Part 5 out of 10
Outer and rather flat isle, centre, N. 3 W.
On the wind veering to north-east, we were enabled to weather the rocks
near Cape Grey, but not more than a quarter of a mile; the depth in
passing was 9 fathoms, and it continued between that and 11, two miles
further up the bay, where, on its falling calm, an anchor was dropped. In
the evening we ran further up, and at sunset anchored in 9 fathoms, mud
and sand, near the innermost and largest of three islands which lie in
the entrance. Around, and between these islands, were many islets and
rocks, and others were seen to the north-eastward; the bay extended to
the north-west, and was divided into two branches by a projection named
_Point Middle_, the eastern branch being defended from the sea by a
tongue of land, whose south point seemed to be connected by a reef of
rocks with the inner island. This point I have called _Point Alexander_;
and to a hill upon the furthest visible part of the coast to the
northward, the appellation of _Mount Alexander_ is given.
THURSDAY 3 FEBRUARY 1803
In the morning, there being no wind to move the ship, I sent the master
up the bay with the whale boat, to search for fresh water and a secure
anchorage; and on his making the signal to follow, a little before noon,
we steered for Point Middle. A shoal was seen to extend from it, down the
bay; and the depth having diminished to 4 fathoms, we hauled up into the
eastern branch, and anchored under Point Alexander in 41/2 fathoms, muddy
bottom; our distance from the shore being one mile, and two cables length
from a bank in front of it, upon which there was only six feet water. In
this situation, the outer rocks near Cape Grey bore S 28 deg. E., and the
inner rocks from the island near Point Alexander., S. 35 deg. E.; the
intermediate angle of 7 deg. being that at which alone we were open to the
sea. Several natives were seen on the shore abreast of the ship, and
lieutenant Fowler was sent to communicate with them, and to search for
fresh water. They stayed to receive him, without showing that timidity so
usual with the Australians; and after a friendly intercourse in which
mutual presents were made, Mr. Fowler returned with the information that
fresh water was plentiful.
FRIDAY 4 FEBRUARY 1803
Early next morning, having given directions for two tents, a seine, and a
corporal's guard, to be sent on shore under the command of the first
lieutenant, I landed with the botanical gentlemen; the natives running
from their night residences to meet us. There were twelve middle-aged and
young men, all of whom expressed much joy, especially at seeing
_Bongaree_, our good-natured Indian from Port Jackson. On the arrival of
two other boats, the natives retreated into the wood, except two, who
assisted in hauling the seine; and the others came back by degrees,
without arms as before, and received a portion of the fish. A situation
was chosen for the tents, and confidence seeming to be established, I
went into the wood, towards some sand hills, for the purpose of taking
bearings; but whilst making the circuit of a salt swamp which lay in the
way, the natives were heard running in the wood, and calling to each
other. This happened twice, and at length a musket was fired; upon which
I returned to the tents with all expedition.
When the botanical gentlemen had entered the wood with their attendants,
the greater part of the natives followed them; and one took an
opportunity of snatching a hatchet from the hand of a servant. The
Indians then ran off, but seeing no pursuit, nor much notice taken, soon
returned, and became more friendly than ever. Each of our party had a
native with him, walking arm in arm, and Mr. Brown's servant had two, who
paid him particular attention; so much so, that whilst one held him by
the arm, the other snatched the musket off his shoulder, and they all
again ran off; that is, all who remained, for several had previously
withdrawn themselves. A musket was fired after the thief; but he had
already got some distance, and it produced no other visible effect than
that of making him run faster. The botanists then judged it imprudent to
follow their pursuit, and returned to the tents.
Two hours passed before any thing more was heard of the natives; some
were then seen in the wood, and an interview was obtained with two, who
being made to understand that a hatchet would be given on the musket
being returned, they went off to fetch it. In a little time it was
actually brought, with the stock broken and ramrod gone, and the hatchet
was paid; after which the natives came to the tents with confidence, and
some would have remained all night, had they been permitted.
SATURDAY 5 FEBRUARY 1803
This afternoon and the following morning, I took bearings from two
stations on Point Middle, and others from a sandy hummock on Point
Alexander. The natives came early to the tents, and behaved themselves
tranquilly until noon; when one of those who had been most kindly
treated, ran off with a wooding axe, and from the thickness of the
forest, eluded the pursuit made after him. The corporal and another
marine, who had run after the Indian without their hats, received a
_coup-de-soleil_, and were sent on board in a state nearly approaching to
delirium; but they happily recovered.
Finding these people so determinately bent upon stealing every thing
within their reach, I ordered lieutenant Fowler to watch an opportunity
of seizing two of them; and after a while to release one, making him
understand that the other would be carried away in the ship, if the
stolen axe were not returned. In the evening, I went over with two of the
gentlemen to the south side of the bay; for the purpose of taking a
station upon a hill there named _Mount Caledon_, whose height exceeded
that of any other near the water side.
We landed at dusk, at the foot of the mount; and ascended the top next
morning [SUNDAY 6 FEBRUARY 1803] before the heat of the sun became
excessive, passing in the way several streamlets which were coursing
rapidly down to the sea. The view was fully equal to what had been
anticipated, and extended to a projection half way to Point Arrowsmith on
one side, and over all the islands in the entrance to Mount Alexander on
the other. Out of thirty-nine bearings taken at this station, the
following are selected as being most essential to the survey of the
The tents, N. 2 deg. 50' E.
Point Alexander, the extremity, N. 60 0 E.
Outer, and rather flat isle, N. 86 deg. 15' to 88 22 E.
Mount Alexander, the top N. 37 30 E.
Cape Grey, the outer rocks near it, S. 65 5 E.
A southern projection of the coast, S. 14 8 E.
We returned to the ship in the afternoon, and the natives had not then
approached the tents since the theft of the axe; but next morning [MONDAY
7 FEBRUARY 1803] two of them advanced, bringing some small fruits; and on
being invited to eat fish, they sat down and were immediately seized,
some others who followed, running away on hearing their cries. In a
little time the eldest and most intelligent of them was liberated; on his
promising by signs to restore the axe, and being made to understand that
his companion would be carried off, should he fail. We observed from the
ship much running of the natives amongst the bushes, and peeping about
the tents; and least they should attempt any mischief, a spring was put
upon the cable, and a six-pounder, with grape shot, kept ready; but after
one of the prisoners was released they seemed to have less anxiety, and
several swam back across a salt creek, to their usual place of residence.
In the evening I landed at the tents; and taking the native, a youth of
fourteen named _Woga_, into the boat, rowed to the place most frequented
by the Indians, many of whom were seen behind the bushes. Two came
forward, bringing a young girl in their arms; and by expressive signs
they offered her to Bongaree, in order to entice him on shore, for the
purpose, apparently, of seizing him by way of retaliation. We demanded
the restoration of the axe, and our prisoner seemed to use all his powers
to enforce it; but the constant answer was, that the thief _Yehangeree_,
had been beaten and was gone away; and finding no axe likely to be
brought, Woga was carried on board the ship, through a great deal of
crying, entreating, threatening, and struggling on his part. He there ate
heartily, laughed, sometimes cried, and noticed every thing; frequently
expressing admiration at what he saw, and especially at the sheep, hogs,
and cats. We had not seen any bows and arrows in the Gulph of
Carpentaria, nor in any part of Terra Australis; but some of those from
Murray's Islands being shown to Woga, he knew the use of them, and gave
their names in his language; it may therefore be true, as Burgomaster
Witsen relates, that they are used by the natives on the North-west Coast
and in the Gulph; but when he describes the bows as being "of such a
length, that one end rests on the ground when shooting," I cannot help
suspecting some exaggeration in his informer.
TUESDAY 8 FEBRUARY 1803
After breakfast next morning, I took our prisoner to the tents. On
approaching the shore, he was preparing to make a spring out of the boat,
which made it necessary to bind him again, for he had been loosed on
board the ship. He struggled much, calling upon Bongaree to assist him;
but after a while, became quiet, and I left him bound to a tree, eating
rice and fish.
A party of the gentlemen landed near the head of the bay, hoping to
botanize without interruption; but a number of natives had collected
there, two of whom advanced, and sought to entice them into the wood by
explaining how many animals might be there shot. The gentlemen were aware
of the treachery, and soon thought it advisable to return to the boat;
upon which the natives closed in upon them, with poised spears and every
appearance of intended mischief. The pointing of muskets stopped their
forwardness for a moment; but they came on again, and a shot was fired at
each of the two foremost, which put them to flight, and they were not
seen afterwards; but the gentlemen thought it unsafe to proceed in their
occupation, and returned to the ship. Neither of the two natives dropped;
but the muskets being loaded with buck shot, it was supposed that one or
both, must have been wounded.
The second evening of Woga's captivity came, and there was no appearance
of the axe being restored; his detention, on the contrary, had caused
some annoyance to us, and mischief to his countrymen; and if persevered
in to the extent of carrying him away, might be an injury to those who
should come after us, especially to captain Baudin, whom we daily
expected to meet, according to what he had said at Port Jackson. Had the
consequences affected ourselves alone, the time of our departure was so
near that I should have been glad to have kept Woga; for he was a
sprightly lad, whom our treatment would soon have reconciled, and in any
future intercourse with his countrymen, as also in furnishing information
upon many interesting points, he might have been of service; but for the
above reason, and that it was not altogether just to do otherwise, I
determined to release the poor prisoner though the axe should not be
restored, and went to the tents for that purpose. Woga appeared to be a
little melancholy in his bondage, but upon the whole, had not fared
amiss, having been eating the greater part of the morning and afternoon.
He begged hard to be released, promising, with tears in his eyes, to
bring back the axe; and after giving him some clothing and presents, he
was suffered to depart. As far as two hundred yards, he walked away
leisurely; but then, looking firs behind him, took to his heels with all
his might, leaving us no faith in the fulfilment of his pathetic
At this time the holds were completed with water and wood, and on the
following morning [WEDNESDAY 9 FEBRUARY 1803] the last observations for
the time keepers were taken; after which the shore establishment was
embarked, and we prepared for sea. The botanists made an excursion upon
Point Middle, and pursued their researches without disturbance; and
neither Woga nor any of his countrymen were seen during the whole day.
It has been said, that an opening of a river-like form is laid down in
the Dutch chart, in the situation of this bay. No name is there given to
it; and as I conceive our examination to confer the right of bestowing
one, I have distinguished it by the title of CALEDON BAY, as a mark of
respect to the worthy nobleman, lately governor of the Cape of Good Hope,
after whom the mount on the south side was also named.
There is no other safe passage into the bay than that between the islands
in the entrance and Cape Grey; which cape is remarkable for the round
hummock on its extremity, and lies in latitude 13 deg. 1' south, and
longitude 136 deg. 42' east. The western branch of the bay appeared to be
shallow, and not well sheltered, so that I did not go up it to sound; but
in the eastern branch, which is near three miles wide, there is from 4 to
3 fathoms on blue mud, up to within three-quarters of a mile of a rocky
point at the head; and the rocks of Point Alexander may there be nearly,
if not altogether brought to shut on with those of Cape Grey. Wood for
fuel was plentiful every where, and there was no difficulty in procuring
water from the ponds and holes in the low, sandy land near the shore of
Point Alexander; but from May to December, I doubt whether they would not
all be dried up, as well as the small streams which descended from Mount
Caledon. Our success with the seine was very moderate, more sea slugs, or
what we called sea cucumbers from their shape, being brought on shore
than fish; these differed from what we had seen on the reefs of the East
Coast, in being of a more firm consistence, and of a light brown or grey,
instead of a black colour: when these slugs were pressed with the foot,
they threw out a stream of water to some distance.
The country round Caledon Bay, especially at the heads of the two
branches, is generally low land; Mount Caledon and the hills of the south
side are of granite, and this stone is found in some other parts; but at
Point Alexander the basis is a sand stone, more or less impregnated with
iron, and at Point Middle it is almost iron ore. A piece of this last
stone carried the needle of the theodolite entirely round; yet the
bearings taken from thence did not show any difference from those at
Mount Caledon, and from those upon Point Alexander, taken from a hillock
of sea sand, they did not differ more than half a degree.
