Discoveries in Australia/Volume 2/Chapter 9
GULF OF CARPENTARIA.
BOAT EXPEDITION—EXPLORE AN OPENING—DISCOVERY OF THE ALBERT—NATIVES—PICTURESQUE SCENERY—HOPE REACH—BIRDS AND FISHES—UPPER BRANCH—BEAUTY OF THE LANDSCAPE—LAND EXCURSION—THE PLAINS OF PROMISE—HALT THE PARTY AND PROCEED ALONE—DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY—RETURN DOWN THE ALBERT—MOUTH OF RIVER—ARRIVE AT VAN DIEMEN'S INLET—FIND MR. FITZMAURICE SEVERELY WOUNDED—GENERAL RESULT OF THE SURVEY OF THE GULF—WINDS AND TEMPERATURE—BOOBY ISLAND—ENDEAVOUR STRAIT—REACH PORT ESSINGTON
Mr. Fitzmaurice reported so favourably of the last opening he discovered, bearing W. by S. fifteen miles from the ship, that I determined on making up a party to explore it, while another expedition, consisting of the yawl and whaleboat, was to examine the coast to the eastward from Flinders River to Van Diemen's Inlet. My party, including Lieutenant Gore and Messrs. Forsyth and Dring, left the ship with the gig and the other whaleboat on the evening of the day we returned from the Flinders.
The prospect that lay before us raised our spirits to the highest; and the weather, clear, cool, and bracing, could not have been more favourable, the temperature being 60°. The ripples rolled rapidly, expanding from the boat's bows over the glassy smooth surface of the water, whilst the men stretched out as if unconscious of the exertion of pulling, every one of them feeling his share of the excitement. From the western sky the last lingering rays of the sun shot athwart the wave, turning it, as it were, by the alchemy of light into a flood of gold. Overhead, the cope of heaven was gradually growing soberer in hue from the withdrawal of those influences which lately had warmed and brightened it; but in the west a brilliant halo encircled the declining ruler of the day. In these lat.s the sunset is as brief as it is beautiful. Night rapidly came on, and presently the masts of the ship could no longer be discerned, and we were pursuing our way in darkness towards the mouth of the opening.
After vainly endeavouring to get over the bank extending off the mouth of the opening, in the dark, we anchored the boats outside. The awnings were spread, and the kettle for our evening's meal was soon hissing over a blazing fire. Of all things tea is the most refreshing after a day of fatigue; there is nothing that so soon renovates the strength, and cheers the spirits; and on this occasion especially, we experienced a due portion of its invigorating effects. Grog was afterwards served out, pipes and cigars were lighted, the jest was uttered, the tale went round; some fished, though with little success; and the officers busied themselves with preparations for the morrow's work. But all things must end; the stories at length flagged; the fishermen grew tired; and getting into our blanket bags, with a hearty good night, we resigned ourselves, with the exception of the look-out, to the arms of slumber.
July 30.—The morning broke with a strong breeze from S.S.E. and although the temperature was not below 52°, we were all shivering with cold. Soon after daylight we entered the opening, which for three miles was almost straight, in a S. by W. direction, with a width of two hundred yards, and a depth of from 2½ to 5 fathoms. The banks were fringed with mangroves, behind which stretched extensive mud flats, which from being encrusted with salt and glistening in the sun were mistaken at first for sheets of water.
The inlet now became slightly tortuous, pursuing a general S.W. by S. direction; but the width being greater our hopes rose as we proceeded. Eight miles from the mouth two islands were passed, and two others four miles further on. The breadth at this point was nearly a mile, but the depth was scarcely two fathoms; one less than we had before found it. The above-mentioned islets, one of which was of some size, lay at the upper end of a reach, trending south, where this inlet or river, as we anxiously hoped it would prove to be, divided into two branches, one continuing in a southerly direction, and the other turning short off to the westward.
Though the latter had a greater volume of water passing through it than the other, I still, from the direction and size of the south arm, decided on ascending it first. For some distance the banks had been less fringed with mangroves, leaving clear patches covered with coarse grass. The trees on the side of the first reach in the southerly arm were laden with the snowy plumage of a large flock of cockatoos. After proceeding about five miles further we rested a few hours, continuing again soon after midnight. As the tides run twelve hours each way, it was necessary that we should take advantage of the favourable stream, whatever might be the hour, though this plan kept the men for a very long time together at the oars.
