History of West Australia/Chapter 4
WESTERN AUSTRALIA ANNEXED.
NEW HOLLAND LANQUISHING—FEARS OF FRENCH ANNEXATION—SETTLEMENTS AT RAFFLES BAY, WESTERN PORT, AND KING GEORGE'S SOUND—GOVERNOR DARLING'S INSTRUCTIONS TO THE COMMANDERS—MAJOR LOCKYER FOUNDS FIRST SETTLEMENT IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA AT KING GEORGE'S SOUND—ATTACKED BY NATIVES—CRUELTY OF SEALERS AND WHALERS—SITE NOT SATISFACTORY—L'ASTROLABE IN SYDNEY—GOVERNOR DARLING DISAPPOINTED WITH THE SETTLEMENT—ISOLATED SECLUSION OF MAJOR LOCKYER AND MEN—EXPLORATION PARTY TO SWAN RIVER DECIDED ON—DOUBTS WHETHER CAPTAIN STIRLING COMMANDED IT AS ALLEGED—CAPTAIN GILBERT AND MR. CHARLES FRASER SAIL IN THE SUCCESS TO SWAN RIVER—CAPTAIN GILBERT'S REPORT THEREON—RETURN TO SYDNEY—MR. FRASER'S REPORT—EFFECTS OF SUCH GLOWING REPORTS—CAPTAIN STIRLING GOES TO ENGLAND—FERTILITY OF SWAN RIVER ADVERTISED—ULTIMATE FOUNDATION OF COLONY LARGELY CAUSED THROUGH FEARS OF THE FRENCH—FEARS GROUNDLESS.
FOR more than two centuries after the authenticated discovery, and three after its existence was known to civilised people, Western Australia remained untilled and untamed. Old navigators sought to obtain immediate profit from their voyages, to become rich by one bold stroke. They thought little of preparing a landed estate for unborn generations, and not yet were the old world populations so seriously congested that new countries were required in which the overplus could apply their ingenuity and bodily vigor. The parts of Australia hitherto viewed by navigators were hungry and sterile. Other newly discovered countries supplied them with rich spices, much appreciated products of the soil, gold and numerous precious symbols of fertility and wealth. Not so Australia; even the natives had no foods wherewith to carry on a barter trade. Hence, for all these long years, land which we now know to be highly fertile went begging. Magnificent opportunities to obtain opulence occurred, but no nation seemed eager to plant its flag upon Australian shores and assume ownership. The great island-continent languished and waited.
Thus, until 1788, Australia continued an unused country. In that year the British flag was planted on the eastern coast, and the colony of New South Wales was established. The pioneers were neither noble nor elevated. England, perhaps for excellent reasons, shipped her criminal population from her own shores, and sent them over the oceans to found a new colony in the Southern Hemisphere. The first few years of Australian history present little but the stories of the government of these; their landing at Botany Bay to the monotonous hum of the cicadæ, their cutting of roads through the forests; their building of houses for the administrative officials, their efforts in agriculture, their quarrels among themselves, the tragical conflicts caused by their vices and debased passions. All the portion of Australia east of the 129th degree of east longitude was included in the colony of New South Wales. The remaining remaining portion continued to be known as New Holland. The 129th degree is now the boundary line of South Australia and Western Australia.
The West was undisturbed until the third decade of the nineteenth century. The expeditions of Vancouver, Baudin, Flinders, and King had proved the extent of this unclaimed area, but no explorer had gone up into the country. After Lieutenant King no English navigator specially visited these regions for some years, but French vessels were known to be coasting among them. In 1825 two vessels, the Thetis and the Esperance, cruised about the coast and the corvette L'Astrolabe sailed into Australian waters in the following year. These coming so soon after the extensive voyages of Captain De Freycinet excited the curiosity of the English authorities in New South Wales, and caused them to fear French annexation. Indeed they not only feared for the western part of New Holland, but suspected that the French would make efforts to establish settlements on the northern and southern portions of it within the New South Wales line of demarcation. Governor Darling, who administered New South Wales' affairs, appears to have been put to much debate as to how to act, and as early as possible he communicated his fears to the English Government. He wrote, "it will not be easy to satisfy the French, if they are desirous of establishing themselves here, that there is any valid objection to their doing so on the west coast, and I therefore beg to suggest that the difficulty would be removed by a commission," which should describe "the whole territory as within the Government." English statesmen considered the danger of some importance, and Lord Bathurst instructed Darling to carefully watch the movements of the French, and, if advisable, establish settlements, especially at Sharks Bay or King George's Sound, and Western Port. Without loss of time the latter took steps to form three settlements—at Raffles Bay, Western Port, and King George's Sound. By so doing he believed that the French would be placed at a great disadvantage from the mere fact of the first landed having the first right. Expeditions were rapidly fitted out and placed in charge of naval officers. Similar instructions were given to all, mainly for their guidance if the French were met with. Thus, they were "to avoid any expression of doubt as to the whole of New Holland being within this Government, any division of it which may be supposed to exist under the designation of New South Wales being merely ideal, and intended only with a view of distinguishing the more settled part of the country. Should this explanation not prove satisfactory, it will be proper in that case to refer them to this Government for any further information they may require." And if the French be found on land, "you will, notwithstanding, land the troops (two officers with eighteen rank and file) agreeably to your instructions, and signify that their continuance with any view to establishing themselves, or colonisation, would be considered an unjustifiable intrusion on His Britannic Majesty's possessions."
