Part 4 out of 7
account given of it by the natives, the wombat of the mountains is never
seen during the day, but lives retired in his hole, feeding only in the
night; but that of the islands is seen to feed in all parts of the day.
His food is not yet well known; but it seems probable that he varies it,
according to the situation in which he may be placed. The stomachs of
such as Mr. Bass examined were distended with the coarse wiry grass, and
he, as well as others, had seen the animal scratching among the dry ricks
of sea-weed thrown up upon the shores, but could never discover what it
was in search of. Now the inhabitant of the mountains can have no
recourse to the sea-shore for his food, nor can he find there any wiry
grass of the islands, but must live upon the food that circumstances
present to him.
The annexed representation of this new and curious addition to the
animals of New South Wales was taken from a living subject, which was a
female, and had the characteristic mark which classed it with the opossum
tribe, the pouch or bag for its young.
Cape Barren Island, besides the kangaroo and wombat, is inhabited by the
porcupine ant-eater; a rat with webbed feet; paroquets, and small birds
unknown at Port Jackson, some few of which were of beautiful plumage.
Black snakes with the venomous fangs were numerous upon the edges of the
brush. The rocks toward the sea were covered with fur-seals of great
beauty. This species of seal seemed to approach nearest to that named by
naturalists the Falkland Island Seal.
'In point of animated life nature seems (says Mr. Bass) to have acted so
oddly with this and the neighbouring islands, that if their rich stores
were thoroughly ransacked, I doubt not but the departments of natural
history would be enlarged by more new and valuable specimens than they
ever before acquired from any land of many times their extent.'
The _Norfolk_ proceeds on her voyage
The Swan Isles; why so named
Discover Port Dalrymple
Account of the country within it
Sagacity and numbers of the black swan
Inhabitants; inferior to those of the continent
Range of the thermometer
Pass Table Cape
Three Hummock Island
Proceed to the southward and westward
Leaving Furneaux's Islands, the _Norfolk_ proceeded toward the North
coast of Van Diemen's land; and on the 1st of November she anchored for a
tide at the largest of the Swan isles, two small islands so named by
Lieutenant Flinders, when he was here in the _Francis_, because a
European who belonged to the _Sydney Cove_ had assured him that he
had met with vast numbers of breeding swans upon them.
The isle at which the sloop anchored bore a great resemblance to
Preservation Island, being low, sandy, and barren, but differed from it
in the composition of its rocks, or that substance which formed the basis
of its support. This had not any affinity to granite, nor did Mr. Bass
remember to have seen any of a similar kind upon any part of New South
Wales. It was of various colours, but generally either a light brown, or
a sort of grey. It seemed to be lamellated, but the lamellae were placed
vertically, sometimes radiated with a diameter of four or five feet, and
sometimes they were placed parallel. Upon breaking the stone, the
fracture was vitreous, or like that of glass, and it scintillated on
steel being applied. Rust of iron was visible in several parts, the
stone breaking easily in those parts into plates correspondent to the
length and direction of the rust; but where that was not, it broke with
great difficulty. On the first view, the stone looked like a clay; but as
it produced fire with steel, there must have been a large portion of
flint in it. It appeared to contain iron in rather a large quantity, and
probably some other metallic substances.
Notwithstanding the information given by the European, not a single swan
was found upon the island; but several geese were breeding there, and the
sooty petrel possessed the grassy parts; the swans of the sailor, in this
instance, therefore, turned out to be geese. This bird had been seen
before upon Preservation Island, and was either a Brent or a Barnacle
goose, or between the two. It had a long and slender neck, with a small
short head, and a rounded crown; a short, thick arched bill, partly
covered with a pea-green membrane which soon shrivelled up, and came
away in the dried specimens. Its plumage was, for the most part, of a
dove colour, set with black spots. It had a deep, hoarse, clanging, and,
though a short, yet an inflected voice. In size it was rather less than
our tame geese, and lived upon grass. The flesh was excellent.
Early in the morning of the first of November they left the Swan Isles,
steering to the westward along shore. At nine o'clock the north coast of
Van Diemen's land lay extended from about SE by E to West, the nearest
part of it being distant two and a half or three miles. Its general
trending seemed to be about ESE and WNW with a small island lying off the
western extreme. The shores were chiefly beaches, the front land was of a
moderate height, the back was mountainous. One ridge of mountains that
bore south was very high and rugged, and from the white patches in it was
concluded to be rocky and barren.
If any judgment could be hazarded of the quality of the country, at the
distance the sloop was at, it might be supposed, from the beauty of the
lower head-land, to be somewhat above mediocrity. Extensive tracts of
open ground that come down towards the sea in gradual green slopes were
varied by clumps of wood and large single trees.
A column of smoke that arose some few miles inland, was the only sign of
its being inhabited.
At noon the latitude was 40 degrees 44 minutes 08 seconds, the peak of
Cape Barren Island then in sight. At this time they were two miles to
the westward of the small island, which was low and rocky, lying about
two miles and a half off a sharp, sandy point, with which it was nearly
connected by some lumps of rock that almost closed up the passage.
A long curved line of ripple extended to the northward.
The aspect of the low land here became less pleasing, the mountains
approaching nearer to the sea, and the country appearing to be more
wooded. The coast seemed inclined to a more southerly direction, and the
western extremity, which bore SW by W, appeared broken, like Islands.
At five in the afternoon they anchored two miles and a half to the
westward of the small island, it being calm, and the tide of ebb setting
the vessel to the Northward.
They weighed at nine the next morning with an easterly wind, and steered
in towards a small break that presented itself in the bottom of an
extensive but not deep bay, or rather bight, lying between the two
extremes then in view. The break was not sufficiently distinct to have
justified in itself alone a reasonable supposition of an inlet, but that
it was corroborated by the direction of the ebb tide, which, while the
sloop was at anchor, was observed to come from the SSW or directly out of
the bight, running at the rate of two miles and a half per hour. By noon,
it being ascertained that there was not any inlet, they bore away to the
Westward along the land.
Their distance from the shore did not exceed a mile and a half. The back
country consisted of high hummocky mountains, whose parallel edges were
lying elevated one above another to a considerable distance inland. The
land in front was woody and bushy, of a moderate height, but sandy.
At three in the afternoon they ran through between a sandy point, with
shoal water off it, and two islands. One of these, named Waterhouse Isle,
is between two and three miles in length, rather high, but level, and
covered with large wood. The other is small, low, rocky, and almost bare.
The coast now trended to the SSW the land sloping up gradually from the
sea to a moderate height, with more open than wooded ground, and but
little brush; but the soil appeared sandy, and the grass but thinly
grown. The hummocky mountains still retained their general figure in the
more interior parts.
As they proceeded, the shore no longer preserved any regular line of
direction, but fell back into sandy bights. Hauling off for the night, a
little to the westward of a small rocky and barren island, lying about
four miles from the land, at six o'clock the following morning they came
in with it again, near where they had left it the preceding evening, and
began their course along the shore, which trended to the SSW in an
irregular manner, with a sandy country at its back.
At eleven o'clock they passed within a mile of a high grassy cape, which
is the seaward extremity of a ridge, that, rising up by a gentle ascent,
retreats and joins some chains of lofty mountains. A small rocky island
lay two miles from it to the WSW. At noon the latitude was 40 degrees 55
minutes 25 seconds, and the longitude 147 degrees 16 minutes 30 seconds.
Early in the afternoon a gap in the land situated at the back of a deep
narrow bight, which had for some time attracted attention, began to
assume the appearance of an inlet, which they bore away to examine; and,
after running three miles, they found they had shut in the line of the
coast on each side, and were impelled forward by a strong inset of tide.
Continuing their course for the gap, some back points within the entrance
soon became distinguishable, and the rapidity of the flood tide was
observed to increase with the increasing contiguity of the shores. When
the sloop was on the point of entering the harbour, which appeared to be
fairly open before her, the water shoaled suddenly, and she struck the
ground and lay fast; but fortunately the strong flood in a few minutes
dragged her over into deep water, and shot her into the entrance with
Having advanced within the entrance, the harbour began to expand itself
in a kind of large basin. Its shores were broken into points and
projections, between some of which the great strength of the flood tide
led them to expect it would branch off into arms. The land lying
immediately upon its borders was low, but not flat; well wooded; and
those points near which the sloop passed were clothed with a very unusual
degree of verdure. The sun being down, the vessel was anchored for the
night, and the next day they proceeded with their researches.
They were employed during sixteen days in the examination of this place;
and the result of the observations which were made by Mr. Bass in
different parts of it, and the neighbouring country, are thrown by that
gentleman into one general account.
This harbour, or inlet, which was named by the governor Port Dalrymple,
in compliment to Alexander Dalrymple, esq takes its course from the SE
between two chains of rounded mountains, stretching inland from the sea
with an almost imperceptible increase of elevation; and, after gradually
approximating each other, seemed to unite, at the distance of between
thirty and forty miles, in a body of rugged mountains more lofty than
themselves. These two chains in their relative positions formed an acute
angle, being at their greatest distance asunder, as measured along the
sea coast, only sixteen miles.
Being limited in point of time (twelve weeks having been deemed by the
governor sufficient for the execution of this service), the apprehension
of losing a wind favourable for the prosecution of the principal object
of the voyage, that of sailing through the strait, deterred them from
attempting to reach the head of the river; but it was hardly to be
doubted, that its principal source proceeded from some part near the
point of union of the two chains of mountains. Allowing this supposition,
a great part of its stream must be perfectly fresh; for at the place
where they ended their examination, which was not more than half the
whole supposed distance or length of the river, it had become half fresh
half salt, although its breadth was from half a mile to a mile and a
half, and its depth eight or nine fathoms.
The country which Mr. Bass had an opportunity of observing, was a certain
portion of that lying within the angle formed by the two chains of
mountains, and more especially of the parts which lay contiguous to the
water, rather than of those situated in the vicinity of the chains.
The quality of the ground, taking it in the aggregate, was much superior
to that of the borders of any of the salt water inlets of New South
Wales, Western Port excepted (seen by Mr Bass on his first excursion in
the whale boat). The vegetable mould was, however, found to be of no
great depth, and was sometimes, perhaps advantageously, mixed with small
quantities of sand.
The best of the soil was found upon the sides of sloping hills, and in
the broad valleys between them. Some parts that were low and level had a
wet and peat-like surface, bounded by small tracts of flowering shrubs
and odoriferous plants, that perfumed the air with the fragrance of their
oils.* These retained in general the appearance of those in New South
Wales, while they were in reality very different. The rich and vivid
colouring of the more northern flowers, and that soft and exquisite
gradation of their tints, for which they are so singularly distinguished
hold with those here, but in a less eminent degree. The two countries
present a perfect similarity in this, that the more barren spots are the
most gaily adorned. The curious florist, and scientific botanist, would
find ample subject of exultation in their different researches in Port
[* In this particular they differ from the flowering shrubs of
New South Wales; none or very few of which were ever found, beautiful
as they were in other respects, to possess the smallest particle of
Except in these places, the grass grows not in tufts, but covers the land
equally with a short nutritious herbage, better adapted, possibly, to the
bite of small than of large cattle. The food for the latter grows in the
bottoms of the valleys and upon the damp flats. A large proportion of the
soil promised a fair return to the labours of the cultivator, and a
lesser ensures an ample reward; but the greater part would perhaps be
more advantageously employed, if left for pasturage, than if thrown into
cultivation; it would be poor as the one, but rich as the other.