The general direction we pursued was still south, for six miles by the windings of the stream, which was so reduced in breadth and volume, as to be scarcely a hundred yards wide, and not a fathom deep. There was now little hope that it would lead into fresh water, although, from the number of trials that were made, I am sure there was salt water enough drunk to have physicked a whole village.
The banks were still of the same monotonous character. In one of the reaches I was fortunate enough to shoot a specimen of the large wary brown-coloured rail I have before mentioned. From this, the only one obtained, it has been described as Eulabeornis Castaneoventris. It is doubtless the bird called by the Port Essington natives, Morduggera, the eggs only of which were found there, the bird itself not having been seen. They were equal in size to those of a guineafowl, of a dirty white, finely speckled with reddish brown.
Our course now changed to south-west, and as the width and tortuousness began to decrease—a sure indication that the country was rising—we soon made another six miles. But after this the boats could no further proceed—the inlet, in short, having become a mere ditch at low-water. The head of a large alligator was found on the bank near the upper part; where might be seen an occasional acacia mingled with the mangroves. Behind, the country was very open, consisting of plains covered with coarse grass, interspersed with patches of dwarf gums. About seven miles in an E. by N. direction the country was thickly wooded, and appeared to be a little higher—the only interruption to the level monotony of the portion of the continent by which we were surrounded. The soil was of a light brown colour void of sand, and of considerable depth.
Nothing now remained but to retrace our steps and try the other branch; and as our want of success in this case rather heightened our expectation we hurried back with some rapidity. It was dark before we reached the point of separation, where the boat's crew regaled themselves on some large brown hawks, in the absence of better fowl. There was this evening a beautiful eclipse of the moon. The temperature had again fallen to 60°; at noon it was 87°; and at four a.m. 52°.
August 1.—As time and tide wait for no man we were obliged to move off at one in the morning. The earth's shadow having passed over the moon, the pale light of her full orb fell in a silvery stream on the tortuous reaches, as the waters swelled in silence between the growth of mangroves fringing the banks.
At the end of three miles in a W. by S. direction, nearly double by the windings, we passed an island on the left. The depth at low-water, so far, being nearly 2 fathoms, and the width about 250 yards, promised well. Water-tasting had now become rather out of fashion. However, it so happened that one of the whaler's crew put his hand over, and gave us the delightful news that the stream was quite fresh! A general tasting followed, each being anxious to get the first draught of the water of our new-found river; and the agreeable intelligence was confirmed. Of the importance of our discovery there could now no longer be any doubt, and the exhilarating effect it produced on all was quite magical, every arm stretching out as if the fatigue they had experienced had suddenly passed away.
There could be little difficulty in finding a name for our new discovery. We had already called two rivers, explored by the Beagle's officers, the Victoria and the Adelaide; and we were glad of such an opportunity of again showing our loyalty to Her Majesty, by conferring the name of her noble consort upon this important stream; it was accordingly christened The Albert.
The boats now glided rapidly onwards, and W. by N. another mile brought us to three islands, which we passed on the right; after landing for observations, with the stars Achernar and Aldebaran, at some earthy cliffs ten feet high on the left bank. The river now wound round a point to the westward, three-quarters of a mile wide; in the first bend we passed four islands on the right, with a creek on either side, and towards the end of the next, two more on the left.
August 2.—Daylight now burst upon us with tropical rapidity. The banks had assumed a very different appearance; the monotonous mangroves had given place to gumtrees and acacias, which drooped over the stream, partly concealing a rich growth of large flags. This change in the character of the foliage was not only in itself a relief, but evinced that we had at length, in some sort, escaped the influence of the sea, and that we were in reality penetrating towards the interior of the continent.
Our course was now N.W. ½ W. for a mile and a half, with an increase in the width, and a depth of nine feet. Here we found the river suddenly turn round to the southward and eastward, bringing us back within five hundred yards of where we started from, which was one mile W. by S. ½ S. from the morning's observation spot. Brown whistling wood-ducks now made their appearance, and being unaccustomed to man and his destructive weapons, allowed us to revel in wildfowl for some days afterwards.
The morning sun was hailed with delight, as sitting cramped up in a boat, with the unusually low temperature of 53° made us very chilly, and brought flushing jackets and trousers into great request, whilst in midday the light clothing natural to the lat. was sufficient. We found the tides rise here four feet, and both flood and ebb ran from one to two knots. After following a reach, trending S.E. ½ E. a mile, with a string of islets in the upper part, our westerly progress became more rapid and direct, and with the exception of one bend to the northward we made three miles in a W.S.W. direction.
