Discoveries in Australia/Volume 2/Chapter 11
PORT ESSINGTON AND THE N. W. COAST.
APPEARANCE OF SETTLEMENT—EFFECTS OF CLIMATE—NATIVE MOTHER—TRADE IN TEETH—MACASSAR PROAS—LIEUTENANT VALLACK VISITS THE ALLIGATOR RIVERS—INTERVIEW WITH NATIVES—PROSPECTS OF PORT ESSINGTON—LIEUTENANT STEWART'S ROUTE—CLIMATE—REMARKS OF MR. BYNOE—HARBOUR OF REFUGE—SAIL FROM PORT ESSINGTON—SAHUL SHOAL—ARRIVE AT COEPANG—TIMOREES—SAIL FOR N.WEST COAST—STRONG WINDS—CAPE BOSSUT—EXPLORATION OF N.WEST COAST—VIEW OF INTERIOR—BIRDS—SOLITARY ISLAND—VISIT THE SHORE—AMPHINOME SHOALS—BEDOUT ISLAND—BREAKER INLET—EXMOUTH GULF—ARRIVE AT SWAN RIVER
The period of our arrival at Port Essington had been looked forward to by all with deep interest, and, I may say, some anxiety. Two years had elapsed since our last visit, and various and contradictory were the reports in circulation respecting the welfare of the settlement. We were accordingly truly rejoiced to find it in a state of prosperity that will ever reflect the highest credit on the hardy few who have laboured so earnestly for its welfare. It was an emblem of the rapidity with which, in young countries, it is possible to recover from any disaster, that the trees which had been uprooted, shattered, and riven in fragments by the hurricane of 1839, were for the most part concealed by the fresh foliage of the year; there was scarcely anything left to commemorate that dreadful visitation, but the tombs of twelve brave fellows, of the "Pelorus", who lost their lives at the time.
There was a care-worn, jaundiced appearance about the settlers, that plainly revealed how little suited was the climate for Europeans to labour in; and yet there had been, I was told, no positive sickness. The hospital, however, had been enlarged, and rendered a very substantial building. Captain Macarthur had built a strong and well-contrived blockhouse, of the excellent kind of wood, a species of teak, before alluded to. A new garden also had been laid out, in which the banana and pine, besides many other tropical fruits, were flourishing. The arrow-root and sugar-cane grown here are allowed by those who have seen these plants in the W. Indies not to be surpassed in excellence; and the cotton from Pernambuco, and Bourbon seed, has been valued in England at sixpence-halfpenny a pound. The colonists were beginning to understand the seasons; they had taken out of the ground sweet potatoes nearly sufficient to last them until the next crop. This was the first time they had been tried. I have never seen any in S. America half the size. In short, I may say that the settlement was fast approaching the state in which was that at Raffles Bay when it was abandoned.
Considering the few days given to sporting, our game-book contains a very tolerable list, comprising seven kangaroos, twenty quails, ten ducks, seven pigeons, two pheasants, and two ibises.
The natives in the neighbourhood of Port Essington are, like all others on the continent, very superstitious; they fancy that a large kind of tree, called the Imburra-burra, resembling the Adansonia, contains evil spirits. Here, also, as I have elsewhere observed, they fancy that after death they reappear as whites; the bones of the dead are frequently carried from place to place.
The reader will remember the native named Alligator, whom I have mentioned on a previous visit to Port Essington. I witnessed in his family an instance of affection for a departed child, which, though it exhibited itself in this peculiar manner, was extremely touching. The wife had treasured up the bones of the little one, and constantly carried them about with her, not as a memento mori, but as an object whereon to expend her tenderest emotions, whenever they swelled within her breast. At such times she would put together these bones with a rapidity that supposed a wonderful knowledge of osteology, and set them up that she might weep over them. Perhaps, in her imagination, as she performed this melancholy rite, the ghastly framework before her became indued with the comely form of infancy; bright eyes once more sparkled in those hollow cells, and a smile of ineffable delight hung where, in reality, was naught but the hideous grin of death. I exceedingly regret that the mother who could feel so finely was some time afterwards over-persuaded to part with the bones of her child.