So far as our examination went the soil is poor, being either sandy or
stony, with a small mixture in some places of vegetable earth;
notwithstanding which both the grass and wood were luxuriant, owing to
the abundance of rain which had lately fallen, and to the warmth of the
climate: in the dry season, I should judge the country would be almost
burnt up. The _casuarina_ was plentiful in the sandy places, and the
_eucalyptus_ amongst the rocks, where it reached a tolerable size; the
wild nutmeg was found upon Point Middle, and there alone; our apple, the
new species of _eugenia_, grew on Point Alexander and elsewhere, and also
a few other plants bearing small fruits of little use. Foot marks of the
kangaroo were seen in different places, but none of the animals, nor
indeed any quadruped; and birds seemed to be rare, both in the woods and
on the shores.
The natives of Caledon Bay are the same race of men as those of Port
Jackson and King George's Sound, places at nearly the two opposite
extremities of Terra Australis;* in personal appearance they were behind
some tribes we had seen, but the difference did not go beyond what a less
abundant supply of food might produce. All those who came to the tents
had lost the upper front tooth on the left side, whereas at Port Jackson
it is the right tooth which is knocked out at the age of puberty; whether
the women undergo the same operation, contrary to the usage at Port
Jackson, we had no opportunity of knowing, having seen only one female,
and that at a distance. This girl wore a small piece of bark, in guise of
a fig leaf, which was the sole approximation to clothing seen among them.
Above the elbow the men usually wore a bandage of net work, in which was
stuck a short piece of strong grass, called _tomo_, and used as a tooth
pick; but the most remarkable circumstance in their persons was, that the
whole of them appeared to have undergone the Jewish and Mahometan rite of
circumcision. The same thing was before noticed in a native of Isle
Woodah, and in two at Wellesley's Islands; it would seem, therefore, to
be general on the west side of the Gulph of Carpentaria; but with what
view it may be done, or whence the custom were received, it is not in my
power to state. No such practice was found on the South or East Coasts,
nor was it observed in the natives of the islands in Torres' Strait, who
however, go naked as the Australians.
[* In Van Diemen's Land, according to captain Cook and succeeding
visitors, and on the North-west Coast, according to Dampier, the
inhabitants have woolly hair; in which particular they are different from
the race above mentioned. Which of them may be aborigines can be only
conjectured, until the interior of the new continent shall be explored.]
No other weapons than spears were seen amongst these people; but they
were not unacquainted with bows and arrows. It is probable that they have
bark canoes, though none were seen, for several trees were found
stripped, as if for that purpose; yet when Bongaree made them a present
of the canoe brought from Blue-mud Bay, they expressed very little
pleasure at the gift, and did not seem to know how to repair it.
That this bay had before received the visits of some strangers, was
evinced by the knowledge which the natives had of fire arms; they
imitated the act of shooting when we first landed, and when a musket was
fired at their request, were not much alarmed. A quantity of posts was
lying near the water, which had been evidently cut with iron instruments;
and when we inquired of the inhabitants concerning them, they imitated
with their hands the motion of an axe cutting down a tree, and then
stopping, exclaimed _Poo!_ Whence we understood that the people who cut
the wood had fire arms. This was all that could be learned from the
natives; but from the bamboos and partitions of frame work found here,
similar to those at Pellew's Group, they were doubtless the same Asiatic
nation, if not the same individuals, of whom so many traces had been seen
all the way from the head of the gulph. The propensity shown by the
natives to steal, especially our axes, so contrary to all I have known
and heard of their countrymen, is not only a proof that they had been
previously visited by people possessing iron implements, but from their
audacity it would appear, that the effect of fire arms was either not
very certain in the hands of the strangers, or had seldom been resorted
to in the punishment of aggression; and from the circumstance of the
Indians bringing us a few berries, as a recompense for the last stolen
axe, it should seem that they had been accustomed to make very easy
atonements for their thefts. I have some hope that those who may follow
us will not be robbed, at least with so much effrontery; and at the same
time, that the inhabitants of Caledon Bay will not avoid, but be desirous
of further communication with Europeans.
I do not know that the language at any two parts of Terra Australis,
however near, has been found to be entirely the same; for even at Botany
Bay, Port Jackson, and Broken Bay, not only the dialect, but many words
are radically different;* and this confirms one part of an observation,
the truth of which seems to be generally admitted: that although
similarity of language in two nations proves their origin to be the same,
yet dissimilarity of language is no proof of the contrary position. The
language of Caledon Bay may therefore be totally different to what is
spoken on the East and South Coasts, and yet the inhabitants have one
common origin; but I do not think that the language is absolutely and
wholly different, though it certainly was no better understood by
Bongaree than by ourselves. In three instances I found a similarity: the
personal pronoun of Port Jackson, _gni-a_ (I), was used here, and
apparently in the same sense; when inquiry was made after the axe, the
natives replied "_Yehangeree py_," making signs of beating; and _py_
signifies to beat, in the Port-Jackson language; the third instance was
of the lad Woga calling to Bongaree in the boat, which after he had done
several times without being answered, he became angry, and exclaimed
_Bongaree-gah!_ in a vehement manner, as Bongaree himself would have done
in a similar case. For the following list of words I am principally
indebted to Mr. Brown, naturalist to the expedition; who remarked that
the word here for eye was very nearly the same with that used, both at
King George's Sound and Port Jackson, to express the same organ.
[* This multiplicity of tongues in the same country presents an
extraordinary contrast with the _islands_ in the Great Ocean, where, from
the Sandwich Isles near the northern tropic, to the furthest extremity of
New Zeeland in 47 deg. south, the language is almost every where the same;
and with so little difference of dialect, that the several inhabitants
have not much difficulty to understand each other.]
[LIST OF ENGLISH WORDS AND THOSE USED BY THE PEOPLE AT CALEDON BAY
TO EXPRESS THE SAME IDEA.--not included in ebook.]
In collecting the words some errors may possibly have been made, either
from misunderstanding the natives or from their deceiving us
intentionally; for after the trick put upon Mons. Labillardiere at the
Friendly Islands, in the words given him for the high numerals, they are
always to be suspected.
During the week we remained in Caledon Bay, the following astronomical
observations were taken.
_Latitude_ from three observations to the north and south, taken in a
boat astern of the ship and reduced to the tents on Point Alexander, 12 deg.
47' 16" S.
_Longitude_ from twelve sets of distances of stars east and west of the
moon, taken on a stand by lieut. Flinders, and of which the individual
results are given in Table VI. of the Appendix No. I, 136 deg. 35' 47.5" E.
The rates of the time keepers were found from morning's altitudes of the
sun in an artificial horizon, between Feb. 3 and 8; and the means, with
the errors from mean Greenwich time at noon there on the 9th, were as
Earnshaw's No. 543, slow 2h 41' 0.91" and losing 16.53" per day.
Earnshaw's No. 520, slow 2h 27' 19.55" and losing 30.83" per day.
No. 520 had been accidentally let down in Blue-mud Bay, whence its
longitude is not now noticed; that given by No. 543 on Feb. 3, with the
rate from Observation Island, was 136 deg. 43' 3.5", or 7'16" greater than
the lunars. Were a rate used, equally accelerated from that of
Observation Island to what was found in Caledon Bay, the longitude would
be 0' 55" less than the lunars; but during the twelve days occupied in
circumnavigating Groote Eylandt, it was proved that this time keeper was
keeping its former rate, and consequently the acceleration cannot here be
In constructing the chart of the coast and islands between Pellew's Group
and Caledon Bay, a time keeper was required only in laying down the south
and east sides of Groote Eylandt, and the main coast up to Cape Barrow;
in all the remaining parts the longitude was preserved by a connected
chain of bearings, mostly taken on shore. The time-keeper reckoning from
Observation Island, and that by survey worked back from the fixed point
in Caledon Bay, meet each other on Jan. 5 p.m. at Connexion Island; and
the difference was there found to be 2' 41", which the time keeper gave
more to the east. This may have arisen from Observation Island being laid
down in a longitude too great by that quantity, or Caledon Bay too
little, or from a small error in each; but the time keeper was not
thought entitled to such perfect confidence, as to cause an alteration to
be made in these stations. The difference of 2' 41" is therefore
corrected by applying -16.3" of longitude per day to the time keeper,
from Observation to Connexion Island; Groote Eylandt is laid down mostly
from the time keeper, with the fixed correction -2' 41" all round; and
from thence to Caledon Bay the chart is constructed from bearings and
The mean _dip_ of the south end of the needle, observed at the tents, was
36 deg. 28'.
_Variation_ of the theodolite, 2 deg. 20' E.
On board the ship, at anchor off the south-west side of the inner island
at the entrance, the variation from three compasses, with the head N. W.
by W., was 2 deg. 26'; by the surveying compass alone, 2 deg. 46' east, and this,
which I consider to be the best, would be, corrected, 1 deg. 14' E.
At my different stations on shore, the variation seemed to be between 2 deg.
and 2 deg. 20' east; except on the north-east end of the outer island in the
entrance, where it appeared to be no more than 1 deg. 30'.
The rise of _tide_ in Caledon Bay was so small, that nothing certain
could be determined on board, either upon the quantity or the time; but
it appeared from the observations of lieutenant Fowler at the tents, that
there were two tides in the day, the rise of which varied from 3 feet 10,
to 4 feet 10 inches; and that the time of high water took place at _nine
hours and a half after_ the moon passed over and under the meridian.
On board the ship, the range of the thermometer was from 83 deg. to 87 deg.,
nearly as it had been from first entering the Gulph of Carpentaria; and
on shore it was probably 10 deg. higher. Several of our people were ill of
diarrhoeas at this time, accompanied with some fever, which was
attributed by the surgeon to the heat and the moist state of the
atmosphere; for since December, when the north-west monsoon began, not
many days had passed without rain, and thunder squalls were frequent.
Exposing the head uncovered to the sun, more especially if engaged in
strong exercise, was proved to be very dangerous here; I lost one man in
Blue-mud Bay from a want of due precaution in this particular, and at
this place two others very narrowly escaped. Musketoes were numerous and
exceedingly troublesome on shore, as also the black flies; but no
venemous reptiles were seen in our limited excursions round Caledon Bay.
The mercury in the barometer stood between 29.90 and 29.95 inches, in the
rainy weather with strong winds from the eastward; but with fine weather
and variable winds, more especially from the south and westward, it
descended to 29.80 inches.
Departure from Caledon Bay.
Cape Wilberforce, and Bromby's Isles.
The English Company's Islands: meeting there with vessels from Macassar.
The Wessel's Islands.
Further examination of the North Coast postponed.
Arrival at Coepang Bay, in Timor.
Remarks and astronomical observations.
[NORTH COAST. GULPH OF CARPENTARIA.]
THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY 1803
(Atlas, Plate XV.)
At daylight in the morning of Feb. 10, we sailed down Caledon Bay, and
steered eastward along the south side of the islands lying in the
entrance. In passing the outer island I landed with the botanical
gentlemen, and took bearings from a small elevation on its north-east
end, which materially assisted in fixing the positions of the northern
islets, and extending the survey onward along the coast.
Cape Grey, the hummock on it, bore S. 27 deg. 13' W.
Mount Alexander, N. 11 45 W.
Furthest extreme northward, N. 13 43 E.
This outer island is nearly a mile long, E. by N. and W. by S., and
mostly destitute of wood; but one valley was thickly covered, and so
interlaced with vines as to be impenetrable. The latitude observed to the
north and south, at the sandy west point, was 12 deg. 52' 59" south.
We re-joined the ship at one o'clock, and steered northward, without side
of the islets and rocks which lie scattered along the shore as far as
Mount Alexander. Amongst these are three near to each other, with
hummocks upon them, which, as in many points of view they seem to make
but one island, may probably have been meant by the northernmost of the
three isles in the Dutch chart.
The wind had been from the southward, but on closing in with the coast at
Mount Alexander it came from N. W. by N., and edged us off a little from
the land. At sunset the shore was three or four miles distant, and
Mount Alexander bore S. 53 deg. W.
A hummock at the furthest extreme, N. 9 E.
We steered on till eight o'clock, and then anchored in 21 fathoms, blue
mud. At daylight [FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY 1803], the shore was found to be
distant four or five miles; the furthest part then seen was near the
eastern extremity of Arnhem's Land, and this having no name in the Dutch
chart, is called CAPE ARNHEM.
Mount Alexander was set at S. 48 deg. W.
Two rocks under the shore, dist. 5 or 6 miles, N. 15 W.
Cape Arnhem, rising land within the extremity, N. 111/2 W.
From Mount Alexander to Cape Arnhem there is nine leagues of waving sandy
coast; it affords only one small opening, which is on the south side of a
cliffy point, with two islets lying off the entrance, and may probably
afford shelter for boats.