But we were once more doomed to be interrupted by the sudden turning of the river short off to the northward, when it wound round a point a mile long, and a quarter wide, the extremity of which is low and sandy, a character only this once observed in the Albert; on the opposite side were cliffs thirty feet high.
Near the sandy point we observed some fires; and on our return, by crawling up the bank, I got a peep at a small party of natives engaged intently in digging for the esculent called warran. As they were few in numbers our abrupt appearance would have too much terrified them to leave any chance of an interview; and we accordingly did not disturb them, but contented ourselves with watching their movements for a while. The spectacle was an interesting one. Both men and women were engaged in delving for their food, whilst a little beyond a few more were burning the bush, and looking out for game and snakes. It does not often fall to the lot of the white man to behold the wild people of the earth, engaged in their daily avocations, completely unconscious that the gaze of a superior class of beings is upon them. We have seen savages exhibited to us professedly in all the simplicity of the woods; but how can the children of nature retain their freedom of action and manners under the curious gaze of a civilized multitude? We may depend upon it that we gather nothing but erroneous ideas from such a display. If we would understand, truly, what our savage brethren are like, we must penetrate into the woods and the wilds where they are to be found; we must mingle with them in the exercise of their domestic avocations; we must see them as they are, in all their excusable degradation; and not invested with a fictitious dignity, or a theatrical simplicity; we must observe them, also, unawares, and see how they conduct themselves under the ordinary influences that beset them.
It was with great reluctance that I departed without making our presence known; but I could not refrain from leaving, at the place where we landed, the perplexing legacy of a few presents. With what curious anxiety must these people have traced our footmarks, from which alone they could gather evidence that we belonged to a different race!
After making two miles in a south and nearly three in a west direction, with but few interruptions from windings, we opened a splendid sheet of water, trending S.W. ½ S. A mile back I had found, in a crooked reach, some native huts, built of sticks and neatly plastered over, with doors so narrow that none of our broad-shouldered fellows could enter.
At this place we saw the last whistling-ducks on our way up; further on, other species, to be hereafter mentioned, were found. A large alligator also afforded us sport, although we did not secure him.
The country was gradually becoming perceptibly higher, and the scenery extremely picturesque. Tall palm-trees and bamboos were now to be seen among the rich foliage on the lower slope of the banks, that rose here to an elevation of fifty feet, and were much intersected with watercourses. Onwards we hurried; the influence of the tide being scarcely felt, and the river preserving its S.W. ½ S. direction, with a width of two hundred yards, and a depth of two fathoms and a half. At the end of three miles no change was perceptible, and we began to congratulate ourselves on, at last, having found a stream that would carry the boats far towards the point it was always the height of my ambition to reach, the centre of the continent.
To this part of the Albert that had given rise to such expectations we gave the name of Hope Reach. A little higher up we landed on the right bank to cook a meal and examine the country. I shall here attempt, with the aid of Lieutenant Gore's sketch,* to give the reader some idea of the beauty of the scene that now presented itself to our anxious gaze.
- * See the view annexed.
It was in truth as glorious a prospect as could greet the eye. A magnificent sheet of water lay before us in one unbroken expanse, resembling a smooth translucent lake. Its gentle repose harmonized exquisitely with the slender motionless boughs of the drooping gums, palms, and acacias, that clustered on the banks, and dipped their feathery foliage in the limpid stream, that like a polished mirror bore, within its bosom, the image of the graceful vegetation by which it was bordered. The report of our guns, as they dealt destruction among the quails that here abounded, rolled for the first time along the waters of the Albert, breaking in on the hush of stillness that appeared to reign over all like the presence of a spirit. The country that stretched away from either bank was an extensive plain, covered with long coarse grass, above which was occasionally seen the head of a kangaroo, listening, with its acute ear, for our approach.
No high land presented itself in any direction, and the eye was only relieved by the growth of trees and shrubs that marked the line of the watercourses, the natural drains of the country, which had formed deep channels through the banks. The gumtrees, near the river, were of considerable size, though small on the plains. A light kind of mould of great depth, without a particle of stone of any kind, was the character of the soil.