I may here mention that the medical officer of the settlement was in the habit of extracting teeth for the natives, who found the European method much more easy than their own mode of knocking them out. The supercargo of a vessel, learning this fact, was anxious to become a purchaser of teeth to some extent for the London market, being persuaded that they would find a ready sale among the dentists; and it is more than probable that many of our fair ladies at home are indebted for the pearls on which the poets exhaust so much of their fancy to the rude natives of Australia.
Among the information I gained during this stay at Port Essington respecting the Macassar people, who periodically visit the coast, was that of their discovering a strait leading into the Gulf of Carpentaria, behind English Company's Islands. Passing Cape Wilberforce, called Udjung Turu, or Bearaway Point, they continue their course down the Gulf to the Wellesley Islands, named by them Pulo Tiga, or The Three Islands; this is the usual southern limit of their voyage. The Macassar proas that visit Port Essington, amounting in one season to fourteen, usually brought for barter tea, sugar, cloths, salt-fish, rice, etc. Several of the nakodhas, or masters, have expressed a wish to abandon fishing, and occupy themselves only in trade, if there is sufficient encouragement held out to them.
During our stay a report was brought into the settlement by the natives that there was a large vessel wrecked on the mainland, near the Alligator Rivers, which was accompanied by so many details of place and circumstance that Captain Stanley was induced to send Lieutenant Vallack, of the Britomart, away in the decked tender to procure information, and to render all assistance in his power. He was accompanied by several of the Port Essington natives; and on arriving at the Eastern River, found that there was no foundation for the report. But having got so far away from the settlement, he ascended the river some little distance, and towards sunset came on a tribe of natives. The anchor was let go, and signs were made to induce them to approach, for some time without success. At last, however, encouraged by seeing so many of their own countrymen, two or three of the more courageous ventured to draw near. The scene that followed was a curious illustration of the slight communication that exists between natives of different tribes, and also of the great difference in their language, as the strangers could hold no conversation with the people from Port Essington, who, when they found their own dialect was not understood, tried to explain themselves in such few words of broken English as were then used at the colony, and seemed very much surprised at their want of success. A large mess of boiled rice, which had been prepared by way of a feast for the newcomers, was then produced; but it was not before they saw their countrymen eagerly devouring it that they could be induced to eat, as they evidently did not know what it was. The result of Lieutenant Vallack's visit is hostile to the idea entertained that clothes given to natives at Port Essington pass into the interior, which I always much doubted. Had the fence before alluded to by me been run across the neck, and an out-station formed there, we should have had further acquaintance with the natives of the main, besides other advantages that would necessarily have accrued.
