Discoveries in Australia/Volume 2/Chapter 5
SAIL FROM SWAN RIVER—SEARCH FOR THE SUPPOSED TURTLE-DOVE SHOAL—APPROACH TO HOUTMAN'S ABROLHOS—FIND AN ANCHORAGE—VIEW OF THE LAGOON—GUANO—REMNANTS OF THE WRECK OF THE BATAVIA—PELSART GROUP—VISIT THE MAIN—GEELVINK CHANNEL—ENTER CHAMPION BAY—APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY—STRIKING RESEMBLANCE OF VARIOUS PORTIONS OF THE COAST OF AUSTRALIA—LEAVE CHAMPION BAY—COAST TO THE NORTHWARD—RESUME OUR EXAMINATION OF THE ABROLHOS—EASTER GROUP—GOOD FRIDAY HARBOUR—LIZARDS ON RAT ISLAND—CORAL FORMATION—SNAPPER BANK—ZEEWYK PASSAGE—DISCOVERIES ON GUN ISLAND—THE MANGROVE ISLETS—SINGULAR SUNSET—HEAVY GALE—WALLABY ISLANDS—FLAG HILL—SLAUGHTER POINT—OBSERVATIONS OF MR. BYNOE ON THE MARSUPIATA—GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE REEFS—TIDAL OBSERVATIONS—VISIT NORTH ISLAND—LEAVE HOUTMAN'S ABROLHOS—GENERAL OBSERVATIONS—PROCEED TO DEPUCH ISLAND—DRAWINGS ON THE ROCKS—NATIVE YOUTH—NEW BIRD AND KANGAROO—EFFECTS OF MIRAGE—EXAMINE COAST TO THE TURTLE ISLES—GEOGRAPHE SHOALS—NUMBER OF TURTLES—BEDOUT ISLAND—SCOTT'S REEF—APPROACH TO TIMOR—PULO DOUW—SCENE ON ENTERING COEPANG BAY—SURPRISE OF SWAN RIVER NATIVE—VISIT TO THE RESIDENT—HIS STORIES—FORT CONCORDIA—SECOND VISIT TO THE RESIDENT—THE TIMOREES—ARRIVE AT PRITIE—DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY—MUSTER OF THE SHOOTING PARTY—SUCCESS OF THE EXCURSION—THE JAVANESE COMMANDANT—CHARACTER OF THE TIMOREES—DUTCH SETTLEMENT IN NEW GUINEA—LEAVE COEPANG—ISLAND OF ROTTEE—TYKAL INLET—INHABITANTS OF POLO DOUW
The improved state of the colony enabling us to get supplies, it was resolved that we should return to the North-west coast, examining on the way, Houtman's Abrolhos, a coral group that had very rarely been visited, since the Dutch ships were lost on them, one 120 and the other 220 years ago, and of which next to nothing was known.
Not being able to persuade Miago to accompany us, he being too much engaged with his new wife, we enlisted the services of a native youth who generally went by the name of Tom, and left Gage Roads on the afternoon of April 4th.
Off the west end of Rottnest a sail was seen, which we afterwards found, to our mortification, was H.M.S. Britomart, from Port Essington. We had another fruitless search for the bank reported to the northward of Rottnest. Steering N.N.W. from the west end of it, the soundings increased gradually to 35 fathoms, till passing Cape Leschenault at the distance of twenty-two miles; but afterwards, no bottom with 50 fathoms, till reaching the lat. of 31° 7' S., where the coast projecting, brought us again within twenty miles of it, and into a depth of 45 fathoms. We continued in soundings till in lat. 30° 36' S., varying from 26 to 98 fathoms, seventeen miles from the land with the former, and twenty-five with the latter depth, which shows the extent and steepness of the bank of soundings fronting the coast, between the parallels I have mentioned.
April 6.—There was unusual weather last night, overcast with a squally westerly wind. Just laying our course N.N.W., at noon we were in lat. 29° 11' S., on the position assigned to a reef called the Turtle Dove. From the masthead I could see nothing indicating a shoal. Captain King passed near this position, and also remarks not seeing it. The Colonial schooner Champion, in beating to the southward, has passed over and near its assigned position, and I think we may fairly infer that there is no such reef as the Turtle Dove, and that probably it originated from the south end of the Abrolhos reef, ten miles N.N.W. of it, being seen. We found 29 fathoms on this supposed shoal, with 35, twelve miles S. by E. of it, and 127, twenty-eight miles in the same direction. Between it and the south end of the Abrolhos Group the water deepened to 35 fathoms. In approaching the nearest island we passed close round the south-east end of a reef, running out about a mile from the south point, and then trending away round in a North-west by N. direction, so as to form one side of a lagoon, whilst the island I have mentioned—a long narrow strip trending North-east by N.-forms the other. The weather looking unsettled, the wind being from the south-west, with slight rain squalls, we were glad to find shelter, so near the commencement of our work, in a bight on the east side of the island, three quarters of a mile from the south point, where we anchored in 13 fathoms, scarcely a quarter of a mile from the shore. A coral patch, of two and a half fathoms, with only two on its northern extreme, confines this anchorage, which affords shelter from S.S.E. round by W. to North-east by N. The tide rose here 32 inches.
From the masthead I got a tolerably good view of the island, in some places scarcely a cable wide, and a number of islets scattered to the north-west. The lagoon at this place was not more than three miles across, though marked twelve in the old charts; and I could trace the long line of white breakers rolling in on the other side in solemn grandeur, contrasting strongly in their foaming turbulence with the placid waters within the protection of the reef and island. I could clearly distinguish the limit of the danger in this direction, and that there was nothing to break the swell beyond. The surface of the lagoon was diversified by blue and grey patches, showing the alternations of shoal and deep water; near the centre there appeared to be a channel, which we afterwards found to be ten fathoms deep.
In the head of the bight where we were anchored, there was a narrow low sandy neck, placed by our observations in lat. 28° 58' 26" S. and long. 1 degree 47' 32" west of Swan River,* over which we hauled a boat to examine the opposite side of the lagoon.
- * As we shall refer all long.s during this cruise to Scott's Jetty, Swan River, I may here state that the approximate long. of that place is considered to be 115° 47' E. of Greenwich.
A few remarkable clumps of mangroves pointed out the position of some lagoons about a mile and a half from the south end of the island, which is fronted by a line of low overhanging cliffs of recent, cream-coloured limestone. Upon these rests a layer of a kind of soil, in some places eighteen inches deep, in others four feet, in which the seabirds burrow, and which, from what I have since seen of the much sought after guano, I believe to contain some of the valuable substance. In some of the islands forming Houtman's Abrolhos which we subsequently examined, I found similar signs of the presence of this manure, which I think worthy of being made the subject of enquiry.
On the south part of the island I found a block of scoria measuring three feet by two; which, though not appearing to possess the power of floating, must have been brought by the current from the volcanic island of St. Paul's. We saw a few hair-seals on the beach when we landed, and a rich kind of rock oyster was found at low-water.
On the south west point of the island the beams of a large vessel were discovered, and as the crew of the Zeewyk, lost in 1728, reported having seen the wreck of a ship on this part, there is little doubt that the remains were those of the Batavia, Commodore Pelsart, lost in 1627. We in consequence named our temporary anchorage Batavia Road, and the whole group Pelsart Group. It was the wreck of this Dutch ship that led to the discovery of this part of the continent of Australia, Commodore Pelsart himself having crossed over to it in a boat in search of water.
April 8.—In the afternoon we got underweigh, with a fresh south wind. The low neck over which the boat was hauled, and which appeared like a gap from the offing, bearing west, led clear to the northward of the two fathom patch. We steered across E. by S. ½ S. for the main, losing sight of the island from the Beagle's poop (height 15 feet) at the distance of five miles and a half. Three miles further brought us in sight of the land, forming a high level range, with a knob or lump on its south extreme. Some five or six miles to the south-east were seen isolated peaks, which we rightly supposed to be the Wizard Hills of Captain King, whilst the lump above spoken of proved to be Mount Fairfax, the level range being Moresby's Flat-topped Range. As we neared them the Menai Hills began to show themselves.
Our soundings, after leaving the island, deepened quickly to 30 and 35 fathoms. Six miles from it the depth decreased to 23 fathoms. We stood off and on during the night, the current setting N.N.W. a mile an hour. The space between the Abrolhos and the main bears the name of Geelvink Channel, after Vlaming's ship, the first that ever passed through (A.D. 1680).
The chief object of the Beagle's visit to the main was to ascertain the position of a good anchorage, before spoken of as reported at Swan River to be under the south-west end of Moresby's Flat-topped Range. The favourable account which Captain Grey had given of the country behind the range made the knowledge of a good anchorage in its neighbourhood of vast importance. Captain King missed this portion of the coast by crossing over to the Abrolhos, which he places some five miles too much to the westward, the lowness of the island deceiving him, as indeed it at first did us. The reef off the south-west end, however, he has rightly fixed.
April 9.—At daylight the ship was in 24 fathoms, fifteen miles from Wizard Hills, bearing S. 70° E. As we neared the shore, steering N.E. by N. we saw a low point, running out west from the south end of Moresby's Range, fronted by heavy breakers, particularly to the north-west. Behind, the water was quite smooth, and promised a snug anchorage. We passed round the reef in 13½ fathoms, at the distance of a half, and three-quarters of a mile; but we did not haul into the bay until some suspicious spots had been sounded over by a boat. Finding not less than four and a half fathoms, we stood in, Mount Fairfax bearing east. The small table hill forming the north-west extreme of the Menai Hills, bearing N. 11° E., leads clear to the westward of the reef. Between this and the north point of the bay the water occasionally lifts suspiciously. Inside the depth is regular, five and six fathoms, fine white sand.
To this anchorage was given the name of Champion Bay; whilst the projection sheltering it from the south-west was called Point Moore, after the Attorney-general at Swan River, who visited it in the Colonial schooner. We anchored early in the forenoon in four fathoms, Mount Fairfax bearing N. 81° E. five miles and three-quarters; Point Moore S. 49° W. one mile, the end of the reef N. 60° W. also one mile, and a bare-topped brown sandhill, S. 33° E., three-quarters of a mile. Immediately under the last-mentioned the observations were made, placing that spot in lat. 28° 47' 8" S. and long. 1 degree 9' 20" W. of Swan River. A most singular ridge of very white sandhills lay a quarter of a mile to the eastward.
