Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 19


Excursion to Oyster Harbour—Green Island—Fertility of the Soil—Brief account of the Natives—Departure from King George's Sound—Account of the Murder of Captain Barker—Narrative resumed—Bass's Straits—Anchor in the River Tamar.

As the brig was not yet fit for sea. Lieutenant Sleeman proposed a boat excursion to Oyster Harbour, and I gladly agreed to accompany him, being anxious to obtain a view of that inlet; accordingly on Wednesday morning the weather promising to be fair, a party, consisting of Lieutenant Sleeman, Dr. Davis, Mr. Hickey and myself, proceeded in the whale-boat.

On entering the mouth of the harbour, four wild ducks started up not far from us, and Mr. Hickey, an excellent marksman, brought down three of them. We landed here to get some water for the use of the individual who resides, in the capacity of gardener, on Green Island: thither we went, and I was delighted to find turnips, carrots, peas, potatoes, cabbages, and other culinary vegetables, growing in great abundance[1].

This Island does not contain more than from three to four acres; the soil is light, but admirably adapted for the growth of vegetables; we could not, however, help remarking, that should the 800 ton ship come here with her passengers, as stated in the newspapers, their several portions would be exceedingly small.

Having taken a sufficiency of vegetables to serve for dinner, we proceeded up the harbour, to examine "La Riviere Française." We found it rather difficult to enter, as its mouth is, as usual with the other rivers, obstructed by a bar of mud and sand. Inside the bar the depth is from five to twelve feet. Here, in a convenient spot, near a fresh water streamlet, we landed the cook, and the provisions, with directions to prepare dinner. Mr. Hickey remained to shoot, while Lieutenant Sleeman and myself proceeded higher up the river, which kept the same variable depth, being not less than four, nor more than twelve feet, water rather brackish. The banks were well clothed with wood, and the various reaches extremely picturesque.

We could not proceed far, having to return to the settlement in the evening, in consequence of Lieutenant Sleeman being in an indifferent state of health; he was admonished by the Doctor (who had great antipathy to sleeping in the open air) to return home as early as possible. We landed on the left bank of the river, with the intent of returning to our rendezvous by land.

I observed, in many places, that the land was extremely rich and good, even to the top of the hills. Lieutenant Sleeman had formerly visited this spot, and sent a detailed account of its properties to the Government at Sydney. It was remarked, that if the settlers could not all get as much of Green Island as they might desire, here they could be accommodated to a certain extent. From the inequality of surface, it would not be fit for the plough, but there could be no doubt that it might be very advantageously cultivated; as, from its situation, form, and quality, it appeared well adapted for the growth of the vine.

From the top of the most elevated hill, we obtained an extensive view of the Sound, and its rugged islands; Princess Royal, and Oyster, Harbours, with the various windings of "La Riviere Française" and King's River, through an apparently fertile country, formed a landscape, not unworthy of the pencil of a Claude Lorraine.

On our return, we found a most excellent dinner;—roast ducks and green peas, beef, potatoes, and cabbage, with Swedish turnips and carrots;—to which we sat down with sharp appetites, and having strong drinks, both fermented and distilled, we thought ourselves much more fortunate than Vancouver and his party were, while on a similar expedition to the same spot. After having enjoyed a short siesta, we prepared to return; the day being too far spent to permit us paying a visit to King's River.

We touched again at Green Island, and took as many vegetables as the boat could carry, for our use during the voyage. The gardener certainly leads a solitary life here, but he seemed to like it; his only companion was his bible, which he had displayed very conspicuously, and, as the uncharitable might imagine, rather ostentatiously. I must confess that, having so frequently witnessed the most consummate rogues putting on, successfully, an appearance of sanctified demeanour, whenever I observe anything approaching to outward show, I cannot avoid calling to mind Ambrose Lamella; many of whose fraternity have fallen under my own notice[2].

About four years ago, the British Government, having heard that the French were about to form a settlement at King George's Sound[3], were determined to prevent them; and, with this view, a field-officer (Major Lockyer) was sent from Sydney, with a detachment of soldiers and prisoners, to claim and keep possession of it. On their arrival, they learned that the French had formed an establishment, which they had speedily abandoned.

