Journal of an Expedition under the command of Lieut. Preston, to explore the Coast to the Northward of Swan River

JOURNAL OF AN EXPEDITION under the Command of Lieutenant Preston, to explore the Coast to the Northward of Swan Biver.

Hired Cutter, Colonist,
Gage's Roads, Nov. 23d, 1830.


In compliance with orders received from Captain Dance, dated November 3d, 1830, directing me, as soon as the preparations are complete, "to take charge of the expedition intended to explore the coast to the northward of this port, to ascertain the existence or non-existence of ports, anchorages, and inlets on the coast,—their value as to security, size, and depth of water,—and the nature of the country immediately around them. In the careful examination of the coast with these views, the expedition should proceed to the northward; and in the event of discovering a port of undoubted value, possessing the qualities most essential to excellence, as well as the probable success of settlers in its vicinity; the expedition, after having fully ascertained these matters, is to return to this port with the intelligence; and in the event of no such discovery being effected in time to secure the return of the vessel to Gage's Roads by the 24th instant, your examination of the coast must be relinquished, so as to make your arrival probable on or about that day. On your return, if the weather shall admit of it, you shall yourself leave the vessel while off the mouth of the river, and immediately report your proceedings to the Lieutenant Governor, sending the vessel on to the ship with the rest of the party;"—I beg leave to deliver to your Excellency the following report: —

Strong westerly winds did not permit me to leave Cockburn Sound till the morning of the sixth instant, when I stood along shore, at first about a mile and a half off, and latterly, for the most part, within half or three quarters of a mile, having reefs and breakers nearly the whole way to leeward; whilst the vessel was in tolerably good and smooth water, and no soundings, with eight fathoms. The sea breeze set in early, and blew fresh, so that I reached an island in latitude 31°5',, and anchored under it for the night in ten feet water. The passage in was between two reefs to the southward of the island, which were partly dry, the channel very narrow, and many rocks in it, with only three and five feet water on them. On the 7th, I continued along the coast, keeping sufficiently near to see any estuary or other opening of any magnitude, with reefs and breakers generally outside. Off a point, in latitude 30°49'; there is a high rocky island, with a passage having eight feet between it and the main. And in a bay, in latitude 30° 42' there are four islands not laid down in Capt. King's chart. In the bay I found from four to eight fathoms water, the soundings being rather uniform. The islands and reefs between them shelter the north and N. W. part of the bay, whilst the west and S. W. parts are protected by a continuous reef, extending from the islands to within about a mile and a quarter of the south shore, where there is a very good entrance; a small and more intricate entrance exists between two of the islands. I stopped examining this bay for the night, and on the 8th proceeded as before. I soon got into Jurieu Bay, and to my no small disappointment, found, instead of discovering anything more serviceable to the colony, nothing but a mere bay; it was only with great care I found water sufficient to navigate my little vessel, which drew no more than five feet. In passing inside the islands off Isla Point, I had the like shallowness of water to contend against; but as I approached the point, and saw water extending a long way to the north eastward of it, and land again north of that, I now firmly thought that something of importance and utility was within my reach,—a capacious and secure harbour, and large river, emptying its waters into it from the mountains, which a little north of this came down to the coast, were my too sanguine expectations. It is a large bay, and in the northern part and middle having depth of water for anchorage; but unless sheltered by reefs, which are at a long distance, or immediately under a small island, it is exposed to the N.W. winds, and not even a streamlet flows into it. I stood to the northward amid broken water, and very irregular soundings, from two and a half to six fauoms, till I reached two small islands in latitude 30°9', where, finding some shelter from a strong S. by W. sea-breeze, that now blew in squalls, I remained for the night. About nine miles along the coast to the northward of this, I saw, next morning, a large sheet of water over the sand hills of the beach, which I ascended, to trace its direction, and saw it extending nearly parallel with the coast, but could see no opening, either outwards or inwards, to it from the sea or the interior of the country. A continuaticm of this lagoon, in every probability, was visited, three or four miles further south, on my return, and found to be salt at the latter place, about a third of a mile from the beach. I then continued along the coast, looking out most eagerly for harbour, inlet, or estuary; and always keeping as close as uneven soundings, breakers, and shallow water permitted, with any degree of prudence. I had built no small hopes on that part of the coast not seen by Captain King, but mentioned as laid down from Dutch charts; and it was with feelings not a little excited, that I saw along the whole of it this afternoon, and no little disappointment, that this search was as fruitless as the preceding. It blew very hard from the S.S.W., and I had prepared every thing to reduce the cutter's sails as much as possible, previous to hauling off for the night, when I remarked a little shelter for her under a small reef, in latitude 29° 18', and off Sandy Patch of the chart; here the vessel rode, at first very heavy, for the night. The 10th was passed searching along the land, as before, but with expectations despairingly diminished. The most commodious harbour, with long river navigation inland, could, at this distance, be of comparatively little advantage to the colony. The uniform low sandy coast which I had passed, with a continuation of reefs and breakers off it, made me lose the hope of the probability of improving as I went northerly. I wished much to go as far as Gantheaunee Bay, but my disappointment with Jurieu Bay, gave faint hopes even from it; I did not, therefore, deem the attaining of it a sufficient reason for prolonging the expedition beyond the period of my orders; a prolongation which I calculated must be the consequence of my going so far north. The very strong southerly winds, which had blown with scarcely any intermission, since my departure from Cockburn Sound, —too strong for the cutter to hold her own again, much less make progress in beating,—showed me clearly, that unless they either diminish in force, or change in direction—both which, however, I presumed would be the case in the space of another fortnight, I would be already behind the time specified for my return. For these reasons, I determined not to go further north, than the latitude of 28° 45', where I passed the night, amid coral reefs, inside a chain of breakers, and where, in bringing up the vessel, grounded on one of these rocks, by the anchor coming home. She was soon got off, but not without losing part of her false keel. At this part of the coast, the nearest hills rise to a greater height than on the general line of coast to the south, but are of the same sandy nature, with the same sort of limestone, as in the vicinity of Swan River. The vegetation is also still shrubby; the country inland rises into mountains, the Wizard Hills and Mount Fairfax; but my time did not permit my getting more than a distant view of them.

