Discoveries in Australia, Volume 2 by John Lort Stokes

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  • 1846
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IN THE YEARS 1837-38-39-40-41-42-43.















Leave Port Essington.
Clarence Strait.
Hope Inlet.
Shoal Bay.
Ian for Observations.
Explore a new Opening.
Talc Head.
Port Darwin.
Continue Exploration.
Mosquitoes and Sandflies.
Nature of the Country.
Its parched appearance.
Large ant’s nest.
Return to Shoal Bay.
Visit from the Natives.
Their teeth perfect.
Rite of Circumcision.
Observations on the Migrations of the Natives. Theory of an Inland Sea.
Central Desert.
Salt water drunk by Natives.
Modes of procuring water.
Survey the harbour.
Natives on a raft.
Bynoe Harbour.
Brilliant Meteors.
Natives on Point Emery.
Their surprise at the well.
Importance of water.
Languages of Australia.
Leave Port Darwin.
Visit Port Patterson.
Examine opening to the south-west.
Table Hill.
McAdam Range.
Adventure with an Alligator.
Exploring party.
Discovery of the Victoria.
Ascend the river.
Appearance of the Country.
Fitzmaurice River.
Indian Hill.
The Beagle taken up the river.


Exploration of the Victoria.
First appearance of Sea Range.
Curiosity Peak.
Appearance of Country from.
Whirlwind Plains.
Encounter with an Alligator.
His capture and description.
Cross Whirlwind Plains.
White and black ducks.
Enter hilly country.
Meet the boats.
Carry boats over shoals.
New birds.
Reach Hopeless.
Progress of boats arrested.
Reconnoitre the river.
Prospect from View Hill.
Preparation for pedestrian excursion. Leave Reach Hopeless to explore the upper part of the river. Native village.
Mussel Bend.
Meet Natives.
Successful fishing.
Party distressed.
Thirsty Flat.
Tortoise Reach.
Singular appearance of the ranges.
Effect of the great heat.
One man knocked up.
Approach of natives.
Preparation for defence.
Appearance of the natives.
Move further up the river.
Emu Plains.
Select position for night quarters. Upward course of the Victoria.
Commence return.
Kangaroo shot.
Wickham Heights.
New Tortoise.
Lucky Valley.
Race was with a native.
Meet his tribe.
They make off.
Hard day’s work.
Quarters for the night.
Return to Reach Hopeless.


Proceed down the river from Reach Hopeless. Meet watering party.
One of the men deserts.
Kangaroo shooting.
The writer left to complete survey of river. Silk cotton-tree.
Fertility of Whirlwind Plains.
Attempt of one of the crew to jump overboard. Reach the Ship.
Suffer from sore eyes.
Lieutenant Emery finds water.
Geological specimens.
Bird’s Playhouse.
Strange weather.
Range of Barometer.
Accounted for by proximity of Port Essington. Hurricane.
Effects of the latter.
Dreary country behind Water Valley. Fruitless attempt to weigh ship’s anchors. Obliged to slip from both of them.
Proceed down the river.
Complete survey of Main Channel.
Visit south Entrance Point of river. Discover a number of dead turtles.
Cross over to Point Pearce.
Mr. Bynoe shoots a new finch.
The Author speared.
Pursued by natives.
Flight of natives.
Armed party pursue them.
Night of suffering.
General description of the Victoria. Gouty-stem tree and fruit.


Leave Point Pearce.
Error in position of Cape Rulhieres. Obtain soundings on supposed Sahul Shoal. Discover a shoal patch on it.
Ascertain extent of bank of soundings off the Australian shore. Strange winds in Monsoon.
See Scott’s Reef.
Discover error in its position.
Make Depuch Island.
Prevalence of westerly winds near it. Sperm whales.
Tedious passage.
Death and burial of the ship’s cook. Anecdotes of his life.
Good landfall.
Arrival at Swan River.
Find Colony improved.
Hospitality of Colonists.
Lieutenant Roe’s account of his rescuing Captain Grey’s party. Burial of Mr. Smith.
Hurricane at Shark’s Bay.
Observations on dry appearance of Upper Swan. Unsuccessful cruise of Champion.
Visit Rottnest.
Fix on a hill for the site of a Lighthouse. Aboriginal convicts.
Protectors of natives.
American whalers.
Trees of Western Australia.
On the safety of Gage Roads.


Sail from Swan River.
Search for the supposed Turtle-dove Shoal. Approach to Houtman’s Abrolhos.
Find an anchorage.
View of the Lagoon.
Remnants of the wreck of the Batavia. Pelsart Group.
Visit the Main.
Geelvink Channel.
Enter Champion Bay.
Appearance of the Country.
Striking resemblance of various portions of the coast of Australia. Leave Champion Bay.
Coast to the northward.
Resume our examination of the Abrolhos. Easter Group.
Good Friday Harbour.
Lizards on Rat Island.
Coral formation.
Snapper Bank.
Zeewyk Passage.
Discoveries on Gun Island.
The Mangrove Islets.
Singular Sunset.
Heavy gale.
Wallaby Islands.
Flag Hill.
Slaughter Point.
Observations of Mr. Bynoe on the Marsupiata. General character of the reefs.
Tidal observations.
Visit North Island.
Leave Houtman’s Abrolhos.
General observations.
Proceed to Depuch Island.
Drawings on the rocks.
Native youth.
New bird and kangaroo.
Effects of Mirage.
Examine coast to the Turtle Isles.
Geographe Shoals.
Number of turtles.
Bedout Island.
Scott’s Reef.
Approach to Timor.
Pulo Douw.
Scene on entering Coepang Bay.
Surprise of Swan River native.
Visit to the Resident.
His stories.
Fort Concordia.
Second visit to the Resident.
The Timorees.
Arrive at Pritie.
Description of the country.
Muster of the shooting party.
Success of the excursion.
The Javanese Commandant.
Character of the Timorees.
Dutch settlement in New Guinea.
Leave Coepang.
Island of Rottee.
Tykal Inlet.
Inhabitants of Polo Douw.


Sail from Rottee.
Search for shoal.
Dampier’s Archipelago.
Examination of coast.
Strange weather.
Passage between Delambre and Huiy Islands. Proceed to Montebello Isles.
Description of them.
Barrow’s Island.
Tryal Rocks.
New kangaroo.
Abundance of turtle.
New wallaby.
Sail for Swan River.
Find Ritchie’s Reef.
Islands between Barrow’s and North-West Cape. Table of soundings.
Swan River Native.
Anchor under Rottnest.
Erect beacons.
Bad weather.
Habits of a native dog.
Geological observations.
Sail from Swan River.
Error in position of Cape Naturaliste. King George’s Sound.
Appearance of Bald Head.
Princess Royal Harbour.
Origin of settlement.
Town of Albany.
Salubrity of climate.
Excursion into interior.
Course a kangaroo.
Herds of kangaroos.
Rich country.
The Hay River.
Return to Albany.
Departure for South Australia.
Discover an Island.
Death of a seaman.
Position of Neptune Isles.
Kangaroo, Althorp and Quoin Islands. Holdfast Road.
Description of country.
Governor Gawler’s policy.
Visit the Port.
Mr. Eyre’s expedition.
Hardships of Overlanders.
Meet Captain Sturt.
Native schools.
System of education.
Sail for Sydney.
Error in coast.
Bass Strait.
Arrive at Sydney.


Land Sales.
Unsettled boundaries.
New Zealand.
Hunter River.
Midnight alarm.
Ludicrous scene.
Changes in Officers of ship.
Leave Sydney.
Port Stephens.
Gale at Cape Upstart.
Magnetical Island.
Halifax Bay.
Astonish a Native.
Description of country.
Correct chart.
Restoration Island.
Picturesque arrival.
Interview with the Natives from Torres Strait. Their weapons.
Shoal near Endeavour River.
Discover good passage through Endeavour Strait. Booby Island.
New birds.
The Painted Quail.


