Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 13


Excursion up Swan River—Fertility of the Land above Perth—Return to Perth—Proceed down the River—Weather-bound at Freemantle—Governor's Levee in the open air—General Observations regarding the Settlement—Visit to Rottenest—Return to Gage's Roads.

After an early breakfast, on Monday, the 19th, Mr. Roe and myself walked to a government farm, situated a little above "Heirrison's Isles," where we met the boat, which the crew were obliged to drag over the flats, on account of the shallowness of the water.

The view to the southward was exceedingly picturesque,—equally so as the far-famed scenery of the lakes of Killarney. This spot is intended for suburban villas, and appears well adapted for such a purpose.

We entered the boat, and proceeded up the river; the banks of which, at a short distance above Perth, assumed a most fertile and verdant aspect. While Mr. Roe stopped, at stated distances, to mark the trees, I walked smartly, at right angles from the course of the river, to learn how far the rich alluvial land extended backwards. It varied from two hundred to twelve hundred yards. Beyond this, however, the land was, in many places, a rich red loam, capable of bearing excellent crops.

We stopped at a government farm (where we left our food until our return, under the charge of Mr. Drummond, the superintendent), situated opposite to the embouchure of the Helena river. Having rested, and partaken of some refreshment, we resumed our course up the river, and I could not avoid noticing, that the French account of it was exceedingly correct.

Having advanced within a few miles of the spot where the river becomes navigable, Mr. Roe finished his professional duty; and the day drawing to a close, the master's mate in charge of the boat, who had long been hinting about its being time to return, on account of the men's dinner (perhaps, also, feeling the stings of hunger himself), now insisted on doing so, and we accordingly turned back, and arrived, late in the evening, at the place where we intended to pass the night.

A convenient shelter was soon erected, to defend us from the rain; and a large half-burned tree being rekindled opposite the entrance, soon diffused a genial warmth, and an air of comfort, well known to those fond of a bush-life. We sat down, with hearty appetites, to an excellent meal, and enjoyed ourselves much, laughing heartily at the misfortune that befel the Governor and his party, who, Mr. Drummond informed us, had lost themselves (or rather their way) last evening, in endeavouring to reach this place, and were consequently compelled to remain in the bush all night, suffering from hunger, and exposed to cold, and heavy rain.

Next morning, we proceeded down the river, and reached Perth early in the afternoon. On my arrival there, I was told that Captain Barker had gone down to Freemantle in the morning; and although Mr. Roe invited me to remain a day or two, I thought it more prudent to follow, as speedily as possible, lest I might be left behind,—not knowing what arrangements Captain Barker might have entered into.

I therefore started next morning, Wednesday, the 21st,—having got a passage in H. M. S. Sulphur's boat; and, after two hours' sail, I landed at the military cantonment, and walked into Freemantle, where I learned that nothing had been done on board the Governor Phillips; there having been no communication between the shipping and the shore, in consequence of the blowing weather, and heavy sea.

I sat down on the brow of Arthur's Head, and reperused the article in the Quarterly Review, and regretted that I could not agree with the account, that "between the roadstead and the shore the communication is convenient, and the access easy, as well by night as by day." While musing on the ways and means to get something to eat, I observed the Governor coming along, at a brisk pace, with the intention of going over to Buache, or, as he has named it, Grarden Island; of course he was wind-bound also.

In a short time, the news having spread that the Governor was in the camp, he was surrounded by many individuals; and, as I had never before seen a levee held in the open air, I took up a favourable position, in order to observe the ceremony. I thought I could discern, in the Governor's countenance, some annoyance that he had been thus caught; but being so, he assumed an air of determination to be as civil and condescending as possible.

Many passengers had arrived by the Atwick, who, it appeared, were now to be presented. The first was a gigantic, fierce-looking gentleman, dressed, I suppose, in the newest London fashion, who had been at some pains with his toilette; and it was very evident that he considered himself of no small importance. I thought at first, that he was ill adapted for the line of life into which he was about to enter; but on further consideration, I concluded, that if he took as much pains to cultivate the land, as he appeared to have successfully bestowed on the culture of his whiskers, he might surpass those less careful in their attire; especially as his martial frown might tend to keep his servants in due obedience.

Next came a pert-looking, smartly-dressed gentleman, who seemed to plume himself on his white kid gloves, neatly-tied cravat, well-polished boots, and scented white handkerchief. I thought he would have been more at home, behind the counter of a fashionable London repository, distributing ribbons and lace to the fair damsels, than wandering about the wilds of Australia, in fruitless search of land, abounding in ready-made houses, and growing corn.

Next came a stout-looking personage, having all the appearance of a substantial English yeoman, whose jolly features, albeit a little shrunk from his sea fare, indicated a long acquaintance with beef and ale. He had not half told his story, when he was interrupted (contrary to all the rules of etiquette) by the dapper-looking gentleman, who, doubtless, thought his conversation more interesting, and agreeable to his Excellency; but he was, in turn, interrupted by the yeoman, who appeared determined to have his "say" out.