At eight in the morning we passed Cape Arnhem, a smooth grassy projection
which rises gently from the water's edge into the country, but is no
where of much elevation; a broad rock lies near the south-eastern
extremity, and its position was ascertained to be 12 deg. 19' south, and 137 deg.
1' east. Strong ripplings of a tide or current extended some distance off
the cape, and in passing through them we had irregular soundings between
27 and 18 fathoms; beyond Cape Arnhem the shore trended N. W. by N., in
rocky points and shallow bights, but the wind being from that direction,
we could not follow it closely. The furthest land visible at noon was a
flat-topped hill which I call _Mount Saunders_, and nearer to us was a
higher and more woody hill, also flat-topped and steep at its north end,
to which is given the name of _Mount Dundas_; their bearings, and our
position at this time were as under:
Latitude observed, 12 deg. 121/2'
Longitude from survey and time keeper, 137 21/2
Mount Dundas, bluff north end, dist. 8 miles, S. 85 W.
Mount Saunders, north end, N. 841/2 W.
Cape Arnhem, a rising within the extremity, S. 21 W.
We tacked to the westward in the afternoon, and an island came in sight,
lying to the north of the two mounts, with several rocks and islets
scattered on its north-east side. At sunset the wind died away, and a
stream anchor was dropped in 16 fathoms sandy ground; our situation being
five miles from the shore under Mount Dundas, and three from the nearest
rocky islets to the north-west. The flood tide set gently to the
westward, and induced me to suppose there might be a passage within the
island and rocks, and in the morning [SATURDAY 12 FEBRUARY 1803] our
endeavours were used to reach it; but the winds being light and mostly
contrary, the evening came before we got through. An anchor was then
dropped in 4 fathoms, coarse sand, one mile and a half from the sandy
shore under Mount Saunders, and three miles from the south-west end of
the island. The passage is more than two miles wide, and our soundings in
working through it were between 41/2 and 6 fathoms on a gravelly bottom;
but afterwards we had little more in some places than 3 fathoms.
[NORTH COAST. MELVILLE BAY.]
Two natives, with a canoe, had been seen upon the island; and as our boat
stood that way, sounding ahead of the ship, they waved and called to the
people. The island is about five miles long, and between one and two in
breadth; it is low, mostly destitute of wood, and the shores in general
are sandy; and not being laid down in the Dutch chart, I distinguish it,
with the islets and rocks to the north and north-east, by the name of
_Melville Isles_: the south end which forms the passage, lies in 12 deg. 81/2'
south, and 136 deg. 52' east. In the opposite shore, between Mount Saunders
and Dundas, is a sandy bight where ships would be sheltered from all
winds except those at north-east, if the water be deep enough for them.
The trees upon the hills showed a dark-green foliage; but the low land,
especially under Mount Saunders, was sandy and barren, and so continued
for seven miles westward, to a low point near a woody islet. Further on,
the coast took a northern direction, and was seen from the mast head as
far as N. N. W.; but no other part could be set from the deck than the
highest of several eminences on the back land, named _Mount Bonner_,
which proved to be an useful mark in the survey. The bearings taken at
this anchorage were principally these:
Mount Dundas, bluff north end, S. 54 deg. E.
Woody islet, near a western sandy point, S. 62 W.
Mount Bonner, N. 82 W.
Melville Isles, the northernmost, N. 13 E.
Melville Isles, the largest, N. 83 deg. E. to East.
SUNDAY 13 FEBRUARY 1803
In the morning we steered westward, with a light air of wind at south and
a flood tide in our favour; and having passed over some ripplings near
the anchorage, our soundings became regular, increasing from 7 to 12
fathoms. On a breeze setting in at north-west, the course was directed
towards a bight behind the woody islet; and a little before noon its
appearance became so promising, that I steered into it before the wind.
In passing the islet and sandy point we had from 10 to 7 fathoms, in an
opening of four miles wide; and a bay of considerable extent then lay
before us. In the middle of the bay were three rocks, and to the
north-east of them a headland, beyond which the water extended eastward;
we steered to pass between these till the depth diminished to 4 fathoms,
when we tacked and let go the anchor in the north-eastern part of the
bay, in 5 fathoms, muddy bottom; the sandy point at the entrance bore W.
by N., one mile and a quarter, and the largest of some granitic rocks in
front of the beach, N. by W. half a mile.
A boat was sent to haul the seine on the beach, and I went there with the
botanical gentlemen. The depth was 5 fathoms close to the shore, even
within the rocks; and the ship might have been placed there in perfect
security, though the room was scarcely sufficient to allow of swinging at
single anchor. I called the largest of the rocks which form the
south-east side of this snug little place, _Harbour Rock_; and the sandy
point at the entrance of the bay is named _Point Dundas_. After the seine
had been hauled with good success, I walked to the extremity of the
point; and from a hillock of sand a little way back, took a set of
bearings to commence the survey, in which was included the bluff north
end of Mount Saunders at N. 74 deg. 55' E. Many foot-marks of men, dogs, and
small kangaroos were observed on the beach., but neither natives nor
quadrupeds were seen.
MONDAY 14 FEBRUARY 1803
Early next morning a party of men was sent to cut wood, and the botanical
gentlemen landed on Point Dundas upon their pursuits; I went to examine
the north-eastern part of the bay, where the water extended two miles
above the ship; but the depth in it presently diminished to 21/2 fathoms,
and to 1 near the end. Beyond a low isthmus there, a piece of water was
seen communicating with the south-eastern part of the bay, and making a
peninsula of the high rocky land named _Drimmie Head_; at high water,
indeed, it is an island, for the tide then flows over some parts of the
isthmus. After taking two sets of bearings, I rowed southward along the
shore of Drimmie Head; and from a hill near the south-west extremity
obtained a good view of the bay, and saw the western coast as far
northward as a cliffy cape which was named after _William Wilberforce_,
Esq., the worthy representative of Yorkshire. The principal bearings from
Car. e Wilberforce, highest part, N. 25 deg. 40' W.
Mount Bonner, N. 51 55 W.
Point Dundas, distant 2 miles, N. 52 30 W.
Leaving Drimmie Head, I steered over to the middlemost of the three rocks
in the bay, with a depth of water from 3 to 61/2 fathoms, on muddy ground.
These rocks lie nearly due south from Point Dundas, and I proposed to
observe the latitude on both sides from thence, whilst lieutenant
Flinders did the same at the point, that a base line for the survey might
be obtained from the difference; but the difficulty of finding a
convenient position disappointed me, and no satisfactory base was
obtained here; so that the extent of this bay in the chart is rather
My course from the three rocks was directed S. S. E., for the south side
of the bay; the distance was three miles, and the depth for half the way
from 5 to 3 fathoms, but afterwards shoal. Upon some low cliffs there,
partly composed of pipe clay, a few bearings were taken; and after
walking a little way inland, to examine the country, I rowed back to a
small island near the south extremity of Drimmie Head, with soundings
mostly between 3 and 61/2 fathoms; but there is no ship passage between it
and the head. Having taken some additional bearings and looked over the
islet, I returned on board in the evening; passing in the way near a
rock, dry at half tide, but round which, at a ship's length, there is 21/2
to 3 fathoms.
TUESDAY 15 FEBRUARY 1803
Some further bearings and observations were taken on the 15th, and my
intention to sail on the following morning being frustrated by a fresh
wind at north-west, with unsettled weather, Messieurs Brown and Bauer
accompanied me [WEDNESDAY 16 FEBRUARY 1803] in a boat excursion to the
eastern part of the bay. We first landed at the islet near Drimmie Head,
that Mr. Brown might examine its mineralogy; and then steered three miles
eastward for a low projection covered with mangroves, growing on rocks of
strongly impregnated iron stone. Coasting along the mangrove shore from
thence northward, and after landing at one other place, we came to the
isthmus which connects Drimmie Head to the land of Point Dundas; and it
being near high water, the boat was got over the isthmus by a small
passage through the mangroves, and we reached the ship at one o'clock,
where every thing was prepared for weighing the anchor.
This bay is unnoticed in the Dutch chart, and I name it MELVILLE BAY, in
compliment to the Right Hon. Robert Saunders Dundas, viscount Melville,
who, as first lord of the Admiralty, has continued that patronage to the
voyage which it had experienced under some of his predecessors. It is the
best harbour we found in the Gulph of Carpentaria; the entrance is from
the N. N. W., four miles wide, and free from danger; and within side, the
sole dangers not conspicuous, are a sandy spit running half a mile to the
S. S. E. from Point Dundas, and the _Half-tide Rock_. This lies half a
mile from the north-west part of Drimmie Head, and bears (true as usual),
From the sandy hillock within Point Dundas, S. 48 deg. 35' E.
From Harbour Rock, S. 10 39 E.
Melville Bay every where affords good holding ground, the bottom being
either mud or sand; and there is depth for a ship to run between the
three rocks in the middle of the bay and Drimmie Head, and steer eastward
until the head is brought to bear N. N. W., at the distance of one or two
miles; but the most convenient anchorage is just within the entrance,
between Point Dundas and Harbour Rock, where a ship may lie close to the
sandy beach in from 3 to 5 fathoms. Even within the rock there is depth
enough; and were moorings laid down, four or five sail might swing there
in perfect security. We obtained here fire wood, and a tolerable supply
of fish; and had water been wanted, it might have been obtained by
digging at the foot of the small hills to the north-east of Harbour Rock,
since a hole made there by the natives was found to contain good water.
The stone on the north side of Melville Bay is a granitic composition of
quartz, mica, and coarse garnets; the garnets are large, and give the
stone a plum-pudding-like appearance, and when polished, it would be
beautiful: over the granite is a crust of calcareous rock in many places.
On the south side of the bay the stone is argillaceous, but frequently
mixed with ferruginous grains; and on the south-east side the rocks are
of iron ore, of which a small piece drew the needle of my theodolite 8 deg.
from the meridian. The bearings taken here were found to have been 50 deg.
wrong; but too late to ascertain whether the error arose from the
attraction of the shore, or from the needle having been placed at 310 deg. by
mistake, instead of 360 deg..
There did not appear to be any rich soil on the borders of the bay; but
on the south and eastern sides the country was covered with an agreeable
intermixture of grass and trees, and better adapted for cattle than any I
have seen in so low a latitude. The soil, though not deep, would produce
most things suited to the climate; for the heat and moisture do so much
for vegetation, that very little earth seems necessary to its support. On
the south side the trees are mostly different species of _eucalyptus_,
growing tall and straight, though not large; whereas on the sandy parts
of Point Dundas, a _casuarina_, of the same species as seen at Coen River
and other parts of the gulph, was most abundant, and served us for fuel.
A _santalum_, more nearly allied to the true sandel wood than any before
seen in this country, was found on the borders of the bay.
No inhabitants were perceived, nor any fresh traces of them; but as dogs
were seen twice, it is probable the natives were watching us at no great
distance; they had visited all the places where I landed, and should
therefore seem to possess canoes. Traces of the same strangers, of whom
mention has been so often made, were found here; and amongst others were
partitions of frame work and part of a large earthen jar. Kangaroos
appeared to be rather numerous in the woods, brown doves and large white
pigeons were tolerably plentiful, and a bird nearly black, of the size
and appearance of a hen, was shot; there were also cockatoos, both black
and white, and a beautiful species of paroquet not known at Port Jackson.
The aquatic birds were blue and white cranes, sea-pies, and sand-larks.
Besides fish, our seine usually brought on shore many of the grey slugs
or sea cucumbers, but not so abundantly as in Caledon Bay.
We were not here pestered so much with the black flies as before; but the
musketoes and sand flies were numerous and fierce. Most of the bushes
contained nests made by a small green ant; and if the bush were
disturbed, these resentful little animals came out in squadrons, and
never ceased to pursue till the disturber was out of sight. In forcing
our way amongst the underwood, we sometimes got our hair and clothes
filled with them; and as their bite is very sharp, and their vengeance
never satisfied, there was no other resource than stripping as
expeditiously as possible.
The sun was at this time very near the zenith, which not only prevented
the latitude from being observed in the artificial horizon, but rendered
the observations from the sea horizon, to the north and south at the same
noon, liable to inaccuracies; and in consequence, our positions in this
neighbourhood may not be very correct.
The _latitude_ of Point Dundas, from one double observation, was 12 deg. 13'
50"; but from the bearing of Mount Saunders, it is taken to be 12 deg. 13' 0"
_Longitude_ by survey from Caledon Bay, being 1' greater than by time
keepers,136 deg. 41' 40" E.
