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—STRAITSMEN—NORTH COAST OF TASMANIA—ABORIGINES—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
The most interesting topic of conversation on our arrival at Sydney was the projected expedition into the interior. Two candidates for this important and deeply interesting undertaking had presented themselves—Mr. E.J. Eyre and Sir Thomas Mitchell, both experienced Australian explorers. The latter proposed to start from Fort Bourke on the Darling; and the former from Moreton Bay. In my own humble opinion, strengthened by recent experience, neither of these are practicable routes;* or at any rate, they are not the best that could be selected. The centre of the continent must be reached by the shortest possible journey; it being advisable to avoid the despondency that seizes on a party during a protracted expedition, and to keep up throughout a certain degree of excitement. As, therefore, the greatest indentation on the shores of the continent is the Gulf of Carpentaria, the head of the Albert River, which discharges its waters into the bottom of it, is unquestionably the best point of departure that could be selected, being one-half the distance of Fort Bourke from the centre, and two-thirds nearer than Moreton Bay.
- * Whilst this sheet was going through the press, the report of our greatest Australian traveller, Capt. Sturt, reached England; wherein he writes, speaking of his furthest (February 1845) in lat. 28° S. and long. about 141° 22' E. having apparently entered the central desert, as follows: "I could see no change in the terrible desert to which I had penetrated. The horizon was unbroken by a single mound, from north round to north again, and it was as level as that of the ocean. My view to the north extended about eight miles, but I did not venture to compass that distance, only perhaps to have overlooked a similar heart-rending and desolate scene." This bears out the opinion expressed in the text. I do not hesitate, however, in the face of the interesting evidence brought forward by Capt. Sturt, still to doubt the existence of an inland sea. I think the high temperature he experienced contradicts such an hypothesis; and I believe the large expanse of water, reported by the natives, to be the Gulf of Carpentaria, which bore about north (true) six hundred miles from his position, Moreton Bay being nearly equidistant on an east bearing, whilst Adelaide bore S. by W. ½ W. about four hundred and thirty miles.
I have before recommended the use of camels, with skins for carrying water, in an undertaking of this kind; and I may here add, that they might be procured in the neighbourhood of the Gulf of Cutch,* which place the vessel should leave in the N.E. monsoon, in time to have the latter end of the N.W. monsoon to take her to the Gulf of Carpentaria, where at Sweers Island the final arrangements for disembarking, before alluded to,† could be made.
- * Camels are to be procured in this neighbourhood, when they are not required for war service, for about five pounds a head. Besides, the natives of that part are more easily to be obtained as attendants than Arabs.
- † See p. 272.
In a country like Australia, with so varied a surface, it is certainly impossible to indicate with confidence anything beyond the point of departure for an exploring party. Their direction must, of course, depend on the country they find; but I think it may be said from the most recent, and I much fear melancholy, experience, that the routes from neither Moreton Bay nor Fort Bourke are practicable. That from the head of the Albert is, I believe, much superior, and I consider, after mature deliberation, that the plan I have recommended is at once the most expeditious and the most economical way of solving a question of daily increasing interest, and of removing an imputation on English enterprise which is daily becoming more serious.
The other routes of exploration which appear to me both practicable and useful are from Halifax Bay to the Albert,* a distance of above four hundred miles, and from Limmens Bight to the Victoria, about three hundred. These will be found marked in the chart accompanying this work.
After leaving Sydney we had a succession of south-easterly gales, of three or four days' duration, and equal in severity to any we had experienced since leaving England. To avoid one from the westward we put into Twofold Bay;† a remarkable high-peaked hill, Mount Imlay, lying behind the head of it, bearing S.W. ½ W., leads in.
I was surprised to find by my observations‡ here that this part of the coast is laid down ten miles too much to the eastward of Sydney, an error I subsequently found to be continued to Jervis Bay; so that the course from thence to Sydney, instead of being, according to the chart, N.¼ E. magnetic is N. by E., a fact that should be borne in mind by masters of vessels, until this part of the coast is properly surveyed.
- * This route I suggested to his Excellency Sir George Gipps, in March, 1842.
- † This we found to be a very convenient anchorage; and the constant resort of coasters. From its proximity to the southern parts of the Manero country, it is likely to become a very thriving place, under the auspices of Mr. Boyd, who is erecting a town there. This gentleman, I am happy to say, employs the natives as part of the crew of his yacht; they are also constantly engaged in the boats of the whaling station, where their excellent eye renders them extremely useful in seeing and harpooning the fish; and being particularly well-disposed, they might he made something of.
- ‡ Which placed Point Brierly in lat. 37° 6' 40" S., long. 1 degree 18' 18" west of Sydney; or 149° 57' 42" east of Greenwich, according to what I consider the meridian of Sydney.
The error I found in the position of Twofold Bay induced me to commence our survey there, for the purpose of ascertaining the position of Cape Howe," which I discovered to be rather more out in long.; while the islet, instead of lying off it, lies four miles to the south-west.
- * This Cape, in lat. 38° 31' 00" S. and long. 1 degree 14' 15" W. of Sydney, although rather low, is of bold approach, and admirably situated for a lighthouse. Others erected on Montague Island and Point Perpendicular, would light the whole coast as far as Sydney.
Leaving, we again spent several days under a close-reefed main-topsail and a reefed fore-sail; but at length reached an anchorage on the eastern shore of Flinders Island within the north-east side of a granitic lump called Babel Islet. The flood tide came from the north-east at this anchorage, which can only be used in easterly winds. There is a curious dome on the inner side of Babel, which is connected by a sandy spit with the large island. Within the eastern point of the latter are the remarkable pyramidal hills, called the Patriarchs, rising out of a scrubby plain, much cut up with lagoons, which forms the character of this side of Flinders. We were enabled to fix the eastern shore of the island, from Babel Islet and the outer Patriarch, whence the view was commanding. A range of bare-topped hills lies to the west, whilst to the south-west, through a mass of clouds, we occasionally caught glimpses of some high peaks, which I named after my friend Count Strzelecki. A heathy valley stretches across the island to the westward, through which I saw the sea on the opposite side; on the northern part the hills are more rounded and lower.
From Babel Islet we proceeded towards Kent Group, passing, in 11 or 12 fathoms, along the eastern shore of Flinders Island, where we discovered a dangerous sandy spit extending five miles off; from its extreme the eastern part of the outer Sister bore N. 64° W., six miles and a half. After rounding the latter the wind changed in a violent squall to the westward, and gave us a long beat of a day to reach Kent Group, during which we discovered a reef,* just awash at high-water, and bearing E. 8° S., five miles and a half from Wright's Rock.†
- * Beagle's Reef.
- † A pyramidal lump, three hundred feet high, resembling a cutter under sail.
This, Endeavour Reef, and a sunken rock, about a mile east of Craggy Island, constitute the chief dangers between Kent Group and Flinders. The extremes are marked to the north and south by Wright's Rock and Craggy Island, between which ships should not pass, although there is a channel close to the south side of the former. It should also be particularly borne in mind that the tides, which here sometimes run two knots, set rather across the channel S.W. by S. and N.E. by N. The north-easterly stream beginning a quarter before noon at the full and change of the moon.
The Beagle passed half a mile from the north-west side of Wright's Rock, in 29 fathoms, in the evening; and having spent the night standing to-and-fro between it and Kent Group, in the morning was abreast of the opening between the islands called Murray Pass, when we steered towards it. The weather, for the season, was fine; and the sun, although weak, shone brightly from a clear wintry sky—it well-nigh happened for the last time—upon the poor old Beagle!
The sea, still vexed and chafing from the breeze of yesterday, rolled in with solemn grandeur on the storm-beaten sides of the islands; each heaving swell carrying the ship nearer towards the almost fatal opening. Her motions, however, as if she was conscious of the fate that threatened her, were sluggish and slow, and she seemed unwillingly to obey the impulse of the light southerly breeze that aided her progress. Indeed there appeared to be an opposing tide until we drew in between the high rocky sides of the channel, when suddenly the ship was hurried onwards with such rapidity that to prevent our being swept past a cove on the right it was necessary to close with its outer point, towards which a merciless eddy flung the ship's head so rapidly, that before the thrown-aback sails checked her way, her jib-boom was almost over the rocks.* During the few awful moments that succeeded, a breathless silence prevailed; and naught was heard but the din of waters that foamed in fury around, as if impatient to engulf us in their giddy whirl. Still, it must be confessed, that our hearts sickened within at the thought that our little bark, after having braved so many storms, and done so much good service to the state, might be left to whiten a foreign shore with her timbers. Providence, however, decreed it should be otherwise; and the next moment the Beagle's head was slowly paying off from the shore. But her broadside becoming exposed to the swell, she was again driven in towards the point, and so close, that before the well-trimmed sails gave her way, as her stern went down with the swell, the assurance that she must strike, pervaded every shuddering frame. To myself, the sensation was just as if my feet were under the keel; and I almost expected to feel the bones crushing. Still we clung to hope, which can find a place even in the narrowest interval of danger; and our eyes and hearts were lifted up in supplication to Him who had already so miraculously reprieved us. Scarcely, however, had the prayer been formed and preferred, when the peril was past: in the course of an hour we were safely moored in E. Cove, Kent Group.
- * See the view annexed.
In this wild and confined anchorage we were detained by constant westerly gales for a fortnight, during the whole of which there was only one really clear day, when I got angles to all the distant points from a hill near the south-east extreme of the group, nine hundred and ten feet high and quite precipitous on its seaward face. We named it Lighthouse Hill, its admirably conspicuous situation suggesting the purpose to which it might be devoted; the materials for building, moreover, are all at hand.
The principal islands of Kent Group have been named Deal and Erith; they occupy a square of four miles, and are separated by Murray Pass, a channel half a mile wide. Conical granitic hills, in some cases clothed to their very summits with an impervious scrub, are scattered over them. On Deal, the eastern isle, there are charred stumps of a few large eucalypti: but otherwise the trees are small, the largest being a few casuarinas over the head of E. Cove. The valleys on the north side are rich; and in one leading from Garden Cove we found a quantity of fine carrots, planted by some sealers; their seed had been carried by the wind until the whole valley was filled with them; fresh water also is abundant on that side of Deal Island; and as limestone crops out at the head of E. Cove, a small party of convicts might be kept here and advantageously employed in erecting the lighthouse and cultivating the soil. By holding out to them a slight reward, many of the islands in Bass Strait might be brought under cultivation, and supply grain, potatoes, etc., for the consumption of the prisoners in Tasmania. This plan of dispersing the convicts would also be beneficial in producing a change for the better in themselves; for whilst together they are certainly more likely to brood mischief.
Besides E. Cove there are others on the north-east and south-east sides of Deal Island; whilst on Erith there is only one called W. Cove, in the north part of Murray Pass; it is subject to violent gusts that do not reach E. Cove.
The formation of this group is a little singular, the calcareous limestone on Deal occurring two hundred feet above the sea and between granite; whilst on Erith vesicular lava was found. These islands are connected with Flinders by a sand ridge, on which the depth is 28 and 30 fathoms; but the islets and rocks between would appear, from the evidence of upheaval we have just cited, to be elevated portions of a submerged piece of land about to disclose itself.*
- * The observations on the tides at these islands make the time of high-water on the full and change of the moon a quarter past eleven, when it rises eight feet. The stream in Murray Pass, which runs from two to five knots, changes to the northward twenty' after high-water.
In a valley behind E. Cove there was a stream of water, which strange to say was quite salt and came from the middle of the island. In the same neighbourhood I turned loose about a dozen rabbits for the benefit of any unfortunate voyagers who might be thrown hungry ashore in this locality. During the few days that we were there they appeared to thrive very well, and I have no doubt that if not disturbed the island will soon be overrun with them, there being no wallabies to offer molestation.
We were not sorry to find ourselves one fine morning turning our backs on the scene of one of the Beagle's many narrow escapes; so favourable did the weather continue, that, although in the first week in June, we were able to pass both the following nights at anchor in the middle of the strait;* on the first occasion between the Devil's Tower and Curtis's Island;† and on the second, five miles to the southward of Hogan Group.
I landed on the largest island;‡ which I found to be a mile and a half in extent, inhabited by a number of dogs left by sealers, that had become quite wild; in a cave on the south-east point were some fur seals. Two small islets front a boat-cove on the north-east side, where there is fresh water; and outside these there is a rock just awash. The summit of the large island was a most important station; and with Lighthouse Hill at Kent Group, formed an astronomical base for the survey.
- * I gladly seized these opportunities of ascertaining exactly the set of the tides. At the first anchorage they ran E.N.E. and S.E. only from half to a quarter of a knot, the latter beginning half an hour before low-water at Kent Group; at the second the tide set N.E. by E., one knot, and S.S.W. a knot and a half; the southerly stream began one hour and a half after low-water at Kent Group: on both occasions there was a light westerly wind.
- † The central position of this island renders it quite a finger-post for ships passing through the Strait. It has at the south end a square summit 1060 feet high, in lat. 39° 28' 20" S., and long. 4° 33' 45" W. of Sydney; towards the north it slopes away something in the shape of a shoe, from which it is called by the sealers The Slipper. Two sugarloaf rocks, each 350 feet high, lie two miles and a half off its southern end.
- ‡ The highest point I found to be in lat. 39° 13' 04" S., and long. 4° 13' 15" west of Sydney; and 430 feet high.
From Hogan Group we stood to the northward, and were able to pass another night at anchor six miles from a low sandy shore, and fourteen to the eastward of Corner Inlet, which we found on examination had a bar extending off six miles from the entrance, on which at low tide there is water for vessels drawing sixteen and eighteen feet. A group of islets, named from their utility Direction Isles, lies in the fairway, a few miles outside the bar.
During the examination of this great useless sheet of water, the ship lay near a small islet close to the Promontory about seven miles from the entrance, which, from the abundance of rabbits, we called Rabbit Island;* I have since learnt that these animals had multiplied from a single pair turned loose by a praiseworthy sealer six years before; and the sight of their number did not a little encourage me to expect a similar result from the gift I had bestowed on Kent Group.
- * The outer extreme of this island, in one with Cape Wellington, forms a leading mark into Corner Inlet, but vessels should get them on within a mile of the island. These marks are of use until the eastern and highest of the Direction Isles opens out just clear of the others, when by keeping it in that position, or steering for the middle of the entrance, a ship may be taken safely in. The tide rises eight feet at springs, when the time of high-water is twenty' before noon.
From the highest hill on the south-eastern point I had obtained a most excellent view of Corner Inlet, which bore a great resemblance to a basin. I have before called it useless, from its being only navigable a mile or two within the entrance and that chiefly on the northern side, the rest being occupied by mud flats. It was a bitter cold day; but between the sleet squalls I was able to trace the coast westward as far as Cape Liptrap over the low neck connecting Wilson's Promontory with the main, and forming the south-western shore of Corner Basin; and eastward beyond Shallow Inlet,* where the Clonmel steamer was lost. About six miles to the north-east the masts of some vessels pointed out the approach to Alberton. The intervening space was filled with islands and mud banks; which character the shore appeared to retain further eastward, being fronted by a margin of low sandy land, sometimes broken by the pressure of the sea from without or of the waters from within, when the streams that add to the fertility of Gipps' Land are swollen by the melting of the snows on the Australian Alps.
- * Vessels bound to Alberton, the capital of Gipps' Land, generally pass through this inlet, but as the water is shallow, and breaks across the entrance, if there is any swell, it is more prudent to enter by Corner Inlet, and take the second opening on the right within the entrance.