Major Lockyer was placed in charge of a detachment of the 39th Regiment and a party of convicts, about seventy persons in all, designed for the King George's Sound Settlement. They sailed from Sydney on the 9th November, 1826. His Majesty’s ship Fly, with the colonial brigs Amity and Dragon, conveyed this and the Western Port expeditions. On the 25th December, Major Lockyer reached his destination, and planted the British flag on the mainland overlooking Princess Royal Harbour. The town of Albany is now built on the site. It is impossible to state the precise spot where the flag was hoisted, as some aver that it was at the foot of Mount Clarence, while others agree that it was under Mount Melville, a few hundred yards distant. Such divergence of opinion is unfortunate, for from this location the western part of New Holland was claimed as British Territory, and there, so far as settlement is concerned, is the most historical point of Western Australia. Happily, no foreign enemy was present to deny their right to land.
Like many officers of the beginning of the nineteenth century, Major Lockyer, of the 57th Regiment, was an explorer. He made country excursions from Sydney, and in 1825 landed from the Mermaid in Moreton Bay, and was therefore one of the first to explore parts of Queensland. After disembarking at what was officially termed the King George's Sound Settlement, he set to work to house his little community. Quarters were built for himself, the soldiers, and convicts, all close together, and in a spot commanding an excellent view of Princess Royal Harbour. A rounded hill lay directly opposite which hid the entrance, and to the right ran a dark wooded range of hills forming the western boundary of the harbour. The hills or mountains to the rear, upon the slopes of which Albany is built, afforded a splendid sight. Rising steep in places, the sides were covered with charming wild flowers, bracken, and other small growth. In the declivity between Mount Clarence and Mount Melville large eucalyptus trees grew, and among these stood huge granite outcrops and boulders of strange shapes making distinct land-marks. The soil around appeared fairly rich. The boats were moored just below their quarters, and in the remote settlement they had many strange experiences and passed a delightfully mild and genial summer.
Meanwhile some excitement was caused in Sydney shortly after these expeditions left by the arrival there of the L'Astrolabe in charge of Captain D'Urville. This vessel left France early in l826, and later in the year reached the southern coast of Australia. After spending nearly the whole of the month of October in King George's Sound, she sailed on to Sydney. When she reached that locality Governor Darling considered it a fortunate circumstance that His Majesty's ships Warspite, Success and Volage were lying in the harbour, for they might make the captain of the corvette more circumspect in his proceedings than he might otherwise have been. The movements of the Frenchman were keenly watched. Even in New Zealand settlement was hurried so as to allow France no opportunity to establish a colony. It was also rumored that Admiral Baudin contemplated forming a settlement at Western Port in 1802, and the effect of this, with the continued presence of French vessels in Australian waters, helped to sustain the curiosity of the authorities in Sydney and the British Government at Downing Street. Just about this time. too, Lord John Russell was asked by the French Government what portions of Australia England included within her lines of demarcation. He firmly and determinedly replied, "The whole."
