Extract of a Letter received from Dr. J. B. Wilson, R.N.; dated King George's Sound, 15th Dec. 1829

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Extract of a Letter received from Dr. J. B. Wilson, R.N.; dated King George's Sound, 15th Dec. 1829  (1829) 
by Thomas Braidwood Wilson

From Journals of Several Expeditions Made in Western Australia, During the Years 1829, 1830, 1831, and 1832

Article title is correctly transcribed; the original source incorrectly names the author as "Dr. J.B. Wilson".

EXTRACT OF A LETTER received from Dr. J. B. Wilson, R. N., dated King George's Sound, 15th December, 1829.

Having understood that the N. Eastern and Eastern parts of the country had been explored to some distance by Major Lockyer, Captain Wakefield, Messrs. Tallemath and Butler, I decided to pursue a North-westerly course in the direction of Swan River for three or four days, then to proceed W, then South, and to return by the sea coast. All being prepared for our departure, Mr. Kent, myself, and our cortege, (two crown prisoners, and an intelligent native of the name of Mokare,) increased by a soldier of the 39th who had volunteered, left the settlement early on Wednesday morning, proceeding N.N.W. About seven miles, we crossed a considerable stream running easterly, supposed the principal branch of King's River; and about three miles further we passed another, of smaller size, running in the same direction. In the evening we bivouaced near a lagoon of some magnitude; the water, although of little depth, was excellent.

On Thursday at daylight, we resumed our journey N.N.W. About nine o'clock we arrived at a large lagoon, from three to six feet deep, where we halted a little. Passing to the westward of this, in a short time we observed another extensive sheet of water a few hundred yards on our right. Mokare informed us that the natives came to these lagoons in dry seasons, when the smaller lagoons failed. Between the first and second the following bearings were taken. The most westerly peak of Porrongor-up N.E., distant about twelve miles the Churin to the eastward of the peak N.E. by E. At eleven o'clock we crossed a mountain stream running to the south-eastward, through a valley where the land began to improve and the banksia and other plants common to a sterile soil, to disappear. At six o'clock we halted for the night on the banks of a limpid mountain-stream, running south westerly through a valley, the land of which would not suffer much by comparison with the best on the banks of the celebrated Swan. It must be confessed, however, that the rich alluvial soil is of no great breadth, yet the fine sheep walks by the gently swelling, lightly wooded adjacent hills, might compensate in some degree for that deficiency.

On Friday morning we directed our course N.W. by W.; passed through a country beautifully diversified by moderately elevated hills, and fertile verdant valleys, adorned and enriched by streams of the purest water. About nine o'clock we proceeded eastward to gain the summit of a hill seen in that direction, for the purpose of obtaining a panoramic view of the surrounding country. A connected cluster of small hills was noticed, turning from E. by N. to N.W.; the westward peak of Porrongor-up bore E. half S., and the westerly point of Morril-up range N.E by E. Having left this, we resumed our course, and passed over a tract (about eight miles) of very indifferent, or rather vary barren country; we then arrived at a swampy flat, where, being abundance of good water, we halted for a short time. Departing from thence, and altering our course a little more to the north-ward, a rich and romantic country soon burst into view which we found abundantly supplied with good water. In the evening we bivouaced near a stream running N.W. through a tract of land bearing considerable resemblance both in appearance and quality to the cow pastures.

On Saturday, as the kangaroo had been skipping about us from the time we entered into this fine open forest land, I gave the men half a day to prevent interruption in our journey. Mr. Kent and myself walked to the westward, and the others to the eastward. About noon we re-assembled, unsuccessful, the kangaroo far too fleet for the dogs, and the sportsmen, from the nature of the country, could not approach sufficiently near them unperceived. The land walked over by both parties was observed to continue good. Here we received a visit from a native, (whose good condition and well-formed limbs indicated abundance of nutriment); he came up to us with much confidence, and partook of our repast. Mokare knew him: on understanding our intention of proceeding west, and returning to King George's Sound by the sea-coast, he advised us not to do so, as travelling was very bad in that direction. He invited us to accompany him to the eastward, where the best lands lie, and where we would shortly meet "Will" with a number of his tribe, who would be glad to see us. To this request Mokare added his earnest solicitation, and was exceedingly chagrined to find his eloquence of no avail.