Major Lockyer formed the camp on the north-west side of Princess Royal Harbour, near a running stream at the foot of two detached hills, of considerable elevation, which he named Mount Clarence, and Mount Melville; and the intended town he called Frederick Town. Having made all necessary arrangements, he left the charge to Captain Wakefield, of the thirty-ninth regiment, who was relieved by Lieutenant Sleeman, and he by Captain Barker.

I understand it is on the point of being given up as an out-station of Sydney, to form a part of the Government of Western Australia; and I should not be surprised if it were, ere long, the seat of that Government—it being, in many respects, far preferable to Swan River. The entrance to Princess Royal (and also to Oyster Harbour,) is narrow, shallow, and only capable of admitting small vessels; but the Sound is capacious, and easy of access, affording an excellent and safe anchorage, to any number of vessels, of any burden. The land, even in the immediate vicinity, is far from indifferent, and capable of being rendered very productive; and the climate is delightful[4].

During my short stay, it is not to be supposed that the information I acquired, concerning the natives, could be very extensive. I may, however, state, that in personal appearance, they have a decided resemblance to their Australian brethren, and their weapons are also similar. They all wear a covering of kangaroo skins, with the fur next to the skin. They have large bellies, and slender extremities; but good feeding produces a wonderful change in their appearance.

They seem a good-tempered race; not so savage-looking as those of the north coast. They are far from being destitute of intelligence: on the contrary, they appear very acute. Several of them reside constantly in the camp, where they are treated with kindness. Mokărē, who had always slept in the Commandant's apartment, now wished to accompany him to Sydney; but, as he might not have an opportunity of getting back, and as he would be of use to Captain Barker, he was willing to stay.

This native was quite domesticated, and very intelligent, humorous, and a wag withal. Observing that those married wore a ring, and that polygamy did not exist, he thus questioned Dr. Davis, who wore two:—"What, doctor, you two wives?—Are your wives dead?—You give them physic?"

There was a fine little native boy in the camp, that lived entirely with the soldiers, by whom he was named Wappery; his good humour, and intelligent features, formed a strong contrast to the sullen, and bashful Riveral, who appeared, however, quite contented.

Every day, at noon—which they seem to know with great exactness—the natives, wherever they may be, kindle a fire, and by this means obtain a knowledge of each other's situations.

They think it necessary and just to kill some one of a neighbouring tribe, whenever one of their own number dies, as they ascribe the death to the incantation of their enemies.

That they have a right of soil, is quite evident. The land about the settlement belongs to Mokărē and his brethren.

Their food principally consists of fish, which they spear in shallow places, as they never venture above the knees in water, with their own will; and it is a strange and singular fact, that none of them swim. They have nothing in the shape of canoes; nor do they ever cross any river, except at the mouth, which is usually very shallow; or higher up, where a tree may have accidentally fallen across, and formed a bridge.

They also derive sustenance from kangaroos, iguanas, and, in the proper season, from young parrots, eggs, &c., and they seem to be fond of sucking the cones of various kind of banksia, which are in great abundance on this part of the coast.

They have been, and continue to be, on the best terms with the settlers, although it may appear, that they acted with hostility in the very beginning; but, by judicious management, the incipient storm was averted, and a good understanding and friendly feeling established, which has not yet been, nor likely to be, interrupted[5].

On Sunday, December the 20th, we got under weigh, and at noon left Princess Royal Harbour. Captain Barker accompanied us for some distance. He and I parted with mutual regret; our friendship having been cemented by a similarity of sentiments and pursuits.

As this excellent officer and worthy man occupies so conspicuous a place in the preceding narrative, I think it may not be uninteresting to my readers to be informed of his untimely death.

He was returning to Sydney from King George's Sound, which had been given up to Captain Stirling, and, in obedience to orders from the Colonial Government, he was examining the coast in the vicinity of Encounter Bay, principally with the view of ascertaining whether any available communication existed between the River Murray (lately discovered by Captain Sturt) and the sea. While in the execution of this duty, he was barbarously murdered by the natives, and his mangled body thrown into the sea.

The melancholy intelligence was communicated to me in a letter from Dr. Davis, which having been mislaid, I transcribe the minute account of the sad catastrophe given by Captain Sturt[6], from the relation of my fellow-traveller, Mr. Kent.