According to Captain Gilbert, who visited King George's Sound in the Success in 1827, it was early recognised that the site for the settlement was not a satisfactory one, and the life of the pioneers was rendered more rough thereby. He wrote that Major Lockyer had "erected several little cottages, or rather huts, made of wood and plastered with mud, and even in the commandant's house the wind blows through in every part." On the day after the arrival of Lockyer six or seven of his men strayed a short distance from the spot where they had decided to form the town. Natives were suddenly observed among the trees, who forthwith attacked them. The party hurried away to the camp with all speed, but not until one man was severely wounded. He was speared through thigh and hack, and a spear pierced the fleshy part of his arm and entered his side, thus pinning his arm to his side. He managed to reach the camp, where he partly recovered from his wounds, though he was maimed for life. Captain Gilbert took him to Sydney on board the Success. Unfortunately, records of the original King George's Sound Settlement are not obtainable, and little information can therefore be given of what transpired. It would appear that American sealers and whalers frequently put into the harbour and plied their avocation in and out of the sound. Possibly some had called there between the last visit of Lieutenant King and the arrival of Major Lockyer. For some time after the latter was settled, he had much trouble with them. They treated the natives in a high-handed manner and ill-used them with impunity. They forcibly took native women away, and some they shot for the slightest offence. During the early part of 1827 seven sealers seized four natives and removed them to Michaelmas Island (a small barren rock) in the sound, where they killed one and left the others to starve. At about the same time they took two native women from their tribe and landed them somewhere on the main, apparently in another tribal district. Major Lockyer arrested these seven sealers, and intended despatching them to Sydney on the first opportunity, there to be tried for murder. The natives soon got on friendly terms with the soldiers and convicts, and had ingress to and egress from all the huts, and never took anything away but what was given them.
A period of alert quietness followed this scare of 1826. Governor Darling was occupied in meeting the difficulties of the infant settlements, and that none of them were satisfactory, except so far as actual establishment went, was probably due to the somewhat hurried manner in which each was fixed on. Darling repeatedly mentioned in despatches to the Home Government and in private correspondence that the locality at King George's Sound was unsuitable. The soil did not seem to yield to the efforts of the tillers, while little inland agricultural land was opened up to the energy of private individuals.
And while quietness reigned for a period at Sydney, it was as nothing to the great silence which encompassed the isolated band at King George's Sound. In that solitude they found no charms. The scenery and the climate were pleasing enough. Rank and picturesque vegetation clothed the hills, the great woods were peopled by beautiful specimens of the feathered tribe, the natives constantly appeared in the vista surrounding the camp, and watched the movements of this advance guard, whales sported and spouted in the azure-blue sound, and seals wailed on its banks. Lockyer's men were completely separated from their kind. It was only at long and irregular intervals that any news arrived from Sydney, and more than once they were reduced to serious danger by the depletion of food supplies. Rude cannon were erected near the flag, and frowned down on the whalers and sealers and natives. They were required to serve for no other purpose. Labour was spasmodically applied to clearing areas in the woods but their futile efforts at cultivation tended to dishearten the people and accentuate their unenviable and unfortunate position. Under Mount Clarence and Mount Melville there are still to be observed the ruins of cottages, crumbled to their foundations, which were erected at this time and later. Otherwise no memorial exists to show the place where the English flag was peacefully implanted, where Western Australia by that simple act was declared a possession of Great Britain.
Governor Darling was determined to take every precaution to ensure the western coast to England. He did not desire that these lands should be inhabited by the children of two hostile nations. Early in 1827 he decided to dispatch H.M. frigate Success to the west coast to make surveys, and to discover a suitable site for a more ambitious settlement than that at King George’s Sound. The Success had been ordered to New South Wales on a particular service, which it was unable to perform. Because she was lying idle, Darling chose her for the new work.
The early records throw little light on the equipment and complement of this expedition to the west coast. The reports at present among the records of Western Australia of the voyage of the Success and the movements of the explorers are signed by Captain Gilbert and Mr. Charles Fraser. They make no specific mention of Captain Stirling, who had been commander of the vessel, being present, but in one place Captain Gilbert uses the words "the captain," as applied to some order during the trip. It is reasonable to suppose that he was in command, especially as all works of the subsequent decade mention Captain Stirling as in charge of the expedition, and impose on him, through his representations on the land resources, the onerous burden of the final colonisation. After much groping among Western Australian records, and those in New South Wales, we have not discovered decisive documents on this point.
The Success sailed away from Sydney on the 17th January, 1827, in company with a cutter. The Governor equipped the latter for survey work along the coast, and also to carry provisions to King George's Sound. Mr. Charles Fraser, the Colonial Botanist, was on board the Success. The two vessels went down to Hobart, the convict settlement in Van Dieman's Land, or Tasmania, and some little time was passed there by the officers, who, needless to say, expressed themselves as greatly pleased with the magnificent scenery presented by the Derwent River and Mount Wellington. After leaving there the commander found his progress so retarded by the slowness of the cutter that he decided upon leaving her. He instructed her master to make his way to the Swan River, which was to be the basis of their explorations, and in the event of his being unable to round Cape Leeuwin by the 15th March, to bear up for King George's Sound. Finally, should that place be not reached by the 20th March, he was to shape a course for Sydney.
