Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 12


Departure from the North Coast of New Holland—Buckle's Isle proved not to exist—The Governor Phillips strikes on a Coral Rock—Arrival at Coupang— Transactions there—Departure—Savu—Benjoar—Arrival at Swan River—Freemantle—Melville Water—Mount Eliza—Perth.

We left Port Essington (as already mentioned) on the morning of the 31st of August, for Coupang, where Captain Barker purposed to close all accounts that might have been left unsettled by the late Mr. Radford. He also intended to purchase provisions for the use of the settlement at King George the Third's Sound, being fearful that, in consequence of the wreck of the schooner Mermaid, which was laden with provisions for the use of that place, it might be suffering some inconvenience.

As it was not out of the course, the Commander of the Governor Phillips obliged me by steering direct for Buckle's Island. At eight, P. M., we were in latitude 10° 58' south, and longitude 131° 15' east; i. e. the position ascribed, on the general chart, to that island; but, although the evening was clear, we could not discern any appearance of land. It may, therefore, be safely presumed, that it does not exist.

We made Timor on Saturday, the 5th of September, and on Sunday morning, at seven, A. M., we entered the Straits of Semao. At half-past ten, the ship struck on a ledge of coral rocks, and remained there, hard and fast. After various ineffectual endeavours, we succeeded in getting her off at noon, and were glad to find that she made no more water than she did before the accident[1].

At two, P. M., we arrived at, and anchored off, Coupang, when Captain Barker and I went on shore, to wait on the Resident and Secretary. We were informed, that Mr. Hazaart, the Resident, had proceeded on his expedition into the interior, accompanied by the Geologist, to search for the gold mines, said to exist in the mountains;—and, to repel the anticipated hostile attacks of the mountaineers[2], he was accompanied by upwards of 1000 men, armed and equipped in the manner already related[3].

The Dutch brig Merkus, in which my friend Captain Young had proceeded to Batavia, had returned to this port; and I heard, with regret, that he was dangerously ill at Batavia[4].

The day after our arrival, the Secretary sent his son to return our visit, and to invite us to dine, which was the more willingly accepted, as Captain Barker wished to see whether the account, which I had given him of the Secretary's epicurean style of living, had been correct; and he found that my report was not exaggerated.

We learned, that despatches had been lately received from the Resident, whose search after the precious metal had hitherto been unsuccessful, although he had examined all the mines, excepting one. We hoped that it might not turn out to be a "dowster-swivilian" business; as the disappointment might have a fatal effect on the good old Resident, whose only happiness seemed now to be centred in the success of his expedition.

We met here a Missionary, who had come from one of the small adjacent islands, for the benefit of medical advice, and change of air. The disease under which he had long laboured, intermittent fever, had emaciated him much, but had communicated additional interest to his mild and intelligent countenance. The present of a little sulphate of quinine, with directions for its use, made his hollow eyes sparkle with joy.

He spoke English very intelligibly, having received part of his evangelical education in London. He had not been particularly successful in converting the heathens whom he had taken under his pastoral care; but he had succeeded in softening their manners considerably, and restraining their accustomed habits of plundering and murdering those unfortunate beings who might, either from shipwreck, or by stratagem, fall into their power.

This, it will be admitted, is doing effectual good. Indeed, it may be affirmed, that such a rational mode of proceeding is more likely to be attended with beneficial consequences, than the endeavour to force down the throats of shrewd heathens abstruse truths, very difficult to be comprehended, even by the most enlightened; and far more so, when, from imperfect knowledge of the language necessary to communicate the desired ideas,—admitting that the teacher has a clear perception thereof in his own mind,—such subjects must appear to the uninitiated, more perplexed and obscure.

Captain Barker soon made satisfactory arrangements, relative to the unsettled commissariat accounts; and he also purchased, at a fair price, a quantity of salt beef, pork, and flour, for the use of the settlement of which he was about to take charge.

The brig, in the meantime, completed her water, which was of excellent quality, and was procured easily, and in abundance, from a rivulet, (that empties itself into the sea, a little to the eastward of the Resident's country villa,) the source of which is in the Secretary's garden, where, from a cool grot, it gushes forth with vehemence in a copious stream.