A plan of the bay was made, and the elevation of the neighbouring heights taken; Mount Fairfax proving to be 585 feet, and Wizard Peak 700 feet.
I regretted there was not time to visit Moresby's Flat-topped Range, as we might have got a glimpse of the good land reported by Captain Grey in the neighbourhood. The sides of the high lands look fertile over the sandhills of the bay; but through a spy-glass I found that they had a brown arid appearance and were destitute of timber.
I was forcibly struck with the resemblance between Moresby's Range, Sea Range on the Victoria, Cape Flattery on the north-east coast, and I may add, from Flinders' description, the cliffs forming the coast range at the head of the Australian Bight. The great similarity in the elevation, all being between 500 and 700 feet, is still more remarkable. To bring this great resemblance between opposite portions of the Australian continent before the reader, I have inserted sketches of those parts which were seen in the Beagle.
The beach in the south corner of Champion Bay, having the appearance of being seldom visited by a surf, it is possible that a small vessel may be sheltered by the reef in north-west gales, which the anchorage is exposed to, and which, therefore, can only be considered safe in the summer season. Five miles to the southward of Point Moore there is another bay, which appeared much exposed to the prevailing winds. The shore between is rocky with outlying reefs.
April 10.—We left Champion Bay at daylight, with a moderatE south wind and fine weather, and passed over some uneven ground south-west of the north point, soundings varying from five to seven fathoms, sand and rock, which though at a quiet time, almost formed breakers.
As we ran along to the northward, the coast was lined with sandhills very partially dotted with vegetation. Behind these was a margin of brown arid-looking downs, receding to the foot of the uplands. Twenty miles of the coastline from Champion Bay trended N. 29° W.
At noon we were in lat. 28° 26' S.; the Menai Hills, a group lying just off the north end of Moresby's Flat-topped Range, bearing S. 73° E. ten miles. A valley or ravine, through which probably a rivulet* runs in the wet season, bore N. 83° E. two miles, and a singular large patch of sand, 270 feet above the sea, N. 22° E. two miles and a half. N. of this patch the land changes its appearance; the bare sandhills cease, and a steep-sided down, 300 feet high, faces the coastline. Our track was from two to three miles from the shore, in 19 and 22 fathoms, fine white sand; a heavy surf washing the beach. South-east of the Menai Hills the country appeared much broken, with high table ranges of from 4 to 700 feet.
- * This (in lat. 28° 25' S.) may have been one of the rivers discovered by Captain Grey, but which it was impossible for us to determine, as no account of them had been left with the Surveyor-general, Mr. Roe.
It was now necessary to resume our examination of the Abrolhos, and thirty-one miles on a W.¼ S. course, brought us between two groups of them, where we anchored for the night in 23 fathoms. The soundings in standing across Geelvink Channel, were 22 and 26 fathoms, fine white sand; the current ran N.N.W., a mile an hour.
April 11.—At daylight we found that the summit of a large island, in the centre of the group to the northward, bore N. 21½° W. about nine miles. We now beat to the southward in search of a harbour, where the ship might lie in safety whilst we went to work with the boats, and were fortunate enough to discover one close to the north-east point of a large island lying in the centre of the group to the southward; which we named Easter Group, and the harbour Good Friday Harbour, to commemorate the season of the Christian year, at which we visited it. Perhaps at some future period, when the light of the gospel shall have penetrated to every part of the vast Australian continent, these sacred names, bestowed by us upon some of its outworks, may be pronounced with pleasure, as commemorative of the time when the darkness of ignorance and superstition was just beginning to disperse.
Good Friday Harbour, like all coral harbours, requires to be taken by eye, being full of coral knolls, which necessitate the utmost vigilance. In itself, however, it is an excellent port, capable of holding a large number of ships, and with a general depth, between the coral patches, of from 15 to 17 fathoms, with a fine muddy sandy bottom. The eastern extremity of the large island bearing S. by E. ½ E. led into the harbour. As we threaded our way among the patches of coral, the view from the masthead of the submarine forests through the still pellucid water was very striking. The dark blue of the deep portions of the lagoon contrasted beautifully with the various patches of light colours interspersed.
We found to our surprise that the group into which we had penetrated was entirely distinct from that under which we had first anchored to the southward, so that we had already discovered the Abrolhos to form three separate groups.
The centre island we named Rat Island, from the quantity of that vermin with which it was infested. We also saw here a few seals, and numbers of a very pretty lizard (figured in the appendix) with its tail covered with spines. Several of these were brought away alive. I had two myself for nine months on board, and afterwards presented them to Lady Gipps. Of those taken by Lieutenant Emery, he was so fortunate as to bring one alive to England, in 1841. It is still in his possession, and thrives remarkably well. In one of his last letters he writes to me as follows on the subject: "The Abrolhos lizard is very docile, and knows Mrs. Emery quite well, and will eat and drink out of her hand; but is timid with strangers. Its habits are rather torpid, but it becomes active when in the sun or before the fire. It eats so very little that a piece of sponge cake about the size of a small bean will satisfy it for three or four weeks. It changes its skin twice a year."
The formation of Rat Island resembles that already noticed in Pelsart Group; there were the same low overhanging cream-coloured limestone cliffs, to the height of half the island; the greatest elevation of which was 13 feet, with a similar soil, mixed with guano, and filled with burrows of the sooty petrel, or mutton bird. Surrounding it is a low coral reef, trending northward to the outer edge of the group.
This reef afforded me an opportunity of examining the coral formation of the Abrolhos, which, with the exception of Bermuda, is the place farthest removed from the equator where coral formation is found. The reef on which Rat Island rests extends off four hundred yards on the inner side, and has 12 fathoms just off it, on a grey sandy mud. The greater portion is composed of a variety of corals intermixed, and forming a consolidated mass, with brain-stones scattered over. It is nearly dry at low-water; but a portion does not rise so high, projecting out so as to form a narrow shelf, from the edge of which a wall descends almost sheer to the depth of 54 feet. The upper 20 feet are formed of a peculiar kind of coral, growing in the shape of huge fans, spreading out from stout stems overlapping each other in clusters, and having angular cavities between. The coral forming the lower 34 feet of the wall is of the common large branch kind.
Whilst in Good Friday Harbour the quarter-master reported smoke on one of the islands to the north-east. All eyes were instantly turned in that direction, in curiosity to find what could have caused it. And sure enough a long streak of smoke was curling upwards through the air. It soon however appeared that it rose from some fire on the main, distant about thirty-five miles, and that its being visible by us was owing to the extreme clearness of the atmosphere.
The observation spot on Rat Island was on the north-east end, which we placed in lat. 32° 42' 50" S. and long. 1 degree 57' 50" W. of Swan River. Having completed our work in the harbour, we left, for the purpose of securing the requisite material for the north-east part of this group, which we found to be a detached cluster with deep-water between, and to be also similarly separated from the extreme of the group—a small isle about five feet high, composed of sand and dead coral. The average depth surrounding the islands was 20 and 23 fathoms, being the same level as that of the great flat or plain on which they rest, and which extends out from the mainland, shelving off at the outer edge of the southern part of the Abrolhos almost precipitously to no bottom with 250 fathoms. We now proceeded southward, to examine the opening between Easter and Pelsart Groups, and to complete the extremity of the northern part of the latter.
On our way we discovered a coral bank of 7 fathoms, a mile and a half long, seven miles E.S.E. from the north-east end of Easter Group. We called it Snapper Bank, from the immense quantity of that fish which we found on it. In half an hour we caught more than we could cure, so that it became necessary to stop the sport. This shows what a lucrative trade might be carried on by the people of Swan River with the Mauritius; for the lake on the island of Rottnest affording a large supply of salt, any quantity of fish might easily be caught and cured. The whole group is abundantly supplied, though nowhere so plentifully as at Snapper Bank.
From near the south-east end of this bank the main was visible from the Beagle's poop. Here we anchored for the night in 24 fathoms, and next morning stood out to sea between Easter and Pelsart Groups to ascertain if there were any more reefs to the westward, though the long unbroken swell was almost sufficient to convince us that there were none.
In a line between the outer reefs of the two groups the depth was 36 fathoms; a mile and a half further in we had 29; but outside it deepened off suddenly to no bottom with 70, and in two miles and a half to none with 170. Before returning we tried for bottom with 250; but, as has been already mentioned, without success. Outside the reef we felt a current setting a mile an hour N.N.W. In standing in again we passed close round the north-west end of the reef encircling Pelsart Group, in 31 fathoms, and anchored in 17, just without a line of discoloured water, which we found to have 5 fathoms in the outer part, extending across the mouth of the lagoon; the largest island bearing S. by W. one mile and three-quarters.
April 24.—In the morning the boats were despatched on their ordinary work, and Captain Wickham and myself landed on the largest island, a quarter of a mile long, forming the north-western extreme of Pelsart Group, and which we named Gun Island, from our finding on it a small brass four-pounder of singular construction, now deposited in the United Service Museum (see the cut annexed) with quantities of ornamental brasswork for harness, on which the gilding was in a wonderful state of preservation; a number of glass bottles and pipes, and two Dutch doits, bearing date 1707 and 1720. This was a very interesting discovery, and left no doubt that we had found the island on which the crew of the Zeewyk were wrecked, in 1727, and where they remained so long, whilst building, from the fragments of their vessel, a sloop, in which they got to sea by the passage between Easter and Pelsart Groups, which has consequently been called Zeewyk Passage. The scene of their disaster must have been on the outer reef, a mile and three-quarters south-west from Gun Island, along which ran a white ridge of high breakers.
The glass bottles I have mentioned were of a short stout Dutch build, and were placed in rows, as if for the purpose of collecting water; some of them were very large, being capable of holding five or six gallons; they were in part buried in the sand, and the portion which was left exposed to the air presented a singular appearance, being covered with a white substance that had eaten away the glaze. A number of seal bones were noticed on this island; and I have no doubt they are the remains of those that were killed by the crew of the Zeewyk for their subsistence. On the north end of the island was a hole containing brackish water; when we dug it deeper the salt water poured in. The next small islet to the E.S.E. we discovered to be that on which the Dutchmen had built their sloop. On the west side of it was a spot free from coral reefs, thus offering them facilities, nowhere else afforded, for launching the bark which ultimately carried them in safety to Batavia.