Leave Booby Island.
Eastern shore of Gulf.
Van Diemen’s Inlet.
Exploration of.
Party of Natives.
Level country.
Visit Bountiful Islands.
Description of them.
Sail for Sweers Island.
Investigator Road.
Record of the Investigator’s visit. Dig a well.
Boats explore island and coast to the westward. Sweers and Bentinck Islands.
Take ship over to the main.
Another boat expedition leaves.
Ship proceeds to the head of the Gulf. Discovery and exploration of Disaster Inlet. Narrow escape.
Description of Interior.
Wild Fowl.
Explore coast to the eastward.
Discover the Flinders.
The Cuckoo.
Ascent of the river.
Night scene.
Burial tree.
Return to the ship.
Exploration of south-western part of Gulf. Large inlets discovered.


Boat expedition.
Explore an opening.
Discovery of the Albert.
Picturesque Scenery.
Hope Reach.
Birds and Fishes.
Upper Branch.
Beauty of the Landscape.
Land excursion.
The Plains of Promise.
Halt the party and proceed alone.
Description of the country.
Return down the Albert.
Mouth of River.
Arrive at Van Diemen’s Inlet.
Find Mr. Fitzmaurice severely wounded. General result of the survey of the Gulf. Winds and Temperature.
Booby Island.
Endeavour Strait.
Reach Port Essington.


Leave Port Essington.
Dobbo Island.
Visit from the Schoolmaster.
Trade of the Arrou Islands.
Their productions.
Visit from Natives.
The Banda Group.
Penal Settlement.
Adventures of a Javanese.
Captain de Stuers.
Native dance and sports.
Nutmeg Plantations.
Mode of preserving the fruit.
Visit a natural grotto.
Sail from Amboyna.
Island of Kissa.
Village of Wauriti.
Missionary establishment.
Serwatty Group.
Return to Port Essington.


Appearance of Settlement.
Effects of climate.
Native mother.
Trade in teeth.
Macassar Proas.
Lieutenant Vallack visits the Alligator Rivers. Interview with Natives.
Prospects of Port Essington.
Lieutenant Stewart’s Route.
Remarks of Mr. Bynoe.
Harbour of refuge.
Sail from Port Essington.
Sahul Shoal.
Arrive at Coepang.
Sail for North-west Coast.
Strong winds.
Cape Bossut.
Exploration of North-west Coast.
View of Interior.
Solitary Island.
Visit the Shore.
Amphinome Shoals.
Bedout Island.
Breaker Inlet.
Exmouth Gulf.
Arrive at Swan River.


Reported Harbour.
Set out for Australind.
The Grass-tree.
Correspondence with Mr. Clifton, etc. Sail from Gage Road.
Examination of coast.
Reach Champion Bay.
Visit Mount Fairfax and Wizard Peak. Arid nature of country.
Want of water.
Native Grave.
The Greenough river.
Leave Champion Bay.
Koombanah Bay.
Naturaliste Reef.
Reach South Australia.
Port Adelaide.
Proposed Railroad.
Visit Mount Barker.
Encounter Bay.
Native fishing.
Return to Adelaide.
Sail from South Australia.
Portland Bay.
Tour in the interior.
Fertile country.
View from the Sugarloaf.
Visit Cape Bridgewater.
Sail for Hobart.
Liberality of Sir John Franklin.
Atmospheric changes.
Arrive at Sydney.


Exploration of Interior.
Twofold Bay.
Survey of Bass Strait.
Dangerous situation of the Beagle.
Kent and Hogan Groups.
Gipps Land.
Wilson’s Promontory.
The Tamar.
Eastern entrance of Strait.
Steam communication between India and Australia. New Guinea.
North coast of Tasmania.
Port Phillip.
Directions for ships passing King Island. Complete survey of Bass Strait.
Farewell to Sydney.
Moreton Bay.
The Comet.
State of Tasmania, or Van Diemen’s Land. Lighthouses in Bass Strait.


Sail from Tasmania.
The South-west Cape.
Monument to Flinders.
Rottnest Island.
Penal Establishment.
Longitude of Fremantle.
Final departure from Western Australia. Rodrigue Island.
Effects of a hurricane at Mauritius. The crew and passengers of a foundered vessel saved. Bourbon.
Simon’s Bay.
Deep sea soundings.
Arrival in England.
Take leave of the Beagle.
The Surveying service.











London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.



London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.


London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.


Section of fruit, showing the manner in which the seeds are disposed.

VIEWS OF MORESBY’S RANGE, SEA RANGE, AND CAPE BEDFORD. Moresby’s Range, West Coast, latitude 28 degrees 50 minutes South. Sea Range, Victoria River, North-west Coast, latitude 15 degrees 20 minutes South.
Cape Bedford, North-east Coast, latitude 15 degrees 10 minutes South.

Dutch Four-pounder, with moveable chamber.

Lithographic impression of the copies made by Captain Wickham of the native drawings on Depuch Island. They have already appeared in the Royal Geographical Journal Volume 12. The following list will convey to the reader what the drawings are intended to represent. 1. A goose or duck.
2. A bird; probably the leipoa.
6. A beetle.
11. A fish over a quarter-moon; which has been considered to have some reference to fishing by moonlight.
61. A native dog.
16. A native, armed with spear and wommera, or throwing stick, probably relating his adventures, which is usually done by song, and accompanied with great action and flourishing of weapons, particularly when boasting of his prowess.
20. A duck and a gull.
34. A corrobory, or native dance.
65. A crab.
30. A native in a hut, with portion of the matting with which they cover their habitations.
67. A kangaroo.
71. Appears to be a bird of prey, having seized upon a kangaroo-rat. 32. Shark and pilot-fish.

G. Gore, del.
London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.

London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.

G. Gore, del.
London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.


G. Gore, del.
London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.

London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.


London, Published by T. & W. Boone, 1846.

Cape Nelson, Cape Grant, Lawrence Isles East-North-East nine miles.

A.J. Mason Sc.

350 feet high, West, two miles.

A.J. Mason Sc.

Highest part 400 feet, bearing South-East 20 miles.



Leave Port Essington.
Clarence Strait.
Hope Inlet.
Shoal Bay.
Land for Observations.
Explore a new Opening.
Talc Head.
Port Darwin.
Continue Exploration.
Mosquitoes and Sandflies.
Nature of the Country.
Its parched appearance.
Large ant’s nest.
Return to Shoal Bay.
Visit from the Natives.
Their teeth perfect.
Rite of Circumcision.
Observations on the Migrations of the Natives. Theory of an Inland Sea.
Central Desert.
Salt water drunk by Natives.
Modes of procuring water.
Survey the harbour.
Natives on a raft.
Bynoe Harbour.
Brilliant Meteors.
Natives on Point Emery.
Their surprise at the well.
Importance of water.
Languages of Australia.
Leave Port Darwin.
Visit Port Patterson.
Examine opening to the south-west.
Table Hill.
McAdam Range.
Adventure with an Alligator.
Exploring party.
Discovery of the Victoria.
Ascend the river.
Appearance of the Country.
Fitzmaurice River.
Indian Hill.
The Beagle taken up the river.


Early on the morning of the 4th of September, 1839, the Beagle was once more slipping out of Port Essington before a light land wind. We had taken a hearty farewell of our friends at Victoria, in whose prosperity we felt all the interest that is due to those who pioneer the way for others in the formation of a new settlement. No doubt the hope that our discoveries might open a new field for British enterprise, and contribute to extend still more widely the blessings of civilization, increased the sympathy we felt for the young colony at Victoria. There is always a feeling of pride and pleasure engendered by the thought that we are in any way instrumental to the extension of man’s influence over the world which has been given him to subdue. In the present instance, the success of our last cruise and the state of preparation in which we were now in for a longer one, caused us to take our departure from Port Essington in far higher spirits than on the former occasion.


We again shaped our course for Clarence Strait, the western entrance of which was still unexamined. The wind, however, being light, we passed the night in Popham Bay; and on leaving next morning, had only six fathoms in some tide ripplings nearly two miles off its south point, Cape Don. We passed along the south side of Melville Island, where a large fire was still burning. Early in the evening we anchored in seven fathoms, to wait for a boat that had been sent to examine a shoal bay on the North-West side of Cape Keith. Green Ant Cliffs bore South-West two miles.

September 7.