_Variation_ of the theodolite on Harbour Rock,1 deg. 13' east.
And except in the doubtful instance of the iron-stone shore on the
south-east side of the bay, the bearings in other parts did not differ
more than 20' from it.
The greatest rise of _tide_ here, according to the marks on shore, did
not seem to have exceeded eight feet. High water took place nearly five
hours before, and _seven hours after_ the moon's passage over the
meridian; which is nearly two hours and a half earlier than in Caledon
Bay, as that is earlier than in Blue-mud Bay, further south in the gulph.
[NORTH COAST. GULPH OF CARPENTARIA.]
WEDNESDAY 16 FEBRUARY 1803
At two in the afternoon of the 16th, the wind being moderate at N. N. W.,
we worked out of Melville Bay; and anchored at dusk, five miles from the
entrance in 13 fathoms, sand and mud. Next morning [THURSDAY 17 FEBRUARY
1803], in following the line of the western shore with a breeze off the
land, we passed three rocks lying out from a point under Mount Bonner;
and further on, six or seven miles short of Cape Wilberforce, there was a
small shallow opening. From the north part of this cliffy cape, a chain
of islands and rocks extends out three or four leagues to the E. N. E.,
which I call _Bromby's Isles_, after my worthy friend the Rev. John
Bromby of Hull. One of these is cliffy, and two miles long; the rest are
smaller, and the whole seemed to be connected by rocks under water; but
between Cape Wilberforce and the nearest islet was a space three-quarters
of a mile wide, towards which we worked up against a fresh wind at W. N.
W. At noon, the two cliffy parts of the cape bore S. 1/4 E. and W. 1/4 N.,
from one to two miles; and the latter, which is the north extremity, was
ascertained to lie in 11 deg. 52' south, and 136 deg. 33' east.
At this time the weather became squally with much rain; but after
numberless tacks, made under double-reefed top sails and courses in the
narrow passage, with soundings from 10 to 18 fathoms, we cleared it at
two o'clock, and stretched southwestward as the main coast was found to
trend; and thus was the examination of the Gulph of Carpentaria finished,
after employing one hundred and five days in coasting along its shores
and exploring its bays and islands. The extent of the Gulph in longitude,
from Endeavour's Strait to Cape Wilberforce, is 51/2 deg. and in latitude 7 deg.;
and the circuit, excluding the numerous islands and the openings, is
little less than four hundred leagues. It will be remarked that the form
of it, given in the old charts, is not very erroneous, which proves it to
have been the result of a real examination; but as no particulars were
known of the discovery of the south and western parts, not even the name
of the author, though opinion ascribed it with reason to Tasman, so the
chart was considered as little better than a representation of fairy
land, and did not obtain the credit which it was now proved to have
merited. Henceforward, the Gulph of Carpentaria will take its station
amongst the conspicuous parts of the globe in a decided character.
[NORTH COAST. ENGLISH COMPANY'S ISLANDS.]
After clearing the narrow passage between Cape Wilberforce and Bromby's
Isles, we followed the main coast to the S. W.; having on the starbord
hand some high and large islands, which closed in towards the coast ahead
so as to make it doubtful whether there were any passage between them.
Under the nearest island was perceived a canoe full of men; and in a sort
of roadsted, at the south end of the same island, there were six vessels
covered over like hulks, as if laid up for the bad season. Our
conjectures were various as to who those people could be, and what their
business here; but we had little doubt of their being the same, whose
traces had been found so abundantly in the Gulph. I had inclined to the
opinion that these traces had been left by Chinese, and the report of the
natives in Caledon Bay that they had fire arms, strengthened the
supposition; and combining this with the appearance of the vessels, I set
them down for piratical Ladrones who secreted themselves here from
pursuit, and issued out as the season permitted, or prey invited them.
Impressed with this idea, we tacked to work up for the road; and our
pendant and ensign being hoisted, each of them hung out a small white
flag. On approaching, I sent lieutenant Flinders in an armed boat, to
learn who they were; and soon afterward we came to an anchor in 12
fathoms, within musket shot; having a spring on the cable, and all hands
Every motion in the whale boat, and in the vessel along-side which she
was lying, was closely watched with our glasses, but all seemed to pass
quietly; and on the return of lieutenant Flinders, we learned that they
were prows from Macassar, and the six Malay commanders shortly afterwards
came on board in a canoe. It happened fortunately that my cook was a
Malay, and through his means I was able to communicate with them. The
chief of the six prows was a short, elderly man, named _Pobassoo_; he
said there were upon the coast, in different divisions, sixty prows, and
that _Salloo_ was the commander in chief. These people were Mahometans,
and on looking into the launch, expressed great horror to see hogs there;
nevertheless they had no objection to port wine, and even requested a
bottle to carry away with them at sunset.
The weather continued squally all night, with frequent heavy rain, and
the wind blew strong; but coming off the islands, the ship rode easily.
In the morning [FRIDAY 18 FEBRUARY 1803], I went on board Pobassoo's
vessel, with two of the gentlemen and my interpreter, to make further
inquiries; and afterwards the six chiefs came to the Investigator, and
several canoes were along-side for the purpose of barter. Before noon,
five other prows steered into the road from the S. W., anchoring near the
former six; and we had more people about the ship than I chose to admit
on board, for each of them wore a short dagger or cress by his side. My
people were under arms, and the guns were exercised and a shot fired at
the request of the chiefs; in the evening they all retired quietly, but
our guns were kept ready and half the people at quarters all night. The
weather was very rainy; and towards morning [SATURDAY 19 FEBRUARY 1803],
much noise was heard amongst the prows. At daylight they got under sail,
and steered through the narrow passage between Cape Wilberforce and
Bromby's Isles, by which we had come; and afterwards directed their
course south-eastward into the Gulph of Carpentaria.
My desire to learn every thing concerning these people, and the strict
look-out which it had been necessary to keep upon them, prevented me
attending to any other business during their stay. According to Pobassoo,
from whom my information was principally obtained, sixty prows belonging
to the Rajah of Boni, and carrying one thousand men, had left Macassar
with the north-west monsoon, two months before, upon an expedition to
this coast; and the fleet was then lying in different places to the
westward, five or six together, Pobasso's division being the foremost.
These prows seemed to be about twenty-five tons, and to have twenty or
twenty-five men in each; that of Pobassoo carried two small brass guns,
obtained from the Dutch, but the others had only muskets; besides which,
every Malay wears a cress or dagger, either secretly or openly. I
inquired after bows and arrows, and the _ippo_ poison, but they had none
of them; and it was with difficulty they could understand what was meant
by the _ippo_.
The object of their expedition was a certain marine animal, called
_trepang_. Of this they gave me two dried specimens; and it proved to be
the _beche-de-mer_, or sea cucumber which we had first seen on the reefs
of the East Coast, and had afterwards hauled on shore so plentifully with
the seine, especially in Caledon Bay. They get the _trepang_ by diving,
in from 3 to 8 fathoms water; and where it is abundant, a man will bring
up eight or ten at a time. The mode of preserving it is this: the animal
is split down one side, boiled, and pressed with a weight of stones; then
stretched open by slips of bamboo, dried in the sun, and afterwards in
smoke, when it is fit to be put away in bags, but requires frequent
exposure to the sun. A thousand trepang make a _picol_, of about 125
Dutch pounds; and one hundred picols are a cargo for a prow. It is
carried to Timor, and sold to the Chinese, who meet them there; and when
all the prows are assembled, the fleet returns to Macassar. By Timor,
seemed to be meant Timor-laoet; for when I inquired concerning the
English, Dutch, and Portuguese there, Pobassoo knew nothing of them: he
had heard of Coepang, a Dutch settlement, but said it was upon another
There are two kinds of trepang. The black, called _baatoo_, is sold to
the Chinese for forty dollars the picol; the white, or grey, called
_koro_, is worth no more than twenty. The _baatoo_ seems to be what we
found upon the coral reefs near the Northumberland Islands; and were a
colony established in Broad Sound or Shoalwater Bay, it might perhaps
derive considerable advantage from the trepang. In the Gulph of
Carpentaria, we did not observe any other than the _koro_, or grey slug.
Pobassoo had made six or seven voyages from Macassar to this coast,
within the preceding twenty years, and he was one of the first who came;
but had never seen any ship here before. This road was the first
rendezvous for his division, to take in water previously to going into
the Gulph. One of their prows had been lost the year before, and much
inquiry was made concerning the pieces of wreck we had seen; and a
canoe's rudder being produced, it was recognised as having belonged to
her. They sometimes had skirmishes with the native inhabitants of the
coast; Pobassoo himself had been formerly speared in the knee, and a man
had been slightly wounded since their arrival in this road: they
cautioned us much to beware of the natives.*
[* A question suggests itself here: Could the natives of the west side of
the Gulph of Carpentaria have learned the rite of circumcision from these
Malay Mahometans? From the short period that the latter had frequented
the coast, and the nature of the intercourse between the two people, it
seems to me very little probable.]
They had no knowledge of any European settlement in this country; and on
learning the name Port Jackson, the son of Pobassoo made a memorandum of
it as thus, (foreign characters), writing from left to right. Until this
time, that some nutmegs were shown to them, they did not know of their
being produced here; nor had they ever met with cocoa nuts, bananas, or
other edible fruits or vegetables; fish, and sometimes turtle, being all
they procured. I inquired if they knew of any rivers or openings leading
far inland, if they made charts of what they saw, or used any charts? To
all which Pobassoo answered in the negative. There was a river at Timor,
into which the ship could go; and he informed me of two turtle islands,
one of them not far to the north-west of our situation in the road; the
other would be seen from the mast head as we sailed along the shore.
I could find no other nautical instrument amongst them than a very small
pocket compass, apparently of Dutch manufacture; by this their course is
directed at sea, without the aid of any chart or astronomical
observation. They carry a month's water, in joints of bamboo; and their
food is rice, cocoa nuts, and dried fish, with a few fowls for the
chiefs. The black _gummotoo_ rope, of which we had found pieces at Sir
Edward Pellew's Group, was in use on board the prows; and they said it
was made from the same palm whence the sweet syrup, called _gulah_, is
My numberless questions were answered patiently, and with apparent
sincerity; Pobassoo even stopped one day longer at my desire, than he had
intended, for the north-west monsoon, he said, would not blow quite a
month longer, and he was rather late. I rewarded his trouble and that of
his companions with several presents, principally iron tools, which they
seemed anxious to possess; and he begged of me an English jack, which he
afterwards carried at the head of his squadron. He also expressed a
desire for a letter, to show to any other ship he might meet; and I
accordingly wrote him a note to captain Baudin, whom it seemed probable
he might encounter in the Gulph, either going or returning.
So soon as the prows were gone, the botanical gentlemen and myself
proceeded to make our examinations. The place where the ship was
anchored, and which I call _Malay Road_, is formed by two islands: one to
the S. W.. now named _Pobassoo's Island_, upon which was a stream of
fresh water behind a beach; the other to the north, named _Cotton's
Island_, after captain Cotton of the India directory. The opening between
them is nearly half a mile wide; but the water being shallow, the road is
well sheltered on the west side, and the opposite main coast lies not
further off to the east than three miles; so that N. E. is the sole
quarter whence much swell can come. I landed upon Cotton's Island; and
ascending a high cliff at the south-east end, saw Mount Saunders and the
northernmost Melville Isle over the land of Cape Wilberforce. Cotton's
Island extends six or seven miles to the north. and beyond it, to the
north-east, was another large island, which I called _Wigram's_, whose
south-east part is also a high cliff. Further off were two small isles;
and at a greater distance another, named _Truant Island_, from its lying
away from the rest. Pobassoo's Island intercepted my view to the S. W.;
but on moving back to a higher station, two other islands were seen over
it, close to each other; to the furthest and largest I gave the name of
_Inglis_, and to the nearer that of _Bosanquet_. In the west also, and
not more than three miles distant, was an island of considerable size,
which was distinguished by the name of _Astell_. The general trending of
all these islands is nearly N. E. by E., parallel with the line of the
main coast and of Bromby's Isles. In the Dutch chart, if they be marked
at all, it is as main land, and without distinctive appellation; I have
therefore applied names to each, mostly after gentlemen in the East-India
directory; and in compliment to that respectable body of men, whose
liberal attention to this voyage was useful to us and honourable to them,
the whole cluster is named the ENGLISH COMPANY'S ISLANDS.