A mile and a half to the southward of Gun Island, opposite a singular-looking indentation in the outer side of the reefs, a small cluster of cliffy islets approaches within half a mile of them. It is rather singular that in another of the group—larger than Gun Island, lying in the centre of the lagoon, and the only one not visited by the Beagle's boats—water should have been found by a party who came from Swan River to save the wreck of a ship lost in 1843, close to the spot on which the Batavia struck more than two hundred years ago. This island is called in the chart Middle Island. The well is on the south point, and the water, which is very good, rises and falls with the tide. Doubtless this must have been the island on which the crew of Pelsart's ship found water, though for some time they were deterred from tasting it by observing its ebb and flow, from which they inferred it would prove salt. The north point of Gun Island, which our observations placed in lat. 28° 53' 10" S., long. 1 degree 53' 35" W. of Swan River, is fronted for half a mile by a reef.
The ship was now moved to the north-east extreme of the lagoon, to which we crossed in 17 fathoms—the depth we anchored in, a mile north-west from a cluster of islets covered in places with mangroves, from which they receive their name. To the southward the depth in the lagoon, as far as a square-looking island, was 15 and 16 fathoms. The north extreme of the south island lay three miles to the south east of the Mangrove Islets, by which we found that its length was nearly ten miles, with a general width of about a tenth of a mile.
One of the eastern Mangrove Islets was a mere caY, formed of large flat pieces of dead coral, of the same kind as that of which I have before spoken as resembling a fan, strewed over a limestone foundation one foot above the level of the sea, in the greatest possible confusion, to the height of five feet. In walking over them they yielded a metallic sound. Pelsart, like Easter Group, is marked by a detached islet lying a mile off its north-east extreme.
May 3.—We fetched in under the Lee of Easter Group as the north-west gale of this morning commenced. The barometer did not indicate the approach of the gale, falling with it, and acting as in those we had encountered at Swan River.
The sunset of the two days preceding had presented a very lurid appearance, and the most fantastically shaped clouds had been scattered over the red western sky. It seemed as though nature had determined to entertain us with a series of dissolving views. Headlands and mountains with cloud-capped pinnacles appeared and faded away; ships under sail floated across the sky; towers and palaces reared their forms indistinctly amid the vapour, and then vanished, "like the baseless fabric of a dream."
The winds since the 29th had been very easterly; but early on the 1st became fresh from north-east; a stagnant suspicious calm then succeeded, during the forenoon of the 2nd. At noon the glassy surface of the water began to darken here and there in patches with the first sighing of the breeze, which soon became steady at north-west, and troubled the whole expanse as far as the eye could reach.
It was not, however, as I have said, before daylight of the 3rd that the gale commenced in earnest, continuing with great violence, accompanied with heavy squalls of rain, till noon next day, when the wind had veered to S.S.W. During this time the whole aspect of the scene was changed; immense dark banks of clouds rested on the contracted horizon; the coral islands by which we were surrounded loomed indistinctly through the driving mist; and the decks were drenched by heavy showers that occurred at intervals. The wind blew hardest from W.N.W., and began to moderate about nine on the morning of the 4th, when it had got round to south-west. The current during this breeze set a mile and a half E.S.E., changing again to the northward as the wind veered round to the southward. This clearly shows how certainly, in this neighbourhood, the movements of the air influence those of the sea.
It was the evening of the 5th before all was again clear overhead. In the morning, however, we shifted our berth, which had been a mile from the south extreme of the detached cluster of islets forming the north-east end of Easter Group. Several small water-spouts formed near the ship as we were about to weigh, which induced us to wait a little until they passed.
On the 8th we bore away for the northern group in 26 and 27 fathoms; the space between was named Middle Passage.
Passing outside of a patch of breakers, lying two miles to the northward of the eastern islet, we hauled up south-east, and by feeling our way with the boats got the ship into a snug harbour on the south-east side of the highest island of the Abrolhos, which was afterwards named E. Wallaby Island; another large one, named W. Wallaby Island, lying two miles to the W.S.W. with three small flat islets just between. To these we gave the name of Pigeon Islands, the common bronze-winged pigeon being found there in great numbers. The harbour we named Recruit Harbour, from its affording fresh supplies of the small kangaroo, in addition to the fish found everywhere else. Like the other ports in the Abrolhos, it is full of coral patches; the south point of north Pigeon Island, in one with a bare sandhill on the S.E. point of W. Wallaby Island, bearing S. 50° W., leads into the harbour clear of the spit on the north-west side and some coral patches on the east. In entering we had 7 and 8 fathoms, but the depth inside is 11 and 12; it is perfectly sheltered on all sides.
These islands, after the others, of which the greatest height is 12 feet, appear of considerable altitude; though the loftiest point rising on the north-east extreme of E. Wallaby Island, measures no more than 50 feet. This island is upwards of a mile each way; whilst the west one is two miles and a half long, and one broad. In the centre of the eastern is a low flat, with hills rising all around, with the exception of the south side.
The loftiest, which is called Flag Hill, is, as I have mentioned, on the north-eastern extreme, and has a long finger-shaped point running out from its foot in a north-east direction, to which we gave the name of Fish Point, from the number of snappers we caught there. They were so voracious that they even allowed themselves to be taken with a small bit of paper for a bait. Flag Hill is a rock formed of sand and comminuted shells; while the flat which stretches to the south-west from its foot is of limestone formation. In it we found a kind of cavern, about 15 feet deep, with a sloping entrance, in which was some slightly brackish water, that in percolating through the roof had formed a number of stalactites.
A reef, which dries in patches at low-water, connects the east and west Wallaby Islands. On the south-west point of the latter are some sandhills 30 feet high; and on that side also is a dense scrub, in which the mutton birds burrow, so that it forms rather troublesome walking.
The northern end is a level, stony flat, terminating towards the sea in projecting cliffs six or eight feet high; with patches of bushes large enough to serve as fuel here and there, all full of a new species of wallaby, which, being plentiful on both the large islands, suggested their name. The reader will obtain a good idea of the numbers in which these animals were found, when I state that on one day, within four hours, I shot 36, and that between three guns we killed 76, averaging in weight about seven pounds each; which gave rise to the name of Slaughter Point for the eastern extreme of the island.
As there is no record of the Dutch having visited the northern group, it is impossible to say whether wallaby were then found on it or not. How they could have got there is a mystery, as there were no large floating masses likely to have carried them from the main. The species has been described from a specimen we obtained, as Halmaturus houtmannii; it is distinct from Halmaturus derbyanis, found on most of the islands on the southern parts of the continent.
We shall now fulfil our promise to the reader by laying before him the result of Mr. Bynoe's interesting observations on the Marsupiata, which the number of wallaby killed at Houtman's Abrolhos afforded him the means of perfecting. I may preface his remarks by stating, that all the information I could gain from the colonists on the subject was, that the young of the kangaroo were born on the nipple, which my own experience appears to corroborate.
"My first examination," says Mr. Bynoe, "of the kangaroo tribe, to any extent, occurred at the Abrolhos; there I had an extensive field for ascertaining the exact state of the uteri of the wallaby of those islands. I opened between two and three hundred, and never found even the rudiments of an embryo; but in the pouch I have seen the young adhering to the nipple from the weight of half a dram to eight ounces and upwards. On examination, the only substance found in the womb when the animal was young and full grown, was a cheese-like substance of a straw colour: I likewise found a similar substance in the pouch around the nipples, and in many instances where the nipples were much retracted, it completely covered them, but it was of a darker hue than that in the uterus, and of a saponaceous or greasy feel; the aperture of the pouch so much contracted as scarcely to admit two fingers; wombs with their cornua remarkably small, and nipples in the pouch scarcely pointing, and in many instances retracted.
"Animals with these appearances, I concluded, had never borne young. Examinations frequently took place immediately after they were shot. In those that had recently discarded their young from the pouch, one nipple and frequently two were found much lengthened, and very often one more than the other. I have seen them in the wallaby frequently two inches in length, and with pouches so large, that you could with ease thrust your hand into them; the uteri with their appendages enlarged and apparently very vascular, as well as thickened; but in no one instance at the Abrolhos could I detect a gravid uterus; but I have seen the young adhering to the nipples less than half an inch in length, and in a perfectly helpless state. It is generally supposed that the uterus in the adult animal is not supplied with much arterial blood, merely sufficient to nourish that viscus. If such be the case, can it have the power of retaining the germ in the womb, when on the most minute examination of the young, I could not detect, by cicatrice or line of abrasion on any part of the abdomen, that they ever possessed umbilical vessels, or had been in any way nourished by a placenta? Let us take into consideration the small size of the animal found in the pouch, its utter helplessness, its slight power of motion, and its firm attachment to the nipple. The more it is in the embryonic state the firmer is its attachment to the mother; to separate it from the nipple requires some force; the surrounding parts of the opening of the mouth, after separation, bleed profusely, and the animal has no power to close it; the opening remains gaping and circular, the animal lies on its side, and if very young, soon dies. On each side of the opening is a line showing the extent of the mouth. When arrived at greater maturity it can make no noise until the mouth is fully developed, and then a faint hissing note; it has no power to stand until very large, and the hair is about to shoot out from the skin. An animal in so helpless a situation could not possibly, with all the aids and contrivances of the mother, attach itself to the nipple and produce adhesion of the oral aperture, when even at a later period it has no motion of life or power to close that opening. The retention in the uterus must be of short duration. I have been led to these conclusions from examinations on the banks of the Victoria River. A flying doe, inhabiting the grass flats, of more than ordinary size, was killed. In thrusting my fingers into the pouch, I found that the mammary glands were remarkably enlarged, pressing forcibly into that cavity. I questioned the seaman who took up the animal, immediately after being shot, whether he had taken the young out, and received a negative answer. Finding the mammary glands so extremely enlarged, I was induced (although pressed for time) to examine the uterus, and posterior and internal parts of those glands—the cornua as well as the other parts of the uterus were much thickened, and apparently highly injected with blood. On opening the cavity I found it throughout thickly coated with slimy or mucal secretion (the only uterus found by me in this state. I now extended my examination in front of the womb to the posterior part of the mammae, and in doing so discovered a small gelatinous mass, about twice the size of a pea. On a closer inspection, it appeared to be retained in a thin transparent tube. I watched the substance narrowly and could distinctly perceive the rudiments of an animal. The feet were not developed, but pulsation and motion were not only observed by me, but by two of the men with me, both exclaiming "look at the little animal!" although I feel convinced that they did not know what I was searching for. There was not time to examine further into its state. I carefully removed the uterus, the apparent embryo and the mammae, and put it in a wide-mouthed bottle with some spirits, and gave it in charge of the seaman who was to carry a portion of the animal for the dinner of that day. It was placed in a canvas bag, but on crossing a Deep watercourse he had the misfortune to break the bottle, which he never mentioned until the following day. The contents soon dried up and became an uniform mass. The intense heat had rendered it so firm that nothing could be made of it; all the gelatinous parts had adhered so firmly to the bag, that I was compelled to abandon it. My object was to ascertain if there was a communication in a greater state of development between the womb and posterior part of the mammae, during the period of gestation; and I was fancying I had arrived at some conclusion, but all my hopes were destroyed by one fatal smash! So many theories have been formed on that point—that to advance this as a fact, would be treading too firmly on tender ground. At the first view of the gelatinous mass I seriously considered whether it could have been a gland, and whether the pulsation might have been communicated from muscular twitchings; I took my eye off the substance for some time, and on again looking at it, felt more confident than ever, that it was not a glandular substance. Its peculiar configuration and want of solidity proved it indeed not to be gland; its motion, on touching it with the point of the finger, was so much that of an embryonic animal, that I at once, without further investigation, pronounced it a kangaroo.