One of the boats tried the hooks and lines during our rambles over the country, and from the number of catfish and a dark kind of bream that was caught, we are enabled to state that this part of the Albert abounds with them. Besides quails, pigeons and a beautiful finch, before seen on the Victoria, are to be numbered among the land birds. Those of the water consisted of large brown, and small grey ducks, spoonbills, black and white geese, and a dark blue kind of rail, bearing a great resemblance to the English moor-fowl, that afforded us excellent sport, as they flew out in great numbers from the long flags that border the banks on the upper part of Hope Reach. We did not see any black swans, neither were they noticed by us on the north-west coast. I, myself, believe they are not to be found to the northward of lat. 27° 0' S. This part of the river is subject to a tidal influence, producing a slight rise, which takes place about four hours after the time of high-water at the mouth.
In our eagerness to proceed we moved off rapidly up the river, after a hasty meal. All beyond was mystery; and it seemed that we were destined to remain long in suspense; for the day soon closed in, leaving only the pale light of the moon to guide us. The depth continued regular, at two and a half fathoms, and the width two hundred yards. We hastened onwards; the night scenery being almost more beautiful than the day. The heavens seemed more deep, the water more glittering, the trees more graceful and feathery; and here and there a tall palm reared its thin and spectral form above the dense foliage through which the moonlight broke at intervals, and fell, as it were, in showers of silver on the placid waters.
Nearly seven miles had been traversed in the same S.W. ½ S. direction, when our hopes of proceeding further were suddenly for a time destroyed, by the appearance of a dense woody mass ahead. A little further on, the moon peering through the matted foliage showed one branch of the river turning off to the southward, whilst another, in the mouth of which we found ourselves, trended west. The lead giving the great depth of six fathoms, we were induced to follow the latter. Utter darkness soon surrounded us; the trees, on either side, over-shadowing the river, which in this branch was not eighty yards wide.
Our progress, also, at length began to be impeded by fallen or sunken trees, which not only rendered the ascent dangerous, but at the end of about two miles fairly brought us to a standstill, and forbade our further advance. This detention was a bitter disappointment to us all, and we crept into our blanket-bags with disgust, but with the hope that in the morning a passage might still be found.
August 4.—Daylight brought no better hopes of our taking the boats higher up by this branch, as a succession of large trees lay across it a quarter of a mile above. It was a gloomy corner we had got into, and so sheltered that it seemed as though a breath of wind had never swept through it; the leaves of the low-spreading palms that drooped over the water, damp with the morning dew, had unbroken edges, as if an eternal quietude had pervaded the spot.
This triste appearance wore off as the sun rose, and the scenery under his smiles was soon clothed with beauty. Trees with every variety of foliage overhung each other, connected, as it were, by bowers of creepers depending in festoons and concealing odd-shaped fragments of fallen timber, which here and there reared their blackened heads out of the water, the unruffled smoothness of which was occasionally disturbed by the splash of some wildfowl, and chequered with alternate spots of gold and gloom by the sun's rays, as they pierced through the dense surrounding foliage.
Returning, we entered the south branch; the opening of which was almost equal in beauty, as the reader will perceive from the view in the beginning of the first volume; but we were again stopped by fallen trees after proceeding about a mile and a half.
Here we observed driftwood and rushes in the trees, fifteen feet above our heads. It was now quite clear that all hopes of water carriage towards the interior were at an end. The boats were at this time above fifty miles from the entrance, and our provisions only admitting of the remainder of this day being spent in land exploration, a party was immediately selected for this service.
Following up a short woody valley, on reaching the summit of the level a view burst upon me, the nature of which the reader may learn from the accompanying plate. A vast boundless plain lay before us, here and there dotted over with woodland isles. Whilst taking the bearings of one of these to guide us in the direction we were to steer, I sent a man up a tree to have a further view; but nothing beyond an extension of the plain was to be seen. The river could be traced to the southward by a waving line of green trees; the latter were larger at this spot than in any other part, and consisted of tall palms, and three kinds of gums. No trace of the western branch could be discovered.
Time being, as I have before said, very precious, we moved off in a S.S.E. direction, at the rate of almost four miles an hour, in spite of the long coarse grass lying on the ground and entangling our legs.
The soil* was still a light-coloured mould of great depth, and according to one so well qualified to judge as Sir W. Hooker, who kindly examined some that I brought to England, is of a rich quality, confirming the opinion I entertained of it, which suggested for this part of the continent, the name of The Plains of Promise.
- * My immediate visit to Port Essington afforded me an opportunity of comparing the qualities of the two soils; and the result was that the richest land I saw there, in spite of the aid of manure, etc. was very inferior to that on the Plains of Promise.
