Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 16

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Departure from Swan River—Unsuccessful attempt to land at Cape Chatham—Boat nearly Swamped—Heavy Gale—Leaky state of the Brig—Anchor in King George's Sound—Excursion into the Interior—-Interview with a Native.

On Thursday, November 19th, we got under weigh, and left Gage's Roads, passing between Rottenest and the Main. At noon our observed latitude was 32° 00' 50", at which time we were a full mile to the northward of the reef off the western point of Rottenest, situated West 16° north of Arthur's head, distant about twelve English miles, by which bearing it would be in 32° 2' 13", so nearly coinciding with the latitude by observation, and agreeing with that assigned long ago by Vlaming[1], that it may be considered pretty correct.

We intended to keep close to the shore, to have a view of the coast between Greographe Bay and Cape Leuwin, but the wind would not permit us. We also experienced a north-easterly current, running, at an average, one mile per hour.

After having reached the parallel of Cape Leuwin, we could make but little way to the eastward, owing to the wind blowing strongly from the S.E. On the 28th, in the morning, the wind having shifted to W.S.W., we made Point D'Entrecasteaux; and coasting along, we shortly saw Cape Chatham, which, at noon, bore E. by N., distant about half a mile; and, by the supplement of the sun's meridional altitude[2] our latitude was 35° 3' 26"—longitude, by chronometer, measured from Swan River 116° 41'.

This being the place that Captain Barker was requested by Captain Stirling to examine, (as, according to the description of several sealers, a large river or inlet existed hereabouts,) the brig stood close in; nothing, however, could be perceived, bearing any resemblance, nor did it seem probable, from the appearance of the land, that any inlet or river could exist in this position.

Captain Barker and I had previously agreed to go on shore, in order to explore; but, being now quite convinced of the inutility of such a proceeding, I begged to decline, and advised him not to think of going; more particularly as the weather (although fine at present) was very unsettled.

He would not, however, be dissuaded from his purpose; and the boat being hoisted out and manned, she left the brig, which, by this time, had advanced some distance into the bay. We then wore, and stood to the southward.

The boat had not left half an hour, when the wind increased; and the heavy squalls shifting more to the southward, made our situation not at all desirable. It had been agreed, that, should the weather assume a threatening aspect, a gun was to be fired, as a signal for the boat to return. This was accordingly done, and we again stood towards the shore; but we could see no appearance of the boat, and serious apprehensions began to be entertained, that she would not be able to regain the brig.

We approached much nearer than prudence suggested; yet, had we not done so, the boat could never have reached us; as she could not have made any way against the heavy swell that was tumbling in, round the frowning, barren, isolated rock, which forms Cape Chatham.

We had, at length, the satisfaction of seeing the boat returning, and stood towards her, until the rapidly decreasing depth of water, and heavy breakers under our lee, admonished us to proceed no farther; we therefore wore (having just room to do so), and then lay-to, until the boat reached us. Having presented to each individual a glass of brandy, to counteract the effects of the cold and wet, I learned the history of their expedition, which was as follows.

As they drew near the shore, the rollers appeared very heavy. The first one rolled over, and filled the boat; and had not the crew (who, being old sealers or whalers, were adroit in the management of a boat under such circumstances) exerted their utmost skill and efforts to get her head round before the next roller came, they would have been pitched into the surf, without ceremony. This narrow escape made them give up all thoughts of landings as, even had they succeeded, it would have been impossible to get off, again.

Captain Barker wished to proceed towards the north-east side of the bay, where there appeared to be less surf; but, on its being represented to him, that if he did so, the boat would not be able to reach the brig, they pulled towards her, and arrived safely, but nearly exhausted by fatigue.

We now stood out to sea, and with difficulty cleared some reefs, on which the water was boiling, under our lee. Captain Barker still thought he saw something like an opening to the north-east; but although I looked very carefully, I could not perceive any appearance of an inlet. Allowing, however, that such an opening did exist, it could be of no use, as this bay, being completely exposed, from S.W. to S.E., can never be safe for ships, even of the smallest size.

We continued our course, keeping as far off the land as we could,—the wind threatening to blow a gale from the southward. At eight, P.M., we lay-to, with the ship's head S.S.E. ; at two, A.M., wore and lay-to W. by N., and at daylight we bore up; but, from the extreme haziness of the weather, we could not satisfactorily make out the land. After some time, however. Eclipse Islands were plainly distinguished.