"Might not the tube I discovered convey the animal to the posterior part of the mammae, where it might become attached to the nipple in an inverted state? At any rate it was not in the body of the uterus. Had the mass been saved I should have taken one more look of inquiry without attempting to alter its structure, and left the matter for the judicious decision of some of the professors of comparative anatomy at home."
It may here be remarked that the birds met with on Houtman's Abrolhos, with the exception of one, resembling in shape and colour a small quail,* were known and common on the mainland. The aquatic species were also familiar to us; but the habit of one kind, of a sooty-black colour, generally called noddies, was quite new—that of building their nests, which are constructed of seaweed and contain only one egg, in trees. There were not many varieties of fish, the most abundant being snappers; of those that were rare Lieutenant Emery made faithful sketches.
- * Haemapodicus scintilans, Gould.
Half a mile west from Slaughter Point we found two caverns similar to that on E. Wallaby Island, from which we got three tons of excellent water.
The reefs surrounding this group appeared very much broken; and even at Easter Group we had found them to be not so regular as at Pelsart's. This suggests the idea, which appears to be borne out by all we saw, that the reefs are compact in proportion to the exposed position of the islands; the shelter afforded by Pelsart Group, in fact, did not require the reefs to be so united round the other islands to the north.
From the highest part of E. Wallaby Island we discovered a patch of land bearing N.W. ½ N. eleven miles. The outer reef extended in that direction from the south-west point of W. Wallaby Island, though it could only be traced by detached patches of breakers. To the south-east of its commencement lies Evening Reef. The observations were made on the north end of the north-east Pigeon Island, bearing W. by S. half a mile from our anchorage, in lat. 32° 27' 21" S. and long. 2° 1 minute 10" W. of Swan River, variation 4° 10' westerly. The temperature of Houtman's Abrolhos is rendered equable by the fact that they lie at the limit of the land breezes; during the month we were there the thermometer averaged 71°.
Our protracted stay enabled us to get a tolerable series of tidal observations, which present some singular results. The time of high-water at the full and change was six o'clock when the tide rose 30 inches. It appeared that during the night there was a short flood of six hours with a rise of seven inches, and an ebb of two hours with a fall of only five inches; but that during the day the flow and ebb were nearly equal, the former being eight hours and twenty', the latter eight hours and five', and the rise and fall in each being 25 and 26 inches respectively.
A difference was also noticed between the day and night tides at Rat Island, where the time of high-water at the full and change of the moon was ten o'clock, and the rise varied from 8 to 32 inches, from the result of twenty-five observations; by which I found, moreover, that the tides ebbed five hours and a half in the night, and six hours and a half during the day, and the water fell 9 inches with the night, and 18 with the day ebb. The difference between the length of the night and the day floods was an hour; the duration of the former being six hours, whilst that of the latter was seven; whilst the difference in the rise was 7 inches, the greatest general height, which was during the night tides, being 20 inches.
We were detained in Recruit Harbour until May 21st, determining the position of the number of small islands and detached reefs to the south-east of Wallaby Islands; but at length, after completing the soundings on the north-east and north side and ascertaining the extent of the reef to the north-west, we proceeded to the isolated patch of land before mentioned as seen from Flag Hill, and which, from its relative position to the remainder of Houtman's Abrolhos, we called North Island.
An anchorage was found in 12 fathoms, three quarters of a mile from a bay on the north-east side, and half a mile from the reef extending to the northward. The island was about a mile across, and nearly circular. It was surrounded by a range of hills, with a flat in the centre, covered with coarse grass, where a great many quails were flushed, affording good sport, but not a single wallaby.
The highest hill on the south-west point, measuring 42 feet, received the name of Record Hill, from our leaving a paper in a bottle, giving an account of our cruise. A contiguous reef stretched out from the west side of the island for the distance of a mile, beyond which was the open sea. This reef extended two miles and a half to the N.N.W. and four miles and a half to the southward. Our observations were made on a sandhill 36 feet high, immediately over the bay, which they placed in lat. 32° 18' 5" S. long. 2° 9' W. from Swan River.
May 23.—From Record Hill we had perceived that the sea was quite clear to the north and west beyond the reef, and being satisfied that we had reached the extremity of Houtman's Abrolhos,* we weighed in the morning, and passed about a mile and a half from the reef to the north of the island in 26 fathoms; and hauling up S.S.W., along the western side of the reefs, gradually deepened the water to 42 fathoms over a rocky ground, Record Hill bearing N. 70° E. six miles and a half. We then had no bottom with 50 and 60 fathoms until noon, when we had 122 fathoms, sand and coral; Record Hill then bearing N. 52° E. eleven miles and a half, just barely visible from the poop. It is singular that we should have had bottom at that distance from the group, whereas, when we had not proceeded half so far from the southern portion we had no bottom with 200 fathoms.
- * Their extent in lat. therefore nearly corresponded with the old chart; and the apparent confusion in the shape given them, no doubt arose from their extremes only having been seen and then extended towards each other.
To ascertain if there were any more reefs to the westward, we now steered W.S.W., sounding occasionally with 200 and 220 fathoms unsuccessfully.
After running thirty-two miles without seeing any indication of further dangers, of which, moreover, the long ocean swell rolling in convinced us, we steered to the northward.
It may be proper to conclude our account of Houtman's Abrolhos with a few general remarks. They form three groups instead of one, as was formerly supposed; Pelsart Group being separated from Easter Group by a channel, the least width of which is four miles, whilst the middle passage between the latter and the Northern Group is six miles wide. The Abrolhos extend in a N.N.W. direction forty-eight miles, diminishing in breadth towards the north; the greatest width of Easter and Pelsart Groups being twelve miles in a W.S.W. direction. In Easter Group the outer reefs are most distant from the islands, being there four miles from the nearest, which is Rat Island. In the Northern Group the islands are more detached than in the others, and N. Island is separated from them by a distance of ten miles.
We have already alluded to the regularity and sameness in the soundings in these groups, and between them and the main, clearly showing that they are not connected with each other, but rest on the outer extremity of a level or bank, stretching out from the main, and having a slight southerly inclination, the depth (29 fathoms) between the southern group and the coast being greater by four fathoms than between the coast and the northern group. On either side of the Abrolhos, at the same distance from land, the depth is more than 100 fathoms. The general nature of the bottom, in the quiet places between the reefs, is a fine grey sandy mud or marl, but in more exposed situations this is not so compact, whilst broken shells are more abundant. This bottom bears a striking resemblance to that within the Great Barrier Reefs.
After leaving the Abrolhos, as I have narrated, our progress to the northward was unusually slow, and between the parallels of 26° 50' S. and 25° 40' S. we again got into soundings varying from 187 to 81 fathoms, fine grey sand. At the greatest depth the ship was forty miles from the land, and twenty miles at the least, which was off Dirk Hartog's Island, at the south point of Sharks Bay. In passing round the north-west extremity of the continent we delayed, again endeavouring to get sight of Ritchie's Reef; but, on this occasion, as on our passage from the Victoria to Swan River, it was not seen, and as no bottom was obtained with 200 and 240 fathoms in its assigned position on the chart, it must either have a very different one or does not exist.
The part of the North-west coast that had not been seen by Captain King, commencing a short distance to the east of Depuch Island, it was resolved that our survey of that part should begin there, and on the 9th of June the Beagle reached an anchorage off a sandy bay on the north-east side of that island. As we drew near our progress was impeded by a fierce south-east breeze during the forenoons, which we found to prevail during our stay, being stronger at the full and change of the moon. Although coming directly from the land they quite made us shiver, reducing the temperature on one occasion to 59°. These winds began about daylight at south, gradually veering and drawing round to the eastward as the day advanced, and subsiding again as rapidly after noon, leaving the evening and night generally calm.
A search was immediately made for the stream of fresh water reported to have been found by the French, in Freycinet's voyage, on Depuch Island. As our stock was now very much reduced, and as our stay on the coast depended on the supply we could procure here, we were greatly concerned to find that our examination was in vain. Everything appeared parched up; wells were forthwith commenced, and we dug as many as eight, but at the depth of twenty-one feet the water that poured into them was salt. Fortunately Mr. Bynoe found a reservoir of water in the main valley leading up from the north end of the sandy beach, and about a mile from the sea. From this we got about six tons of tolerable water, although the labour of carrying it on the men's shoulders in seven-gallon barecas was very great, the only road lying through the valley, which, as may be inferred from the rounded stones it is strewed with, sometimes conveys a torrent to the sea. Large columnar blocks of the greenstone of which the island is composed, present, as the sun falls on their iron rusty surface, an appearance as if the sides of the valley were lined with red warriors. The section presented to our view, by the deepest well we sank at the mouth of this valley, consisted of a light kind of mould for six feet, then a layer of sand and shells of the same depth, resting on a coarse soft kind of reddish sandstone.
