
We had partly overcome this impediment, when Captain Wickham decided upon giving up the attempt, and ordered the boats to return, considering the evident risks too great to justify further perseverance. We therefore gave up the exploration of the Fitz-Roy, in lat. 17° 44' S., long. 124° 34' E., having traced its course for 22 miles in a general S.S.W. direction, and having penetrated 90 miles from the coastline, towards the centre of Australia, from which we were still distant 600 miles. My view from the treetop extended about four miles beyond the furthest point we had reached on the river, it had been our good fortune to add to the geography of Australia. Its banks here were 20 feet high, and covered with grass; partially broken or washed down, they disclosed to view a rich alluvial soil, nearly two feet deep.
The trees we found most common during our expedition into this portion of the new lands of Australia, consisted chiefly of two species of palm, and three of the eucalypti, stunted banksia, acacia, and the singular tree before mentioned. The birds we saw were wholly those belonging to the land, and were chiefly black and white cockatoos, and a variety of finches. We neither saw nor caught any fish, and the absence of waterfowl led us to suppose they were scarce.
All the excitement and interest we had enjoyed in exploring the Fitz-Roy thus far, now left us, and our return was comparatively tedious and monotonous work.
March 12.—We, however, managed to reach our last night's bivouac by dark; and towards the close of the next day we got as far down as the outer grassy islet in the entrance of the river. The night was stormy, but the wind and rain together kept away the musquitoes, and enabled us to obtain a little most welcome rest. This change in the weather was sudden. Hitherto we had been singularly fortunate, each succeeding night, and returning morn being, in cleanness and beauty, only a repetition of its predecessor.
March 13.—The morning was again fine, and the bright sky was not disfigured by the least trace of the dark clouds that had so lately overspread it. The tide fortunately favoured our making an early start. On passing Escape Point, so named, as the reader may recollect, in grateful remembrance of the providential escape a small party of us experienced there, we saw an alligator slide his unwieldy carcass from the soft mud-bank, upon which he had been lazily reclining, into one of the creeks we had so much difficulty in crossing. We could not but feel grateful that even the existence of these monster reptiles in this river was then unknown to us, as the bare thought of a visit from one of them would have added to the unpleasantness of our position, while the actual presence of so wholesale a gastronomer would perhaps have given another and less auspicious name to Escape Point.
A creek, ten miles from Point Torment, afforded us shelter for the night, which was again wet and squally.
March 14.—At daybreak the blue vault above was still disfigured by dark inky blotches of clouds. We reached the ship before breakfast, and found that Mr. Helpman and Mr. Keys had ascertained that the opening on the north-east side of Point Torment was a great bay, extending ten miles in a south-easterly direction, with a width of the same distance: its shores throughout were fringed with mangroves, through which the tide found its way, inundating many miles of the interior at high-water.
In the north and south corners of the depths of this bay they found an inlet, each being about three miles deep; narrow, sandy ridges, almost dry at low-water, trending to the N.W., and separated by channels from three to four fathoms, occupied the greater portion of this extensive bay, which Captain Wickham, out of compliment, named after myself.
Point Torment afforded a very fair field for the exertions of our collectors in Natural History. Without wishing to bore my readers with another long musquito story, I think the following may be interesting.
One of the officers on a shooting excursion lost his way and got entangled in a mangrove forest, where the ground being a soft mud, travelling became very laborious, particularly in a temperature of 85° and without water; fatigue hastened by thirst, at length quite knocked up my shipmate, who threw himself exhausted on the ground. In vain did he seek for a little rest, for no sooner was he quiet than swarms of musquitoes assailed him, and forced him again on his legs; unwelcome as these tormenting visitors generally are, they were probably in this case the means of saving my friend's life, as goaded on by their unceasing attacks, to exertions otherwise out of the question, he eventually reached assistance, and was brought on board in a most helpless condition.
The tide here was two hours later than at Foul Point: the greatest rise noticed in the ship was thirty feet, which was seven feet less than we had found it in the yawl.
We had several heavy squalls from eastward this afternoon, and during the early part of the night, with rain and thunder.
March 15.—The morning broke dull and gloomy, with a light breeze from the eastward. There were altogether evident symptoms of a decided and immediate change in the weather. The survey of the south-eastern portion of the sound being now complete, the ship was taken over to the high rocky land lying north 20 miles from Point Torment. We crossed the flat extending four miles N.W. from that point, in from two to three fathoms at low-water; the soundings afterwards varied from nine to eleven fathoms with a soft, muddy sand bottom. We anchored in seven fathoms low-water, one mile and a half S.S.W. from the southern of two small rocky islets, lying 16 miles north from Point Torment and three from the rocky shore behind them; a sandbank, dry at low-water, extended from these islets to within half a mile of the ship.
Our eyes were now relieved by a pleasing change of landscape; the land had wholly changed in character from that of which we had seen so much and grown so weary. It no longer stretched away in an illimitable and boundless plain, but rising abruptly from the water's edge, attained an elevation of 700 feet. The highest part of this range (afterwards named Compass Hill) bore N. by W. distant four and a quarter miles. We were all of course exceedingly anxious to visit this new land; but the weather, strange to say, put our patience to a trial of four days, during which it equalled in severity any we had experienced under Swan Point. It commenced with dark masses of clouds rising in the east, which were soon followed by a fresh breeze from the S.E. with heavy rain, gradually freshening as it came round to the westward, blowing hardest between W.S.W. and W.N.W. The barometer being out of order we were unable to observe how this unusual change would have affected that instrument; the thermometer, however, fell to 76°, an alteration of temperature which, combined with the dampness of the atmosphere, exposed us to the novel sensation of cold. We noticed the time of high-water was about fifteen minutes earlier than at Point Torment, the flood-stream setting E.S.E. and the ebb west. The former at a rate of two miles, and the latter one mile per hour.
March 21.—At length the wished for change arrived, and we again beheld this morning the deep pure blue of a southern sky. We were all eager to commence our exploration, and Mr. Usborne, ever anxious to be actively employed, was so far recovered that he induced the surgeon, though reluctantly, to allow him to again share in the duties of the survey. He was accordingly despatched to look for a berth for the ship further to the N.W., while Captain Wickham and myself went towards Compass Hill. We were accompanied by Mr. Bynoe, who, during our excursion, was fortunate enough to add several rare birds to his collection.
We landed in a small sandy bay at the western end of a growth of mangroves, fringing the shore behind the islands. The sandbank fronting them we found to extend to the bay we landed in; to the westward of it there was deep water close to the shore. Wood and water might easily be obtained in this bay, a circumstance that may give it value in the eyes of future navigators, as it did in ours.
Before ascending the hill we crossed a flat clothed with rich grass, out of which we flushed several Pheasant-cuckoos.* We found one of their nests on the ground containing four eggs, in size and colour they resembled the domestic pigeon. The nimble manner in which these birds hop along the branches of trees, with their long tails whisking behind, give them, at the first glance, more the appearance of monkeys than birds.
We found here the gouty-stem tree of large size, bearing fruit; and also a vine, which, from all the information I have since been able to collect, appears to be quite a new specimen;† it bore a small but well-tasted black berry, similar in shape and general appearance to the grape sometimes seen climbing over the cottage doors in England. Each fruit contained three large seeds, in shape and size resembling the coffee berry. It was growing in a light sandy soil, and the temperature to which it was exposed varies from 76° to 110°. It is a matter of great regret that I was not able to introduce this new species of vine into England; the seeds and specimens of it having been unfortunately destroyed by mice and insects. I was, however, more fortunate at Sydney and Swan River.
- * Centropus Phasianellus.
- † From the description I gave of this vine to Sir W. Hooker he thought it quite new.
We at length gained the top of Compass Hill, which we found to be a slight mound on a platform of coarse sandstone formation, with fragments of quartz; the sandstone was tinged with red, and appeared to be crumbling away; a straggling growth of white eucalypti covered the crest of this height, which rather spoilt the view we had promised ourselves; however, by climbing several of them, I managed to see all round.
West, six and a half miles, there was a snug cove fronted by a small island, from whence the coast appeared to take a more northerly direction. The extremes of a large sheet of water bore N. by W. and W. by N., which we afterwards found to be connected with the above-mentioned cove. A succession of heights, similar to the one we were on, bounded our view between N. and N.E. Twenty-one miles, in a S.E. by E. direction, were some detached, round hills, apparently the termination of the high land on which we stood; these appeared to rise out of a plain of such an extent, in a S.E. and easterly direction, that I conceived it possible it may have extended to the rear of Collier Bay, which damped the interest we had previously looked forward to, in the exploration of that part of the coast, as it tended materially to weaken the probability of finding any large opening there. In crossing one of the valleys in our descent to the boats, Mr. Bynoe wounded a large kangaroo; we gave chase; but notwithstanding all our efforts, and at the expense of many a bruise, stumbling over the rugged ground, the prize, almost within our grasp, escaped, and, to add to our misfortune, one of the small compasses was found missing, the strap that suspended it having given way; from this accident the hill received its name.
On our return to the ship, we found Mr. Usborne had discovered good anchorage in the cove we had seen from the hill, which in commemoration of his providential recovery was called after him Port Usborne.
March 22.—It was a clear and beautiful morning, and the sun as it rose shed a glittering stream of light over the placid waters of the bay, now slightly rippled by an easterly air. All were early and busily engaged in moving the ship into Port Usborne. On our way we crossed the inner edge of a bank seen from Compass Hill, in three fathoms: Helpman's south islet bore at the time east three and a half miles; after crossing this bank, the least water we had was ten fathoms; this depth we found in passing on the eastern side of the small, low island fronting Port Usborne. A solitary overspreading tree, and a white patch on its eastern extremity renders this island conspicuous, and is of this importance, that it guides a stranger to the only safe anchorage among the islands on the eastern shore of King's Sound. As a further guide to Port Usborne it is situated at the southern extremity of all these islands, and where the coast suddenly trends away to the eastward.
We were delighted to find ourselves in an anchorage almost surrounded by land, and although the rugged sandstone ridges, with their dark, mysterious, and densely-wooded valleys, did not give the shore a very inviting appearance, still the very wildness of the scenery contrasted pleasingly in our remembrance with the monotonous level of the country about Point Torment, and on the banks of the Fitz-Roy. Our present position had also its practical advantages, being well adapted for carrying on the essential duties of the survey, for which service the boats were prepared in the course of the afternoon.
