Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 15


Return down the River—Excursion to Garden Island—Description of the Swan and Canning Rivers—Perth—Freemantle—Remarks—Geographical position of Arthur's Head.

Next morning, as we were on the point of proceeding down the river, we were overtaken by the Governor, and some of his party, who had bivouacked last evening about half a mile above us. The Governor and Lieutenant Roe seemed rather astonished, when informed that our present position was, from observations that were to be depended on, to the northward of the estuary of the Swan.

Captain Barker now joined us, and from him I learned, that they had followed the principal branch of the Canning, until it entered the mountains,—that the land on its banks was very tolerable, and, in some places, rich; but not to be compared with that on the banks of the Swan. He also informed me, that he had seen two graves, which, from a spear being fixed on one, and a piece of kangaroo skin on the other, he supposed belonged to a male and a female.

We all proceeded down together, until we arrived at the island, when we took different channels,—we preferring our old one. We experienced, however, far greater difficulty in getting the boat over, as the sand was now uncovered in various places.

After much fruitless toil, we were compelled to carry everything from the boat to a dry sand-bank; then, by main force, we dragged her into deep water, and reloaded her.

We stopped here to refresh, and to take more observations; which, being finished, we proceeded down the river, and a little before dark, arrived at the foot of Mount Eliza.

As we had experienced some inconvenience when we last halted here, from not being able to observe the stars to the northward, we determined to ascend the hill; but this was objected to by some, who felt neither interest nor amusement in such pursuits, and who would much sooner have gone to Perth.

Captain Barker and myself, however, ascended, and were followed by all the others. We got a fire kindled, and everything up; when some commenced to cook supper, and others to observe the moon's distance from the evening star.

The black swan which we had run down (after several unsuccessful attempts to shoot it) in Moreau's inlet, although rather tough, was considered a dainty. After supper, we retired to rest,—those excepted whose task it was to observe the stars.

Although frequently baffled by the annoying intervention of clouds, we succeeded in obtaining the meridian altitude of several, which gave the latitude 31° 57' 48" south.

Next morning, early, we moved our camp, and, in descending the hill, found a fine stream of pure water, which we regretted had not been discovered earlier, as we should not have been under the necessity of using the water of the river, which, from being brackish, was not very palatable.

We proceeded down the river, and stopped at the spot, where Captain Stirling says "a communication might easily be formed between the river and the sea."

All the party left the boat, to examine whether Captain Stirling's account was correct,—one excepted, who had no desire for that kind of knowledge, only to be obtained by personal, and more particularly by pedestrian, exertion.

On our return to the boat, he showed us a specimen of pretty pure salt; a rock of which he had discovered just above the spot where the boat remained in waiting for us. In this instance, therefore, a want of curiosity was attended with some advantage.

Having landed our fellow-explorers at Freemantle, Captain Barker and myself proceeded directly to the brig (found five feet water on the bar), where we arrived all well, and highly gratified with our little excursion. We immediately projected another expedition to visit the newly-discovered river, named the Murray; but were prevented from putting it into execution, by the variable and stormy state of the weather.

On Friday, the 12th of November, Captain Telfer, of the Ephemina, Mr. Hickey, and myself, took a trip to Buache, or Garden Island. Before landing, we paid a visit to H.M.S. Sulphur, and were received by Captain Dance and his officers with courteous cordiality; and from the first lieutenant (Mr. Preston, formerly of the Success, who is an enterprising and indefatigable explorer) I learned many facts, corroborative of those I had already heard, relative to Melville Island and Raffles Bay.

On leaving the Sulphur, we pulled to the southward. Arriving nearly at the southern extremity of the Island, we landed, intending to penetrate across it; but, from the thickly interwoven underwood, our progress being painful and slow, the attempt was abandoned.

We returned, and walked along the shore. On our arrival at the southern extremity of the island, we observed that it was separated from the main land by a channel, about half a mile wide; and there appeared to be, from the colour of the water, considerable depth on the southern side. From general appearances, however, and from the extensive reefs observed to seaward, this opening can only be considered a practicable passage for boats, during moderate weather.

While walking round the south-west side of the islands, we perceived a seal making for the shore; he waddled some distance up the sandy beach, and, after looking around, lay down at his ease, intending, no doubt, to enjoy repose.

Anxious to catch this fellow napping (if we could), we walked very gently and cautiously towards him; but having caught the alarm, before we were sufficiently near, he started up, hastened to the water, dived into it, swam some distance, and then turned round, and surveyed us with composed defiance, as much as to say, "follow me, if you dare;" but we did not think fit to accept the invitation.