Amongst the bearings taken from the south-eastern cliff of Cotton's
Island, the following were most essential to the survey.
Ship at anchor, distant 11/4 miles, S. 41 deg. 50' W.
Mount Bonner, S. 21 12 E.
Mount Saunders, north end, S. 47 52 E.
Cape Wilberforce, N. W. cliff, N. 74 15 E.
Bromby's Isles, the largest, N. 66 deg. 39' to 69 39 E.
Wigram's Island, N. 41 45 to 15 40 E.
Moved S. 521/2 deg. W. one-third mile.
Furthest part of the main land, S. 49 5 W.
Inglis' Island, N. E. cliff, S. 53 30 W.
Bosanquet's I., N. W. extreme S. 69 5 W.
The Dutch chart contains an island of great extent, lying off this part
of the North Coast; it has no name in Thevenot, but in some authors bears
that of Wessel's or Wezel's Eylandt, probably from the vessel which
discovered Arnhem's Land in 1636; and from the south end of Cotton's
Island distant land was seen to the N. W, which I judged to be a part of
it; but no bearings could be taken at this time, from the heavy clouds
and rain by which it was obscured.
From the 19th to the 22nd, the weather was frequently rainy, with thunder
and lightning; and the wind blew strong in squalls, generally between the
north and west, and made it unsafe to move the ship. During these days,
the botanical gentlemen over-ran the two islands which form Malay Road;
and I made a boat excursion to Astell's, and another to the north end of
Cotton's Island, to sound and take bearings for the survey. In the latter
excursion [TUESDAY 22 FEBRUARY 1803], three black children were perceived
on the north-east beach; and on walking that way we saw two bark huts,
and an elderly man was sitting under a tree, near them. He smiled on
finding himself discovered, and went behind a bush, when a confused noise
was heard of women and children making off into the wood; the man also
retreated up the hill, and our friendly signs were ineffectual to stop
him. In one of the huts was a net bag, containing some pieces of gum,
bone, and a broken spike nail; and against a neighbouring bush were
standing three spears, one of which had a number of barbs, and had been
wrought with some ingenuity. This I took away; but the rest of the arms,
with the utensils and furniture of the huts, consisting of the aforesaid
net bag and a shell to drink out of, were left as we found them, with the
addition of a hatchet and pocket handkerchief.
Cotton's, Pobassoo's, and Astell's Islands, to which our examinations
were limited, are moderately high, woody land; they slope down nearly to
the water on their west sides, but on the east, and more especially the
south-east, they present steep cliffs; and the same conformation seemed
to prevail in the other islands. The stone of the upper parts is grit or
sandstone, of a close texture; but the lower part of the cliffs is
argillaceous and stratified, splitting in layers of different
thicknesses, from that of a shilling to two or three feet; and the strata
dip to the westward, about 15 deg.. On breaking some pieces out of the
cliffs, I found them curiously marked with the representation of flowers
and trees, owing, as I am told, to manganese or iron ore inserting itself
partially into the fissures. The layers are of a reddish colour,
resembling flat tiles, and might, I conceive, be used as such, almost
without any preparation; there are enough of them to cover a whole town,
and the sand stone at the top of the cliffs is equally well calculated
for building the walls of the houses.
The upper surfaces of these islands are barren; but in the vallies, down
which ran streams of water at this time, there is a tolerable soil. One
of these vallies, at the south end of Cotton's Island, might be made a
delightful situation to a college of monks, who could bear the heat of
the climate, and were impenetrable to the stings of musketoes. Here grew
the wild nutmeg, in abundance, the fig which bears its fruit on the stem,
two species of palm, and a tree whose bark is in common use in the East
for making ropes; besides a variety of others, whose tops were overspread
with creeping vines, forming a shade to the stream underneath. But this
apparently delightful retreat afforded any thing rather than coolness and
tranquillity: the heat was suffocating, and the musketoes admitted not of
a moment's repose.
Upon Pobassoo's Island, near the stream of water at the back of the
beach, Mr. Good, the gardener, planted four of the cocoa nuts procured
from the Malays; and also some remnants of potatoes which were found in
The _latitude_ of Malay Road, from two not very satisfactory
observations, was 11 deg. 533/4' S.
_Longitude_ by the survey from Caledon Bay 136 deg. 27' E.
From observations made on shore in the artificial horizon, the
time-keeper No. 520 was differing from its Caledon-Bay rate, 15.4" of
longitude per day, to the east, but No. 543 only 9.8"; and when the
longitude of this last is corrected by the proportion afterwards found
necessary, it will agree with the survey to less than half a mile.
No observations were taken for the _variation_ of the compass, but I
judge it to have been about 1 deg. east, when not affected by any local
attraction. Near the north-east end of Cotton's Island, and at the
south-west point, the variation was 2 deg. _more east_ than upon the
south-east head; as if the south end of the island attracted the north
point, and the north end the south point of the needle.
On the day of the new moon, a particular observation was made upon the
tide in Malay Road; and it was high water at ten minutes past eight in
the morning, or nearly _eight hours and a quarter after_ the moon had
passed the lower meridian; and the rise was ten feet two inches. There
were two tides in the day; but from the swinging of the ship in the road,
it appeared that the last of the ebb, as well as the whole of the flood,
came from the N. E.; an irregularity which might be caused by the shallow
passage between the two islands.
WEDNESDAY 23 FEBRUARY 1803
The weather was still squally on the 23rd, but in the afternoon became
finer; and at three o'clock we steered south-westward, between the
islands and the main, with a flood-tide in our favour and the whale boat
sounding ahead. All the points of the main coast, like the western sides
of the islands, are low and rocky, and they are bordered with reef; but
we had tolerably good soundings, from 20 to 7 fathoms, in passing along
them at the distance of a mile. At dusk in the evening we came to, in 5
fathoms muddy ground, in a place much like Malay Road; it is formed by
Inglis' and Bosanquet's Islands, and except in a space between them, of
half a mile wide, we had land at various distances all round.
Inglis' Island forms here a pretty looking cove, in which is a woody
islet. In the morning [THURSDAY 24 FEBRUARY 1803] I sounded the cove; and
finding it to be shallow, went on, accompanied by the landscape painter,
to take bearings from the steep north-east head of the island. From
thence the main coast was visible four leagues further, extending in the
same south-western direction; at the end of it was an island of
considerable elevation, which I named _Mallison's Island_, and west of it
another, with land running at the back. The bearings which most served
to prolong the survey, were these:
Pobassoo's I., east cliff, in a line with Malay Road, N. 55 deg. 0' E.
Moved back S. 53 deg. W. 1/4 mile.
Mallison's I., steep south-east head, S. 38 25 W.
Mallison's I., outer of two rocks on the north-west side, S. 48 47 W.
We had not brought any provision in the boat; but Inglis' Island
appearing to terminate three or four miles further on, I hoped to make
the circuit, and reach the ship to a late dinner. An Indian followed
along the shore, inviting us by signs to land; but when the boat's head
was turned that way, he retreated into the wood, and we had no time to
follow, or to wait his pleasure to come down; for a good deal of delay
had been caused by the tide, and the island was found to extend several
miles further than was expected, to another steep head, from which I was
desirous to obtain a set of bearings. At five o'clock, when we reached
the head, it rained fast, which deterred me from attempting the steep
ascent, and we pushed onward; but the island, instead of terminating
here, extended four miles further in a west direction, to a low point,
where sunset and the bad weather obliged us to stop for the night. No
wood could be found to make a fire, nor had we any tent; and from the
rain, the cold, and musketoes, and our want of dinner, the night passed
FRIDAY 25 FEBRUARY 1803
At day-light, I took bearings from the low south-west point, whilst
Bongaree speared a few fish.
Mallison's I., the high south-east head, bore S. 11 deg. 10' E.
Mallison's I., west extreme S. 11 30 W.
A probable island, dist. 5 miles, S. 47 deg. 50' W. to West.
The main coast was close at the back of, and perhaps joined the Probable
Island; and to the south of it were other lands, apparently insulated,
between which and Mallison's Island was an opening of four miles wide,
which I marked for our next anchorage.
Bongaree was busily employed preparing his fish, when my bearings were
concluded. The natives of Port Jackson have a prejudice against all fish
of the ray kind, as well as against sharks; and whilst they devour with
eager avidity the blubber of a whale or porpoise, a piece of skate would
excite disgust. Our good natured Indian had been ridiculed by the sailors
for this unaccountable whim, but he had not been cured; and it so
happened, that the fish he had speared this morning were three small rays
and a mullet. This last, being the most delicate, he presented to Mr.
Westall and me, so soon as it was cooked; and then went to saunter by the
water side, whilst the boats' crew should cook and eat the rays,
although, having had nothing since the morning before, it may be supposed
he did not want appetite. I noticed this in silence till the whole were
prepared, and then had him called up to take his portion of the mullet;
but it was with much difficulty that his modesty and forbearance could be
overcome, for these qualities, so seldom expected in a savage, formed
leading features in the character of my humble friend. But there was one
of the sailors also, who preferred hunger to ray-eating! It might be
supposed he had an eye to the mullet; but this was not the case. He had
been seven or eight years with me, mostly in New South Wales, had learned
many of the native habits, and even imbibed this ridiculous notion
respecting rays and sharks; though he could not allege, as Bongaree did,
that "they might be very good for white men, but would kill him." The
mullet accordingly underwent a further division; and Mr. Westall and
myself, having no prejudice against rays, made up our proportion of this
scanty repast from one of them.
We rowed northward, round the west end of Inglis' Island, leaving a
hummocky isle and a sandy islet to the left; but on coming to a low point
with a small island near it, the rapidity of the flood tide was such,
that we could not make head way, and were obliged to wait for high water.
I took the opportunity to get another set of bearings, and then followed
the example of the boat's crew, who, not finding oysters or any thing to
eat, had fallen asleep on the beach to forget the want of food.
It was high water at eleven o'clock, and we then passed between the islet
and sandy point, and across two rather deep bights in Inglis' Island; and
leaving three rocks and as many small islands on the left hand, entered
the passage to the west of the ship, and got on board at two in the
This island is twelve miles long, by a varying breadth of one to three
miles. Its cliffs and productions are much the same as those of Cotton's
Island; but in the south-eastern part it is higher, and the size and
foliage of the wood announced more fertility in the soil.
The construction of my chart, and taking bearings from the north end of
Bosanquet's Island, occupied me the next day [SATURDAY 26 FEBRUARY 1803];
astronomical observations were also taken; and it appeared that the
cliffy east end of Bosanquet's Island, a mile north of the anchorage, was
in 11 deg. 57 1/3' south, and 136 deg. 19' east. According to the swinging of the
ship in the evenings, the flood tide ceased to run at eight hours and a
half after the moon passed the upper meridian, whereas in the mornings it
ceased seven hours and a half after the moon passed below; whether the
same difference took place in the times of high water by the shore, I
cannot tell; but if the mean of the morning's and evening's tides be
taken as the time of high water, it will follow _eight hours after_ the
moon, the same nearly as in Malay Road.
[NORTH COAST. ARNHEM BAY.]
SUNDAY 27 FEBRUARY 1803
In the morning of the 27th, we steered south-westward between Inglis'
Island and the main, to explore the opening on the west side of
Mallison's Island. The tide, which was in our favour, so stirred up the
soft mud, that we did not perceive a shoal until from 41/2, the depth
diminished to 21/4 fathoms, and the ship stuck fast. This was at less than
a mile from the north-east head of Inglis' Island, yet the deepest water
lay within; and towards noon, by carrying out a stream anchor, we got
there into 10 fathoms, without having suffered any apparent injury. On
the approach of low water next morning [MONDAY 28 FEBRUARY 1803], we
resumed our course, keeping nearly midway between the main coast and the
island, with soundings from 13 to 7 fathoms, muddy ground; the shores are
above two miles asunder, but the reefs from each side occupy more than
half of the open space. On clearing the south end of the passage, the
boat ahead made signal for 4 fathoms, and we tacked, but afterwards
followed till noon; heavy rain then came on, and the wind dying away, an
anchor was dropped in 6 fathoms.
There was a rippling not far from the ship, and the master found it to be
on a narrow shoal extending north and south, which seems to have been
formed in the eddy of the tides. We got under way, on a breeze from N. W.
bringing finer weather; and at two o'clock passed over the shoal with
soundings twice in 3 fathoms, and afterwards in 5, 7, 10, 12, and 14. The
bearings taken in 3 fathoms were,
Inglis' Island, north-east head, N. 50 deg. E.