This snug little port we found to be three-quarters of a mile broad and one deep, and varying in depth from seven to fifteen fathoms: it faces west, the entrance points lying nearly north and south of each other, and affords an abundant supply of wood and water. We saw no traces of inhabitants; not even the curling smoke that had so often indicated their presence, greeted the eye; all was silent, and the feelings of utter loneliness were only dispelled by the mournful screams of the curlew, and occasional howl of the wild dog, as the deepening shadows of night closed in.
March 23.—The boats were manned early, and we left the ship with the best wishes of the anxious group who watched our departure, and speculated with eager anticipation upon the probable result of our enterprise.
Mr. Usborne proceeded in one boat to examine a group of islands, lying six miles N.W. from our anchorage; Mr. Tarrant and myself in the other, to explore the eastern shore of King's Sound. It was thus again our good fortune to enjoy the exciting pleasure of anticipated discovery; perchance again to wander over the face of a country, now the desert heritage of the solitary savage, but fated, we hope, to become the abode of plenty, and the land of peace.
After passing the extreme N.W. point of the mainland, seen from the ship, we discovered a deep bay, which once reached, would afford safe anchorage for a fleet. Near its northern point a large stream of water fell into the sea in glittering cascades; off this a ship may anchor in twelve fathoms within a quarter of a mile; close to the west is a small sandy beach. Promising to refresh ourselves at this inviting stream, we continued our course to the northward. After passing a deep narrow channel, trending N.W. by W. we met the first rush of the northerly, or ebb stream, which, running at the rate of six or seven knots, swept us through a very small, dangerous opening, between some rocky islets and the main. A small bay fortunately afforded us the means of avoiding a treacherous ledge of sunken rocks, which had the boat touched, at the almost giddy rapidity we were hurried along, our destruction must have been inevitable. Landing to cook our dinners, I went to the top of the highest neighbouring hill, to obtain a round of angles: our journey was a perfect scramble, the face of the country being intersected by deep ravines, and covered with huge blocks of coarse sandstone; over these we observed several of the rock-kangaroo, bounding with their long, bushy tails swinging high in the air as if in defiance of pursuit. The view of the archipelago, from this position, fully satisfied me, that without incurring great risk, it would be impossible for a ship to thread her way through the numerous islands, independent of shoals, tide-races, and shifting winds, which form the ordinary perils of such navigation. I reckoned more than eighty islands in this portion of the archipelago alone.
After dinner we proceeded, steering N.N.E., and crossed two deep bays, the first 3 and the second 4½ miles wide, both affording good anchorage, but utterly useless from the barrier of reefs and islets extending across their mouths. These bays and the ranges of hills we passed, trended E.S.E. To the second and deepest we gave the name of Cone Bay, from a singular hill of that form on its eastern shore.
The eastern entrance of a small tortuous channel afforded us a resting place for the night, having made good 17 miles in a N.N.E. direction from the ship. The observations were made for latitude on the south point, and gave a result of 16° 24½' S. It was nearly dark when we anchored, and therefore our intended attempt to gain the summit of the neighbouring heights, was necessarily postponed till this morning.
March 24.—When the first rays of the sun saw us struggling over the huge masses of rock of which they are composed. The view itself differed but little from that obtained yesterday, except that the islands are yet more numerous, the mainland more frequently indented with bays varying from two to five miles in width, and invariably trending in the same E.S.E. direction. The long and narrow islands which these bays contained generally subsided to the S.S.W. I was fully occupied in sketching the surrounding objects from this station, till the tide had risen sufficient for us to pass the channel. After a late breakfast we again bore away to the N.E. under a double-reefed sail, as the sky wore a threatening appearance. After clearing the channel we crossed a bay about two miles wide and four deep, thickly studded with small islands. At noon being near the north point of it, I landed in order to secure a latitude, and at the same time a round of angles. Having the flood tide against us, we had only made five miles in a N. by E. direction from last night's bivouac.
Here for the first time since leaving the Fitz-Roy we saw native fires. One of them was upon an island eight or nine miles from the main, between which, however, a chain of smaller ones formed links of communication. These signs of inhabitants gave us hopes of finding some improvement from the almost utter sterility that had hitherto prevailed among these scattered islands. We had as yet seen no traces of either canoes or rafts, and therefore were not a little curious to see what mode of conveyance the natives of these parts used. We soon again moved onwards in a north by east direction, across another large bay, which, similar to the last, contained many islets. It was with great reluctance we pursued this northerly course, as I hoped ere this to have found an opening leading to the coast near Collier Bay; but the result of this day's progress fully satisfied me of the improbability of any such existing.
The north point of this bay forms a most remarkable headland, rising abruptly from the water to an elevation of 400 feet. Its cliffy face presented a grey and aged appearance, which together with the strange column-shaped rocks, scattered over its level summit, gave it the appearance of an ancient turreted fortress. Here I first noticed a change in the strata; hitherto it had been invariably west-north-west, while from this point, as far as our subsequent experience enabled us to decide, it was west. I may be pardoned for noticing by way of a momentary digression that all the rocks hitherto seen on this part of the coast precisely resemble the group forming the western side of Sunday Strait; the inclination and direction of the strata are identical; while an examination of all the high rocky portions of this archipelago will satisfy the geologist that they belong to the same age of the world. The history of these coral reefs and islands, which have already attained something like a majority (if I may use the expression) may be read, at least it is apparently clearly written in the rising banks around, which are just struggling with the tide before they lift themselves forever beyond its reach. As they rise, the mangrove, the pioneer of such fertility as the sea deposits, hastens to maturity, clothing them with its mantle of never-fading green, and thus bestowing on these barren reefs the presence of vegetable life.
Our course now lay along the western foot of the curious headland just described, a rapid tide soon hurried us past its frowning shadows into a very winding channel scarcely half a mile wide, and more than 20 fathoms deep; in this we experienced violent whirlpools, the first of which, from want of experience, handled us very roughly, suddenly wrenching the oars out of the men's hands, and whirling the boat round with alarming rapidity; after several round turns of this kind we shot out of the channel (which from the above circumstance we called Whirlpool Channel) into a bay about three miles wide, trending east; at the head of it were some snug coves, the shores of which were clothed with long rich grass and clumps of palm trees, thus realizing the hopes we had entertained of finding a more fertile country on first observing signs of inhabitants. We would fain have occupied one of these beautiful coves for the night, but as there was still two hours' daylight, we pushed on across the bay for a group of islands three miles further in a north-north-east direction. We obtained snug quarters for the night in a little sandy cove, between the largest of this small cluster of isles which we found to differ totally in shape and character from any yet seen; they trended N.N.W. in narrow ridges, and were of a grey slate formation, their eastern sides formed steep precipices, while the western subsided to the water in rich grassy slopes, leaving quite a serrated ridge on their summits.
We managed to reach the most elevated part of the highest island, by crawling along its ridge on our hands and knees. From this station I recognized the islands to the N.W. to be those forming the eastern shore of Sunday Strait, and from the westerly trend of some larger ones bearing N.E. about eight miles, I rightly supposed them to be the same Captain King had laid down off that part of the coast, where it trends away to the eastward into Collier Bay; the largest of these I in consequence named Bathurst Island, after his vessel. We were glad to find the islands becoming less numerous, and a prospect of at last making our way to the eastward. We just finished our observations, as the sun's bright orb touched the distant horizon, and ere we reached the boat, the last vestige of day had taken its silent flight. Our present position in this network of islands, will be better described by giving it in latitude and longitude, which we found to be 16° 12' S. and 123° 32' E. We had as usual a fine night with a light E.S.E. breeze, which had succeeded a strong one from S.E. during the day.
March 25.—Daylight found us running before a fresh breeze from the S.E. in a N.N.E. direction; crossing the mouths of small bays, four miles brought us to the N.W. extreme of the mainland, the shores of which we followed for two miles in a E.N.E. and one in an E. half S. direction, when we came to a small sandy bay where we landed to search in a promising ravine for water; this we had the good fortune to find almost immediately; whilst the breakers were filling, Mr. Tarrant and myself ascended a hill near, for a few angles.
The country again presented a barren appearance, large masses of coarse sandstone lay scattered over the face of it; a wiry grass, with a few stunted gum-trees growing in the ravines, were all the vegetation this point boasted of, and from what we saw of the interior, it appeared scarcely more inviting. The sterility however which apparently prevailed over this part of Australia, could not obliterate those feelings of deep interest, which must pervade everyone, as the eye wanders for the first time over a country hitherto unknown.
We had just completed our surveying operations, when two of the boat's crew came to report a visit from one of the natives, and concluding others were at hand, hastened up to strengthen our party; they said their sable visitor came to them without any enticing, no offers of red or blue handkerchiefs, or some gaudy bauble that seldom fails to catch the eye of a savage—and without the slightest indication of fear. We hurried down to see this marvellously confiding native, who we found coming up the hill; he met us with all the confidence of an old acquaintance. His first act of civility, was to show Mr. Tarrant and myself an easy road to the beach; and I shall never forget as he preceded us, or rather walked by our side, yielding the path, with natural politeness, to those he seemed to regard as his guests, how wonderful was the agility he displayed in passing over the rocks; sometimes coming down the face of one almost precipitous, without the least apparent effort. When I pointed to the fresh water, he said slowly and distinctly, "Yampēe, Yampēe." In height he was about 5 feet 8 inches, his hair bore no symptoms of being tied up behind (a custom we always before noticed) his teeth were also perfect, and though his brow had the distinctive peculiarity of the people of this continent, his forehead was remarkably high, his perception was very quick, his utterance gentle and slow, both in articulation and by signs (not flinging his arms about in the windmill-like fashion customary with those we had before seen) his manner of conversation afforded a most pleasing contrast to that of the natives hitherto seen, and altogether I was exceedingly prepossessed in his favour. We very much regretted that we were not better provided with presents for him: particularly as it seldom happened that I was without a supply, for such occasions; in this case, however, all I could give him consisted of a few beads, and some biscuit which he devoured most readily. Nor ought the perfect confidence this man manifested, in thus trusting himself alone and unarmed, among such extraordinary strangers, to be passed over unnoticed: it commanded respect from us all. His conduct too was in the same spirit when we parted from him, though then I admit it almost as much disappointed as astonished me: when the boat left the shore, he turned to ascend the beach, and without once looking back, walked as unconcernedly and listlessly away, as though such things were to him everyday sights.