To commemorate my friend Count Strzelecki's discovery of this important and valuable district, which he named in honour of His Excellency the Governor, I called the summit of a woody range 2110 feet high, over the north shore of Corner Inlet, Mount Fatigue.* The only vegetation this part of the promontory supports is a wiry grass, stunted gums and banksias in the valleys, and a few grass-trees near the crests of the hills which are generally bare masses of granite. Behind a sandy beach on the east side beneath where I stood were sinuous lines of low sandhills, remarkable for their regularity, resembling the waves that rolled in on the shore.
- * It was in the rear of this range that Count Strzelecki and his companions, on their way to Western Port, experienced the sufferings related in the Port Phillip Herald, June 1840, from which I extract the following: "The party was now in a most deplorable condition. Messrs. MacArthur and Riley and their attendants had become so exhausted as to be unable to cope with the difficulties which beset their progress. The Count, being more inured to the fatigues and privations attendant upon a pedestrian journey through the wilds of our inhospitable interior, alone retained possession of his strength, and although burdened with a load of instruments and papers of forty-five pounds weight, continued to pioneer his exhausted companions day after day through an almost impervious tea-tree scrub, closely interwoven with climbing grasses, vines, willows, fern and reeds. Here the Count was to be seen breaking a passage with his hands and knees through the centre of the scrub; there throwing himself at full length among the dense underwood, and thus opening by the weight of his body a pathway for his companions in distress. Thus the party inch by inch forced their way; the incessant rains preventing them from taking rest by night or day. Their provisions, during the last eighteen days of their journey, consisted of a very scanty supply of the flesh of the native bear or monkey, but for which, the only game the country afforded, the travellers must have perished from utter starvation..On the twenty-second day after they had abandoned their horses, the travellers came in sight of Western Port.")
Water and fuel are abundant on the point abreast of Rabbit Island. S.ward from this projection a sandy beach extends five miles, with a rivulet at either end, and separated from a small deep bay* open to the east, by a remarkable bluff, the abrupt termination of a high-woody ridge. The trees on the south-west side were large and measured eight feet in diameter. In the humid shelter they afforded the tree and a variety of other kinds of fern were growing in great luxuriance, with a profusion of creepers matted together in a dense mass of rich foliage. From thence southwards the shore is rocky and the water deep.
- * This bay is evidently Sealer's Cove in the old charts; but this part of the Strait is so much in error that it is hardly possible to recognize any particular point.
Refuge Cove, lying seven miles S.¼ W. from Rabbit Island, was our next anchorage. It was so named from its being the only place a vessel can find shelter in from the eastward on this side of the Promontory. Of this we ourselves felt the benefit; for although in the middle of June east winds prevailed the first few days we stayed there, with thick hazy weather, whilst at Rabbit Island we had constant westerly gales with a great deal of hail and sleet. This small cove, being only a cable wide at the entrance may be recognized by Kersop Peak, which rises over the south part, and from its lying between Cape Wellington and Horn Point,* and also from its being the first sandy beach that opens north of the former.
Such of us as had been in Tierra del Fuego were particularly struck with the resemblance of the scenery in Refuge Cove; the smooth quiet sand beaches, and dense forests reaching the water's edge, the mist-capped hills, and the gusts that swept down the valleys and roared through the rigging, forcibly recalled to our recollection that region of storms.
We found a whaling establishment in the south-east corner,† and the houses for the boats and their crews formed quite a little village. The person in charge, with one or two others, remains during the summer. These people had a novel safeguard against the attacks of the natives: a horrible looking figure, dressed so as to represent the evil spirit, of which the Australian aborigines are so much afraid, was placed in a conspicuous place; but whether it would have had the desired effect was not proved, as the natives had never been seen in those parts. There can, indeed, be little to tempt them to wander thither; for there are neither kangaroos nor wallabies, and but few birds. Among the most curious of those belonging to the land, is a kind of finch, with a black head, yellow beak, a dark brown back, and dirty white belly; across the wings and arching over the back, at the stump of the tail, was a stripe of white.
- * This projection has two pointed hummocks on it resembling horns.
- † Our observations made this spot in lat. 39° 02' 30" S., and long. 4° 44' 45" W. of Sydney. High-water on the full and change of the moon, takes place at 12 hours 5' when the tide rises eight feet; a mile in the offing the northern and ebb stream, which runs from one to two knots, begins at 11 hours 40'. Past the south end of the promontory the same stream sweeps round from the westward, sometimes at the rate of two knots and a half.
Cape Wellington, the eastern projection of the Promontory, forms the north point of Waterloo Bay, which is wide and spacious. These names were suggested by the fact that the day of our anchoring there was the anniversary of one of the greatest triumphs ever achieved by British arms. At the head of the bay, lies the low valley, three miles in length, which stretches across the promontory and forms a very conspicuous break in the high land. On the northern side of it, the highest hill, Mount Wilson, rises abruptly until its woody crest reaches an elevation of 2350 feet. On the southern, was a ridge strewn over with immense boulders of granite, one, near where I stood, measuring eighty feet in height, and resting with such apparent insecurity, that little seemed required to send it rolling and crashing into the valley below, along which a rivulet winds, and falls into the sea at the north end of a sandy beach, forming the head of Waterloo Bay. The depth in the middle of the latter is 12 fathoms, muddy bottom; it lies four miles from the south end of the Promontory, and there is no good anchorage between.
From a small flattened sugarloaf, forming the summit of Cape Wellington, I got an angle to the Crocodile Rock,* and with others from the south-west end of the Promontory, and from the ship on passing, I determined the position of this danger most satisfactorily.
- * This rock, in lat. 39° 21' 30" S., and long. 4° 41' 45" W. of Sydney, lies in a line midway between the western extremities of Curtis and Rodondo Islands, nearly nine miles from each. It is a smooth round-topped granite boulder, just protruding above the surface; and in fine weather the sea runs over it without breaking. The depth being 43 fathoms close to it, if the waters of the Strait were drawn off the shape of it would be that of a column nearly 260 feet high.
As we had not, as I expected, met the Vansittart, I was anxious to learn something of her, and crossing over to the south side of the Strait, for the purpose, entered Port Dalrymple, where I found that Mr. Forsyth and his party had preceded our arrival by a day or two. The Vansittart's employment had been the examination of the north-east extreme of Tasmania, some portions of which were found to be nine miles out in lat.; the greater part was fronted with kelp and rocky patches. The work, also, included a portion of Banks' Strait, and the southern part of the western side of Flinders Island, among the islets fronting which were discovered several good anchorages: the best in westerly winds being under Goose or Western Chappell Island, where a lighthouse was in course of construction.
His Excellency, Sir John Franklin, requesting that I would send the Vansittart round to Macquarie Harbour, on the west coast, after a party of runaway convicts, we were for a time deprived of her services. As the rise of the tide in the Tamar was sufficient for laying the ship ashore, I took the opportunity of doing so on the west bank, just above Garden Island, to examine her bottom, and found it so defective that 130 sheets of copper were required to make good the damage; in some places the two-inch sheathing was completely destroyed. The original settlement, York Town, was at the head of a shoal bight just above us; I found it almost quite in ruins, though there were one or two of the original settlers there; the chief part of the inhabitants were a lawless set, who were said to live, chiefly, by plunder.
Whilst the ship underwent these repairs, the triangulation was extended to Launceston,* at the head of the Tamar, thirty miles from the sea. Large vessels are prevented from approaching close to the town by a bar. The greatest difficulty found in navigating the river is Whirlpool Reach; near the middle of this lies a rock, an attempt to remove which, by blasting, was made; the top was blown off, so that now vessels are liable to be carried upon it, whereas, before, when it broke the surface, such was not the case.
- * The lat. of the Port office I found to be 41° 26' 5" S. long. 4° 42' 24" W. of Sydney. High water 3 hours 35'; springs rise 12 feet. During the winter, after rains, the stream sets down for days together at the rate of from one to three knots.
The valley, through which the Tamar winds, is narrow, with sides generally steep and densely wooded; in some places, the reaches are wide, and the hills recede; on their lower slopes, near Launceston, are situated many pretty villas, peeping through garden shrubberies; whilst further down are the straggling habitations of the more recent settlers, surrounded by clear patches, with difficulty won from the forest by the axe and the firebrand. On the whole, therefore, it may be said that art and nature combine to render beautiful the scenery on the banks of this important stream.
The first view of Launceston, the second town in Tasmania, is very pretty. The valley of the river expands as you approach, and over a low tract of land on the east bank, the straggling mass of buildings forming the town is descried. Though very healthy it lies on a kind of flat, backed with open woodland undulations at the junction of the N. and S. Esks; and, during the winter, is subject to fogs so dense that many persons well acquainted with the town frequently lose themselves. Where the streams unite, they become the Tamar, one of the principal rivers in Tasmania. At the distance of half a mile from the confluence, the N. Esk makes a by no means insignificant waterfall. This forms one of the first sights to which strangers arriving at Launceston are conducted, by a path which, winding along the face of a precipice, suddenly brings the cataract in sight, tumbling and roaring over the rocks into the pool, which seethes like a cauldron below, and sends up a steaming mist into the air. From the waters of the S. Esk, the country around Launceston derives its fertility; and perhaps there is no part of our southern colonies that more resembles England. The number of gentlemen's seats, before alluded to, thickly scattered over an undulating country cleared of all timber, save a few monumental trees, and well cultivated, strongly suggested thoughts of home.
When the weather permitted, the boats were employed in continuing the survey of Port Dalrymple. Observations were made at the flagstaff in George Town,* which we found to be in lat. 41° 6' 20" S. and long. 4° 23' 44" W. of Sydney; variation 9¾ E. This place is only a straggling village, situated on the east bank, about three miles and a half from the mouth of the Tamar, upon a flat, forming the north side of a snug cove at the western foot of a group of conical hills; on one of them is a signal station, by means of which, with another intervening, communication is kept up with Launceston.
- * The geological formation in the neighbourhood of this place will be found in Vol. I. page 280.
The entire month of July was occupied by the repairs of the ship, and the surveying operations; when we sailed from the Tamar and examined the passage at the eastern entrance of the strait, between Craggy Island and Flinders, which we found perfectly free from danger—a fact of great importance, as it had, hitherto, been reported full of sunken rocks. The Beagle passed a mile and a half from the south side of Craggy Island in 25 and 28 fathoms. This passage has a depth of 26 and 27 fathoms, and is six miles wide, whilst between Wright's Rock and Kent Group the width is nearly eleven miles. There appears, by the ripplings, to be foul ground between Craggy Island and Endeavour Reef, and the space intervening has, accordingly, been marked as one shoal in the chart.
Leaving the eastern entrance of the strait, we ran up to Sydney, for the supplies that had not arrived from England on our last visit; we now found them waiting for us, together with orders for the Beagle to return to England. Fortunately, however, the survey of Bass Strait was in such a forward state, thanks to Sir John Franklin's kind assistance in lending the Vansittart, that I could take upon myself the responsibility of waiting a few months to complete it.* I was, however, compelled by the brief interval of time allowed me, and the urgent demand that existed for a correct chart of the whole strait, to work on a smaller scale than I could have wished. It seemed to me that detached portions on a very large scale would be of far inferior utility to a complete survey on a comparatively small one.
- * This step was approved of by the Commander in chief.
It was not, however, my being prevented from completing Bass Strait in the manner most satisfactory to myself that occasioned the greatest part of the regret that accompanied this summons for the old Beagle to wend her way homewards; for we were thus also deprived of the opportunity of gratifying our desire to explore the southern parts of New Guinea, which we had always looked forward to as one of the most interesting parts of our voyage, containing elements of excitement sufficient to cheer the hearts that were yearning for home, and a character of novelty that would have amply compensated for whatever fatigue and exertion we might have experienced. On many occasions, during the heavy and monotonous part of our labours, the anticipated delights of discovery refreshed our imaginations and elevated our spirits, imparting to our most irksome occupations an interest that did not belong to them, but was borrowed from those hoped-for scenes of adventure on the unvisited shores of New Guinea to which we believed that each dull day's hard work brought us nearer. But it was not destined to be our lot to add any more new lands to the geography of this part of the world; and H.M.S. Fly and Bramble had been commissioned at home for surveying service in Australasia. This expedition, under the command of Captain F. P. Blackwood, arrived at Sydney on the 10th of October, whilst we were there, and sailed soon after our departure, to commence tracing the outer Barrier Reefs, a service attended with no ordinary risk, but which has been happily completed, and a beacon erected to show vessels the best entrance, without a mishap.
Since the early part of this work was written this valuable addition to the survey of New Holland has induced an enterprising master of a merchant vessel to try the eastward passage through Torres Strait. As a proof of the practicability of this route I may state, that the above vessel passed through Torres Strait in January, went to Sydney, and returned for another cargo to Ballytown, in Allas Strait, by the May following. This passage, an account of which has been published in the Nautical Magazine, was made through the Barrier Reef by Captain Blackwood's Beacon on Raines Islet; but as this is out of the limits of the westerly monsoon, a better passage, doubtless, would have been effected by following a more northerly route, as recommended by Captain Blackwood.*
With reference, however, to the anticipated steam communication† between India and Australia, which will bring Sydney within nearly sixty days of England, I think with Captain Blackwood that steamers should at all times use Captain King's inner route;* and much of the delay occasioned by anchoring at night would be obviated by cautiously approaching, at reduced speed, the reefs, the position of which might be distinguished by means of a powerful light at the vessel's head or bowsprit end; when a course might be shaped for the next and so on. As the smooth water within the shelter of the Great Barrier Reefs affords facilities for steering with great nicety, a steamer, with care, might effect a saving of fuel as well as time by passing through Torres Strait without anchoring.
- * Steam communication between Sydney and Singapore would require three vessels of six hundred tons, one of which should leave Sydney and Singapore on the 1st of each month. Their engines should be of 200 horse-power, and furnished with tubular boilers, which consume a fifth less fuel than the others; they must carry at the least 200 tons, which, at the rate of 14 tons per diem, is sufficient for fourteen days fullspeed steaming, in which time, at the rate of 7 knots an hour, 2,352 miles will have been traversed, which is about 100 miles more than the distance between Sydney and Port Essington, and about 420 miles more than between the latter place and Singapore. This clearly shows that Port Essington is, as I have before stated, the best place for a coal-depot; and that one there would suffice for the whole line of communication. As, moreover, it is necessary that such a station should have protection against the natives, it further enhances the value of the settlement at Port Essington. This depot might be economically made, from the cheapness and abundance of coals in New S. Wales; and the number of ships that are constantly passing Port Essington in ballast would be glad of the freight so far. The cost of steam vessels of the size mentioned would be about 20,000 pounds, if built of wood, and 16,000 pounds, if of iron; and the annual expense of running one would be between 3,000 and 4000 pounds.
- † See "Nautical Magazine" for December 1845.
- * On this inshore track steamers would be able to replace with wood any deficiency in their fuel. I take this opportunity of saying that vessels carrying troops from Sydney to India should be compelled to use it, the chances of the loss of life being much less. On one occasion a ship called the Ferguson sailed from Sydney with part of a regiment, whilst we were there. The master ridiculed the advice given him by one of the Beagle's officers, to take the inner passage. The next news we heard of her was, that she had been wrecked on the outer Barrier at four in the morning; no observation having been taken since the previous noon, by which they might have found a current drifting them to the northward. Fortunately, another ship was in company, and saved the loss of life, but that of property was great. The fact that the lives of so many souls should be placed at the mercy of careless masters of ships, who run such risks, in spite of the warnings of experience, deserves the serious attention of Government.