Inglis' Island, low south-west point, N. 15 W.
Mallison's I., high south-east head, S. 3 E.
At six o'clock we entered the opening, and steered south-eastward into a
vast piece of water where the land could not be seen from the mast head;
and the soundings were deep, though irregular, varying from 11 to 33
fathoms. At half past eight, being well within the opening, we tacked
towards Mallison's Island, and came to an anchor in 15 fathoms, sand and
TUESDAY 1 MARCH 1803
In the morning, our distance from the south side of the island was found
to be something above a mile, and the extremes bore N. 64 deg. W. to 39 deg. E.
In going to the shore with a party of the gentlemen I carried a good
depth all the way, there being 5 fathoms within a few yards of a little
beach where a stream of fresh water descended from the hills. A first
view of the cliffs led me to think they contained coals; but this
appearance arose from the colour of the slate, of which the lower parts
are composed. The top of the island is of sand stone, similar to the
English Company's Islands; and it seemed to be equally, or more barren
than they, and to be destitute of any rich vallies.
My bearings were taken on the south-eastern head; but even from thence,
the land was not visible to the southward beyond a low islet surrounded
with shoals, and to the E. S. E. it was but faintly seen. The west side
of the entrance was composed of broken land, like islands, extending out
far to the northward; on the east, the space which separated Mallison's
Island from the nearest part of the main seemed to be not more than half
a mile broad, and was so filled with rocks as scarcely to admit the
passage of a boat. This part of the main land is a projecting cape, low
without side but forming a steep head within; and I have named it _Cape
Newbald_. The most essential bearings were these:--
Inglis' I. station on the north-east head, N. 39 deg. 5' E.
Inglis' I. west extreme, N. 15 18 W.
Furthest western land visible, N. 26 10 W.
Probable Island, low north point, N. 39 2 W.
Low islet up the bay, dist. ten miles, S. 7 deg. to 9 13 E.
These bearings and the observations place the south-east head of
Mallison's Island in 12 deg. 113/4' south, and 136 deg. 8' east.
We returned on board at eleven, and then steered eastward along the south
side of Cape Newbald; the flood tide, which set in that direction, having
induced the hope of finding a river there. The wind was light and scant,
so that we advanced principally by means of the tide; and finding it to
run against us at five in the evening, anchored in 5 fathoms, mud and
shells, eight or nine miles above the entrance of the bay, and one and a
half from a rocky point on the Cape-Newbald side. We proceeded with the
flood tide, next morning [WEDNESDAY 2 MARCH 1803], in a varying depth
from 3 to 5 fathoms; and after advancing four or five miles, it was found
impossible to go further without risk of getting aground, and we
therefore came to an anchor. The land on the east side of the bay was
distant three miles, and no other than a shallow opening in the
north-east corner could be seen; a disappointment which left little to be
expected in the southern parts of the bay, to which no set of tide had
been perceived. In consequence, I gave up the intention of further
prosecuting the examination in the ship, in favour of going round in my
boat; and directed lieutenant Fowler, so soon as the botanical gentlemen
should have explored the productions on the nearest part of Cape Newbald,
to return with the ship to the entrance of the bay, and anchor near some
low cliffs on the western side, where the botanists could again pursue
their researches until my arrival.
Mr. Bauer the natural-history painter, himself a good botanist, expressed
a wish to accompany me, and with Mr. Bell, the surgeon, we went off in
the afternoon, steering S. S. E. for a small beach in the low, woody
shore, five or six miles off. Squalls of wind with heavy rain prevented
sounding in the first half of the way; but we then had nine feet, and
nearly the same to the beach, where we landed at dusk. The wood was very
thick here, the ground swampy, and the musketoes numerous and fierce; so
that between them and our wet clothes we had very little rest.
THURSDAY 3 MARCH 1803
In the morning, after bearings had been taken from a projecting part of
the ironstone shore, we steered four miles to the S. S. W., mostly in 2
fathoms, to some low cliffs of red earth; where Mr. Bauer examined the
productions of the main land, whilst I took bearings from a small islet
or bank of iron ore, lying near it.
The ship at anchor, dist. 8 or 9 miles, bore N. 1 deg. 15' E.
Mallison's I., south-western cliffs, N. 50 25 W.
Low islet in the bay, centre., S. 89 30 W.
Seeing that the shore took a western direction about five miles further
on, we steered for the low islet; and at a mile from the land had 3, and
afterwards 5 fathoms until approaching a long sandy spit, which extends
out from the east end of the islet and was then dry. I landed upon it in
time to observe the sun's meridian altitude, which gave 12 deg. 22' 6" south,
but a passing cloud deprived me of the supplement. The islet is little
else than a bed of sand, though covered with bushes and small trees;
there were upon it many marks of turtle and of turtle feasts; and finding
the musketoes less numerous than on the main, we stopped to repose during
the heat of the day.
In the afternoon, after taking bearings, we steered over to the south
side of the bay, four miles off, with soundings from 7 at the deepest, to
3 fathoms at a mile from the iron-stone shore. The land is low and
covered with wood, and the traces of kangaroo being numerous, the surgeon
was induced to make a little excursion into the wood, whilst I took
bearings and Mr. Bauer pursued his botanical researches. Mr. Bell found
the country to be tolerably fertile, but had no success in his hunting;
and at night we returned to the islet to sleep, hoping to procure some
turtle; but no more than three came on shore, and one only was caught,
the laying season appearing to be mostly past.
FRIDAY 4 MARCH 1803
At daylight we steered for a low rocky island, seven or eight miles to
the W. N. W., where I took angles from the iron-stone rocks at its south
end, and Mr. Bauer examined the vegetable productions. To the S. S. W.,
about five miles, was a woody point, on the east side of which no land
was visible; and the depth of water in coming across from Low Islet
having been as much as 10 fathoms, it left a suspicion that a river might
fall into the south-west corner of the bay, and induced me to row over to
the point. The soundings diminished from 5 to 3 fathoms; in which depth
the boat being brought to a grapnel, I found the latitude to be 12 deg. 20'
27", from observations to the north and south, and set Low Islet E. 7 deg. S.
by a pocket compass.
From thence to the point the water was shallow, and the open space proved
to be a shoal bight, with very low land at the back. After I had taken
bearings, to ascertain the position of the point and form this side of
the bay, we returned northward, passing on the west side of the rocky
island; and the ship having arrived at the appointed station, got on
board at eight o'clock in the evening.
SATURDAY 5 MARCH 1803
On laying down the plan of this extensive bay, I was somewhat surprised
to see the great similarity of its form to one marked near the same
situation in the Dutch chart. It bears no name; but as not a doubt
remains of Tasman, or perhaps some earlier navigator, having explored it,
I have given it the appellation of the land in which it is situate, and
call it ARNHEM BAY. So far as an extent of secure anchoring ground is
concerned, it equals any harbour within my knowledge; there being more
than a hundred square miles of space fit for the reception of ships, and
the bottom seemed to be every where good. Of the inducements to visit
Arnhem Bay, not much can be said. Wood is plentiful at all the shores,
and the stream which ran down the hills at Mallison's Island would have
supplied us conveniently with water, had it been wanted; but in three
months afterwards it would probably be dried up. In the upper parts of
the bay the shores are low, and over-run with mangroves in many places;
but near the entrance they may be approached by a ship, and there are
beaches for hauling the seine, where, however, we had not much success.
We saw no other stone on the low shores than iron ore, similar to that
found in the upper part of Melville Bay, and on Point Middle in Caledon
Bay; and it seems probable, that iron runs through the space of country
comprehended between the heads of the three bays, although the exterior
shores and the hills be either granitic, argillaceous, or of sand stone.
The flat country where the iron ore is found, seems to afford a good
soil, well-clothed with grass and wood, much superior to that where
granite or sand stone prevails; this I judge from what was seen near the
heads of the bays, for our excursions inland were necessarily very
confined, and for myself, I did not quit the water side at Arnhem Bay,
being disabled by scorbutic ulcers on my feet.
This country does not seem to be much peopled, though traces of men were
found wherever we landed; in the woods were several species of birds,
mostly of the parrot kind, and the marks of kangaroo were numerous, as at
Melville Bay. These circumstances would be in favour of any colony which
might be established in the neighbourhood; but should such a step come to
be contemplated, it would be highly necessary, in the first place, to see
what the country is in the dry season, from June to November; for it is
to be apprehended that the vegetation may then be dried up, and the
sources of fresh water almost entirely fail.
The middle of the entrance into Arnhem Bay is in latitude 12 deg. 11' south,
and longitude 136 deg. 3' east. Azimuths taken on board the ship, when at
anchor in the north-eastern part of the bay and the head E. by N., gave
0 deg. 48' east variation, which corrected to the meridian, would be 2 deg. 31'
east; but the most allowed to the bearings on shore is 1 deg. 40', and the
least 1 deg., no greater difference being produced by the iron stone upon
which some were taken. From general observation, the time of high water
was nearly the same as in Malay Road, or about _eight hours after_ the
moon's passage, and the rise seemed to be six or eight feet.
Before noon of the 5th we quitted Arnhem Bay, and steered northward along
the chain of islands extending out from the west side of the entrance. On
approaching the north end of Probable Island the soundings diminished to
4 fathoms, and a short tack was made to the S. E.; and the flood tide
becoming too strong to be stemmed with a light breeze, an anchor was
dropped in 17 fathoms, sand and stones. A dry reef had been set from
Mallison's Island, and should have lain about two miles S. E. from this
anchorage; but it was not seen from the ship, being probably covered by
the tide. There were two natives, with a canoe, under Probable Island,
and some others were standing on the beach; but no attempt was made to
approach the ship, nor did I send on shore to them.
SUNDAY 6 MARCH 1803
In the morning we had a moderate breeze at E. S. E., and pursued the line
of the main coast and islands to the northward at the distance of three
or four miles, with soundings from 10 to 17 fathoms. Both the coast and
islands are in general so low and near to each other, that it was
difficult to say whether some were not connected; at eleven, however, we
approached two which certainly were islands, and there being a clear
passage between the surrounding reefs of a mile and a half wide, we
steered through it with 12 to 17 fathoms. The north-easternmost most,
which I have named after captain _Cunningham_ of the navy, is four or
five miles in circumference, and of moderate elevation; and lies in 11 deg.
47' south and 136 deg. 6' east by the survey.
[NORTH COAST. WESSEL'S ISLANDS.]
A third chain of islands commences here, which, like Bromby's and the
English Company's Islands, extend out north-eastward from the coast. I
have frequently observed a great similarity both in the ground plans and
elevations of hills, and of islands in the vicinity of each other; but do
not recollect another instance of such a likeness in the arrangement of
clusters of islands. This third chain is doubtless what is marked in the
Dutch chart as one long island, and in some charts is called Wessel's
Eylandt; which name I retain with a slight modification, calling them
WESSEL'S ISLANDS. They had been seen from the north end of Cotton's
Island to reach as far as thirty miles out from the main coast; but this
is not more than half their extent, if the Dutch chart be at all correct.
At noon, when Cunningham's Island bore from S. 1 deg. to 26 deg. E., at the
distance of two miles, the furthest visible part of Wessel's Islands bore
N. 53 deg. E.; it was not distant, for the weather was squally with rain, and
both prevented us from seeing far and obscured the sun. To the westward,
we had land at the distance of three or four miles; and from its
north-east end, which is named _Point Dale_, three small isles with rocks
extended out to the bearing of N. 16 deg. E., which we could not weather
without making a tack. At three they were passed; and at six in the
evening the outer islet bore S. 14 deg. E., four leagues, and the most
western part of the land of Point Dale, S. 36 deg. W.; but whether this last
were an island or a part of the main, was still doubtful.
For the last several days the wind had inclined from the eastward, and at
this time blew a steady breeze at E. by S., with fine weather; as if the
north-west monsoon were passed, and the south-east trade had resumed its
course. We had continued the survey of the coast for more than one-half
of the six months which the master and carpenter had judged the ship
might run without much risk, provided she remained in fine weather and no
accident happened; and the remainder of the time being not much more than
necessary for us to reach Port Jackson, I judged it imprudent to continue
the investigation longer. In addition to the rottenness of the ship, the
state of my own health and that of the ship's company were urgent to
terminate the examination here; for nearly all had become debilitated
from the heat and moisture of the climate--from being a good deal
fatigued--and from the want of nourishing food. I was myself disabled by
scorbutic sores from going to the mast head, or making any more
expeditions in boats; and as the whole of the surveying department rested
upon me, our further stay was without one of its principal objects. It
was not, however, without much regret that I quitted the coast; both from
its numerous harbours and better soil, and its greater proximity to our
Indian possessions having made it become daily more interesting; and
also, after struggling three months against foul winds, from their now
being fair as could be wished for prosecuting the further examination.