Weighing at daylight we hauled up south, into the middle of the channel, crossing a ridge of 5 1/2 fathoms; Ant Cliffs bearing West-South-West five miles, and three or four from the shore. This ridge appears to be thrown up at the extremity of the flats fronting the shore. On deepening the water to 10 and 12 fathoms, the course was changed to West 1/2 South, passing midway between North Vernon Isle and Cape Gambier, where the width of the channel is seven miles, though the whole of it is not available for the purposes of navigation, a long detached reef lying three miles from the Cape, and a small one two miles from the North Vernon Isle.* The tide hurried the Beagle past between these reefs with some rapidity, the soundings at the time being 19 fathoms.

(*Footnote. These isles, three in number, lying quite in the centre of the western entrance of the Strait, are fringed with extensive coral reefs. There are, however, deep passages between them.)

Having cleared Clarence Strait, and found it to be perfectly navigable with common precaution (which in a slight degree enhanced the value of the discovery of the Adelaide) our course was directed for a bay to the southward, which Captain King had not examined. A very refreshing cool north-westerly seabreeze* had just succeeded a short calm. Passing four miles from the western extremity of the Vernon Isles, we had irregular soundings of ten and seven fathoms. The ripplings and discoloured water are a warning that they should be approached with caution on this side.

(*Footnote. The seabreeze prevailing from the westward through Clarence Strait, the passage to Port Essington from the westward, during the easterly monsoon, might be more easily made by passing through it, instead of working along the north side of Melville Island.)

The mouth of a considerable inlet came in sight at the head of a bay as we advanced towards it, steering South by East. This opening began to appear of consequence as we drew near, although the singularly gradual decrease in the soundings, on a sandy bottom materially diminished the probability of its being the mouth of a river. Still, when we anchored as near as we could approach, there remained a hope of its being so.


September 8.

Early in the morning Mr. Forsyth and myself started to explore the opening. We soon discovered that it was nothing more than a shallow creek at low-water. The tide here rising twenty feet, gave it the important appearance it had yesterday evening. A tall clump of naked trees was conspicuous at the east entrance point, towering above the insipid mangrove shore. We gave it the name of Hope Inlet, to commemorate the feelings it excited on its first discovery. From the south point of Clarence Strait it is distant eleven miles, and the bay in which it lies, from the shallow-water at the head of it, was called Shoal Bay.

The boat being provisioned for four days, we pushed on to explore another opening above fifteen miles to the westward. The seabreeze setting in early, we did not reach it till after dark, when we landed for observations at a cliffy projection near the eastern entrance point: this we found to be composed of a kind of pipeclay, mixed with calcareous matter. We had some difficulty in landing, and then in scrambling up the cliffs by the light of a lantern. If any of the watchful natives happened at the time to be on the lookout, they must have stood fixed with astonishment at beholding such strange persons, who at such a time of night, with no ostensible object were visiting their shores.


September 9.

Before the veil of darkness was quite removed, we could faintly distinguish the mouth of the opening; and the sight at daylight was most cheering. A wide bay appearing between two white cliffy heads, and stretching away within to a great distance, presented itself to our view. Far to the southward, between the heads, rose a small table-topped hill. As we pulled in towards the eastern entrance point, the river-like appearance began to wear off, more land making its appearance towards the head of the opening. On reaching this point Mr. Forsyth and myself climbed up the cliff, whilst the breakfast was cooking. From the summit we had a good view of the bay, and were delighted to find large openings in the south-east and south-west corners of it. The table hill before mentioned, stood on the point between them. To see the eastern part of it, however, it was necessary to cross to the opposite point, where some talc slate, pieces of which measured four inches in length, was found imbedded in quartz. The point was called in consequence, Talc Head.


The other rocks near it were of a fine-grained sandstone: a new feature in the geology of this part of the continent, which afforded us an appropriate opportunity of convincing an old shipmate and friend, that he still lived in our memory; and we accordingly named this sheet of water Port Darwin. A few small bamboos grew on this head; the other trees were chiefly white gums. I climbed to the top of one of them, and obtained thence a view of another opening in the eastern part of the harbour. It now being low-water, an extensive shoal was discovered, reaching from abreast of Talc Head to the point separating the South-East and South-West openings, an extent of nearly five miles. This somewhat diminished the value of our discovery, as it limited the capabilities of the bay as a harbour.

We now proceeded to explore the north-eastern and largest opening, distant six miles from our station. A large islet and a reef left the entrance only a mile wide. Expanding again, it formed two arms, one running south, the other East-South-East, between small groups of singular isolated haycock-shaped hills, about 250 feet high. Following the latter, being the largest, we found that it soon curved round, taking a southerly direction. A bank free from mangroves occurring in this bend, we availed ourselves of it, as the day was closing in, to secure some early stars for latitude and longitude. The intense pleasure afforded by traversing water that had never before been divided by any keel, in some measure compensated us for the annoyance from the mosquitoes and sandflies, that took the opportunity of assailing us while in the defenceless state of quiet necessary in making observations. Pushing out into the middle of the stream, and each wielding a beater, our tiny enemies were soon shaken off, and borne back to the shore by a refreshing North-West breeze.

We found it necessary to keep a sharp lookout here for the alligators, as they swarmed in dangerous numbers.

The scarcity of fish, and the shallowness of the water did not hold out much hope that the arm we were tracing would prove of great extent; still many speculations were hazarded on the termination of it. The temperature in the night was down to 78 degrees, and the dew sufficiently heavy to wet the boat’s awning through.


Anxious to know how far this piece of water was to carry us into the untrodden wilds of Australia, we moved off with the first streak of dawn. Ten miles in a South by East direction brought us to where the width and depth was not sufficient to induce us to proceed further. Besides, as we were then only fifteen miles from a bend of the upper part of the Adelaide, which must receive the drainage of all that part of the country, it seemed improbable that any other large river existed in the neighbourhood. Six miles from our furthest, which was about thirty miles from the entrance, we passed a small island. The banks on either side of the inlet were, as usual, a thick grove of mangroves, except in one spot, a mile lower down, where we landed on our return for observations. This we found to be a low cliffy projection of slate formation, whilst scattered over the face of the few miles of country, which we are able to explore, were small bits of quartz; large blocks also of which protruded occasionally through a light kind of mould.


The country was a most thirsty-looking level, the low brushwood on which cracked and snapped as we walked through it, with a brittle dryness that testified how perfectly parched-up was everything. A single spark would instantly have wrapped the whole face of the country in one sheet of fire. Slight blasts of heated withering air, as if from an oven, would occasionally strike the face as we walked along; sometimes they were loaded with those peculiar and most agreeable odours that arise from different kinds of gums. Still the white eucalyptus and the palm, wore in comparison with the other vegetation, an extraordinary green appearance, derived probably from the nightly copious falls of dew, which is the only moisture this part of the continent receives during the present season. The birds we observed were common to other parts of the continent, being a few screaming cockatoos, parrots, and quails, and near the water a small white egret. There was nothing of interest to recall our memories to this first visit to a new part of Australia, save a very large ant’s nest, measuring twenty feet in height. This object is always the first that presents itself whenever my thoughts wander to that locality.

As the boat was not provisioned for the time it would take to explore all the openings we had discovered, and as the capabilities of Port Darwin were sufficiently great to require the presence of the ship, I determined on returning immediately to Shoal Bay.


During the time we were absent, some of our people who had been on shore, received a visit from a party of natives, who evinced the most friendly disposition. This verifies what I have before observed, as to the remarkable differences of character that exist between many Australian tribes, though living in the immediate neighbourhood of each other; for, it will be remembered, that at no great distance we had experienced a very different reception.

Those people amounted in number, with their families, to twenty-seven, and came down to our party without any symptoms of hesitation. Both men and women were finer than those we had seen in Adam Bay. The tallest male measured five feet eleven, which is three inches less than a native Flinders measured in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The teeth of these people were ALL PERFECT, an additional proof that the ceremony of knocking them out, like others practised in Australia, is very partially diffused. The rite of circumcision, for instance, is only performed at King’s Sound, on the west side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and near the head of the Australian bight on the south. Mr. Eyre, who discovered the existence of the rite on the last-mentioned part of the continent, infers that the natives of the places I have mentioned must have had some communication with each other through the interior; but it is possible that at a distant period of time, circumcision may have been very generally practised, and that having become gradually disused, the custom is now only preserved at two or three points, widely separated from each other. I do not advance this as a theory, but simply as a suggestion, as there is some difficulty in supposing communication to have taken place across the continent.