We were now once more stepping out over a terra incognita; and though no alpine features greeted our eyes as they wandered eagerly over the vast level, all was clothed with the charm of novelty. The feelings of delight which are naturally aroused in those whose feet for the first time press a new and rich country, and which I have so often before endeavoured in vain to express, burst forth on this occasion with renewed intensity.
At the end of nearly four miles we turned off to the westward for a rise at a short distance, concealing the line of trees that marked the course of the river, from which we had been gradually receding. We found it to be on the opposite side of a watercourse twenty-five feet deep. From its summit we got a view of the country to the south-west, over the growth of trees at the margin of the river.*
- * See the view annexed. )
On this rise we met an emu, which, after several bad shots, got away from the whole of us. This, in some measure was owing to our over-eagerness, as the bird was at first inclined to approach. Proceeding a little farther we observed a small lake bearing north half a mile. Attracted by the beauty of the vernal tints on its borders we went to taste the waters. On the same refreshing errand was a luckless beautiful slate-coloured egret, which Mr. Gore shot. Holding our west course we made the river at the end of another mile. Its size was reduced to a mere rivulet; being scarcely fifteen yards wide, with a depth of five feet. Yet it had greater velocity than we had before observed, running at the rate of a mile an hour, a clear babbling brook, over which, acacias and drooping gums formed a leafy tunnel; its course was still from the south.
Whilst the rest of the party halted I proceeded, with the freshest man,* in a southerly direction; urged on by what was, perhaps, now the unjustifiable hope of discovering some distant point rising above the far horizon as a definite result and reward of my exploration. It seemed, however, almost impossible that this same wearisome monotony could long continue; and I experienced much of that painful depressing excitement which is created by a series of similar impressions when we are longing for variety.
- * A marine, of the name of John Brown, possessing great powers of endurance. He died in 1845, in a situation I got him under the Trinity House, on his obtaining a pension for long servitude.
We soon gained almost another two miles, when I availed myself of the opportunity to satisfy a second time my ambition of outstripping my companions in approaching towards that land of mystery, Central Australia. Desiring Brown to make the river abreast, I ran a short distance further, when I again met the Albert, flowing on as before, with undiminished size. Even this short distance was something to gain in a new and untrodden country.
The line of verdure still pointed out the southerly course of the river across the endless plain; and it became natural to speculate on its source or origin; whether it was the drainage of a swamp, or the outlet of some lagoon, fed by the Cordillera to the eastward. But to speculation alone was I reduced, it not being permitted me to clear up this point. All I could do was to give one long lingering look to the southward before I returned. In that direction, however, no curling smoke denoted the presence of the savage; all was lonely and still; and yet even in these deserted plains, equally wanting in the redundance of animal, as in the luxuriance of vegetable life, I could discover the rudiments of future prosperity, and ample justification of the name which I had bestowed upon them. I gazed around, despite my personal disappointment, with feelings of hopeful gratitude to Him who had spread out so fair a dwelling place for his creatures; and could not refrain from breathing a prayer that ere long the now level horizon would be broken by a succession of tapering spires rising from the many christian hamlets that must ultimately stud this country, and pointing through the calm depths of the intensely blue and gloriously bright skies of Tropical Australia, to a still calmer and brighter and more glorious region beyond, to which all our sublimest aspirations tend, and where all our holiest desires may be satisfied.
The recent formation of this part of the country was very striking. We met no rocks during our walk; a porphyritic pebble or two being the only stones noticed; they were flattened, evidently showing that the water by which they were carried had a slow motion, which supports the view I have put forward in an early page of this volume, with reference to the gradual northerly discharge of the accumulated waters of Central Australia.
My position was in lat. 17° 58½' S. long. 7° 12½ E. of Port Essington, or 139° 25' E. of Greenwich; and within four hundred miles from the centre of the continent. What an admirable point of departure for exploring the interior! A few camels, with skins for conveying water, would be the means of effecting this great end in a very short time. In one month these ships of the desert, as they have been appropriately called, might accomplish, at a trifling expense, that which has been attempted in vain by the outlay of so much money. When we consider that Australia is our own continent, and that now, after sixty years of occupation, we are in total ignorance of the interior, though thousands are annually spent in geographical research, it seems not unreasonable to expect that so important a question should at length be set at rest.