This want of curiosity is a very singular and I believe an almost distinctive feature in the character of the native Australian. Among all other savages of whom I have read, or among whom I have had any opportunity of judging for myself, except the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, a perpetual and never satisfied curiosity seems to be the leading habit of their minds: here, however, wonder is rarely expressed, curiosity seldom apparent—yet their indifference is not stupidity, or their simplicity cunning.
We had now been sufficiently long in Australia to know the value of a stream of water, and therefore always felt the necessity of particularizing the locality of any we had the good fortune to find; from this one the extremes of Bathurst Island bore N.W. and N.E. We now pulled for the opening on the east side of Bathurst Island, but finding the flood-tide setting so strong through it from the northward, I found it would be a waste of time to contend with it, and therefore proceeded to a hill on the east end of Bathurst Island. A large flock of white cockatoos screamed violently, as if wishing to dispute our landing, and it was not till their numbers had been thinned, of which our evening meal felt the benefit, that we could get any peace. We reached the summit of the island by following up a ravine, which formed the only break in the cliffs that faced the S.E. side of the island. There was a thick growth of red gums and the papyrus, on its sides, and near the summit we found rocks containing iron; a vein of the same vitrified matter I have described as seen at Swan Point, separated it from the prevailing rock of the island, which was composed of sandstone and fragments of quartz. The rocks containing metal had a strange appearance, being heaped together in the form of a whirlpool; the ground beneath appeared quite hollow. Our view was very commanding, and fully repaid us for the scramble up; there was a clear sea to the N.E., and bearing E.S.E. were some small islands, which I afterwards found to be situated near the depth of Collier Bay. The Macleay Isles of Captain King bore N.N.E. about six miles: between the latter and a group farther west, there was a clear wide channel, which appeared to lead between the island we were on and the next to the westward. As this was the first part of the coast, since leaving Port Usborne, that a sailing vessel could approach without great risk, we proceeded to examine that channel more minutely, and were sorry to find the extensive coral reefs which fronted the islands, left a space of only half a mile between; a black pointed rock ten feet above high-water, marks the edge of the western reef, where it is covered by the tide; keeping this close on the starboard hand, will conduct a ship into good anchorage in 13 and 15 fathoms. The rise and fall of the tide at this place, we found to be 22 feet.
As we required another station on the west end of Bathurst Island, I arranged that we should pass the night in a small cove near its south-eastern extreme; here we found several native habitations of a totally different and very superior description to any we had hitherto seen in any part of Australia; they bore a marked resemblance to those I had seen on the S.E. coast of Tierra del Fuego, which was so striking as to be remarked even by some of the boat's crew, who had belonged to the Beagle in her wanderings on that stormy coast.
Stout poles from 14 to 16 feet high formed the framework of these snug huts—for so indeed they deserve to be termed—these were brought together conically at the roof; a stout thatching of dried grass completely excluded both wind and rain, and seemed to bespeak the existence of a climate at times much more severe than a latitude of 16° 6' south, would lead one to anticipate. The remains of small fires, a well greased bark pillow, a head ornament of seabird's feathers, together with several other trifling articles, strewn upon the floors of these wigwams, proved that they had been very recently inhabited.
But perhaps the most interesting discovery in this bay, was a native raft, which we found near the beach, in such a position as must have required the exertions of several men to have placed it there; being heavier than either of our boats.
In the construction of this raft, almost everything had been left to nature. It was framed of the dead trunk of a mangrove tree, with three distinct stems growing from one root, about 18 feet long, and 4½ broad. The roots at one end closely entwined, as is the habit of the tree, formed a sufficient bulwark at the stem, while an elbow in the centre of the trunk, served the same purpose at the stern: a platform of small poles, well covered with dried grass, gave a sufficient flooring to this rude specimen of a raft. I could not survey it without allowing my thoughts to carry me away in pleasing reflections upon the gradual progress of human ingenuity by the advance of which, the same intellect that first contents itself with the mere floating of the single tree, at length shapes a forest into timbers and launches the floating fortress in triumph on the deep!
We were now about 40 miles in a direct line from Port Usborne, and perhaps 70 by the winding course we were obliged to follow; only two days' provisions remained, and as we were still deficient of material for the chart of this archipelago, I was reluctantly obliged to abandon the idea of attempting to reach Collier Bay. The mainland we had explored, since leaving Port Usborne, may be described as forming eight bays, varying in depth from three to eight miles, and in width from two to five; their general trend is E.S.E.; many islets skirt their shores, and almost more than can be counted fill their mouths.
March 26.—With the first grey of the morning we left Bathurst Island, on our return to the southward. Whilst passing inside the cluster of isles of slate formation, we heard a "halloa," and on looking in the direction from whence it proceeded, a native was observed on a raft: the boat's course was immediately altered so as to cut him off should he attempt to escape, but to my great surprise he paddled towards us with all possible haste.
He was soon alongside, and with great satisfaction we at once recognized our strange friend of yesterday, who amongst the boat's crew, went by the sobriquet of Yampee. He again made use of the word Yampee according to our orthography, and after repeating it several times, I offered him some water, which he very eagerly accepted, twice emptying a canister that had originally held 4 pounds of preserved meat; this afforded me additional proof of Yampee being the word the natives of these parts use for water. At Swan River, the native name for water is gab-by, which differs so much as to lead us to suppose the dialect of the two places is quite distinct. This supposition is also borne out by the fact, that Miago, the native of Swan River we had on board, could never understand the language spoken by his countrymen, on the western shore of King's Sound. We found our new acquaintance as yesterday, perfectly naked, the raft he was on was in every respect similar to that previously seen upon Rae's Group, with this slight exception, that between each pole several small pieces of wood were inserted so as to make the flooring of the raft almost smooth. Into the large end of the centre, and largest pole, six long pegs were driven, forming a kind of basket in which were secured his means for procuring fire; they consisted of two pieces of white flint, and some tinder rudely manufactured from the inner bark of the papyrus tree. He used in paddling a short spear, sharp at each end, and struck the water alternately on either side; in this primitive manner he contrived to make way with a rapidity that astonished us all. He had two spears on the raft, besides the one he used for paddling; one of them was about 12 feet long, also pointed at each end, though not barbed; and a small stick, similar to that used by other natives for throwing at birds, and small animals. As well as we could understand by his signs, it appeared that he had been anxiously waiting our arrival, and had pushed off from the main to intercept the boat, on our leaving Bathurst Island. We threw him a line, and he immediately comprehended our intention, and its use, by at once making fast to the raft; an instance of confident reliance upon our good intentions, which reflected much credit upon the unsuspicious openness of his own character, and which I should have exceedingly regretted by any act of ours to abuse.
Had not the distance and our scant supply of food, rendered such a step imprudent, I should have been very glad to have towed him to the ship. I really believe he would have trusted himself with us, for that or a much longer distance; but this could not be, and therefore, after endeavouring to make him understand that we should sleep some distance to the south, where there was a larger boat, alluding to the ship, we filled his basket with bread, gave him as much water as he could drink, and bidding him farewell, reluctantly cut him adrift: I shall not soon forget the sorrowful expression of his countenance, when this apparently inhospitable act was performed; it did not seem however to quench his regard for his new friends, for so long as we could see him he was hard at work paddling in our wake. I noticed that the beads given him yesterday were gone; this fact, coupled with "the smokes" seen during the day, satisfied me that he had friends in the neighbourhood, to whom I hoped he would report favourably of his new acquaintances; we had certainly endeavoured to obtain his goodwill. Simple-hearted, trusting savage, farewell!
The following wood-cut represents the difference between the spear used by the natives of this district and those of Swan River.
We soon reached Whirlpool Channel, through which the tide again hurried and whirled us with almost frightful rapidity; we were in one part of it shot down a fall of several feet, the boat's bow being fairly buried in the boiling current. Emerging from this channel the hoary face of the remarkable headland already described, burst on our view; and as it was necessary if possible to reach its summit, we landed in a small bay, near the southern extremity.
By following a winding ravine we gained the crest of this singular platform, which we found formed of a fine-grained sandstone, with some beautiful specimens of crystallised quartz on its higher parts, over which was a slight sprinkling of vegetation, consisting of a few small gumtrees and patches of coarse grass. The weather was unusually cloudy, with squalls from the N.E.; towards the evening it was fine with a moderate breeze from E.S.E. As it was late when we reached the boat, we spent the night where we landed.
March 27.—We were early on the move pursuing our southerly course, the morning being rather gloomy with a fresh N.E. wind, which raised a good deal of sea in the mouths of the larger bays. As the day closed we reached a cove half a mile north of Tide-Race Point, where we passed the night.
March 28.—This morning the thermometer was down to 72 at daylight, which gave us the novel sensation of cold. It was late in the forenoon before the violent ripplings at Tide-Race Point had subsided sufficiently to allow of our passing it. The rate of the current at this point appeared at times scarcely less than eight knots per hour, and traversing a rocky ledge, extending to some islands, and nearly dry at low-water, rendered it almost impassable, except when nearly high tide.
In the afternoon we reached the cascade discovered on our way to the northward, and from which the bay within which it is received its name. We spent an hour or two luxuriating in the thorough enjoyment of a treat so rare, as this beautiful stream must be considered in N.western Australia. In the evening we continued our return to Port Usborne, by a channel leading from the bottom of Cascade Bay into the large sheet of water first seen from Compass Hill; our progress was arrested at its inner entrance by the violence with which the tide rushed through, and we were therefore obliged to pass another night in the boats.
March 29.—We reached the ship this morning, entering Port Usborne by a narrow rocky channel, on its N.W. shore; on the precipitous sides in this passage we noticed several of the Rock Kangaroo.
We found that Mr. Usborne had returned three days before us: from his account of the islands he had visited, they appear to have the same sterile character as most of those we had seen; in other respects, his trip was void of interest, beyond that of surveying. During the absence of the boats, tidal and magnetic observations had been made, some specimens in Natural History had been collected, and all that could in any way add to the interest of the expedition, had been as well attended to as the means placed at our disposal would allow.
We closed at Port Usborne our explorations in King's Sound, the result of which enabled us to fill up the gap long existing in the charts of the N.west coast of Australia, and which had for years been the theme of much ingenious geographical speculation. The result of our labours, if it had been less brilliant than eager anticipation at the onset led us to hope for, had nevertheless been on the whole satisfactory. The river Fitz-Roy, although not of the magnitude that we hoped to find, was still an undoubtedly valuable acquisition to our stock of geographical knowledge, and offered a way of access into the interior, of which we had availed ourselves to the extent of 90 miles, and which subsequent explorers might yet further improve: while in many minor yet important matters, much had been done, and much seen, to more than compensate for the disappointments and annoyances inseparable from the pursuits of the adventurer.