The part of New Guinea above alluded to, which had often afforded us the materials of interesting speculation, also formed part of the survey of Captain Blackwood, who writes as follows: "On the coast of New Guinea we found a delta of fine rivers, and a numerous population, all indicating a rich and fruitful country. It is true that we found the inhabitants very hostile; but it must be considered that we were the first Europeans that they had ever seen; and I have no doubt that, on a further acquaintance, and convinced of our power, they might be easily conciliated. Their houses, arms, and cultivation, all indicate a considerable degree of civilization, and no small intelligence in the construction of their canoes; and I think it probable that a trade might be opened with this hitherto perfectly unknown people and country."* The people inhabiting the islands fronting the coast, Captain Blackwood found to be highly inclined to trade, readily bartering a valuable species of tortoise-shell for European articles of hardware.
During our stay at Sydney we also met H.M.S. Favourite, Captain T.R. Sullivan, just returned from visiting the Eastern Polynesian Isles, having succeeded in rescuing the guns that were lost from the ship in a melancholy and much to be lamented affray with the natives of Tongataboo, previous to the command of Captain Sullivan, whose adventure in this affair was very interesting, and cleverly managed.
The Favourite had experienced a hurricane† off Mangaia Island, the natives of which gave notice of its approach; and at Tahiti Captain Sullivan was also told that he might expect a hurricane before long. From this, and the experience of other navigators, it appears that rotatory gales are prevalent in the Pacific as well as in the Indian Ocean.
- * See Nautical Magazine for December 1845.
- † Although this hurricane has been noticed, and the Favourite's Log published in the "Nautical Magazine", I think it will be useful to continue the practice of entering into some detail respecting every hurricane that came under my observation. This storm, it appears, was encountered off Mangaia, one of the Harvey Isles, lying about midway between the Society and Hapai Groups. The Favourite was in lat. 21° 58' S., long. 158° 02' W., five miles S.W. by W. from Mangaia, at noon on the 17th December, 1842, steering W. by S. ½ S. before a moderate gale from E.N.E., with cloudy rainy weather. At 3 p.m. she had gone 27 miles, when the wind, which had increased to a strong gale, veering to N.E., the course before it was now S.W.; but at the end of another hour, having run eight miles, the wind increased to a storm, and veering again to the eastward, the ship was brought to the wind on the port tack under a main trysail. For the hours 5 and 6, she headed from S. to S.W., which would give for the direction of the wind about S.E. by E. At 6.30 a man was washed away with the lee quarter-boat. At 8, the wind had veered to S. by W., having blown a hurricane, with constant rain for the last hour; at 9 most of the half-ports were washed away, the sea making a clean sweep over the decks. By midnight the wind had subsided to a whole gale; but still veering had reached the W.S.W. point, and at 3 the next morning it was blowing only a moderate breeze from W.N.W., with tolerably clear weather. Sail was now made, and a S.W. by S. course held for 28 miles, when by the noon observation the lat. was 22° 1 minute S., long., by chronometer, 158° 44' W. The day following the hurricane the wind was moderate from the westward; and on that previous to it of about the same strength from the northward. The ship's position at noon of the latter day was about 130 miles to the N.E. by E. of Mangaia Island. The duration of this storm, then, may be considered to have been from 4 p.m. to midnight, in which eight hours the wind had veered gradually from E. round by S. to W.S.W. The veering being much more rapid between 8 and 9 p.m. when the storm was at its height, the ship must at that time, have been nearer the focus. The tack on which the Favourite was hove to carried her into the course of the hurricane, or rather placed her in a position to be overtaken by it, as it passed along to the southward and westward; but as the ship broke off to the westward and northward, she fell out of its north-western edge. Doubtless, if a W.N.W. course had been pursued in the first instance, or at noon on the 17th, the Favourite would have avoided the storm. It is to be regretted that the barometer was broken in the commencement of the hurricane, when it was unusually low, having been falling for some time before. Besides this, there was ample warning in the unusually gloomy lurid appearance of the sky; the weather also was misty, with showers of rain as the ship approached the course of the storm.
Leaving Sydney, we resumed our work to the southward; and towards the end of October anchored under Swan Island, lying midway on the south side of Banks Strait, which trends W. by N., with a width of twelve miles, a length of seventeen, and a depth of from 16 to 25 fathoms; it is formed by the north-east point of Tasmania and the islands lying to the south of Flinders. Barren Island, one of the latter, has a remarkable peak at its south-eastern end, and some high rounded hills on the north-western; it is twenty-two miles in extent, lying in an east and west direction. It is separated from Flinders by a channel, which I named after Sir John Franklin, four miles wide, thickly strewed with islands and shoals. The eastern entrance is almost blocked up by sandbanks, extending off five miles and a half from a large island (called by us after the Vansittart, but known to the sealers by the name of Gun-carriage Island) and leaving only a narrow, shifting passage of 2 and 4 fathoms between their northern side and Flinders Island. The anchorages which lie in the western part of Franklin Channel are not so sheltered as those between Barren and Clarke Islands. The latter has two rounded summits, the highest 690 feet, resembling a saddle, either from west or east. The rugged peaks of Strzelecki, reaching an elevation of 2,550 feet, rise immediately over the northern point of the west entrance of Franklin Channel.
The north-east extreme of Tasmania is singularly low, with a coastline of sandhills. Out of this level tract rise Mounts William and Cameron; the latter, 1,730 feet high, is the highest of a group of peaks, cresting a ridge, whilst the former is a solitary pyramidal hill, 730 feet high, used as a guide for craft in working through the strait. When it bears S. by W., vessels may close with the south shore, being then past the Black Reef,* and the rocks that lie off the coast to the eastward, as far as Eddystone Point. The most outlying and remarkable are the St. George's Rocks, a cluster of grey granite boulders, 66 feet high; a patch of moored kelp, however, on which the water sometimes breaks, lies three miles E.S.E. from the Black Reef. The principal danger on the northern side of the eastern entrance of the strait is Moriarty Bank, which extends off four miles and a half east from the south-east point of Clarke Island; there is, however, a narrow passage of 16 fathoms close to the latter. This Bank, which has a couple of rocks near its north-eastern part, is steep to, and may be avoided by keeping the south point of Clarke Island, to bear to the southward of W. 12° N. Mount William, also, bearing S. 7° W. clears the outer end of it.
- * This reef is a low, dark, rocky islet, with reefs extending off N. 45° W. three quarters of a mile, and S. 56° E., one mile. There is a passage of 7 fathoms, a mile wide, between it and the main, through which the highest St. George's Rock, bearing S. 52° E., leads. Black Reef bears from the latter N. 45° W., six miles and a half, and from the summit of Swan Island, S. 53° E., eight miles and three-quarters. Mount William, also, bears from it S. 22° W.
I may here mention, that the importance of Banks Strait is great, as all the trade between Hobart, Launceston, and Port Phillip, passes through it.
Swan Island is a narrow hummocky strip of land, a mile and a half long, trending S.W. by W.; the loftiest part, 90 feet high, near the north end,* was selected by Sir John Franklin for the site of a lighthouse, the foundation of which he laid, after resigning the reins of government; it was the last benefit he was able to confer on the colony.
- * In lat. 40° 43' 36" S., long. 3° 5' 50" W. of Sydney, and 148° 10' 10" E. of Greenwich; variation, 10 east.
A well of indifferent water was found near the north-west end of the island; and some sealers had recently turned loose a couple of pigs, to which I added a third.
Two small islets lie one mile and a half W.N.W. from Swan Island, and a dangerous patch of rocks, one and a quarter N.W. by W. from the summit; they are all connected with the large island by shoal water.
We found the best anchorage to be a quarter of a mile off the south point of a sandy bay, near the outer end of the island. During the time we lay here for the purpose of obtaining a series of tidal observations,* and verifying a few of the principal points of Messrs. Forsyth and Pasco's survey, constant strong westerly gales prevailed; and from all the local information obtained it appeared that such was generally the case.
- * The result of these observations makes the time of high-water at the full and change of the moon 9 hours 36' when the rise of the tide is six feet and three at neaps. The flood-stream comes from the eastward; and both it and the ebb is of 6 hours 15' duration at springs; but during neaps the flood runs 7 hours 0' and the ebb 5 hours 30'. The interval of slack-water never exceeded a quarter of an hour, and the western stream begins 0 hours 30' after low-water at springs, and 0 hours 50' after it at neaps; whilst the eastern begins 0 hours 40' after high-water at springs, and 0 hours 10' before it at neaps. The velocity of the stream was from one to three knots, the strongest being the ebb, which at springs and with a strong westerly breeze attains a strength in the middle of the strait of nearly four knots, and causes, when opposed to the wind, a high-topping sea, dangerous for small craft.
- Whilst in other respects the tides are the same, the time of high-water at Preservation Island, though only at the northern side of the strait, is 1 hour 15' later than at Swan Island. This great difference is caused by the influence of the flood-stream out of Franklin Channel and from the northward along the west side of Flinders Island. The flood-streams setting to the westward through Banks Strait, and to the south-westward past the north-west end of Flinders, meet about ten miles to the westward of the Chappell Isles, when their united stream curves round by south to west, becoming gradually weaker, and soon after passing the mouth of the Tamar ceasing to be felt at all, leaving in the middle of Bass Strait a large space free from tidal influence as far as the production of progressive motion is concerned, that given to it from the entrances being neutralized by their mutual opposition. There is, however, an easterly current of nearly a knot an hour, in strong westerly winds. The meeting of the tides on the west side of Flinders also leaves a space, close to the shore near the centre, free from any stream. At the eastern entrance of Franklin Channel there is also a meeting of the flood-streams, one coming from N.N.E. and the other from S.E.
Whilst at this anchorage two boats belonging to the whaling station on Wilson's Promontory passed on their way to Hobart, which they reached in safety. They made the passage, hazardous for boats, across the strait by touching at Hogan and Kent Groups and so over to Flinders Island.
Leaving, we beat through between Swan Islands and the main, which we found to be a good channel,* a mile and a half wide, with an average depth of ten fathoms. After passing the western islet the south side of the strait should be given a wide berth, particularly on approaching Cape Portland, off which some islets with foul ground and a sunken rock at their extreme, extend two miles and a half. The summit of Swan Island, bears S. 75° E. and Mount Cameron S. 2° E. from the outer edge of this danger; which masters of vessels should remember, both in reaching to the southward in the strait, and in running for it from the westward.
- * Mount William bearing S. 40° E. leads into the western entrance.
Crossing Banks Strait we anchored under Preservation Island, lying between the western extreme of Clarke and Barren Islands; it owes its name to the preservation of the crew of a ship run ashore upon it in a sinking state. The value of the shelter this anchorage affords is in some measure destroyed by the presence of a sandbank extending off three miles from the eastern side of Preservation Island. Two small rocky islets lie a mile and a half off the western side of the latter, and several ugly rocks are scattered along the face of Barren Island, and as far as Chappell Group; on the outer isle of this group, which is low and level, the lighthouse bearing N. 60° W. fifteen miles and a half forms a very conspicuous object, and is visible to the eye in clear weather from the top of Preservation Island. Over the northern point of the latter, towers the summit of Barren Island, forming a sort of double mount 2300 feet high.
I found Preservation Island inhabited by an old sealer of the name of James Monro, generally known as the King of the Eastern Straitsmen. Another man and three or four native women completed the settlement, if such a term may be applied. They lived in a few rude huts on a bleak flat, with scarce a tree near, but sheltered from the west by some low granite hills; a number of dogs, goats and fowls constituted their livestock. In this desolate place Monro had been for upwards of twenty-three years; and many others have lived in similar situations an equally long period. It is astonishing what a charm such a wild mode of existence possesses for these men, whom no consideration could induce to abandon their free, though laborious and somewhat lawless state.
The term sealers is no longer so appropriate as it was formerly; none of them confining themselves to sealing, in consequence of the increasing scarcity of the object of their original pursuit. Straitsmen is the name by which those who inhabit the eastern and western entrance of Bass Strait are known; they class themselves into Eastern and Western Straitsmen, and give the following account of their origin: Between the years 1800 and 1805, the islands in Bass Strait and those fronting the south coast of Australia, as far westward as the Gulfs of St. Vincent and Spencer were frequented by sealing vessels from the old and the new country, if I may use this expression for England and Australia. Many of their crews became so attached to the islands they were in the habit of visiting, that when their vessels were about to leave the neighbourhood, they preferred to remain, taking with them a boat and other stores as payment for their work. There can be no doubt, however, that their numbers were afterwards recruited by runaway convicts.
On one island reside seldom more than two families. The latter word will at once satisfy the reader that these people were not deprived of the pleasures of female companionship: man was never born to be satisfied with his own society; and the Straitsmen of course found beauties suitable to their taste in the natives of the shores* of Bass Strait. It appears that a party of them were sealing St. George's Rocks when a tribe came down on the main opposite and made a signal for them to approach. They went, taking with them the carcasses of two or three seals, for which the natives gave as many women. These, perhaps, were glad of the change, as the aborigines of Tasmania often treat them shamefully. The sealers took their new-bought sweethearts to an island in Banks Strait, and there left them to go on another sealing excursion. Returning one day, they were surprised to find their huts well supplied with wallaby by the native women. Interest cemented a love that might otherwise have been but temporary. Visions of fortunes accumulated by the sale of wallaby skins flashed across the minds of the sealers; who, however, to their credit be it spoken, generally treated their savage spouses with anything but unkindness; though in some instances the contrary was the case. It must be confessed, at the same time, that having once discovered the utility of the native women, they did not confine themselves to obtaining them by the lawful way of barter; making excursions, principally to the shores of Australia, for the express purpose of obtaining by violence or stealth such valuable partners.
- * The islands were never inhabited by the aborigines until the remnant of the original population of Tasmania was sent by government to Flinders.
Thus commenced a population likely to be of great service to shipping, particularly as they make excellent sailors, and excel as headsmen in whalers, where the keenness of their half-savage eyes, and their dexterity in throwing the spear, render them most formidable harpooners. The young half-castes I saw were very interesting, having a ruddy dark complexion, with fine eyes and teeth. On Preservation, and the islands in the neighbourhood, there were twenty-five children; among whom were some fine-looking boys. Had the survey just been commenced I should have taken one of them in the Beagle. Their fathers, I am happy to say, give them all the instruction in their power: many can read the Bible, and a few write.
The common native belief in the transmigration of souls did not extend, I was glad to find, beyond the mothers, whom nothing could induce to think otherwise. When we were at Preservation Island, there was a young woman on her way, in company with her father, to Port Dalrymple, to be married to a European; and I afterwards learned from the clergyman there, that he had not for some time seen a young person who appeared to be so well aware of the solemn vow she was making.