Water was found in runs more than in ponds, and, though not abundant, was
far from being scarce.
The west side of the river furnishes the largest quantity of the best
ground, because the mountains on that side are at a greater distance than
those on the east. The country lying near the west arm is chiefly rather
flat, and might be converted to many useful purposes, both in agriculture
and in pasturage, for which last it is probably well calculated. If it
should ever be proposed to make a settlement here, this part seems to
merit very particular attention.
The best land seems to be that fine hilly country which lies at the back
of an island named Middle-island; but access to it is not easy on account
of a large shoal extending along its front, which is dry at low water, as
far out as the island itself. The shape of the land is very pleasingly
variegated with hill and valley; the soil is in general a rich black
mould, shallow, and even sometimes a little stony upon the hills, but in
the valleys is of abundant depth and richness. A close coat of grass of a
uniform thickness over-spreads it every where. It appears to be watered
only by swampy ponds, which in many places are at some distance from each
other; but it is hardly to be doubted, that wells sunk in the valleys
would furnish water sufficient for all domestic purposes.
In sailing up the river, the points and shores present an appearance of
fertility that astonishes an eye used to those of the rocky harbours of
New South Wales. They are mostly grassed as well as wooded close down to
the water side, the wood, perhaps, thin; the grass every where thick,
every where a dark luxuriant vegetation, that, either from the thinness
of the wood, or the gradual rounding of the hills and points, is visible
to a very considerable extent of ground.
The tides run so uncommonly rapid, that if the port were colonised, and
the principal town built, as it no doubt would be, near the entrance, the
produce of the villages and farms scattered along its banks might be
brought to market with the greatest ease, expedition, and certainty.
The heavy timber is chiefly gum tree of various species; of which two are
different from any that have been yet seen in this country. Nothing new
was observed in the quality of the wood; but, from the few trees that
were felled, it was thought to be more sound at heart than they are
usually met with. The she oaks were more inclined to spread than grow
tall. The smaller trees and shrubs resemble, with some variety, those of
the continent.* The tree producing the yellow gum is of a very diminutive
size; but, unlike that of Cape Barren island, it bears a reed
correspondent to itself. These were going into flower, and their length
was only from nine inches to two feet.**
[* Mr. Pennant allows its claim to this distinction. Vide Pennant's
'Outlines of the Globe.']
[** This dwarf gum tree is of much use to the natives of New
South Wales, as may be seen by the following distribution of its
properties. The gum from the body of the tree, which they term
Goolgad-ye, is used for repairing their canoes. Of the reed they make a
fiz-gig, which they call Moo-ting. Of the grass or rushes which grow at
the top of the tree, they make torches, named Boo-do. A gum which they
extract from these rushes, and which is named Wangye, they use in
fastening the joints of their spears; and from the centre of the tree
they procure a loathsome worm, which they call Boo-roo-gal, and deem a
great luxury. The tree itself is named Ye-gal.]
The few rocky shores of the river presented nothing remarkable, being
generally either of a rough iron-stone, or a soft grid-stone.
The grey kangaroo of a very large size, abounded in the open forest; the
brushes were tenanted by the smaller black kind, or, as it is named by
the natives of Port Jackson, the Wal-li-bah.
The plumage of the parrots forms a gloomy contrast with the rich lustre
of those near the settlement, their colours being rather grave than gay.
The melancholy cry of the bell-bird (dil boong, after which Bennillong
named his infant child) seems to be unknown here. Many aquatic birds,
both web-footed and waders, frequent the arms and coves of the river; but
the black swans alone are remarkable in point of number. Mr. Bass once
made a rough calculation of three hundred swimming within the space of a
quarter of a mile square; and heard the 'dying song' of some scores; that
song, so celebrated by the poets of former times, exactly resembled the
creaking of a rusty sign on a windy day! Not more than two thirds of any
of the flocks which they fell in with could fly, the rest could do no
more than flap along upon the surface of the water, being either
moulting, or not yet come to their full feather and growth, which they
require two years to attain. They swam and flapped alternately, and went
along surprisingly fast. It was some times a long chase, but the boat
generally tired them out. When in danger, and speed makes no part of
their escape, they immerse their bodies so far, that the water makes a
passage between their neck and back, and in this position they would
frequently turn aside a heavy load of shot. They seemed to be endowed
with much sagacity; in chase they soon learned the weakest point of their
pursuers, and, instead of swimming directly from them, as they did at
first, always endeavoured in the most artful manner to gain the wind,
which could only be prevented by anticipating their movements, and by a
dexterous management of the boat.
The swan is said to feed upon fish, frogs, and water-slugs; but in the
gizzards of many that at different times and in different places were
examined by Mr. Bass, nothing ever appeared but small water plants,
mostly a kind of broad leaved grass, and some little sand. To their
affection for their young he had seen some lamentable sacrifices; but of
their fierceness, at least when opposed to man, or their great strength,
he had seen no instance.
Among other reptiles were found the snake with venomous fangs, and some
large brown guanoes.
This country is inhabited by men; and, if any judgment could be formed
from the number of huts which they met, in about the same proportion as
in New South Wales. Their extreme shyness prevented any communication.
They never even got sight of them but once, and then at a great distance.
They had made fires abreast of where the sloop was at anchor; but as soon
as the boat approached the shore they ran off into the woods. Their
huts, of which seven or eight were frequently found together like a
little encampment, were constructed of bark torn in long stripes from
some neighbouring tree, after being divided transversely at the bottom,
in such breadths as they judge their strength would be able to disengage
from its adherence to the wood, and the connecting bark on each side. It
is then broken into convenient lengths, and placed, slopingwise, against
the elbowing part of some dead branch that has fallen off from the
distorted limbs of the gum tree; and a little grass is sometimes thrown
over the top. But, after all their labour, they have not ingenuity
sufficient to place the slips of bark in such a manner as to preclude the
free admission of the rain. It is somewhat strange, that in the latitude
of 41 degrees, want should not have sharpened their ideas to the
invention of some more convenient habitation, especially since they have
been left by nature without the confined dwelling of a hollow tree, or
the more agreeable accommodation of a hole under the rock.
The single utensil that was observed lying near their huts was a kind of
basket made of long wiry grass, that grows along the shores of the river.
The two ends of a large bunch of this grass are tied to the two ends of a
smaller bunch; the large one is then spread out to form the basket, while
the smaller answers the purpose of a handle. Their apparent use is, to
bring shell fish from the mud banks where they are to be collected. The
large heaps of mussel shells that were found near each hut proclaimed the
mud banks to be a principal source of food. The most scrupulous
examination of their fire places discovered nothing, except a few bones
of the opossum, a squirrel, and here and there those of a small kangaroo.
No remains of fish were even seen.
The mode of taking the opossum seemed to be similar to that practised in
New South Wales*, except that it is probable they use a rope in ascending
the tree; for once, at the foot of a notched tree, about eight feet of a
two inch rope made of grass was found with a knot in it, near which it
appeared to have broken.
[* Vide Vol I Appendix II.]
A canoe was never met with, and concurring circumstances showed
that this convenience was unknown here; nor was any tree ever observed
to be barked in the manner requisite for this purpose; though birds
bred upon little islands to which access might be had in the smallest
canoe. Those made of solid timber seemed to be wholly out of the
question. The roughness of the notches left by the stone hatchet upon
the bark of the trees bore no very favourable testimony to its
excellence. They were rather the marks of a rough than of a sharp-edged
tool, and seemed more beaten than cut, which was not the case with the
marks left by the mo-go, or stone hatchet, of New South Wales.
Hence, from the little that has been seen of the condition of our own
species in this place, it appears to be much inferior in some essential
points of convenience to that of the despised inhabitants of the
continent. How miserable a being would the latter be, his canoe taken
from him, his stone hatchet blunted, his hut pervious to the smallest
shower of rain, and few or no excavations in the rocks to fly to! But
happiness, like every thing else, exists only by comparison with the
stage above and the stage below our own. The circumstances which
occasioned this difference between the people of two countries so near to
each other, and so much alike in their natural productions, must remain
hidden from our observation, until perhaps some permanent European
settlement shall be made in Van Diemen's land.
The range of the thermometer, taken in various parts of the port, was at
night from 49 degrees to 52 degrees, and at noon from 58 degrees to 64
On the 20th of November they left Port Dalrymple with a light breeze at
NE and proceeded very slowly to the westward. At daylight the following
morning, the wind shifted to the W by N which drove them back to
Furneaux's islands, where, the gale continuing at west, they were kept
until the 3rd of December, when they were enabled to proceed to the
westward. The land here trended to the WNW as far as was visible through
the haze, which allowed them only to distinguish that it was high and
uneven. At noon the latitude was 40 degrees 58 minutes, and the longitude
146 degrees 44 minutes. Their progress was slow, and unavoidably at too
great a distance from the shore to form any just idea of the country; but
what was seen of it appeared high and mountainous, the mountains forming
into hummocks and low peaks, to which a few large shapeless knobs added a
great singularity of appearance. On the haze clearing away, and the shore
being distinctly seen, it appeared rocky, but wooded nearly down to the
water's edge. Here and there were seen spaces of open ground, some of
which sloped toward the sea, and had a few large trees growing
irregularly upon them. A remarkable peaked mountain, some few miles
inland, might have been thought, from its shape and height, to have been
once a volcano. A very singular lump of high level, or table land, lay at
a few miles to the westward in the coast line; and at some distance
beyond it, a point appeared with three knobs of land lying off it,
resembling islands. This land was named Table Cape.
To the extreme eastern point of this land, a fine easterly breeze had
brought them at daylight of the 6th; when they found that what they had
on the preceding evening taken to be islands were three lumps or ridges
of the point itself, lessening in bulk as they advanced toward its
seaward extremity. The very uncommon figure of this point may perhaps be
best conceived by comparing it to a spear with several barbs. It was
extremely barren and rocky. Beyond the point, the coast trended more
northerly, but fell back into an extensive bay, with a sandy beach in its
rear. The western point of this bay was formed by a high, steep, and
round bluff, named Circular Head, that might easily be taken for an
island, but was a peninsula. The land behind was of moderate height, and
rose gradually from the sea. It was clothed in a poor coat of either
grass or short brush; among which were seen some dwarf gum trees, that
appeared to be in a sickly and dying state, apparently for want of
sufficient soil to expand in.
Towards noon, soon after passing Circular Head, the outermost land in
sight stretched so far to the northward, that the course to clear it was
NNW. It formed like two hummocks, and in steering for it they were
compelled to leave a large bight unexamined. The coast at its back was
too distant to form any judgment of it, except in the general outline.
Its westernmost part seemed broken and intersected, like islands and
gaps; but, as the wind blew fresh and directly into it, they passed on.
Nothing new presented itself on the following day, but some small flights
of sooty petrels.