During our stay here. Captain Barker and myself made frequent excursions into the interior in various directions, being provided, through the kindness of our Coupang friends, with excellent ponies, which, though not larger than Highland shelties, carried us easily a considerable distance, notwithstanding one of us weighed little short of fifteen stone.

One evening, while taking a ride along the shore to a village a few miles to the eastward, I observed the long boat (now converted into a pleasure yacht for the Resident's son) riding quietly at anchor; and I viewed her with feelings that I hardly supposed an inanimate object could excite.

We were informed, by the master of the Mercus, that many Chinese were about to emigrate from Java to Raffles Bay, having recently learned that they would be permitted to do so. I also heard from him many anecdotes which he had acquired from personal observation relative to the mode of conducting affairs at Melville Island, confirmatory of what had been communicated to me from several authentic sources.

The total abandonment of the north coast of New Holland caused much regret to the mercantile people here, as they had anticipated great advantages from a commercial intercourse.

Captain Barker, anxious to prevent the disappointment and loss which the Malays would experience by being unacquainted with the fact, wrote another letter to the Dutch Governor of Macassar, apprising him thereof, and requesting him to communicate the intelligence to those whom it might concern.

Da'Atea was left, in charge of Mr. Tielmann, who promised to take care of him until he found a better situation. This is the person already mentioned, who ran away from one of the Macassar proas, and found his way to the settlement at Raffles Bay, and whom Captain Barker refused to give up, when claimed as a slave; but whether he acted correctly in this affair—although backed by the authority of Moses[5]—may perhaps be doubted.

This poor fellow, who was much esteemed on account of his good humour and obliging disposition, usually worked in the garden at Raffles Bay, where he performed more labour than two or three convicts, who being sent from home, according to their own account, for doing nothing, adhere to their favourite propensity of doing as little as possible elsewhere.

We found that Da'Atea understood very imperfectly the Malayese, as spoken at Coupang, which, it appears, differs considerably from the Celebese dialect. He regretted being left at Coupang; and, had his own wishes been acceded to, he would willingly have accompanied Captain Barker, at parting with whom he was exceedingly distressed, following the boat till nearly up to his neck in water, embracing the Captain's knees, and weeping bitterly.

On Saturday, the 12th of September, at noon, all affairs being amicably arranged, we got under way, and bade adieu to the friendly and hospitable inhabitants of Coupang. In order to save, as much as possible, the salt provisions, for future use. Captain Barker had purchased as many buffaloes as could be conveniently carried in the brig.

We were now bound for Swan River; and as that much praised spot had lately created considerable interest in England, I was not a little gratified that chance had thrown in my way an opportunity of paying it a visit.

On Sunday the 13th we were in sight of Savu; and as that and the neighbouring islands had been, according to Captain Laws, erroneously laid down by Captain Flinders, we thought it might not be amiss, as the wind was light, to endeavour to ascertain whether such was the fact.

From the cross bearings of Savu and Benjoar, the ship's place at noon by Flinders' chart was latitude 10° 44' 20" S. and longitude 124° 51' E. Now, the latitude observed by means of five sets of double altitudes (as the meridian altitude, on account of the intervention of the land, was not to be confided in), two being taken in the forenoon, and three in the afternoon, was 10° 45' 22"; and the longitude, deduced by chronometer, (the error and rate of which had been correctly ascertained at Raffles Bay and Coupang,) was 124° 50'; apparent time at ship known by four sets of altitudes (two, A.M. and two, P.M.) taken by different individuals, and easily reduced to noon, the ship having little way through the water; and in the evening at 7h. 40' by the observed distance between Jupiter and the moon, carried back to noon by chronometer, 124° 51' 30". Our position, therefore, it will appear, was as follows:—

Lat. 10° 44' 20" by Flinders.
10° 45' 22" by us.
Long. 124° 51' by Flinders.
124° 50' by our chronometer.
124° 51' 30" by our lunar obs.

From this it may be presumed, that Captain Flinders has not erred in the longitude of Savu and Benjoar; and although we had much respect for the accuracy of Captain Laws, yet, being aware that he had passed these islands very rapidly, we concluded that he had rather hastily assigned to them a different position.

During our progress south, which, from light and adverse winds, was not very rapid, we experienced a westerly current, running, on an average, half a knot an hour, till we made the coast of New Holland.

