Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 14


Excursion up the River Canning—A Native Village—Darling Range—Friendly interview with the Natives—Their sudden departure—We return to our Encampment on the River.

As, under the most favourable circumstances, the stores could not be re-embarked in less than a week, Captain Barker and myself projected a cruise up the river Canning, which had not, as yet, been particularly examined.

On Tuesday, the 27th of October, every thing being arranged for our departure. Captain Barker, Captain Bannister, myself, and several others, started in the whale-boat, with all the instruments we could muster, that we might be able to ascertain the exact position of any remarkable places which we might fall in with.

In the evening, instead of proceeding to Perth, we bivouacked at the foot of Mount Eliza, as we were anxious to ascertain its latitude and longitude; it being in our opinion the place where, should Perth flourish, an observatory will, in after times, be formed. We kindled a fire, and had tea prepared, which, being made with the water of the river, tasted rather brackish; but it was sufficiently palatable, when tempered with brandy or schiedam, of which we partook with moderation; then some retired to rest, and others passed the night in observing the culmination of several stars, to ascertain the latitude;—the sun's meridional altitude, at this season of the year, being too great to be measured by the usual means.

Next morning, we started before breakfast, intending to enjoy it, after we had ascended some distance up the Canning, purposing to stop at a group of islets, where we expected to meet the Governor, Surveyor-general, and a numerous train of gentlemen, who had been invited to accompany them on their present expedition, which had for its object—to take an eye survey of the river, to trace it to its head, and to observe the nature of the land in its immediate vicinity.

We proceeded slowly, and paid much attention to sounding, particularly after we entered its mouth, named by the French "Moreau's Inlet." Having proceeded nearly south for three or four miles, we perceived that the river's course was from the eastward.

About ten o'clock we arrived at the appointed rendezvous, and having landed, we conveyed our cooking and astronomical instruments on shore, and commenced, without delay, to put them in use. The water here was quite fresh, so that we enjoyed a strong cup of tea, which removed the headach, caused by want of sleep.

We took altitudes of the sun, to ascertain the longitude by means of the pocket chronometers, and also for double altitudes, the sun passing too near the zenith to admit of his meridional altitude being taken. After having waited until the sun's declining altitude was equal to what we had observed in the forenoon, we thought it might be as well to proceed up the river, as there were no signs of the arrival of the Governor or any of his party, although the time, agreed on for our meeting, was long past.

We accordingly resumed our way; but our progress was soon impeded by shallow water, and we were further puzzled as to which channel (of which there were several) was the best.

A channel being at length selected, chiefly from the recent track of a boat's keel, which we meant to follow, we were all obliged to get out, and shove the boat along for some distance, when the channel contracted to about ten feet wide, and from two to five feet deep.

Proceeding up this a short distance, we met a boat belonging to the brig Thompson, and, ere long, discovered her worthy commander in possession of one of the islets, on which he invited us to land, with as much courtesy as if he had been in his own house; we did so, and he showed us its varied advantages with much satisfaction.

We entered his tent, which was well stored with a profusion of corn'd beef, cold fowls, Scotch ale, and London porter, and we partook willingly of his cheerfully proffered hospitality,—wishing him and his successors to enjoy health, prosperity, happiness, and all other blessings that are usually bestowed, in liberal abundance, on the givers of good fare.

He informed us, that he had obtained the Government charter to proceed to Van Dieman's Land for sheep and cattle; that he had also obtained a grant of 4000 acres of land (of which he was now in search), and that he intended to settle, with his wife and children, in the colony.

I was rather surprised at this information, as I knew he had been among the number of those who abused the colony,—predicting that it never would come to any good; but I learned that his former antipathy arose from his having been, shortly after his arrival, severely bitten by an uncivil dog, which had come from Raffles Bay in his own vessel.

Observing that I made no reply to his remark, he asked me, "What is your opinion. Doctor? don't you think the colony will succeed?" "Why, it is hard to say: I think the anchorage much against it: look at the Marquis of Anglesey on shore already! what may be expected in the winter months?"—"Oh! the anchorage is good enough, it was a lubberly trick to let her go on shore; the colony must succeed; there is nothing can prevent it."

Such was the change in opinion effected by having obtained the charter and a grant of land.—I believe that a similar change sometimes happens from less convincing arguments.