On the 8th, being threatened with a gale, they came to anchor under the
land, off a small beach on its NE part, where the SW wind could not
molest the vessel. Here Mr. Bass landed to examine the country, but found
it impenetrable. The tall sturdy brush wood grew so close that their dogs
could hardly make their way through it. Large patches appeared to have
been burnt many months ago, but the small brush and creeping vines only
were destroyed; the closeness of the blackened saplings were still
irresistible. A few starved gum trees erected their sickly heads above
the brush, and the whole wore an aspect of poverty which the sandy soil
confirmed. And yet this place was inhabited by men, as was shown by the
old fire places strewed round with shells of the sea ear. The rocks were
composed of quartz, probably a species of granite, but much unlike that
which formed Furneaux's Islands.
Leaving this place on the 9th, they steered for the outermost land in
sight, which bore to the southward of west, and was distant three or four
leagues. After rounding the seaward end of the land under which they had
anchored, its shores fell back, and at last discovered to them that it
was an island of from fifteen to twenty miles in circuit, and situated
between four and five from the main. It was with the greatest
astonishment that they recollected the fire places and sea shells which
they had the preceding evening seen upon the island. That the inhabitants
of this part of Van Diemen's land should possess canoes capable of
crossing over four or five miles of open sea, while those of Port
Dalrymple were without any, seemed highly improbable. The island itself
was certainly unequal to the maintenance of any settled inhabitants, and
yet there were unequivocal vestiges of men upon it. Long and frequent
reflection upon facts in themselves so contradictory had never produced
any rational solution of the difficulty. This island took the descriptive
name of Three Hummock Island.
For several hours during the early part of the morning, a vast stream of
sooty petrels issued from the deep bight which had been left unexplored,
and passed the vessel on their way to the westward. There must have been
some millions of birds. Thence they were well assured there was at least
one island in that bight, if not more than one, as they had imagined.
Having passed within a mile of a pointed part of the main, which in
height and starved vegetation very much resembled Three Hummock island,
towards noon they came up with some land, which proved to be a small
island, high and very steep; and a long swell, which had just before made
its first appearance, broke violently upon it, making a furious surf on
all sides. Its summit was whitened over with birds. With some difficulty
a landing was effected at the foot of a chasm filled up with loose
stones; and, after a slight rencontre with some seals that stood above,
they reached the top. The birds they found were albatrosses innumerable.
The spread of their wings was from seven to nine feet. Their colour was
more white than black, and the appearance of their visitors did not
occasion much disturbance among them, even when they approached close to
them. This was the season of their breeding. The females sat upon nests
not more than a foot and a half apart, built of muddy earth, bound with
coarse grass, raised about four inches from the ground, and formed into a
concavity of nearly that depth, with a diameter of five or six inches.
One young bird only was in each nest: it was of the size of a small
pullet, but at that time covered with a beautifully white down. The
shapeless lump at some distance resembled a ball of cotton. Some nests
held an addled egg of a dingy white colour, and equal in size to that of
a goose. The nests were so near each other, and the birds so conscious of
the great strength of their sharp bills, that in going through them the
voyagers were obliged to make use of their seal clubs, to procure
themselves a passage. Even the young ones spouted plentiful mouthfuls of
a not inodorous oil upon them.
The island, which obtained the name of Albatross Island, was a mere mass
of stone, without any other vegetation than a few tufts of coarse grass.
Besides albatrosses, it afforded shelter to a few scores of hair seals,
and the large gull. The latitude was 40 degrees 24 minutes, the longitude
145 degrees 02 minutes.
Several other islands were seen to the southward, and the coast of the
main seemed trending in the same direction. A deep bight lay at the back
of these islands, with points and openings visible in its most distant
part. There was reason to believe, that the sea here had a communication
through into the unexplored bight to the eastward of Three Hummock
Island; in which case the pointed part of the main, whose vegetation bore
so great a resemblance to that of Three Hummock island, would also be an
island. They passed sufficiently near to determine that they were high,
steep, and difficult of access. Their tops and sloping parts were grown
over with either coarse grass or short brush; but not any trees appeared.
The largest might be seven or eight miles in circuit, the smaller were
mere masses of rock of various sizes; and the whole cluster, in number
about twelve, including Three Hummock Island, obtained the name of
A fresh gale at ENE and a heavy swell from the SW drove the vessel fast
to the southward and westward; and on the 11th, the gale having
moderated, they stretched in for the land, a large extent of which was
indistinctly visible through a light haze that hung about the horizon. At
noon the latitude was 41 degrees 13 minutes, and the longitude 148
degrees 58 minutes. With a fresh breeze at NNE they bore away along the
shore, which trends to the SE by E and was distant three or four miles.
From a shore of beach, with short rocky points at intervals, the land
rose gradually to a considerable height, the aspect of which was barren
and brushy, and the soil sandy. Several short reefs of rocks lay in front
of the beaches, and broke the long swell into a surf of a tremendous
Dreading a gale of wind from the west, which was threatening, and might
have proved fatal to their little vessel, they hauled out to the SSW; but
the weather remained moderate.
On the following morning the wind flew round to the northward, and they
continued their route along the shore. Early in the forenoon they passed
a singularly formed point, with a number of lumps of rock lying some two
or three miles off it to the SW. It resembled an artificial pier, or
mole, with warehouses upon it, and a lighthouse on the end next the
water. Large masses of detached oblong rocks gave the appearance of
warehouses, and a remarkably long one standing upon its end, that of the
Their latitude at noon was 42 degrees 02 minutes and the longitude 145
degrees 16 minutes; the coast still trended to the SSE and the land began
to change that uniformly regular figure which it had hitherto preserved.
It was becoming mountainous and uneven, but was still barren.
The _Norfolk_ passes the strait
Proceeds to the southward
Passes the S. W. Cape; and S. Cape
Remarks on the latter
De Witt's Isles
Storm Bay Passage
Frederick Henry Bay
Enter the Derwent river, first seen in the ship _Duke_, of Bengal
Observations on the Derwent
Some natives seen
Particulars of one
One destroys itself
Comparison between New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land
Arrive at Port Jackson
Advantages of the strait
Mr. Bass and his fellow voyager, Lieutenant Flinders, did not hesitate
now to think that they had passed through the strait, and from the
Pacific had entered the southern Indian ocean; for what within the extent
of a vast sea could give birth to the monstrous swell that was rolling in
before their eyes? and the coast was evidently trending towards the SW
Mr. Bass says (with all the feeling and spirit of an explorer), that 'he
already began to taste the enjoyment resulting from the completion of
this discovery, which had been commenced in the whale-boat, under a
complication of anxieties, hazard, and fatigue, known only to those who
conducted her;' modestly sharing the praises, to which he alone was
entitled, with those who accompanied him.
It was worthy of remark (Mr. Bass says), that the northern shore of the
strait from Wilson's Promontory (seen in the whale-boat) to Western Port
resembled the bluff bold shore of an open sea, with a swell rolling in,
and a large surf breaking upon it; while the southern shore, or what is
the coast of Van Diemen's land, appeared like the inner shore of a
cluster of islands, whose outer parts break off the great weight of the
sea. The cause of this is immediately obvious, on recollecting that the
swell of the Indian ocean enters the strait from the southward of west.
The greater part of the southern shore lies in a bight, whose western
extreme is Hunter's Isles, and the NW Cape of Van Diemen's land. Now as
the swell comes from the southward, as well as the westward, it must,
after striking upon the northwest part of the southern shore, evidently
run on in a direction somewhat diagonal with the two sides of the strait,
until it expands itself upon the northern shore, where both swell and
surf are found. But to the southward of this diagonal line the swell must
quickly take off, and totally disappear, long before it can reach the
shore to make a surf. Hence arises the difference.
That the swell of the Indian ocean comes, by far the greater part of the
way, from the southward of west, can hardly be doubted, since it is well
known that the prevailing winds are from that quarter.
Early in the afternoon (of the 11th) a piece of land stood out from the
line of the coast like an island, but it was soon found to be joined to
the main by a sandy beach. The shore beyond it looked rugged and craggy,
and the land equalled the most sterile and stoney that had been seen. At
night the vessel stood off to the westward from abreast of a pyramidal
rock lying close to the main. At daylight the following morning, they
came in again with the land at the same place, and ran along the shore
with a fresh breeze at NW, the coast trending in a waving line to the SSE.
Towards noon the coast began to rise into chains of lofty mountains,
which ran along in nearly the same line as the coast. The latitude was 43
degrees 07 minutes, the longitude 145 degrees 42 minutes. A large smoke
that got up astern of the vessel was the first sign of inhabitants that
had been seen upon this west coast, the appearance of which was miserably
On the morning of the 13th they found that they had been carried in the
night to leeward of a break in the land, which had been seen the
preceding evening, and had the appearance of being the entrance to a
harbour. The north point of this imaginary inlet was named Point
St. Vincent. The coast here trended to the eastward, the land of which
was mountainous and steep to the sea. Some islands were in sight ahead,
lying near the land.
At 8 in the evening they passed the SW cape of Van Diemen's land,
hitherto known as that of New Holland. It is a narrow piece of land,
projecting from the higher land at no great distance, with two flattish
hummocks, that gave it some little resemblance to the Ram Head near
Plymouth. Having passed the Cape, they hauled up, and went between the
islands, which are De Witt's Isles, and the main. At sunset they were
about a mile and a half from the South Cape.
The south west and south Capes lie nearly east and west of each other,
and are distant about fifteen leagues. The intermediate coast forms the
southern boundary of Van Diemen's land; but if taken upon the more
extensive scale of the whole southern hemisphere, it appears, as the
south point of New Holland, to be of equal respectability with the
extremity of Terra del Fuego, and of the Cape of Good Hope, the south
points of the continents of America and Africa.
The relative situations of these three points, when viewed upon
a chart drawn on the plane of the equator, or upon an artificial globe,
are particularly striking. They will be found to lie at nearly equal
distances from each other in the circumference, and each extending
itself so directly towards the south, that, if continued on in the
same line, they would certainly meet somewhere near the pole. The effect
that is produced upon the whole globe, by this peculiar disposition of
three of its most prominent points, seems indeterminable.
Like that of Terra del Fuego, the extremity of Van Diemen's land presents
a rugged and determined front to the icy regions of the south pole; and,
like it, seems once to have extended further south than it does at
present. To a very unusual elevation is added an irregularity of form,
that justly entitles it to rank among the foremost of the grand and
wildly magnificent scenes of nature. It abounds with peaks and ridges,
gaps and fissures, that not only disdain the smallest uniformity of
figure, but are ever changing shape, as the point of view shifts. Beneath
this strange confusion, the western part of this waving coast-line
observes a regularity equally remarkable as the wild disorder which
prevails above. Lofty ridges of mountain, bounded by tremendous cliffs,
project from two to four miles into the sea, at nearly equal distances
from each other, with a breadth varying from two miles to two and a half.
The bights or bays lying between them are backed by sandy beaches. These
vast buttresses appear to be the southern extremities of the mountains of
Van Diemen's land; which, it can hardly be doubted, have once projected
into the sea far beyond their present abrupt termination, and have been
united with the now detached land, De Witt's Isles.