On Sunday, October the 11th, we made the land near Cape Le Seuer, and noticed that the coast was strewed with coral reefs; we kept working to windward, the wind blowing from the south, attended by a heavy swell, and we experienced at the same time a north-westerly current.

I may here remark, that the buffaloes taken on board at Coupang throve very well, not one of them having died. This circumstance was so different from what had always occurred when Government vessels were sent from the settlements on the north coast to Coupang for buffaloes, &c., that it became a subject worthy of observation. The reason, however, was sufficiently obvious. In this instance proper care was taken of them, and in the former cases the reverse occurred.

On Friday, October the 16th, we stood in towards land, which we judged to be to the southward of Buache, intending to pass between it and the main; but on a nearer approach, the appearance of the opening not being very inviting, we kept away a little, so as to pass close to the northern extremity of the island; towards the evening we descried Rottenest, which presented a singular appearance, resembling so many pyramids based on the sea.

Just before dark, the ships were descried at anchor nearly east of us; the sharp-sighted folks were immediately on the look-out, in order to discover whether the brigs Amity and Thompson were among the number. We imagined, that our arrival not taking place until so long after theirs, some unfavourable surmises might have arisen regarding our safety.

We advanced slowly and cautiously; the lead being strictly attended to. As we drew near the island, in the apparent fair channel, the water became suddenly shoal, and the cry of "by the mark four" was succeeded by "hard a-starboard." We kept away north, and after a second and third attempt, equally checked by shoal-water, it was deemed prudent to stand off under easy sail until next morning. Fortunately the sea was smooth, and the southern wind blew very gently.

At daylight, not deeming it advisable to pass to the southward of Rottenest, we proceeded round the north side of that island, and passed between it and the main, keeping about mid-channel, and proceeding on with great care, for which there was much need, as we could occasionally discern the bottom very plainly.

The appearance of the coast, as we sailed along, was different from what we had lately been accustomed to; being either destitute of trees, or very slenderly clothed by patches of stunted growth. Viewed from where we were, it presented the aspect of sheep-downs, backed by elevated land, named "the Darling range," which extends parallel to, and about twenty miles distant from, the coast.

We were astonished that we could not yet perceive the mouth of the mighty river, although we were only two or three miles from the ships, which we imagined were anchored somewhere near it. The telescope was in much requisition; yet even aided by that useful instrument, the sharpest eye could not satisfactorily make it out, the line of coast appearing unbroken.

It surprised us much that Vlaming could have seen it from Rottenest, at the distance, according to his account, of thirty miles. We noticed at anchor three ships and one brig (which looked like the Thompson), and in shore we perceived a dismantled vessel, which we supposed might be the temporary abode of the Governor and other public officers.

Full of surmises and conjectures, we arrived at, and anchored in, Gage's Roads, near the other ships; and were shortly afterwards boarded by a well-dressed and smart-looking gentleman, who immediately began to rate our poor skipper for not having hove-to when he perceived him endeavouring to reach the vessel; but on receiving a soft answer, his wrath began to subside, and he was pleased to be communicative.

He told us that the Governor resided at Perth, some distance up the river, where the head-quarters were established; that another river, named the Murray, had been recently discovered; that a great number of settlers had already arrived from England, most of whom yet resided at Freemantle, the sea-port town; that nineteen ships had entered the roads; that all the land on the banks of the river was already given away; and that the dismantled vessel was the Marquis of Anglesey, driven on shore, having parted from three cables in a N.W. gale; he also pointed out to us the mouth of the river, and we were greatly disappointed by its apparent insignificancy.

Captain Barker received an epistle from Dr. Davis, by which he learned that the Governor declined having any thing to do with the stores landed from the Thompson and Amity[6] accepting only of the live animals and two buoys.

Being informed, that by a boat belonging to H.M.S. Sulphur, there was daily intercourse to and from Perth, Captain Barker, anxious to communicate with the Governor, left the vessel with the intention of proceeding thither; but the boat had departed some time before he reached the shore. In the evening, Mr. Hickey, who had remained behind in the brig Thompson, to look after the stores, came on board, and gave us all the "chit chat" and "on dits" of this already apparently bustling settlement.

After having taken a walk on shore. Captain Barker returned, with the intelligence, that the land, which looked well at a distance, derived its verdant fruitful-like appearance from innumerable shrubs, and that it was in reality very barren. He made arrangements for proceeding to Perth next morning in the brig's boat; and I accepted, very willingly, the expected invitation to accompany him.