Depuch is the centre of a string of islands which bears the name of Forestier Group, fronting the coast at the distance of from one to three miles. It is much larger than the others, being about eight miles in circumference, and reaching an elevation of 514 feet; whereas the smaller islands, some of which are thickly covered with brushwood and coarse grass, are none of them above 50 feet high. They are of a formation totally different, being of a very coarse gritty yellow sandstone, in many places quite honeycombed, with some low sandhills superimposed.
Although Depuch Island is one vast pile of reddish-coloured blocks, scattered about in the greatest possible confusion, sometimes resembling basaltic columns, its outline from seaward appears even. In the valleys, and on some of the more level spots near the summit, there are occasionally slight layers of soil, affording nourishment to a coarse grass, a few bushes, and several stunted eucalypti; but on the whole the vegetation of the island is extremely scanty. From the highest point we had a view over the main, extending inland for a great distance. It appeared to be flat, with the exception of some isolated rocky hills, of a formation similar to that of Depuch, from 200 to 500 feet in height, and about six miles from the shore. We could also see at a distance of twenty-eight miles a very remarkable pyramidal hill, surmounted by a tower-like piece of rock, bearing from our position S. 30° W. From the white appearance of many large patches of the level country, we inferred that they were covered with a salt efflorescence; and it is probable that a very great portion of it is occasionally flooded, being cut up by a number of creeks, which must overflow at spring tides, especially when they occur simultaneously with the north-west winds that prevail on this coast during the monsoon.
This group of islands is so connected with the main by extensive sandbanks, that at low-water it is possible to walk across to them; and of this facility the natives no doubt avail themselves to procure turtle. It appears indeed to be only on such occasions that they can visit Forestier Group, as we saw no traces of rafts on this portion of the coast. Depuch Island would seem to be their favourite resort; and we found several of their huts still standing. They were constructed of boughs and twigs fixed in the ground, and joined overhead in a circular shape. Over this was thrown a loose matting of twisted grass.
The natives are doubtless attracted to the place partly by the reservoirs of water they find among the rocks after rain, partly that they may enjoy the pleasure of delineating the various objects that attract their attention, on the smooth surface of the rocks. This they do by removing the hard red outer coating, and baring to view the natural colour of the greenstone, according to the outline they have traced. Much ability is displayed in many of these representations, the subjects of which could be discovered at a glance. The number of specimens was immense, so that the natives must have been in the habit of amusing themselves in this innocent manner for a long period of time. I could not help reflecting, as I examined with interest the various objects represented*—the human figures, the animals, the birds, the weapons, the domestic implements, the scenes of savage life—on the curious frame of mind that could induce these uncultivated people to repair, perhaps at stated seasons of the year, to this lonely picture gallery, surrounded by the ocean-wave, to admire and add to the productions of their forefathers. No doubt they expended on their works of art as much patience and labour and enthusiasm as ever was exhibited by a Raphael or a Michael Angelo in adorning the walls of St. Peter or the Vatican; and perhaps the admiration and applause of their fellow countrymen imparted as much pleasure to their minds as the patronage of popes and princes, and the laudation of the civilized world, to the great masters of Italy. There is in the human mind an irresistible tendency to indulge in a sort of minor creation—to tread humbly in the footsteps of the Maker—to reproduce the images that revolve within it, and to form, from its own ideas, a mimic representation of the actual world. This is the source of all art and all poetry; of every thing, in fact, which tends to adorn and refine our nature. It is this uncontrollable desire to work on and fashion the rough materials that lie under our hands that gives the first impulse to civilization, and impels us onward in the progress of improvement. And wherever we discern the faintest indication that such a principle is at work, there we may securely hope that development will ultimately take place. Until we find a nation which has never attempted to emerge from the circle of its mere animal wants—which has never exhibited the least inclination to develop the most ordinary arts—which not only rejects clothing, but is absolutely indifferent to ornament—which leaves its weapons uncarved, its skin unpainted, free from tattoo, we must not despair of the general efficacy of civilization. These savages of Australia, as we call them, who have adorned the rocks of Depuch Island with their drawings, have in one thing proved themselves superior to the Egyptian and the Etruscan, whose works have elicited so much admiration and afforded food to so many speculations—namely, there is not in them to be observed the slightest trace of indecency.
- <nowiki>*<noiwki> See the accompanying lithographic impression of the copies made by Captain Wickham of the native drawings on Depuch Island. They have already appeared in the Royal Geographical Journal Vol. XII.. The following list will convey to the reader what the drawings are intended to represent.
- 1. A goose or duck.
- 2. A bird; probably the leipoa.
- 6. A beetle.
- 11. A fish over a quarter-moon; which has been considered to have some reference to fishing by moonlight.
- 61. A native dog.
- 16. A native, armed with spear and wommera, or throwing stick, probably relating his adventures, which is usually done by song, and accompanied with great action and flourishing of weapons, particularly when boasting of his prowess.
- 20. A duck and a gull.
- 34. A corrobory, or native dance.
- 65. A crab.
- 30. A native in a hut, with portion of the matting with which they cover their habitations.
- 67. A kangaroo.
- 71. Appears to be a bird of prey, having seized upon a kangaroo-rat.
- 32. Shark and pilot-fish.
During our stay we did not see any of the natives on the island; but on the main several of them were observed, though they would not allow us to communicate, moving off as soon as any attempt was made to get near them in the boats. On one occasion, when Mr. Fitzmaurice, in a whaleboat, was examining a part of the coast to the eastward of Depuch Island, he entered a creek, which soon, however, became too confined by the mud-banks for them to use the oars.
While in this position a shout attracted his attention, and he perceived a party of natives, armed with spears approaching the boat, with evident hostile designs. They of course naturally looked upon us as intruders; and as the point was not worth contesting, the creek being of no importance, Mr. Fitzmaurice thought it better to withdraw, rather than run the risk of a collision that could have led to no beneficial results.
The native youth we had brought with us from Swan River did not at all approve of these excursions. He was generally taken, with a view of giving confidence to any of his wild countrymen who might be encountered; but he exhibited the greatest possible repugnance to this service. His terror for the northern men fully equalled that of Miago, from whom doubtless he had received the most terrific accounts. It was only by giving him a gun that he could be at all induced to go. He evidently felt himself more secure with European arms than with his own rude ones; and appeared to have learnt their superiority by experience, for he was a very fair shot. When I first asked him why he did not prefer his spear, his simple reply was, "Can't look out;" meaning that the northern men could not see the contents of a gun coming, whereas if a spear were hurled at them they could avoid it. His bravery was of much the same complexion as that of Miago; and he threatened magnanimously to inflict the most condign punishment on the fellows who opposed Mr. Fitzmaurice's landing. He had a strong impression that these northern people were of gigantic stature; and in the midst of the silent and gaping interest with which he listened to Mr. Fitzmaurice's account of his adventure, the words big fella often escaped from his lips; and he appeared quite satisfied when assured that his opinion was correct.
The agility this native exhibited in spearing fish was astonishing. In shallow water he would actually course the fish till he got them within spearing depth, when, although his prey darted past, he struck it with the most surprising precision. The quiet, splashless manner in which he ran through the water was really singular. When his spear required new pointing, the sole of his foot was turned up and the spear's head pared down upon it with a knife. When the latter was not to be procured the teeth were made use of; and I may here remark that the constant use which some savages make of their teeth may have much to do in producing the projecting jaw. It seems almost evident to common sense that the constant employment of the teeth must have a material effect in causing a change in the facial angle.
We found the anchorage at Depuch Island to form a tolerable port, being protected from the north-east by one of the group, distant about three miles, from which a reef extends to the W.N.W., leaving the mouth of the harbour exposed only between N.W. by N. and W.N.W. Our observations placed the centre of the sandy beach on the north-east side of the island in lat. 20° 37' 47" S. and long. 2° 0' 20" W. of Swan River, variation 2° westerly; and the time of high-water, at the full and change, at half past ten, when the tide rose 15 feet, but only 5 during neaps.
Although Depuch Island had been visited before, there still remained something quite new to reward the diligent search that was made after objects of natural history: namely, a small kind of kangaroo, a land bird, and a shell, a species of Helix. The bird was shot by Mr. Bynoe; it was a finch,* and beautifully marked with stripes of crimson down the breast, on a black ground with white spots; the throat, and a patch round the stump of the tail, were crimson. It is remarkable that all the beauty and brilliancy of colour in this bird is underneath, the back being of a common earthy brown.
- * Named by Mr. Gould from this specimen, Emblema picta.
The kangaroo I had myself the good fortune to knock over on the summit of the island; it was the only one shot during many an excursion made over that dreary heap of desolation, the metallic sound the rocks yielded to our step giving ample warning of our approach to their quick ears. The colours of this specimen, the prettiest we had seen, were a dark grey, with a large angular patch of white down the side, extending from the top of the shoulders nearly to the hips. Down the centre of the back, ran a streak of black, which was also the colour of the extremity of its slightly bushy tail. The face and belly were likewise darker than other parts of the body, and the feet were black and well cushioned, giving it a firm hold of the rocks over which it bounded with surprising agility, through it never ran very far, always popping into the cavities caused by the loose manner in which the blocks forming the island are thrown together.*
- * Mr. Gould has figured an animal very like this I have described, as Petrogale lateralis, or the Stripe-Sided Rock Wallaby, from a specimen he some time afterwards got from Western Australia; but he has not noticed the beautiful kangaroo of Depuch Island.
The specimen of the species of Helix I have above mentioned was found by Mr. Dring, one of our most successful collectors in that department. In the Appendix are figured some of the new shells discovered during the voyage.
Leaving Depuch Island, we examined the coast to the eastward as far as the Turtle Isles, a distance of eighty-five miles, the first twenty-seven of which trended N. 55° E., and the remainder N. 67° E. curving slightly inwards. As the French had obtained a distant view of this coast, it did not possess to us the interest of being a new portion of the continent.