The Success sailed on alone, and on the 4th March Cape Leeuwin was weathered. Next day the vessel arrived off Rottnest Island, which some earlier navigators described as a terrestrial paradise, but which Captain Gilbert considered hopelessly barren, with not the slightest inducement for anyone to settle. Instead of a scene of umbrageous beauty which he looked for, he was disappointed to observe naught but an island of sand covered with brushwood. On March 6th the Success sailed towards the Swan River, and came to anchor about three miles off the mouth. The sandbanks effectually hid the view of inland country. A boat's crew was lowered and sent to inspect the entrance. They returned with an unfavourable report. A bar of sand and rocks mutely denied a passage to large ships, and there was scarcely sufficient water for a boat to pass safely over. Immediately beyond this bar they said they found from four to ten fathoms of water. In the river were numerous black swans, which made a strange picture as they sailed in stately dignity over the glassy surface, with a background of glistening patches of sand and dark—foliaged vegetation. The men shot some of them and took them to the ship. They were described as about the size of the white swan, but quite black except for the whiteness of the quill feathers at the tip of the wings. For eating they were thought to be rather gross.
On the following day the Success was moored to Berthollet Island, which swarmed with sea-birds, and was covered with holes, resembling rabbit warrens, they had made. Otherwise it was "a mass of land intersected here and there with brushwood." At eight o’clock next morning the gig and cutter set out to explore the Swan River. The crews were well armed, and carried a fortnight's provisions. Now were the real objects of the expedition to be carried out—
"To proceed if possible to the source of the river—to examine the banks and the depth of water—to fix on an eligible spot for a settlement—to ascertain the productions of the country, the nature of the soil, and the practicability of forming a harbour for shipping."
These couriers of civilisation went along the river's sinuous way, each turn opening to a sweet rural prospect, and discovering in wide expanse of water, or gentle verdure-clad hill, or many-coloured vegetation, some new pleasing feature. Good progress was made on the first day, and "about 20 miles of the river" were examined. Then they were confronted by "flats that here extended themselves the whole width of the river, one and a half miles in length." These flats were certainly those contiguous to the present causeway above Perth, and the estimate of distance is decidedly erroneous by nearly seven miles too much. The provisions were now landed on an island, and the empty boats were dragged over the muddy shallow passages. In doing this the men were compelled to walk across extensive beds of oyster shells, which severely lacerated their feet. Immediately beyond, deep water of nearly eight fathoms was found, and nothing further arose to impede their progress. And now, Gilbert asserts, "the scenery was delightful, the trees growing to the water's edge. The transparency of the river, the mountains and plains alternately appearing, and the picturesque points and bays formed the most interesting scenery possible, and this place only requires a little assistance from art to render it one of the most delightful spots on earth." On Sunday two native children were seen playing on the shore, who ran off in consternation when they perceived the boats. In a few minutes about 200 natives were observed peering from behind the trees and over the hill-tops. The boats continued on their way, and the natives kept pace with them. In the hands of the aboriginal men were spears. They apparently wished the explorers to land, for they beckoned to them constantly. After a time the boats' crews put on shore, and then all the natives retreated towards a hill except five rather elderly men. These laid down their spears, and made signs of friendship by holding their arms above their heads. The third lieutenant, Mr. Belches, went out to meet them, but when a second man followed the officer the natives took alarm, seized their spears, and would have fled had not the man instantly retired to the boat. Signs of peace were made by Lieutenant Belches, and after presents were awarded to them the aboriginals became more familiar. They particularly relished the bread and the sugar which were given them, but the salt beef was not agreeable to their palate.
Captain Gilbert reported that these natives were rather intelligent in appearance, and were small made. The chiefs were painted with a sort of red clay, and twisted their long hair round their heads, binding it with the feathers of the cockatoo and swan. Their ears were also pierced by feathers, and the septum of the nose contained a single quill feather. He gave a considerable description of their habits and weapons.