Then came a modest-looking young man, who presented two letters to his Excellency, and looked round the surrounding throng, with an expression of face that seemed to say, "My fortune is made." He appeared confirmed in this opinion, by a few civil words from His Excellency, who put the letters in his pocket, perhaps never to be opened; or, if so, not attended to,—the common fate of letters of introduction.

Many more had an interview; the greater part of whom did not at all appear adapted to undergo the privations and fatigues necessarily attendant on settling in a new country, even under the most favourable circumstances.

His Excellency was evidently tired long before the conclusion of the levee; but, as he could not bow his clients out of the drawing-room, he was obliged to back astern, which he did, with much dexterity, until he came to a spot of swampy ground, where he could not be surrounded, which he jumped over, bowed courteously to the assembled throng, and walked away, as fast as decorum would permit, fearful that he might be overtaken before he reached the boat; which, as soon as he entered, was pulled with all speed towards Perth.

The Governor's situation was certainly not much to be envied. All the land on the banks of the Swan, of which these emigrants had heard such flattering accounts, and of which they naturally expected to obtain a slice, after having come so far for that purpose, was already, and, perhaps, improvidently given away.

There is no doubt, therefore, that, although their own foolishly sanguine expectations might have contributed to blind them, yet there existed some legitimate cause for grumbling, which, it is well known, John Bull has a wonderful propensity to indulge in, frequently ex causis non æquis;—It may not, therefore, be wondered at, if it were rather unrestrainedly indulged in, as I have every reason to believe it was, on the present occasion.

Among the number, I observed several faces not unknown to me, and I was also recognized by them. I went into the tent of Mr. Lord, formerly a merchant in Calcutta, now supercargo of the Ephemina, where I received some refreshment, of which I stood in much need; and shortly afterwards I met another acquaintance, a respectable settler, from the Derwent, who had brought, amongst other things, several horses for sale, and he politely accommodated me with the loan of one.

I rode about twelve miles to the southward, over very uneven ground, and obtained a good view of Cockburn Sound. The land did not bear a blade of grass, but was studded with a variety of beautiful plants.[1]

I returned by the beach, and a few miles from the river, I observed a long boat on the shore, with several things in her, which, as it afterwards appeared, belonged to the Atwick, having been blown a-drift from her, by the strength of the wind.

On my return, I received an invitation to the tent of a settler, where I met several others, who had assembled to spend the evening. The general topic of conversation was, of course, relative to land. I ventured to deprecate the idea of giving such large grants, but was cut short by one of Colonel Latour's agents, who clearly proved that it was exceedingly advantageous. I then hinted, that I thought the colony could not get on well without the aid of convict labour; but here I met with still greater opposition, as it was universally allowed, that if the soil were to be polluted with those sort of people,[2] no gentleman of respectability would have anything to do with it. This was, of course, an argument not to be controverted; so I thought it more prudent to be a listener for the remainder of the evening. At length, I retired, leaving a portion of the company busily engaged in endeavouring to overreach each other in petty barter.

Next morning, although it was blowing strongly, I was enabled, (being favoured with a passage in the Ephemina's long-boat,) to reach the Governor Phillips, after four hours' hard beating.

I was informed by Captain Barker, that all the stores were to be re-embarked, which, as nothing had yet been done, on account of the blowing weather, would occupy some time. I also learned, that he had obtained the Governor's sanction to leave behind one of the prisoners, the period of whose sentence had expired a few weeks ago. This man was a sawyer, and, therefore, a very useful person.

On Friday, the weather having moderated, the brig's crew were busily employed in getting off the stores. Captain Barker went on shore, to superintend operations, and I took a walk of observation round the nascent seaport town of Freemantle. As all ceremony is soon waved, I fell into conversation with a gentleman, busily employed in building a punt; he was not long in giving me to understand, that he had been a captain in the army,—that he had sold out,—and, as he had, thereby, lost seven shillings a day, he was now employed in making it up, as he thought his work equal to that amount. He told me he was a good musician, and passionately fond of music; and that he was completely out of his element here. So thought I; yet the building of a flat-bottomed boat shewed both talent, ingenuity, and a determination to do some good,—whereas, the generality of the others chiefly employed themselves, in smoking cigars, drinking brandy-and-water, and abusing Mr. Fraser.[3]

I observed the greater part of the servants—sturdy, idle-looking fellows—either walking vacantly about, or standing in groups, apparently hatching mischief.

Before going on board, I assisted Captain Barker to take some observations, in order to ascertain the variation of the compass.

Having learned from the master of the Admiral Gifford, who arrived here yesterday from Coupang, that he had not found less than three-and-a-half fathoms water in his passage over the reef, I was anxious to determine the point; and the master of the Ephemina, seeming to take some interest in the affair, he, and Mr. Lord the supercargo, agreed to go with me. Accordingly, on the twenty-fifth, at eight A.M., we left Grage's-roads in the Ephemina's long boat. I found a very agreeable addition to the party, in Captain Bannister; and, as I had the pleasure of the acquaintance of his brother, the late Attorney-general of New South Wales, and other members of his family, we soon became on friendly terms.