The accomplishment of the survey was, in fact, an object so near to my
heart, that could I have foreseen the train of ills that were to follow
the decay of the Investigator and prevent the survey being resumed--and
had my existence depended upon the expression of a wish, I do not know
that it would have received utterance; but Infinite Wisdom has, in
infinite mercy, reserved the knowledge of futurity to itself.
[NORTH COAST. TOWARDS TIMOR.]
(Atlas Plate I.)
On quitting Wessel's Islands, we steered a north-west course all night,
under easy sail; having a warrant officer placed at the look-out, and the
lead hove every quarter of an hour. The soundings increased very
gradually till daylight [MONDAY 7 MARCH 1803], when we had 30 fathoms;
and no land being distinguishable, the course was then altered to W. by
S. Our latitude at noon was 10 deg. 56' 40", longitude by timekeeper 135 deg.
10'; and I judged that part of the coast seen by lieutenant McCluer, in
1791, to lie about fifty miles to the southward. This was the first land
seen by him in his course from New Guinea; and according to the
comparison afterwards made of his longitude, it should not lie more than
twelve leagues from the western part of Point Dale.
Mr. McCluer saw some islands near the coast, and amongst others an outer
one called New Year's Isle, in latitude 10 deg. 52' south and 133 deg. 12' east,
which I purposed to visit in the hope of procuring turtle. But our
friendly trade wind gradually died away, and was succeeded by light airs
from the N. W. and S. W., by calms, and afterwards by light winds from
the north-eastward; so that it was not until daylight of the 12th
[SATURDAY 12 MARCH 1803], that the island was seen. At eleven o'clock,
lieutenant Fowler went on shore to examine the beach for traces of
turtle; but finding none recent, he returned before two, and we again
made sail to the westward.
New Year's Isle is a bed of sand mixed with broken coral, thrown up on a
coral reef. It is four or five miles in circumference, and the higher
parts are thickly covered with shrubs and brush wood; but much of it is
over-run with mangroves, and laid under water by the tide. Fresh prints
of feet on the sand showed that the natives had either visited it very
lately, or were then upon the island; turtle also had been there, but
their traces were of an old date. The reef extends about a mile off, all
round; we had 22 fathoms very near the outer edge, and saw no other
danger. Broken land was perceived to the southward, probably the inner
isles marked by lieutenant McCluer; and six or seven leagues to the S. W.
was a part of the main, somewhat higher but equally sandy, which we
traced above half a degree to the westward. I made the _latitude_ of the
island to be 10 deg. 55' south, and _longitude_ by time keeper corrected 133 deg.
4' east; being 3' more south and 8' less east than Mr. McCluer's
position. The _variation_ of the compass, from azimuths taken twenty
leagues to the east of New Year's Isle, was 1 deg. 55' east, with the ship's
head W. N. W.; and at thirteen leagues on the west side, 1 deg. 20' with the
head N. W.; these being corrected to the meridian, will be 0 deg. 23' and 0 deg.
12' east. The _tide_ ran strong to the N. W. whilst it was ebbing by the
shore, so that the flood would seem to come from the westward; whereas in
the neighbourhood of Cape Arnhem the flood came mostly from the opposite
direction: whether this change were a general one, or arose from some
opening to the S. E. of New Year's Isle, our knowledge of the coast was
too imperfect to determine.
We had continued to have soundings, generally on a muddy bottom, from the
time of quitting Wessel's Islands; nor did they vary much, being rarely
less than 25, and never more than 35 fathoms. On the 13th [SUNDAY 13
MARCH 1803] at noon we had 34 fathoms, being then in 10 deg. 41' south and
132 deg. 40' east, and the coast still in sight to the southward. The winds
then hung in the southern quarter, being sometimes S. W., and at others
S. E., but always light; and I steered further off the land, in the hope
of getting them more steady. Our soundings gradually increased until the
18th, when the depth was 150 fathoms in latitude 9 deg. 47' and longitude
130 deg. 17'; at midnight we had no ground at 160, but next morning [SATURDAY
19 MARCH 1803] the coral bottom was seen under the ship, and we tacked
until a boat was sent ahead; from 7 fathoms on the bank, the soundings in
steering after the boat increased to 9, 10, 13, and suddenly to 92
This small bank appeared to be nearly circular, and about four miles
round; it lies in latitude 9 deg. 56', longitude 129 deg. 28' and as I judge,
about twenty-five leagues from the western extremity of the northern Van
Diemen's Land. In some of the old charts there are shoals marked to a
considerable distance from that cape; and it seems not improbable, that a
chain of reefs may extend as far out as the situation of this bank. We
afterwards had soundings at irregular depths, from 30 to 100 fathoms,
until the evening of the 26th [SATURDAY 26 MARCH 1803], in 10 deg. 38' south
and 126 deg. 30' east; in which situation they were lost. (Atlas, Plate XVI.)
The winds had hung so much in the south-west, and retarded our passage as
well as driven us near to the island Timor, that I judged it advisable to
obtain refreshments there for my ship's company; under the apprehension
that, as the winter season was fast advancing on the south coast of Terra
Australis, the bad state of the ship might cause more labour at the pumps
than our present strength was capable of exerting. Some of the smaller
articles of sea provision., such as peas, rice, and sugar, which formed a
principal part of our little comforts, were also become deficient, in
consequence of losses sustained from the heat and moisture of the
climate, and leakiness of the ship's upper works; and these I was anxious
Coepang is a Dutch settlement at the south-west end of Timor and the
determination to put in there being made, I revolved in my mind the
possibility of afterwards returning to the examination of the north and
north-west coasts of Terra Australis, during the winter six months, and
taking the following summer to pass the higher latitudes and return to
Port Jackson. There was little chance of obtaining salt provisions at
Coepang, but there might be a ship or ships there, capable of furnishing
a supply, and by which an officer might be conveyed to England; for it
was a necessary part of my project to despatch lieutenant Fowler to the
Admiralty, with an account of our proceedings, and a request that he
might return as speedily as possible, with a vessel fit to accomplish all
the objects of the voyage; and I calculated that six months employed upon
the North and North-west Coasts, and the subsequent passage to Port
Jackson, would not leave much more than the requisite time for refreshing
the ship's company before his arrival might be expected. It is to be
observed, that the ship had leaked very little in her sides since the
caulking done at the head of the Gulph; and the carpenter being now
directed to bore into some of the timbers then examined, did not find
them to have become perceptibly worse; so that I was led to hope and
believe that the ship might go through this service, without much more
than common risk, provided we remained in fine-weather climates, as was
MONDAY 28 MARCH 1803
On the 28th, being then in 10 deg. 36' south, and 125 deg. 47' east, the high
land of Timor was seen bearing N. 61 deg. W., at the distance of thirty, or
perhaps more leagues; but no soundings could be obtained with 90, nor in
the evening with 160 fathoms. Next day [TUESDAY 29 MARCH 1803], the light
south-west wind suddenly veered to S. E., and blew fresh; and from its
dying away at sunset was evidently a sea breeze attracted by the land,
which, however, was forty miles off in its nearest part. Our latitude on
the 30th [WEDNESDAY 30 MARCH 1803] was 10 deg. 37' 13", longitude 124 deg. 181/2',
and the land, mostly high mountains, extended from N. N. E. 1/2 E. to W. N.
W., the nearest part was distant seven or eight leagues, but we still had
no soundings. The island Rottee is reckoned tolerably high land, but must
be greatly inferior to Timor; since the round hill at its eastern end was
not seen from the mast head till four this afternoon, when its distance
was little more than fifteen leagues. We carried all sail for the strait
between the two islands till midnight, and then had soundings in 120
fathoms, muddy ground; an hour and a half afterwards the land was close,
and the depth no more than 10 fathoms, upon which we hauled off till
THURSDAY 31 MARCH 1803
At daylight, the north-east point of Rottee was distant two miles, and we
steered along the shore, looking for boats and people to obtain
intelligence, and if possible some refreshments; but none were seen,
although we passed close to a deep and well-sheltered cove. At ten
o'clock, when the sandy north point of Rottee was distant one mile and a
half, we hauled up north-eastward, across the passage of about six miles
wide, between it and the northern lands; for the purpose of entering
Samow Strait, which was then open, and of which Mr. Westall took the view
given in the Atlas (Plate XVIII, last View). The south-west point of
Timor is surrounded by a reef, which extends from half a mile to a mile
off, and runs some distance up the strait; both sides of the entrance are
low land, yet at eleven o'clock we had no ground between them with 75
fathoms. The width of the entrance is three miles and a half, and
continues nearly the same upwards, with a depth of 36 or more fathoms,
and no dangers in it, other than the reef before mentioned. From the
observations at noon, the extreme south-west point of Timor lies in 10 deg.
22' south, and longitude by survey back from Coepang, 123 deg. 29' east;
captain Cook places it in 10 deg. 23' and 123 deg. 55', and calls it the south
point, but there is a sloping projection, three leagues to the eastward,
which I set in a line with it at E. 2 deg. S.
[NORTH COAST. COEPANG BAY.]
Two vessels were lying under the north-east end of Samow; and on our
ensign and pendant being hoisted, the one showed American, and the other
Dutch colours. An officer was sent to them for information, as well of
the propriety of going into Coepang Bay at this season, as of the
political state of Europe; for although the intelligence of peace had
arrived before we left Port Jackson, it seemed to be doubtful how long it
might last. On his return with favourable intelligence, I steered through
the northern outlet of the strait, which is not more than a mile and a
half wide, but so deep that 65 fathoms did not reach the bottom; and at
four o'clock the anchor was let go in 17 fathoms, muddy ground, half a
mile from the shore, with the flag staff of Fort Concordia bearing S. S.
I sent the second lieutenant to present my respects to the Dutch
governor, and inform him of our arrival and wants, with an offer of
saluting the fort provided an equal number of guns should be returned;
and the offer being accepted, mutual salutes of thirteen guns passed, and
the same evening we received a boat load of refreshments. Next day
[FRIDAY 1 APRIL 1803], I went with three officers and gentlemen to wait
upon _Mynheer Giesler_, the governor, who sent the commandant of the fort
and surgeon of the colony to receive us at the water side. The governor
did not speak English, nor I any Dutch; and our communications would have
been embarrassed but for the presence of captain Johnson, commander of
the Dutch brig, who interpreted with much polite attention.
Coepang is dependant on Batavia for a variety of articles, and amongst
others, for arrack, rice, sugar, etc. Mr. Johnson had arrived not long
before with the annual supply, yet I found some difficulty in obtaining
from the governor the comparatively small quantities of which we stood in
need; and I had no resource but in his kindness, for there were no
merchants in Coepang, nor any other who would receive bills in payment.
Having made an agreement for the provisions, I requested permission for
our botanists and painters to range the country, which was readily
granted; with a caution not to extend their walks far from the town, as
they might be there liable to insults from the natives, over whom the
governor had no power.
We were occupied nearly a week in completing our water, which was brought
on board in Malay boats, and in obtaining and stowing away the
provisions. [SUNDAY 3 APRIL 1803] The governor, with captain Johnson and
two other gentlemen were entertained on board the Investigator, and
received under a salute; and the day before we proposed to sail [THURSDAY
7 APRIL 1803], I went with some of my principal officers and gentlemen to
dine with the governor, the fort firing a salute on our landing; and it
is but justice to Mr. Giesler and the orders under which he acted, to
say, that he conducted himself throughout with that polite and respectful
attention, which the representative of one friendly nation owes to that
A part of the ship's company was permitted to go on shore so soon as our
work was completed; and two men, my Malay cook and a youth from Port
Jackson, being absent in the evening, the town was searched for them, but
in vain. We got under way early next morning [FRIDAY 8 APRIL 1803],
before the sea breeze set in, and stood off and on until lieutenant
Fowler again went after the men. On his return without success, we
stretched out of the bay; but the wind being light, and the governor
having promised to send off the men, if found before the ship was out of
sight, I still entertained a hope of receiving my deserters.