In the whole continent there exists no point of departure to be compared with the head of the Albert. The expedition should, as I have before remarked, go to Investigator Road, fulfilling my prediction of the ultimate importance of that port, which lies only twenty-seven miles N.N.W. from the entrance. Here the flat-bottomed boats, taken out in frame, for the purpose of carrying up the camels, should be put together, and towed from thence to the river.
A shout from Brown, who, alarmed at my lengthened absence, had come in search of me, roused me from the reverie in which I was indulging, and which had carried me rolling along on the back of a camel, girded round with an anti-pleurisy belt, over many miles of the new lands of Australia. Returning with him I rejoined the rest of the party, and we all moved back in the silence that usually succeeds great excitement, towards the boats. Mr. Forsyth having made the necessary observations for lat., we were soon following the downward course of the Albert.
We reached the mouth before daylight on the 6th. This was the coldest morning we had experienced; the thermometer being at 51° with a strong breeze from S.S.E., which rendered somewhat dangerous the task of collecting the requisite soundings on the bar at the mouth; the gig being once or twice nearly half filled in doing so. Behind the eastern entrance point, was seen a large light-coloured kangaroo, which, for want of a better, afforded us a name. Our observations refer to this spot, Kangaroo Point, which they place in lat. 17° 35' 10" S. and long. 7° 35' 50" E. of Port Essington. Instead of the usual mangrove shore, the coast to the eastward was sandy; but the most remarkable feature, hereabouts, is a clump of tall mangroves, towering over their fellow evergreens, close to the western entrance point. They are called in the chart the High Trees of Flinders, having been noticed by that celebrated navigator whilst passing at a distance from the coast. Bearing S.W. ½ S. they guide a ship to the bar, which can only be taken at high-water springs, when the depth averages eleven feet.* When the eastern part of this clump of trees bears S. 45° W., and Kangaroo Point S. 10° W. the bar will have been passed, and the depth, at the same time of tide, will be seventeen feet; when the bearing of Kangaroo Point, given, leads up the channel, which deepens in a quarter of a mile to twenty-three and soon after to thirty feet. The impetus given to the water, from the first reach of the Albert, being straight, forces a channel of two miles in extent; with a width of nearly a quarter of a mile, growing gradually shallower towards the outer part, and, ultimately, becoming lost in the great flat fronting the shore, which is thrown out in proportion to the length of the channel, beyond which the bar extends for above a mile. Part of its inner side, however, is intersected by a narrow channel of thirteen and seventeen feet; the guide through which, is the eastern edge of the clump of trees before mentioned, bearing S. 45° W. The Albert is navigable, for vessels of a draught suited to the bar, thirteen miles; and within five of where the water is fresh.
- * The tides in the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria appear to be a compound of many others, obliterating the common daily difference, and producing only one tide in 24 hours. The direction of the flood stream commences at S.S.E., changing gradually to S.S.W. as it terminates; that of the ebb changes from N.W. to N.N.E. The strength of each is from a quarter to one knot. The rise at springs is from 9 to 12 feet, and at neaps from 3 to 8 feet.
After observing the lat., we took advantage of the afternoon's lull to make the best of our way to the ship, which we met underweigh, running down towards us; Mr. Parker, the master, having become anxious at our lengthened absence.
In the evening and next morning, we got more soundings off the mouth of the river; and found that there was only six feet at low-water springs, a mile and a quarter outside the bar. We afterwards carried a line along the south-eastern shore of the gulf; and at noon, on the 9th, anchored off Van Diemen's Inlet, where I had arranged to meet Mr. Fitzmaurice's party.
The whaleboat was soon seen hastening from the shore without the yawl, which made us suspect all was not right; and I was much distressed to hear that Mr. Fitzmaurice had been seriously wounded in the ankle by the discharge of a gun which had gone off within a few yards of it. Mr. Bynoe went on shore immediately to assist in bringing him on board. The accident having happened several days ago, and the whole charge of shot being buried in his foot, his sufferings were intense. It was thought for some time that amputation would be necessary; but though this was not the case, he was maimed for life; for which, in some measure, he has been compensated by promotion and a pension. By this melancholy accident the service sustained a great loss, which was at no time felt more than when it occurred.