The principal trade of the Straitsmen is in the feathers of mutton birds (Sooty Petrels) which annually visit the islands, between the 15th and 20th of November, for the purposes of incubation. Each bird lays only two eggs, about the size of that of a goose, and almost as good in flavour. The male sits by day and the female by night, each going to sea in turn to feed. As soon as the young take wing they leave the islands. Their nests are two or three feet underground, and so close that it is scarcely possible to walk without falling. The collection of the eggs and birds, which is the business of the women, is frequently attended with great risk, as venomous snakes are often found in the holes. When the sealers wish to catch them in large quantities they build a hedge a little above the beach, sometimes half a mile in length. Towards daylight, when the birds are about to put to sea, the men station themselves at the extremities, and their prey, not being able to take flight off the ground, run down towards the water until obstructed by the hedge, when they are driven towards the centre, where a hole about five feet deep is prepared to receive them; in this they effectually smother each other. The birds are then plucked and their carcasses generally thrown in a heap to waste, whilst the feathers are pressed in bags and taken to Launceston for sale.* The feathers of twenty birds weigh one pound; and the cargoes of two boats I saw, consisted of thirty bags, each weighing nearly thirty pounds—the spoil of eighteen thousand birds! I may add, that unless great pains are taken in curing, the smell will always prevent a bed made of them from being mistaken for one composed of the Orkney goose feathers. Some of the birds are preserved by smoking, and form the principal food of the Straitsmen, resembling mutton, according to their taste, though none of us could perceive the similarity.
- * They now fetch 3 pence a pound; formerly the price was 1 shilling.
The habitations of these people are generally slab and plaster, of very rude and uninviting exterior, but tolerably clean and comfortable within. They generally take what they may have for the market to Launceston twice in the year, lay in stores for the next six months, and return home, never, I believe, bringing back any spirits, so that while on the islands, they lead, from necessity, a temperate life.
It is sometimes in the power of these men to be of infinite service to vessels who are strangers in the strait, when driven into difficulties by westerly gales. Portions of the islands on which they reside are brought into cultivation; but at Gun Carriage they complain of their crops having been very backward since they were disturbed by the natives, with Mr. Robinson, as they destroyed with fire all the shelter that was afforded. The water throughout the islands is not always very good; grain, however, thrives tolerably, and potatoes do very well indeed. The latter are taken, with peas and other garden produce, to Port Dalrymple. This is an evident proof of what these islands are capable of producing, and is worthy the attention of Government, in case the idea, which I have suggested, is entertained, of sending convicts thither from Tasmania.
Taking advantage of a very unexpected breeze from the eastward we left Preservation Island for Port Dalrymple, which was made after a night's run, on the morning of the 26th November. Eighteen miles from the entrance of Banks Strait, and as far as abreast of Waterhouse Island,* and nine miles from it, we had soundings of from 18 to 20 fathoms; afterwards the depth was 30 and 40; whilst in the fairway nine miles from the opposite entrance of the Strait we had 37.
- * This island lies about a mile and a half from the main, and affords shelter for ships in westerly winds. They should anchor in 6 fathoms, midway in a line between the north points of the island and of the bay lying to the south-east. This anchorage being not so far to leeward as those on the western side of Flinders, is the best place of refuge for strangers arriving in a westerly gale off Port Dalrymple, where, as they can get no assistance from the pilots, they may not like to run in, on account of its treacherous appearance. Tenth Island (a mere white rock) and Ninth Island, are admirably situated for guiding a ship to Waterhouse; the first, bears N.E. ½ E., twelve miles from the entrance of Port Dalrymple; the course from it to Ninth Island (which should be passed on the outside) is N. 52° E., fourteen miles; and from Ninth Island to Waterhouse, N. 69° E., seventeen miles. The latter islands are very much alike in the distance, being both rather low, with cliffy faces to the westward, and sloping away in the opposite direction. Mount Cameron, bearing S. 61° E., is also a distant guide for Waterhouse Island. The great advantage of running for this place, instead of for an anchorage on the western side of Flinders, is that, in the event of missing it, Banks Strait will be open to run through; and should the Anchorage under Swan Island not be tried, shelter will be found in about 15 fathoms under the main to the southward.
Mr. Forsyth, in the Vansittart, had again preceded our arrival in the river Tamar by a few days. His visit to the west coast had been attended with considerable risk.* Still, with his usual zeal, he had not lost sight of the important branch of the service in which he was employed, and had made a survey of Port Davy and the coast to the South-west Cape, which completed our chart of the south-western shores of Tasmania.
- * Mr. Forsyth entered and examined Macquarie Harbour in his boat, and found on an island, in the head of it, two men in a state of starvation. These he took with him and returned to the mouth of the harbour; but a gale of wind having set in in the meantime, the Vansittart had sought shelter in Port Davy, lying ninety miles to the southward. Day after day passed away without any sign of the cutter. The increase of two, requiring much more than could be afforded, to their small party, soon consumed their stock of provisions, sparingly dealt out; so that, to preserve the lives of his party, Mr. Forsyth was obliged to risk a boat-passage, in the depth of winter, and along a storm-beaten coast, to Port Davy, which he most providentially reached in safety; though, at one time, in spite of the precaution taken to raise the gunwale by strips of blanket, the sea was so great that they expected each moment would be their last.
The coast on either side of the Tamar still remained to be surveyed, and accordingly I undertook the examination of that to the eastward, whilst Mr. Fitzmaurice, although even now scarcely convalescent, proceeded to the westward.
Without entering into details, I may briefly say, that to the eastward the coast trended N. 62° E. to Cape Portland, distant fifty-eight miles; and that at the distance of eight, eighteen, twenty-nine, forty-eight, and fifty-three miles, the rivers Currie, Piper, Forestier, Tomahawk, and Ringarooma, empty themselves into wide bays, which increase in depth as they advance eastwards. That formed by the point opposite Waterhouse Island and Cape Portland,* which receives the two last-mentioned rivers, and bears the name of the larger Ringarooma Bay, is seven miles deep and fifteen miles wide. Mount Cameron lies behind the head of it, where there is a vast extent of boggy land; this is also the case in the next bay to the westward, Anderson Bay, which receives the waters of the Forestier River.† The only good soil seen was on the large Piper River, so that the disproportion of land fit for cultivation on this part of the northern shore of Tasmania, with that which is not, is very great. Behind the coast the eye wanders over interminable woody ranges of various heights, thrown together in irregular groups, called by the colonists Tiers. They are seldom separated by valleys of any width, but rather by gullies, and are generally covered with an impervious scrub. The most conspicuous points, in addition to Mount Cameron, are Mounts Barrow and Arthur, two peaks about 4,500 feet high, very much alike, and lying nine miles in a north-west direction from each other. Mount Barrow bears, from Launceston, E.N.E., thirteen miles.
- * Small vessels anchor behind an island on the west side of this cape, to take away the wool from the sheep-stations in the neighbourhood. The rivers mentioned in the text are only navigable for boats, and by them only at high-water.
- † A small bay, with some outlying rocks off its points, bearing S.S.E., seven miles from Ninth Island, affords shelter for small vessels in its north-west corner. The passage inside that island should be used with caution.
At the large Piper River I passed a night at the station of a gentleman of the name of Noland, whom I found to be the nephew of a person of remarkable talent and great influence with the Peruvian Government, known only, at Lima, by the name of Don Tomas. There was a good deal of mystery about his character and position, nobody being able to explain who he was, whence he came, or what was the source of his influence; and it was rather a curious circumstance that I should learn the explanation of what had so much puzzled me in S. America, at a solitary sheep-station in Van Diemen's Land.
Shortly before we crossed the Great Piper River a party of convicts had run away with a fishing boat. Although only three in number they made the fishermen take them to Banks Strait, where they forced a party of sealers to pass them over to Wilson's Promontory. Notwithstanding they were several weeks on the passage, waiting for fine weather at the different islands (the sealers, too, being twice their number) such was their vigilance that they never allowed them a chance of escape. These men were afterwards seen near Sydney.
The most remarkable coast-feature, between Waterhouse Island and the Tamar, is Stony Head, a bluff three hundred feet high,* lying twelve miles from Port Dalrymple. A small sandy bay separates it from a point to the westward, and it is the nearest part of the main to Tenth Island. In the neighbourhood of this headland I was induced to enter a hut at a sheep-station, by seeing stuck round a fence a number of the heads of an animal called by the colonists a hyena, from the resemblance it bears in shape and colour, though not in ferocity, to that beast.† My object was to obtain a few of these heads, which the hut-keeper, who was the only inmate, instantly gave, along with an unsolicited history of his own life. In the early part we instantly discovered that this loquacious personage was, what he afterwards mildly confessed to be, a government man, in other words a convict, sent out of course, according to the usual story, through mistake. It appears that he had been a drover, and that a few beasts were one morning found (quite by accident) among a herd he was driving through the W. of England. He had spent the early part of his servitude at Circular Head, where he was for some time in charge of the native woman caught stealing flour at a shepherd's hut, belonging to the Van Diemen's Land Agricultural Company—a fact mentioned in a former chapter.***
- * Of basaltic formation; whilst the rocks that prevail to the eastward are of primary character. But as Strzelecki has written so largely on the geology of Tasmania, it will be needless for me to enter further into the subject, except to say, that the raised beaches found on the western side of Flinders, are evidences of an upheaval having recently taken place.
- † This is the only animal the Tasmanian sheep-farmer is annoyed with; and from its paucity, they have not, as in New S. Wales, the trouble of securing their flocks in yards or folds every night.
- * See Vol. i. p. 278.
I was curious to know how he managed to procure the obedience of this aboriginal victim; and the inhuman wretch confessed, without a blush—which must rise instead to the cheeks of my readers, when they hear of what barbarities their countrymen have been guilty—that he kept the poor creature chained up like a wild beast; and whenever he wanted her to do anything, applied a burning stick, a fire-brand snatched from the hearth, to her skin! This was enough. I could listen to no more, and hurried from the spot, leaving my brutal informant to guess at the cause of my abrupt departure. It is possible that the emotion I allowed to appear may have introduced some glimmering of the truth into his mind, that he may have faintly perceived how disgusted I was with his narrative; but such is the perversion of feeling among a portion of the colonists, that they cannot conceive how anyone can sympathize with the black race as their fellow men. In theory and practice they regard them as wild beasts whom it is lawful to extirpate. There are of course honourable exceptions, although such is a very common sentiment. As an instance, I may mention that a friend of mine, who was once travelling in Tasmania, with two natives of Australia, was asked, by almost everyone, where he had CAUGHT them? This expression will enable the reader better to appreciate the true state of the case than many instances of ferocity I could enumerate. It shows that the natives occupy a wrong position in the minds of the whites; and that a radical defect exists in their original conception of their character, and of the mode in which they ought to be treated.
Soon after I returned to the ship at Port Dalrymple, a party of natives was sent on board, with a request that I would allow the Vansittart to take them to Flinders Island; it consisted of an elderly woman and man, two young men, and a little boy. These were the remainder of the small tribe to which belonged the woman who received, as I have related, such cruel treatment from her keeper. I should here state, that when she was removed to Flinders Island, none of the natives there could understand her—a fact somewhat hostile to the theory of those who hold that there is little or no variety in the aboriginal languages of Australasia.
The party of natives in question were taken by some sealers on the western coast, near Arthur's River, and not far from the Van Diemen's Land Agricultural Company's station at Point Woolnorth, to which place they were first brought. A reward of 50 pounds had been offered for their apprehension, on account of some depredations they were said to have from time to time committed. A countrywoman of their own, the wife of one of the sealers, was instrumental in their capture. Pretence was made that the boat would carry them to some good hunting ground; but when they were all afloat, and prostrated by sea-sickness, the sealers made sail for the Company's station at Point Woolnorth, with a freight more valuable than seal-skins.
These were supposed to be the last of the aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania; though a report at one time prevailed that a solitary young man had been left behind. If this be the case, his position must be truly lamentable. Alone of all his race on that vast island, belonging to a people against whom the deepest prejudices are entertained, who have been hunted down like wild beasts by the new population, professing a religion which should teach them to act otherwise towards their brethren, no resource must have been left to him but to fly to the most inaccessible fastnesses, to hide in the gloomiest forests and darkest caverns, and to pass the remainder of his miserable life in constant struggles to prolong it, and in ceaseless endeavours to stave off that final consummation which could alone ensure him peace, and safety, and rest. Whether or not the report of the existence of this Last Man was true I cannot say; but, certainly, his story, imaginary or real, suggests numerous reflections, and opens a wide field for conjecture and speculation. What was the character of his thoughts, what importance he attached to the prolongation of his life, cut off as he was from the world, a solitary being, with no future prospect of the enjoyment of society, with no hope of seeing his race continued, we cannot tell. But his fate, at least, must force upon us the questions—have we dealt justly by these wild people? have we nothing to answer for, now that we have driven them from their native land, leaving no remnant, save one single individual, whose existence even is problematical? Without wishing to press too hard on any body of my countrymen, I must say I regret that that page of history which records our colonization of Australia must reach the eyes of posterity.
The woman, whose capture I have more than once alluded to, was, doubtless, the wife of one of the young men taken by the sealers, and mother of the boy who accompanied him. The prospect of meeting her probably lightened the hours of his captivity. But what a tale of suffering she had to relate! What had she not undergone as the penalty of an attempt to procure food for her family. With the narrative of her sorrows fresh in my memory, I could not but sympathize deeply with the last five of the aboriginal Tasmanians that now stood before me.
These natives differed even more than others I had seen as the wives of sealers, from the inhabitants of the Australian continent, possessing quite the negro cast of countenance, and hair precisely of their woolly character. These characteristics are nowhere to be found on the continent, natives from every part of which have come under my observation. The difference existing is so great, that I feel warranted in pronouncing them to be a distinct race. Excellent likenesses of Tasmanian natives will be found in Strzelecki's work on New S. Wales, where the truth of these remarks will be perceived at a glance.
Having thus been engaged in the removal of the last of the natives to Flinders Island, I feel that it is incumbent on me to give a short account of the causes which led to it. In the first place, history teaches us that whenever civilized man comes in contact with a savage race, the latter almost inevitably begins to decrease, and to approach by more or less gradual steps towards extinction. Whether this catastrophe is the result of political, moral, or physical causes, the ablest writers have not been able to decide; and most men seem willing to content themselves with the belief that the event is in accordance with some mysterious dispensation of Providence; and the purest philanthropy can only teach us to alleviate their present condition, and to smooth, as it were, the pillow of an expiring people. For my own part I am not willing to believe, that in this conflict of races, there is an absence of moral responsibility on the part of the whites; I must deny that it is in obedience to some all-powerful law, the inevitable operation of which exempts us from blame, that the depopulation of the countries we colonize goes on.
There appear to me to be the means of tracing this national crime to the individuals who perpetrate it; and it is with the deepest sorrow that I am obliged to confess that my countrymen have not, in Tasmania, exhibited that magnanimity which has often been the prominent feature in their character. They have sternly and systematically trampled on the fallen. I have before remarked that they started with an erroneous theory, which they found to tally with their interests, and to relieve them from the burden of benevolence and charity. That the aborigines were not men, but brutes, was their avowed opinion; and what cruelties flowed from such a doctrine! It is not my purpose to enter into details; I will only add that the treatment of the poor captive native by her inhuman keeper was in accordance with the sentiments prevailing, at one time, in the colony, and would not have received the condemnation of public opinion.
The natural consequence of such conduct by the whites, commenced in the very infancy of the colony, was a system of frightful retaliation on the part of the natives. These led to counter-reprisals, every year accumulating the debt of crime and vengeance on either hand, until the memory of the first provocation was lost, and a war of extermination, the success of which was, in the end, complete, began to be carried on.