We continued under close reefed maintop-sail, and about noon entered King George's Sound; where, from a heavy gale, and high sea, we experienced the sudden but agreeable transition to smooth water.

I have seldom passed a more disagreeable day than the last twenty-four hours; dreading that the wind might shift to the southward. Fortunately, it kept S.W., but blew a heavy gale. The brig was making much water, and the pumps were in very bad order. In the middle of the night, during the height of the gale, the pumps would not work: this alarmed some of the crew, but the master of the brig, with great coolness, gave directions, and put the pumps in order himself.

About noon, on Sunday, the 29th of November, we anchored in King George's Sound, within a mile of the entrance of Princess Royal harbour. Shortly afterwards, we were boarded by a boat from the settlement, by which we learned that the Amity had sailed for Sydney, that the schooner Admiral Gifford had arrived a month ago, and that great fears had been entertained regarding our safety.

Next morning, the brig got under weigh, but grounded in the entrance of Princess Royal Harbour, and remained there the greatest part of the day. Lieutenant Sleeman came on board, early in the morning, to welcome his successor, and Captain Barker and I went on shore to breakfast with him.

The settlement was very healthy, not so short of provisions as we had imagined, and they had an abundance of vegetables. After breakfast, I took a walk with Dr. Davis, to view the Government Farm, situated about a mile or two from Frederic Town (so named by Major Lockyer), to which a very good road had been made.

On our return, we walked to the summit of Mount Melville, whence we had a very extensive view of the surrounding country, which bore a decided resemblance to the land about the Cape of Good Hope, when viewed from the top of Table Mountain.

A range of mountains extended from the north-west to north-east, about the same distance from Mount Melville as the Hottentot mountains are from Table Mountain. Another tier was observed to the westward, evidently the coast range; between these, there appeared to be level land, and thither I determined to make an excursion, during the time the brig remained in harbour; as I had been informed by the Commander that eight or ten days would be required to caulk her, and make the other repairs absolutely necessary, before she proceeded on her voyage.

While returning down, we met Captain Barker and Lieutenant Sleeman, on their way to the farm. On making known my intention to take a little trip into the interior, Lieutenant Sleeman (who had not yet resigned command) offered me the assistance of any Crown prisoners I might wish, to carry provisions, &c., and also an intelligent native, named Mokare (who was now out shooting ducks for dinner): this I willingly accepted; and, on my reaching the camp, made arrangements for starting on Wednesday morning.

We dined with Lieutenant Sleeman. Wild ducks and green peas were highly relished by us, after living so long on salt provisions. We were glad to hear from him that the natives were exceedingly friendly; no act of hostility having been committed, either by or against them, since his arrival.

I suspected that this circumstance must have been occasioned by judicious management in the first instance; and, on making inquiries, I discovered, in an old order book, the following order of Major Lockyer, which, from its being attended with such favourable results, deserves to be known and imitated by those who may hereafter be placed in the same responsible situations.

"Camp.—Princess Royal Harbour, King George
the Third's Sound.—January, 1827.

"The natives having, without any offence been offered to them by any individual of the expedition, committed an act of hostility, by watching an opportunity, and throwing their spears on a party employed filling water-casks for the brig, and by which one of the prisoners of the Crown, Dennis Dinneen, was most severely wounded, is a circumstance most sincerely to be regretted; as it is but too certain that they have been driven to it, by acts of cruelty committed on them by some gang or gangs of sealers, who have lately visited this place.

"The fact of these miscreants having left; four natives on Michaelmas Island, who must have inevitably perished, if they had not been taken off by the boat sent from the Amity, that brought them to this harbour, when one of them exhibited three deep scars on his neck and back, that had been inflicted by some sharp instrument, sufficiently proves that they have suffered injuries from white men; and it is not to be wondered at, that they should, as people in a state of nature, seek revenge; it is, therefore, necessary to act with the greatest caution and vigilance to prevent surprise on individuals straggling, and the parties employed in the bush, in cutting down wood for the use of the settlement.

"It is not probable that they will make their appearance again for a considerable time. Should they, however, be seen, immediate notice is to be given to the Commandant; but no act of hostility is to be committed by any one of the settlement, unless it is absolutely necessary to repel such committed by the natives.

"In case of their being armed with their spears, they must be prevented from approaching the encampment; if unarmed, it is desirable that a communication should be opened with them, and every endeavour used to satisfy them that we do not intend to molest them in any shape, but. on the contrary, to be their friends; and also to convince them, that the ill usage they have received, from the unprincipled persons, is reprobated, and will not be permitted to occur again.