We then retraced our steps to the place where we had left the boat, and proceeded in her to visit the establishment on Garden Island. It was also our intention to examine the passages from Cockburn Sound to seaward, but the day being too far spent to put this design into execution, we directed our course for Gage's Roads, where we arrived at eight, A.M.

The stores being all re-embarked, and everything ready for departure. Captain Barker went to Perth, to get receipts for the articles he had left behind, and also to bid adieu to the Governor; and I embraced the opportunity of accompanying him.

We found a considerable number of natives in the town, who were apparently peaceably inclined, though quite at their ease. Lieutenant Roe could not endure the sight of them; recollecting, I imagine, the uncivil chase their brethren, of the north coast, had given him, some years ago[1].

The Governor was not in very good health, in consequence, I believe, of over fatigue; caused by a wish to excel all others, in pedestrian feats, and in endurance of wet, cold, hunger, and thirst[2].

We remained all night at Perth, and next morning took our farewell; and, after a pleasant sail down the river, reached the brig, which, being ready for sea, was waiting our arrival.

During our detention here, I availed myself of every opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of the adjacent country, from personal observation; and, although the information obtained was neither extensive nor very important, yet I may indulge in a few general observations, more particularly as the published accounts are so discrepant and contradictory.

The river named Black Swan, by Vlaming, from its being frequented by a great number of these rarae aves, arises from the Darling Range, and pursues a south-westerly course, through a tract of level country (rich and luxuriant on the banks of the river), without receiving any considerable contribution to its stream: it is navigable for boats a few miles from its source.

About twelve miles above Perth, opposite Guildford, (a town that is to be,) it receives a considerable accession by the waters of the Helena; and shortly afterwards, it receives two other tributary streams, whose source and direction are not yet accurately ascertained.

A little above Perth, the navigation is much impeded, by the shallowness of the water, and a cluster of islands, named by the French "Heirisson's Isles."

At Perth, the river expands, and deepens considerably; and being joined by the River Canning (the junction taking place nearly south from Mount Eliza), the united waters have been named by Captain Stirling "Melville Water."

The triple source of the Canning is also from the Darling Range,—one branch traced by the Governor's party, another by us, and the third not yet surveyed.

The united streams become navigable, for boats, about six miles from the mountains[3]. Pursuing a westerly course for several miles, the river becomes deeper, but navigable only for small craft.

As the navigation of the Swan is impeded by islets, so is the Canning by a similar cluster[4]. Passing this obstruction, the river still flows in a westerly direction (its banks becoming higher, and the adjacent land more barren), the channel being unimpeded: it then bends to the northward, and, after a course of three or four miles, joins the Swan, as already mentioned.

The united rivers (whose banks are now miserably sterile) pursue a serpentine course, inclining withal to the southward, till they fall into the sea by a channel 330 yards wide; only one-fifth of that width, however, affording sufficient depth even for the passage of a small boat.

The channel is rather intricate; but the deep water is chiefly on the right bank, and, to say the least of it, boats heavily laden, or small craft, may be used, without much risk, between Perth and Freemantle.

The length of the Swan, in a direct line, is about thirty miles, and of the Canning, twenty miles: taking, however, their various windings into account, the distance may be doubled.

This account certainly does not agree with some others, especially the one which states "that vessels of large burden are enabled to sail seventy miles from its entrance."

Perth, the embryo capital of Western Australia, situated on the right bank of the river, about twelve miles from the sea, has, as yet, only the appearance of a straggling tented field; but I have no doubt its aspect will, in a short time, be very different. The Governor has got a commodious wooden house nearly finished, and the government officers were commencing to follow his example.

It seemed to Captain Barker and myself, that the situation of the town was not judiciously chosen. Point Heathcote, on the western bank of the Canning, nearly at its junction with the Swan, according to our opinion, would have been, in many respects, preferable[5].

Freemantle, the seaport town, is situated on a low sandy point, at the mouth, and on the left side, of the river. At present, the inhabitants live in tents: there are, however, a few wooden houses, which have been brought from England.

The greater part of the settlers yet remain here, not one having gone to his farm. It is a very bad place, owing to the idleness, roguery, and thieving of those people brought out as servants, and also of some others of a higher denomination. It is so bad that the Governor designated it a "sink of iniquity," and stated that he took no measures to make it better, on purpose to force people to go to their farms.

The servants are, for the most part, hulking, lazy fellows, and exceedingly insolent; but what else could be expected, from their previous character, having been, I believe, mostly taken from the workhouse.