As it seemed extremely probable that the course of events would not again permit the Beagle to visit Port Essington, we naturally experienced some regret on our departure, and were led to speculate, with interest, on its future destiny. A young settlement, so remote and solitary, cannot fail to awaken the liveliest sympathy in the voyager. How small soever may be the circle of its present influence, the experience of the past teaches us confidently to expect that wherever a knot of Englishmen locate themselves, there are deposited the germs of future greatness. For Port Essington, a sphere of action, of great extent and importance, appears marked out by the hand of nature; though, to a careless observer, unskilled in discerning the undeveloped capabilities of geographical positions, it may appear in the light simply of an isolated military post. And, certainly, whatever may be its actual resources, little or nothing has, as yet, been done to ascertain them. We are still reduced to base our opinions on conjecture and hypothesis; we know nothing of the amount of commerce that might be carried on with the islands of the Indian Archipelago—nothing of the productions of the mainland—nothing of the extent to which colonization might be carried in the neighbourhood. Without data of this kind it is impossible, with any pretensions to accuracy, to estimate the probable future importance of our settlement at Port Essington, the value of which does not depend on the fertility of Cobourg Peninsula, any more than that of Gibraltar on the productiveness of the land within the Spanish lines. Victoria, if we regard its own intrinsic worth, might be blotted out of the list of our possessions without any material detriment to our interests; but its importance, as a commercial station, is incalculable. It is, indeed, to the country behind—at present unvisited, unexplored, a complete terra incognita—and to the islands within a radius of five hundred miles, that we must look if we would form a correct idea of the value of Port Essington to the Crown. At present it may seem idle, to some, to introduce these distant places as elements in the discussion of such a question; but no one who reflects on the power of trade to knit together even more distant points of the earth, will think it visionary to suppose that Victoria must one day—insignificant as may be the value of the districts in its immediate neighbourhood—be the centre of a vast system of commerce, the emporium, in fact, where will take place the exchange of the products of the Indian Archipelago for those of the vast plains of Australia. It may require some effort of the imagination, certainly, to discover the precursor of such a state of things in the miserable traffic now carried on by the Macassar proas; but still, I think, we possess some data on which to found such an opinion, and I am persuaded that Port Essington will ultimately hold the proud position I predict for it.
As steam communication, moreover, must soon be established between Singapore and our colonies on the south-eastern shores of Australia,* this port, the only really good one on the north coast, will be of vast importance as a coal depot.
- * By this arrangement Sydney could be brought within nearly sixty days of England.
As I have already observed, however, little pains have been taken to ascertain all the capabilities of the place, and to extend our acquaintance with the country behind. No European has ever yet penetrated any great distance beyond the neck that connects Cobourg Peninsula with the mainland; and even the report of the existence of the settlement has scarcely travelled farther. At least in 1841, when Lieutenant Vallack visited one of the Alligator rivers he found the natives completely ignorant that we had established ourselves in their neighbourhood.
From the account of Lieutenant P.B. Stewart,* of which I have given a brief abstract above, it appears that there is some good land on the Peninsula, though such is decidedly not the case near the settlement.
- * This officer has since forwarded me his route. It appears that on leaving Victoria he proceeded to the south-west side of the Peninsula, and followed the shore to the neck, when taking an east direction he crossed it, and then pursuing a northerly course made his way to Middle Head, on the side of the harbour opposite the settlement. The frequent opportunities Lieutenant Stewart had of determining his positions by cross-bearings of the islands, leave no doubt as to the correctness of his route.
The reports of late sent in respecting the climate have, in some measure, been unfavourable; and, as I have observed, the appearance of the garrison was rather sickly; but may not this arise partly from the indifferent manner in which they are housed? Small, low, thatched cottages, in a temperature much too warm for Europeans to labour in constantly, are apt to engender disease. There is, besides, a mangrove swamp immediately behind the settlement, which at present decreases its salubrity. With regard to the range of the thermometer, it has been known as low as 62°, and it is never so high, by ten or twenty°, as I have seen it in S. Australia during the hot winds: the average, however, is about 83°. The fact that the site of Victoria lies so far from the entrance of the harbour is injurious to its prosperity, as it prevents many vessels from calling, and deprives it of the breezes that constantly prevail on the coast, and would of course conduce to its healthiness.*
- * The following remarks from Mr. Bynoe, on the climate of Northern Australia, corroborate the views put forward in the text:
- "I find on a reference to the Medical Journals, as well as to a Meteorological table kept by me during a period of six years, on the coasts of Australia, and under every variety of climate, that we had no diseases peculiar to that continent, and I am led to believe it a remarkably healthy country. On the N. and North-west coasts, where you find every bight and indentation of land fringed with mangroves, bordering mud flats, and ledges formed by corallines in every stage of decomposition, with a high temperature, no fevers or dysenteries were engendered.