Mr. Fitzmaurice had fortunately, before he was disabled, completed his examination of the coast between the Flinders and Van Diemen's Inlet, with his usual praiseworthy activity. On leaving the former he found that the shore trended N. 47° E., with a large inlet at the end of ten miles. This was only examined a short distance in a south direction; but from the bank being thrown out six miles from its mouth, with a channel nearly halfway through, it evidently disembogues a large volume of water, and we may reasonably infer it to be a river. It is named in the chart Bynoe's Inlet. Seven miles beyond was another inlet, with a sandy beach extending for two miles to the south-west of it. Five miles further, the trend of the coast changed to N. 4° E., continuing almost straight in that direction to Van Diemen's Inlet, distant twenty-five miles; and, with the exception of the first five, is sandy throughout. Thirteen miles from Van Diemen's Inlet is an opening of some magnitude, near the south entrance point of which are ponds of fresh water. Two and four miles south of it were small openings; and two and seven miles north of it, two others.
During his excursion Mr. Fitzmaurice had killed one of the rare species of kangaroo, seen for the first time by us at King Sound, called Macropus Unguifer; this was a somewhat important discovery, as it showed the extent to which the animal is diffused over the continent. I may here mention, that the night before we reached Van Diemen's Inlet a flight of rose-coloured cockatoos,* several of which were caught and kept alive for some time, alighted on the rigging.
Thus terminated our exploration of the southern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, nearly two hundred miles of which had been minutely examined in the boats.† Twenty-six inlets had been discovered, of which two proved to be rivers, whilst three more were nearly as promising. That all the others may contain fresh water in the rainy season there is every reason for supposing, from the fact of deep channels being found in their banks; from what I have already observed regarding the water being less salt towards the heads at low tides; and from the report we afterwards heard at Port Essington that Malay proas occasionally visit the southern shores of the Gulf, and fill fresh water from alongside, some distance off the land. If we receive this statement as correct, we must suppose that at certain seasons the discharge from the various inlets and rivers we discovered is sufficiently powerful to force back the great body of seawater, as is the case at the embouchures of many large rivers.
- * Cacatua eos.
- † As the reader will perceive by a glance at the chart accompanying this work.
The general appearance of the head of the Gulf is that of a low mangrove shore, between ten and thirty feet high, over which the interior is not visible from the offing.
During our visit to this part of the continent we found the climate well suited for Europeans; but what it might be in the middle of the north-west monsoon we had no opportunity of ascertaining. At its commencement in the month of November, Flinders found the thermometer to range on board between 81 and 90°; but on shore, he says, that in the course of the day it might have been about seven° higher; the temperature, however, being alleviated by constant breezes either from sea or land, it was seldom oppressive. In July, as I have already stated, the thermometer, on one occasion, at 5 a.m., was down to 51°; and on another, at noon, up to 87°, being, in the first instance, six° lower than it was on board, and in the second, seven° higher, which gave an excess in the shore range of thirteen°. Generally on the land it was below 62° before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m. The range of the barometer in November was from 29.70 to 30.06; whilst with us, in July, its maximum height was 30.08, and minimum 30.02; the lowest being in both seasons with winds from the land, coinciding with what had been observed on other parts of the continent, that winds from the sea raise the mercury, and those from the land depress it.
The winds in July were fresh from S. to S.E. for about two days before and after the change in the moon. They began at midnight, increasing to almost a strong breeze between five and six in the morning, and dying away again towards noon, when a calm of five hours duration succeeded; at other times light land and seabreezes prevailed.
It will appear from this description of the winds in the Gulf of Carpentaria that they bear a great similarity to those experienced at the same season on the N.W. coast, near Depuch Island; and the circumstance of the temperature being lowest when they were strongest from the land is also the same. This was there supposed to have been occasioned by the great radiation of heat from the land over which they blew; but as the country at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria is not of a cold clayey nature, the idea is naturally suggested that there must be a great extent of swampy ground in the interior, which strengthens the opinion I have before expressed.
After hoisting in the boats we shaped a course along the eastern shore of the Gulf towards Booby Island. Our being obliged to return thither, for a chronometric departure prevented our examining the middle of the upper part of the Gulf, where, according to certain vague reports, there exist islands. It is stated, for example, that after the south-west monsoon has set in strongly, numbers of coconuts are thrown on the north-west shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the year 1839, moreover, a small proa was driven off the coast of Timor Laut during the north-west monsoon. The wind blowing hard drifted them to the S.E. for three days and three nights, when they came to a low island, with no traces of inhabitants, and abounding in coconut trees, upon the fruit of which they lived until the monsoon changed, when they sailed back to Timor Laut. Flinders, when off Batavia River, on the N.E. side of the Gulf, was led to suppose that an island existed to seaward of him, from seeing some flocks of geese coming from that direction one morning. Wilson, also, in his Voyage round the World, speaks of the Macassar people reporting an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, with sandalwood growing on it.