Learning that we were bound farther up, he accompanied us, and I promised to render him my assistance, in the selection of his land. About six o'clock, we arrived at the navigable source of the river, where we agreed to pass the evening.

We had scarcely got our things on shore when the Governor and his party came up to us, he was leading the way, apparently, quite unfatigued; while several of his cortege could just manage, by their utmost exertions, not to be distanced (a sad thing in pathless woods); and I have no doubt they heard, with regret, His Excellency's intention to proceed farther up.

Captain Barker had been invited to be of his party, and of course joined it here; and off they went at a good round pace; the boat was to follow with stores and provisions, but whether well supplied, there was some doubt, the Governor being rather careless, in the way of provender.

We were also invited to join the train; but although we considered a monarchical form of government the best, yet we preferred a republican party of pleasure, and accordingly remained where we were.

Our fellow-voyager. Captain Hobbs, appeared determined to make himself comfortable, and, assisted by his boys, soon made, with his boat's sails, a very snug tent. Two or three boats filled with respectable emigrants brought up near us; and the place presented rather an animated appearance.

After having fixed our make-shift observatory, and taken a few observations, we took a detour to the southward, in order to observe the nature of the land; and we extended our walk, till approaching night admonished us to return.

Captain Bannister and Captain Hobbs both determined to fix their choice here, without farther search, and I advised them by all means to do so, if they could get the land (which I very much doubted), as, from its quality and local advantages, I suspected that it would either be a government reserve, or be given to some person, having a supposed superior claim to government indulgence.

On our way home we met two gentlemen. Lieutenant Everard, R.N. and Mr. Talbot, who, I understood from Captain Barker, had wished to come from Freemantle in our boat to meet the Governor: but they had missed their passage, and were consequently obliged to walk a considerable distance;—and being fatigued, they had no wish to proceed in search of the other party;—preferring to remain with us.

On the morning at day-light, we renewed our journey; and experienced considerable difficulty in getting the boat over the rapids ; we then pulled some distance in a deep reach, but our progress was, from the frequent interruption of fallen trees and stumps, very slow.

A short distance brought us to other falls, which we also passed over; but at last recollecting that the boat was made to carry us, and not we to carry the boat, it was determined to leave her, and proceed by land.

We looked out for a convenient spot, brought every thing on shore, and erected an observatory; we then took a slight breakfast, as we had proposed to have a long day's march, over a tract of country, hitherto—as far as we knew—unexplored by any European.

About seven A.M. Lieutenant Everard, Captain Bannister, Mr. Talbot, and myself, started on our pedestrian expedition; each canying a bottle of water, and a little bread, cheese, and brandy; and Captain Bannister had a fowling-piece.

We pursued a due course east half south, and arrived at the foot of the Darling Range, having crossed a considerable stream, and passed over very indifferent land; forming part, I believe, of Mr. Peel's extensive grant.

We ascended the Range by an easy pass, through which a considerable stream of water flowed down with rapidity. On gaining the summit of the first range, we had a very extensive and beautiful view from the N. W. round to south. The extensive plots of land, free from trees, appeared to our view quite verdant and luxuriant, but we knew from experience, that these apparently fertile spots (chiefly Mr. Peel's) were in reality very barren.

We continued our course in the same direction through the mountains, keeping the wimpling-burn on our left.

We suddenly came to a native village, and were startled by the cries of women and children, who were running from us with all speed, and the vociferations of men who, were running towards us with poised spears. Captain Bannister instantly levelled his fowling-piece, but I requested him not to fire; and, as I thought I knew more about the natives than he did, I advanced without fear, feeling assured there was no occasion for any,—imagining that no European had been here before us.

I gave them to understand that we were in search of water, turning, at the same time, in a direction from their abandoned village; this pleased them, they laid aside their spears, and then came and joined us, without hesitation, and led us to the stream, showing us the water, which they called muga.

These natives were more muscular, and better formed, than those in the neighbourhood of Port Jackson. We had surprised them at their toilette; as they were newly painted, their noses ornamented with the leg bones of the kangaroo, and one of them had his head decorated with the red feathers of the black cockatoo.