Some light may be thrown on the migration of the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, by tracing the parts of the coast on which canoes are in use. It has already been mentioned, that we had not seen any westward of Clarence Strait, neither were they in use in the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria, nor on the south coast.* By the assistance of these and similar facts, we may hereafter be enabled to discover the exact direction in which the streams of population have flowed over the continent. But I am not prepared to agree entirely with Mr. Eyre when he concludes, as I have stated, from the fact of the rite of circumcision having been found on the south and north-west coasts, and on the Gulf of Carpentaria, that there exists any peculiar connection between the tribes inhabiting those several points. This enterprising traveller moreover thinks that the idea he has started goes far towards refuting the theory of an inland sea, another presumption against which he maintains to be the hot winds that blow from the interior.

(*Footnote. An inference may be drawn from the parts of the shore on which canoes are in use, to show that the migrations of the natives, so far southwards, have been along the coast. The raft they use is precisely the same in make and size on the whole extent of the North-west coast.)


I confess that the theory of an inland sea has long since vanished from my mind, though I base my opinion on reasons different from those of Mr. Eyre. The intercourse between natives of opposite sides of the continent (though it is certainly possible) has never been established, and while it remains hypothetical, cannot be adduced to overthrow another hypothesis. The existence of hot winds also blowing from the interior is not conclusive, as we had, when in the Gulf of Carpentaria, very cold winds coming from the same direction. We know, however, that the temperature of winds depends much on the nature of the soil over which they sweep, for instance, in a cold clayey soil, the radiation of heat is very rapid.

Before quitting this subject it may be as well to mention that my own impression, which the most recent information bears out, is that instead of an inland sea, there is in the centre of Australia a vast desert, the head of which, near Lake Torrens, is not more than three hundred feet above the level of the sea. The coast being surrounded by hilly ranges, the great falls of rain that must occasionally occur in the interior, may convert a vast extent of the central and lowest portion, towards the north side of the continent, into a great morass, or lake, which, from the northerly dip, must discharge its waters slowly into the Gulf of Carpentaria, without possessing sufficient stability to mark either its bed or boundaries.


To return to the party of natives which has given rise to this digression. They had clearly never seen a white person before; for they stepped up to one man of fair complexion, who had his trousers turned up over his knees, and began rubbing his skin to see whether it was painted. They came fearlessly to our party, as they were collecting shells at the extremity of a long flat. One of the officers, who happened to be very thirsty, placed such confidence in their friendly manner, that he allowed them to conduct him alone to a small well near the beach, but the water was too salt to be drunk. The force of habit is astonishing: natives drink this brackish fluid and find it very refreshing. The small quantity that suffices them is also surprising, though they will drink enormously when they can get it.


Their mode of procuring this necessary element is singular, and they exhibit in this particular much ingenuity and great fertility of resources. They are never harassed with the idea of being without any; which not only distresses but adds to the horror of thirst with the European explorer, who has not experienced the constant watchfulness of Providence, and does not know that he may collect from the leaves, with a sponge, on some mornings, as much as a pint of water. This has, however, been done, even on the south coast, where the dews are not so copious as on the north-west. The natives themselves are never at a loss for that indeed precious article, water. They sometimes procure it by digging up the lateral roots of the small gumtree, a dusty and fatiguing operation: they break them off in short bits, and set them up to drain into a piece of bark or a large shell. By tapping also the knotty excrescences of trees they find the fluid, which they suck out. Many of these modes of obtaining water are of course known to experienced bushmen, like Mr. Eyre, whose deeply interesting narrative of his hardships and perils has already enlisted the sympathy of the public.

September 12.

We moved the ship into Port Darwin, anchoring just within the eastern cliffy head which, to commemorate Lieutenant Emery’s success in finding water by digging, we named after him.


All the surveying force was now put in instant requisition; Captain Wickham went to examine an opening in the coast mentioned by Captain King, lying about twelve miles further to the westward, whilst the other boats explored the openings at the head of the harbour.

That on the eastern part, Mr. Fitzmaurice traced ten miles in a south-easterly direction, being the greatest distance it was navigable for a boat. The remaining branch in the large opening, in the south-eastern corner of the harbour, Mr. Forsyth and myself explored South-South-East three miles, and South-South-West five more, the extent to which it was possible to advance. Beyond, it was strewed with large blocks of granite; a fact, for which we were in some degree prepared, as in the vicinity of the Adelaide River we had proof of the primary formation of this part of the continent. As the boat lay scarcely afloat between two of these lumps of rock, numbers of white ibises, with black necks, kept flying over us from the southward, indicating that a swamp lay in that direction. We also disturbed several alligators, who slid off quietly into the water at our approach. There was no variety in the shores of this inlet, composed like all the others, of an impenetrable network of mangroves. A ridge of the same conical-shaped low hills before alluded to, as existing in this neighbourhood, rose upon our right as we came up, and bore from our furthest North by West two miles; from the highest part up the inlet in the south-west corner, east two miles.

The latter we found very tortuous, extending in a general direction south nine miles. No events occurred worthy of any remark during our examination, except one of a trifling character: the mosquitoes taking advantage of the calm, between the high mangroves on the banks, attacked us most cruelly, a circumstance we mention as trifling, as far as the reader is concerned, but of great moment to us.

After completing the survey of the southern and western portion of this harbour, we returned to the ship, where soon afterwards Captain Wickham also arrived, having found Patterson Bay to be a good port. It trended in south ten miles, and East-South-East the same distance, forming quite an inner haven, which was named after Mr. Bynoe.


At the turning leading from the outer to the inner harbour they came suddenly in view of a raft making across, a distance of three miles, on which were two women with several children, whilst four or five men were swimming alongside, towing it and supporting themselves by means of a log of wood across their chests. On perceiving the boat they instantly struck out for the land leaving the women on the raft. For some time the latter kept their position, waiting until the boat got quite near, when they gave utterance to a dreadful yell, and assuming at the same time a most demoniacal aspect, plunged into the water as if about to abandon the children to their fate.


Not so, however; despite the dreadful fear they appeared to entertain of the white man, maternal affection was strong within them, and risking all to save their offspring, they began to tow the raft with all their strength towards the shore. This devotion on the part of the women to their little ones, was in strong contrast with the utter want of feeling shown by the men towards both mothers and children.

Captain Wickham now, no doubt to their extreme consternation, pulled after the men, and drove them back to the raft. Some dived and tried thus to escape the boat, while others grinned ferociously, and appeared to hope, by dint of hideous grimaces–such as are only suggested even to a savage by the last stage of fear–to terrify the white men from approaching. At length, however, they were all driven back to the raft, which was then towed across the harbour for them; a measure which they only were able to approve of when they had landed, and fear had quite subsided.

Doubtless, the forbearance of our party surprised them, for from their terrified looks and manner, when swimming with all their strength from the raft, they must have apprehended a fate at least as terrible as that of being eaten.

The raft itself was quite a rude affair, being formed of small bundles of wood lashed together, without any shape or form, quite different from any we had seen before.

Bynoe Harbour was found to terminate in three deep creeks branching off between North-East and South-East, the largest of which led into fresh water, but in small detached pools, which are separated from the salt, by a shelf of red porous sandstone, and which two miles further became entirely lost in the rocks. The green appearance of the gumtrees and an occasional clump of palms, which had pleasingly succeeded the mangroves, as they advanced, assured Captain Wickham that there was fresh water near. Probably, if they had carried their researches further, they would have found these signs reappear again, doubtless proceeding from a swamp, the presence of which the reader will recollect I inferred from seeing the ibis flocking from the south-west up the south inlet in Port Darwin; the west inlet of which is only one mile distant from the north-east creek in the head of Bynoe Harbour. Doubtless when the country is not in its present parched and thirsty state, all these are fresh at their heads.


The slow progress made in watering, from the soft nature of the soil in the bottom of the well, lengthened our stay considerably in Port Darwin. The water oozed through the sides, beginning to do so at a depth of twenty-five feet. The strata cut through varied considerably, in part consisting of ironstone mixed with a white kind of marl or pipeclay, for eight feet, then sandstone of a reddish colour and in a state of decomposition, with a darker kind of marl, in which were small bits of mica, for a depth of sixteen feet, the remaining portion of two or three being a sandy mud, apparently of the consistency of clay and of a light grey colour. The position of this well is in a small valley at the east end of the first sandy bay within Point Emery, in the centre of which the observations were made, placing it in latitude 12 degrees 27 minutes 45 seconds, longitude 1 degree 19 minutes 40 seconds, East of Port Essington.

