Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 17
Pass through a fertile tract of country—Discontent of some of the Party—Good humour restored—Conversation with Mokărē relative to a future state of existence—Journey resumed to the Westward—Arrive at a Lake—Barren Land—Proceed to the Southward through a hilly tract—Course altered to the Eastward—Ascend a Mountain, and obtain an extensive view.
We now pursued a course directly north, passing through a country keeping the same general character,—good, open, forest land, without much timber. We started several flocks of kangaroos, but had no success, either in killing or catching any, though several ran pretty close to the sportsmen.
Mokărē, however, irritated by repeated disappointments, and determined to succeed, if possible, stripped himself naked; and we observed, with much curiosity, his manoeuvres. On perceiving a flock of kangaroos, which he did much sooner than any of the party, he walked, with the greatest caution, towards them, and continued doing so, while they were feeding. When any of them happened to look up, he stood firm in the position he might be in, without moving either body or limb, and so continued until they again began to feed, when he renewed his cautious approach; endeavouring, if he could, to get behind a tree. But, with all this caution, he did not succeed; as, before he got within gun-shot, they took to their heels, and bounded away with a swiftness that left the dogs, who were nearly knocked up, far behind. To make up for this loss, two or three bandicoots were caught.
Some of the party now believed, or affected to believe, that I intended to take them to Swan River, and became very uneasy in consequence; more particularly Gough, the soldier, who, although he had been all through the Peninsular war, and of necessity exposed to many hardships and privations, yet did not relish the idea of being so far in a country, where no European had ever before ventured; especially as our provisions were not very plentiful. I had, therefore, to bear broad hints, and some ill-humour, with as much urbanity as policy required.
To add to this discontent, we had travelled a considerable distance without having fallen in with any water, and the day was rapidly declining; but, hoping to meet with some before dark, we pushed forward, at a very brisk pace, and about sunset we arrived at a valley nearly destitute of trees, where Mokărē succeeded in shooting a large kangaroo; and a native reservoir of water being, at the same time, discovered, the party immediately became in good spirits, and entered, con amore, into the business of preparing the feast.
So much has been said, and written, on the resemblance of many spots in New South Wales to noble English domains, that I forbear to make the comparison. Suffice it to observe, that our present encampment was on the north side of a beautiful valley, of considerable width, extending east and west, as far as the eye could survey; bounded on the south and north by a succession of gently undulating, and very moderately elevated hills, thinly, but sufficiently ornamented by trees, of gigantic form;—the loveliness of the scene being greatly increased, by the golden rays of the departing sun, gradually yielding to the silvery light of the full-orbed moon, and the brilliant evening star.
The party having exerted themselves, soon completed our encampment, kindled a fire, and the kangaroo was speedily cooked in various ways. While these operations were going on, I endeavoured to ascertain, from Mokărē, who understood a little English, whether he, or any of his tribe, had any notion of a future state of existence, or of a Superior Being; but I felt some difficulty in making him comprehend my meaning.
I stated to him, that man was composed of two parts; one of which, when he died, was just like the kangaroo, and all other animals, which did not speak;—that the other part did not die:—and if the man were good, he ascended to the sky, where he lived happily with his Maker, and the Maker of the sun, moon, and stars; whereas, the bad man went down beneath the earthy and dwelt with a malignant being, named "Devil," whose sole occupation consisted in tormenting. He Immediately said, that they had the same opinion; but I am convinced he only caught the idea from me.
He asked, who were bad men? I told him, those who killed others without just cause. He answered "Very good, bad man to go to the Debil." He admitted it was all right, so far as regarded killing a white man, but I could not persuade him, that there was any harm in one black fellow spearing another; which, on the contrary, he considered in some cases, meritorious.
I then told him, that all those who stole were also bad men. He started in amazement, and repeated with an air of incredulity, "Quepel!" (to steal). It was evident, that he viewed this action in a more favourable light than even the Spartans did. I learned from him, that it was usual, on such a night as this, for the natives (who seldom travel in the dark) to steal privately on those whom they wished to destroy, and despatch them.
He knew several of the stars, but pretended to a knowledge of more of them than he really possessed; however, on cross-examination, I was convinced that he was acquainted with Venus and the Atlantic Sisters; likewise with Orion, Canopus, and Achemar.
Supper being prepared, his examination ended, of which he was beginning to get tired. They all turned to, and I was astonished at the immense quantity which some of them literally bolted down their throats. Mr. Kent and myself contented ourselves with soup, made from the tail of the kangaroo, which, with the addition of a little biscuit and rice, was exceedingly palatable.
This being Saturday night, a double allowance of grog was issued to the party, who were now in high glee, and talked with the utmost sang froid of going to Swan River; and I took this opportunity of explaining, that no person could be called a good bushman, unless he could walk a day or two without eating or drinking, which position appeared (especially to Gough) not very tenable.
