Page:A Voyage to Terra Australis Volume 1.djvu/69

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North Coast.]


measure, uncertain. Or rather it was certain, that those early navigators did not possess the means of fixing the positions and forms of lands, with any thing like the accuracy of modern science; and that they could have known very little of the productions, or inhabitants. Of the rest of the Gulph no one could say, with any confidence, upon what authority its form had been given in the charts; so that conjecture, being at liberty to appropriate the Gulph of Carpentaria to itself, had made it the entrance to a vast arm of the sea, dividing Terra Australis into two, or more, islands.

3rd. A more exact investigation of the bays, shoals, islands, and coasts of Arnhem's, and the northern Van Diemen's, Lands. The information upon these was attended with uncertainty; first, because the state of navigation was very low at the time of their discovery; and second, from want of the details and authorities upon which they had been laid down. The old charts contained large islands lying off the coast, under the names of T' Hoog Landt or Wessel's Eylandt, and Crocodils Eylanden; but of which little more was known than that, if they existed, they must lie to the eastward of 135° from Greenwich. Of the R. Spult, and other large streams represented to intersect the coast, the existence even was doubtful. That the coast was dangerous, and shores sandy, seemed to be confirmed by Mr. Mc Cluer's chart; and that they were peopled by "divers cruel, poor, and brutal nations," was certainly not improbable, but it rested upon very suspicious authority. The Instructions to Tasman said, in 1644, "Nova Guinea has been found to be inhabited by cruel, wild, savages; and as it is uncertain what sort of people the inhabitants of the South Lands are, it may be presumed that they are also wild and barbarous savages, rather than a civilized people." This uncertainty, with respect to the natives of Arnhem's and the northern Van Diemen's Lands, remained, in a great degree, at the end of the eighteenth century.

Thus, whatever could bear the name of exact, whether in natural

history, geography, or navigation, was yet to be learned of a