Still the effect of the treacherous mirage, which has often deluded the way-worn thirsty traveller with the false appearance of water, raised many parts of the interior that had not before met the eye of an European. These presented a very level outline. The interior was, for a great distance, a vast plain, so low that we could scarcely see it from the ship's masthead over the sandhills, which did not exceed the height of 40 feet. Six or seven miles from the Turtle Isles this extensive level was interrupted by the presence of a group of hills, from 200 to 300 feet in elevation, apparently of the same character as the heights behind Depuch Island. As seen through the medium of mirage, they often had a most curious appearance: high continuous ranges, changing again to lofty islands, danced in the tremulous air. I should remark that when the land was subject to this distortion, it was always during the forenoon, and on those days the winds were invariably light.
The shore, for nearly fifteen miles from Depuch Island is very low, lined with mangroves, and intersected by creeks, which at high-water, when the tide rises sometimes 18 feet, are of some magnitude, and inundate much of the low land, leaving large portions of it whitened by a salt incrustation. Beyond, as far as the Turtle Isles, the coast is fronted with a ridge of sandhills, scantily covered with vegetation (the highest, as I have already said, rarely exceeding an elevation of 40 feet) forming a barrier between the sea and the low lands behind, which, from the masthead, appeared to be thickly covered with small trees, and slightly raised from three to seven miles from the coast. Several of the natives showed themselves at a distance, and from the numerous fires, it appeared to be a well inhabited part of the continent. Still we saw no appearance of a stream of fresh water; and, though there were several creeks, the only opening of any consequence was forty-three miles from Depuch Island. From its abounding with oysters we named it Oyster Inlet. Across the mouth of it lies an islet, just within the north-eastern end of which there was a sufficient depth for the Beagle. The formation of the island was a reddish porous sandstone. At a native fire-place I found a piece of quartz and a large pearl oyster-shell. The tide rose here 15 feet near full moon.
The only outlying dangers on this extent of coast were the Geographe Shoals, two rocky patches some distance from each other. The outer one was thirteen miles from the main, and bore N. 22° E. twenty-three miles from Depuch Island.
The shore fronting the north Turtle Island projects, leaving a space of only ten miles between, of which, on account of the shoals, only a small portion lying near the island is navigable. Nearly opposite the latter is another opening, of some extent at high-water; but from the impediments that offered to our examining it, we named it Breaker Inlet. During spring tides it must carry a large body of water over the very low land it intersects.
The S. Turtle Isle is a mere bank of sand and white coral; the northern is about half a mile across, of the same formation precisely as the low isles of Forestier Group. It is fronted on all sides with a coral reef extending off from a mile to a mile and a half, which dries at low-water, leaving an abrupt wall of from two to three feet at the outer edge, with pools between it and the island, in which several luckless turtles, who had deferred leaving until too late, were found. Though we only took what was required for our own consumption, the number that could have been here obtained was enormous.
In the course of four hours thirty green turtles were brought on board, one of which, and not the largest, weighed 385 pounds. A small hawk's bill, the first and only one seen, was also taken. On this part of the coast grows a peculiar small kind of weed, on which they feed; it was first seen near Depuch Island. I have been informed that the turtles at Ascension Island, when fresh caught, have a large ball of a curious kind of weed in their stomach, and that as soon as it is consumed, they become watery and lose their flavour. Though many diligent inquiries have been made after this weed, it appears to be still unknown.
A sandhill on the south-east end of the North Isle our observations placed in lat. 19° 53' 48" S., and long. 3° 09' 10" E. of Swan River; variation 1 degree 0' westerly. The tide ran between the island and the shore nearly two knots an hour; the flood stream came from the north-west; and the rise at springs was 18 feet, the time of high-water being 11 o'clock.
A fruitless attempt was made to procure water on this island, by digging; and as we were now reduced to a supply for only ten days, it became necessary that we should immediately proceed to Timor in search of some. This was much to be regretted at the present moment, as the coast to the east had never been seen, and therefore possessed the charm of being a new part of the continent. We consoled ourselves for not being able to visit it by the reflection that it would hold out some inducement for us to return to this land of sterility.
On Turtle Island was found a broken jar, probably left by some of the Macassar people, who are occasionally blown in upon this part of the coast.
July 14.—The unusual fogs that had prevailed for three days dispersing, allowed us to leave our anchorage under the south-east side of N. Turtle Isle, and soon after dark we occupied another near Bedout Island, having crossed some rocky ledges of seven fathoms on the way. When the Beagle was midway between these islands, they were both visible from the masthead. In the night, and during the early part of next day, it blew strong from south-east, causing a high-topping sea. Time being precious, we could not wait for a quiet day to land on Bedout; its position was therefore determined by observations with the sea horizon, and differs very materially from that given by the French.
We weighed early in the afternoon of the 15th, and passed round the north-west end of Bedout, where there is much uneven ground with ripplings. We carried soundings until abreast of the north end of Rowley Shoals and twenty-five miles from their inner side, in from 45 to 154 fathoms. These shoals, like the Abrolhos, appear to stand on the outer edge of a bank projecting off this portion of the coast, as we did not get bottom after leaving their parallel.
On the 20th, in the afternoon, we passed, having no soundings with 200 fathoms, along the western side of Scott's Reef, at the distance of three miles, and determined its position. It forms a large lagoon, with an opening, not appearing to be a ship passage, midway on its western side; marked by a dry bank just within it, in lat. 14° 3' 30" S. and long. 6° 4' 45" E. of Swan River. The eastern extreme of the reef was not seen; the southern limit is in lat. 14° 15' S.; and the north-west extreme being in 13° 55' S., and long. 6° 2' E. of Swan River, gives it an extent of twenty miles in a north and south direction.
Captain Owen Stanley, in March, 1840, discovered a shoal about sixteen miles to the N.N.E. of Scott's Reef; he considered its extent from east to west to be about five miles; but from the masthead the south end of it could not be seen. It did not appear to have more than two or three feet water on it. The north point, Captain Stanley places in lat. 13° 39' S., long. 121° 56' E.; or 6° 11' E. of Swan River.*
- * This reef was seen by the Seringapatam merchant ship in 1842.
We now began to feel a westerly current, which increased to a knot and a half as we got near Rottee; the winds being moderate, between E. and E.S.E.
July 23.—The weather was hazy: the high land of Rottee was seen in the forenoon, the highest part of the island, a rather pointed hill, bearing N. 60° E. At 1 p.m. we saw Pulo Douw, which we endeavoured to weather, but the current prevented us. It is a remarkable island, with a gap in the centre and a clump of trees, that looks like a sail when first seen, on the north-west end, which terminates in a low sandy point. This is also the case with the south-east extreme, off which a reef extends for about half a mile; indeed, there appeared to be no ship passage between the sandy islets that lie to the east of Pulo Douw and Rottee. We rounded the north-west end of the former at the distance of a mile and a half, passing through some heavy ripplings, apparently an eddy setting to the north-east round the island. Pulo Douw appeared to be thickly inhabited, and was encircled by a reef, except at its N.N.W. point, where there is a cliffy projection. Angles were taken for fixing the position of the islets between Pulo Douw and Rottee, which we found to be wrongly placed. The Scotch Bonnet, a remarkable rocky lump, seen over the south-west end of Rottee, and in line with the south side of Pulo Douw, bore S. 60° E. During the night we had a fresh wind from E.S.E. and sailed through several ripplings, our first entering suddenly upon which caused some anxiety, though the lead gave no bottom with 60 and 70 fathoms. We passed some distance from the western end of Samow Island in the morning; but the high peaks of Timor were not seen till near noon. The eager eyes of the native whom we had brought with us from Swan River were the first to descry them; and he exclaimed in tones of rapturous astonishment, "Land! big fella! all the same cloud!" I shall not easily forget the amazement of this savage, accustomed as he was to behold the level plains of his native land, when he saw, towering in alpine grandeur to the sky, the pinnacled heights of Timor. He seemed scarcely able to conceive, even when assured by the evidence of his own senses, that it was possible for mountains to be so high and ranges so vast as those that now developed themselves before him.
In crossing the mouth of Coepang Bay towards Samow, in the evening, the appearance was truly grand. A vast heap of vapour was slowly moving across the mountains, disclosing at intervals their jagged summits towering towards the sky, and occasionally allowing the eye to penetrate for a moment into the depths of mysterious valleys that seemed to stretch for unknown distances into the recesses of the great Timoree Range. Some wild flying clouds that rapidly traversed the heavens imparted a curious alternation of light and shadow to the lowlands that presented themselves to our view—chequering the whole with gloomy patches and light spots, and revealing or hiding in rapid succession the extensive woods and the patches of cultivation that lay within the bosom of the Bay. The dazzling white sand beaches, too, strongly marked by the dark blue sea, heightened the beauty of the scene; which to us, who had for some months seen nothing but the monotonous north-west coast of Australia, appeared truly enchanting.
During the first watch we beat up the bay, and at midnight anchored; the barking of dogs, the crowing of cocks, and the tolling of bells assuring us that we were once again in the vicinity of civilization. In the morning we found ourselves off the town of Coepang, when we shifted our berth farther in; the flagstaff of Fort Concordia bearing south a quarter of a mile.
Our Swan River native came up to me after we had anchored, dressed in his best, shoes polished, and buttoned up to the chin in an old uniform jacket. "Look," said he, pointing to some Malay lads alongside in a canoe, "trousers no got 'um." A toss of the head supplied what was wanting to the completeness of this speech, and said as plainly as words could have done, "poor wretches!" I tried in vain to point out their superiority, by saying, "Malay boy, work, have house; Swan River boy, no work, bush walk." I then drew his attention to the country, the delicious fruits and other good things to eat (knowing that the surest road to an Australian's heart is through his mouth) but all was in vain! my simple friend shook his head, saying, "No good, stone, rock big fella, too much, can't walk." Home, after all, is home all the world over, and the dull arid shores of Australia were more beautiful in the eyes of this savage than the romantic scenery of Timor, which excited in him wonder not delight. It was amusing to see how frightened he was on going ashore the first time. With difficulty could he be kept from treading on our heels, always, I suppose, being in the habit, in his own country, of finding strangers to be enemies. He was instantly recognised by the Malays, who had occasionally seen natives of Australia returning with the Macassar proas from the north coast, as a marega,* much to his annoyance.