- "Our ship's company were constantly exposed, in boats, to all the vicissitudes from wet to dry weather, sleeping in mangrove creeks for many months in succession, pestered by musquitoes during the hours of repose, yet they still remained very healthy; and the only instance where the climate was at all prejudicial (if such a term can be applied) was in the Victoria River, on the north coast, where the heat was, at one period, very great, and the unavoidable exposure caused two of the crew to be attacked with Coup de Soleil.
- "Our casualties consisted of two deaths during our stay on the Australian coast, one from old age; and the other, a case of dysentery, contracted at Coepang.
- "It may not be uninteresting to state, that from the time that Port Essington was settled in 1838, up to the period of our last visit to that military post, and for some time after, no endemial form of disease had manifested itself, and the only complaints that the men had been suffering from were diseases such as were usually to be met with in a more temperate clime, and those were few. But we must take into consideration their isolated position, the constant sameness of their life, their small low thatched cottages, mostly with earthen floors; their inferior diet, and also the absence or scantiness of vegetables. Most of the men, moreover, experience a constant yearning for home, which, yearly increasing, terminates in despondency, and leaves them open to the attacks of disease. Scorbutic symptoms were at one period very prevalent, arising principally from the poor form of diet; similar cases occurred in a former settlement on that part of the coast, from the same causes; but although Port Essington has been of late visited by sickness, I do not consider it by any means an unhealthy spot."
Considering Port Essington as a harbour of refuge for the crews of ships wrecked in Torres Strait, it is certainly far removed from the scene of distress; and looking upon it in this light only, a military station at Cape York would probably be attended with greater benefit and less expense, though, as it might be expected to meet with annoyance from the natives of the islands in Torres Strait, who are badly disposed and wander over a great space in search of plunder, the party should not be very small. There is, moreover, no real harbour; but, at the same time, as the post would be on a low narrow projection, with a seabreeze sweeping over it in either monsoon, it would doubtless be cooler than at Port Essington.
I may observe that the only instance that came under my immediate notice of the benefit of a harbour of refuge on the north coast, was that of a vessel wrecked too far to the westward to reach Cape York, the crew of which arrived at Port Essington in their boats.
It was in some measure at the request of the surgeon, in order to alleviate Mr. Fitzmaurice's great sufferings by a little rest, that our stay was lengthened to September 7th, when we left in the morning.* By noon we had cleared the heads of Port Essington, and a course was then shaped for the supposed Sahul Shoal, the northern and central parts of which we passed over without finding any remarkable decrease in the soundings.† The winds were singularly light from the eastward, until we approached Timor, the S.W. end of which we saw in the morning of the 15th,‡ when, after passing through Samow Strait,** we anchored in 13 fathoms off Coepang; the flagstaff of Fort Concordia bearing S.S.E. a quarter of a mile.
- * While steering N. by E. ½ E. for Point Record, we discovered a bank of 4½ fathoms, with 7 and 8 on each side. When just off it, to the northward, in 7 fathoms, the west extreme of Point Record bore N. 19¼ E., and its east extreme N. 35¼ E., and the north-east end of Spear Point N. 59° W.
- † This clearly proved that our knowledge of the extent of the Sahul Bank was very imperfect. It appears that between the lat.s 11° 0' S. and 11° 25' S., and the long.s 125° 20' E. and 125° 50' E., there are no less than six patches of coral known, of 12 and 16 fathoms. It is my belief that the whole of this shoal, if it merit the name, lies between the lat.s of 11° 15' S. and 11° 35' S., and the long.s of 123° 35' E. and 124° 15' E.
- ‡ In passing the north-east end of Rottee a good lookout was kept for a 5-fathom patch, laid down in the Admiralty Chart as lying four miles east of it. Nothing, however, could be discovered of it; and close to the place we had 50 fathoms. In Flinders' Atlas we find 50 fathoms marked on this spot; and it is probable that the mistake has occurred in copying, the 0 being left out, and the space dotted round, to draw attention to the supposed shoal-water.