On Sunday morning, the 18th of October, after breakfast, we left the brig, and proceeded on our interesting expedition. The commander of the brig Thompson, who had come on board to visit the Commandant, offered (as he was also bound for Perth) to pilot us up the river, which he said was rather intricate: this gentleman also procured us the loan of a No. of the Quarterly Review, containing an article on Swan River. In the boat we were provided with an azimuth compass, a lead line, the French account of the river, the Quarterly Review, and various remarks which we had gleaned from the newspapers.

At 10.45, A.M., we entered the mouth of the river, and had soundings—only half a fathom on the bar; this was considerably lower than we had anticipated, and not likely to afford convenient egress or ingress, even for moderately laden boats. After having passed the bar, we observed several tents pitched in a low sandy neck of land, which we understood was the site of Freemantle, so named in compliment to Captain Freemantle, of H.M.S. Challenger, from the circumstance of his having taken possession of it, some time before the arrival of Captain Stirling.

We proceeded up the river, sounding and making other observations as we went along. Passing the military cantonment, situated on the left bank, about a mile from Freemantle, we noticed several straggling huts, apparently belonging to sawyers and boat-builders. On the right bank, on a picturesque projection of land, we saw a tent belonging to Captain Curry, R.N., the harbour-master.

The first view of Melville Water is very pretty. After passing Mount Eliza, a hill considerably elevated above the adjacent eminences, we came into view of Perth, situated about a mile higher up, on the same side of the river, and reckoned about eleven miles from Freemantle.

We landed at a jetty of considerable length, the water being very shallow. We found the Governor just on the point of starting with some friends and attendants on an expedition up the river. He invited Captain Barker and myself to join the party, but I declined the honour, having met with an old friend, Lieutenant Roe, R.N., who filled the situation of Surveyor-General. Captain Barker proceeded with the Governor; and I remained with my friend, who informed me, that he was to proceed up the river next morning, in order to measure the river frontages of land granted to various emigrants; and I congratulated myself in being able to take advantage of accompanying him.

At daylight, I arose and took a walk through the town;—the intended principal street of which, named St. George's Terrace,—where the future beaux and belles of Western Australia may, in after times, show off their reciprocal attractive charms—was, at present, only adorned with lofty trees, and a variety of lovely flowers.

In my perambulations, I fell in with the written newspaper of the place, appended to a stately eucalyptus tree, where, among other public notices, I observed the Governor's permission for one individual to practise as a notary, another as a surgeon, and a third as an auctioneer.

There did not appear to be an opposition tree, and so much the better; as, although a free press may do good to a community arrived at a certain state of perfection, yet I think it may be doubted how far it can be serviceable in an incipient colony, where private affairs are narrowly noticed, and animadverted on: hence spring jealousies, ill feeling, and their numerous train of disagreeable attendants.

I noticed another advertisement (not on the public tree), stating, that Mr. —— would supply his friends with fresh beef at such a price (I think one shilling per pound). The word friends was scratched out, and the word public substituted,—by some person who, doubtless, thought thereby to check the free and easy manner of the proffered purveyor.

I also met an old shipwrecked companion, the carpenter of the Governor Ready, who, I learned, had left the Amity, with the intention of trying his fortune here. As he was an excellent workman, and very industrious, I had much pleasure in being instrumental in obtaining for him a convenient location by the water side.

It struck us with some surprise, that there was not a clergyman of any denomination here,—a person holding a sacred office, if not absolutely necessary, being, at least, of great utility everywhere, and more particularly in the formation of a colony. I understood, however, that the Commandant of the troops read prayers weekly, not only to those under his immediate controul, but also to all others who chose to attend.

  1. She was built of teak, and only going about three knots an hour when she struck.
  2. The real indigenae of Timor, who, like the ancient Britons, retired to the mountains when the parts of their country of easy access were invaded, and kept possession of, by more powerful opponents.
  3. Vide page 65.
  4. On my arrival in England, I heard the melancholy intelligence, not only of his death, but also of that of all the other officers, and the greatest part of the crew of the ill-fated Governor Ready.
  5. Deuteronomy, chap, xxiii. ver. 15.
  6. The Amity had sailed some time ago for King George's Sound.