We walked along the banks of the stream, until we came to the spot where it divided; one branch coming from the south-east, and another from the north-east. We halted here a little, and took some refreshment, in which the natives joined. Lieutenant Everard taught one of them the song named "Jolly Dick," and he appeared very apt, pronouncing every word very distinctly, except "fiddlestick," which he could make no hand of.

They appeared exceedingly quick in imitating our sounds, as they repeated very distinctly after us (and which was rather laughable), "Let us keep together in case of treachery;" "They are not to be trusted," &c.

We learned from them, that there was plenty of muga to the northward; and, supposing that there might be a lake, whence the various rivers take their rise, we determined to go in search of it, and requested them to accompany us, although we were not without suspicion, that their design was merely to draw us farther from their dwelling.

We came to a spring, when they called out, "Muga, Muga;" we drank a little, and gave them to understand that we wanted to go where there was a greater collection of it. We accordingly kept advancing: at the same time, it was observed, that they were deviating from a straight course; but a short distance brought us to a fine stream, running north-west, which we supposed emptied itself into the Swan: we still called out muga, muga, and proceeded on, until we came to their place of hunting, which, as they described to us, abounded in kangaroos.

They distinctly pronounced "kangaroo," without having heard any of us utter that sound; they also called it waroo, but whether they distinguished "kangaroo" (so called by us, and also by them,) from the smaller kind, named "wallabi," and by them "waroo," we could not form any just conclusion.

One of them, who appeared to be superior to the others, both in rank and intelligence, shewed us various roots which they used for food, and also the manner of digging for them; and, in return for our civility, in giving him and his friends a little biscuit, he procured a handful of loathsome-looking grubs from a grass tree, and offered them to us, after having himself ate two or three, to show us that they were used by them as food. His polite offer being courteously declined, he snapped them up, one by one, smacking his lips, to show us that what we had refused was esteemed, by him, as a "bonne bouche."

We continued advancing for some time, but saw no indications of a great lake, which we fancied existed somewhere near; and the natives began to lag behind, allowing us to proceed as we pleased. One of them was requested to lead the way, as directly as possible, to the water. He did so; and, after going a short distance, we came to another spring of pure water. He desired us to go through the brush, and examine it; although there was nothing to be learned from such a close scrutiny, to please him, we complied with the request, and, on turning round, the natives had disappeared!

The cry of "treachery" immediately arose from some of our party, who supposed that they had either led us into a convenient place, where they could spear us with facility, or, had gone for more assistance, to cut off our return.

But these were false alarms. Their conduct, which, at the moment, surprised us, might very easily be accounted for, without suspecting any hostility or masked treachery towards us. We had come upon them unawares, and our interview had been friendly,—we asked them to show us water, which request they complied with again and again; until, being tired out, with walking so fast, and so far, they contrived this mode of making their escape, as our desire for muga, I dare say, appeared to them, unquenchable.

We then retraced our steps in a direct line to the principal stream[1], which we were enabled to do, by having had an eye, either on the compass or on the sun, while going along with the natives.

It being now some time after noon, we agreed to halt a little, and take our repast, which we did with much pleasure, sitting on the bank, with our feet in the cool, limpid, rapid stream.

It was now proposed, that we should proceed another day on discovery, directly east, to endeavour to see what kind of country there was to the eastward of the mountains; but this proposal, not being relished by the majority, was, after some discussion, abandoned.

Having rested an hour, we proceeded south-east, to gain the highest part of the hill, being anxious to obtain even a pisgah-view of the eastern land; but when we got there, we could see to no extent, on account of the thickness of the wood.

We then continued our journey, directly south, to avoid going near the native village, knowing that the natives (who were, no doubt, strictly watching all our movements) would be pleased, by our not indulging in too much curiosity. In fact, the best method of making them familiar is, to pretend not to care much about them.

We passed another village, apparently deserted: these habitations, resembling a beehive cut vertically in halves, are formed from the stems of the grass tree, stuck in the ground, and joined at the top, with the leaves and boughs interwoven.

After walking some distance south, we struck to the westward, and pursued our way to our rendezvous, where we arrived about eight o'clock, and partook of a savoury meal, which had been prepared for us.

Being somewhat fatigued by a twelve hours' rather sharp march, over an uneven country, we soon retired to sleep, except the individual who had to watch the stars,—in order to ascertain the exact latitude of the river at this place.

  1. The source of the Helena, a considerable stream tributary to the Swan.