On this beach several unsuccessful hauls were made with the seine, though a few rare and curious fish were taken, which Lieutenant Emery added to his collection of coloured drawings of Australian fish; some of them will be found in the appendix to this volume. Mr. Bynoe also obtained specimens of one or two rare birds; the large red-necked vampire of the Adelaide River, and the cream-coloured pigeon before alluded to, were also seen by him, being the farthest south the latter was met with by us.


Some brilliant meteors were observed during our stay, one in particular on the evening of the 20th, in the West-North-West. It fell from the zenith at an angle of about twenty degrees from a vertical line. The descent was marked by a long train of light, visible ten seconds, while others of less brilliancy followed from the same place within an hour. Again on the 23rd, was the dark vault of heaven illumined about the same time in a similar manner, as well as on the 28th; the number of meteors being the same on each day.

We were rather surprised on the 24th, to experience a squall from the eastward about midnight, a regular occurrence on the North-west coast in January and February only.


On the 24th a party of natives made their appearance on Point Emery. Their voices, shrill like those of all their fellows, were heard before they were seen. With these it was particularly so, though on all occasions the speaking, and hallooing of the Aborigines can be heard at a very considerable distance. They were found, when on shore, to be of the party we had before seen in Shoal Bay, with the addition of five strange men. All appeared actuated by the same friendly disposition, a very strong indication of which was their presenting themselves without spears.* Like most others on that coast, they had apiece of bamboo, eighteen inches long, run through the cartilage of the nose. Their astonishment at the size of the wells was highly amusing; sudden exclamations of surprise and admiration burst from their lips, while the varied expressions and play of countenance, showed how strongly their feelings were at work within.

(*Footnote. Speaking of natives appearing without spears, reminds me to mention for the information of future explorers, that their arms are always near at hand. They even trail them sometimes between their toes, a fact which travellers should ever bear in mind.)

It is very singular, and not very susceptible of explanation, that although they climb tall trees by merely resting their toes in a slight notch cut as they ascend, the natives will hesitate in alarm before looking over the edge of a precipice or height; it was, therefore, some time before this party could be induced to look down the well. At length by stretching their spare bodies and necks to the utmost, they caught sight of the water in the bottom.


The effect upon them was magical, and they stood at first as if electrified. At length their feelings gained vent, and from their lips proceeded an almost mad shout of delight. Nothing perhaps could have more decisively shown the superiority of the white men to these savages, than our being thus able to procure this necessary of life from so great a depth, there being moreover no outward appearance of any. Perhaps their delight may be considered a sign how scarce is water in this part of the country. I should certainly say from the immense quantity each man drank, which was two quarts, that this was the case. A further corroboration of the extreme importance of this element to the Western Australian is, that a native, in describing a fine country, always opens his narrative by stating the important fact–plenty water.

The deep interest which in the natives always succeeds to the discovery of this necessary article, must strongly impress the explorer, who will ever afterwards look upon streams, even in other countries, with far different feelings from any before experienced. In no land does the presence of water more rapidly enrich the landscape, changing it from a thirsty-looking plain to a rich green spot, than in Australia, and it is in journeying through such a country, when one suddenly meets with a luxuriant valley, that the eye naturally dwells with delight on the changing scene, and the impression, not easily forgotten, clings to us even when far away. When gazing on the superabundant water that flows in almost every corner of the earth, we cannot but reflect on the scantily supplied Australian, nor fail to wish him a more plentiful supply.


Naturally we are disposed to reflect but little on the great blessings of the most ordinary things. In the eyes of the civilized man, fire and water are matters scarcely worthy of thought; but it is the traveller who learns to appreciate how great blessings they are in reality.

An influenza appeared to be raging among the natives, all having the remnants of colds, coughing severely when we met them. Several attempts were made to induce them to come on board, but they proved vain. Sometimes, just as the boat was leaving the shore, they would enter the bow of it, as if about to accompany us; no sooner, however, was the boat in motion, than out they jumped, laughing and apparently delighted to deceive us, acting, in fact, exactly the part of noisy children.


Our friendly intercourse with these natives sustained a shock, which at first threatened to annihilate it, but which fortunately ended, as it began, in smoke. One of the officers used a common flint and steel, in order to procure a light for his cigar; at this new mode of procuring fire all eyes were open–for doubtless they procure it only by means of friction–but when he proceeded to place the lighted cigar between his lips, and roll forth from thence a thick and perfumed cloud, fright took full possession of them, and exclaiming “irru, irru,” with the arm extended, and a slight vertical motion of the hand, they darted off most unceremoniously, clambering up the face of a precipitous cliff, with extraordinary agility. Their cry of “irru, irru,” and their manner of delivering it, were identical with those of King’s Sound, under somewhat similar circumstances. In a few days they had forgotten their fright, and had returned to renew the friendly relations this little incident had interrupted.

During the short time we passed with this people in Port Darwin, some words of their language were collected by many of us. Those that we all agreed in I have noted down, but the different names for things given by the same person, here and at Shoal Bay, will at once impress the reader with the conviction of how impossible it is for transient visitors to obtain a correct vocabulary. Those first made out at Port Essington, were found to be half Malay words, and of any meaning rather than what they were supposed to convey. The words given below are from Mr. Earl’s vocabulary, the result of four years careful examination and experience.


Crab : Algaura : – : Meir : -.
Dog : Melinga : – : Mugki : Dudah.
Ear : Bangua : – : Alayjar : Zungah. Eye : Ummera : Mical : Ira : Mael.
Hair : Brailma : Guarshiel : Angbal : Cutap. Hand : – : Guian : – : -.
Stone : – : Lowheil : – : -.
Tree : Urmingua : – : Ojalli : Boono. Teeth : Emburge : – : Aujije : Nalgo.
Water : – : Kararback : – : Kaaby.


The great difference between the words at Shoal Bay and Port Darwin, must now be apparent to the reader; a more extended acquaintance with the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, has shown that many words put down by us as meaning a certain thing, signify in reality, “What do you mean?” “I do not understand”–which shows at once the great difficulty of arriving at the truth. This must often be the case; for what is more natural, than that when a savage is asked the meaning of a thing, and knows not, but that he should express his ignorance? How often this expression of ignorance has been registered as the denomination of some animal or thing, we leave the reader to conjecture. Moreover, there are many words totally obliterated from their dialects, which thus undergo constant alteration. This in part arises from the circumstance of their never mentioning the name of a deceased person, who has perhaps been called after a tree, bird, or animal; which then receives another appellation, the old one passing away. From the few words given of the respective dialects of Port Essington and Swan River, they would appear essentially to differ, and from what has since come under my own observation, as well as from facts collected by others, I feel confident that there are many distinct dialects spoken in Australia.


It is easy enough for those who hold to the theory that Australia produces few dialects, to create for themselves a resemblance in words by mutilation and addition; but on careful examination, the similarity will not be found to exist. The natives we took from Swan River, never could understand any of those we met on the North-west coast, though certainly Mr. Moore recognized a few words spoken by the natives on the West coast, about 200 miles north of Swan River, as being identical with the language used at the latter place.

It may here be as well to quote Strzelecki on this subject, ere we pursue our narrative:

“The circumstance of the three natives who accompanied Captain Flinders and Captain P.P. King, in the survey of New Holland, and of those who accompanied me amongst the different tribes of New South Wales, being unable to understand one word spoken by tribes of other districts, would lead to the belief that the dialects spoken in New Holland, are far from possessing those affinities, still less those identities of language, from which a common root might be inferred. Those European visitors or explorers who adduce, in support of a common root, some hundred words analogous in sound, construction and meaning, as being spoken all over New Holland, have jumped to the conclusion with, I fear, too much haste and eagerness. Besides many other insuperable difficulties, which an investigation of such a nature presents, there was one quite sufficient to defeat all attempts to fathom the subject, namely, the syntactic ignorance of the language to which the inquiry related. Indeed, to any man who knows and speaks four European languages, it will be at once apparent, that to seize upon, and note from the sound, a word belonging to one country, so as to compare its sound and accentuation with a word belonging to another country, needs a thorough knowledge of the genius of the two languages, and of their alphabet, through which alone the pronunciation can be discriminated.”