A point near the base of the hills was reached on the Monday. Trees here so overhung the stream that it was impossible for them to sail. The mast was unshipped and the boat was pulled the remaining distance. The party camped for nearly two days, and passed the time in examining the country. Swans and ducks were shot for food, and Mr. Fraser made a large collection of plants, and also ascended the General Darling Ranges, named after the Governor of New South Wales. On Wednesday the return journey was begun, but the boats had not gone far before they were staved by the stumps of trees that had fallen into the river. The damage was repaired and the flats were reached. While the cutter sailed direct to the ship, the gig was ordered to proceed up "another of the rivers"—the Canning. They found five fathoms of water along their course in the Canning. Another party of natives was met with who displayed more timidity than the first. It was only after a long interval that any communication could be had with them. But when many signs and tokens of friendship were made one of the crew landed and presented to the chief a jacket, and to another a pair of trousers. It was ludicrous to observe the efforts of the latter to place the trousers over his shoulders by thrusting his arms through the openings for the legs. After a while the timidity of the natives was overcome so far by their curiosity that they rubbed their fingers on the white skins of the crew to see if a pigment would come off, apparently believing them painted. They opened the waistcoats of the men and laughed loudly when they saw that the skin of their bodies was also white. Other presents were made and several spears were given to the whites, and all parted the best of friends. The country pleased the explorers greatly, and they believed it so fertile that they pictured these primal scenes as soon to be inhabited by thousands of opulent husbandmen.
Some time was then spent in surveying the islands of Rottnest, Berthollet (Carnac), and Buachi (Garden Island), the adjacent rocks, and the coast on each side of the river. Two gardens were planted about fifteen miles up the river—which so far as is known were never again seen—and another at Buachi. Several descriptions of garden vegetables and corn were sown in these. On Buachi a cow, three goats, and three sheep with young were left. Captain Gilbert proceeds:—
"Our expectations of the advantages of a settlement at Swan River are now fully confirmed, and although it would be impossible for vessels of above 10 tons burden to enter the river at any state of the tide in safety at the present entrance, it would be practicable at a small expense to cut a canal. . . . . The distance necessary to be cut is only one quarter of a mile, and would immediately lead into water of twelve fathoms, both in the river and in the sea. The land is rocky, and would afford excellent sides to the canal. The climate is most delightful, the soil is good, and in many places exceedingly rich, and capable of producing any of the European vegetables and fruits, as well as tropical."
He reported that the soil when nearing the hills was the richest virgin loam, and suitable for any crop. The "stony nature of the hills rendered them admirably adapted for the culture of the vine. Proceeding up the river, the country opens into immense plains of the most fertile description, the soil is rich brown earth extending to the base of the mountains."
The Success weighed anchor on the 21st March, and on the 24th Geographe Bay was made, and the vessel sailed along the coast towards its innermost point. About thirty natives caught sight of them and followed them into the bay for about thirty miles, stopping opposite their anchorage. They seated themselves in a body at the base of a "mountain" and eagerly scanned the movements of those on board the frigate. The officers and men collected presents, such as knives, saws, pieces of stuff, handkerchiefs, beads, bread and sugar, and put off in boats to the shore. These were distributed, while some of the crew danced and completely won the hearts of the savages. Two chiefs ventured to go on board, and were astonished beyond measure at the size of the ship. Every detail interested them, but they were most pleased when they caught sight of the galley fire, and delightedly cried, "Hubboa, hubboa." After they were rigged out in mariners' jackets, trousers, &c., they were landed.
While this had been going on Mr. Fraser remained on land in the company of the main body of natives. He writes that this tribe, "contrary to most of the aboriginals who have not had any communication with civilised man, are extremely fond of spirituous liquids." When he landed he presented to one a white shirt, and a jacket to a second. These presents were eagerly accepted, but when the chiefs were observed returning from the ship more gaudily apparelled in mariners’ jackets, hats, and ruffled shirts, the recipients cunningly hurried into the bush, hid their presents, and ran back to the shore, apparently in hopes of receiving brighter looking gifts. Some of the natives observing this ruse went into the bush and, finding the clothes, delivered them to the chief, who seemed to frown. Before leaving them Mr. Fraser, who was well acquainted with the habits of the natives in the east, joined the tribe in the corroboree, which gave much delight.
Geographe Bay was left on the 2nd April, and after beating for several days to windward off Cape Leeuwin the party reached King George's Sound. The vessel was anchored beneath the little settlement of Major Lockyer, and there remained for some days. The explorers were eagerly welcomed by the lonely men, whose practical banishment was weighing heavily on them. Of the settlement Captain Gilbert reported that "the expectations formed of King George’s Sound have by no means been realised; the soil is wretched; with the utmost care and attention they have not hitherto been able to bring anything a few inches from the ground." For the first time they were in somewhat serious straits through want of food supplies, for of the six months' provisions which were sent with them only enough remained for thirty days on half allowance.
To their surprise the officers found that the cutter which had started with them had not even arrived at the sound. They afterwards learnt that the slight vessel had met with such heavy weather that, despairing of reaching his destination within the allotted time, the master put back to Port Jackson.