March 30.—The morning was unusually stormy, dark clouds rested upon the adjacent high land, while others no less portentous hurried past us on the wings of the tempest. Soon after breakfast, we bade adieu to the wild scenery of Port Usborne, and stood across the Sound, for our old anchorage on the north side of Point Cunningham, distant one and twenty miles. In the mouth of the harbour we passed over a coral knoll, having five fathoms on it. We did not, however, reach our destination till nearly 6, p.m., having been taken some distance up the Sound, by the flood-tide. Our soundings in crossing varied from fifteen to twenty fathoms, chiefly over rocky ground. It rained almost all the day, and we had several sudden shifts of wind, from S.E. to N.W. Our first view of the western shore of the Sound was singular; Point Cunningham, and Carlisle Head, appeared like two high square-looking islands. We anchored soon after high-water, which appeared to be about a quarter of an hour earlier than at Port Usborne. We remained at this anchorage till the 3rd of April, during which time several unsuccessful hauls were made with the seine, but some additions were made to the collection of Natural History, particularly in the ornithological branch. It is not a little remarkable, that fish should be so scarce on this part of the coast, a fact also noticed by Captain King.
April 1.—This morning five natives made their appearance on the beach. Captain Wickham and myself went on shore, in order if possible to induce them to visit the ship: on landing he recognised them for old acquaintances, and I gave the eldest of the party, a handkerchief upon which he seemed to have set his affections; however when he understood our wish for the company of himself and friends on board, he was with difficulty induced to retain it. None but those who have made the experiment, are aware of what has to be overcome before any sort of intercourse can be carried on by signs; or how often, among the most intelligent, the greatest mistakes must of necessity occur. I have since thought, remembering what passed during this interview, that while we were making signs to them that on board they would find something to eat, each man's fears suggested the probability of "a certain convocation", not where he eats, but where he is eaten, and induced him to decline standing treat upon the occasion.
The singular manner these men had also of holding the face turned upwards, in order to escape the plague of flies, fully confirmed the truth of old Dampier's account of the manners of these people when he first discovered this part of the world. The eldest was the spokesman, or rather the signsman of the party, and this is always the custom, so far as we have had an opportunity of judging. The word they make use of in bowing (which they did quite in an Eastern style) appeared to be irru irru: their breasts were scarred with deep horizontal cuts, such as we had previously noticed on the natives in Roebuck Bay. I was so much struck with the resemblance between these people and the natives of Tierra del Fuego, that I have been tempted to believe that the stream of population flowed thitherward from the continent of America.
I ought to mention that when Captain Wickham and myself left the ship, in the hope of inducing the natives to return with us, Miago, hearing of the expected visit, immediately went below, and dressed himself to the best possible advantage. No sooner did the boat come alongside, than he appeared at the gangway, inquiring with the utmost possible dignity, "where black fellas?" and was evidently and deeply mortified that he had no opportunity of astonishing the natives.
There has been a marked change in the weather, since the sun crossed the equator: we have had no repetitions of the easterly squalls, before so prevalent, and the winds have been almost regular in the following order. From 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. a light breeze from S.S.W. which freshening alters to S.E. where it remains till 8 a.m., from that hour gradually decreasing, and at the same time changing to N.E. and N. The thermometer, for some days past has ranged from 72° to 89°; a temperature which we thought a few months ago intolerable, was now quite agreeable.
We looked forward with the utmost anxiety to the result of our arrival at Port George the Fourth, as there, or at least in that neighbourhood, we hoped to hear some tidings of our friends Grey and Lushington, who, when we separated from them at the Cape, intended to land in Hanover Bay, establish a depot for stores, and from thence penetrate if possible into the interior.
I had no fear on the subject of any hostility from the natives, for in our own experience, we had as yet always found them inoffensive and peaceable; while should they prove otherwise, I was satisfied that a very slight acquaintance with the effects of gunpowder would be quite sufficient to quell their warlike propensities, but I did fear that they had chosen a very unfavourable point for debarkation, and that many causes would combine to arrest their progress into the interior. How unhappily my anticipations were verified, will be seen hereafter.
Early on the morning of the 3rd, we left our anchorage under Point Cunningham, and by two o'clock p.m., had worked through Sunday Strait, where we encountered its usual heavy tide-races. At four o'clock in the afternoon, Caffarelli Island bore E.S.E., 9 miles distant: and about six, the wind, which through the day had been light and variable quite deserted us, when to avoid drifting back into the strait we anchored in 29 fathoms; Caffarelli Island bearing S.S.E. 5 miles. The tide here appeared to be one hour earlier than in Sunday Strait: the flood set in a south-easterly, and the ebb in an opposite direction, at the rate of from half to one mile per hour.
The 24th saw us again underweigh, by the light of the stars, but the wind being variable and against us, we did not get beyond Adele Island, where we anchored in 14 fathoms: the nearest part of it bearing N. 75° E. 3 miles.
Brue Reef was seen in the course of the day, and appeared to be correctly laid down by Captain King: there appeared, however, some discrepancy in the position of Adele Island, the southern extremity of which we found to be in lat. 15° 32' 30" S., which is one mile and a half to the southward of the place assigned to it in his chart. The sea was breaking heavily on the reef, which fronts the island for a distance of two miles. The island itself is low, desolate and barren. We noticed there was scarcely any set of tide at this anchorage. During the day's progress we found several coral ledges, in from 11 to 13 fathoms, and trending N.E. by E., and with from 25 to 35 fathoms between them. The specimens of this beautiful submarine production brought up by the lead, were of the most delicate kind, nor on any occasion did the lead present any appearance to indicate that it had fallen among a coarser sort. One beautiful fragment was obtained in Sunday Strait in 30 fathoms, a depth at which living coral is rarely found.
April 5.—Daylight on the 5th found us standing to the eastward—E.N.E.—with a light northerly wind, in soundings ranging from 14 to 40 fathoms, and over a bottom of white and brown sand in the deep, and coral rock in the shoal water. In the afternoon we had the good fortune to discover one of the reefs, which render the navigation of this part of the coast rather hazardous. The position of this danger, is however well marked by a bank of very white sand and dead coral, from which the reef extends two miles and a half, in a N.N.W. and one mile in a S.S.E. direction; and which rising some 15 feet above the mean level of the blue surrounding water, became a conspicuous object from our deck, even at the distance of six miles. We gave our discovery the name of Beagle Bank, as another memorial of the useful services in which our little vessel had been so frequently engaged, and our observations enabled us to fix the centre of it in lat. 15° 20' S., long. 123° 36' E.
We anchored in the evening in 16 fathoms, the bank distant 3½ miles in a S. by E. direction: half a mile nearer to it, we found only 4 fathoms. The tide rose at this anchorage 12 feet. The flood stream began by setting to the S.S.W., and ended at S.east by E. The ebb set W. by N., and the utmost strength of stream never exceeded one mile per hour.
It was high-water at 10 o'clock p.m., and the stream changed at the same time. The tide was therefore two hours later here than in the entrance to King's Sound, from which it would appear that the tidal wave approaches this coast from the W.S.W.
April 6.—We made slight progress towards Port George the Fourth, during the forenoon; the water deepening to 20 and 30 fathoms, soon after we had weighed. We espied a ridge extending to the S.east from Beagle Bank, which supplies another fact in support of the opinion I have before advanced, and which gives a north-westerly trend to these ledges. The wind failing, and the ebb-tide drifting us again to the westward, in sight of Beagle Bank, the anchor was dropped 4½ miles E. by N. of it, and in a depth of 12 fathoms, to which we had suddenly shoaled from 29, this position marked the limit of shoal soundings in an E. by N. direction from Beagle Bank. Between sunset and midnight we were able to make 17 miles, in an E. by N. direction, when a contrary tide, and an accompanying calm, compelled us to anchor in 31 fathoms: the soundings during the run had varied from 35 to 39 fathoms: the bottom, latterly a soft mud, of a dirty grey colour. A twilight star placed our position 17 miles west of Red Island, which corresponded with the bearings at daylight.
April 7.—The wind being still very light, we were compelled to wait for the flood-tide, which did not favour us till a quarter past six in the morning. The last direction of the ebb stream was north. It was nearly dark before we reached our anchorage, in 18 fathoms, one mile from Point Adieu: on our way material was secured for laying down the sea-face of the Champagny Islands. Red Island brought to our recollection Captain Heywood, by whom this part of the Australian continent had been seen, and of whose earlier career a notice will be found in Sir John Barrow's interesting narrative of the Mutiny of the Bounty.
The soundings during the entire day, ranged from 27 to 30 fathoms, and the character of the bottom was similar to that last described. Our observations for latitude did not verify our position by the chart, though all its bearings and distances appeared relatively correct. The discrepancy may perhaps be ascribed to the effect of refraction, as we were prevented by the land from observing on both horizons. The most remarkable objects in this neighbourhood, were two hills, named by Captain King, Mount Trafalgar, and Mount Waterloo, to record in one hemisphere, two memorable events, not likely to be easily forgotten in the other: although assuredly the time will come when the peaceful triumphs of science and civilization, of which these names are here enduring witnesses, will be far more highly valued, and far more truly honoured! Mount Trafalgar made its first appearance in the form of a huge quoin or wedge, resting longitudinally upon the horizon, with its point towards the south-east.
Among other memoranda for the improvement of the chart of this coast, it should be noted that the reef extending to the N.W. from Jackson's peaked Island, appears to join the small islands lying near it in that direction, and to which, from their colour, we gave the name of The Brown Islands.
As there was every probability of the ship being detained in this neighbourhood for some days, searching for traces of Lieutenants Grey and Lushington's party, and as the examination of Collier Bay, where we still hoped to find an opening leading into the interior, would prevent the necessity of our return to this part of the coast, I applied to Captain Wickham, for permission to proceed with the two whaleboats on that service. A wound on the foot had in some degree unfitted me for any very active duty, but I felt satisfied that the opportunity—perhaps the last I might have—ought not to be undervalued or neglected.