We now altered our course directly north, and passed through a country of the same general character, good open forest land. About sunset we reached a valley, almost entirely destitute of trees. So much has been said of the scenery in New South Wales resembling noble English domains, that the comparison is rather trite. Imagine a rich valley of considerable widths extending E. and W. as far as the eye can survey, bounded on the south and north by a succession of undulating and moderately elevated hills thinly but sufficiently ornamented with trees of gigantic form, and you may have some conception of the beauty of the spot, where, near a pool of water, we bivouaced on Saturday evening. Mokare having shot a kangaroo of a large size, all the party were in high glee preparing the feast. We were now nearly seventy miles in a N.W. direction from the settlement, in a country well adapted either for pastoral or agricultural purposes, and I regretted exceedingly that want of time compelled me to make it the "ne plus ultra" of my excursion northerly, where I am convinced the same kind of land exists to a great extent.

Sunday at daylight, we proceeded west. About nine o'clock we arrived at a shallow lagoon, the water of which tasted rather brackish to us who were become fastidious. Perceiving water a short distance directly north from this, we proceeded thither and observed a circular basin of water about half a mile in diameter, literally covered with black swans, ducks, teel, and other aquatic birds. The lake is surrounded by a belt of about fifty yards wide of tall reeds; at the inner margin of this belt the water is upwards of six feet deep. The Hirundo Medicinalis was found in great plenty, an important object to some future Australian Broussars. The birds being disturbed flew to the lagoon to the south of the lake, and being again disturbed, flew directly south, thereby rendering it probable that other collections of water exist in that direction, which may receive, as I imagine, the various streams running N.W.

Leaving this lake, (named Loch Kathrine,) we continued our course to the westward, and soon perceived that we had left the good land behind. After having travelled a few miles over a barren scrub, observing what we thought a rising ground to the northward, we bent our steps thither, and found it was good forest land, the altitude of the trees giving it the appearance of considerable elevation. We again proceeded westerly, and passed over a tract of country as miserable and useless as any to be found in New South Wales. In the evening we reached and suddenly re-entered on a fine open country, several hundred acres being without a tree; this was very pleasing to us, disheartened and tired by our fatiguing journey. We went to the southward two or three miles in search of water, the first time we had occasion to do so; by digging a hole we obtained an ample supply of good quality.

On Monday, at break of day, we continued our westerly course. About noon we arrived at and crossed a fine stream running south, which, in compliment to the gentleman who accompanied me, was named the Kent. Having halted here half an hour, we pursued our journey in a N.N.W. direction for the highest part of a range of hills trending from S. by E. to N.W. Early in the evening we bivouaced near a running stream, in the midst of a wide and picturesque glen; the temperature, had other indications been wanting, sufficiently proving us to be among the mountains. During this day's journey we passed over some good land, and more that might be made something of; but by far the greatest portion was very indifferent.

On Tuesday, we directed our course S.S.W., taking care to leave on our left all the streams we met with, one excepted, of no inconsiderable magnitude, running directly west, which was named the "Macquoid," in compliment to the High Sheriff of New South Wales. In this manner we proceeded over hills and dales till our progress was arrested by a swamp about two miles wide, trending westward round the mountains. Mr. Rare and others of the party expressing some repugnance at passing directly across it, we took a detour easterly and passed through where it was much narrower, and not above two or three feet deep. As at this time the thunder was rolling heavily along, the peals rendered more terrific and sublime by the echoing hills; the rain pouring down in torrents, and some of the explorers (some of whom wished themselves elsewhere) up to the middle in water, we thought it might not inaptly be called the "dismal swamp." This being passed, we proceeded in a southerly direction through a barren iron-stone and quartz country, interrupted by stripes of good land, and in the evening arrived at another swamp about 150 yards wide and two or three feet deep, trending round the hills; having passed this, we bivouaced earlier than common, being somewhat fatigued with this day's march.

Wednesday at day light we proceeded in a southerly direction, through a country where the transitions from good to bad land, and vice versa, were frequent and sudden. About 9 we perceived a high insulated conical hill, bearing E. by S., whither we directed our course, passing through a valley of great extent, of which the soil was a rich red loam. About 1 p.m. halted in a deep hollow glen, through the bottom of which rushed with velocity, an impetuous mountain torrent. The trees (principally blue gum, box, and apple tree) were of enormous size. At 4 p.m. Mr. Kent, myself, and Mokare began to ascend the mountain, and reached its highest summit by half past 6, when we enjoyed a view that amply repaid all our fatigue. I have seen many far-famed views in the four ancient divisions of the globe, and have no hesitation in saying, that this of the fifth, if it did not surpass, fell but little short of any of them. The highest peak is about 30 yards square, perfectly level, paved with minute particles of quartz, and at each angle is an immense block of granite. In compliment to the officers of the 39th regiment, this was named Mount Lindesay; from it the following bearings were taken, but as I had only a small pocket compass, strict accuracy cannot be expected or obtained. From the S.E. angle. Mount Melville, E.S.E.; Peak-head S.E. by E. easterly; east point of Porrongor-up, northerly; south head of a large inlet, (close to the sea from N.E. by E. to S.W. by W.) south easterly; high hill to the west of the inlet, under which is apparently the communication with the sea, S. by W.