I may here describe the usual method of encampment on such expeditions. A convenient spot being selected, if possible, to windward of a large fallen half-burned tree, a few branches and bushes are placed in a semicircular form, as a defence from the night wind; the log is kindled, and soon forms a blazing fire, which, being too fierce for cooking, a smaller one is used for that purpose. After supper, each rolls himself in his blanket, and, with his feet towards the fire, soon fells asleep.
Before retiring to rest, we made arrangements to guard against being suddenly surprised; but, as both men and dogs had indulged in excessive gluttony, not much watchfulness could be expected from either party.
We were now nearly seventy miles, in a north-westerly direction, from the settlement, in a country well adapted either for pastoral or agricultural purposes; and I regretted, exceedingly, that want of time compelled me to make it the ne plus ultra of my excursion northward, where, I am convinced, the same kind of land exists, to a great extent.
On Sunday, at daylight, we resumed our journey west, through the valley, which bore marks of being occasionally overflowed. We had not proceeded far, when my ears were saluted with the cry of the young man who was following close behind me,—"Oh, doctor! you are a gone man! a snake has a hold of you!"
I jumped forward; and then, turning round, beheld the ancient enemy of the human race, rearing its hateful form above the grass. and hissing defiance. It was soon dispatched, although I, having trod on it, was the aggressor. It caught me on the outside of the right knee, but, my trowsers being wide, fortunately the bite did not reach my skin.
This narrow escape caused some reflection; I thought it would have been a lamentable termination of my career—after having escaped the perils of shipwreck—to perish by the bite of a black snake, in the wilds of New Holland.
We continued our journey, and I requested Mokărē to precede me; not only as he had much quicker eyes, but as mine (such as they were) had sufficient occupation in watching the compass. But he did not seem to relish the preference given him on this occasion, and soon fell behind.
About nine o'clock, we arrived at a shallow lagoon, the water of which, to our fastidious taste, was somewhat brackish. Perceiving water at a short distance, directly north of this, we proceeded thither, and observed a circular basin, of considerable extent, literally covered with majestic black swans, ducks, teal, and other aquatic birds. Judging it would not be amiss to get a few of these, we agreed to halt, and take a late breakfast and early dinner together.
Mokărē being a good shot, was desired to exert his skill in that way, and then to swim in for his game. To my astonishment, he told me he could not swim. Not believing this, I urged him to proceed; but neither flattery nor raillery could prevail on Mokărē, who, in order to induce us to leave the place, informed me it abounded with very venomous snakes.
A thick and broad belt of reeds, above eighteen feet high, surrounded the lake; and Gough, who was a keen sportsman, was requested to walk through, and get us something. This he proceeded to do; but, having taken a few steps, the water being above his waist, he retrograded in double quick time, evidently to the satisfaction of Mokărē, who had ascended a tree, to witness the result.
Mr. Kent and myself offered to go on each side of Gough, to prevent his being drowned, in case the water suddenly became deep; but he declined making any further attempt, which was then taken up by others, who were also unsuccessful, as may readily be imagined, when it is stated that the water was upwards of six feet deep at the inner margin of the sedgy belt.
On regaining the dry land, which was done with some difficulty, we were surprised to see the blood streaming from various parts of our bodies, which, on inspection, we found to be covered with leeches—the true hirudo medicinalis. We had felt, while in the water, several sharp bites, which made us start, and call to mind the black snake: these were now satisfactorily accounted for.
The water-fowl being disturbed, flew to the southward. The sportsmen followed them to the shallow lagoon, and succeeded in obtaining a brace of fine teal, which, with the remainder of the kangaroo, were cooked for our repast. This being finished, we left the lake, which we named Loch Ketturine; and, resuming our course to the westward, we soon perceived that we had left the good land behind us.
After having travelled over a few miles of barren scrub, observing, as we thought, rising ground to the northward, we bent our steps thither, and found good forest land; the altitude of the trees giving it, when viewed at a distance, the appearance of considerable elevation. We again proceeded westward, and passed over a tract of country, as miserable and useless as any to be found in New South Wales.
In the evening we reached and suddenly re-entered on fine open land; several hundred acres being without a tree. This was very agreeable to us, tired and disheartened by our fatiguing journey; but our pleasure was somewhat alloyed, by not being able to procure water, of which, however, we had three quart bottles with us. We prepared to encamp; but as the water could not be shared very plentifully, among six men and two dogs (the latter very deserving and thirsty, haying just returned from a severe chase after a flock of kangaroos), there was not much talk of going to Swan River, and Gough became very uncivil, threatening to knock Mokărē down, if he did not find water immediately. I was obliged to interfere, and, by digging a hole, we obtained a supply of good quality.