Though, however, we may not attain to a knowledge of the truth at once, yet should we never lose an opportunity of making a vocabulary of such words as we know to be correct. This should be the case from one consideration alone; for how gratifying it is, when visiting an uncivilized people, to find that you know a word or two of their language! The satisfaction is mutual–there is at once a sympathetic link between you–you no longer appear as thorough strangers to each other, and this slight knowledge of their dialect may often be the means of making useful acquaintances.

To return, however, to the thread of our narrative.


The opening to the westward, visited by Captain Wickham, requiring further examination, we left Port Darwin for that purpose, beating out on the morning of the 26th. Before taking leave, however, of this place, it will not be deemed irrelevant if we give some slight description of it. The entrance points, I have already said, are white cliffy projections, and distant from each other three miles. Just outside them lies a long four fathom bank, which, together with a very extensive flat of one, and two fathoms, nearly joining it from the eastern side, and another fronting the north side of the west entrance point, comprise all the dangers on entering this port; which, although of considerable size, is much occupied by shoal water, particularly on the western side, commencing from abreast of Talc Head. The best anchorage is near Point Emery. The extreme of the latter, and a clump of peaked bushes on the south point of the eastern arm of the harbour, when in one, make a good mark for leading out; passing on the west side of the four fathom bank, where the channel is a mile wide and 10 fathoms deep.


The tide is very irregular in Port Darwin, rising at springs 24 feet, and at neaps sometimes only two; its rate being from one and a half to three knots. The time of high-water at the full and change of moon, was half-past five, which being half an hour earlier than at Clarence Strait, fully bears out the opinion I have before expressed, that the flood-tide comes from the westward.

Having to beat out against the seabreeze, the flood-tide made before we could get round the point on the coast lying midway between Ports Darwin and Patterson, and we were compelled to pass the night in the neighbourhood, a circumstance rendered disagreeable by the recurrence of another midnight squall from East-North-East, so severe as to require the use of a second anchor. The rain was so bitterly cold and sudden, as well as violent, acting also on our frames with more severity from the lightness of our clothing, that it had all the effect of a shower-bath, momentarily taking away the power of speech. It caused a rapid fall in the thermometer of ten degrees, bringing it as low as 60 degrees. At Port Darwin it had been regularly 87 and 89 degrees in the day, and 80 degrees at night.


The squall gave but slight warning of its approach, and four hours afterwards the mutinous assemblage of clouds had wholly disappeared from the heavens, leaving nothing to stay the advent of light which came pouring itself in floods of molten glory over the cloudless sky, as the morning broke. This was the signal of our again moving towards Port Patterson, which we entered, passing on the eastern side of the reef in the mouth, and anchoring close to the eastern shore of the outermost of a chain of sandy islets, forming the west entrance point of the harbour, and extending eight miles in a North-North-East 1/2 East direction from the land. This group is based on a great coral ledge that dries in part at low-water, thus affording the natives the means of going over easily to them, a circumstance of which they avail themselves, as we found them on the outer island. They would not, however, come near us, moving off as we landed. Doubtless the terror of some of their party, in a great measure arose from a vivid recollection of the raft interview, which was likely to dwell long in their minds; at all events, if not of the same party, they had heard of us, and it will readily be believed, that we had been painted in sufficiently terrible and exaggerated colours to render a second interview, in their minds, very undesirable.


Our discovering them in this place, which we named Quail Island, from that bird being found in great abundance, quite destroyed the hope we had previously entertained of procuring turtle there. It was the season for their incubation, and at that time the island swarmed with them; but our sable friends had abundantly availed themselves of this fact, as we saw the remains of several of their turtle feasts. Although low, and composed entirely of sand, we found a native well of excellent water near the middle of the island, which, having been enlarged, afforded an ample supply, a circumstance that at once renders this a spot of importance and value. Both on this and others of the group there were a few small trees and a sprinkling of brushwood.

We did not notice any of the singular detached hills seen at Port Darwin, and the greatest elevation any of the land in the neighbourhood attained was 200 feet; neither did we observe any primary rocks.

The observations were made at the South-East point of Quail Island, which by them is placed in latitude 12 degrees 30 9/10 minutes South, and longitude 1 degree 42 1/4 minutes West of Port Essington. The almost insulated character of this part of the coast, and the quantity of soundings the openings required detained us until the 6th of October, when we passed out on the western side of the large reef in the centre of the entrance, which is the proper one, and received the name of West Channel. The western entrance point of Bynoe’s Harbour, bearing South 15 degrees East, leads through it. This guide is only, however, of service to a certain distance within the entrance, as it leads over a small patch that dries at low-water, distant two and a half miles from the above-mentioned point on the same bearing. To avoid this danger, it is therefore necessary to haul over towards Quail Island, when the highest hummock on it bears South-West 1/2 West. The tides follow the direction of the channel, varying in velocity from one to two knots. The ebb in the offing set West-North-West.


The reader will be able to have an idea of the large sheet of water these united harbours form, by knowing that Port Patterson is twelve miles long and seven wide at the entrance; though at the upper part, forming the mouth of Bynoe Harbour, it is not half that width. The latter winds round to the South-East for a distance of 15 miles, with an average width of two, and a depth of nine fathoms. Thus terminated our exploration in this neighbourhood; the result having been to give this part of the coast quite an insulated character. The sheets of water creating this new feature, although monotonous with their mangrove-lined shores, still conveyed us many miles into various parts of the continent that had never before been seen by a civilized being.

Another opening of far greater magnitude, and promising in all probability to lead far into the interior now lay before us, at a distance of 140 miles further on the coast to the south-west. By the evening we had lost sight of the land near Port Patterson, and were steering towards the opening that promised so much. A gap in the coastline, 28 miles wide, with a strong tide passing to and fro, failed not to give birth to endless speculation as we approached the spot. I had always looked forward to the examination of this unexplored portion of the North-west coast, as one of the most interesting parts of our survey.


In consequence of light north-west and westerly winds, our approach was tantalizingly slow, and we did not enter the opening until the evening of the 9th, when we passed four miles from the north point, called by Captain King, Point Pearce. His visit to this part of the coast was in September 1819, and under very adverse circumstances; his vessel had but one anchor left, and the strong easterly winds then prevailing, with thick hazy weather, rendered his progress into the opening both difficult and hazardous: after a trial of two days, and having several narrow escapes from getting on shore, he bore away to examine the coast to the south-west, where he was repaid for his disappointment by the discovery of Cambridge Gulf.

Thus did the exploration of this wide and interesting opening fall to our good fortune; as we proceeded inwards, several beautiful medusae passed the ship, and our hopes were roused to the highest pitch by the muddy appearance of the water. At sun set the anchor was dropped in five fathoms; Point Pearce, a cliffy level projection, bearing North-West by North five miles, and about one and a half from a low rocky point.


A bluff projection, bearing South 65 degrees East seven miles, bounded our view to the southward, and a range of sugarloaf hills, the highest being 350 feet, rose about eight miles in the rear of it.

October 10.

We were naturally very anxious to proceed, and as soon as there was sufficient light to read the division of the bearing compass, the ship was gently stealing onward in the direction of the bluff, and furthest land seen last evening to the South-East. We had not proceeded far before we discovered a distant level range, beginning to show itself to the right of this projection, adding still more to the zest with which we pursued our search. The tide, however, making against us, and the wind gradually failing, we were compelled to anchor abreast, and distant three quarters of a mile from the north-west point of a bay two miles wide.

The bluff headland, before alluded to, forms the south-east point of this bay, and to which Captain Wickham and myself hastened instantly the ship was secured.

We found a few fossils on the side of this ridge, as we ascended, which at once induced us to name it, Fossil Head. Our view was decisive of the fact, that all further progress eastward was at an end, but to the south sandbanks and patches of dark-coloured water bounding our view left still great hope. The high land terminated abruptly to the southward, whilst looking to the northward it appeared to subside in an East-North-East direction. The base of this range was fronted by a low piece of land, stretching out on its north-west side, and forming a point which bore South 35 degrees East five miles from Fossil Head.