If a corresponding height of similar strata was observable on the islands
and on the main, it would amount to a proof that they were originally
connected; but this proof was wanting. The same kind of strata appeared
in both; but, as far as could be determined in passing hastily by, the
necessary correspondence seemed to be deficient. They did not land upon
either the islands or the main; but two kinds of rock, one with strata
and the other without, were plainly discernible. That without strata
formed by far the largest part; it appeared whitish and shining, was
certainly a quartz, and probably a granite. The layers of the rock with
strata were of various dark colours, and perfectly distinct.
It was evident, that land so much exposed to the violence of extensive
oceans must have undergone some very material changes, by the incessant
attrition of their vast waves. Two of the isles, either from this or a
more sudden cause, have so far deviated from their centre, that their
parallel strata form angles of between sixteens and eighteen degrees in
one instance, and in another between twenty-five and thirty degrees, with
the horizontal line. But it is difficult to explain, by the action of
water, how a large block of the white stone without strata is caused to
overhang an almost perpendicular corner of one of the islands, which
beneath that block consists of the dark coloured stone lying in strata.
De Witt's Isles, (so named, probably, by Tasman) twelve in number, are of
various sizes. The two largest are from three to four miles in circuit.
Their sides are steep, but their height is inferior to that of the main.
The largest is the lowest. The smaller isles are little more than large
lumps of rock, of which that named by Captain Cook the mew stone is the
southernmost. Their aspect, like that of the main, bespeaks extreme
sterility; but, superior to the greater part of it, they produce a
continued covering of brush; and upon the sloping sides of some of their
gullies are a few stinted, half dead gum trees.
They could not account for the vestiges of fires that appeared upon the
two inner large islands; the innermost in particular, which lay at some
distance from the nearest point of the main, was burnt in patches upon
different parts of it. It must have been effected either by lightning, or
by the hand of man; but it was so much unlike the usual effects of the
former, that, with all its difficulties, they chose to attribute it to
the latter cause.
A great smoke that arose at the back of one of the bights showed the main
to be inhabited; but they could not suppose the people of this place to
be furnished with canoes, when those of Adventure Bay, in their
neighbourhood, were unprovided with them. Nothing, therefore, was left to
their choice, but to allow that they might transport themselves over,
either upon logs of wood, or by swimming across: and, as the most
probable reward of such an exertion would be the capture of birds, whilst
breeding, or the seizure of their eggs, the utility of spreading fires in
facilitating such operations is obvious.
The south cape may be easily distinguished from any other projection in
its vicinity. Besides being the southernmost, it is a promontory making
like a foreland, and sloping very gradually as it runs towards the sea,
where it ends in a perpendicular cliff.
About sunset the fresh NW wind died away suddenly; and a strong squall
from the westward, with thunder, lightning, and heavy rain, soon carried
them round the south cape, and, by dark, brought them off what was
formerly called Storm Bay, where they hauled to the wind with the sloop's
head up the bay, intending, in the morning, to proceed by this Storm Bay
passage into the Derwent river.
The night was squally, and by day light the next morning (the 14th), it
was found that the vessel had drifted across the mouth of Storm Bay, or
more properly Storm Bay Passage. Tasman's Head, its eastern point, bore
NE distant three miles. Being too far to leeward to fetch up the passage,
and the gale continuing, they bore away round Tasman's Head, and hauled
up along shore for Adventure Bay.
Nothing remarkable was observed about Tasman's Head, except two
small islands lying off it, at the distance of half or three quarters
of a mile; and close to them were the two conical basaltic rocks
named by Captain Furneaux the Friars. The vegetation upon the inner
most of the two small islands had been burnt in a manner similar to that
on the De Witt's isles. If it were possible to account for those fires in
any other way than by the agency of man, it would be more satisfactory,
than to suppose that people, always believed to be without canoes, had
crossed over from a rather steep and rocky head, to an island equally
rocky, but more steep.
Having passed Fluted Cape, a fine piece of basalt, and Penguin island,
they fetched up under Cape Frederick Henry, the north point of Adventure
Bay; but, as the wind blew strong directly off it, and the sloop was
light and leewardly, they bore away round the Cape Frederick Henry,
hauling upon the north side of it into the bay of that name, purposing to
go into the Derwent river, discovered a few years since by Mr. Hayes,
master of the ship _Duke_, of Bengal: but, finding that they were
likely to lose ground by tacking, they stood into Henshaw's bay (so named
by Hayes), and were greatly surprised to find that, instead of its being
a mere shallow bight, as laid down in Mr. Hayes's chart, it extended many
miles to the northward. The whole now bears the name of Frederick Henry
Bay; that given by Hayes is lost. In this very extensive bay they
remained a week, traversing and measuring various parts of its shores.
The surrounding country was found to be miserable, presenting but very
little that was fit even for pasturage, and none good enough for
cultivation, except near a shallow lagoon on the west side, on the border
of which were seven or eight hundred acres of low ground, of a black
mould, rather sandy, which might be cultivated with great advantage.
Contiguous to the best part, was a large fresh water swamp, overgrown
with reeds and bulrushes.
In the evening of the 21st they entered the mouth of the Derwent.
In passing between two islands, the heads of the seaweed, which, from its
size, is named the Gigantic, were showing themselves above the surface in
six or eight fathoms water: a diminutive plant when compared with those
of the kind seen in higher latitudes, but of vast magnitude in comparison
with the generality of seaweeds.
On their various movements in the Derwent, Mr. Bass is silent, confining
his narrative to a general account of what he learned and saw of the
If the Derwent river have any claim to respectability, it is indebted for
it more to the paucity of inlets into Van Diemen's land, than to any
intrinsic merits of its own. After a sleepy course of not more than
twenty-five or twenty-seven miles to the NW it falls into Frederick Henry
Bay. Its breadth there is two miles and a quarter, and its depth ten
fathoms. A few hundred yards above its mouth, it is joined, on the west
side, by the Storm Bay Passage, and this union makes an island of that
slip of land which is Adventure Bay. This island, the Derwent river, and
the Storm Bay Passage, were the discovery of Mr. Hayes, of which he made
a chart; wherein it was found, by the minute examination of the whole
scene which it now underwent, that the smallest runs had been magnified
into rivers, and coves into bays and ports. Such glaring errors could not
be suffered to exist; but the name, where it was possible, was retained,
though the geographical term was necessarily altered.
This dull lifeless stream, the Derwent, is so little affected by the
tides, that its navigation is extremely tedious with a foul wind. It
takes its way through a country that on the east and north sides it
hilly, on the west and north mountainous. The hills to the eastward arise
immediately from the banks; but the mountains to the westward have
retired to the distance of a few miles from the water, and have left in
their front hilly land similar to that on the east side. All the hills
are very thinly set with light timber, chiefly short she oaks; but are
admirably covered with thick nutritious grass, in general free from brush
or patches of shrubs. The soil in which it grows is a black vegetable
mould, deep only in the valleys, frequently very shallow, with
occasionally a small mixture of sand or small stones. Many large tracts
of land appear cultivable both for maize and wheat, but which, as pasture
land, would be excellent.
The hills descend with such gentle slopes, that the valleys between them
are extensive and flat. Several contain an indeterminate depth of rich
soil, capable of supporting the most exhausting vegetation, and are
tolerably well watered by chains of small ponds, or occasional drains,
which empty themselves into the river by a cove or creek.
One mountain to the west, lying about three miles from the water, and so
remarkably conspicuous as to be seen from every part of the Derwent and
its vicinity, Mr. Bass ascended; and he was much surprised to find it
abounding with fine tall gum-tree timber uncommonly straight.
The shore on the east side of the river, proceeding up, is covered with a
good but shallow soil, and lightly wooded; cultivable for the greater
part with any kind of grain, and the whole fit for pasturage, though,
perhaps, not sufficiently watered for large cattle which require much
On the west side the country rises too suddenly into stony hills to be in
general so good as in most other places. It would, however, afford
tolerable pasturage; and a few patches of eighty or one hundred acres
each were excellent arable land.
The shore here, as in many other parts of the river, exhibited signs of
internal or subterraneous disturbance. The strata of cliffs were broken
and disjoined, lying sloping in different directions. Near a small point
several pieces of petrified wood, and lumps of stone of every kind and
every size, were enveloped, or rather stuck into the matter of the rock,
which, although in colour much like a yellow tinged clay, yet had the
usual rough porous surface peculiar to substances that have been in a
state of fusion. It was here, as in other places, hard, but did not
scintillate with steel, and was divided, by lines of a still harder
iron-tinged stone, into squares and parallelograms of various sizes. From
one of these intersecting lines, Mr. Bass took a small lump of this
ferruginous stone, that seemed to have bubbled up, and to have hardened
in the form of an ill-shaped bunch of small grapes. Some of the
neighbouring cliffs, for several yards, were formed into basaltic
In walking across one of the steep heads between two small bays, he met
with a large deep hole in the ground, that appeared to have been
occasioned by the falling-in of the earth which had formerly occupied its
space. Its extent was about twenty-two yards by seventeen; its depth
perhaps sixty feet. The sides were not excavated, but rather smooth and
perpendicular. They were rocks of the same yellow tinge as those of the
shore. A little surf that washed up within it showed a communication with
the river, by a narrow subterraneous passage of some ten or sixteen feet
in height, and, according to the distance of the hole from the edge of
the cliff, about thirty-five yards in length. Appearances seemed to
agree, that the period at which this earth fell in could not be very
Continuing on the west side from Point William to Shoal Point (places
named by Mr. Hayes), the land is too stony upon the hills for
cultivation, but is proper for pasturage. The valleys are, as usual,
adapted to grain.
The land round Prince of Wales's Cove is rather level, and frequently
clayey: the worst of it produces excellent food for cattle, even up to
the foot of the high mountain lying at its back. Being a stiff close
soil, it is perhaps adapted to the growth of grape vines, rather than of
grain. About three hundred acres of open ground, called by Mr. Hayes King
George's Plains (could this have been in derision?) seem well calculated
for this purpose, and for this only.
The land at the head of Risdon creek, on the east side, seems preferable
to any other on the banks of the Derwent. The creek runs winding between
two steep hills, and ends in a chain of ponds that extends into a fertile
valley of great beauty. For half a mile above the head of the creek, the
valley is contracted and narrow; but the soil is extremely rich, and the
fields are well covered with grass. Beyond this it suddenly expands, and
becomes broad and flat at the bottom, whence arise long grassy slopes,
that by a gentle but increasing ascent continue to mount the hills on
each side, until they are hidden from the view by the woods of large
timber which overhang their summits. With this handsome disposition of
the ground, the valley extends several miles to the SE in the figure of a
small segment of a circle. The tops of its hills, though stony, produce
abundance of tall timber, which, as it descends the slopes, diminishes in
size, and thins off to a few scattered she oaks and gum trees,
interspersed with small coppices of the beautiful flowering fern.