It was not until exasperation, on either side, rose to its highest, that measures were taken to prevent the complete destruction of the aborigines. The first method selected was not characterized by prudence; being the result of the passionate counsels of the great body of colonists, who were smarting under evils entailed upon them by their own violent conduct. As is natural in all these cases, they looked only to the necessity of protecting their property and their lives; and did not take into account the massacres, the cruelties of every description, which had been at one time encouraged, or at least not condemned by the general voice. The casuistry of the human heart, in most instances, concealed the true state of the case, and many, if not the majority, felt the virtuous indignation which some only affected. At any rate, they set about the hunting down and capture of the aborigines, as a duty which they owed to themselves and their families. Government, with the best intentions, lent them every assistance in its power. The whole colony rose to a man; and military operations on a most extensive scale were undertaken. Cordons were established, marches and countermarches performed, complicated manoeuvres planned and executed, and every method resorted to, which in a different country and against a different enemy must have been rewarded with complete success. But in this instance, the impenetrable forests of Tasmania baffled the generalship and the tactics that were displayed; and an expedition attended with immense expense, and carried on with the greatest enthusiasm, ended in the capture of a single native.
It was now evident that means of another character must be tried, and the plan which Mr. Robinson had laid before Government for the capture of the natives in the meshes of persuasion was adopted. This enterprising person, accordingly, went alone and unattended among the aborigines, endured great privations, ran much risk, but finally, partly by his eloquence, partly by stratagem, contrived to bring in the tribes one by one, and to transport them quietly to the islands in the eastern entrance of Bass Strait. Mr. Bateman, commanding the colonial brig, Tamar, who took them across, describes them as reconciled to their fate, though during the whole passage they sat on the vessel's bulwark, shaking little bags of human bones, apparently as a charm against the danger to which they felt exposed.
They were first taken to Swan Island, but that not being found convenient, they were landed on the west side of Flinders Island, under the superintendence of Mr. Robinson. This place, also, was discovered to be ill-adapted for a permanent settlement; and a removal again took place to Vansittart or Gun-carriage Island, at the eastern extremity of Franklin Channel, where a number of sealers had been resident for some years; as, however, they could not show any title to the land they cultivated, except that of original occupancy—a title which I think should be respected, as it is the only true basis of the right of property—they were obliged to vacate, leaving their huts and crops to be laid waste. In the course of a few weeks, when considerable mischief had been effected, this position, likewise, was abandoned, and a location made once more on the west side of Flinders, about sixteen miles to the northward of Franklin Inlet.
The Home Government directed that in this their place of banishment every attention should be paid to the wants of the aborigines, and a liberal scale of necessaries provided. The officers of the establishment originally consisted of the superintendent, medical officer, catechist and storekeeper; but when the buildings, etc. for the settlement, were completed, the convicts were withdrawn, which diminished the number so much, that it was deemed practicable to reduce the staff of officers, and the whole duties of the four departments above alluded to devolved on one person, under the name of Surgeon-Superintendent. The combination of so many duties has, unfortunately, necessitated the neglect of some portion or another, possibly of the most material. The Sabbath afternoon is the only time that can be set apart for the religious instruction of the natives. This is to be regretted, as we have ample evidence of how capable they are of receiving it, in the lasting effects produced by Mr. Clarke, who sometime since filled the office of storekeeper; and for whom they all continue to feel great veneration, and to exhibit that respect which is due to a parent. On our visit in 1842 we heard all the natives of both sexes, old and young, sing several hymns, taught them by this excellent person. A few comprehended the full meaning of the words they uttered; and all, no doubt, might be brought to do so if proper instructions were again granted them.
Walter and Mary Ann, a married couple, who had recently returned from Port Phillip, where they had been living in the family of the former superintendent, Mr. Robinson, were so civilized, and proficient in all the plain parts of education, that they possessed great influence over their countrymen, who, incited by the contemplation of their superiority, were apparently desirous of acquiring knowledge. The barracks in which the natives dwell form a square of good stone buildings; but Walter and his wife have a separate cottage, with a piece of land attached. Mary Ann is a very tolerable needlewoman, and capable of teaching the others; some of whom, encouraged by the prizes that are awarded to industry, already assist in making their own dresses.
The men, to whom inducements are also held out to labour in farming, etc., are, however, generally indolent. They still retain a taste for their original wild habits, taking to the bush, occasionally, for several days together; and in order to enjoy all the freedom of limb to which they had been accustomed, throwing off their European clothing. This practice has been expressly prohibited, as from the sudden resumption of savage habits, and the abandonment of the covering to which they had become accustomed, severe illness resulted. To this may in part be attributable the rapid mortality which exists among them, and which leads us to suppose that at no distant period their utter extinction must take place. Out of two hundred who were originally taken to Flinders Island, more than one hundred and fifty had perished in 1842, to replace which loss, an addition of only fourteen by births, besides seven brought in the Vansittart, had been made. It seems, in truth, impossible that a race transported from their country, suddenly compelled to change all their habits and modes of life, kept under restraint, however mild and paternal, obliged to repress all the powerful instincts which lead them to desire a renewal of their wild and unfettered life, tormented by the memory of the freedom they once enjoyed, and galled by the moral chain which they now wear, constantly sighing in secret for the perilous charms of the wilderness, for their hunts, and their corrobberies, for the hills and mountains and streams of their native land—it is impossible, I say, that a people whose life has undergone such a change, who cherish such reminiscences and such regrets, should increase and multiply and replenish the face of the land.
Their destiny is accomplished. In obedience to a necessity—of man's creating certainly, but still a necessity—they have been expatriated for their own preservation; to restore them, would be but to ensure their speedier destruction; and all we can do is to soothe their declining years, to provide that they shall advance gently, surrounded by all the comforts of civilization, and by all the consolations of religion, to their inevitable doom; and to draw a great lesson from their melancholy history, namely, that we should not leave, until it is too late, the aborigines of the countries we colonize exposed to the dangers of an unregulated intercourse with the whites; that, without giving them any undue preference, without falling into the dangerous extreme of favouritism—an error of which the most high-minded and generous are susceptible in the case of a depressed race—we should consider, that in entering their country we incur a great responsibility, and that it behoves us at once to establish distinctly the relation in which they stand to the government, the colonists, and the soil!
Mr. Fitzmaurice's examination of the coast to the westward extended to Dial Point, distant twenty-nine miles from the Tamar. In this space there are no less than five rivers, all with very short courses, and not navigable except by boats and small craft; and by these only, on account of the surf on their bars, in fine weather. The first empties itself into an estuary, called Port Sorel; but it is difficult to detect the mouths of the others in the low sandy shore, which is deceptive, as the hills rising immediately in the rear give the coast a bold striking appearance from the offing. These rivers, namely, the Sorel, the Mersey,* the Don, the Frith, and the Leven, are distant from the Tamar, eleven, eighteen, twenty, twenty-three and twenty-seven miles.
A range of hills, nearly 2000 feet high, in which asbestos is found, lies midway between Port Sorel and the Tamar; and immediately over Dial Point rises a peaked range, of the same name; whilst Valentine Peak,† 4000 feet in height, is situated twenty-three miles S. 40° W. from the above point. This peak is a bare mass of granite, and as it glistens in the first beams of the morning sun like an immense spire, forms the most remarkable hill-feature in the north side of Tasmania. High level ranges extend to the eastward of it for some distance.
From Dial Point to Circular Head the coast trends N. 72° W., and as far as Rocky Point the shore is steep and woody. Emu Bay‡ lies at the end of the first ten miles; it is a confined anchorage, affording shelter in westerly winds. A river of the same name runs into it, and another called the Blyth joins the sea a mile and a half on the Tamar side of the east point, which has a remarkable round hill on it: nearly four and five and a half miles to the westward of this bay are other small streams. An islet lies at the mouth of the eastern one; and in its neighbourhood only the shore, which falls back a little, is sandy and faced with rocks.
- * A horse-shoe reef, extending nearly two miles from the shore, lies two miles to the eastward.
- † In lat. 41° 17' S. and long. 5° 28½' W. of Sydney, and when bearing S. by W. is a distant guide to Emu Bay.
- ‡ The N.W. or Blackman's Point is low, and in lat. 41° 2' 45" S., long. 5° 18' 50" W. of Sydney.
The River Inglis is of a good size; but a reef extends off the mouth and some distance to the eastward; it is two miles and a half to the S.S.E. of a headland, called Table Cape, the distances between which, Rocky Cape, Circular Head, and Emu Bay, are equal, namely, eleven miles and a half. Rocky Cape has a high pointed summit, with other peaks in the rear; a sunken rock is said to lie a mile and a half north of it; and the coast from thence to Circular Head falls back, forming a bight; five miles to the south-east of it is a sandy bay with a small rivulet running into it. The Sisters, two round hills, 870 feet high, renders the east point remarkable; an islet with a reef of considerable extent fronts it for some distance.
One of the pilots at Port Dalrymple, I found, had travelled along the west coast of Tasmania, from Macquarie Harbour to Point Woolnorth. He crossed four or five small rivers; but the country was covered with a low scrub, growing in an impenetrable network along the surface of the soil, so that he could only make progress by keeping the shore. He was landed from a colonial vessel, by a party of convicts who had taken possession of it, and afterwards succeeded in reaching Valdivia, on the west coast of S. America. They scuttled the vessel off the harbour's mouth, and came in in the boat, reporting it to have foundered. Being useful artificers in such an out of the way place, few inquiries were made about them, and they were received by the governor as a very acceptable addition to the population. Singular to say, when at Valdivia in 1835, I saw some of these men; they were married, and continued to be regarded as a very great acquisition, although a kind of mystery was attached to them. However, their enjoyment of liberty and repose was destined to be but short. Their whereabouts became known, and a man of war was sent to take them. All but one again effected their escape, in a boat they had just finished for the governor; and they have not since been heard of. The remaining delinquent was afterwards hanged at Hobart, where he gave a detailed and interesting narrative of the whole affair.
The few quiet days we had during our stay at Port Dalrymple, enabled us satisfactorily to complete the soundings at the entrance. Beacons were also erected on the shore by the Beagle's crew, for guiding vessels through the channels; they, however, require to be kept white, in order to show well against the dark ground behind. I furnished Lieutenant M. Friend, R.N. the port officer, with a few notes on the navigation of the Tamar, which, for the sake of the nautical reader, I give below.*
- * The most formidable shoal in the mouth of the Tamar, bearing the name of the Middle Ground, is a rocky patch, with, according to report, only 9 feet on one spot at low-water, spring tides, but the least depth found on it by the (Beagle's) boats was 12 feet. The north extreme of Low Head, in one with the first black cliffy projection to the eastward of it, or the flagstaff on Low Head, open northward of the lighthouse, clears the northern edge of it. The leading marks for entering eastward of the Middle Ground, generally called the Eastern Channel, are the Shear and W. Beacons. The latter stands in front of Dr. Browne's house, which is the first inside Point Friend, the western entrance point. The Shear Beacon must be kept a little open to the left or eastward of the W. Beacon, until you get abreast of the lighthouse; after which, both beacons should be kept in one. When within two cables and a half of the Shear Beacon, the course should be changed in the direction of the Red Beacon on the Barrel Rock, the first on the eastern side, to avoid a patch of kelp, extending one cable and a half in an easterly direction from the Shear Beacon, the depth, there, at low-water is 9 fathoms, and the least in the channel is 4 fathoms, on a ledge, apparently extending from Low Head to the Middle Ground.
- The Western Channel is two cables wide, with a depth, in the shoalest part, of 10 fathoms; it is formed by the Middle Ground on the eastern side, and the Yellow Rock Reef on the western; the latter is an extensive patch of kelp, with a double light-coloured rock near its extremity. The least water on it at low-water is 6 feet; from the Shear Beacon, it bears N. 50° W. five-tenths of a mile, and from the lighthouse, S. 52° W. eight-tenths of a mile. The Shear Beacon and the flagstaff at George Town in a line lead over the outer extreme. There is generally a white buoy in its vicinity, and a black one on the western edge of the Middle Ground. The Barrel Rock red beacon, and the high and low white beacons, erected by the Beagle's crew on the shore over Lagoon Bay, kept in one, lead through the Western Channel. When abreast of the Shear Beacon, steer for the next beyond on the west side of the channel, to avoid a long patch of kelp, with three and five fathoms in it, extending two cables and a half to the S.S.W. of the Barrel Rock.
- The high part of the Western Reef, bearing S. by E. leads into the fairway of the Western Channel, when will be seen the white beacons over Lagoon Bay. The latter is the second sandy beach inside the lighthouse on the eastern shore. The Western Reefs are those fronting Point Friend; the part above-mentioned, the only spot uncovered at high-water, is a black patch of rocks near their northern extreme.
- The only danger near the entrance of the Tamar is the Hebe Reef, named after a ship lost on it in 1808; it occupies a space of a quarter of a mile, chiefly in an east direction. A small portion of its centre is nearly dry at low-water; this part bears S. 89° W., three miles and three-tenths from the lighthouse on Low Head; inside it there is a channel of 7 fathoms. The guide for passing northward of it, is a white spot on the N.W. extreme of Low Head in one with the lighthouse; the latter will then bear E. 16° S.
- The shoals, on either side, within the entrance of the river, are marked with beacons. Those on the western shore, have a letter V sideways with a vertical bar on the top; and those on the eastern a dagger. Shoals marked with chequered buoys, may be passed on either side; a red or black buoy, signifies that the danger extends from the eastern shore; and a white one, that it extends from the western.
- The result of 115 tidal observations, taken three miles within the entrance, gives 12 hours 06' for the time of high-water on the full and change day. The rise of tide was irregular, the least being 4, and the greatest 10 feet. The highest noticed in the Beagle was during the neaps, caused by a strong N.W. gale forcing the water into the river. The tides flow 5 hours 50', and ebb 6 hours 25', with a velocity varying from two to five miles an hour, according as the river is confined or open. The ebb-stream setting round Low Head into the bay to the eastward, is apt to drift vessels in that direction. Three miles in the offing the flood-stream runs from one to two knots to the W.N.W.
- The position of the lighthouse on Low Head is as follows: lat. 41° 03' 26" S., long. 4° 25' 44" W., of Sydney; or 146° 50' 16" E. of Greenwich, variation 10° 05' easterly. The light is elevated 140 feet above the sea-level, and may be seen, in clear weather, sixteen miles from the decks of small vessels, revolving once in fifty".
On December 19th both vessels left the Tamar; the Vansittart for Flinders Island, to land the unfortunate natives; whilst the Beagle crossed the strait to Wilson's Promontory, anchoring behind an island two miles long, trending north and south, with a hollow in the centre, forming a saddle, the highest part being 450 feet high. It is the northernmost of a group called the Glennie Islands, fronting the south-western face of the Promontory; and is strewn over with blocks of granite, which give it a castellated appearance. We did not find this anchorage very good, the depth being 20 fathoms, and the bottom sand over rock. Three small islets lie close to the south-west point, and a reef extends a cable's length off the northern. There is a passage nearly four miles wide, and 23 fathoms deep, between this part of Glennie's Group and the Promontory. The singular break in the high land on the latter, bearing E. ½ N. is a distant guide to the anchorage, in which the flood-tide sets to the northward, and when aided by the current, attains a strength of a knot and a half; the time of high-water, is a quarter of an hour later than at Refuge Cove.
We found on this, the largest of the group, a small black dog, that had been left behind by some visitor, recently I should say, from his anxiety to be taken on board, which was done. It was, also, on this island that the intrepid Bass met a number of runaway convicts, who had been treacherously left by their companions one night when asleep, the party being too large for the boat they had run away with from Sydney, with the intention of plundering the wreck of the Sydney Cove, at Preservation Island in Banks Strait. Thus they were actually the first to traverse this part of the Strait, which has received its name from the enterprising Mr. Bass.