- * The tides in Samow Strait run from one to two knots an hour, eight hours to the northward, and four in the opposite direction. The time of high-water at Coepang at the full and change is half-past eleven, when the rise is twelve feet. On the north side of Timor, between it and Ombaye, the current sets to the westward at the rate of from two to four knots an hour, in the south-east monsoon; but close to the Timor shore it sets to windward. Ships make the passage to the eastward during its prevalence by keeping close to the north sides of the Lomblen, Pantar, and Ombaye Islands, where they find a favourable current, and winds from the southward drawing through the straits separating the islands. There is no anchorage between Pantar and Ombaye; but on the south side of Timor, at the mouth of the Naminie River, and twenty-five miles further eastward, and also at the east point, inside the small island of Pulo Jackie, there are good anchorages in from 10 to 15 fathoms. The southern coast of Timor is washed by heavy surf in either monsoon.
Arrangements were immediately made for watering the ship, by having the barecas filled and carried to the boats by persons from the shore, thereby saving our crew from exposure in this, I believe at all times, unhealthy climate. When our stock was completed, with the additional casks procured at Port Essington, we had sufficient for eighty days.
We found the Resident, Mr. Gronovius, as usual, very communicative; he was much astonished at the size of some bananas I gave him from Port Essington.
I may take this opportunity of giving some additional information respecting the Timorees. It appears that after killing an enemy they, like the New Zealanders, preserve the head by baking it; and, during meals, place food in the mouth of their bodiless foe. On the death of a Rajah, a favourite slave or two is killed and buried with him; some weapons, also, are laid in the grave, in order that the deceased may not want for anything in the next world; this clearly shows that they have an idea of a future state.
The mode in which trade is carried on with the wild natives of Timor is extremely singular. The goods intended for barter are left in parcels on the shore; the natives come down and place against them, generally, bees' wax, and a kind of cotton cloth, to the amount which they conceive to be the value, when they also retire. The trader returns, and if satisfied, takes the native's goods, leaving his own; if not, he goes away without touching either. The natives again come down and weigh the relative value of the heaps of merchandize, and either consent to the proffered bargain or take away their own property. Neither party ever comes in sight of the other; and the strictest honour is preserved in the transaction. Most of my readers will recollect that a similar method of trading is attributed to one of the nations of antiquity.
A tribe of Sumbawa,* who call themselves the Danga people, have a custom worth mentioning. They are the only tribe on that island not Mahomedans, and worship the evil spirit, to appease whom they frequently leave a roasted pig, with rice, at a well near a tree, a species of wild mango; the priest, of course, reaps the benefit of this pious offering. A similar custom prevails among the natives of Eastern Patagonia.
- * I may here mention, that when the great eruption took place on this island, the report of it was heard at Macassar, nearly three hundred miles distant, and the motion was felt by the ships at anchor there.
By the morning of September 24th the rough charts were completed, and tracings, with other despatches, being deposited with the Resident, to be forwarded to England, we sailed from Coepang. On the 26th the first lieutenant, the surgeon, and the master, were seized with a violent attack of cholera, which lasted twenty-four hours—another evidence of the unhealthiness of Timor.
The work that now lay before us was, perhaps, one of the most interesting features of the N.W. coast—a remarkable indentation, south of Roebuck Bay, many parts of which had never been seen. Its peculiar configuration naturally suggested the idea that a river must exist there; and it was accordingly with great anxiety that we looked forward to the result. I had intended to examine the eastern part of Scott's Reef in the way; but westerly winds, which were, however, favourable for reaching our destination, prevented us. The track we pursued was entirely new, and in order to see if any shoals existed, we sounded every twenty miles, without, however, getting bottom, at nearly 200 fathoms, until the 1st, when in lat. 14° 24' S., and long. 123° 23' E. we had 70 fathoms.*
After midnight on the 3rd and 4th we had strong breezes of short duration from S.E., and although a hundred miles from the nearest land to windward, a fine kind of dust was found on the rigging, which, on examination by a microscope, proved to consist of sand and wood ashes.