The soil along the bottom, and to some distance up the slopes, is a rich
vegetable mould, apparently hardened by a small mixture of clay, which
grows a large quantity of thick, juicy grass, and some few patches of
Herdman's Cove, (so named by Lieutenant Flinders from the surrounding
country) above Risdon Creek, has a large tract of good pasture land lying
at its head. The country, which is unusually thin of timber, is finely
rounded into grassy hills of various moderate ascent. The soil consists
of more brown earth than black vegetable mould; upon the sides and tops
of the hills, it is frequently stony; but in some of the valleys rich and
fine, and capable of profitable cultivation. A chain of ponds
intersecting the hills afforded an almost continual stream of fresh water
into the head of the Cove.
As it was not supposed that the sloop could proceed above Herdsman's
Cove, Mr. Bass and his companion went up the river in her boat, imagining
that one tide would enable them to reach its source; but in this they
were mistaken, falling, as they believed, several miles short of it.
Where the returning tide met them, the water had become perfectly fresh;
the stream was two hundred and thirty yards in breadth, and in depth
three fathoms. It was wedged in between high grassy hills that descended
to the river upon a quick slope, and had a grand appearance. But the only
cultivable land that they saw was some few breaks in the hills, and some
narrow slips that were found at their foot close to the water's side.
In their way up, a human voice saluted them from the hills; on which they
landed, carrying with them one of several swans which they had just shot.
Having nearly reached the summit, two females, with a short covering
hanging loose from their shoulders, suddenly appeared at some little
distance before them, snatched up each a small basket, and scampered off.
A man then presented himself, and suffered them to approach him without
any signs of fear or distrust. He received the swan joyfully, seeming to
esteem it a treasure.
His language was unintelligible to them, as was theirs to him, although
they addressed him in several of the dialects of New South Wales, and
some few of the most common words of the South Sea islands. With some
difficulty they made him comprehend their wish to see his place of
residence. He pointed over the hills, and proceeded onwards; but his pace
was slow and wandering, and he often stopped under pretence of having
lost the track; which led them to suspect that his only aim was to amuse
and tire them out. Judging, then, that in persisting to follow him they
must lose the remaining part of the flood tide, which was much more
valuable to them than the sight of his hut could be, they parted from him
in great friendship.
The most probable reason of his unwillingness to be their guide seemed,
his not having a male companion near him; and his fearing that if he took
them to his women, their charms might induce them to run off with them--a
jealousy very common with the natives of the continent.
He was a short, slight made man of a middle age, with a countenance more
expressive of benignity and intelligence than of that ferocity or
stupidity which generally characterised the other natives; and his
features were less flattened, or negro-like, than theirs. His face was
blackened, and the top of his head was plastered with red earth. His
hair was either naturally short and close, or had been rendered so
by burning, and, although short and stiffly curled, they did not think
it woolly.* He was armed with two ill made spears of solid wood.
[* Mr. Raven, on his return to England in the _Buffalo_, putting into
Adventure Bay, close by where this man was seen, cut off some undoubted
wool from the head of a native that he fell in with there. This
circumstance was unknown to Mr. Bass.]
No part of their dress attracted his attention, except the red silk
handkerchief round their necks. Their fire arms were to him objects
neither of curiosity nor fear.
This was the first man they had spoken with in Van Diemen's land, and his
frank and open deportment led them not only to form a favourable opinion
of the disposition of its inhabitants, but to conjecture that if the
country was peopled in the usual numbers, he would not have been the only
one whom they would have met. A circumstance which corroborated this
supposition was, that in the excursions made by Mr. Bass into the
country, having seldom any other society than his two dogs, he could have
been no great object of dread to a people ignorant of the effects of fire
arms, and would certainly have been hailed by any one who might have seen
They fell in with many huts along the different shores of the river, of
the same bad construction as those of Port Dalrymple, but with fewer
heaps of mussel shells lying near them. The natives of this place,
probably, draw the principal part of their food from the woods; the bones
of small animals, such as opossums, squirrels, kangaroo rats, and
bandicoots, were numerous round their deserted fire-places; and the two
spears which they saw in the hands of the man were similar to those used
for hunting in other parts. Many trees also were observed to be notched.
No canoes were ever seen, nor any tree so barked as to answer that
purpose. And yet all the islands in Frederick Henry Bay had evidently
Besides the small quadrupeds already mentioned, they observed the grey
and red kangaroo, but not in any numbers, and once they heard the tread
of an emu.
The feathered tribes were apparently similar to those of Port Dalrymple.
Here again they daily ate their swan, the flocks of which even exceeded
those that they had before met with.
The most formidable among the reptiles was the black snake with venomous
fangs, and so much in colour resembling a burnt stick, that a close
inspection only could detect the difference. Mr. Bass once, with his eyes
cautiously directed towards the ground, stepped over one which was lying
asleep among some black sticks, and would have passed on without
observing it, had not its rustling and loud hiss attracted his attention
the moment afterwards.
He determined on taking him alive, in order to try the effect of his bite
upon a hawk which was at that time in the sloop. In the contest, he
turned round and bit himself severely; in a few minutes after which he
was mastered. His exertions, however, were still vigorous, and Mr. Bass
expected, as he began to recover himself, that they would increase; but
in less than ten minutes he died. Having never before known a snake of
this size to be killed by a few very slight blows with a stick so rotten
as scarcely to bear the weight of its own blow, he was at a loss to
conceive how death had so suddenly succeeded so much vigour in an animal
so tenacious of life. Was it possible that his own bite could have been
the cause? When, three hours afterwards, the skin was stripped off, the
flesh for some distance round the marks of his teeth, was found inflamed
The account of the Derwent river being now closed, and the whole of what
was learned of Van Diemen's land related, it may not be improper, says
Mr. Bass, to point out the manner in which this country and New South
Wales appear to differ in their most essential quality, that of their
In adjusting their comparative fertility, the contrasted disposition of
their soils is much more prominent than any inequality in their quantity.
They are poor countries; but, as far as the eye of discovery has yet
penetrated into either, the cultivable soil of the latter is found lying
in a few distinct patches of limited extent, and of varying quality;
while the soil of the former, being more equally spread, those spots of
abundant richness, or large wilds of unimproveable sterility, are much
less frequently seen.
Although Van Diemen's land seems to possess few or none of those vast
depths of soil with which the happiest spots of New South Wales are
blessed; yet it seldom sickens the heart of its traveller with those
extensive tracts which at once disarm industry, and leave the warmest
imagination without one beguiling project.
In point of productive soil Mr. Bass gives the preponderance to Van
In one particular, which to the inhabitants of a civilized country is of
the utmost importance, both countries are but too much alike: each is
amply stored with water for the common purposes of life; but deficient in
those large intersections of it which, in other more fortunate countries,
so much facilitate the operations of man, and lead commerce to the door
of even the most inland farmer.
Two rivers only, Port Dalrymple and the Derwent, are known to descend
from Van Diemen's land; and by Point St Vincent possibly there may be a
third. But two rivers, or even three, bear but a scanty proportion to the
bulk of the island.
On the 3rd of January they left the Derwent, and proceeded to the
northward, coasting the east side of Frederick Henry Bay, which was for
the most part high and steep to the sea. The figure of the shore, between
what is now called Cape Basaltes and Cape Pillar, exhibited one of those
great works of nature which seldom fall to excite surprise: it was all
basaltic. The cape is a vast high wedge, which projects into the sea,
surmounted by lofty single columns.
After passing Cape Pillar, some islands came in sight to the northward;
but they did not fetch them, owing to the wind hanging in that quarter.
On the following day, they reached within five or six miles of one of
them, which in its general appearance bore some resemblance to Furneaux's
Islands. This group must be either Maria's or Schouten's islands, or
both; but it was not determined to which they belonged.
On the 7th, having until that day had but indistinct views of the land,
they saw Cape Barren Island. They did not pass through the channel, or
passage, which divides Furneaux's islands, but discovered why Captain
Furneaux named the place the Bay of Shoals.
Early on the morning of the 8th they were among the islands lying off the
Patriarchs. They were three in number; the largest of which was high,
rocky, and barren, with a basis of granite, which, like that of
Preservation Island, laid scattered about in large detached blocks.
Mr. Bass landed upon the outermost, and found it well inhabited. The
various tribes had divided it into districts. One part was white with
gannets, breeding in nests of earth and dried grass. Petrels and penguins
had their underground habitations in those parts of the island which had
the most grass. The rocks of the shore, and blocks of granite, were
occupied by the pied offensive shag and common gull; geese, red-bills and
quails, lived in common, and the rest was appropriated to the seals, who
seemed to be the lords of the domain. Mr. Bass remarked with surprise,
that though the principal herd scampered off like sheep, as is usual on
the first approach, yet the males, who possessed a rock to themselves,
where they sat surrounded by their numerous wives and progeny, on his
drawing near them, hobbled up with a menacing roar, and fairly commenced
the attack, while the wives seemed to rest their security upon the
superior courage and address of their lord; for, instead of retreating
into the water in the utmost consternation, they only raised themselves
upon their fore fins, as if ready for a march, keeping their eye upon
him, and watching the movements of his enemy.
The seal is reckoned a stupid animal; but Mr. Bass noticed many signs of
uncommon sagacity in them; and was of opinion that, by much patience and
perseverance, a seal might be trained to fish for man; in which there is
nothing, at first sight, more preposterous than the attempt to make a
hawk his fowler.
The seal appeared to branch off into various species. He did not
recollect to have seen them precisely alike upon any two islands in the
strait. Most of them were of that kind called by the sealers hair seals;
but they differed in the shape of the body, or of the head, the situation
of the fore fins, the colour, and very commonly in the voice, as if each
island spoke a peculiar language.
Having collected as much stock as was necessary, they stood to the
northward, and on the 12th reached Port Jackson.
On delivering the account of this voyage to the governor, he named the
principal discovery, which was the event of it, Bass Strait, as a tribute
due to the correctness of judgment which led Mr. Bass, in his first visit
in the whale boat, to suppose that the south-westerly winds which rolled
in upon the shores of Western Port, could proceed only from their being
exposed to the Southern Indian Ocean.
The most prominent advantage which seemed likely to accrue to the
settlement from this discovery was, the expediting of the passage from
the Cape of Good Hope to Port Jackson; for, although a line drawn from
the Cape to 44 degrees of south latitude, and to the longitude of the
south Cape of Van Diemen's land, would not sensibly differ from one drawn
to the latitude of 40 degrees, to the same longitude; yet it must be
allowed, that a ship will be four degrees nearer to Port Jackson in the
latter situation, than it would be in the former. But there is, perhaps,
a greater advantage to be gained by making a passage through the strait,
than the mere saving of four degrees of latitude along the coast. The
major part of the ships that have arrived at Port Jackson have met with
NE winds on opening the sea round the South Cape and Cape Pillar, and
have been so much retarded by them, that a fourteen days' passage to the
port is reckoned to be a fair one, although the difference of latitude is
but ten degrees, and the most prevailing winds at the latter place are
from SE to S in summer, and from WSW to S in winter. If by going through
Bass Strait these NE winds can be avoided, which in many cases would
probably be the case, there is no doubt but a week or more would be
gained by it; and the expense, with the wear and tear of a ship for one
week, are objects to most owners, more especially when freighted with
convicts by the run.