- * I have never been able to learn the meaning of this word. They told us at Coepang it signified man-eater; which explains the native's annoyance; and may serve as a clue to the discovery that the aborigines of the northern part of the continent occasionally eat human bodies as they do in the south.
Being anxious to make the acquaintance of the Resident, who bore the reputation of being a most intelligent person, a party of us paid him a visit the second day after our arrival. The narrow streets, lined with Chinese shops and pedlars of every description, from the long-tailed Chinaman to the thick, crisp-haired, athletic Timoree, were soon passed. We then entered a rich green valley, with some fine houses on the left: the sight was strange and new to us in every way. What we most enjoyed was the vegetation—a feast for our eyes, after the dull arid shores of North-western Australia: and we gazed with intense pleasure on the rich green spreading leaf of the banana and other tropical fruit-trees, above which towered, the graceful cocoa-nut. Is it possible, thought I, that Timor and Australia, so different in the character of their scenery, can be such near neighbours, that these luxuriant valleys, nestling among the roots of these gigantic hills, are only separated by a narrow expanse of sea from those shores over which nature has strewed, with so niggard a hand, a soil capable of bearing the productions characteristic of the lat.s within which they lie?
A meagre-looking apology for a soldier, leaning against a tree, suggested to us that we must be near the Resident's dwelling: we were so. It soon appeared that it was the last of the large houses before mentioned, and that the soldier was the sentinel. We were speedily ushered into the presence of D.T. Vanden Dungen Gronovius. What sort of person, reader, do you picture to yourself with such a name? Great of course; and in truth such was he, not only in height and bulk, but as he soon informed us, in deeds likewise; he talked fast, and smoked faster, and possessed a general knowledge of all the recent discoveries. We learned from him that the Zelee and Astrolabe were laid on their beam ends for twenty-four hours in the hurricane of last November, when the Pelorus was lost at Port Essington. After listening to some strange and amusing stories about Borneo, where the Resident had been Superintendent for twelve years, we took our leave. I was glad to find that Mr. Gronovius entertained views more liberal than Dutchmen generally do. He had, as he told me, written to the Governor-General at Batavia, requesting that Coepang might be made a free port, and emigration allowed. He most kindly offered us horses and guides for riding or shooting.
The observations for lat., long., etc. were made in Fort Concordia,* near the flagstaff. I was surprised to find this fort so much out of repair; the only guns fit to be fired out of were two brass six-pounders, the carriages indeed of which were not trustworthy. On these guns I noticed the same mark as on that we found at Houtman's Abrolhos, namely, two sides of a triangle bisecting two small circles. I never see an old fort without thinking of the anecdote of a party from the Beagle visiting one at Valdivia on the west coast of S. America. The guns were very much out of repair, and when the remark was made to the old Spaniard who showed the fort, that they would not bear to be fired out of ONCE, with a shrug of his shoulders he replied that he thought they would bear it twice! But to return to Fort Concordia: it stands on a madreporic rocky eminence, about 60 feet in elevation, commanding the straggling town of Coepang, which, certainly, from the anchorage† does not impress the stranger with a favourable opinion of the industry of its inhabitants, though it improves in proportion as you retreat from the beach. The foot of the height on which the fort stands is washed by a small rapid stream that skirts the south side of the town. Its course from the eastward is marked by a deep gorge, on the sides of which a stranger might feast his eyes on the riches of tropical scenery. Here and there above the mass of humbler vegetation, a lofty tapering cocoa-nut tree would rear its graceful form, bowing gently in the passing breeze. On every hill was presented the contrast of redundant natural verdure, clothing its sides and summit, and of cultivated fields along the lower slopes. These by irrigation are turned into paddy plantations, the winds blowing over which give rise to those insidious fevers, intermittent, I am told, in their character, which are so prevalent at Coepang, as well as dysentery, from which indeed the crew of the Beagle afterwards suffered.
- * lat. 10° 10' 11" S., and long. 9° 50' 00" W. of Swan River.
- † See the view annexed.
The whole force the Dutch have at Coepang is sixty soldiers, half of whom, too, are Javanese. Yet the subjection in which this small force keeps the natives, is beyond belief. A sergeant is the commandant at Rottee, and such power has he over the inhabitants, that he can at any time raise a thousand armed men in the course of a few hours. Many of the largest ponies used at Coepang, are brought from Rottee. Their origin no one could give me any information about; all agree in saying they were found with the island, and the natives have no traditions.
My second visit to the Resident was for the purpose of accepting his offer of a guide, and of making arrangements for a day's shooting. I found him as usual, sitting smoking in a large cool room. We were soon in the interior of Borneo, the scene of his former exploits. Some of these were of so sanguinary a character, that they do him very little credit; and many of his tales partook of the marvellous. Among the Dyaks, natives of the interior, it is a custom, he said, that when a man wishes to marry, he must produce a certain number of human heads. He related that he had once seen a very handsome young woman, to whom a number of heads had been delivered, swimming about in some water, and playing with them. At another time he averred that he saw a woman mix human brains with water and drink it! Mr. Gronovius also informed me that the land on the western sides both of Timor and Borneo was gaining on the sea, particularly at the latter place; and a report prevailed that on some of the elevated parts of the former chama shells had been found. In answer to my inquiries about earthquakes, I was told that, only the last month the island of Ternate in 0° 50' N. had been visited by one, which had thrown down all the houses, and that in 1690, the town of Coepang had also been destroyed. From the Resident also, I received accounts of three ports in Rottee, one on the north-west side, another on the south-east, and a third, on the north-east, opening into Rottee Strait.
Among the fresh information gained from Mr. Gronovius during this visit, was an account of the natives of Timor called Timorees. They are very superstitious, and when a person of consequence dies, a number of karabows (buffaloes) pigs, and ponies are killed and placed over his grave, as an offering to the evil spirit. Some, in case of sickness, imagine, that by eating a whole buffalo, even the horns and hoofs, by°, they can appease the anger of the demon to whom they attribute all their misfortunes.
Many of the Timorees have really handsome features, strikingly different from the Malays. Their hair, which is neither woolly nor straight, but crisp, and full of small waves, is worn long behind, and kept together by a curiously formed comb. There is altogether a degree of wildness in their appearance that ill accords with their situation; for nearly all the Timorees in Coepang are slaves sold by the Rajahs of the different districts, the value of a young man being fifty pounds.
A powerful Rajah, commonly called the Emperor of Timor, visited Coepang during our stay there. Unfortunately we all missed seeing him. He was attended by a large and well-armed guard, and appeared to be on very good terms with the merchants of the place, who made him several presents, no doubt through interested motives; probably he supplies them with slaves. His character is notoriously bad; it was only the other day that he had one of his wives cut to pieces, for some very trifling offence.
On taking my leave of the Resident, I fixed the day for our shooting excursion. We were to go to a place called Pritie, on the northern shore of Babao Bay, and distant some fifteen miles from the ship, which rendered it necessary therefore to make an early start.
Daylight on Monday morning accordingly found us on the northern shore of the bay, but we soon ascertained that our guide knew very little about the matter; and what was still worse, there was no getting near the shore, a bank of soft mud fronting it for some distance, at this time of tide, and particularly in the vague direction our guide gave us of Pritie. The day was fast advancing; so we made our way back to a cliffy projection we had passed before light, where, after some difficulty, we got on shore. Whilst the breakfast was cooking, I made a sketch of the bay, and took a round of angles, all the charts and plans I had seen being very erroneous.
Our guide appeared to take our not going to Pritie greatly to heart; but we made the best of our way to some clear spots on the side of the high land seen from the boat. We met a few natives, who all agreed there were plenty of deer close by, which we believed, for we saw numbers of very recent tracks. But the jungle was impenetrable; so, after rambling for an hour or two, at the expense of nearly tearing the clothes off our backs, and emulating the folly of the wise man of Thessaly, we again determined to make for Pritie, or at least to try and find it. The tide too now served, and after a pull of some hours, carefully examining every creek and bight, we spied at length two canoes hauled up among a patch of mangroves. Landing, we soon found some houses, and a person to show us the road to Pritie; for we had still a walk of three miles across a well watered flat piece of country. We were highly pleased with this, to us, novel sight; and our enjoyment was heightened by beholding the tricks and grimaces of some impudent monkeys perched on the tops of the lofty trees, out of shot range, and too nimble to be hit with a ball.
We at last reached our destination, on the eastern side of a beautiful stream. Immediately to the northward some lofty peaks reared their rugged summits in an amphitheatre round the rich and picturesque vale of Pritie, which lay at the feet of their varied slopes, one mass of tropical vegetation. Trees of enormous height shot up by the waterside, and between them, as we approached, the little sharp-roofed houses of the village of Pritie could be seen scattered here and there amidst their gardens.
Our old guide, who had by this time recovered his serenity of mind, led us direct to the Commandant, a mild and very civil old Javanese, to whom orders had been sent by the Resident at Coepang to show us every attention. His room was adorned by a magnificent pair of antlers which, we were rejoiced to hear, had been lately taken from a deer shot within a hundred yards of the house. After a repast of young cocoa-nuts, and gula, a kind of honey; it was arranged that a party should be collected to go with us on the morrow to shoot deer and pigs.
Our host now took us to see the village, and then conducted us to the house we were to occupy during our sojourn at Pritie, which was a large homely-built edifice erected for the Resident's use when he visits this neighbourhood. We spent the dusk of the evening in pigeon-shooting, but did not meet with much success; for the birds perched for the most part on the summits of trees so lofty that they were quite out of shot-range. Many of these giants of the forest must have attained the height of at least two hundred feet. They formed a grand element in the landscape, especially when their huge trunks rose by the side of the limpid water of the stream that intersects the vale of Pritie. Between their topmost boughs, to the north, the amphitheatre of hills which I have mentioned lifted up their indistinct forms, round which the shades of night were gathering, towards the heavens, that soon began to glisten with a multitude of faint stars.