From the N.E. angle, the western point of Morril-up N.E. by E.; from this bearing to N.W., except some very distant high land bearing N. by E., the country is perfectly level as far as the eye can behold; from the N.W. the land rises and becomes gradually higher. From the point round to the southward it resembles the ocean convulsed in a storm; or a better idea may be formed of its appearance, by imagining segments of circles increasing in height as they increase in diameter; in the mountainous region these hills are conspicuous from their superior altitude, and as they will be grand points in a trigonometrical survey of the country, they were named after the Surveyors' General.

From N.W. angle of Mount Lindesay— A high peaked hill (Mount Roe) N.W. by W.

A double peaked hill (Mount Mitchell) N.W. by W.¾ W.

A high peaked hill (Mount Franklin) W. by N. westerly.

From the S.W. angle, group of islands, middle of the west and largest isle, S.W. by S. westerly; very high distant land W. southerly. Right extreme visible point of the sea W. by S. ½ S. supposed Cape Nuyts, S.W. ½ W; and greatly to my delight, just as the sun went down, assisted by refraction, a large expanse of interior water was observed close to the sea coast bearing S.W. ½ S. I supposed it near to Cape Chatham, perhaps to the westward. These observations being made, and the sublimely magnificent scene admired, until daylight departed, we descended the mountain and reached our encampment between nine and ten in the evening.

On Thursday morning we walked round the southern base of Mount Lindesay, and soon met another stream; wound round its eastern side, which, joining to that where we halted last night, found a stream of some magnitude, being about thirty feet wide and five deep, running directly south. This reach, however, extends only a few hundred yards, when it expands and runs rapidly over a granite rocky bed. The banks of this river (which was named the Denmark, in compliment to the physician of the Fleet, of that name) are rich, but, as readily may be imagined, from the abrupt nature of the country, they are very narrow. The surrounding hills, however, are of very fine soil, and may easily be turned to good account; the timber (principally blue gum) is the finest I ever saw. Having left this delightful scenery, we proceeded S.E., crossing in our way several streams of pure water, running southerly, not much inferior in size to the Jordan, Clyde, Bargo, Emogallah,—et hoc genus omne. This day's march was, from the nature of the country, rather fatiguing. The land on the hills was sometimes good, sometimes indifferent, and sometimes very barren. That of the valleys was for the most part of a good quality; we bivouaced near a stream running through a valley, trending, as all the others did, to the southward.

Friday, very early in the morning, we started, and Mokare having now got on known ground, led the way; after having travelled at a pretty brisk pace for nearly four hours, principally over flat land, we came to a river about fifty yards wide, and apparently deep, flowing to the south; we walked along the right bank, and in a short time came to the inlet seen from Mount Lindesay, into which it flowed; unfortunately a bar of sand runs across its entrance, not having more than eighteen inches or two feet water, where we passed over; but immediately inside the bar there are from three to seven feet, the greatest depth being on the right bank which increases as the river decreases in width; it is navigable for boats to a considerable distance; the water is slightly brackish—not more so than the Swan, at Perth. I consider this to be the termination of the mountain stream where we found the land so good, and where we bivouaced after the second day's march; it was named the Hay, in compliment to the Under Secretary of State. Having walked along the shore about a mile and a half, we arrived at another river flowing also into the inlet W.S.W.; there is also a bar across its mouth, inside of which the water is five feet deep and upwards of ten yards wide. I consider this the termination of the stream we met on the afternoon of the second day's march, where the land began to improve; it was named the Heeman, in compliment to the late commandant of this settlement. I may in this place mention, that my method of ascertaining the depth of the various rivers was very simple; I either waded or jumped into all of them. The inlet into which these rivers flow may be called circular, six or seven miles in diameter. The water to the N.E. is very shallow, but deep along its southern boundary; the sand is not above six or eight inches deep; beneath it is fine red, and then blue clay, increasing in purity as it increased in depth. Having walked some distance in the shallow water, the following bearings were taken.