Leaving the Glennie Isles we examined the coast beyond Cape Liptrap;* and from thence made the best of our way to Western Port. There I availed myself of the kind offer of Mr. Anderson—a settler on the Bass River, who was going to Cape Patterson, to shoot wild cattle, the produce of the stock left behind when the old settlement was abandoned—to give Mr. Fitzmaurice, and a small party, conveyance in his bullock dray to that projection, for the purpose of determining its position. A party was also landed on the eastern entrance of Grant Island, to collect tidal observations.
- * The next headland to Wilson's Promontory, from the extreme of which it bears N.W. by W., twenty-four miles; the shore between recedes, forming a bay nine miles deep. The Cape lies in lat. 38° 55' S., long. 5° 17' W. of Sydney, 145° 57' E., and is the extreme of a tableland three hundred and fifty feet high. A small islet lies close to the shore, about two miles northward from the extreme, where there is a boat cove. Where the rocky coast ceases to the eastward, the shore falls back, affording shelter for vessels in north-west winds; a rock lies off the southern point of this anchorage.
Having made these arrangements, we left for Port Phillip, where, after landing another party at Shortland's Bluff, also to make tidal observations, we pursued our course round Indented Head towards Corio Harbour, anchoring off Point Henry—where no less than four vessels were lading with wool for England—early on the morning of the 27th. We devoted the remainder of this day and the next to making a plan of the harbour; and from the result of our survey I feel more than ever convinced that the bar (through the northern part of which a channel winds for vessels of eight feet at low-water) might be removed, and the entrance rendered fit for vessels of any draught. There is deep water in the south-western part, close to the northern side of Geelong, where, by erecting wharfs, large ships might discharge alongside, an advantage which can never be obtained at Melbourne,* and of so great importance that I am induced to believe Geelong will ultimately be the capital of Australia Felix. In this event communication will be held with Melbourne by railroad, for which the country intervening is admirably adapted, being a complete level the entire way. At present a steamer plies daily between the two places; and when we consider that on our last visit, only two years before, Geelong consisted of a few sheds at its north end only, and now stretched across from Corio Harbour to the River Barwon, a space of more than a mile, the belief seems warranted that at no distant period the line of rail I allude to must be laid down. The township is now divided into N. and S. Geelong; the latter lies on a slope, reaching the river's edge.
- * Corio Harbour is in fact the best anchorage in Port Phillip, that at Hobson's Bay being very confined, and scarcely affording any shelter from southerly winds for large ships. Moreover, Corio Harbour lies more convenient for the western districts, there being no other place where the sheep-farmers of those parts can, with safety, ship their wool, except Portland Bay.
Located in a snug house, with a garden teeming with flowers, that reminded one of home, and overlooking a still reach of the Barwon, I found Captain Fyans, of whom I have before spoken.
In the course of conversation, pointing to a weapon used by the natives, called a Lliangle, resembling a miner's pick, he said, "I had that driven through my horse's nose, a short time since, by a native, of whom I was in pursuit." As I expressed a desire to be made acquainted with the circumstance, he informed me, that being out with a party of mounted police, in search of some natives who had been committing depredations on the flocks of the settlers, in the neighbourhood of Port Fairey, he suddenly, whilst crossing a valley in advance of his men, came upon the chief of those of whom he was in chase. He, too, was alone; an attack immediately commenced. The native threw his spears, but without effect; and Captain Fyans, finding that the rain had wetted the priming of his pistols, charged to cut him down; but such was his antagonist's dexterity in defending himself with his shield, only a narrow piece of wood, that beyond a few nicks on the fingers, Captain Fyans' sword-cuts were of no avail. Several times he attempted to ride over the native; who, however, doubled himself up in a ball under his shield, and was saved by the natural reluctance of a horse to trample on a prostrate man in going over him. After having been apparently more than once ridden down, the chief managed to drive his lliangle through the horse's nose, and so firmly that he was unable to withdraw it. The wound inflicted bled so freely that Captain Fyans was obliged to pull up, and the native made his escape. He was not only a fine fellow in conduct, but in person, having a chest, as Captain Fyans expressed it, like a bullock's. I afterwards learned that he displayed the sword-cuts upon his shield in triumph at some of the sheep-stations.
From Corio Harbour* we proceeded to Hobson's Bay, for a meridian distance, the result of which was highly satisfactory, differing from our former measurement only five". The long., therefore, of Batman's Hill, 6° 16' 17" W. of Sydney, or (approximately) 144° 59' 43" E. of Greenwich, may be relied on.
- * The approach to this harbour would be vastly improved by a buoy placed at the end of the spit extending nearly across from Point Wilson on the north shore.
A great improvement had been made since our last visit in the approach to the anchorage, by the erection of a light on Point Gellibrand.* This we found to be a small lamp fixed at the top of a kind of wooden framework, thirty feet high, suggested by the superintendent, Mr. LaTrobe; and for a temporary economical affair, until a more expensive light can be afforded, it is certainly a clever contrivance.
- * This light may be seen from a ship's deck, in clear weather, seven miles off. Vessels intending to anchor in Hobson's Bay should keep the light bearing N.W. by N. until the water shoals to 6 fathoms; then steer N. by W. When the lights of William Town open out, bearing S.W. by W., haul in W.S.W. for the anchorage. The best berth is in 3½ fathoms, with the light bearing S.¼ E. and the jetty at William Town S.W. ½ W.
The last three years had also made great additions to the buildings of William Town; but Melbourne had so increased that we hardly knew it again. Wharfs and stores fronted the banks of the Yarra-yarra; whilst further down, tanners and soap-boilers had established themselves on either side, where, formerly, had been tea-tree thickets, from which the cheerful pipe of the bell-bird greeted the visitor. Very different, however, were now the sights, and sounds, and smells, that assailed our senses; the picturesque wilderness had given place to the unromantic realities of industry; and the reign of business had superseded that of poetry and romance.
Near Melbourne I again noticed the manna mentioned above, but had no opportunity of making further observations upon it. Mr. Bynoe, however, having since visited Australia, has turned his attention to the subject, and the result of his experience, which will be found below, tends to overthrow the opinion I have previously expressed, to the effect, that this substance is the exudation of a tree, not the deposit of an insect.*
- * "There is a prevailing opinion in some parts of New Holland, particularly on the east side, that the gumtrees distil a peculiar form of manna, which drops at certain seasons of the year. I have heard it from many of the inhabitants, who, on a close investigation, could only say, that it was to be found adhering to the old and young bark of the trees, as well as strewed on the ground beneath.
- "In the month of December, about the warmest period of the year, during my rambles through the forest in search of insects, I met with this manna in the above-mentioned state, but could never find in any part of the bark a fissure or break whence such a substance could flow. Wherever it appeared, moreover, the red-eyed cicadae were in abundance. I was inclined to think that the puncture produced by these suctorial insects into the tender shoots for juice, would in all probability give an exit for such a substance; but by wounding the tender branches with a sharp-pointed knife, I could never obtain a saccharine fluid or substance. It was the season when the cicadae were abundantly collected together for reproduction; and on warm, clear, still days, they clung to the more umbrageous parts, particularly to trees that, having been deprived of old limbs, shot forth vigorous stems, thickly clustered with leaves. To one of these, in which the male insects were making an intolerable noise, I directed my steps, and quietly sheltered myself from a hot wind that was crossing the harbour, bringing with it a dense column of smoke, which for a short time shut out the powerful rays of the sun. I found that the ground about the root of the tree was thinly covered with the sugar-like substance, and in a few' I felt that a fluid was dropping, which soon congealed on my clothes into a white substance. On rising cautiously to ascertain from whence it came, with a full determination not to disturb the insects but to watch their pursuits, I observed that it was passing of a syrup-like consistence per anum from the cicadae. As it ran down the smooth branches of the gumtree and over the leaves it gradually congealed, and formed a white efflorescence. Whilst ejecting this fluid, the insect raised the lower part of the abdomen and passed off three or four drops in sudden jets, which either streamed down the stem, or fell on the leaves or ground.
- "I watched them for nearly half an hour, and in that space of time observed between twenty and thirty distil this fluid, which gradually concreted into a white substance. I collected above three ounces, some of which I still have in my possession. The natives gather it in their rush baskets and use it as a part of their food."
Leaving Hobson's Bay we passed along the east shore of Port Phillip in search of a ledge of rocks, reported to lie about three miles off Red Bluff, which is eight miles to the southward of the above-mentioned bay. We, however, found this danger to be nothing more than the extreme of the reef fronting that bluff for a distance of half a mile, in a W. by N. direction, and which has three feet on it at low-water, with three fathoms just outside. As the soundings gradually decrease to this depth, the lead will always keep a ship clear of it.
Anchoring under Arthur's Seat, I delivered the letters with which Mr. Powlett, Commissioner of Crown Lands at Melbourne, had kindly furnished me, to the different settlers in the neighbourhood, requesting them to afford me every assistance in my contemplated visit to Cape Shanck, for the purpose of determining its position.
One of them was addressed to a gentleman residing close to the Cape, Dr. Barker, to whom it was forwarded, and who returned with the messenger to welcome me to his station, and in the most liberal manner placed at my disposal, his horses and his services.
Early the following morning, a well mounted party of us started for Arthur's Seat. I wished to get a few angles from its summit, and to show to Captain Bunbury, R.N., Superintendent of Water Police at Melbourne, the banks at the eastern entrance of the S. Channel. Dr. Barker had brought his dogs over with him, to show us some sport on our way to Cape Shanck. They formed quite a pack; and among them were two bloodhounds of a celebrated Duke's breed at home. Their deep rich notes as they wound round the foot of Arthur's Seat, after a kangaroo, were quite cheering to the heart; but the ground was too hilly for the fast dogs, and too dry for the scent to lie.
I was disappointed in not seeing Port Western from Arthur's Seat, which had one of those unsatisfactory woody summits, of which it is difficult exactly to ascertain the highest part. We passed a spring of water near the south-eastern foot, and in a level beyond were some large lagoons.
Our course was now bent towards Cape Shanck, lying eight miles to the south. The first part lay over a level open woodland country; low hills then made their appearance, becoming more numerous as we neared our destination. At their commencement we turned off the road to look for a kangaroo; a herd was soon found; but all, after a sharp burst of a few miles, got away from us.
When both horses and dogs had regained their wind we went to better ground, and came suddenly on a fine herd. A large male, called an Old Man by the colonists, loitering to protect the does under his care, was singled out by the fastest dog; and a splendid run ensued; the country, however, being rather woody, and strewed with fallen timber which was concealed by long grass, only those who risked the pace over it enjoyed the sport. The dogs stuck well to their game, and coming at last to an open piece of ground, the fleetest began to close with the Old Man, who was covering an immense space in each bound. At length the dog reached the kangaroo's quarters, and burying his teeth in them, made him face about, cutting at his pursuer, who kept out of reach, with his hind feet, and then turning round and endeavouring to escape. But the same liberty being again taken with his haunches he was once more brought to bay. The rest of the pack now came up, and a fine half-bloodhound rushed in and seized the kangaroo* by the throat; whilst the latter, in return, fiercely clutched the dog round the neck; a violent struggle ensued, each trying to choke the other. Although the dog that had first reached the Old Man was biting his quarters, the danger that the game hound would be laid open by a cut from the kangaroo's hind feet, determined Dr. Barker and myself to watch an opportunity of creeping up behind a tree to assist in the struggle. We accordingly did so, and managed to seize the animal by his monstrous tail, so that by keeping a strain on it he was prevented from lifting his hind leg, as if he had we should have pulled him over.
- * Although these animals have a most innocent countenance, the large males are very dangerous when brought to bay. I know an instance of a gentleman, who was endeavouring to assist his dog in killing one of them, having his clothes severed in front and the skin of his body just scratched by a cut from the hind leg. Had this person been any nearer the kangaroo, his bowels would have been torn open. The middle toe projecting and being armed with a strong nail, enable them to inflict dreadful wounds, and frequently to kill dogs. It is seldom, indeed, that they will attack a kangaroo in front; old dogs never do, but have a very clever way of throwing the smaller kind by the stump of the tail when running.
The dogs, thus protected from injury, were at last victorious; and the kangaroo, a great beast, weighing nearly two hundred pounds, was soon stretched on the ground.
Having secured the tail and hind feet we continued our road to Dr. Barker's station, situated in one of the rich valleys I have spoken of, in an early part of the work, as lying a mile and a half to the N.E. of Cape Shanck.
On account of the state of the weather we were obliged to tax this gentleman's hospitality for two nights, both the early parts of which were passed on Cape Shanck, watching between the clouds for observations. This cape is a narrow projection of calcareous formation, rendered remarkable by a pulpit-shaped rock lying close off it. About a mile to the north is a hill 190 feet high, which has been selected for the site of a lighthouse for showing vessels their position off the entrance of Port Phillip. Being so distant, however, it is of more service for Port Western.
From Dr. Barker I received some curious information respecting the Aborigines. It appears that there is great hostility between the Port Phillip and Gipps' Land natives, who occasionally visit each other's territory for the purposes of war. So great is the feeling of enmity between them, that they will frequently take a piece of the flesh of their foes and pass it through the skin of their thighs or arms, where they leave it until it withers.
Returning to the ship we placed a buoy* on the five-fathom bar at the eastern entrance of the S. Channel, the bearings from which are Whale Head S. 33° W., and Arthur's Seat S. 79° E.; Points Nepean and Lonsdale being a little open. Passing through this channel,† we spent an afternoon within the heads for the purpose of visiting the lighthouse just built on Shortland's Bluff.* This I found to be 108 feet high; the lantern, to contain a fixed light, had not been established. The position of this light being so far within the entrance it is only visible between S.W. ½ W., and S.¼ W.; and a light placed at the extremity of the rocky ledge off Point Nepean would be of infinitely more service in showing vessels the entrance of the port.
- * Another buoy at the east extremity of the bank on the north side of the channel, which is very steep to, and one at the west end of the bank on the south side, would render the navigation free from difficulty, as the banks on either side can be readily made out.
- † The directions for entering by this line-of-battle ship channel are as follows. After passing Point Nepean steer for Arthur's Seat, keeping Point Flinders open south of Lonsdale Point until the last cliffy projection is passed and bears S.¼ W. Then steer half a point to the left of Arthur's Seat, shutting in Point Flinders with Point Nepean, and keeping Point Lonsdale a little open of the latter. The buoy at the eastern entrance will now soon be made out, and should be kept in line with Arthur's Seat. Pass on the north side of the buoy and then haul up S.E. until the water shoals to five fathoms, or until Whale Head bears S.W. by W.; then steer N.E. by E. for Mount Martha, the next hill north of Arthur's Seat, until the latter bears S.E., when a course may be shaped for Hobson's Bay.
- * The patch of dark bushes, breaking the sand beach to the northward, and forming one of the leading marks in, had been so thinned that it was very indistinct. Mr. LaTrobe, however, was going to remedy this evil by erecting a beacon on that spot.
Whilst we were at Port Phillip this time, a schooner left in a somewhat mysterious manner, on board of which was the Honourable Mr. Murray, who fell afterwards in a conflict with the pirates at Borneo. The particulars of this gallant affair must be fresh in the recollection of my readers.