But the most remarkable feature in the scene was an isolated flat-topped hill, having all the appearance of a bastion or fortress, rising abruptly from the surrounding plain, to an elevation of 650 feet, the upper part being a line of cliffs, greatly adds to the appearance it presents, that of a complete fortification. It bore North 85 degrees East, fourteen miles from Fossil Head; and the country between was very low, and intersected by a creek about midway. This remarkable piece of land is called in the chart Table Hill; an inlet trended in towards the foot of it.

We noticed several old traces of natives; the country in the neighbourhood was of a stony desolate character, yet appeared to afford nourishment for a small growth of white gums. After examining two mangrove creeks of no importance, in the north-west corner of the bay fronting the ship, we returned.

Our hopes of finding a river of some magnitude were not in the least destroyed from what we had seen from Fossil Head, and the southerly direction of the flood-stream fostered our belief. Independent of these signs, we felt that we were again entering upon a new part of the continent, and the thoughts thus engendered acted like a powerful stimulant, so that we were not easily cast down.

The tide serving badly, and the day being far advanced, it was decided that we should not move the ship till next morning, when after getting abreast of Fossil Head, we steered from it on the bearing of the deep-water channel we had seen yesterday. We proceeded cautiously, feeling our way with the boats ahead. After passing some distance along the eastern side of a long dry sandbank, we were obliged again to anchor, both boats signalizing a depth of only two fathoms.


Table Hill bore North 46 degrees East, fifteen miles, and Fossil Head North 15 degrees West. It was now necessary to find a channel for the ship, which I succeeded in doing the next day, and on that following, the 12th, Captain Wickham, Mr. Bynoe, and myself, went to visit the high table range, while Messrs. Fitzmaurice and Keys were to examine the large inlet running in towards the foot of Table Hill.

By following a creek we almost reached the foot of the high level range in the boat; a line of cliffs stretched along near the summit, beneath which it sloped down rapidly to the plain. We ascended by a slight valley, communicating with a break in the cliffs, but found on reaching the top that instead of being on a level, we were standing amidst a series of undulations or low hills, forming the crest of a platform, but so blended together, and of so nearly the same height as to appear in the distance one continuous plain. It was, therefore, with some difficulty that we could find the highest part, each, until we reached it, appearing to be so. Ultimately I was compelled to climb a tree, in order to obtain the necessary angles.


The view was very extensive, a wide inlet separating the range we stood on from other high land trending southward, with great irregularity, from the base of which stretched out a long plain, similar to that which lay at our feet. The latter was intersected by creeks that could be traced by the mangrove fringe which marked their course. Many parts of the low lands were covered with a salt incrustation, and here and there were scattered trees deposited by the overflows of the water, that still appeared to flow from the southward. The sight of this driftwood and many minor appearances, was indeed most welcome, and added full confirmation to the opinion that we were now within the mouth of a large river.

To the South-West, and distant thirteen miles, were two large islands, which from the remarkable shape of two patches of trees on their northern ends, we named Quoin and Clump Islands. A small patch of low land was discovered beyond them, between which and Quoin Island appeared the proper channel. That, however, lying between the islands seemed sufficiently large for the ship. Being moreover within our immediate reach, it was determined that we should proceed by it.


A remarkable change here occurred in the character of the country, the hills being now composed of a white, and very compact kind of sandstone. In the cliffs the strata were very marked, dipping to the South-East at an angle of about thirty degrees with the horizon. The base and sides of these heights were thickly strewn with small fragments of sandstone. The appearance presented was precisely similar to that of a new road, after it had undergone the improving process invented by Mr. McAdam, in whose honour, therefore, we named this McAdam Range.

A large light-coloured kangaroo was the only living thing we saw. A short green-looking grass was thinly sprinkled over the country, imparting a freshness to it, which, in contrast with the aridity that had of late surrounded us, was quite delightful.

Crossing the flat on returning to the boat, I was much struck by one particular spot on the border of a creek. I came suddenly upon a number of flat stones placed in rows, one upon the other. Though altogether covering about ten yards of ground, there was no appearance of any shape in their arrangement. I am still puzzled, to determine whether they were merely the results of childish amusement, or had performed their part in some magical incantation or religious ceremony of the natives. I am the more inclined to think it was the latter, as there was a native grave near, covered with the same kind of flat stones, to the height of about three feet. We had not before observed anything like it, neither did we afterwards. Several flights of large curlews were seen passing over the boat, and resting on the flats in its neighbourhood. Whilst endeavouring to procure some of them, I was placed in a sufficiently awkward position, running the risk of becoming myself a fresh meal instead of procuring one.


I had stripped to swim across a creek, and with gun in hand was stealthily crawling to the outer edge of the flat where my intended victims were, when an alligator rose close by, bringing his unpleasant countenance much nearer than was agreeable. My gun was charged with shot, and the primitive state of nudity to which I had just reduced myself, precluded the possibility of my having a second load. To fire therefore was useless, and to retreat difficult, for I had wandered from the boat some distance across the bank, on which the water was fast rising. Thought, there was no time for, and before my companions could have reached me, the tide would have flooded the place sufficiently to enable the alligator to attack me at a disadvantage. My only chance of escaping the monster was to hasten back to the boat, and to cross the last creek before the alligator, who appeared fully aware of my intentions. It was now, therefore, a mere matter of speed between us, and the race began. I started off with the utmost rapidity, the alligator keeping pace with me in the water. After a sharp and anxious race, I reached the last creek, which was now much swollen; while the difficulty of crossing was aggravated by my desire to save my gun. Plunging in I reached the opposite shore just in time to see the huge jaws of the alligator extended close above the spot where I had quitted the water. My deliverance was providential, and I could not refrain from shuddering as I sat gaining breath upon the bank after my escape, and watching the disappointed alligator lurking about as if still in hopes of making his supper upon me. Waiting till the monster came close, I took a deliberate aim at his eye, which had only the effect of frightening him a little.

The wind, which was light, blew from the North-East from sunset last evening until noon, being the first land-wind we had yet experienced. The temperature remained nearly the same as at Port Patterson, the maximum being here 86, and the minimum 81.

October 13.

We got on board about noon, and the next day Mr. Fitzmaurice returned. He had found Table Hill to be a perfect natural fortress, accessible only at the South-East corner by a slight break in the line of cliffs surrounding it; the large inlet terminated in a creek passing close at the southern foot of the hill, where it branched off in an east and north-east direction, and in the course of three miles, became lost at the western extremity of some low thickly-wooded plains, which extended eastward as far as the eye could reach. To the south lay McAdam Range, which declining to the eastward, was at length blended with the plain, the eye finding some difficulty in determining where the hills ended and the plain commenced.


All the soundings and other data for the chart, in the immediate neighbourhood, were collected by the 16th, when the ship was got underweigh, as soon as the tide, which here rose twenty feet, was high enough. After passing through a channel, six and seven fathoms deep, which the dry extreme of the sandbank fronting the flat, extending off McAdam Range, bearing South-South-East led through, we hauled over to the westward for a swash way in the sands, extending off the north-west end of Clump Island. In crossing the inlet, running under the south end of McAdam Range, we found as much as ten fathoms, a depth that led to the hope of its being of great importance, perhaps indeed the mouth of a river. Passing between Clump and Quoin Islands, we anchored midway between the latter and Driftwood Island, a proceeding which the approach of high-water rendered necessary, as from the great fall of the tide we were obliged at that time to have at least seven fathoms. We were now surrounded on all sides by flat shores, and from the masthead, I could trace the low land forming the western side of the principal channel. The high land south of McAdam Range, was found to terminate in a remarkable peak, which in the certainty of our search proving successful, we named River Peak. It was almost blended in one with a range beyond, yet the fact of the distance which really existed between them, did not escape our anxious observation; and it was indeed in the different shade of these two ranges, one being less distinct than the other, that we found ample confirmation of our hopes.


It was soon arranged that Captain Wickham and myself, should at once dispel all doubts, and that next morning, Messrs. Fitzmaurice and Keys should start to explore the river-like opening, under the south end of McAdam Range, to which we have above alluded.