Mount Lindesay N.W. by N.; high conical hill seen from the mount, bearing S. by W., the base apparently washed by the water distant fifteen miles bore west. This hill, in compliment to the gallant admiral of that name, was called Mount Hallowell. High land to the seaward (between which and Mount Hallowell I think the communication with the sea exists) bore W. by S. ¾ S. Prom Mount Lindesay to Mount Hallowell there is a continuous chain of hills, one of which in the centre, and higher up than the others, (being also a conspicuous point,) was named Mount Shadforth, in compliment to the Lieutenant-Colonel of the 57th Regiment. I have already mentioned that the inlet is nearly circular; perhaps a better idea of it may be formed by supposing an arc 40° cut from the western part of the circle, through which opening Mount Hallowell may be seen in the distance washed by this inlet, and I have no doubt also by the sea, whose mighty voice was most plainly heard by all of us. It is my opinion, that the inlet expands again and receives other rivers, I was on my way to decide the matter, but reflecting that the utmost limit of my time was expired, that our provisions were expended, and that I had no instruments to make any useful observations, I was obliged, though reluctantly, to give up the attempt. The rise and fall of the tide is considerable; during our stay here it receded upwards of 6 inches. We resumed our journey about 2 pm., proceeding east through a country slightly undulating for two or three miles, when we reached a plain of great extent, bounded on the N. and S. by well wooded hills, occasionally watered by small streams, and intersected by narrow slips of finely timbered forest land. In the evening we bivouaced near a swampy flat. The land we passed over to-day was for the most part composed of charcoal, and other vegetable matter, varying in depth from four to twelve inches, under which was sand about six inches deep, and then a fine blue clay, and this is the general character of all the flat land we passed over to the eastward of Mount Lindesay. Saturday, at daylight, we left our bivouac, and proceeded on our way home. About 7 o'clock, arriving at an inlet of some extent, we bent our course a little to the south, came to the sea beach and walked across the sand, which was several feet above the level of the sea and inlet. Here the following bearings were taken: West Cape Howe S.S.W. and island south; Eclipse Island S.E. by S.; another island S. by E.; centre and direction of the inlet N.E. by N. ½ N.

We now crossed over the range of sand hills (some parts of which showed the same stalactitic appearances as the hills about Swan River). The lagoon was perceived to be of crescentic form, communicating by a very tortuous channel with another lagoon, well known to the sportsmen of this settlement. In conclusion, I do not hesitate in saying, without fear of future contradiction, that the area passed over contained as much, perhaps more, land fit for all rural purposes than any portion of equal extent (at least as far as I know) in New South Wales. It may likewise be observed that the range of mountains (granite) is not so continuous as was supposed, but that there is a plain of considerable extent between the western and Porringor-up and Morrel-up ranges, affording easy access between this settlement and Swan Port, for at least one hundred miles. That, crediting the report of the natives, which, from the correctness respecting the nature of the land to the westward and from their general intelligence, I think may be done, there is excellent land to the N.E. It is also probable that a good sea-port may exist to the westward, and it is certain that the country thence, as far east as Cape Howe, is open and level, affording easy communication from port to port, and that the land is far from being bad. I may likewise state, that in travelling onwards it was made a rule for each individual to carry a day's water, lest we might not meet with any when we halted for the night: there never was occasion, however, to make use of it from necessity; indeed those who wished enjoyed the luxury of a cold bath at least once a day (once excepted) during our excursion. This may show sufficiently that the country is copiously supplied with water, neither is there any deficiency of several kinds of useful timber. In the barren land the banksia and stunted swamp oak, and grass tree, held undisputed sway. In the moist land, along the banks of streams and rivers, the tea tree flourished; in forest land the blue gum, the apple, the turpentine, and the box (I use the colonial names) alternately predominate, obtaining in valleys, and particularly in glens, enormous girth and altitude. The green wattle was occasionally observed; it flourished luxuriantly on the hills in the neighbourhood of Mount Lindesay. I have not entered into any detail regarding the mineralogical or botanical features of the country, as, even were I capable of doing so, the knowledge gained during such a rapid journey must be very imperfect; moreover, a person travelling with his blanket, provisions, and water, on his back, can only be expected to show the way, where others may follow their different favourite pursuits with comparative ease and safety to themselves and advantage to the scientific world.

This work is is in the public domain because it was created in Australia and the term of copyright has expired.

See Australian Copyright Council (ACC), (Duration of Copyright) (February 2012).