Major, 57th Regiment,

Mokărē expressed much willingness to accompany me, and I was further gratified by Mr. Kent, the officer in charge of the Commissariat, expressing a wish to join the party. A soldier, of the thirty-ninth, named Gough, who was esteemed a good bushman, volunteered, as did also two prisoners of the Crown; one of whom had accompanied Mr. Baxter on all his botanical excursions, and the other had attended the former expeditions made by Major Lockyer, Captain Wakefield, and Mr. Tollemache.

On Tuesday, while we were preparing for our excursion, I was advised, by the master of the Admiral Gifford, not to trust the blacks, who were (he said) a set of treacherous villains; as, not long ago, they had pointed their spears at him and his boat's crew, while peaceably proceeding up King's River.

But such expeditions being generally for the purpose of surprising and carrying off the native women, it cannot at all be wondered at, that the native men should endeavour to prevent the outrage. Indeed, it is quite notorious on many parts of the coast, that if a small vessel makes her appearance, the natives get out of the way as fast as possible; while, if the ship be large, they come down to the beach, without mistrust or fear.

On Wednesday morning, at daylight, we left the settlement, with a week's provisions. Gough had his knapsack filled with brandy, rum, and gin; and, although rather heavily burdened, he made no objection, from the nature of his lading. The only burden of Mokărē was a fowling-piece, which he would not go without; and, as he was a good shot, we thought he might be of use, in procuring fresh provisions. Gough had a musket, and Mr. Kent a fowling-piece, and two kangaroo dogs.

Thus accoutred, we departed, each with a blanket, and an additional pair of shoes tied on his back. Captain Barker wished that he could be of the party; but circumstances prevented him. He, Dr. Davis, and Lieutenant Sleeman, accompanied us a mile or two, and then, wishing us a prosperous journey, returned.

After having proceeded, by a native path, nearly seven miles N.N.W., we crossed a considerable stream, running easterly, which was supposed to be the principal branch of King's River; and about three miles farther, we passed another, of smaller size, running in the same direction. We halted to the north-west of a detached hill; and, as the sun was powerful, we agreed to rest a little, and partake of some refreshment.

It being my intention to proceed a considerable distance in the direction of Swan River, I had already to coax Mokărē, who, imagining we were going to Porrongorup (a chain of hills about twenty-five miles north from the settlement), as Captain Wakefield and others had formerly done, did not seem to relish taking any other direction. Having rested sufficiently, we resumed our journey, and proceeded, at a pretty brisk pace, for a few miles, when one of the party fell suddenly down, the heat of the day having overpowered him. This caused us some alarm, but he soon recovered. It was proposed that we should now take up our night quarters, and renew our journey at daylight; but, being aware that it would not do, to be idle or indifferent, in the beginning of our expedition, and wishing to show an example, I took the invalid's burden over my own shoulder, and marched off,—the poor fellow following, and begging me to let him carry it; but, as he really appeared fagged, I did not accede to his pressing solicitation. Thus we proceeded until the evening, when we bivouacked in the vicinity of an extensive but shallow lagoon, the water of which we found excellent.

On Thursday, at daylight, we resumed our journey N.N.W., all well; at nine o'clock we arrived at a large lagoon, from three to six feet deep, where we halted, kindled a fire, and took breakfast; an empty preserved-meat-canister serving the double purpose of tea-kettle and tea-pot.

Being refreshed by a cup of strong tea, and a cold bath in the lagoon, we renewed our journey, to the westward. In a short time, we perceived an extensive sheet of water, a few hundred yards on our right: from appearances, we judged that this was permanent, which supposition Mokărē confirmed by informing us, that the natives came hither when, from long-continued drought, the smaller and shallower lagoons were dried up.

At eleven o'clock, we crossed a mountain stream, running to the southward, through a valley where the land assumed a more fertile appearance than that which we had hitherto passed over, which was either barren scrub, or swampy ground.

At six o'clock, P.M. we arrived at another stream, running also to the south-westward, where we took up our quarters for the night Some were employed in making a fire and cooking supper, and others, who went in search of game, succeeded in shooting several black cockatoos. Mr. Kent and myself took a walk for some distance along the banks of this pleasant stream: we observed that its banks were covered with luxuriant grass, sprinkled with the yellow buttercup, which put us in mind of home.