Our preparations were rapidly made, a few days provisions were stowed away in the boat, and as the western sky glowed red in the expiring light of day, the gig was running before a north-west breeze, for the chasm in the distant high land, bearing South 20 degrees East, twelve miles from the ship. As we advanced, the separations in the range became more marked and distinct, as long as the light served us, but presently darkness wrapped all in impenetrable mystery. Still we ran on keeping close to the eastern low land, and just as we found that the course we held no longer appeared to follow the direction of the channel, out burst the moon above the hills in all its glory, shedding a silvery stream of light upon the water, and revealing to our anxious eyes the long looked-for river, rippling and swelling, as it forced its way between high rocky ranges. Under any circumstances the discovery would have been delightful, but the time, the previous darkness, the moon rising and spreading the whole before us like a panorama, made the scene so unusually exciting, that I forbear any attempt to describe the mingled emotions of that moment of triumph. As we ran in between the frowning heights, the lead gave a depth of eighteen and twenty fathoms, the velocity of the stream at the same time clearly showing how large a body of water was pouring through. “This is indeed a noble river!” burst from several lips at the same moment; “and worthy,” continued I, “of being honoured with the name of her most gracious majesty the Queen:” which Captain Wickham fully concurred in, by at once bestowing upon it the name of Victoria River.

A glance at the map will show that we have not overrated its importance, or acted hastily in calling it the Victoria; and it must be admitted that as the Murray is to South-eastern Australia, so in value and importance is the great river Victoria, to the opposite side of the continent.

Pursuing our course between the rocky heights, in a south-east direction, the outline of a high peaked hill, standing between two ranges, became visible, appearing, even at that time, so remarkable as to be named Endeavour Hill.* The wind failing, we pushed into a small opening out of the stream, on the right hand, to pass the night.

(*Footnote. Afterwards found to be 690 feet, the highest in the neighbourhood.)


Anxious to trace further the course of the river, Captain Wickham and myself ascended the top of a neighbouring hill before early dawn. The view which presented itself when the day broke, was fraught with every charm of novelty. A rapid stream passing between barren rocky heights, here stealing along in calm silence, there eddying and boiling as it swept past, lay at our feet. By a sudden bend two miles east of where we stood, it was hid from our view; the ranges overlapping, however, still pointed out the further course of the Victoria. The boat lay in the mouth of a creek, which communicating with another four miles further down, formed an island on the eastern side of the river, which we called Entrance Isle.

The formation of this part was a sandstone of a reddish hue, and in a state of decomposition. A wiry grass and the never-failing eucalyptus were sparingly scattered over the face of the country, which round the entrance had a most unpromising and dreary appearance, showing at a glance its utterly sterile character.


Taking a hasty breakfast, we pulled up the river; the tortuous nature of the first reaches, changing their directions suddenly from north to east-south-east with a depth of seventeen and twenty fathoms, produces violent eddies and whirlpools. Passing these, a splendid sheet of water lay before us, trending south-east by south, as far as the eye could reach from the boat, and more than a mile wide. In the first part of this we had a few shoal casts of the lead, but afterwards the depth was eight and ten fathoms, it being near low-water. In order to catch a glance at what was beyond, and to spell the oars, we landed at a point on the east side, from which Endeavour Hill bore West 1/2 South three miles. Here the river, by taking a slight turn more to the southward, was again lost sight of. We were sorry to perceive that it was much occupied by shoals, that showed themselves at this time of tide. The first began five miles beyond our station, commencing from abreast of a rugged ridge, on the west bank. The singular manner in which the blocks of sandstone were strewed over this height, caused it to bear a strong resemblance to old ruins. The appearance of the country had not as yet improved, though the sandstone had lost that reddish hue we had noticed in the morning, while preserving the very marked dip to the south-east.

Continuing we found the change in the direction of the river very slight, and at the end of sixteen miles it suddenly turned off to the eastward, which I was sorry to find, as its diverging from its original south-easterly direction, appeared likely to disappoint our expectation that the Victoria would prove a highroad to the interior of the continent. The width had hitherto been almost two miles, but there was not sufficient depth to give us any hope of bringing the ship up thus far.


The country now began to assume a more cheerful aspect. The hills exhibited no longer the same rugged outline, and were better clothed with vegetation. From the top of one of a conical group, forming the north point of the river where it changes to the eastward, I could trace its direction but little further.

On the opposite side the hills receded, forming an amphitheatre round a level plain, through which ran a creek. On its banks, for the first time, we saw fires of the natives. Here, also for the first time, we noticed the gouty-stem trees; whilst the slope of the hill we ascended was covered with a tolerable sprinkling of grass. Kangaroos, likewise, were observed on every side springing along the turf; and a few great alligators passed up the stream, after reconnoitering our boat at the risk of a shot or two.

We were now nearly thirty miles from the ship; and a few stations were still necessary to be made to complete the survey so far. Our proceeding farther was therefore useless, especially as an exploring expedition must pass up the river; and retracing our steps we reached the ship near midnight on the 20th. The intelligence of the success of our cruise was received on board with an enthusiasm which explorers only can appreciate. Mr. Fitzmaurice had not returned, which favoured my surmises that he would find a river.

October 21.

Mr. Forsyth having collected all the necessary material for the survey near the ship, we shifted our berth this afternoon into deeper water, between the south end of Quoin Island and another small islet to the south-west, which from our operations on its south-eastern corner we called Observation Island. The weather was very remarkable in the evening–dark patches of clouds appearing in the western horizon, from which vivid lightnings flashed, and loud peals of thunder roared. The frightened stream of the sea-birds evinced how seldom nature puts on such an aspect in this place.


Before proceeding further with the ship, it was necessary to feel our way with the boats. Whilst this was going on, Captain Wickham determined on pushing up the river in the gig to ascertain if it was fresh sufficiently near to water the ship from, when she had been taken as far up the Victoria as it was possible. He left next morning on this more than interesting trip.


The same afternoon Mr. Fitzmaurice returned, having, as we had suspected, discovered a river that carried his boat thirty miles in an east direction from the south end of McAdam Range. Towards the upper part it was scarcely half a mile wide; but for an Australian stream was remarkably free from bends, pursuing a straight course between rocky heights, with a depth varying from two to seven fathoms. Many shoals occurred towards the entrance, where in some places it was more than two miles wide. This river was named Fitzmaurice River after its discoverer; and the mouth or inlet of it, after his companion, Keys Inlet.

In sounding the channel, I found that when the hill Captain Wickham and myself were first on, behind Entrance Isle, was in a line with the north end of the high land at the south side of the entrance, it formed a good lead up. In consequence we named it Leading Hill, and the end of the range alluded to, Indian Hill, from our constantly seeing smoke near it. A flat of three or four fathoms at low-water extended across the channel, with River Peak bearing between North 35 East and North 64 East. I visited Indian Hill, but failed to meet with any of the natives, although I saw their fires not far off in the hills to the south-west. It is a ridge covered with blocks of sandstone, with a few trees here and there. From its summit I had an extensive view of the low land stretching away to the northward, and forming the western side of the channel. It appeared so cut up with creeks as to form a mass of islands and mud flats, which appeared from the quantity of drift timber, to be frequently overflowed, and partially so apparently at high spring tides. The farthest high land I saw bore west about twelve miles.


I left here a paper in a bottle, giving an account of our proceedings, and should have been sorry to think, as Wallis did when he left a similar document on a mountain in the Strait of Magellan, that I was leaving a memorial that would remain untouched as long as the world lasts. No, I would fain hope that ere the sand of my life-glass has run out, other feet than mine will have trod these distant banks; that colonization will, ere many years have passed, have extended itself in this quarter; that cities and hamlets will have risen on the banks of the new-found river, that commerce will have directed her track thither, and that smoke may rise from Christian hearths where now alone the prowling heathen lights his fire. There is an inevitable tendency in man to create; and there is nothing which he contemplates with so much complacency as the work of his own hands. To civilize the world, to subdue the wilderness, is the proudest achievement to which he can look forward; and to share in this great work by opening new fields of enterprise, and leading, as it were, the van of civilisation, fills the heart with inexpressible delight. It is natural, therefore, as I traced the record of our visit and deposited it on Indian Hill, that I should look forward in a mood very far different from that of Wallis, to the speedy fruition of my hopes.

October 27.

The winds for the last few days had been from West-North-West to North-West, light after midnight to near noon, then moderate and sometimes fresh. The tides, as they approached the springs, increased their velocity, occasionally coming down in bores at the rate of four and five knots.


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