We saw the land to the southward of Roebuck Bay on October 8th, and at noon passed four miles from Cape Bossut, which we found to be in lat. 18° 42' S. and long. 121° 45' E.† On the south side opened a bay two miles deep, with a small high-water inlet at its head. From thence we held a general S. by W. ½ W. course, passing along the land at the distance of from three to four miles, in soundings of 5 and 6 fathoms, and at sunset anchored four miles from a low sandy coast, on which the sea broke heavily. Cape Joubert,‡ distant sixteen miles, was the last projection of any kind we passed.
- * From the result of our soundings on the passage to the coast, it would appear that a ship in 60 or 70 fathoms would be about the same number of miles from the land between the lat. of 14 or 15° S.-quality of bottom, a greyish sand, which becomes coarser as the depth increases.
- † The long.s depend on the meridian of Coepang. which has been considered in 123° 37' 0" E.
- ‡ In lat. 18° 58' S. and long. 121° 42' E. It is crested with bare white sand, and although only forty-five feet high is a remarkable headland on this low coast.
From that headland commenced a low, wearisome, sandy shore, which we traced for sixty-five miles in a S.W. by W. direction, looking in vain for some change in its character. Nothing beyond the coast sand-dunes, sprinkled with vegetation, and only twenty feet high, could be seen from the masthead, although the ship was within three miles of the beach. This cheerless aspect was heightened by the total absence of native fires, a fact we had never before observed in such an extent of country, and truly significant of its want of fertility. Still, in our sight it possessed a greater charm than it may, probably, in that of others; as every fresh mile of coast that disclosed itself, rewarding our enterprise whilst it disappointed our expectations, was so much added to the domains of geography. That such an extent of the Australian continent should have been left to be added to the portion of the globe discovered by the Beagle was remarkable; and although day by day our hopes of accomplishing any important discovery declined, a certain degree of excitement was kept alive throughout.
It was the 13th before we had made good the distance I have above mentioned, when a reddish hillock, of fifty-six feet in elevation, in lat. 19° 48' S., and long. 120° 36' E., promising a view of the interior, we went to visit it. There was less surf on the beach than we expected, and we landed without much difficulty. Our old friend, the black and white red-bill, or oyster-catcher, was in readiness to greet us, accompanied by a few families of sanderlings, two or three batches of grey plovers, and a couple of small curlews. Crossing the beach, a line of reddish sandstone cliffs, twelve feet in height, was ascended, and found to face a bank of sand, held together by a sort of coarse spinifex. This bank, which ran parallel to the coast, was narrow, subsiding into a valley three quarters of a mile wide, on the opposite side of which rose a hummocky ridge of coarse ferruginous sandstone formation. The valley was covered with brown grass and detached stunted bushes. Water had recently lodged in it, as appeared from the saucer-like cakes of earth broken and curled up over the whole surface. The nature of the soil was shown by the heaps of earth thrown out at the entrances of the holes of iguanas, and other burrowing creatures; it was a mixture of sand, clay, and vegetable matter.
From the highest hillock beyond the valley a view of the interior was obtained: it presents, like most of the portions of the continent we had discovered, the aspect of a dreary plain, clothed with grass and detached clumps of green brushwood. "What a strange country!" was the exclamation that naturally burst from us all, on beholding this immense and apparently interminable expanse, with no rise to relieve the tired eye. As we gazed, our imaginations transported us to the Pampas of S. America, which this vast level greatly resembled, except that the motions of no startled deer or ostriches scudding over the country, and leaving a train of dust behind, gave life and animation to the scene. No trace of kangaroos, or of natives, not even the sign of a fire, greeted us on this inhospitable coast. The evidences of animal were as scanty as those of vegetable life.