"I have remarked (observes Captain Sturt), that there is a sand-hill to the eastward of the inlet (i. e. the communication between Lake Alexandrina and the sea), under which the tide runs strong, and the water is deep. Captain Barker judged the breadth of the channel to be a quarter of a mile, and he expressed a desire to swim across it to the sand-hill to take bearings, and to ascertain the nature of the strand beyond it to the eastward.

"It unfortunately happened, that he was the only one of the party who could swim well; in consequence of which, his people remonstrated with him on the danger of making the attempt unattended. Notwithstanding, however, that he was seriously indisposed, he stript, and, after Mr. Kent had fastened his compass on his head for him, he plunged into the water, and with difficulty gained the opposite side; to effect which, took him nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds. His anxious comrades saw him ascend the hillock, and take several bearings; he then descended the farther side, and was never seen by them again.

"For a considerable time, Mr. Kent remained stationary, in momentary expectation of his return; but, at length, taking the two soldiers with him, he proceeded along the shore, in search of wood for a fire. At about a quarter of a mile, the soldiers stopped, and expressed their wish to return, as their minds misgave them, and they feared that Captain Barker had met with some accident. While conversing, they heard a distant shout, or cry, which Mr. Kent thought resembled the call of the natives, but which the soldiers positively declared to be the voice of a white man. On their return to their companions, they asked if any sounds had caught their ears, to which they replied in the negative. The wind was blowing from the E.S.E., in which direction Captain Barker had gone; and, to me, the fact of the nearer party not having heard that which must have been his cries for assistance, is satisfactorily accounted for, as, being immediately under the hill, the sounds must have passed over their heads, to be heard more distinctly at the distance at which Mr. Kent and the soldiers stood. It is more than probable, that while his men were expressing their anxiety about him, the fearful tragedy was enacting, which it has become my painful task to detail.

"Evening closed in, without any signs of Captain Barker's return, or any circumstance by which Mr. Kent could confirm his fears, that he had fallen into the hands of the natives. For, whether it was that the tribe which had shown such decided hostility to me, when on the coast, had not observed the party, none made their appearance; and, if I except two, who crossed the channel when Mr. Kent was in search of wood, they had neither seen nor heard any; and Captain Barker's enterprising disposition being well known to his men, hopes were still entertained that he was safe. A large fire was kindled, and the party formed a silent and anxious group around it. Soon after nightfall, however, their attention was roused by the sounds of the natives; and it was at length discovered, that they had lighted a chain of small fires between the sand-hill Captain Barker had ascended, and the opposite side of the channel, around which their women were chanting their melancholy dirge. It struck upon the ears of the listeners with an ominous thrill, and assured them of the certainty of the irreparable loss they had sustained. All night did these dismal sounds echo along that lonely shore; but, as morning dawned, they ceased, and Mr. Kent and his companions were again left in anxiety and doubt. They at length, thought it most advisable to proceed to the schooner, to advise with Dr. Davis. They traversed the beach with hasty steps, but did not go on board till the following day. It was then determined to procure assistance from the sealers, on Kangaroo Island, as the only means by which they could ascertain their leader's fate, and they accordingly entered American Harbour. For a certain reward, one of the men agreed to accompany Mr. Kent to the main, with a native woman, to communicate with the tribe that was supposed to have killed him. They landed at, or near the rocky point of Encounter Bay, where they were joined by two other natives, one of whom was blind. The woman was sent forward for intelligence, and on her return gave the following details.

"It appears that at a very considerable distance from the first sand-hill, there is another, to which Captain Barker must have walked, for the woman stated that three natives were going to the shore from their tribe, and that they crossed his track. Their quick perception immediately told them it was an unusual impression. They followed upon it, and saw Captain Barker returning. They hesitated for a long time to approach him, being fearful of the instrument he carried. At length, however, they closed upon him. Captain Barker tried to soothe them, but finding that they were determined to attack him, he made for the water, from which he could not have been very distant. One of the blacks immediately threw his spear, and struck him in the hip. This did not, however, stop him. He got among the breakers, when he received the second spear in the shoulder. On this, turning round he received a third full in the breast; with such deadly precision do these savages cast their weapons. It would appear that the third spear was already on its flight, when Captain Barker turned, and it is to be hoped, that it was at once mortal. He fell on his back into the water. The natives then rushed in, and dragging him out by the legs, seized their spears, and inflicted innumerable wounds upon his body; after which, they threw it into deep water, and the sea tide carried it away.