Soon after daylight on the 13th, we anchored under Booby Island,* the flagstaff bearing E.S.E. half a mile to the south. The weather looked unusually threatening the previous night. Between the observations for rating the chronometers I fulfilled my intention of making a cursory examination of the entrance of Endeavour Strait, and anchored a mile and three quarters off the N. Wallis Island, bearing S. 23° E. It is a conical rocky isle, upwards of 70 feet high, of a coarse sandstone formation; an extensive coral reef fronts it on all sides, except the north. The result of a night's observations on shore placed the summit in lat. 10° 51' 25" S.; the true bearing of Booby Island was N. 22° 13' W. The natives appear to make a cemetery of this island; for on a small sandy point on the north side we found a large grave, covered with turtle backs, and containing several skeletons. This is a very different mode of burial from that noticed in Flinders River.
- * The result of the whole of our observations at this island are as follows: lat. of the west point 10° 36' 42" S., long., 141° 57' 45" E.; variation, 7° 0' E. The tides are equally strange here and in Endeavour Strait; the stream setting to the westward (W.S.W. to W.N.W.) from nineteen to twenty hours, and to the northward and eastward (N. to N.E.) only from four to five hours. The latter stream commences about an hour before high-water, which takes place at 4.30, on the full and change days, when the rise at springs is 12 feet, and at neaps 7; the length of flood and ebb is nearly six hours.
Leaving our anchorage, we steered W.¼ N., six miles, in soundings of 6 and 7 fathoms. We then crossed in 4½ and 5 fathoms, N. Wallis Island bearing S. 75' E., a ridge which appeared to be an elbow of the spit extending off the latter, and forming the south side of the channel. Continuing the same course, the depth soon increased to 6 and 7 fathoms. This was highly satisfactory, as it proved there was water for the largest vessels.* In the afternoon we anchored again under Booby Island.†
- * Captain Blackwood's recent survey of this Strait confirms my opinion of its being the best passage through this part of Torres Strait.
- † The following is the extract from the game book referred to in a former page: Booby Island (June and August) 145 quails, 18 pigeons, 12 rails, of two kinds, 3 doves; Van Diemen's Inlet (July) 14 doves, 6 pigeons, 1 native companion; Bountiful Island (July) 8 quails, 11 doves, 1 pheasant, 3 plovers, 4 white cockatoos; Sweers Island (July) 151 quails, 87 doves, 20 pigeons, 3 pheasants, 8 white and 2 black cockatoos, 5 spurwing plovers; Disaster Inlet (July) 36 ducks, 9 white cockatoos, 2 native companions, 1 green ibis; on the coast (July) 10 curlews and plovers; Flinders River (July) 10 ducks, 5 rose-coloured cockatoos, 4 pigeons, 3 spurwing plovers, 1 rail of a new species, 1 white ibis, 1 spoonbill; Albert River (August) 20 ducks, 4 large water rails, 2 pheasants; between Van Diemen's Inlet and Flinders' River (August) 12 cockatoos, 1 kangaroo (Macropus unguifer); Wallis Isles (August) 6 quails, 6 doves, 1 pigeon.
On the evening of the next day, the 17th, we weighed, and steered W. by S. across the Gulf; and in the afternoon of the 18th passed eleven miles from Cape Wessel, according to the position assigned to it in the chart: but as the weather was tolerably clear, and nothing was seen of it, there appeared to be some truth in the report I had previously heard of its being to the southward of the position given to it.
The wind freshened by midnight, and, as usual, became more southerly, that is to say, S.S.E., whilst during the day it was generally E.S.E. and E., and very much lighter. The current was steady at N.W. by W. from half a knot to three-quarters per hour, maintaining about the same direction and strength as in 1839. On the evening of the 19th we crossed the meridian of the centre of New Year Island, which our observations placed in 8° 52' west of Booby Island, one mile less than Flinders.
It was late in the afternoon of the 20th before we reached an anchorage off the settlement of Victoria, where we met Captain Stanley, who had just returned in the Britomart from a cruise in the Arafura Sea, of which the reader will find an interesting account, from his own pen, in the following chapter.