We stood out towards the passage where we had observed the schooner to enter, sounding constantly and carefully; and as we never got less than five, ten, seven, and four fathoms, we were pleased with the idea of discovering a new passage, but just as we thought it was all right, we had only two fathoms; we tried twice or thrice, but got no more; in a short time, in passing over the ledge, we deepened to five fathoms; the ledge did not seem more than thirty yards wide; it therefore appeared to us, that the schooner, which only drew six feet water, passed over this, which she might easily do unknowingly, between the different times of heaving the lead.

Although we were not successful in finding the New Channel we expected, yet we did some good, by showing that a passage did not exist, as might have been supposed by the safe passage of the schooner.

We then bore away for Rottenest, where we arrived about three P.M. in a fine sandy bay, four fathoms deep, within a few fathoms of the shore, protected from all winds excepting the south, which seldom blows strong. It was universally allowed to be a very fit place for a fishing establishment.

Having landed, we left the boat's crew to kindle a fire, and make preparations for cooking dinner, which we went in search of, intending, at the same time, to view the island.

We struck to the westward, and having seen (from an eminence) what was alleged to be a vessel, stranded on the beach, with her masts gone, we directed our steps thither, highly pleased with the discovery: there was a little difference of opinion as to who saw her first; but, that was not allowed to weigh in the balance, as, it was supposed, there would be enough for us all.

In going along, however, a question arose how far we might be justified in taking any thing from her; or indeed whether we could lay claim even to salvage. These questions and surmises, as to what vessel it could be, occupied our attention as we went along,—a nearer view still confirming us in the truth of our conjectures.

The vessel appeared to be lying aground at a little distance from, and with her stern towards, the shore. It was now evident to us, that she must have parted from her ground tackle, in a gale of wind, and thus driven on the shore. Captain Bannister and myself, having left the others far behind, agreed to swim off and take joint possession of her; and as in doing so we should have to run some risk from sharks, which are here very numerous and of great size, we justly considered that we need not be very particular in taking an exact inventory of her small stores.

It was further agreed, that Captain Bannister should take up his abode for some time in the vessel, which would afford better accommodation, and be more secure than his tent at Freemantle, where he was obliged to walk sentry, in turn with a trusty servant, every night to guard his property;—a precaution absolutely necessary, for, notwithstanding the absence of convicts, the camp was little better than a den of thieves.

By this time we had approached within about half a mile of our imagined prize, which now began to assume an appearance that rather staggered us; and by walking a little farther, we were sufficiently satisfied that the supposed ship was a small detached rock, which even now, bore much resemblance to a dismasted vessel.

Laughing at our disappointment, we bent our way north-east, until we came to about the centre of the island, where we observed a salt-water lagoon; and then a south course brought us to our rendezvous, where we arrived long before our companions.

The dogs having caught two wallabi we had them dressed against their return, which did not take place till the evening was far spent.

They found much difficulty in getting back, and were evidently greatly fatigued, and would have preferred their usual bed; although the sand was soft, the night serene, and the sapphire canopy beautifully bespangled with glittering stars.

In the morning, as soon as day broke, we went to take another view of the island, and, at the same time, to procure kangaroos for our friends; we had not proceeded far from the shore, when Mr. Lord shot—not a kangaroo—but a snake, about five feet long. He and the others, not seeming to relish this kind of game, which it was imagined the island abounded in, thought it advisable to return to the boat immediately; nor could they be convinced that, with a little caution, there was no danger to be dreaded.

The foundation of the island Rottenest is of coral, and the superstructure almost entirely sand; and there is no doubt that the lagoon is supplied from the salt water percolating through.

The island is about seven miles long, and from one to two broad. The hummocks are sand hills, many of which are entirely destitute of any kind of herbage; in the valleys are some stunted trees and shrubs, and a very little grass. It appeared astonishing to us, that Vlaming could speak in raptures of this island, which we found so miserably barren.

We had much difficulty in getting the boat launched, which the receding tide had left dry. We then beat out of the bay, and made the best of our way to Gage's Roads, through a fine opening in the reef, about four fathoms and a half deep.

Although we had been disappointed, in not finding a good passage by the way the schooner came in, yet we presumed that our little cruize had not been unattended with the acquisition of some useful knowledge, as we had discovered a good anchorage on the S.E. side of Rottenest, fit for the reception of small vessels, and altogether a place well adapted for a whaling establishment; besides, we had shown that a very practicable passage exists between it and Gage's Roads.

  1. Having selected several of these I carried them to Sydney, and presented them to my friend Mr. Cunningham, who pronounced them all new. Among others, one particularly struck my fancy—a splendid red and green velvetty-looking flower,—an undescribed anigozanthus.
  2. It appeared to me, that many of those I saw, although belonging to the undetected part of the community, owed such advantage more to good luck than to their own undeviating adherence to the moral law.
  3. The colonial botanist who accompanied Captain Stirling from Sydney to Swan River, of which he gave so flattering an account.