This strait likewise presents another advantage. From the prevalence of
the NE and easterly winds off the South Cape, many suppose that a passage
may be made from thence to the westward, either to the Cape of Good Hope,
or to India; but the fear of the great unknown bight between the South
Cape and the SW Cape of Lewen's land, lying in about 35 degrees south and
113 degrees east, has hitherto prevented the trial being made. Now the
strait removes a part of this danger, by presenting a certain place of
retreat, should a gale oppose itself to the ship in the first part of the
essay; and should the wind come at SW she need not fear making a good
stretch to the WNW, which course, if made good, is within a few degrees
of going clear of all. There is besides King George the Third's Sound,
discovered by Captain Vancouver, situate in the latitude of 35 degrees 03
minutes south, and longitude 118 degrees 12 minutes east; and it is to be
hoped, that a few years will disclose many others upon the coast, as well
as the confirmation or futility of the conjecture*, that a still larger
than Bass Strait dismembers New Holland.
[* To verify or confute this conjecture, Lieutenant, now Captain
Flinders (from whose journal these observations on the advantages
of the strait are taken), has lately sailed in his Majesty's ship
_Investigator_. He is accompanied by several professional men of
great abilities, selected by that liberal and distinguished patron of
merit Sir Joseph Banks, from whose exertions, joined with those of the
commander, navigation and natural history have much information and
gratification to expect. The _Investigator_ is to be attended by the
_Lady Nelson_, a small vessel of fifty tons burden, built under the
inspection and according to the plan of that truly respectable and
valuable man, and scientific officer, Commissioner Schank, whose
abilities are too well known to require any eulogium from this pen.]
The vessel that has the credit of having first circumnavigated Van
Diemen's land was built at Norfolk Island, of the fir of that country,
which was found to answer extremely well. Being only five-and-twenty tons
in burden, her comforts and accommodation must have been very
inconsiderable, but great when compared with those which could have been
found in a whale boat. Yet in a whale boat did Mr. Bass, as has been
already shown, run down the eastern coast of New South Wales from Port
Jackson to the entrance of the strait. Captain Flinders has not the
gratification of associating this gentleman with him in his present
expedition, he having sailed on another voyage and a different pursuit.
Information from Norfolk Island
A burglary committed
The criminal court assembled
A man tried for killing a native
Two men executed
The public gaol burnt
Stills ordered to be seized
Settlers, their profligacy
A man found dead
A flood at the river
Two whalers arrive
Conduct of the labouring convicts
A seaman killed
A woman murdered by her husband
A Spanish prize arrives
Resources in New South Wales
We must now return to the other concerns of the settlement, from which we
have been so long absent.
Some pleas of debt having been decided by the civil magistrates, to
relieve them from that duty, and enable them to attend to that only of
the justice of the peace, an order was issued, declaring that such pleas
belonged to the court of civil jurisdiction solely, as was clearly
expressed in the letters patent for establishing that court; but they
were at the same time requested to use their utmost endeavours, as far as
their influence as magistrates could be effectual, in recommending the
settling of trifling debts by arbitration, and thereby prevent much
Agricultural concerns wore as unpromising an appearance in this as in the
last month. The governor, in a visit which he made to Parramatta, found
that the pasture over the whole country had been entirely burnt up; in
consequence of which the grazing cattle were in great distress; and, from
the lamentable continuance of the drought, the maize was every where
likely to fail: a misfortune that would ruin the stock of hogs, and
reduce the settlement considerably in the article of bread.
That he might ascertain what quantity of grain he had to depend on, all
those who cultivated ground were directed to give in by a certain time a
return of the wheat and other grain in their possession.
By the _Diana_ whaler, which arrived from Norfolk Island, information
was received, that the wheat harvest had been more productive there than
usual; but the maize was likely to fall short from a similar want of rain.
Wheat at this time bore a high price in Norfolk Island, the settlers who
had raised refusing to sell it, on account of the high rate of wages, at
less than fifteen shillings per bushel.
On the night of the 24th, the acting commissary's house was broken into,
and robbed of articles to a considerable amount. The thieves appeared to
have got in at the office window, and loosened the bricks of a partition
wall; by which opening they got into the store-room, and, forcing the
locks off the chests and trunks, carried away every thing that they could
One evil among others which attended the frequent arrival of ships in the
port was, the ready market which these plunderers found for disposing of
their stolen goods; the seamen not hesitating to become the purchasers on
leaving the place.
The criminal court of judicature was assembled at the close of the month;
when one man, a sergeant of the New South Wales corps, was condemned for
forgery, but recommended to the governor's mercy by the court; another
was condemned for a burglary, and a third sentenced to receive a severe
corporal punishment, for having shot a native (man) at Botany Bay. Could
the evidence of some of these people have been taken, it was supposed
that he would have been capitally convicted, in which case he would
certainly have suffered, the governor being determined to put that
article of his Majesty's instructions in force, which, in placing these
people under the protection of the British Government, enjoined the
punishing any injury done to their persons or property, according to the
degree and nature of the offence.
When this man was brought out to be punished, several of the natives were
assembled for the purpose; and he received in their presence as much of
his sentence as he could bear, they witnessing his sufferings with the
most perfect indifference.
The weather was exceedingly hot during the whole of January.
February.] Deplorable was the catalogue of events that presented itself
in this month: executions, robberies, and accidents.
On the 8th a prisoner, who had been condemned to die by the last court,
suffered the sentence of the law. The recollection of his untimely end,
and his admonitions from the fatal tree, could not have departed from the
minds of those who saw and heard him, when another court sent another
offender to the same tree and for the same crime. Samuel Wright had been
once before respited at the gallows. On the morning of his execution, the
wretched man attempted to cut his throat; but as he only very slightly
wounded himself, it may be supposed that he merely hoped, by delaying the
execution, to gain time to effect an escape.
Before this court, was brought part of a nest of thieves, who had lately
stolen property to the amount of several hundred pounds; but none of them
were capitally convicted, being sentenced either to be transported to
Norfolk Island, or corporally punished.
It might be supposed, that these executions and punishments would have
operated as a check to the commission of offences; but they appeared to
be wholly disregarded, and enormity had not yet attained its full height.
On the night of the 11th, between the hours of eleven and twelve, the
public gaol at Sydney, which cost so much labour and expense to erect,
was set on fire, and soon completely consumed. The building was thatched,
and there was not any doubt of its having been done through design. But,
if this was the fact, it will be read with horror, that at the time there
were confined within its walls twenty prisoners, most of whom were loaded
with irons, and who with difficulty were snatched from the flames.
Feeling for each other was never imputed to these miscreants; and yet if
several were engaged in the commission of a crime they have seldom been
known to betray their companions in iniquity.
To complete this catalogue of offences, a few days after, some Irish
convicts, with their faces blackened, attacked the house of an
industrious man (one of the missionaries), whom they severely wounded in
several places and plundered of all his property.
Were it not evident that certain punishment awaited the conviction of
offenders, it might be supposed that a relaxation of the civil authority
had begotten impunity; but far otherwise was the fact: the police was
vigilant, the magistrates active, and the governor ever anxious to
support them, and with incessant diligence endeavouring to establish good
order and morality in the settlement. But, such was the depravity of
these people, from the habitual practice of vice, that they were become
alike fearless of the punishments of this or of the world to come.
Notwithstanding the settlement had before it the serious prospect of
wanting grain, and the consequent destruction of much useful stock, it
was known that several people had erected stills, and provided materials
for the purpose of distilling spirituous liquors; a pernicious practice
which had long been forbidden by every officer who had had the direction
of the colony. Former orders on this subject were now repeated, and
persons of all descriptions were called upon to use every means in their
power, in aid of the civil magistrate, to seize and destroy such stills
and materials as they might find.
Presuming on the late inefficient harvest, the settlers requested again
to be supplied with seed wheat from the store, but were refused. It was
well known, that they sold for spirits, to the last bushel of their crop,
and left their families without bread. Then they pleaded poverty and
distress, and their utter inability to repay what they had borrowed. When
seed has been lent them, they have not infrequently been seen to sell it
at the door of the store whence they had received it!
On the last day of the month a man belonging to the military was found
dead, sitting upright against the outside of the barrack paling. It was
known, that he had been much intoxicated the preceding night; and it was
supposed that, being unable to reach his hut, he had sat himself down,
and, falling asleep, passed from this life without a struggle.
The great drought and excessive heat had affected the water. Such ponds
as still retained any were reduced so very low, that most of them were
become brackish, and scarcely drinkable. From this circumstance, it was
conjectured, that the earth contained a large portion of salt, for the
ponds even on the high grounds were not fresh. The woods between Sydney
and Parramatta were completely on fire, the trees being burnt to the
tops, and every blade of grass was destroyed.
To defeat as much as possible the intentions of those who were concerned
in setting fire to the gaol, a strong and permanent building of stone,
with very substantial walls, was begun in this month, and was well
calculated to defy every such attempt in future.
March.] The dry weather which had so long prevailed, to the great
detriment of the cultivated and pasture grounds, was succeeded by rain
for two or three days, which greatly refreshed the gardens that were
nearly wholly burnt up, and every where revived the perishing vegetation.
At the Hawkesbury, however, an accident occurred, which, although not so
ruinous to the colony at large as the drought, proved most destructive to
the settlers in that district. This river suddenly, and in the course of
a very few hours, swelled to the height of fifty feet above its common
level, and with such rapidity and power as to carry every thing before
it. The government store-house, which had been erected at the first
settling of this part of the country, was not out of the reach of this
inundation, and was swept away, with all the provisions that it
contained. Many of the inhabitants were taken off from the ridges of
their houses, by a few boats which they fortunately had among them, just
in time to save their lives; for most of the dwellings were inundated,
and the whole country appeared like an extensive lake. Many hogs, other
live stock, poultry, with much of the produce of the last unfortunate
harvest, and the domestic effects of the people, were hurried away by the
torrent. Fortunately only one life was lost.
This was a most serious calamity; and, no cause having appeared to
indicate an approaching overflow of the river, the settlers were not
prepared for such a disaster. It was said, that the natives foresaw it,
and advised the inhabitants; but this wanted confirmation. If true, the
trait was a favourable one. There could, however, be no doubt, that,
unperceived by our people, a heavy fall of rain had taken place in the
interior of the country, among the mountains, and which, from the parched
state of the land for such a length of time, had in no part been
absorbed, but ran down the sides of the hills, as from mountains of solid
rock, filling all the low grounds, and branches of the river, which,
being in form suddenly serpentine, could not give vent so fast as the
It was hoped and believed, that this uncommon inundation would, in the
end, prove highly beneficial to the grounds so overflowed, causing them
for a season or more to produce with such abundance as to recover the
loss which the sufferers had sustained. In a few days this extraordinary
collection of water had found its way to the sea, and, the river
regaining its usual level, the settlers set about new cropping their
grounds; for which purpose they made application for seed wheat, that
certainly could not be refused; their other application, for bedding and
clothing, it was not so easy to comply with, from the poverty of the
public stores in these articles.
This fertile spot had, in some seasons, produced from fifteen to twenty
thousand bushels of wheat, and might justly be termed the granary of New
To relieve the inhabitants in some degree from the contemplation of these
distresses, the _Rebecca_, a whaler, came into the Cove from the
Cape of Good Hope, bringing authentic accounts of Lord Nelson's memorable
and brilliant victory over the French fleet at the mouth of the Nile.