The alluvial soil, however, extends no great distance; but the gently-swelling, lightly-wooded adjacent hills are well adapted for sheep-walks, and this is the more desirable, as, in all my excursions, in the vicinity of Swan River, I saw very little pasturable land.

On Friday morning, we directed our course N.W. by W., passing through a tract of land, diversified by moderately elevated hills, and fertile and well-watered valleys.

About nine o'clock, we turned to the eastward, to gain the summit of a hill perceived in that direction, for the purpose of getting a few bearings, and obtaining a view of the surrounding landscape. Having left this situation, we altered our course to N.W. by N., and walked about eight miles, over a tract of scrubby barren land. We then arrived at a swampy flat, where, there being good water, we stopped, and dined. Departing thence, and altering our course a little, a rich and romantic country soon burst into view, which we found abundantly supplied with good water.

In the evening, we encamped near a stream, running north-west, through land bearing considerable resemblance, both in appearance and quality, to the Cow-pastures in the county of Camden, New South Wales. We saw several flocks of kangaroos; and, as Mokărē had previously informed us, "not one,—not two,—not three,—but many in a flock." We also saw frequent traces of the native dog.

Whether it was that Mokărē had got into an enemy's country, we did not know; but he was particularly on the alert during the night. Some noise, not sufficient to arouse any other of the party, made him start up, seize his musket, and level it at something, which he afterwards said was a to-ort (a dog). The alarm having ceased, we resumed our slumbers till daybreak.

On Saturday, as the kangaroos appeared in great abundance, it was thought prudent to let half a day be spent in hunting them, to prevent interruption on our journey, and also to obtain a fresh mess for ourselves and the dogs, which did not appear to be thriving on their limited allowance.

We left one man to guard our prisoners. Mr. Kent and myself went to the westward, and the others to the eastward. About noon, we re-assembled, unsuccessful; the kangaroos proving far too fleet for the dogs, while the sportsmen, from the open nature of the country, could not approach sufficiently near them, unperceived. The land was observed to continue of the same good quality, in both directions.

Before proceeding on our journey, we took a slight repast; and, while in the act of doing so, Mokărē sprang on his legs, seized his musket, and ran forward, making a hideous noise. We soon perceived the cause of this conduct: a native was advancing towards us, with that kind of confidence, inspired either from fearing no danger, or from a consciousness that support was at hand.

Mokărē was commanded not to fire; but there was no disturbance, as the native lads soon recognized each other. The stranger joined us with the utmost confidence, and partook of our repast. He was a good looking fellow (comparatively speaking), and his well-formed limbs, and general good condition, proved that he had an abundant and constant supply of nutriment.

He and Mokărē entered into an animated conversation. The stranger, in relating his story, did it in a sort of recitative, far from being disagreeable. Mokărē, who, at first, talked in the tone that he had acquired from us, soon relapsed into the same recitativo, which, it would appear, is their natural way of communicating with each other.

We understood that he was on a hunting expedition; his present occupation being to assist in driving the kangaroos to a certain place, where they could be surrounded, and speared. He told us, that Will (a powerful chief, to whom all this tract of country belonged) was at no great distance to the eastward, and would be glad to see us.

From what I could learn, there is no doubt that a great extent of good land exists in that direction, to the northward of the Porrongorup and Morillup ranges. But, as I had previously arranged, in my own mind, the plan of our journey, I did not wish to deviate from it.

My determination was, to proceed, for three or four days, in the direction of Swan River; then to bend to the westward;—then southward,—and to return, to the settlement, by the sea coast. In conformity with this arrangement, the stranger's invitation was declined, to the great chagrin of Mokărē, and some others of the party, who felt the desire for exploring much diminished, by learning from him, that the land was very barren, and bad for travelling, in the direction we purposed to pursue, and infested with snakes.

We sent, by the stranger, our respects to Will, and an invitation for him to visit King Ya-nup (the name the natives give the Sound), where he, and any of his tribe, would meet a friendly reception. I regretted that we could not go to see the natives—our time being limited, and our object defined.

  1. In the latest edition of Horsburgh's directions, he has still given the longitude according to the Dutch account, which places the Island ten leagues off shore, and states it to be fifteen miles in length.
  2. "There is," observes Mr. Lynn, "a great convenience in the sextant, which is not generally known; and, if known, rarely taken advantage of; viz., that of observing the supplement of the meridional altitude when the land is too near, or in that portion of the meridian which prevents the direct meridional altitude from being observed."