Before leaving, the commander of the Success gave the party ale and equal to two months' provisions on short allowance. On entering King George's Sound, Captain Gilbert characterises the scenery as being "bold and magnificent; lofty mountains in various shapes, the curiously formed islands, the sea breaking violently on the rocks, give it a most striking effect, but there is the same time a barren appearance in the landscape that so fatigues the eye of the spectator." A curious plant named the Pitcher, greatly interested the party. It is indigenous, Gilbert reported only to this part of the globe, and grows in the marshy ground. At the top of thin stalks of about two feet high are small flowers similar to the lily in form, only much smaller, and possessing no smell. "On the stalk, just above the soil, grow several flowers shaped similar to a pitcher, with a cover or top to them. When there is rain or heavy dew these covers lift up and receive and retain all the moisture that falls into them, and on its leaving off raining the covers shut down, and thus prevent the water escaping. The pitchers thus contain sufficient to supply the plant with nourishment for the whole of the dry season. Each pitcher contains from one to three tablespoonfuls of water."
The Success now made her way back to Sydney in safety, and Captain Stirling shortly after her arrival gave a banquet on board.
It is necessary, in order to show the representation upon which the Swan River Colony was mainly established, to summarise the report of the Colonial Botanist, Mr. Charles Fraser, on the country contiguous to the Swan River. Many people will agree that some of the conclusions of Captain Gilbert were coloured and were therefore hardly to be relied on. The gentlemen who subsequently petitioned the English Government to found a colony in the West were wholly influenced by the information contained in these reports, while the Government itself was partly led to conclusion by them. The opinions of an experienced man like Mr. Fraser carried much weight. He was, if anything, more sanguine of the potentialities of the Swan River country than Captain Gilbert, and he expressed himself in no measured terms as to its fertility. His report embraces the "botany, geology, and general character of the banks of Swan River, Geographe Bay, and Cape Naturaliste."
The mouth of the Swan, he wrote, was composed of tessellated rocks of lime, presenting in many places caverns of the most fantastic forms. He believed the whole mass to be the remains of an extensive bed of fossil rocks, exhibiting trunks and roots of enormous trees. The soil on the south head was a sterile sand which produced a great variety of interesting plants. The banks half a mile from the heads were apparently barren, but really contained a fine red loam, with about a quarter of sand, capable of producing garden and other light crops. Further in, the "livid green" of the trees on the banks greatly astonished him, and on examination he found this was due to the immense body of moisture which was supplied by underground springs. Although the season had evidently been a dry one, the verdure of the trees, and "astonishing luxuriance" of the herbaceous plants, exceeded anything he had seen on the east coast. Among these plants were species of tenicis and hibiscus. Springs were numerous, and one rapid stream issuing from a cavernous rock contained water of a saline quality but different in taste from sea water. An analysis of this, made at Port Jackson, showed it to correspond to the water of Harrowgate. The banks at this spot exceeded in beauty anything so near the sea in Sydney. On the north head of the river the soil was sandy, but 200 yards from the beach it became a rich brown loam, which improved in quality as the hills were ascended. The valleys were rich beyond description and capable of producing any crop. The same character of soil continued to Pelican Point, and as far as the eye could reach beyond there.
"The limestone with which the valleys are studded renders them admirably adapted to the culture of the vine, and their being divested of timber or brushwood renders them fit for immediate culture." The country between Pelican Point and the Moreau (the name given to the river Canning by the French) was diversified by hills and dales, "magnificently clothed with trees of the richest green." The Banksia grandis and two other arborescent species rise here "in all their grandeur," while there are also the eucalyptus, dryandra, armata, zamia spiralis, and several species of flakea and Grevillea. A very magnificent species of Jacksonia adorned the swamps. On the banks the pendulous Leptospermum formed one of the greatest beauties of the landscape. Other interesting flora were also observed. Ample fresh water was found on the banks of the river between Pelican Point and Point Heathcoat. "The valleys and headlands are formed of the richest loam, and are covered with the most luxuriant herbage. The Banksia and Collitritis were "particularly splendid" about here, while the foliage of the trees, with the rose-coloured flowers of the Leptospermum added lustre to an already charming picture. Not much of the land on the north shore was examined—merely a strip of land, which was named Point Belches, after the officer attached to the expedition. The flora there were equally as fine, and the soil was somewhat sandy. Water was easily obtained by shallow sinking. The surface of the hills were barren, and yet they produced an "immense variety" of plants. Broom grass was plentiful in this more inland situation. Salt marshes were discovered, "admirably adapted to the growth of cotton," and an extensive fresh water lagoon was found, whose banks were "covered with the most beautiful plants." Fraser "distinctly heard the bellowing of a large animal from amongst the marshes" higher up the river, "resembling the lowing of horned cattle," sounds evidently made by the frogs which caused so much consternation and irresistible terror to members of the Baudin expedition. Large flocks of cockatoos, with white on the backs and upper wings, and yellow quill feathers, aroused attention as they rose, shrieking, and flew over the otherwise silent woods.