April 8.—By daylight on the 8th, the boats had left the ship, and were standing to the southward among the islands. Our party consisted of Mr. Helpman, Mr. Fitzmaurice and myself. Passing through the eastern part of Port George the Fourth, we entered Roger Strait, which led into a large sheet of water, forming a beautiful harbour; we landed to obtain a better view of it, on a small island at the southern entrance of this strait. This islet looked truly inviting, being clothed with long rich grass, which to our cost we found concealed boulders of granite; this was the first time we met with this primitive rock, and from the colour of the surrounding heights it was evident we were in an old red sandstone region. Strange to say the attraction on this island rendered our compasses quite useless; we noticed on its N.W. side a portion of the wreck of a small vessel. There was a small mangrove inlet in the S.E. corner of this harbour, over which the land was low, forming a gap in the neighbouring heights. We now pushed on for an island lying in the entrance of the harbour, bearing W. by N. 6 miles; our soundings in passing over this part (of what we afterwards called Brecknock Harbour, as Captain King had named the entrance of it Camden Sound, from a distant view he had of it) gave a depth of 7 fathoms, over an even muddy bottom; but towards and in the entrance it increased to 13 fathoms.
The island we now landed on, we called from its situation, Entrance Island. From a high part overlooking its steep southern side we had a very commanding view. The centre of a string of small islets bore north one mile; there extended 2 miles in a west direction, from the north point of the harbour; both these and Entrance Isle escaped Captain King's notice, owing to the distant view he had of this part of the coast. A point bearing S.W. distant 3 miles, was the extreme of the mainland that we could see in the direction we were going. We found the sandstone of this Island not of the same ancient red colour as that on the shore fronting it. One boat was employed in the meantime sounding the entrance of the harbour, which we found to be 2 miles across, and from 9 to 15 fathoms deep; the mouth of it faces the W.N.W., Entrance Isle lying half a mile outside its points, with a clear channel nearly a mile wide, on either side of it.
About a quarter of a mile off the main, and fronting the south side of this island, there is a singular needle-shaped rock, 20 feet high, marking the outer extreme of a coral ledge, which is covered at high-water. As it now blew a fresh breeze from seaward, and the afternoon was far advanced, we spent the remainder of the day in a further examination of the entrance. We were much pleased with the result of our evening's work, finding the approach to this fine harbour quite free from danger, and capable of admitting vessels of any size; there were no reefs or islets seaward of it to add to the anxiety of the navigator, or lessen the value of our discovery; the importance of which will be greatly enhanced, should Lieutenants Grey and Lushington have the good fortune to discover any land fit for colonization in its neighbourhood. Our labours here closed with observations for a boat rate, for the chronometers and latitude, the latter being 15° 27' ¼ S. on a sandy beach at the eastern side of Entrance Isle.
April 9.—We rounded the extreme point to the S.W. seen from Entrance Isle at sunrise; the rocks on this point were arranged quite in the form of a fort, from whence it received the name of Battery Point; another group of islands now came in view, bearing from Battery Point S.W. by S. about 4 miles; these we named Slate Islands, from their singular formation. They extended one mile N.W. from a point of land; between them and Battery Point, the coast fell back forming two bays, crossing the mouths of which we had 13 fathoms. On passing Slate Islands, we saw a headland, named by Captain King Point Hall, bearing S. by W. ½ W. distant 8 miles. It has a high peaked and isolated appearance, being separated from the contiguous high land by a low neck. We passed a bay 2 miles wide on its north-eastern, and a snug cove on its south-eastern side. It was past noon and we were glad to see the stagnant calm, that had for hours reigned around, dispelled by the seabreeze which now darkened the horizon. Our course, during the afternoon was S. by E. along a low rocky coast, but as we had to contend with a three-knot tide, we did not get farther than a small sandy cove, bearing S. by E. 9 miles from Point Hall, by the close of the day, which was the only spot we had seen the whole of the afternoon capable of affording shelter for the boats.
We were agreeably surprised to find a stream of water running into the head of this cove, as the parched appearance of the low hills over it did not lead us to expect such good luck, in remembrance of which we called it Freshwater Cove. Landing, I hastened to the south point of the cove, to secure the necessary data for the chart, before the surrounding objects were veiled in darkness. We again appeared to be in a sterile white sandstone region, where, with the exception of a few land birds, there was a total absence of animal life, and almost that of the vegetable, for even the gumtrees common in this part, were not to be seen. Our view to the southward was very limited, embracing only the Montgomery Islands of Captain King; they consist of six small rocky islets resting on an extensive coral flat, that we afterwards observed to be dry at low-water, and which extended to a large low sandy island, lying six miles west from them; the latter was not seen by Captain King, in his distant view of this neighbourhood. The eastern and largest of the Montgomery Isles stands on the extreme of the coral flat; we found it to be 70 feet high, and bore S.W. by S. 7 miles from this point of Freshwater Cove. The latitude we obtained in the course of the night gave a result of 15° 49' south.
April 10.—At daylight we continued pursuing our S. by E. course, following the same kind of low straight rocky shore, as that of yesterday afternoon. We passed inside a reef fronting the shore from a mile south of Freshwater Cove; this passage was about half a mile wide and from 7 to 12 fathoms deep. Having the flood-tide in our favour, we proceeded rapidly, and at the end of four miles, found the trend of the coast suddenly changed to E.N.E. for two miles, when it again took a southerly direction, forming a chain of high rocky islets. Deferring our examination of the main, lying about a mile in the rear of these islets, we kept on our S. by E. course, in the direction of some very high land now seen for the first time. Three miles further brought us to a small rocky islet, where we landed for a set of angles.
Our hopes were considerably raised on reaching the top of this islet, by finding that we looked in vain for land towards the head of Collier Bay; the high land to the southward proved to be the south point of a large bay, having on its northern side similar high ranges.
This island was overrun with a great variety of lizards, in consequence of which we named it Lizard Island. During our stay here, two birds,* rare on this part of the coast, were shot; they were of a smaller kind than any I had before seen, and differed from them in plumage, being without the white collar round the neck. Leaving Lizard Island, we continued our southerly route, and ere long saw more land ahead, lying like a blue cloud on the horizon. Ten miles brought us abreast of the high land we had first seen, and six more to the southern point of a bay, lying on its south-western side, where the duties of the survey again obliged us to land. We considered ourselves now entering once more on the new lands of Australia, as Captain King could scarcely have had even a distant glimpse of this part; his extreme southern position being abreast of Freshwater Cove, from whence he describes the view of the coast as follows. "The land to the southward trended deeply in, and appeared to me much broken in its character." We therefore naturally looked on everything here with a greater degree of interest, and with the view of affording time to examine the country, and determine the position of this point by observation, I arranged to pass the night in its vicinity.
- * Hæmatopus picatus, described in the work on Australia/Volume 2/Appendix|Appendix to Captain King's work on Australia.
The view from this station, blighted our hopes of finding an opening leading into the interior from Collier Bay, for we could trace the land all round the head of it, forming high ranges without a single break. This mal-à-propos discovery, materially diminished the pleasure we had before experienced, on first seeing a new part of the continent. About twenty miles west from where we stood, were a group of islands, which I was able to identify as those seen from Bathurst Island, near the eastern entrance point of King's Sound; they appeared to extend about ten miles in a northerly direction, from the western point of Collier Bay.
Whilst using the theodolite, we came within the searching glance of a hungry eagle, which soaring over our heads for some time, at length swooped within range of our guns, when he paid for his curiosity with the loss of his life. This was the only rapacious bird we saw in Collier Bay, and appears to be of the species Falco leucogaster Latham.* On examination, the stomach contained fish and part of a small snake, and from what I have since observed this bird frequents the sea coast. Their nests are very large, built on bare spots in the shape of a pyramid; some of them measuring three feet in diameter, and six high. To convey a better idea of the size and exposed situation of the nests of these birds, I may state that on low parts of the coast, they were often used as surveying marks. This projection, which we called Eagle Point, is of a siliceous sandstone formation, intersected by nearly vertical veins of quartz, and forms a spur thrown off from a high range four miles to the south-eastward. We did not find any water in the few miles of country traversed in the course of the afternoon, yet everything wore a rich green appearance, and the scenery in some of the dells we crossed, was very picturesque, and quite alive with birds and insects; flights of many-coloured parakeets swept by with a rapidity that resembled the rushing sound of a passing gust of wind. Among the trees, I noticed for the first time the Banksia, common in Western Australia; Mr. Cunningham, the botanist who accompanied Captain King, did not consider its indigenous empire extended to the N.W. coast. Of the other kinds, and which complete all the variety we observed on this part of the continent, were the mimosa, acacia, papyrus, and two sorts of Eucalyptus; there were also several plants of the order Leguminosae.
We had a breeze throughout the entire day, from N.E. till 1 o'clock, then W.N.W. till near midnight; this westerly or seabreeze, reached us within ten minutes of the time it did yesterday, a regularity we found to prevail the few days we spent on this part of the coast. The tide (being near the spring) fell in the night 36 feet, leaving the greater part of the bay dry at low-water. Our observations for latitude placed Eagle Point in 16° 10¼' south.
April 11.—We left with the first streak of dawn, and pursued our course to the southward, passing inside a small reef lying half a mile west from Eagle Point. The eastern shore now took a S. by W. direction, forming shallow bights, flanked by hills of moderate elevation; our next station was an islet at the head of Collier Bay, bearing S.S.W. ½ W. 15 miles from Eagle Point: it was in the mouth of a shoal bay about three miles deep in a W.S.W. direction, the shores of which were lined with mangroves and overlooked by a high rocky ridge. The width of Collier Bay, at its entrance 20 miles, was here only six.
The western shore ran in a N.W. by W. direction, a straight rocky coast, over which rose abruptly a range of barren heights. The tide stream gradually weakened as we approached the head of the bay, where it scarcely exceeded half a knot, and the soundings decreased to seven fathoms, with a kind of muddy sand bottom; but the clearness of the water, and the equal duration of the flood and ebb streams, afforded the most conclusive evidence of the small opening we now discovered in the S.E. corner of the bay being nothing more than an inlet. It bore from this islet E.S.E. four miles, yet as a drowning man catches at a straw, so did we at this inlet, and were soon in the entrance, which we found to be half a mile wide, with a very strong tide rushing out. After some difficulty we landed on a high rocky island in the mouth of it, the summit of which afforded us a good view of the inlet, which within the entrance widened out and was about two miles deep. A point prevented our seeing the eastern extreme, which Mr. Helpman was sent to examine; he found it extended two miles in an E.N.E. direction, and like the other parts of it, to be lined with a scanty growth of mangroves, and flanked by high rocky land. The shape of this inlet resembles that of a bottle with a broad base, and being subject to a tidal change of level of 36 feet, it is easy to imagine with what violence such a body of water must rush through the narrow entrance to keep on a level with the slow-moving waters of the bay outside. The cause of this great rise of tide in the head of Collier Bay, may be attributed to there being no escape for the vast body of water flowing into it. The land over the depth of this inlet which I have before spoken of, as being barren rocky heights, bounded our view to the southward; it bore S.S.E. three miles, and lies in lat. 16° 25' S. and long. 124° 25' E. being the farthest point we determined towards the centre of the continent. The extreme position reached in that direction by Lieutenant Lushington of Lieutenant Grey's expedition, bears from this point, N. 64° E. fifty miles. Thus terminated our explorations in Collier Bay, and although we had not the good fortune to find it the outlet of some large opening leading into the interior, still we succeeded in setting at rest the speculation, such a deep indentation of the coastline had hitherto afforded, and increased our geographical knowledge of this part of the continent 35 miles.