Mr. Talbot, who, like his neighbours, had had some trouble with his servants, informed me that those who had the best character from the overseers, turned out to be the worst. "It is true (said he) an action may be brought against an overseer, for having given a false character; but, then, who would go home with all the necessary witnesses to England, to prove the fact?" He further good-humouredly observed, that "nothing else could be expected, than that overseers should endeavour to get their parishes cleared from such trash and scum."

It is a very injudicious plan to send people, accustomed to eat the bread of idleness, to an infant colony, unless it is understood, that coercive measures may be used to enforce a fair day's work, if the laziness of the individual required such stimulus.

All the land, on the immediate banks of the Swan, is allotted away. One individual, I was informed, has got 15,000 acres of excellent land, and is now residing at Freemantle, selling those articles, from which he claimed and received such an extensive grant; and it was the opinion of not a few, that the Governor had acted very improvidently, in giving such an extent of river frontage to one individual.

It would, perhaps, have been better, to have made a square mile the maximum of any grant on a river; this would have accommodated many emigrants, who could by degrees, and at their convenience, go into the interior, to search for the remainder.

Much disappointment has already been felt by many, who, from the favourable report they had heard in England, expected to be immediately inducted into a land, if not "flowing—easily capable of being made to flow—with milk and honey."

On their arrival, they find all the land, of which they had heard so much, already disposed of, and that they must discover good land for themselves, if they can.

Much obloquy has been thrown on Mr. Fraser, in consequence of his (as it is called) exaggerated description. Now, the truth is, that he has given a very fair account, but it extends no farther than the immediate vicinity of the river; and the land there (as already mentioned) has been all granted away,—each of the Officers of H.M.S. Sulphur having a fair proportion.

Nearly the whole of the land on the banks of the Canning was also pre-engaged,—the Officers of the Challenger having, as they had a right to expect, received a similar indulgence; but the justice of this proceeding was called in question, by many emigrants who were on the spot, in just expectation of obtaining the object for which they had left their native home.

The civil officers also considered themselves labouring under grievances, particularly by not receiving either candles or oil; it being imagined that they would not want any, from the abundance of whales on the coast; but whales are not taken without considerable exertion and outlay.

Several of my acquaintances proposed to the Governor to commence a fishery on a great scale, if they were allowed—Rottenest, Buache, and the exclusive right to a considerable part of the coast, with other immunities, for fourteen years. The Governor very handsomely offered them a lease of seven years; but they did not consider these terms advantageous enough, and the speculation dropped.

Besides Perth and Freemantle, there is a station at Garden Island, where the stores are kept. The government have also hired, as a depôt for stores, the stranded ship Marquis of Anglesey, for a hundred pounds per annum, from an individual who purchased her for a hundred and fifty pounds.

There were several government regulations which, as is usual in all new colonies, did not meet universal approbation; but, without entering into any discussion on this subject, I may mention, that the exaction of pilotage and harbour dues,—there being no pilots,—appeared rather premature.

I shall conclude this brief account of Swan River, by stating the geographical position of Arthur's Head[6], according to our observations:—

Latitude 32° 4' 13" S.
Longitude 116° 1' 46" E.
Variation of Compass 4° 16' 46" E.

As this longitude is more than twenty miles farther east than that given by Captain Stirling, it may be worth while to state, that we took upwards of two hundred lunar observations[7], with carefully adjusted sextants, and it may therefore be fairly inferred, that the longitude thence deduced, does not deviate far from the truth.

  1. Vide King's Australia.
  2. I have no doubt his present indisposition will admonish him, that when, in future, he comes to a swamp, it will be preferable to take a detour, instead of passing directly across it. The change would also be highly agreeable to his followers, who consider themselves bound to follow their chief's track, frequently up to the middle, in water and mud.
  3. Latitude, 32° 2' 32" south; longitude, 116° 14' 35" east.
  4. Latitude, 32° 00' 58" south; longitude, 116° 11' 30" east.
  5. After my arrival in England, I learned (from high authority) that Point Heathcote had been originally proposed as the best place, in a geographical point of view, for the site of the town.
  6. The peninsular projecting eminence of the left bank of the river, at its embouchure.
  7. By the Sun and Moon,—by Jupiter and Venus to the westward, and by Saturn to the eastward,—by Marcab and Fomalhaut to the westward,—and by Pollux, Aldebaran, and a Arietb to the eastward, of the Moon; taken between October 18th and November 19th.