Above the flats at the causeway the character of the country changed. An extensive flat was seen, "of the richest soil—resembling in fertility those on the banks of the Hawkesbury—covered with luxuriant broom grass and also abounding in magnificent blue gums." The country from this point was similar to that on rivers falling west of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, with hilly points on either bank and extensive flats. The hills were composed of rich red loam of great depth, while the flats were formed of the "richest brown loam." The flats increased in breadth as the hills were approached, and extended many miles on each side of the river and up to the base of the mountains, exceeding in point of soil the flats on the Macquarie River, west of Wellington Valley; each flat was surrounded by a high terrace. The banks at the head of the river, although contracted and high, were composed of "the richest materials." At the basement of the mountains were fragments of quartz, which strewed the whole way.
Fraser then went up on the mountains and found their summits formed of blocks of red ironstone and "very sterile." soil. A magnificent view of immense, wooded plains which bounded the horizon was there obtained, and the feelings of the explorers must have been decidedly romantic as they surveyed the prospect. They were in a new world with no white men to watch them, and it was their privilege to first behold this scene, created they knew not how long ago. Also, a new strange race of men inhabited these parts, and they soon saw evidences of their burrowing in the earth for their food. They descended the mountains, and amid the forest observed numerous pits, some more than nine feet deep, which caused them much speculation as to how they were made. After curious examination they decided that they were dug by natives while searching for land tortoises, which formed a considerable portion of their food.
"In ascending the Swan River," says Fraser, "it was remarked that the tide did not rise above three or four inches, and when we consider the very small quantity of fresh water which discharges itself into the channel, in character not amounting to a large brook, we were at a loss to account for the means by which the river was supplied. For upwards of twenty miles it was fresh. The cause must arise from subterraneous springs." The water was well stocked with fish, and black swans, ducks, pelicans, and shags were seen in myriads. From the shyness of the black swan, Mr. Fraser doubted not that "at no distant period, should the country be settled, there will not be a swan to be seen, when no doubt the original discoverers will be laughed at for so apparently preposterous a name."
He was right, for now the black swan is a rare bird indeed,and brings an enormous price in Perth.
While Cockburn Sound was being surveyed by the officers and men attached to the expedition, Mr. Fraser examined the geographical and geological characters of the islands bounding it. He pronounced them as generally sterile. There were very small patches of good soil on Garden Island; Carnac was "a barren, uninhabited spot, without water," and Rottnest "exceedingly barren." He spoke highly of the coast down to Geographe Bay. He records that from Cape Peron it is "hilly and well wooded, and seems to abound in water; within the bay it is bold, consisting of high granite ranges separated by beautiful valleys of the richest description. Through each runs a little streamlet. The soil in these valleys is a rich vegetable loam covered with herbaceous plants of the greatest luxuriance." Among the trees were "gigantic sow thistles, which were seen to attain the almost incredible height of 112 feet." Cape Naturaliste proved very interesting. It was perhaps the most magnificent promontory west of Cape Leeuwin. The base was formed of enormous beds of compact granite, in places embracing immense veins of iron and felspar. Sulphate of copper was one of the features, and above the granite lay a huge bed of lime containing two superb ranges of caverns. The walls and roof of one cavern which was examined were covered with stalactites, many of which approached near to 20 feet long, but from the extraordinary humidity of the cavern they were all covered with fungi and algæ of the most fantastic forms and colours, imparting to the whole such an extraordinary combination of colours as was rarely to be met with in such situations. In another cavern the gigantic stalactites appeared in the distance like pillars of a Gothic cathedral. The sight of the sea rolling into a lower cavern was "terrifically grand." One mile north of Cape Naturaliste were other cliffs, in which there was a range of small caverns, formed of the finest rock-salt penetrating into the limestone, and into the most compact parts of a bed of pudding-stone immediately under it. Along the beach, between Port Leschenault and Cape Naturaliste, streamlets of delicious water rushed from beneath the limestone and granite rocks at every ten or twelve yards. Such was the calcareous character of this water that it combined shells, algæ, wood, and everything within its reach into a solid and compact mass.