Two brown bustards rose out of the grass; they were of the same size and colour as those seen in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and quite as wary, which was very singular. A couple of specimens of land birds were shot; one of them resembled a Meliphagus, although its stomach was filled with small beetles, finely broken up;* its head was covered with yellow pollen, out of a flower resembling the mallow, which is frequently resorted to by small beetles during the heat of the day, when the petal closing over them they are extracted, with some difficulty, by the bird. The other specimen was a brown grain-feeding kind; it invariably rested on the ground, where in its habits, head erect, tail down, and short, sudden run, it greatly resembled a tit-lark.
- * Usually observed in the specimens of this species procured by Dr. Bynoe.
At daylight on the 14th we continued our exploration from the spot where we visited the shore, marked on the chart as Red Hill; and found that the coast trended W. by S. to the part fronting the Amphinome Shoals, and that instead of the continued sandy beach were occasional low rocky projections. Eleven miles from Red Hill, a detached rocky ledge extended two miles from the shore, and at the end of twenty, commenced a line of low red sandstone cliffs five miles in extent. Here we, for the first time, saw native fires; and the country was evidently higher.
October 15.—In the evening the ship was anchored five miles from a small island, bearing S.S.E., which we found to be in lat. 19° 55' S., long. 120° 55' E.; and which, from its lonely situation, was named Solitary Island. Six and nine miles N. by E. from it we had crossed several lines of ripplings and shoal patches of 4 and 5 fathoms. On visiting it next morning (16th) it was found to be of red sandstone formation, thirty feet high, and devoid of vegetation. Although lying a mile from the shore it is connected at low-water by a flat of sand. From its summit the view of the interior presented a slight change. At the distance of six miles there was a bank or rise in the country having rather a fertile aspect, above a hundred feet high, trending S.W. with dense woodland intervening.
On the same afternoon the ship was moved fourteen miles further on. The many patches of ripplings we now saw in every direction westward, assured us that the Amphinome Shoals were close at hand; on patches one and two miles west and south of the ship there was only six and nine feet.
October 17.—In the morning another party visited the shore, landing under a low sandhill, sixty feet high, bearing S. by E. six miles, called Mount Blaze, in lat. 20° 0' S. and long. 119° 40' E. This was found to stand on a projection, with two small rocky islets on either side. E.ward from it cliffy points separating shoal mangrove bays, formed the character of the coast; whilst in the opposite direction extended a bay, fifteen miles wide, over the western point of which we recognised the sandhills seen on our visit to this part in July, 1840; the shores of this great bay were fronted for some distance by shoal water.
Behind Mount Blaze the country was swampy, with mangroves, for a few miles; it then gradually rose, and on the bearing of S. 7° E., distant nearly fifteen miles, were seen conical-sided flat-topped hills about two hundred feet high. This was the first remarkable elevation in the country we had seen during the two hundred miles of the coastline traced by the Beagle; it appears to be the N.E. termination of the high land seen southward from the Turtle Isles.
Some small burrowing animal had so excavated the ground in the vicinity of Mount Blaze, that at each step we sunk in knee-deep; a few quails were shot, but no varieties of birds were seen beyond what had been already observed at the other points of the coast visited.
Weighing, we stood to the westward, after making a short stretch to the north-east; but shoal water, at the end of six miles, obliged us to go on the other tack. The change in the direction of the flood- tide, from westerly to northerly, did not leave much hope of our finding a passage to the westward. At sunset the anchor was dropped in 9 fathoms, with a shoal patch of 5 fathoms two miles to the eastward, Mount Blaze, just visible from the masthead, bearing south sixteen miles. During the afternoon we had crossed no less than five lines of ripplings, on which, at low-water, there was only from 2 to 5 fathoms.