The 11th and 12th were passed beating to the southward, and the night between them and the sea, where I found a heavy swell and strong breezes; nor was I favoured with their being well to the westward, as I expected, on standing in shore again on the latter day; so that, during two days and nights, I only made thirty miles of latitude. At sunset on the 12th, having observed shelter inside some reefs, I took advantage of it, and remained there for the night; nor did I stand out to sea any following night, always having found shelter, more or less good, and prefering being in smooth water, and working up inside the reefs, with the moderate breezes of the mornings and forenoons, for they could scarcely be called land breezes, so much did they hold to the southward. In my return, therefore, I was generally very close to the shore, often not many fathoms from it, and must, in consequence, have observed any openings or inlets that might have escaped me before. This closer examination, however, only showed me a greater number of rocks, reefs, and breakers, with which, I may say, the coast is universally lined. There are numberless entrances, and constant shelter inside, but the openings and anchorages are dangerous, from the number of isolated and hidden rocks, which rise abruptly from a depth of some fathoms, to within a few feet of the surface. With the greatest precaution, being seldom without two persons on the look out, the vessel sometimes touched on some of them, but never to hurt. It required, too, the utmost diligence to keep out of the breakers, for it is a well known fact, and we had proof of it, that an interval of many minutes occur between the breakers; and unless the place be observed for a long time, one is not always safe in standing on. I landed only on six different places of the mainland, all of which were sandy and rocky limestone; the beach I always found and observed to be good for boat landing, generally sandy, with only a few rocky heads at long distances from each other; the surf was always very slight, not so high as to injure any boat. I remarked some places where water had stood on the surface, and, by digging, found it to be salt. At one place only, did I find fresh water by digging, and then not of the best quality. The islands which I saw are of the same appearance as Carnac, and produce similar vegetation. Several smokes were observed inland, about latitude 29°, and no other trace of natives. At our farthest north anchorage, we observed part of the swinging boom of a large ship, which had been erected above high water mark.

(Signed)William Preston,

Commanding Expedition.

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