Mr. Fraser thus concluded his report:-
"In delivering my opinion on the whole of the land seen on the banks of the Swan, I hesitate not in pronouncing it superior to any I have seen in New South Wales, eastward of the Blue Mountains, not only in its local situation, but in the many existing advantages which it holds out to settlers, viz.:—
"1st. The evident superiority of the soil.
"2nd. The facility with which settlers can bring their farms into a state of culture from the open state of the country, the trees not averaging more than ten to the acre.
"3rd. The great advantage of fresh water springs of the best quality, and consequent permanent humidity of the soil—two advantages not existing eastward of the Blue Mountains.
"4th. The advantage of water carriage to their doors, and the non-existence of impediments to land carriage."
It would not be difficult to estimate the effects of such bright reports as these on the minds of adventurous people. In those anxious to apply their energies where they might quickly obtain wealth, who wished to escape the trammels and artificialities of old civilisations and societies, and in those who may be termed ne'er-do-wells, who ignorantly thought to woo riches in a new country where they would be removed from the reproachful eyes of their relatives, these glowing descriptions naturally aroused curiosity and stimulated a latent and unconscious spirit of adventure. The stories of sunny lands, unlimited areas of fertile soil demanding little toil to prove productive, beautiful and brilliant flora, a strange race of men, an expansive tree—embowered river, where fish and game abounded, and the honour and courage which were thought to be attached to pioneer efforts, were especially calculated to excite and attract. And imagination might well run wild under such circumstances. Add to this transcendent picture the subsequent liberal offers of broad acres of rich land as would put the largest ancestral estates in Great Britain in the background, making them puny holdings in comparison, and the results of the reports of Captain Gilbert and Mr. Fraser will be appreciated.
Indeed it was no unusual feature of the journals and reports of early explorers of coastal country in Australia to write something descriptive and attractive. It not only marked those journeys made in Eastern Australia, but was a characteristic of expeditions made after a settlement was inaugurated in the west—even when the somewhat fulsome hopes of the pioneers disappeared before the difficulties which soon confronted them. As this narrative will show, their reports were frequently over-painted. Perhaps the explorers were so impressed by the knowledge that they were the first to view these scenes—that they were privileged to obtain the first glance by civilised man since the creation—that their preparedly receptive minds, active imaginations, impressive sensations, caused them to paint the verdure with borrowed and exaggerated colour, and detect potentialities in the soil which were not existent.
These reports were presented to Governor Darling immediately after the return of the Success to Sydney, who was exceedingly interested in the sketches of so promising a country. After deliberation, he forwarded them to the English Government, and in all probability Captain Stirling returned to England at the same time. Governor Darling acted the more hurriedly because the French annexation of parts of Australia was apparently as possible as in the previous year. He was anxious that the whole of Australia west of New South Wales boundaries should be annexed by Great Britain as speedily as possible, and a colony proclaimed and a settlement established which should utilise the splendid advantages of soil and climate.
Upon his arrival in England, Captain Stirling seems to have circulated among his friends favourable reports of the goodly country open to settlement on the Swan River. Not only this, pamphlets were published and distributed and avidly read, and later a paper—the West Australian Gazette—formed the medium by which the best information was disseminated. Curiosity was attracted, and after that some well-connected gentlemen determined on formulating a scheme by which a settlement could be established. Because of the supposed dangers of the French forestalling them in New Holland, the English Government lent a more kindly support to representations which were made than they would otherwise have done.
It may therefore be considered that the ruling reasons which culminated in the foundation of Western Australia were the fears entertained in New South Wales and England of a foreign nation—France—occupying a portion of the continent. That these fears were unfounded was decided a few years later. The stated objects of the several French expeditions—the first to search for the La Perouse expedition, the more recent for scientific purposes—were evidently the true ones. At any rate no instance is recorded where a French expedition was equipped to colonise Australia. Moreover, the Earl of Ripon himself decided that the fears were groundless. Writing in 1833 (vide Parliamentary paper, 1840) he said:- "The present settlement at Swan River owes its origin, you may perhaps be aware, to certain false rumours which had reached the Government of the intentions of a foreign power to establish a colony on the west coast of Australia. The design was for a time given up entirely on grounds of public economy, and would not have been resumed but for the offer of a party of gentlemen to embark in an undertaking of this nature at their own risk upon receiving extensive grants of land, and on a certain degree of protection and assistance for a limited period being secured to them by the Government."