Timor is well known to be one of the southernmost and largest of the
Molucca Islands. Its extent is more considerable than the charts usually
represent it, being little less than 250 miles in a north-eastern
direction, by from thirty to sixty in breadth. The interior part is a
chain of mountains, some of which nearly equal the peak of Teneriffe in
elevation; whilst the shores on the south-east side are represented to be
exceedingly low, and over-run with mangroves. Gold is said to be
contained in the mountains, and to be washed down the streams; but the
natives are so jealous of Europeans gaining any knowledge of it, that at
a former period, when forty men were sent by the Dutch to make search,
they were cut off. In the vicinity of Coepang, the upper stone is mostly
calcareous; but the basis is very different, and appeared to me to be
The original inhabitants of Timor, who are black but whose hair is not
woolly, inhabit the mountainous parts, to which they appear to have been
driven by the Malays, who are mostly in possession of the sea coast.
There were formerly several Portuguese establishments on the north side
of the island, of which Diely and Lefflow still remained; but these have
all gradually declined, and the governor of Diely was now said to be the
sole white Portuguese resident on the island. The Dutch territory at
Coepang did not extend beyond four or five miles round Fort Concordia;
and the settlement affording no other advantage to the Company than that
of keeping out other nations, it seemed to be following, with accelerated
steps, the ruin of their affairs. During the war which terminated in
1801, the communication with Batavia was interrupted, and the town taken
by the English forces; an insurrection was raised by the half-cast
people, and some of the troops left as a garrison were massacred, and the
rest abandoned the island. During these troubles the town had been set on
fire; and at this time, all the best houses were in ruins. The few troops
kept by the Dutch were mostly Malays, some of the officers even, being
mulattos; and the sole person amongst them, who had any claim to
respectability, was a Swiss who had the command of Fort Concordia, but
with no higher rank that that of serjeant-major. Besides the governor and
two or three soldiers, I saw only two European residents at Coepang; one
was the surgeon of whom captain Bligh speaks so handsomely in his
narrative, the other a young gentleman named Viertzen, who had lately
Coepang has little other trade than with Batavia. Sandel wood, bees-wax,
honey, and slaves, are exported; and rice, arrack, sugar, tea, coffee,
beetel nut, and the manufactures of China, with some from India and
Europe, received in return; and the duties upon these were said to
suffice the expense of keeping up the establishment. A vessel laden with
ammunition, clothing, and other supplies for the troops, is annually sent
from Batavia; but what may be called the trade of Coepang, is mostly
carried on by the Chinese, some of whom are settled in the town, and have
intermixed with the Malays.
Coepang Bay is exposed to the westward; but from the beginning of May to
the end of October, the anchorage is secure; and there is little to
apprehend from north-west winds after the middle of March, or before the
middle of November; but the standing regulations of the Dutch company
were, that until the first of May their vessels should lie under the
north-east end of Pulo Samow, about five miles from Coepang; although
Babao Road on the north side of the bay, of which Dampier speaks, was
said to be a more secure and convenient anchorage. The commander of the
American ship Hunter had gone under Samow, because he found the Dutch
brig there; and although assured there was almost nothing to be
apprehended in the bay, he feared to come up till encouraged by our
This ship was upon a trading speculation, and the commander was buying
here sandel wood and bees-wax. For the best kind of wood he paid twenty
dollars per picol, for the inferior sort thirteen, and seven dollars for
the refuse; and bees-wax cost him twenty-five dollars. Upon all these he
expected to make three hundred per cent. at Canton, besides the advantage
of paying for them with cutlasses, axes, and other iron tools, at an
equally great advance; he reported, however, that iron was still more
valuable at Solor, Flores, and the neighbouring islands; and that
supplies of fresh provisions were more plentiful. The usual profits of
trade here, seemed to be cent. per cent. upon every exchange; and this
the commander of the Hunter proposed to make many times over, during his
voyage. At Solor he had bought some slaves for two muskets each, which
muskets he had purchased at the rate of 18s. in Holland, at the
conclusion of the war; these slaves were expected to be sold at Batavia,
for eighty, or more probably for a hundred dollars individually, making
about thirty capitals of the first price of his muskets. If such
advantages attend this traffic, humanity must expect no weak struggle to
accomplish its suppression; but what was the result of this trading
voyage? That the commander and his crew contracted a fever at Diely, and
nearly the whole died before they reached Batavia.
Spanish dollars were rated at 5s. 4d. according to the Dutch company's
regulations, but their currency at Coepang was sixty stivers or pence;
whence it arose that to a stranger receiving dollars, they would be
reckoned at 5s. 4d. each, but if he paid them it was at 5s. Besides
dollars, the current coins were ducatoons, rupees, and doits, with some
few gold rupees of Batavia; but the money accounts were usually kept in
rix dollars, an imaginary coin of 4s.
I made many inquiries concerning the Malay trepang fishers, whom we had
met at the entrance of the Gulph of Carpentaria, and learned the
following particulars. The natives of Macassar had been long accustomed
to fish for the trepang amongst the islands in the vicinity of Java, and
upon a dry shoal lying to the south of Rottee; but about twenty years
before, one of their prows was driven by the north-west monsoon to the
coast of New Holland, and finding the trepang to be abundant, they
afterwards returned; and had continued to fish there since that time. The
governor was of opinion, that the Chinese did not meet them at
Timor-laoet, but at Macassar itself, where they are accustomed to trade
for birds nests, trepang, sharks fins, etc.; and it therefore seems
probable that the prows rendezvous only at Timor-laoet, on quitting
Carpentaria, and then return in a fleet, with their cargoes.
The value of the common trepang at Canton, was said to be forty dollars
the picol, and for the best, or black kind, sixty; which agrees with what
I had been told in Malay Road, allowing to the Chinese the usual profit
of cent. per cent. from Macassar to their own country.
About ten days before our arrival, a homeward-bound ship from India had
touched at Coepang; and had we been so fortunate as to meet with her, it
might have enabled me to put in execution the plan I had formed of
sending an officer to England, and returning to the examination of the
north and north-west coasts of Terra Australis. This plan was now
frustrated; and the sole opportunity of writing to Europe was by captain
Johnson, who expected to sail for Batavia in May, and promised to forward
our letters from thence. I committed to his care an account of our
examinations and discoveries upon the East and North Coasts, for the
Admiralty; with the report of the master and carpenter upon the state of
the ship, and the information I had obtained of the trepang fishery.
Our supplies for the ship, procured at Coepang, were rice, arrack, sugar,
and the palm syrup called _gulah_; with fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables
during our stay, and for ten days afterwards. The animal food consisted
of young _karabow_, a species of buffalo, and of small pigs and kids; the
karabow being charged at eight, the pigs at five, and kids at two rix
dollars each. Vegetables were dear and not good, and for many of the
fruits we were too early in the season; but cocoa-nuts, oranges, limes,
bananas, and shaddocks were tolerably plentiful. Tea, sugar candy, and
some other articles for our messes, were purchased at the little shops
kept by the Chinese-Malays; and poultry was obtained along-side by
To judge from the appearance of those who had resided any length of time
at Coepang, the climate is not good; for even in comparison with us, who
had suffered considerably, they were sickly looking people. Yet they did
not themselves consider the colony as unhealthy, probably from making
their comparison with Batavia; but they spoke of Diely, the Portuguese
settlement, as very bad in this respect. Captain Baudin had lost twelve
men from dysentery, during his stay at Coepang, and I found a monument
which he had erected to his principal gardener; but it was even then
beginning to decay.
The _latitude_ of our anchorage, three-fifths of a mile to the north of
Fort Concordia, was 10 deg. 8' 2" from seven meridian altitudes of the sun;
but these being all taken to the north, I consider it to be more
correctly, 10 deg. 81/2' S.
_Longitude_ of the anchorage and fort, from fifty four sets of lunar
distances, of which the particulars are given in Table VII. of the
Appendix No. I., 123 deg. 35' 46" E.
Lieutenant Flinders took altitudes from the sea horizon, between April 1
p.m. and 8 a.m., for the rates of the time keepers; the mean of which,
with the errors from mean Greenwich time at noon there on the last day of
observation, were as under:
Earnshaw's No. 543, slow 2h 57' 14.56", and losing 16.73", per day,
Earnshaw's No. 520, fast 1h 57' 19.28", and losing 33.99", per day;
the rate of No. 543 differing only 0.2" from that with which we had left
Caledon Bay. The longitude given by this time keeper on April 1, p.m.,
with the Caledon rate, was 123 deg. 39' 8.4" east, or 3' 22" more than the
lunars; and when the Caledon rate is accelerated, the difference is only
2' 31/2" east. This quantity, if the longitudes of Caledon and Coepang Bays
be correct, is the sum of the irregularities of No. 543, during the
fifty-one days between one station and the other. The time keeper No. 520
had been let down on the passage, and its rate being now more than 3"
greater than at Caledon Bay, its longitude was not attended to at this
In laying down the coasts and islands of Arnhem's Land, the bearings and
observed latitudes were used, with very little reference to the time
keepers; but No. 543, when corrected, did not differ so much from the
survey as 1' in twenty-five days. The rest of the track, from Wessel's
Islands to Coepang, is laid down by this time keeper with the accelerated
rate, and the application of a proportional part of 2' 31/2", its
irregularity during fifty-one days.
_Variation_ of the surveying compass, 0 deg. 46' west, observed when the
ship's head was E. S. E., or corrected to the meridian, 0 deg. 37' east; but
this variation seems to apply only to Coepang Bay; for about two degrees
to the eastward it was 1 deg. 4' west, corrected, and one degree to the
south-west it was 1 deg. 41' west.
The flood _tide_ comes from the southward, through Samow Strait, and
rises from three to nine or ten feet; high water usually took place as
the moon passed under and over the meridian, but the winds make a great
difference both in the time and rise of the tide.
Departure from Timor.
Search made for the Trial Rocks.
Anchorage in Goose-Island Bay.
Interment of the boatswain, and sickly state of the ship's company.
Escape from the bay, and passage through Bass' Strait.
Arrival at Port Jackson.
Losses in men.
Survey and condemnation of the ship.
Plans for continuing the survey;
but preparation finally made for returning to England.
State of the colony at Port Jackson.
[FROM TIMOR. TOWARDS CAPE LEEUWIN.]
FRIDAY 8 APRIL 1803
(Atlas, Plate XVI.)
When we stretched out of Coepang Bay on the 8th of April, the wind was
light from the westward; in the afternoon we tacked towards Pulo Samow,
hoping that a canoe seen under the land might have the two deserters on
board; but this not being the case, they were given up. At six in the
evening, when we stood off, the town of Coepang bore S. 60 deg. E., six or
seven miles, and the north point of Samow distant one mile, with the
north-west extremity behind it, S. 70 deg. W. In this situation the depth was
74 fathoms, and soon afterwards 130 did not reach the bottom.
During the night the breeze veered to the south and eastward, and in the
morning [SATURDAY 9 APRIL 1803] to north-east, and we coasted along the
west side of Samow, four or five miles off, without getting soundings; it
is woody, hilly land, but not mountainous, and toward the south end is
quite low. A woody islet, called Tios in the charts, lies off the
south-west point, which is the sole thing like danger on the west side of
Samow; but the tides run strong here, and make ripplings which at first
alarm, from their great resemblance to breakers.
SUNDAY 10 APRIL 1803
It was evening on the 10th before we had any regular wind; it then sprung
up from the southward, and at six, when we made sail,
Samow, north-west point, bore N. 48 deg. E.
Tios, dist. 5 miles, the south extreme, S. 60 E.
Rottee, furthest visible parts, S. 511/2 deg. E. to 18 W.
The island Sauw, or Savu came in sight to the westward next morning
[MONDAY 11 APRIL 1803], and also a small isle called Douw or Dowa, lying
off the west end of Rottee; at noon, when our latitude was 10 deg. 37' 22"
and longitude 122 deg. 351/2',
Savu bore from the mast head, N. 76 deg. to 88 deg. W.
Rottee, furthest visible parts, S. 84 to 45 E.
Dowa, distant ten miles, S. 35 to 20 E.
We tried for soundings with 230 fathoms of line, without finding ground;
and it should appear that there is no bottom amongst these islands at any
reasonable depth, unless very near the shores.
The wind was still light; and on the following day [TUESDAY 12 APRIL
1803] we had rain, thunder, and lightning. Savu was seen in a clear
interval towards evening, bearing N. 3 deg. W., and another piece of land,
apparently Benjoar, was perceived from the mast head to the N. N. W.;
this was the last sight we had of these islands, for the breeze freshened
up from the eastward, and at noon next day [WEDNESDAY 13 APRIL 1803] our