This decisive battle was announced to the settlement in a public order,
and by a discharge of all the artillery in the colony.
The master of the _Rebecca_, having brought out a few articles for
sale, chartered the _Nautilus_ to take them to Norfolk island,
thinking to find a better market for them there than at this place, where
the late unsuccessful harvest had neither filled the granary of the
public nor the pocket of the settler. She sailed with this cargo in the
course of a few days.
On the 9th, the _Britannia_ whaler came in from sea, to repair some
damages which she had sustained in bad weather. She had been rather
successful in her fishery, having procured twenty-five tons of spermaceti
oil since her departure; and the master reported, that, had the weather
been more moderate, he should have been enabled to have more than half
filled his ship.
The criminal court was only once assembled during this month; when one
man was condemned to death for a burglary, and another* transported for
fourteen years to Norfolk Island.
[* This man, Isaac Nichols, an overseer, had been accused of
receiving stolen goods; but from some circumstances which occurred on the
trial, the sentence was respited until his Majesty's pleasure could be
The civil court was also assembled for the decision of private causes, in
which it was engaged during a week.
Among other public works in hand were, the raising the walls of the new
gaol, laying the upper floor of the wind-mill, and erecting the churches
at Sydney and Parramatta. Most of these buildings did not advance so
rapidly as the necessity for them required, owing to the weakness of the
public gangs; and indeed scarcely had there ever been a thorough day's
labour, such as is performed by a labouring man in England, obtained from
them. They never felt themselves interested in the effect of their work,
knowing that the ration from the store, whatever it might be, would be
issued to them, whether they earned it or not; unlike the labouring man
whose subsistence, and that of his family, depends upon his exertions.
For the individual who would pay them for their services with spirits,
they would labour while they had strength to lift the hoe or the axe; but
when government required the production of that strength, it was not
forthcoming; and it was more to be wondered, that under such
disadvantages so much, rather than that so little, had been done. The
convicts whose services belonged to the crown were for the most part a
wretched, worthless, dissipated set, who never thought beyond the present
moment; and they were for ever employed in rendering that moment as easy
to themselves as their invention could enable them.
Of the settlers and their disposition much has been already said. The
assistance and encouragement which from time to time were given them,
they were not found to deserve. The greater part had originally been
convicts; and it is not to be supposed, that while they continued in that
state their habits were much improved. With these habits, then, they
became freemen and settlers; the effect of which was, to render them
insolent and presuming; and most of them continued a dead weight upon the
government, without reducing the expenses of the colony.
These expenses were certainly great, and had been considerably increased.
The settlement was at this time much in want of many necessary articles
of life; and when these were brought by speculators and traders who
occasionally touched there, they demanded more than five hundred per cent
above what the same articles could have been sent out for from England,
with every addition of freight, insurance, etc. They saw the wants of the
colony, and availed themselves of its necessities.
April.] On the first of this month the criminal court sat for the trial
of a soldier belonging to the regiment, who had a few days before stabbed
a seaman of the _Reliance_, who insulted him when sentinel at one of
the wharfs at Sydney. The man died of the wound; the soldier, being
called upon to answer for his death, proved to the satisfaction of the
court, that it had been occasioned by the intemperance of the seaman, and
he was accordingly found to have committed a justifiable homicide.
This accident was the effect of intoxication, to which a few days after
another victim was added, in the person of a female, who was either the
wife or companion of Simon Taylor, a man who had been considered as one
of the few industrious settlers which the colony could boast of. They had
both been drinking together to a great excess; and in that state they
quarrelled, when the unhappy man, in a fit of madness and desperation,
put an untimely end to her existence. He was immediately taken into
custody, and reserved for trial.
To this pernicious practice of drinking to excess, more of the crimes
which disgraced the colony were to be ascribed than to any other cause;
and more lives where lost through this than through any other
circumstance; for the settlement had ever been free from epidemical or
fatal diseases. How much then was the importation of spirits to be
lamented! How much was it to be regretted, that it had become the
interest of any set of people to vend them!
Several robberies which at this time had been committed were to be
imputed to the same source.
A new enemy to agriculture made its appearance in this month. A
destructive grub-worm was discovered in several parts of the cultivated
ground; and at the Hawkesbury a caterpillar had commenced its ravages
wherever it found any young grain just shooting out of the earth. This
occasioned some delay in sowing the government ground.
It having been for several days reported, that the crews of two boats,
which had been permitted to go to Hunter's River for a load of coals, had
been cut off by the natives, the governor ordered his whale boat to be
well armed, and to proceed thither in quest of the boats and their crews;
sending in her Henry Hacking, a person on whom he could depend. Upon his
return, he informed the governor, that on his arrival he found an attempt
had been made to burn the smaller boat, which had had three men in her,
who were each provided with a musket. The boat was there, but the men
were not to be found. Going immediately in search of them, he fell in
with a large body of natives all armed. On desiring them to inform him
what was become of the white men, they told him they were gone to Sydney.
This did not satisfy him, as he found they had taken away the sails of
the boats, the men's blankets, and every thing that they had with them.
He then threatened to kill them if they did not instantly inform him, and
presented his musket at them. This they laughed at, and said, that if he
did not go away, and leave them a small two-oared boat which he had
brought with him, and the whale boat, they would destroy every white man
there, and poised their spears in a threatening manner. He again levelled
his piece at them, and snapped it without priming, in the hope of
alarming them; but they were not so easily frightened, and became most
noisy and violent. Finding that an attack was almost certain, he charged
his gun with buck shot, and ordered them to leave the place; but, their
clamour increasing, he fired, and four of them fell, one of whom got up
again and ran off, the other three remaining upon the ground, probably
mortally wounded. The whole body disappeared, and no more was seen of
them, leaving Hacking to fill his boat and effect his retreat unmolested.
Our people having frequently visited this river for coals, and always
treating with kindness and civility the natives whom they met, this
behaviour was not to be accounted for, except by its being allowed that
all savages are under the dominion of a sudden impulse; which renders it
impossible to know when to trust them.
As the men belonging to the boat were not heard of for a considerable
time, it was feared they had been murdered by the natives; but they
fortunately reached the settlement safe.
On the morning of the 24th, the _Nautilus_ returned from Norfolk
Island, and with her came in a Spanish ship, a prize to two whalers,
which they had captured off Cape Blanco on the coast of Peru. She was
bound from Lima to Guiaquill.
A court of vice-admiralty having been assembled, she was condemned as a
legal prize, and part of her cargo* was in a few days sold by public
[* This consisted of sugar, flour, and an ardent spirit similar
to the _aqua ardente_ of the Brazils. The governor would not allow
this article to be sold by auction.]
This was a new circumstance in the annals of the settlement, and wore the
appearance of rendering it of more consequence than it had hitherto been.
Did it not go to prove, that at some future period, in the event of a
Dutch or Spanish war, it might become a place of much importance, by
offering a reception to the prizes of our cruisers, a court whereat they
could be condemned, and a market for their cargoes?
Two days afterwards the _Norfolk_ returned from Norfolk Island,
where the maize harvest had entirely failed, owing to the long drought
which had prevailed there.
Every year's experience proved, that this island never would be of the
utility which might be expected from the very great expense that was
incurred on its account. It was probable, that this expense had not been
adverted to in England; for all the bills drawn there were sent to New
South Wales to be consolidated into bills upon the treasury; by which
means the expenses of the principal settlement appeared to be far more
considerable than in fact they were. The boast of its containing timber
and flax fit for naval purposes, sufficient to construct and equip a
navy, falls to the ground, when it is considered that the whole island
does not contain a single harbour, cove, or inlet, fit to shelter a boat,
much less a ship; but that it is surrounded by a dangerous coral reef,
which has proved the loss of one King's ship, and many lives. Besides,
the soil of New South Wales produces timber and flax perfectly calculated
for all naval purposes, and in sufficient abundance. The single advantage
that this island presents is, as has been mentioned before, its proving a
place of punishment to such notorious offenders in the seat of government
as there escape the gallows; and for this purpose a small civil and
military establishment might be maintained at a much less expense than
If an idea may be hazarded, Van Diemen's Island holds out in every
respect a more advantageous spot for a settlement, than this parched,
unattainable island; and were it not for the expense already incurred
there, it would be advisable to remove the whole of that settlement
thither; where, from the account given by Captain Flinders, and Mr. Bass,
they would be as likely to remain unmolested by natives as they are at
Norfolk Island, and would possess the superior benefits of a temperate
climate and capacious harbour.
In addition to the advantages likely to be obtained in New South Wales by
the culture of the flax plant, the breed of sheep had been considerably
improved by crossing the smaller Bengal with the larger Cape sheep. The
fleece produced from this mixture was excellent; and a specimen of
woollen cloth fabricated of it was sent to England. One end of a web of
linen, wove from the wild flax of the country, was crossed with a thread
spun from the bark of a tree; and a web from that bark was crossed, in
the specimen sent home, by a thread of wool. All these were made under
many difficulties; but they answered the purpose of showing what might be
done, with proper tools, at a future period. There was not any doubt, but
that the flax plant would considerably improve by cultivation; and the
manufacture of woollens promised to be of great benefit to the
settlement, whenever a sufficiency of the raw materials was collected.
Necessity has been long known as the parent of resources, and the poverty
of the public stores in the article of clothing had prompted these
experiments of the wool, the flax, and the bark.
The discovery of the vast strata of coal must be reckoned among the new
lights thrown upon the resources of the colony. The facility that this
presents in working the iron ore* with which the settlement abounded,
must prove of infinite utility whenever a dock-yard shall be established
here; and the time may come, when the productions of the country may not
be confined within its own sphere.
[* Some of this iron ore, which has been smelted in England, has been
reported to be equal, if not superior, to Swedish iron.]
In addition to other public works already in hand, the governor directed
a piece of ground, consisting of about seventy acres, and three-miles
distant from Sydney, to be inclosed for the use of the stock in that
The foundation of the walls of a government house at Parramatta was laid,
and the sowing the public wheat grounds begun; but, through want of
labouring people, less was sown this than in the last year.
The weather had been in general moderate and seasonable.
The _Buffalo_ arrives from England, and brings cattle from the Cape
A marine settler killed
A criminal court held
A highway robbery
Provisions in store
June, two whalers come in from sea
Ideas of a whale-fishery
The _Albion_ whaler arrives from England
July, a missionary murdered
The murderers tried and executed
State of the farms
The _Hillsborough_ arrives from England
Mortality on board
May.] On the third day of this month his Majesty's ship _Buffalo_
arrived from England, but last from the Cape of Good Hope, whence she
brought sixty-six head of cattle, which, considering the length of the
voyage, were landed in good condition. She had also on board some tools
and articles of hardware for the use of the colony; but, unfortunately,
no bedding or clothing of any kind.
This ship arrived under the command of Mr. William Raven, whose services
to the colony in the private ship _Britannia_ cannot easily be
forgotten; and was sent out to replace the _Supply_, which had been
condemned as unserviceable, and whose commander, Lieutenant William Kent,
was with her officers and crew to be removed into the _Buffalo_; the
governor being directed to furnish Mr. Raven with a passage to England.