October 19.—After the noon observation another attempt was made to find a passage to the westward; but at the end of eighteen miles we found ourselves embayed among patches of ripplings and breakers. The western sandhills, seen yesterday, bore at this time S. by E. fifteen miles. Two-thirds of the distance from the shore was a continued line of broken water. Finding, by sounding with the boats, that there was no passage for the ship, we retraced our track east; and in the evening anchored again in 7 fathoms, between two ridges of 4.
The outer breaker of the Amphinome Shoals bore N. 37° W. three miles, which placed it in lat. 19° 41' S. and long. 119° 24' E.; and as these shoals extend eighteen miles off such low land, they may fairly be considered dangerous.
Next evening we anchored off the east side of Bedout Island, having, in the morning, nineteen miles to the east of it and twenty-two from the mainland, passed over a ridge of 5 fathoms.
October 21.—We spent the day on Bedout, the centre of which we found to be in lat. 19° 35' 45" S., long. 119° 08' 45" E. It is a circular sand islet twenty feet high, and half a mile in extent. Off its western side ripplings and rocks extend nearly three miles; in other parts it is fronted by a circular reef a mile in extent, and of a different kind from the Turtle Isle reefs, being composed of live corallines and fan-like leaves, which giving way readily to the feet, we suddenly found ourselves immersed almost up to our necks; within fifty yards of the island this became worse. The reefs and beaches abounded with turtles of two kinds, the Mydas and a species of the Imbricated. We were in time for the noddy's eggs; but the other birds had hatched theirs, and left for sea, returning only at night. From their great abundance and constant visits they had formed a kind of guano on the island. Among the varieties of the feathered tribe was the golden plover.
On the following afternoon we stood over, S.S.E. for the main; but were again prevented by shoal water from approaching within twelve miles of the nearest part, which was the western point of the bay seen from Mount Blaze. Broken water and dry sands extended between south and east, and to the south-west the entrance of Breaker Inlet and other parts of the last year's survey were readily distinguished.
October 22.—During the forenoon the boats completed the soundings, and in the evening the ship was anchored under the N. Turtle Isle. Thus terminated the examination of this hitherto unexplored part of the coast, which had been the field of many years' speculation. One of the most remarkable points, is the great rise of twenty-eight feet in the tide, which can only be accounted for by the fact of the water being heaped up in the concavity formed by the coast; on the first part of the bight the direction of the flood was from W., and on the latter from W.N.W. We had found that no river or other interesting feature existed; and that it was the most dull and uniform portion of the continent we had seen, or that could possibly be imagined.
While I have no reason to believe that an examination of Breaker Inlet, which, from the numerous sandbanks forming the Amphinome Shoals, has probably a considerable outlet, would lead to a discovery of any importance, nevertheless, I regret that the heavy surf which breaks across its entrance at this season of the year entirely prevented my exploring it.
The winds we had experienced on this part of the coast were light, from the eastward, during the night, and moderate from N.N.W. to W.S.W. towards the latter part of the day, the morning being frequently calm. On one or two occasions in the night we had slight squalls from S.E. accompanied by lightning; but, commonly speaking, the weather was very fine, the temperature on board being generally 77, the maximum being 82 and the minimum 75°. On shore it was about five° higher.
The necessary chronometric and magnetic observations were completed, and a supply of turtles taken on board by the evening of the 26th, when after leaving a paper in a bottle, recording our visit and describing the nature of the coast eastwards, we left with the intention of exploring Exmouth Gulf, which was the only remaining portion of the north-western shore of the continent that had not been visited by Captain King or ourselves. But as we were forced away from the land by southerly winds as we approached the N.W. Cape, and as there was no certainty of procuring water, I have been obliged to content myself with the report of a whaler who went in there and found it to be the mouth of a large inlet conveying a vast body of water into the interior, occasionally, I imagine, even as far as the neighbourhood of the north-east shore of Shark's Bay, as Captain Grey speaks of finding there extensive plains of mud and sand, at times evidently flooded by the sea and presenting no limit in a north-east direction.
Continuing our passage we arrived at Swan River on November 23rd.