By the time we got within doors, after our unsuccessful stroll, we were quite tired, and well prepared to enjoy our dinner. The dignified air assumed by our guide, evidently for the purpose of showing off, and the ostentatious liberality with which he proffered the goodly viands sent by the commandant, amused us highly. An account of our fare may be acceptable to the gastronomic reader, who will thus be enabled to determine whether he should envy or pity the voyager to the distant shores of Timor. First came tea and coffee; then, in the course of an hour, followed fowls, cooked in all sorts of ways, with a proportion of rice. The good things were brought in by a train of domestics some fifty yards long, headed by a paunchy, elderly man, who greatly reminded us of Caleb Balderston. If there was a word said by any of the lookers-on—for many came to have a gaze at the lions—he was out in a moment, and brought the offender to account. In short, by his officious attention he afforded us much amusement, and greatly contributed to our proper enjoyment of the dinner. Our candles were original ones—a few threads of cotton drawn through a roll of bees' wax.
Dinner being over, we retired to pass as cold a night as we had felt for some time, having only a few coarse mats to cover us; so that long before daylight we were obliged to get up and walk about for the purpose of warming ourselves. The first of the morning we spent again pigeon-shooting; the birds were large and wild, yet we managed to get a few.
This excursion gave us an opportunity of beholding the mountains of Timor under a remarkable aspect. From various openings in the woody plain we could perceive their sides, clothed in grey mist, above which sometimes we caught a glimpse of a pinnacle rising through the clear air, and just touched by the rays of the morning sun. Here and there the slopes of the hills were dimly seen through the vapour, which in other places, however, rolled along in thick masses, completely hiding the uplands from view. Nearly every gorge and valley was filled with heavy volumes of fog, whilst in some, a slight steam only rising, allowed the trees to be faintly discovered. There is nothing more grand than the aspect of lofty peaks and crags and precipices imperfectly revealed through a morning mist. It seems as though the darkness of night, unwilling to depart, lingers still fondly around them. Their hollows and recesses are still wrapt in gloom, when all else around is beaming with light. Within the tropics the contrast thus afforded has a startling effect; but the influence of the sun is not long to be resisted; the mist soon begins to disperse; valley after valley opens its depths to the view; the outline of each rocky peak becomes more and more defined against the deep blue sky, and presently the whole scene appears before you clear and bright, with every line sharply drawn, every patch of colour properly discriminated, a splendid panorama of towering hills and waving forests.
Whilst I was gazing at this picture, the report of a fowling piece behind me drew my attention, and on turning I was surprised to see the old commandant out shooting likewise, and with him no less a person than Caleb Balderston, as we had christened his faithful domestic. In their company we returned to Pritie.
Soon after breakfast our party began to muster, each man armed with a long-condemned Tower musket. On one of them I was surprised to recognize the name of a marine who had belonged to the Beagle in 1827. The powder they used was of the coarsest kind, carried in small pieces of bamboo, each containing a charge, and fitted in a case of skin, something like our cartouch boxes. As a substitute for balls they used bolts of stone, from two to three inches long. Besides a musket, each had a huge knife or chopper, stuck in his belt. I was much struck with the simple contrivance they had for shoes: a piece of the fan palm plaited together and tied under the foot. The number of uses to which this tree is applied is astonishing—for making water-buckets, for thatching houses, filling up the panel-work of doors, and a variety of others I could mention.
It was late before we could muster all our force; but we at length got away, commandant and all. I was much pleased with the respect everyone paid him, especially as he was one of those mild kind persons who require very little. Soon after leaving the village we halted in a shady spot, near a stream of water, some of our party being still missing. This gave me a good opportunity of comparing the features of the Malay and Timoree, for some of both were in attendance. The Malay has a much more open countenance than the Timoree, but is not so handsome, the latter having a more aquiline nose.
When they all arrived I counted fifty armed men. There were some whose grey hairs proclaimed their lengthened years; though there was a keenness in their eyes that revealed that the principle of vitality was strong within them yet; in others all the dash and vigour of youth was perceptible; many had a truly wild appearance, with their long bushy hair and ever restless eye. It was a picturesque sight to behold fifty such fine fellows scattered about in small groups in the deep shade of these solitudes.
All the necessary arrangements being made, we once more started. An hour's walk brought us to a rather large plain, where I and my companions were stationed, about a hundred yards asunder, whilst the rest of the party formed a circle, driving all the game in our direction. Unfortunately those on the left commenced hallooing before those on the right, in which latter direction the only three deer in the circle ran from the noise, instead of towards us. Two of them were shot, and by the stone bolts above mentioned. We now went to fresh ground, when, provoking to say, the same thing happened again, not without our suspicions being raised that this was purposely contrived; so that after all we were obliged to leave without a single shot. Each deer, the largest of which, a doe, must have weighed a hundred pounds, was shot STANDING, for the natives have a peculiar cry, which arrests the animal's progress for a moment, while they fire.
The deer were all brought up to the commandant, who begged our acceptance of them. We thanked him, and took the two smallest. By the time we reached Pritie they were skinned and hung up, ready to be put into the boats. The persons who had shot them had received their stone bolts again very little injured; the hole they make is enormous. We rewarded these people; but to the commandant we were really at a loss how to express our obligations. At length we thought of giving him some powder and shot, which was a present he seemed right glad to receive. I afterwards learnt the history of this excellent old Javanese, and was surprised and grieved to hear that a person so universally esteemed had been banished from Java and his family for some trifling political offence. His property was sold to purchase his freedom, and the proceeds were entrusted to the captain of a ship, who ran off with the whole, thus at once ruining a most worthy family, and reducing my good friend the commandant to the necessity of remaining in exile. I was glad to hear, on my second visit to Timor, that he was still alive and well, though without any prospect of an alleviation to his condition.
Wishing him farewell, we left Pritie with some regret. By dark we had crossed Babao Bay, and reached the ship at half-past eight. It may be as well to mention that, looking from Coepang, the valley of Pritie is situated immediately under Timor Peak, the highest over the northern shore of Babao Bay. A small hut, on a projecting shingle point, close to the westward, marks the landing place, where several canoes are generally to be seen hauled up. At high tide a boat can get in; but, as we have already said, there is a long mud flat at low-water.
The Timorees do not bear the character of being very industrious; the small portion of land they cultivate is turned up in the following manner: a slight fence is placed round the part required for the purposes of agriculture and a drove of bullocks is driven furiously backwards and forwards over it; which very much resembles the mode adopted for thrashing corn in some parts of S. America.
The Rajahs of the western portion of Timor receive their appointment from the Resident at Coepang; and their installation I am told is rather a grand affair. Nearly all the Timorees speak Malay, a soft pleasant-sounding tongue, apparently easy to be acquired; but there were few of the Coepang people that spoke the native language. Some of the Timor customs are singular: if a woman, for example, dies in childbirth, she is buried on the spot where she breathes her last.
During our stay at Coepang I met the doctor of the Dutch settlement at Triton Bay, on the west coast of New Guinea. He gave me a very poor account of the inhabitants. The Dutch settlers, he says, can scarcely venture out of the fort; as the natives have bows and arrows, as well as muskets, with which they are excellent marksmen. Their firearms they obtain in exchange for birds of paradise, tortoise-shell and birds-nests, from vessels from the Arru, and other islands in the Eastern Archipelago. When a vessel arrives on the coast they flock down from the interior to trade, which cannot be done without an interpreter. It is even then attended with great risk, owing to the extreme treachery of the natives. Knives, stained blue, and cotton goods are in great request; but, although they of aware of the superiority of Europeans, they will not on any account allow them to live in their country. The inhabitants, however, are better disposed on the shores of Great Bay, a deep indentation on the north-east side of the island, where great quantities of nutmeg grow.
On the 5th the Mangles arrived from Sydney by the outer route through Torres Strait, having lost all her anchors, and been nearly wrecked in a south-east gale near Halfway Island. She was commanded by the same master, Mr. Carr, to whom I have before alluded as having given the first information concerning the survivors of the crew of the Charles Eaton.
The next afternoon we weighed, and the following morning anchored, the water being deep, close in near Tykale Inlet, on the south-west side of Rottee, for observations,* and for the purpose of better determining the position of Pulo Douw, and the other islands in its neighbourhood.
- * They placed the south point of the inlet in lat. 10° 46' 18" S. and long. 0° 43' 50" W. of Coepang.
An extensive coral flat fronts this part of Rottee, connecting it with the small islands lying off it.
We got from the natives some shells of a kind of small green mussel of a very peculiar shape. The old men from whom I got them was making a meal from some rare shell-fish. He did not understand the value of money; and, strange to say, not a word of the Malay language. The same was the case with all his companions. At the part of Samow I visited the people all understood it, which is very remarkable, as only a narrow strait separates the islands. In this state of ignorance they may perhaps be purposely kept.
I here recognised several Australian shrubs and palms. The rock of which this port of Rottee is formed appeared of a madreporic nature, scattered about in huge blocks. At a little distance from the water it formed low broken cliffs from twenty to thirty feet in length; these were everywhere undermined by the sea, from which the land here was evidently emerging. I noticed several deserted huts and broken walls or fences, which bore the appearance of having had much labour bestowed on them at some time or other. They added much to the lonely appearance of the place, for there is nothing that imparts so great an air of desolation to a scene as the signs that it has once been inhabited by man. Tracts which have never before been trodden by human foot may be gazed on with pleasurable emotions; but there are always melancholy associations connected with a spot which our fellow-creatures have once inhabited and abandoned.
The natives we saw belonged to the southern side of Tykale Inlet. They were occupied in looking after some weirs, from the size and number of which it would appear that they chiefly live on fish.
The inhabitants of Pulo Douw are a small wandering tribe from Savu, chiefly jewellers, as the Resident at Coepang informed me. It is a strange place for them to take up their abode in; perhaps they do not like the idea of living under a Rajah. They are, I believe, beautiful workmen; but with them all is not gold that glitters. There are plenty of cocoa-nuts in the island, but little water; the landing at all times is bad.
When at Coepang we saw some specimens of the gold, collected after heavy rains from the washings of the hills, and brought down for barter to the merchants in grains enclosed in small lengths of bamboo, containing each from six to eighteen drams. Thirty miles south-west of Diely, also, are some mines of virgin copper.