Although this ship was named the _Buffalo_, yet her head was the
carved figure of a kangaroo, which very much amused the natives, who
could have had no idea of seeing the animals of their country represented
Some of these people, ever hostile to the settlers, had lately speared
one of them, a marine settler (as those were styled who had formerly
belonged to the marine detachment) at George's river, so effectually,
that he died of his wounds. The natives belonged to the tribe of which
Pe-mul-wy was the leader.
Savage as these beings certainly were toward our people, and to each
other, yet they could unbend, and divert themselves with the softer
amusements of singing and dancing. The annexed engraving represents a
party thus occupied, and gives a correct view of their persons and
manners. The figure leaning upon his shield, the attitude of the women
dancing, and the whole group, are accurate delineations of a party
assembled by the light of a fire at the mouth of one of their excavated
It might be supposed, that with this exercise, and the company of their
females, their angry and turbulent passions would be at rest, and that
the idea of murder could not enter their minds; yet have they been known
to start away, in search of some unsuspecting object of their revenge or
hatred, who before the morning has received a dozen spears through his
body: and this is man in his uncultivated state!
Several offenders having been secured for trial, it became necessary to
assemble the court of criminal judicature; and on the 16th Simon Taylor
was brought before it, accused of the murder of his wife; of which
offence being clearly convicted, he received sentence of death, and was
executed on the 20th at Parramatta. This unhappy man was thoroughly
sensible of the enormity of his guilt, and in his last moments admonished
the spectators against indulging in drunkenness, which had brought him to
that untimely and disgraceful end.
At the same court, one man, Robert Lowe, was adjudged corporal
punishment, and one year's hard labour, for embezzling some of the live
stock of Government, which had been entrusted to his care. He was a free
man, and had been one of the convicts who were with Captain Riou in the
_Guardian_, when her voyage to New South Wales was unfortunately
frustrated by her striking upon an island of ice; on account of which,
and of their good conduct before and after the accident, directions had
been given for their receiving conditional emancipation, and being
allowed to provide for their own maintenance. Few of these people,
however, were in the end found to merit this reward and indulgence, as
their future conduct had proved; and this last act of delinquency pointed
out the necessity of a free person being sent out from England to
superintend the public live stock, with such an allowance as would make
him at once careful of his conduct, and faithful in the execution of his
It should seem that the commission of crimes was never to cease in this
settlement. Scarcely had the last court of judicature sent one man to the
gallows, when a highway robbery was committed between the town of Sydney
and Parramatta. Three men rushed from an adjoining wood, and, knocking
down a young man who was travelling to the last mentioned town, rifled
his pockets of a few dollars. On his recovering, finding that only one
man remained, who was endeavouring to twist his handkerchief from his
neck, he swore that no one person should plunder him, and had a struggle
with this fellow, who, not being the strongest of the two, was secured
and taken into Parramatta. A court was immediately assembled for his
trial; but the evidence was not thought sufficient to convict him, and he
was consequently acquitted. The want of any corroborating circumstance on
the part of the prosecutor compelled the court to this acquittal.
A quantity of fresh pork having been for some time received into the
store, there were found at this period six months salt provisions
remaining; which, without this supply would have been all consumed, and
the colony left without animal food, save in the article of live stock, a
resource on which it could not have been prudent to have touched as a
supply, except in a case of the last necessity.
Every encouragement was given to the curing of pork upon Norfolk Island;
but the casks in which the salt meat was sent from England were in
general so extremely feeble by the time they arrived, that scarcely one
in a hundred was fit for that purpose a second time. Could any timber,
fit for this use, have been found in the country, yet a supply of hoops
and salt pans would have been necessary; and, unless it was cured in the
winter season, and the method observed by Captain Cook was practised at
Norfolk island, it remained a doubt whether it could be accomplished to
any considerable extent.
The price of fresh pork having been raised in consequence of the failure
of the late harvest, as a temporary relief to those who had suffered by
that misfortune, the commissary was, at the close of this month, directed
to return to the price formerly established, viz nine-pence per pound.
The state of the public stores with respect to salt provision having been
carefully examined, it became necessary to make a small reduction of the
ration in time, in order to prevent a greater. It was accordingly
ordered, that the following proportions should be issued, per man per
Beef 5 pounds
Pork 3 pounds
Wheat 12 pounds
Sugar 6 ounces
and this they were informed was not to continue longer than the arrival
of a storeship with a supply of salted provision.
The commissary was also directed to issue to such men as might be
entitled, as much blue gurrah (an East India article not much better than
bunting) and thread as would make a frock and a pair of trousers, and a
proportion to the women and children. These gurrahs had been brought from
India in some of the speculative voyages to this country, and were now
found useful in covering the nakedness of the people.
By the arrival of the _Buffalo_, the governor at length had it in
his power to inform those people who had been convicted in Ireland, and
by the laws of that kingdom had been transported to New South Wales, that
he had received from thence a correct statement of the several sentences
of those who had been brought in the _Queen_; and an assurance, through the
secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, that the lists of those who had been
sent out since that period should be forwarded by the next vessel which
might sail from Ireland for this colony.
Those, therefore, who were remaining alive of the convicts received by
the _Queen_, might learn the extent of their conviction, by applying
at the commissary's office. Such as might appear to have been sent out
for life were told they need not despair of being, in due time, again the
masters of their own labours; as every one must have seen, that a decent,
orderly, industrious and obedient conduct, had frequently recommended
many of their description to public favour.
June.] On the 2nd of this month, the _Diana_ and _Eliza_
whalers came in to refit, and to refresh their crews. They had each
procured about twenty-five tons of spermaceti oil since they left the
port, and had spoke the _Britannia_, which had been more successful,
she having, in all, one hundred and ten tons of oil on board.
About this time the _Indispensable_ sailed on her fishing voyage.
This ship had been careened and completely repaired in the Cove.
From the experience of the masters of these whalers, there was every
reason to believe, that ships resorting hither, properly fitted for the
variable weather which they are liable to meet with upon the coast, would
most certainly succeed. The ships that had arrived, in general, were not
prepared for the weather of this ocean, but were fitted for the more
certain and serene skies of the coast of Peru; which occasioned their so
frequently running into port to refit. In this, such assistance as the
colony could supply was always readily afforded them; and it might be
worthy the attention of the houses of Messrs. Champion, Enderby, and
others, owners of ships in the whale fishery, to establish a depot or
warehouse at Sydney, well supplied with naval stores, where their
business could be transacted by their own people, and their ships
refitted with their own materials.
If try-pots were fixed at some convenient place near the entrance of the
harbour, and many such offer, where their warehouse might also be
established, the fishing ground not being far from the coast, might not a
ship run in with the whale in blubber, leave it to be tried out, and in
the mean while put to sea in quest of more? If any time would be saved by
this mode of proceeding, it surely would be worth adopting; but of this
these gentlemen must be the better judges.
In the evening on the fourth of June, which had been observed as His
Majesty's birthday with every demonstration of loyalty and respect, the
weather became very tempestuous, and continued for three days blowing a
heavy gale from the southward, attended with a deluge of rain; by which
several buildings belonging to Government, which had been erected with
great labour, were much damaged; among others, was unfortunately the
tower of the new mill at Sydney, of which the roof was fitting. The
south-side of this building was so much injured, that it became necessary
to take the whole down; which was done, and the foundation laid a second
This gale having subsided, it returned about the middle of the month,
blowing again from the southward with increased violence, and attended
with another deluge of rain. In its effects it was more destructive than
the preceding, doing much damage to various public and private buildings.
The south side of the church tower was entirely destroyed, but the clock
was saved. The Government house at Parramatta, which was nearly finished,
received some material injury, but was not wholly destroyed. A man, in
crossing a gully between Sydney and Parramatta, was, in attempting to
ford it, carried away by the violence of the torrent, and drowned. The
cattle suffered much, and a few of the public as well as private stock
The ravages of this storm were so great, that the settlement was thrown
back nearly twelve months in those works which at the time were expected
very shortly to be completed. The weather, from the beginning of this
month, had never since the establishment of the colony been observed to
be so severe. The settlement had indeed, between the fires of the summer,
and the floods and gales of the winter, suffered very considerably. Added
to these, at this time, were the inconveniences arising from an
unproductive harvest, from an exhausted store in the very essential
articles of clothing and bedding, from the hostile disposition of many of
the natives, and from the annihilation of morality, honesty, and industry
in the major part of the colonists.
As this picture is not exaggerated, the situation and feelings of the
rational part of the settlement were certainly not to be envied.
Every exertion was immediately made to remedy the misfortunes occasioned
by the late tempestuous weather, and it was hoped that most of them would
be surmounted by the end of the present year. The erecting of the stone
prison at Sydney being found to create much expense, as well as require
much time, the governor called a meeting of the officers, principal
inhabitants, and landholders, and proposed an assessment to be furnished
by each, as well of money, as of labour; which was readily agreed to on
their part; and that necessary building was thenceforth carried on at
their expense, the public stores only furnishing such iron as might be
On the evening of the 29th, the ship _Albion_ arrived from England,
having made the quickest passage of any that had yet come to this
country, being only three months and fifteen days on her voyage. She
brought out 900 tierces of salt pork, some dispatches, and a few letters,
by which the governor was taught to expect the arrival of two transports
with convicts, and of a king's ship, the _Porpoise_, which was to
replace the _Reliance_.
The extraordinary passage made by this ship drew the attention of those
who were judges, to her construction. This was her first voyage, having
been launched on the 25th of October 1798, from the yard of Messrs.
Barnard and Roberts at Deptford, where she was built. The length of her
keel for tonnage, was 86 feet; her extreme breadth, 27 feet 6 inches; her
depth in hold, 12 feet; her height between decks, 6 feet, and her
admeasured burden, 362 tons. She was remarkably clean in her run; and,
although extremely deep in the water when she sailed from Spithead, gave
early proof of her capacity in sailing.
Mr. Ebor Bunker, who had been at Port Jackson before in the _William
and Ann_ transport, commanded the _Albion_, and was now selected
by her owners, Messrs. Champions, to give the whale fishing upon the
coast a complete and fair trial. For this purpose the ship was fitted out
with the accustomed liberality of those gentlemen in the amplest manner,
with every store that could be necessary for her own use, and every
comfort for her people.
Fortunate it would have proved for the settlement in general, had these
and such respectable gentlemen been among the first of those whose
speculative views had induced them to embark their property in these
undertakings: it would then have escaped the extortions which had been
but too successfully practised by many others.
The labouring people were principally employed during this month, in
repairing the devastations occasioned by the late tempestuous weather.
July.] Another instance occurred of the little effect which even capital
punishments had in this profligate settlement. On the evening of the 2nd
of this month, a most horrid murder was committed upon Mr. Samuel Clode,
one of the missionaries, who had flown for refuge from the savages of
Otaheite to this government. This act of more than savage barbarity was
committed at the brickfields, in the house of one Jones, a soldier. His
brains were beaten out at the back of his head, with an axe, and his
throat so cut as nearly to sever the head from the body, which was then
dragged to a sawpit, at that time full of water, and, being thrown in,