Next morning I informed those who were tired of the journey, that they might return, that Mokărē would go with them, to guide them on their way, and that they might take all the provision, excepting a little biscuit. This proposition came like a thunderbolt. Mr. Kent, to whom I had previously communicated my intention, agreed to keep company with me, as also did the Crown prisoners. Gough said he would not go back, as he could never find his way home, and that Mokărē was now as much at a loss as himself.
I then explained to him, not to suppose I had wished his company altogether for the pleasure of his society; on the contrary, it was under the idea that he would make himself useful,—which he had not hitherto conspicuously done. I again desired him to return home, and inform them at the settlement, that we should be there in a day or two after him; but he persisted in remaining with the party. Observing that he was now completely crest-fallen, I made no further observation, than threatening, that if he henceforth conducted himself with any impropriety, I would leave him in the bush without ceremony.
This fracas being thus amicably terminated, we continued our westerly course; about noon, we arrived at and crossed a fine stream, running southerly, which was named the Kent, in compliment to the gentleman who accompanied me. Having rested here half an hour, we pursued our journey in a N.N.W. direction for the highest part of a range of hills, which now met our view.
Early in the evening, we bivouacked near a mountain torrent, in the midst of a wildly picturesque glen; the temperature, had other indications been wanting, sufficiently denoting that we were among the mountains.
During this day's journey, we passed over some good land, and more that might be made something of; but by far the greatest portion was either indifferent, or very barren.
We noticed several native encampments, but did not fall in with any of the natives; Mokărē discovered some traces of them, and amongst others, a love token: a lock of hair, interwoven with some network, which he informed us, a fair, or rather a sable, damsel had hid; and it was the business of the enamoured swain to find it out, when he was rewarded for his assiduity by the favour of his mistress. If this be true, it shows that the aborigines of this place, if not more civilized, are, at all events, more romantic in their courtship than their brethren in the vicinity of Port Jackson, whose method is short and effectual; as they steal by ambush on the object of their affections, beat her senseless with a club, and then drag her off by the hair of the head, in triumph, to their own party.
The huts in this place are similar to those we noticed at Swan River, bearing an exact resemblance to a beehive cut vertically in two, with the convex side to that part most exposed to the wind and rain. Perceiving several that were formed in the same manner as the others, but as if the hive (after being cut vertically) opened by a hinge, thus forming two, we learned from Mokărē, that these were the apartments of the married people; we observed they were placed at some distance from each other, and from the other habitations.
This evening Mokărē, whether instigated by others or of his own accord, entered into a serious remonstrance with me on the impropriety of travelling any farther, as we were a long way from home, and the provisions were nearly expended, when (he said) the white fellows would cry; he also hinted that had he known before starting as much as he did now, he would have declined being one of the party. He said, the expeditions of Captain Wakefield and the others, had been maatinip, while mine had been already maatopen.
I told him, that the white fellows cared little about having anything to eat, and only cried when they could not get water; but being convinced that the case was widely different, he told me it was not a matter to make a joke of. I then told him to make himself quite easy, as, if we did not get another kangaroo shortly, his advice should be followed; and in order to create a little good humour, a double allowance of grog was issued, which had the desired effect; and "God save the King" was sung with much vociferation, where it never had been chanted before.
On Tuesday, we directed our course S.S.W. taking care to leave on our left, all the streams we met with; and in this manner we proceeded over hills and dales, until our progress was arrested by a swamp, wide and apparently deep, trending westward round the mountains. Mokărē, (who had much antipathy to water if of any depth,) and others of the party discovering some repugnance to attempt a passage directly across it, we took a detour to the eastward, and crossed it where it was much narrower, and not more than two or three feet deep.
As, at this time, the thunder was rolling heavily,—the peals rendered more terrific and sublime, by the echoing hills; the rain pouring down in torrents, and the explorers, (some of whom wished themselves elsewhere,) being up to the middle in water, we thought it might not be inaptly named, the "Dismal Swamp."
Just as we crossed this, the dogs started a fine kangaroo, and, after a short run, caught it, having the advantage from the wetness of the ground. This welcome burden being hoisted on Mokărē's shoulders, we proceeded in a southerly direction, crossing an ironstone barren tract, intersected by small strips of good land.
Towards evening we arrived at another swamp, about 150 yards wide, and from two to three feet deep, winding eastward round the hills. Having passed this we encamped earlier than usual, being somewhat fatigued by our day's journey: the rain continued to fall heavily during the evening, but the party having plenty to eat, were in good humour. As appearances indicated that the weather would be wet and windy during the night, we formed our tents in the gipsy fashion, which afforded us a very snug and convenient shelter.