Leaving Port Phillip,* we returned to Port Western to pick up the party we had left there. Mr. Fitzmaurice found Cape Patterson, of which I have before spoken, to lie fourteen miles S.W. by W. ½ W. from the eastern entrance of Port Western,** and twenty-one miles N. 55° W. from Cape Liptrap, the next headland to the eastward.
- * The result of the tidal observations made at Shortland's Bluff, gives 12 hours 20' for the time of high-water on the full and change days. The simultaneous ones made in other parts of this great sheet of water during our stay, gave the times of high-water later as follows:
|At William Town||1 h. 0 m.|
|Under Arthur's Seat||1 45.|
|At Corio Harbour||2 30.|
- At the entrance of Port Phillip the rise at springs is only three feet and a half, when the stream makes in at 2 hours 0'. It also continues to run out from one to two hours after the water begins to rise by the shore. The outward and inward streams differ considerably; the latter being from 5 to 5½ hours' duration, whereas the former is from 6 to 6½ and 7. The outward stream between the heads sometimes attains a strength of nearly 7 knots, and when opposed to a southerly gale, causes a sea dangerous to small craft; these gales heap the water up in all parts of the bay, particularly at William Town in the northern corner. On such occasions there is scarcely any fall of tide perceptible near the entrance; the outward stream is then also much weaker. In the W. Channel the flood and ebb-streams have a velocity of from 1 to 2½ knots; but in the south it seldom exceeds two. Above the banks or in the inlet leading to Corio harbour there is scarcely any stream of tide perceptible; but through the channel over the bar at the latter the flood runs nearly three quarters of a knot. Outside the entrance the ebb sets between S. by E. and S.S.W. for seven miles, when its strength is weakened to about a knot; from thence it trends more westerly towards the mouth of the Strait.
Five and seven miles to the westward of Cape Patterson there are two rivulets, near the former of which an inferior kind of coal crops out; it occurs in beds of the carboniferous series. Between the two headlands above mentioned the shore falls back, forming a bight six miles deep, at the head of which is Anderson's Inlet, six miles in extent, full of mud banks, and available for boats only. A river, called Toluncan by the natives, empties itself into the head of it.
From Port Western we carried a line of soundings across the Strait to Circular Head,† the greatest depth midway between being 40 fathoms. Here, according to arrangement, we met the Vansittart. Bad weather had prevented Mr. Forsyth from completing the work allotted the cutter. We found the management of the Van Diemen's Land Agricultural Company in the hands of Mr. Gibson, from whom we received great attention. The new system of letting lands, recently adopted by this Company, was working well; and it certainly appeared to be a very fair mode of getting their lands occupied.
- * The observations on the tides at this place make the time of high-water at the full and change days 1 hour 10', when the rise is 8 feet. The stream in the main channel runs upwards of 2 knots, and off the N.E. end of Grant Island it makes to the eastward about two hours before the time of high-water; this difference is to be attributed to the flood entering round both ends of the island.
- † My intention of getting some more soundings in the western entrance of Bass Strait was frustrated; but as I have entered into detail respecting the eastern entrance, I am induced to devote some space to a few directions, which may aid in averting a repetition of such terrible catastrophes as the late wreck of the Cataraqui on the western side of King Island. The western entrance, formed by the islands off the north-west point of Tasmania and the projection on the Australian continent called Cape Otway, is 108 miles wide. King Island, lying nearly midway, occupies 35 miles of this space, and leaves to the north of it a passage of 47 miles in width, and to the south one of 37 miles. The latter, however, is impeded by Reid's Rocks, the Conway and Bell sunken rocks, with Albatross Island and the Black Pyramid; the tide also sets across it at the rate of from one to three knots, as I have already mentioned in the first volume; consequently, the entrance between King Island and Cape Otway is much safer, the chief danger being the Harbinger Rocks, two granite boulders, with deep water between, one lying N. 74° W. three miles and a half, and the other N. 88° W., nearly four miles and a half from the north point of King Island, Cape Wickham, which may be recognized by a round hill, 595 feet high, over it. The southern Harbinger is a few feet only out of the water, and the other scarcely awash. These, with the Navarin Rock, lying N. 25° W., one mile and a half from the same cape, and the reef lying half a mile off Cape Otway, constitute the sole dangers in this entrance.
- Masters of vessels should endeavour, if possible, to make the land in the neighbourhood of Cape Otway; but if the weather be thick they may know they are in the fairway of the Strait when they get into sixty fathoms, fine grey sand; in the same depth, with a rocky bottom, ships will be to the southward, and off the west side of King Island, which, as I have before described, is a rocky dangerous coast. There is a doubtful position of a sunken rock, ten miles W. ½ N. of the south point, which is low and rocky, and in lat. 40° 10' S., long. 143° 58' E.; whilst Cape Wickham is in lat. 39° 35' S., long. 143° 59½', E.; and Cape Otway in lat. 38° 51' S., long. 143° 35½' E. of Greenwich, considering Sydney, to which these long.s refer, to be in 151° 16' E.
- Various opinions have been expressed as to the best position for a lighthouse at this entrance of the Strait, some recommending Cape Wickham; others, Cape Otway. I, however, hold to the latter, for this simple reason, that it will avoid bringing ships in the neighbourhood of the Harbinger Rocks and the western side of King Island. If a light were erected on Cape Wickham, and a vessel running for it should be to the southward of her position, she would risk sharing the fate of the Cataraqui,* unless more caution were used than is generally the case, I regret to say, in merchant vessels. Whereas, if the light were on Cape Otway, a ship to the southward of her position would have the Strait open to run through, and to the northward, would discover her error, by falling in with the land. The lead, also, would inform the master that his ship was near it, there being 30 fathoms ten miles from the land thirty-five miles to the westward of Cape Otway; the trend of the coast besides is too westerly to make it a lee shore.
- From the middle of the entrance between Cape Wickham and Cape Otway, in 57 fathoms, fine grey sand, and in lat. 39° 13' S., long. 143° 48' E., the course to the entrance of Port Phillip, is N.E. ½ N. seventy miles; the soundings will be found, at first, to decrease rapidly, and in the parallel of Cape Otway the depth will be 47 fathoms, fine sand and shells. Further particulars respecting the quality of the bottom off this part of the coast will be found in the first volume.
- A S.E. ½ E. course 176 miles, from the same position, will take a ship to Port Dalrymple. In the first twenty-nine miles of this distance, the soundings will have decreased to nearly 30 fathoms, and the ship's place should be then abreast of the N.E. end of King Island, distant ten miles. The sight of this and, further on, of the Hunter Group, which should be passed at a distance of 20 miles to the S.W., will show if the right allowance has been made for the set of the tides. In the courses given in this note, the tidal influence has not been noticed; but I have above noticed the direction of the streams, and the allowance to be made will of course depend on what stream the ship enters or leaves the Strait with.
- Again, from the same position, an east course, 136 miles, will place a ship four miles to the south of the Curtis Isles. The soundings will be found to decrease to 40 fathoms thirty miles to the eastward of King Island, and will continue within a fathom or two of that depth for the remainder of the distance.
- Two hundred and four miles from the above position, on a N.E.¼ E. course, will take a ship to abreast of Cape Howe, distant twenty miles; passing midway between Hogan and Kent Groups, distant nearly nine miles from each, at which time twenty-eight miles will have been run on the above course. In passing the latter group, attention should be paid to the set of the tides; as with the flood-stream and a northerly wind vessels may be obliged to pass on the south side of it. Cape Howe bears from Kent Group, N. 36° E., 170 miles. When a ship gets into 30 fathoms she will be within 8 miles of the N.E. side of these islands; and on the opposite she will have that depth half the distance off.
- It only now remains to notice the tides in the passage north of King Island. It is high-water on the full and change days at 1 o'clock; the stream begins to set to the S.W. three hours and a half before high-water, running with a velocity of from 1 to 2 knots; past the Harbinger Rocks, however, it sweeps round to the S.S.W., sometimes at the rate of nearly two knots and a half.
- Having alluded to the entrance south of King Island in an earlier part of the work, and as it is a passage I do not recommend, I shall not here enter into many details respecting it, further than to say that if a ship is obliged to enter Bass Strait by that entrance, she should keep to the southward of Reid's Rocks, passing close to the Black Pyramid, a dark rocky lump, 240 feet high, in lat. 40° 28' S., long. 144° 18½' E. This should be made bearing N.E.¾ E., which would keep ships clear of the Conway and Bell sunken rocks, the former and outermost of which lies fifteen miles N. 83° W. from it. The cross set of the tides should be particularly borne in mind, and likewise their strength, which is sometimes 3 knots. The stream to the S.W. by S. begins at 3 p.m. on the full and change days, or three hours and a half before high-water. The depth in the south entrance varies from 35 to 38 fathoms.
- I shall perhaps make this note more useful by stating that January and February are the best months for making a passage to the westward through Bass Strait; although easterly winds blow on some rare occasions at other times, but these are mostly gales, and generally terminate in a breeze from the opposite quarter, having much the character of a rotatory gale, one of which I have described in an early part of the work. The gales that chiefly prevail in this Strait begin at N.N.W., and gradually draw round by W. to S.W., at which point they subside; but if the wind, before it has so much southing, veer again to the northward of west—or backs, as it is expressed—the gale will continue; but its duration may be told by the barometer, as it is seldom fine when it registers less than 29.95, and bad weather is certain if it falls to 29.70.
- N.B. The courses recommended in this note are marked in the chart accompanying the work.
- * In consequence of a letter of mine that appeared in the Times, the owners of the Cataraqui have communicated with me, stating that they have reason to believe the Beagle's chart of Bass Strait was among those with which the ship was furnished, and that with regard to leads and lines she was well supplied.
Our anchorage this time was on the south side of the singular natural fortification I have before described; and whilst there we were placed in some anxiety by being caught in a gale from the eastward. The holding-ground, however, being very good, and a strong outset sweeping out of the bay round the south side of the head, lessened the strain on the cables. The sudden appearance of this breeze, and the manner in which it was succeeded by another from the westward, afforded additional evidence of how necessary it is for anchorages in this strait to be sheltered from both quarters. A jetty, which has been run out by the Company, forms available shelter at high-water for vessels of nine and ten feet draught.
On the 20th of January, having made a valuable set of tidal* and other observations, and arranged with Mr. Forsyth to meet him at Hobart, we sailed in the afternoon, and next morning passed half a mile from the south side of the Pyramid, in 35 fathoms. It is a light-coloured mass, worthy of its name, 300 feet high. From thence we steered towards Cape Frankland, the N.W. point of Flinders Island, which we had still to examine, decreasing the soundings gradually to 26 fathoms within two miles and a half to the W.N.W. of it. We could see nothing of the sunken rock said to lie two miles west from the above headland; yet, as we have not exactly gone over the spot, it has been marked in the chart with a p.d. against it.
- * The line of high-water at the full and change is 11 hours 40', when the rise is 9 feet.
I was also anxious to obtain a distant seaward view of Hummock Island,* which affords the best shelter for ships in westerly winds.
- * This island, which affords a plentiful supply of fuel, is between five and six miles long, and scarcely half a mile in width, with a N. by E. trend. The anchorage lies abreast of the middle Hummock, where the depth is six fathoms, and may be approached by passing round either the north or south end of the island. Some low islets lie a mile and a half off the latter, with a narrow passage between; and a reef extends three quarters of a mile off the north point, which is in lat. 40° 1 minute S., long. 3° 27' W. of Sydney, or 147° 49' E. It is distant three miles and a half from the nearest point of Flinders, where is situated the settlement of Tasmanian natives. A tide of from half to one knot sets through between, and the flood-stream comes from the northward. The outline of Hummock Island is so remarkable that it cannot fail of being recognised. In thick weather the navigator may know he is approaching this, and the other islands fronting the western side of Flinders, by having a depth of less than thirty fathoms.
The north-west part of Flinders Island has a bold rugged outline. From our position off Cape Frankland, we carried a line of soundings across the passage south of Craggy Island, passing two miles to the eastward of it in twenty-seven fathoms. We then ran out of the strait and up to Sydney, to leave what stores were not absolutely required during the passage to England, for the use of the ships on the station.
Having spoken of the feasibility of railroads in other parts of New S. Wales, I cannot leave Sydney without suggesting what appear to me to be the most practicable directions for lines leading from that capital. As the country between Parramatta and Sydney is very hilly, I would recommend that part of the journey should be performed in a steamer; and that the railroad should commence on the right bank, about seven miles from the town. An extension of this line would lead into the north-western interior. Towards the south, and in the direction of the Manero district, the line ought to pass round the head of Botany Bay, and by following some of the valleys trending southwards, might reach nearly to Illawarra, the garden of New S. Wales. In this manner, the rich Manero corn country, and the coalfields of Illawarra, might be brought into connection with Sydney, and a prodigious development imparted to the whole colony.
I regretted being obliged to leave this part of Australia without visiting Moreton Bay, as a survey of the mouth of the Brisbane River would have enabled the settlers of that district, now rapidly increasing, to have sent their produce direct from thence to England; whereas, until a chart of it is published, masters of large ships do not like to go there. The residents are in consequence obliged to submit to the expense of first shipping their merchandise to Sydney. The Moreton Bay district is perhaps one of the most fertile on the continent, combining the advantages of great partial elevation and of proximity to the equator, so that, within a comparatively short distance, the productions of both the tropical and the temperate zones may be found. Corn grows on the high plains; bananas, raisins, etc., on the lowlands; in short, as in Mexico, the traveller finds, in ascending from the sea-coast to the summit of the hills, almost the same successive gradations of climate as in passing from the tropics towards the poles.
Our final arrangements were soon made; and on the 18th of February, the Beagle was turning out between the heads.* I cannot for the last time bid adieu to a place, which had become to us as it were a second home, without once more alluding to the reception I had experienced from its inhabitants. To enumerate any particular instances would be invidious; space forbids me to pay due acknowledgments to all. In general, therefore, I must say, that every attention which kindness and hospitality could suggest, was paid to the officers of the Beagle, and a debt of gratitude accumulated which it will be difficult to repay.
Fresh easterly winds in the first instance, and light northerly ones latterly, carried us rapidly to the southward, and towards midnight of the 21st, we crossed the parallel of 39° 31' S.,† steering S. by W. ½ W.
- * It is worthy of mention, that vessels working in against the ebb-tide, should get close under the inner south head before making a board across the entrance, as the stream sets round the north head a knot an hour to the northward, but has a southerly direction from one to two miles off.
- † In this latitude a shoal was reported to have been seen by a vessel bound to Sydney, from Banks Strait, in 1838. The master of her states, that he sounded on it in seven fathoms, and saw moored kelp occupying the space of about half a mile. As this vessel's lat., by her run from Banks Strait, was twenty miles further south, we cannot place much confidence in this report, in which it is stated, that when Cape Barren bore W. eight miles, they steered N.E. for sixty miles, when finding themselves, near noon, close to broken water, they wore the vessel's head round to the southward, and sounded in seven fathoms in kelp; the lat. by observation being 39° 31' S. As it was blowing strong at the time from the N.W. with a high sea, and as there was only one cast of the lead taken, in the confusion of wearing, it is possible they might have been deceived. The kelp might have been adrift, and the sea, in that neighbourhood, often breaks irregularly as if on foul ground. The position of this supposed shoal, by the run from Banks Strait would be, lat. 39° 51' S., long. 149° 40' E.; but as this gives a difference of twenty miles in the lat. by observation, and as the Beagle has crossed those parallels ten times between the meridians of 148° 4' and 150° 13', and, moreover, as the position assigned this shoal lies so much in the track of vessels running between Hobart and Sydney, there is every reason to doubt its existence.