In the afternoon we commenced our return to Port George the Fourth, from which we were then distant about 80 miles; after delaying to examine two islands lying N. by E. four miles from the inlet, of slate formation, we reached a narrow point six miles further down the bay, in time to save a true bearing from the sun's amplitude. We were surprised to find this point also composed of the same kind of grey slate. The islands we examined differed from those of the same formation in King's Sound, having steep precipitous sides to the N.W. instead of to the S.E. As it was by this time nightfall we did not proceed farther.
April 12.—Towards the morning there was a S.E. breeze which brought the thermometer down to 76°; it generally ranged between 80° and 96°.
The large bay discovered on our way to the southward now became the point of interest, and as daylight closed in the boats were secured in a small sandy cove, just within its southern point, where there were several native rafts, constructed precisely in the same manner as those seen in King's Sound, from which circumstance we called the place Raft Point. Immediately over it was the high land first seen in coming down the bay; huge masses were rent from its lofty frowning crags, on which the rays of the setting sun produced the most grotesque figures. A beautiful stream of water fell into the sea, in leaping cascades, half a mile inside the cove. Several rock kangaroos were seen on the heights; and after securing observations with some early stars, for latitude, which placed Raft Point in 16° 4' S., we tried an experiment to get a shot at the kangaroos, by setting fire to the grass and small wood growing at the base, and in the interstices of the rocks.
This part of the country being very dry, a fire was soon kindled, and in a few minutes the cliffs resounded with the noise of the flames, as they darted fiercely upwards, revealing their riven sides, and occasionally bursting out behind large masses of strange figured rocks to the no slight risk of our sportsmen, who were perched upon them. Seabirds, frightened from their resting places, screamed fearfully, and the dismal howl of the wild dog, equally alarmed, sometimes fell on the ear amidst the roaring of the dangerous element, which in the intense darkness of the night we could not but admire. Whilst gazing on this wild scene, I could not help speculating on the probable cause the natives would assign for this great conflagration; the bright glare of which must have extended over several miles of country, perhaps alarming and doubtless causing deep consultation amongst the wise men of their tribes. It may also have taxed their power of invention, as they never use large fires in the night, except in wild stormy weather, when the creaking trees, and moaning wind, give them a dread of a visit from the Evil Spirit.
April 13.—Being anxious to examine the range over the cove, I desired Mr. Helpman to explore the N.E. corner of this large bay, and the main lying behind the islands, fronting the coast to the northward of it. We accordingly moved off on our several occupations at an early hour. After much difficulty Mr. Fitzmaurice and myself found ourselves on a tableland of sandstone formation, elevated by measurement 900 feet above the sea level, and by far the highest land yet noticed on this part of the continent; the prospect here was very cheerless; similar but lower ranges met the eye in every direction towards the interior, those overlooking the eastern shore of the bay, were from 6 to 700 feet high. There appeared to be a large island in its N.E. corner, which fell back about 10 miles, and like many other parts of it was lined with a growth of mangroves. A string of smaller islands extended three miles from the north point, leaving an entrance only two miles wide. A sandstone ridge similar to that on which we stood, rose abruptly from the north point, but of less elevation. I was not a little surprised to find that Lieutenant Grey had seen land from 2 to 3000 feet high, only about 30 miles from the height on which we stood, but as he had not the means of measuring these great elevations, and as Captain King, who was within 20 miles of the high land alluded to, does not notice it, yet mentions some hills from 3 to 400 feet high, 15 miles further to the N.E., I am induced to believe that Lieutenant Grey may have over-estimated the height of the land he saw.*
- * Mounts Trafalgar and Waterloo, which are not nine hundred feet high, are the first points of the continent that meet the eye from seaward.
From subsequent information, I called this Doubtful Bay; the tide ran into it at the rate of from 1 to 3 knots, but the clear appearance of the water, and entire absence of driftwood, afforded strong grounds for supposing that it did not receive the waters of any river. Leaving Raft Point, we crossed over to the islands on the opposite side, for a few angles on their southern extreme, and afterwards made the best of our way to Freshwater Cove. The day had, however, closed in long before arriving there, and in the extreme darkness of the night the Cove was difficult to find. Indeed my companions could not believe we were there until one of the men returned with a keg of water from the stream in the head of it.
Mr. Helpman joined us at sunset, and gave the following report of his proceedings: "On leaving the cove at Raft Point, we passed along the south shore for two miles, and landed on a point that afforded a most commanding view of the bay, and the openings in its N.E. corner, which appeared to be formed by a large island lying near the shore. This supposition afterwards proved to be correct, on landing at a point fronting its western extreme, from whence I was enabled to trace the shore round the N.E. corner of the bay, till I identified it as the same we had seen on the eastern side of the island from the station just left. From the still and discoloured state of the water, I felt satisfied there was no opening in the N.E. corner of this bay. I am, however, willing to admit it may have been more satisfactory to others if there had been sufficient time at my disposal to have actually gone round the island. We now hastened off to examine the mainland, lying behind a chain of islands to the northward, where we also failed to discover an opening."
As this account of Mr. Helpman's coincided with the opinion I had formed of the other parts of the coast, I was induced at that time to come to the conclusion that the river Glenelg which I found Lieutenants Grey and Lushington had discovered, on my return to the ship, did not communicate with the sea in this neighbourhood, as Lieutenant Grey had supposed, but took a S.W. direction, flanking Collier Bay, and terminating in the mangrove openings on the eastern shore of Stokes' Bay in King's Sound. My opinion was strengthened by Lieutenant Lushington having seen from his furthest position (which has already been given) a very high bluff point to the southward, distant 6 or 7 miles, and a line of cliffs under which he conceived that an opening of the sea or a river may run. Further experience has convinced me of the great difficulty attending the discovery of the mouths of rivers in Australia, and as Mr. Helpman did not actually visit the N.E. corner of Doubtful Bay (named in consequence) I am inclined to believe there is a possibility of the mouth of the Glenelg still being found there.
April 14.—We were on our way to Point Hall before the eastern hills had received their golden hue from the rays of the rising sun, and landed to ascend the summit of that headland from the bay, on its S.E. side, which proved to be a safe anchorage, except with S.W. winds, having a small islet in its centre. We ascended the height on the lee side, and as the sun was now approaching the zenith the heat became very oppressive; but the air was quite perfumed with the rich fragrance of different gums. This warm aromatic odour we always experienced in a slighter degree on first landing in N.western Australia.
I noticed a tree quite new to me, it was of stunted growth, bearing a fruit resembling a small russet apple, which hung in clusters at the extremity of small branches; the skin was rough, covering a pulp that had an acid flavour, inside of which was a large stone, and I observed a white fluid exuded from the branches when broken. Although this was almost a solitary tree, I have since learnt it grows in the southern parts of the continent. As the woodcut and description given in page 82, Volume 1 of Sir Thomas Mitchell's work on Australia, is almost identical with this fruit, it must be indigenous to a great extent of country, since Sir Thomas Mitchell found it in lat. 29° 50' S. whilst by us it was discovered in 15° 40' S. We did not observe any other change in the vegetation on this point; of birds we saw but few, chiefly parrots, some of which we shot. A coast range of brown grassy hills prevented our seeing anything of the interior. To seaward there was neither islet nor reef to interrupt the blue surface of water that bounded our view in the far north-west.
Descending we embarked from a cove on the N.E. side, where the boats had been ordered to meet us; between this and one on the opposite side there was only a narrow neck of low land. It is singular that we should not have seen any natives, or even traces of them anywhere excepting at Raft Point, during the whole of this cruise.
Pursuing our northerly course, we reached a small group of islands, named from their formation, Slate Isles. Finding that all the material required here for the chart could not be collected this evening, I desired Mr. Helpman to go on to Brecknock harbour, to sound and examine its southern shore the next morning, whilst Mr. Fitzmaurice and myself remained to complete the survey hereabouts.
April 15.—We were on the top of the northern Slate Island early; a small islet with a reef off its northern extreme, bore north a mile and a half, and a low sandy isle, W. ¼ N. about 15 miles; this was a most unwelcome discovery, as it lay in the track of vessels approaching Brecknock Harbour, and which Captain King must have passed very close to in the night without being aware of it. We were fortunate in being able to intersect our lines to the extremes of all the islands forming the north side of Camden Sound from this station, which rendered it one of great importance. Of the interior we saw even less than from Point Hall, and the prospect if possible was more cheerless.
Our again meeting rocks of transition origin, led us to infer that the soil in the neighbourhood was of a better quality, as the decomposition of rocks of this class furnishes a much more fertile soil than sandstone of recent formation.
Leaving the Slate Islands, we reached Entrance Isle, in Brecknock Harbour, in time to secure observations for the rates of the chronometers, which we found had been performing admirably; they placed the sandy bay on the east side of Entrance Isle, in long. 124° 30' E.; the latitude as before given, 15° 27¼' S.
At this place Mr. Helpman rejoined us, having completed the examination of the south shore of the harbour; from a high hill over it he discovered some fine country, bearing E.S.E. about eight miles. In speaking of it, he says, "I was invited to the top of this hill by the certainty of a good view of the interior over the low land forming the south-eastern shore of the harbour, and most amply was I repaid for the toil of ascending it, by feasting my eyes on a most luxuriant well-watered country, lying at the eastern foot of a remarkable peak, visible from Port George the Fourth. To the N.E. there lay a range of hills,* apparently of no great elevation.
- * Macdonald Range of Lieutenant Grey, considered by him 1400 feet high.