On Wednesday, at daylight, we proceeded in a southerly direction, through a country in general barren, but not altogether destitute of patches of very good land. About nine o'clock, perceiving a high, conical, insulated hill, bearing E. by S., we directed our course thither, passing through a rich valley, of considerable extent, where the dogs caught a kangaroo.
About one, P.M., we halted close by a pebbly stream, which rushed, with impetuosity, through the bottom of a deep, narrow glen, where the trees were of enormous circumference and altitude. This being a delightful spot, it was agreed to pitch our encampment, and remain until the morning, to allow such as required it, to take a little rest.
Being anxious to obtain a panoramic view of the country, which could be advantageously seen from the top of the mountain, I determined to ascend it; and, accompanied by Mr. Kent and Mokărē, started from our encampment at four, P.M., and reached its highest pinnacle by half-past six, when we enjoyed a prospect that more than repaid all our fatigue.
The highest peak is about thirty yards square, perfectly level, paved with minute particles of quartz and granite, and a huge block of the latter material adorns each angle. As this had some resemblance to a fortified place, it was named "Mount Lindesay," in compliment to the officers of the thirty-ninth regiment.
From the summit, the following bearings were taken; but, from our having only a small pocket compass, they cannot be considered as strictly accurate.—From the S.E. angle. Mount Melville, E.S.E.; Peakhead, S.E. by E. ½ E.; east point of Porrongorup, E., northerly; west point of ditto, E. by N. ¾ N.; highest eastern peak, E. by N., northerly; south head of a large inlet (close to the sea, and trending from N.E. by E. to S.W. by W.), S. ¼ E.; high hill to the west of the inlet, under which, apparently, it communicates with the sea, S. by W.
From the N.E. angle.—The western point of Morrilup, N.E. by E.; from this bearing to N.W. (except some very distant high land, bearing N. by E.), the country appeared level as far as the eye could survey. From the N.W. the land rises, and becomes gradually higher; and from this point round to the southward, it appears like the ocean convulsed by a storm: this resemblance being augmented by the setting sun's refracted rays gleaming faintly through the "horizontal misty air."
In the midst of this alpine region, three mountains are conspicuous, from their superior altitude; and as they will be leading points in a trigonometrical survey of the country, we named them after the Surveyors-General of Australia.
From the S. W. angle, a group of islands (four) middle of the west and largest isle, S.W. ¾ S.; high distant land, W. southerly; extreme part of the sea visible on the right, W. by S. ½ S.; land, supposed Cape Nuyts, S.W. ½ W.; and a little after the sun went down, we perceived a large expanse of water close to the sea coast, bearing S.W. ½ S., and imagined it to be near, perhaps, to the westward of. Cape Chatham.
These observations being made, we continued admiring the magnificent scene until daylight departed. We then deemed it prudent to remain till the moon had attained some altitude in the eastern sky, lest we might lose our way, or meet with some accident, while descending the mountain in the dark. This delay was rather agreeable than otherwise, the night being serene and mild—exactly according with the beautiful description of Milton:
Now came still evening on, and twilight grey
Had in her sober livery all things clad;
Now glowed the firmament
With living sapphires; Hesperus, that led
The starry host, rode brightest, till the moon.
Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent queen, unveil'd her peerless light.
And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw."
We observed the smoke from our encampment, hovering over the trees, far beneath us to the westward; and Mokărē, who would much rather have been below, eating kangaroo, than admiring the sublime and beautiful from the top of the mountain, was very urgent in his entreaties for us to descend; and, at length, his wishes were complied with.
We reached our party, without any accident, and were welcomed by "the watch dog's honest bark," and found a blazing fire, a pretty bower, and a comfortable supper, prepared for us.
Having, unfortunately, sprained my ankle, in jumping over a stream, on the second day's journey, I suffered very severely from the pain in descending the mountain. To allay this, I placed my foot in the running stream, wherein I found an excellent, though unexpected, remedy;—a number of leeches soon fixed on it, and were gladly permitted to drink their fill.
From what Mokărē told me, I thought that the natives were in the habit of applying them in certain cases; but, on more minute enquiry, I found he had picked up his knowledge of their utility from having been present when they were applied by the surgeon of the settlement. He said, "they were very good for white fellow, but very bad for the blacks;" by whom great caution was always used while drinking, to guard against their entering into the mouth with the water, which, nevertheless, sometimes happened, and occasioned fatal consequences.
During the night, the bell bird supplied, to us, the place of the wakeful nightingale; and at daybreak, we were awakened by the tuneful voices of several singing birds. This was a pleasing surprise, as we had hitherto supposed that the birds in New Holland were not famed for song.
- This was the case, Mokărē being far from his known ground.
- The description of these habitations given by Vancouver, nearly half a century ago, coincides precisely with their appearance at the present day.
- A short distance.
- A long distance.
- Vancouver has also noticed, that some of the small birds on this part of the coast sing very melodiously.