On the 23rd, we passed along the east coast of Tasmania, at the distance of eight miles. The weather being fine and the water smooth, we had frequent opportunities of testing the accuracy of the present chart, which we found to be about three miles in error both in lat. and long.; the latter with respect to the meridian of Fort Mulgrave.*
- * Strange to say, the position assigned this place in the chart, 147° 28' E. is much in error with regard to long., as Fort Mulgrave is 3° 52' 35" W. of Sydney, or 147° 23' 25" E.; this, with the error I have already alluded to in the east coast of Tasmania, the most available one for shipping, points out the necessity of having the survey of that island completed.
Next afternoon we entered the Derwent and anchored off Hobart. Finding that his Excellency Sir John Franklin had just left for Launceston, I proceeded thither to wait on him. Our stay in the Derwent depending on a favourable change in the weather, it was necessary that we should be always in readiness to leave, and accordingly I travelled by the fastest conveyance, the mail-cart, a sort of gig drawn by one horse, which, however, by means of frequent changes and good cattle, manages to average nine miles an hour. It leaves Hobart, at half-past seven p.m., and reaches Launceston a little before eleven the following morning. It was a cold, bleak night; but as the road was excellent, and I was well muffled up, with my feet in a bag, the time passed cheerily. The general topic of conversation during the journey was about some three desperate bushrangers,* who appeared to keep all the innkeepers in dread of a visit. At one place we stopped at, the host came up with a rueful countenance, and told us that it was only the previous night that he had been stuck up, with a pistol at his head, while they took what they wanted from his larder.
- * The most notorious of these characters was one Michael Howe, who became a bushranger in 1812. In 1817 he separated from his party, taking with him a native girl, whom he shot when hotly pursued, because he imagined she might occasion delay. He twice surrendered on condition that his life should be spared; but soon resumed his predatory habits. In 1818 he was killed by three men who had planned his capture; having been nearly seven years in the bush, part of the time entirely alone. He committed several murders, and robberies innumerable. His head was conveyed to Hobart. In his knapsack was found a sort of journal of his dreams written with blood, and strongly indicative of the horrors of his mind.
The first half of the journey was over a rather hilly and gradually rising country; the road then winds through almost one continued vale, bounded on either side by broken ranges of mountains. The noble Ben Lomond appears quite close on the right as you approach Launceston. I was much pleased with the comfortable inns on this line of road, the greater part of which is as smooth as a gravel walk.
I could not avoid, during this journey, being forcibly struck with the great facilities afforded by the road from Hobart to Launceston for a railway; and I have since heard and seen enough to convince me, that not only would such an undertaking be practicable, but that it would greatly conduce to the prosperity of Tasmania. At present, most of the productions of the northern part of the island are necessarily, on account of the expense of land-carriage, shipped at Launceston or Port Dalrymple, whereas the Derwent affords such superior facilities for the purposes of commerce, that if a means of cheap and rapid intercourse with it existed, nearly the whole export and import traffic of the coasts would be drawn thither. I have already observed that large vessels at Launceston cannot discharge alongside the wharfs. Besides, on the whole of the northern coast, with the exception of the Hunter Islands, there is no place of safety for a ship in all winds that a stranger would like to run into, the mouth of the Tamar being too much occupied with shoals. On the other hand, Hobart lies on that part of the island which may be approached with the greatest safety, being on a weather shore, whereas the northern side is partly a lee one. In saying thus much, I do not mean to imply that a private company, under ordinary circumstances, could construct a line with immediate advantage to itself, though I will go so far as to say, that in a very few years, comparatively, an ample remunerative return might be expected. What I especially desire to insist upon, is the fact, that a railroad traversing Tasmania from north to south would be a great benefit to the community, would stimulate trade, and consequently production, and would aid in restoring the prosperity which it once enjoyed.
This being granted, let us take into consideration the condition of the labour market in that country, and observe what an opportunity now presents itself of executing a work of prodigious magnitude at a comparatively trifling cost. It will be seen at once that I allude to the population of probationers, pass-holders, ticket-of-leave men, who now compete with the free inhabitants, and cause the whole land to throng with people in want of work, with paupers and with thieves.
The great evil at present complained of by the settlers of Tasmania, is the superabundance of labour. In most other colonies the contrary complaint is made; and were it not for peculiar circumstances, the great demand in one place would soon relieve the pressure in the other. But it must be remembered, that the glut in the Tasmanian labour market is produced by the presence of crowds of convicts, in various stages of restraint, all prevented from leaving the island, and forced to remain and seek employment there; so that as soon as the demand for labour falls off, or the supply of it becomes disproportionately large, it is the free population that is necessarily displaced.
The effect, therefore, of the gradual pouring of a superabundance of convict labour into this island, must naturally be, first, to check free immigration; and secondly, to drive away those who have actually established themselves on it as their second home, and may perhaps have abandoned comfort in England in hopes of affluence there. So great is the number actually leaving the place every year, that it is calculated that in six years, at the same ratio, there will be absolutely none left.
And yet, no further back than 1841, the Legislative Council voted 60,000 pounds to encourage immigration, thus needlessly taxing the colony to aid in producing a disastrous result, which certainly, however, no one seems to have foreseen.
Who, indeed, four years ago, could have believed that, above all other things, there should arrive a glut in the labour market? Such an event was looked upon as absolutely impossible in the full tide of prosperity that covered the island. Everything wore a smiling aspect. The fields were heavy with harvests, the roads crowded with traffic; gay equipages filled the streets; the settler's cottage or villa was well supplied with comfort, and even with luxuries; crime, in a population of which the majority were convicts or their descendants, was less in proportion than in England; in short, for the first time, in 1840 the exports exceeded the imports; trade was brisk, agriculture increasing, new settlers were arriving; everything betokened progress; no one dreamed of retrogression or decay.
In four years all this has been reversed. We now look in vain for the signs of prosperity that before existed. In their place, we hear of complaints loud and deep; of insolvency, of reduction in the Government expenditure; of a falling off of trade; of many beggars, where none before were known; of large agricultural estates allowed partially to return to their natural wildness; of cattle and all stock sold at half their original cost, and of every symptom of agricultural and commercial distress. I may further add, that the funds derived from the sale of Crown lands in Tasmania in the year 1841, amounted to £58,000; in 1844, to £2000; and in 1845, to nothing. The revenue, in the same time, has decreased one half; and, to close the financial account, at the end of 1844 the colony was in debt to the Treasury, £100,000.
Though many other causes may have co-operated in producing this change, it seems acknowledged by most persons, that the result is chiefly traceable to the disproportionate increase of the convict population, acting in the manner I have already described; and this is itself encouragement to reconsider the system of 1842. But if, as some maintain, this plan has inflicted serious evils, in a moral point of view, both on the free population and on the convicts themselves, there is still greater inducement to examine whether some better mode could not be devised.
I do not intend, however, to enter into the question of convict discipline. It would be beside my purpose to do so; and want of space, moreover, forbids it. But I cannot refrain from observing, that one feature in the new plan—that of congregating criminals during one period of their punishment in probation gangs, almost isolated from the free settlers—seems productive of anything but good. Under the system of assignment, whatever other objections there may have been to it, the convict had at least an excellent chance of becoming a better man, especially when drafted to a pastoral or agricultural district. Whereas, now that the well-disposed and the irreclaimably bad are often brought constantly together in the same class, it is much more difficult for them to regain that self-command and those moral sentiments, the loss of which brought them to their degraded position of prisoners. Having constantly before their eyes the garb and stamp of their infamy, reformation, if not impossible, is extremely difficult. Pass them on the highways at any time; and, in obedience to an irresistible impulse, they will leave off their work to look at you, and the comparison of your dress and condition, with their own distinctive costume and forced occupation, instead of awakening a spirit of hope and a determination to regain freedom, induces melancholy and despair. A dogged and sullen silence soon becomes the characteristic of these men; their features are stamped with the worst passions of our nature; and in many cases despondency is triumphant, and they make no proper or continued efforts to reclaim themselves.
Even when a probation pass has been obtained, it is grievous to reflect that, in numerous instances, except in the single quality of industry, not only has no improvement taken place in the character of the prisoner, but that he has become more hardened and corrupt than when he left England. The horrible scenes of depravity he has witnessed in the barracks whence he has emerged, must have produced their natural effect on his mind. I cannot help thinking that this system of concentration is extremely impolitic. We all know what a detrimental influence the associating of men, punished for an offence comparatively trifling, with others convicted of the most flagrant outrages upon society, exerts upon the former. The experience of our prisons testifies to the fact. Can it be expected, then, that the same agglomeration of bad characters in Tasmania should be harmless? I foretell that this part of the new system will be shortly abandoned, and that at any rate the men will be provided with separate cabins for sleeping berths. The granting the prisoners occasional holidays of a week, would have a great effect in whetting their desire to finally obtain their liberty; and a change or improvement in their apparel, in proportion to their good conduct, would also be very beneficial.
In my opinion, however, the system of concentration is radically defective. It supposes the existence in the breasts of criminals of a principle of action, and a desire of improvement and of a change in their condition sufficiently powerful to enable them to resist the temptations to vice held out by habitual intercourse with the depraved. No doubt there are individuals to be found, even among those who have incurred the penalty of banishment from their native country, of firm character and strong sympathy for virtue; but the majority must of course consist of men almost incapable of resisting momentary impulses, of weak or perverted understandings, of strong animal passions, naturally or from habit averse to what is good, and prone to that which is bad. In such cases association must inevitably be pernicious; and pardon can only be obtained by comparative, not absolute reformation. By the dispersion of convicts, under the assignment system or otherwise, the effects of evil communication will be guarded against, and those of intercourse with the virtuous and the honest substituted.
I am not of course, as I have said, prepared here even to sketch a new plan of convict discipline; but I think that the suggestion I have made with reference to the employment of prisoners in the construction of railroads, the capital to be supplied by a private company, would afford a temporary relief to the labour market, whilst it would confer a lasting benefit on the colony. During the diversion thus created, time would be afforded for digesting a plan of convict discipline, which should be consistent with economy, with a due regard to the interests of the settlers, and with the moral improvement of the prisoners.
I would also suggest another mode of employing the probationers. They might be dispersed through the islands in Bass Strait, and engaged in constructing the lighthouses which are so much wanted there. Six years ago his Excellency Sir John Franklin drew the attention of the Government of New S. Wales to the necessity existing for these lighthouses. On this occasion a mass of evidence was given before the Legislative Council as to which would be the most eligible sites; but up to this period only two have been founded, both by the Tasmanian Government, one on the Chappell Isles, another in Banks Strait. The important ones for the eastern and western entrances of the Strait have been neglected, although the fullest information was obtained on the subject. Opinions concur in representing Kent Group as the best position for a light at the eastern entrance, where certainly one is most required, the Strait being there so much impeded with rocks and islands. I gave my opinion to this effect before the Legislative Council, in September, 1842. At the same time, for the western entrance, I recommended Cape Otway in preference to the north end of King Island, for reasons already assigned.* The melancholy wrecks that have of late occurred in Bass Strait will, it is to be hoped, direct immediate attention to the construction of these lighthouses, and I think that the collateral benefits to be derived from the dispersion of the convicts ought to be given their due weight. The expense would, in consequence of the ample supply of labour, be small; some of the islands afford stone in abundance; and the convicts might raise part of their food in the vicinity of the proposed buildings. I cannot but think that this, in the end, will prove a lucrative undertaking for Government; as on the number of vessels that pass, light-dues of about a penny a ton might be levied.
- * The following is the Report of the Committee of the Legislative Council of New S. Wales, on lighthouses proposed to be erected in Bass Strait:—"Your Committee have the honour to report, that having been favoured with the attendance of Captain Stokes, of her Majesty's ship Beagle, lately returned from a survey of Bass Strait, and ascertained his ideas as to the best position for placing a lighthouse at the western entrance thereof, they are induced to change their opinion as set forth in their Report of the 1st September, 1841, and to coincide with him in thinking that Cape Otway would be a better site for a lighthouse than King Island, as being equally advantageous to the trade at large, and much more so to that of Port Phillip.
- "It would appear, too, that no danger could accrue to vessels endeavouring to make the former, while much mischief might arise in trying to sight the latter, should there be any error in their reckoning; and that it is therefore desirable to keep them as far as possible to the northward of King Island, instead of inducing them to risk the danger of approaching it, to ascertain their true position.
- "Captain Stokes perfectly coincides with the Committee, in the opinion formerly expressed by them, that the eastern island of Kent Group, is the best position for a light at the eastern entrance of Bass Strait; and they beg leave respectfully to recommend to your Excellency and honourable Council, that immediate steps may be taken for commencing so desirable an undertaking as the erection of a lighthouse on that spot.
- "Council Chamber, 6th September, 1842."
In another part of this work I have adverted to the desirability of forming other convict establishments than those at present existing, particularly on the north-west and north-east coasts; and I would especially recommend the neighbourhood of Hanover Bay on the former, and Halifax Bay on the latter.* By these means many hitherto untrodden lands may speedily be adapted to the purposes of colonization, and reclaimed from their present unprofitable state. In a country like Australia, where the proportion of bad land predominates, it is almost necessary, in the first instance, to force settlements by means of convict labour. A number of buildings is always a cheering sight to a settler on his first arrival, and gives him encouragement to exertion; whereas, if the country wears its natural arid, desolate, uninviting appearance, dejection and despondency ensue.
- * We have just learned that it is the intention of Government to form a settlement of the kind mentioned in the text on the north-east coast; and that the province is to be called N. Australia, the southern boundary of which is to be the 26th parallel. I have already expressed my opinion, that convicts should not be sent to Port Essington, as the proximity of the islands would afford them facilities of escape.
During our stay in the Derwent, perhaps one of the most splendid comets that has ever appeared, illuminated the southern hemisphere for several nights. We did not see it until the evening of the 5th of March; but it was observed on the 2nd at Launceston; and by a ship at sea, off Cape Leeuwin, on the 27th of February. Several observations were made with it, when the nucleus, which was of a deep red colour, somewhat resembling the planet Mars, was visible.* The length of the tail (on the 5th) measured forty°; but was afterwards ten° longer. Towards its centre it showed great intensity of light, becoming visible in the crepusculum before stars of the second magnitude. Through its more attenuated extremity, the stars were plainly seen, the coma seeming to be much less dense, showing the sky through the centre like a dark line.
- * On the evening of the 5th its right ascension was found to be about 0 hours 13' 0", and declination about 13° 0' S. The following evening it was observed to have had a motion of above three° and a half in the direction of the constellation Orion; the right ascension being 0 hours 26' 0", and the declination 12° 50' S. On the following night it was found to have had a further motion in the same direction, and with much the same velocity. Its position, shortly before setting, was as follows: right ascension 0 hours 41' 0", declination 12° 30' S.
Whilst we were in the Derwent, a ship was loading with corn for England; and I could not help regretting that, although grain from these colonies, on account of its dry nature, is well adapted for a long voyage, the heavy duty almost shut it out from the English market. It was impossible not to feel, that justice as well as policy should have dictated the admission of Australian wheat on the same terms as Canadian. The injury inflicted by the exclusive system pursued, is, that less land is put under cultivation, and fewer people are encouraged to go there; both the colony and the mother country are sufferers thereby.