Part of this rich land extended to within five miles of the south-eastern part of Brecknock Harbour." The proximity of such fertile land to this fine port was of great importance, and induced us to consider it a great addition to our discoveries in north-western Australia. Under this impression, I trust the following brief description of it may not be without its value in the eyes of some of my readers. Brecknock Harbour is six miles deep, extending gradually from a width of one and three quarter miles at the entrance to five at the head, and has a depth of water varying from five to seven fathoms, with a soft muddy bottom. The few observations on the tides our short visit afforded, make the time of high-water, on full and change day, about half an hour before noon, when the rise is nearly thirty feet, and the strength of stream in the entrance nearly two knots.
April 16.—Although very anxious to learn if they had in the ship heard anything of Lieutenant Grey's party, still I did not like to break through my usual rule of indulging in a thorough cleansing of men and boats, before making our appearance on board, we therefore did not make an early start. In clearing Roger Strait, we heard the cry of a native, who was seen with the aid of a spy-glass, perched on a distant cliff, watching our movements. I scarcely believed it possible to have heard his shrill voice so far. We reached the ship, lying in Port George the Fourth, early in the afternoon, and found on board a most welcome addition to our little party, in the person of Lieutenant Grey. I met him again, with feelings of the greatest satisfaction; for though none were, perhaps, fully aware of it, a feeling of despondency as to the fate of himself and his companions, had more than once occurred to me, which each day's delay much increased, and which this agreeable rencounter at once effectually removed. Poor fellow! gaunt misery had worn him to the bone; and I believe, that in any other part of the world, not myself alone, but Lieutenant Grey's most intimate friends, would have stared at him without the least approach to recognition. Badly wounded, and half starved, he did, indeed, present a melancholy contrast to the vigorous and determined enthusiast we had parted from a few months before at the Cape, to whom danger seemed to have a charm, distinct from success.
No sooner had we ascertained the safety of the rest of the party, than, as might be supposed, we fell into a long and animated conversation upon the success of the expedition. They had discovered a river, called by them the Glenelg, and a tract of fine country, which, from Lieutenant Grey's description, I instantly recognised as being the same Mr. Helpman had seen from Brecknock Harbour.
A spot, sixty miles in a S.S.E. direction from Hanover Bay, indicates their furthest distance towards the interior. The rugged nature of the country in the neighbourhood of this coast, and its vast distance from the interior, from whence it is further removed than any other part of the continent, justify the expression of an opinion that this was an ill-chosen spot for the debarkation of an expedition for inland research; though unquestionably its proximity to our E. Indian possessions, would make it, if suitable in other respects, a most valuable spot for colonization. I shall always regret that Lieutenant Grey and his companions had not the advantage of starting from the Fitz-Roy, or exploring yet further the unknown course of the Victoria, by which I am now convinced, a most successful attempt to reach the interior might be made.
Alas! while we cannot but regret the prodigal sacrifices of health and energy made to acquire such a limited knowledge of a part of the continent, hitherto utterly unknown, we must not forget to do justice to the perseverance which opposing obstacles could defeat, but not daunt; and in what it did accomplish, furnished additional motives to renewed exertion, and useful suggestions by which more fortunate followers may reap the success deserved by, though denied, to the first adventurers.
The worn and haggard aspect of Lieutenant Grey and all his companions, spoke of itself how severe had been the hardships they were called on to endure: I need not say that their wants were relieved with the utmost eagerness of frank hospitality, and that their tales of "hair-breadth 'scapes" and "moving accidents" awoke all ears, and stirred in every heart. To meet with a countryman in a foreign land, is of itself generally an agreeable incident: the tones of one's native language, or the reminiscences of one's earlier and happier years, which such a meeting recalls, are sure to bestow upon it a pleasure of its own. What was it then to meet a former fellow voyager, and a friend? To meet him after almost despairing of his safety? and to meet him fresh from a perilous and partially successful attempt to penetrate into the same unknown and mysterious country, a further and more perfect acquaintance with which was a prime object of my own personal ambition, no less than of public duty with all engaged in our present adventure? Those who have known the communion of sentiment and interest, which it is the tendency of one common purpose to create among all by whom that purpose is shared, can most readily and most perfectly understand with what deep and mutual interest Lieutenant Grey and myself heard and recounted all that each had done since our parting at the Cape.
Several anecdotes of his adventures confirmed my own experience, and add weight to the opinions I have before expressed. From his description of the tribes his party had encountered, he must have been among a people more advanced in civilization than any we had hitherto seen upon this coast. He found several curious figures,* images, and drawings, generally in colours, upon the sides of caves in the sandstone rock, which, notwithstanding their rude style, yet evince a greater degree of advancement and intelligence than we have been able to find any traces of: at the same time it must be remembered that no certain date absolutely connects these works with the present generation: the dryness of the natural walls upon which they are executed, and the absence of any atmospheric moisture may have, and may yet preserve them for an indefinite period, and their history read aright, may testify not the present condition of the Australian School of Design, but the perfection which it had formerly attained.
- * Illustrated in Lieutenant Grey's first Volume.
Lieutenant Grey too, like ourselves, had seen certain individuals in company with the natives much lighter in colour, and widely differing in figure and physiognomy from the savages by whom they were surrounded; and was inclined to believe that they are descended from Dutch sailors, who at different times, suffering shipwreck upon the coast, have intermarried with its native inhabitants: but as no authentic records can be produced to prove that this portion of the coast was ever visited by Dutch navigators at all, I am still more disposed to believe that these lighter coloured people are Malays, captured from the Trepang fishers, or perhaps voluntarily associating with the Australian, as we know that the Australian not unfrequently abandons his country, and his mode of life, to visit the Indian Archipelago with them.
Before pursuing any further the train of speculation in which my thoughts naturally enough arranged themselves, owing to this meeting with Lieutenant Grey, it may be as well to advert to the circumstances under which he and his party were found by Captain Wickham. It seems that on moving into Port George the Fourth, the ship's guns were fired in order to apprize the wanderers, if within hearing, that friends and aid were at hand. These signals were heard on board the Lynher, and were at once rightly understood to denote the presence of the Beagle. At that time, however, the master of the Lynher—the schooner which Lieutenant Grey had chartered at the Cape, was himself in no small perplexity as to the fate of those he had transported to this lonely coast; and was now growing exceedingly anxious at their non-appearance.
The next morning, the 9th, Captain Wickham started in the yawl for Hanover Bay, in order to prosecute the search at the point where he knew Lieutenant Grey's depot was to be established, and on rounding the headland the first welcome object that met his eye was the schooner at anchor. Captain Wickham learnt from Mr. Browse the master, that the period for which the schooner was chartered having expired, he was only waiting the return of the expedition from motives of humanity. The further care of Lieutenant Grey and his comrades was at once undertaken by Captain Wickham, by whom it was determined, owing to the shortness of provisions on board the Beagle, to proceed to Timor on the return of the boats, in the hope of being able to revictual there, leaving some conspicuous record of his recent visit, with hidden letters declaratory of his proceedings, and promising his speedy return. A party was immediately despatched on shore, and upon the face of the sandstone cliff they painted in characters of gigantic proportion, "Beagle Observatory. Letters S.E. 52 paces." Of necessity compelled to wait for the boats, Captain Wickham returned to the Beagle.
On the morning of the 15th, Lieutenant Grey, accompanied by two of his party, made his appearance upon the shores of Hanover Bay, after a twelve weeks wander in the interior; during which, great hardships, fatigue, and peril had been undergone, and much curious and valuable information collected. Hearing of the proximity of the Beagle, he lost not a moment, but hastened to assure Captain Wickham that the whole party was safe, and spent the evening of the 15th—that previous to my return—among those who sympathized with his sufferings, and heartily welcomed him once more on board. After the first greetings had been exchanged between us, Lieutenant Grey professed the utmost anxiety to hear whether, during our late excursion in the boats, we had discovered the mouth of the Glenelg, the river first seen by him on the 2nd of March. I was of course compelled to inform him that we had found no trace of any river, although the coast from Port George the Fourth to the bottom of Collier Bay, an extent of nearly one hundred miles, had been examined, and with the exception I have already noticed, too closely to admit of mistake.
The next afternoon I followed Lieutenant Grey round to Hanover Bay, distant twelve miles from the Beagle's anchorage. On the passage I noticed that the remarkable bluff, spoken of by Captain King, had been omitted in the charts, and a low rocky point marked in its place. It was after sunset when we reached the schooner in Hanover Bay; the greater part of the night was devoted to an examination of Lieutenant Grey's plans of his expedition, and the drawings with which various events in it had been illustrated. All these were executed with a finished carefulness one could not have expected to find in works carried on in the bush, and under such varied circumstances of distraction and anxiety as had followed Lieutenant Grey's footsteps: though terribly worn and ill, our opportune arrival, and the feeling that he was among those who could appreciate his exertions, seemed already to operate in his recovery. Upon an old and tattered chart, that had indeed done the state some service, we attempted to settle the probable course of the Glenelg, the knotty question held us for some hours in hot debate; but as in a previous paragraph, I have rendered my more deliberate opinions, I need not here recount the varied topics discussed during that memorable evening: but it may be readily imagined with how swift a flight one hour followed another, while I listened with eager impatience to Lieutenant Grey's account of a country and people till now unknown even to English enterprise. He appears to have seen the same kind of grape-like fruit* that we observed in King's Sound.
- * Grey's Australia Volume 1 page 211.
I took the boat in the afternoon at high-water to proceed to the encampment, which we were then able to approach within a quarter of a mile. It was situated in the depth of a creek, into which a clear and sparkling stream of fresh water poured its abundance: the shore was formed of enormous granite boulders, which rendered it hardly accessible except at high-water; and the red sandstone platform which is here the nature of the coast, was abruptly intersected by one of those singular valleys which give so marked and so distinctive a characteristic to Australian geology. The separated cliffs approach to within about a quarter of a mile of each other, and then—still preserving their precipitous form—recede some three miles inland, in a southerly direction, and there rejoining, make any passage from Walker's Valley* to the interior a barely practicable feat.
- * So named by Lieutenant Grey to commemorate the services rendered by the surgeon of his party in finding a road from it to the interjacent country.
The encampment consisted of a few roofless huts, placed irregularly upon a carpet of rich grass, whereon six Timor ponies were recruiting after the fatigues of a journey in which they appeared to have borne their full share of privation and danger. Their marketable value was indeed but small, and Lieutenant Grey had, therefore, determined to leave them behind in the unrestrained enjoyment of their natural freedom.
My visit was made after the encampment had been finally abandoned, and the thought that a little spot once tenanted by civilized man was about to be yielded to that dreary solitude from which for a while he had rescued it, made the pilgrimage a melancholy one. The scene itself was in strict keeping with such thoughts—the rugged and lofty cliffs which frown down upon the valley—the flitting shadows of the watchful eagles soaring far over my head—and the hoarse murmurs of the tide among the rocky masses on the beach—ail heightened the effects of a picture engraven on my memory too deeply for time itself to efface.
While the men were preparing for embarkation I strolled with Lieutenant Lushington up the valley, a little beyond the late encampment: the Timor ponies were busily engaged upon the fresh grass; near the banks of a beautiful pool in which we both enjoyed a freshwater bath, I noticed a small coconut tree, and some other plants, which he and his companions had benevolently endeavoured to naturalize here: they seemed healthy enough, but I should fear the rank luxuriance of surrounding and indigenous vegetation will render the ultimate well-doing of the strangers exceedingly doubtful. Assisted by our boats the whole party embarked in the early part of the afternoon, and appeared highly delighted to find themselves again on board the schooner. I was much impressed with the emphatic manner in which Lieutenant Lushington bid the shore a hearty farewell. The same evening the Lynher was moved round to Port George the Fourth—thus affording us an opportunity of welcoming all our former fellow-voyagers once more on board the Beagle; where we spent one of those delightful evenings, known only to those who have been long separated from the rest of the world.
On the 9th we left Port George the Fourth on our return to Swan River, in company with the Lynher, in which Lieutenant Grey and his party had arranged to proceed to the Mauritius. A finer port than this, in some respects, can hardly be imagined. Like Hanover Bay, over which, however, it possesses the advantage of an easier access from the sea, it affords safe anchorage, abundance of fresh water, plenty of fuel, and a fine beach for the seine: but the numerous islands and reefs which skirt this coast greatly reduce the value of both these harbours. The Master of the Lynher told me of certain tidal phenomena remarked by him during his protracted visit to Hanover Bay: he had noticed that the highest tides always occurred on the fourth day after the full or change of the moon, and that they then attained a maximum height of twenty-five feet; while during the neaps the difference between high and low-water sometimes did not exceed twenty-four inches!
During the short time that we were in this neighbourhood, the prevailing winds were from S.E. and to E. from after midnight till noon, and from W. to N. until midnight. Our progress through the day was but slow; the wind light and most provokingly foul at W.N.W.
While standing towards a small island bearing N. and by W. five and a half miles from Point Adieu, we discovered a single rock with apparently deep water all around it, and just awash at low-water. It bore N.W. and by W. three-quarters of a mile from this island, which resembles Red Island, and Captain King's group of the Rocky Islands, in that calcined-like appearance which has by turns given them red and brown for a distinct appellation. In the afternoon we saw the sandbank laid down in Captain King's chart; it appeared a white rocky islet. The night was spent beating to the westward, between it and Red Island, against a light breeze.
April 20.—At daylight, whilst standing to the S.W. the water shoaled rapidly though regularly from 20 to 6 fathoms, we then tacked, Red Island bearing S.E. one mile and a quarter; in standing out (north) the water deepened suddenly and almost immediately to 15 fathoms. I imagine this shoal to be a continuation of one laid down by Captain King, extending two miles south from Red Island: passing the latter on our way to Port George the Fourth we had 28 to 30 fathoms, two and a half miles from its N.W. side.
April 21.—We continued to make but little progress to the westward, scarcely averaging more than a mile per hour: the soundings indicating that we were still on the coral ledge that skirts the whole of this coast, northward of Cape Levêque; on the raised parts of which are numerous reefs of an irregular size and almost invariably trending from W. to N.W. The number of these low coral reefs already known, and the probable number of those yet undiscovered, make this rather a dangerous sea, and must have a tendency to lessen the value of the N.W. coast of Australia for purposes of forming settlements. In the afternoon we saw again the reef discovered and named after the Beagle. Steering W.N.W. we passed four miles from its northern side in soundings varying from 41 to 47 fathoms.
April 23.—Towards the close of this day we passed through a line of very remarkable ripplings, extending in a north and south direction, which we knew indicated some great inequality in the bottom, but whether from deep to shoal water was a matter of some anxiety; therefore, with leadsmen in the chains and the men at their stations for working ship, we glided into this streak of agitated water, where plunging once or twice she again passed into the silent deep. We sounded ineffectually with 86 fathoms in the ripplings; for some time before the soundings had been regular 52 and 55 fathoms fine sand, and four miles beyond it we had 146 fathoms, but did not succeed afterwards in reaching the bottom with 200 fathoms. This line of disturbed water, therefore, marks the edge of the bank of soundings fronting this part of the coast, from which the nearest point, Cape Levêque, bore S.E. 195 miles.
The Lynher having to pursue a more westerly course, we were of necessity, though reluctantly, obliged to part company this evening: the few evenings we passed together at sea were rendered very pleasant and amusing by the crews singing to each other as the vessels, side by side, slipped stealthily through the moonlit waters.
April 24.—Still pursuing a W.S.W. course, at the slow rate of forty miles daily, our position at noon was lat. 15° 40' S. long. 120° 41' E. During the day we passed within fifteen miles of the Lively's reef, and from the numbers of terns and other small seabirds, seen for the last three days, there can be little doubt of its whereabouts being known, and that during that time we had been in the neighbourhood of other reefs still undiscovered.
April 27.—We experienced the long rolling swell of the Southern Ocean, which, as well as our reckoning, informed us we were rounding N.W. Cape; at the same time we began to feel a steady breeze from the S.E. and the northerly current which there prevails. As we were now approaching the usual track of vessels bound from Australia to India, we were not unprepared for the somewhat unusual sight of a strange sail: an object always of some little interest, but which becomes quite an event to those whose duty leads them into the less frequented portions of the deep.
The increasing trade now carried on between Sydney and "the gorgeous East", has converted the dividing sea into a beaten track; and as no further evidence has been brought forward to confirm the reported existence of the Tryal Rocks, asserted to lie directly in the course steered by vessels making this passage, I cannot but adhere to Captain King's opinion, that Tremouille Island and its outlying reefs, situated in the same latitude as that in which the Tryal Rocks are supposed to lie, have originated the mistake;* one, be it observed, of longitude, in which particular the accounts of earlier navigators must always be received with caution.
- * Subsequent explorations have proved this to be the case.
While our return to Swan River was thus baffled and delayed by the long and almost unbroken continuance of foul winds, it afforded some diversion to watch the countenance and conduct of Miago, who was as anxious as anyone on board for the sight of his native land. He would stand gazing steadily and in silence over the sea, and then sometimes, perceiving that I watched him, say to me, "Miago sing, by and by northern men wind jump up:" then would he station himself for hours at the lee-gangway, and chant to some imaginary deity an incantation or prayer to change the opposing wind. I could never rightly learn to whom this rude melody was addressed; for if anyone approached him near enough to overhear the words, he became at once silent; but there was a mournful and pathetic air running through the strain, that rendered it by no means unpleasing; though doubtless it owed much of its effect to the concomitant circumstances. The rude savage—separated from all his former companions, made at once an intimate and familiar witness of some of the wonders of civilization, carried by his new comrades to their very country, and brought face to face with his traditionary foes, the dreaded northern men, and now returning to recount to his yet ruder brethren the wonders he had witnessed—could not fail to interest the least imaginative.
Yet Miago had a decided and most inexplicable advantage over all on board, and that in a matter especially relating to the science of navigation: he could indicate at once and correctly the exact direction of our wished-for harbour, when neither sun nor stars were shining to assist him. He was tried frequently, and under very varying circumstances, but strange as it may seem, he was invariably right. This faculty—though somewhat analogous to one I have heard ascribed to the natives of North America—had very much surprised me when exercised on shore, but at sea, out of the sight of land, it seemed beyond belief, as assuredly it is beyond explanation: but I have sometimes thought that some such power must have been possessed by those adventurous seamen who, long before the discovery of the compass, ventured upon distant and hazardous voyages.
I used sometimes, as we approached the land of his nativity, to question him upon the account he intended to give his friends of the scenes he had witnessed, and I was quite astonished at the accuracy with which he remembered the various places we had visited during the voyage: he seemed to have carried the ship's track in his memory with the most careful accuracy. His description of the ship's sailing and anchoring were most amusing: he used to say, "Ship walk—walk—all night—hard walk—then by and by, anchor tumble down." His manner of describing his interviews with the "wicked northern men," was most graphic. His countenance and figure became at once instinct with animation and energy, and no doubt he was then influenced by feelings of baffled hatred and revenge, from having failed in his much-vaunted determination to carry off in triumph one of their gins. I would sometimes amuse myself by asking him how he was to excuse himself to his friends for having failed in the premised exploit, but the subject was evidently a very unpleasant one, and he was always anxious to escape from it.
In spite of all Miago's evocations for a change of wind we did not see Rottenest Island before the morning of the 25th. The ship's track on the chart after passing the N.W. Cape, resembled the figure seven, the tail pointing towards the north. We passed along the south side of Rottenest, and by keeping its south-western extreme shut in with the south point, cleared the northern end of the foul ground extending N.N.W. from a cluster of high rocks called the Stragglers.
As Gage Road was not considered safe at this time of the year, the ship was taken into Owen's anchorage under the guidance of Mr. Usborne. We first steered for the Mew Stone, bearing south, until the leading marks could be made out; they are the western of two flat rocks lying close off the west side of Carnac Island and a large white sand patch on the north side of Garden Island. The rock must be kept its own breadth open to the eastward of the highest part of the patch; these marks lead over a sort of bar or ridge of sand in 3 and 3½ fathoms; when the water deepened to 5 and 7 fathoms, the course was then changed to E.S.E. for a patch of low cliffs about two miles south of Freemantle, which brought us up to Owen's anchorage in 7 and 8 fathoms, passing between Success and Palmelia Banks.
Thus concluded our first cruise on this almost hitherto unknown part of the continent; and looking at its results we had every reason to feel satisfied, having appended 300 miles of new land to our geographical store, and succeeded in an object of paramount interest in this country, the discovery of a river. Besides the nautical information obtained, some additions were made to the secondary objects of the voyage, by increasing our knowledge of the natural history and indigenous productions of N.western Australia.
During the period of our visit we had a temperature varying from 76° to 125°; the weather generally fine, with moderate south-easterly winds, and occasionally heavy squalls from the eastward, excepting in the month of February and part of March, when we experienced heavy falls of rain, accompanied by fresh westerly winds. But as these changes have already been noticed in the diary, it is needless to enter into further detail about them here.