"From the same source from which the particulars of his death were obtained, it was reported that the natives who perpetrated the deed, were influenced by no other motive than curiosity to ascertain if they had power to kill a white man. But we must be careful in giving credit to this, for it is much more probable, that the cruelties exercised by the sealers towards the blacks, along the south coast, may have instigated the latter to take vengeance on the innocent, as well as on the guilty.

"Such, we have every reason to believe, was the untimely fate of this amiable and talented man. Captain Barker was, in disposition, as he was in the close of his life, in many respects, similar to Captain Cook. Mild, affable, and attentive, he had the esteem and regard of every companion, and the respect of every one under him. Zealous in the discharge of his public duties, honourable and just in private life; a lover and a follower of science, indefatigable and dauntless in his pursuits; a steady Mend, an entertaining companion; charitable, kind-hearted, disinterested, and sincere.—In him the King lost one of his most valuable officers, and his regiment one of its most efficient members."

I need scarcely observe, that I perfectly coincide in this eulogy, and also in Captain Sturt's opinion, that my much-lamented friend fell a victim to the undiscriminating revenge of irritated savages.

To resume my narrative.—The wind was light, but favourable. We observed Mount Gardener to be in longitude 118° 20' 30", by chronometer from Swan River. On Tuesday evening, December 22d, we were abreast of Termination Island, within a quarter of a mile of the longitude assigned to it by Vancouver[7], who thus named it, from its being the termination of his researches on this coast. The weather was chilly and disagreeable, the wind varying from E.S.E. to E.N.E. until the 25th, when it became westerly, and the weather fine.

On January the 2d, 1830, we entered Bass's Straits, the wind blowing very gently from the westward. By cross bearings of Cape Otway and King's Island, we were in longitude 143° 53' 00", while the chronometer from Swan River, according with several lunar observations lately taken, showed 143° 54' 15", which may further prove, that the longitude assigned by us to Arthur's Head, is pretty correct. The westerly wind continued to blow gently, until Tuesday, the 5th of January, when, being close to Curtis' Group, we were unfortunately caught by an easterly gale, which commenced suddenly a little after midnight.

On Thursday the 7th, the gale continuing to blow with unabated fury, without any appearance of the weather becoming more moderate, it was resolved to bear away for Port Dalrymple, to obtain a supply of provisions; which, there was reason to fear, we should stand in need of, before reaching Sydney. We accordingly did so, and towards evening came in sight of Van Dieman's Land.

We had neither ascertained the latitude nor longitude, by observation, since the commencement of the gale, and were therefore uncertain as to our position; but, as several individuals pointed out the entrance, we stood very close to the shore, before it was discovered that we had made a mistake. We then deemed it prudent to stretch out to sea; but, in consequence of the heavy swell) and the wind having died away, we made very little progress. In a short time, however, a land breeze sprang up, and carried us out of danger[8].

During the night, we had an opportunity of ascertaining our exact position, and made sail for Waterhouse Island, which we saw at daylight, and then directed our course for the entrance of the Tamar; on approaching which, a pilot came on board, and at eight, A.M., we anchored in a small cove, off George's Town.

  1. "For the benefit of those (observes Vancouver) who may visit the country hereafter, some vine cuttings and water cresses were planted in an Island in Oyster Harbour, and at the place from whence we procured our fuel; and an assortment of garden seeds, with some almonds, oranges, lemon, and pumpkin seeds, were sown. The whole being the production of Africa, I should have entertained little doubt of their success, had it not been that there was much to apprehend in their being overrun by the natural productions of the country." None of these were found by us, in either of these spots, and it is probable they were lost in the way he anticipated.
  2. I may here cite one. From the clergyman of the hulk at Sheerness, I received an excellent character of a prisoner, named Brown; in consequence of which, I employed him in binding books, and treated him with kindness during our voyage in the ship Richmond. As he had constantly a bible, or other religious book in his pocket, he passed for an honest man, and was not narrowly watched. He had, therefore^ frequent opportunities, which he did not fail to profit by, of laying under contribution several of the officers, and others belonging to the ship. Receiving a hint from his intimate associate, I ordered his trunk to be searched, in which the stolen property was found. I observed a letter to the Rev. Mr. Price, thanking him "for having rescued him (the said hypocrite) from the paths of infamy, and hoping that his brother, who first taught him to swerve from the paths of virtue, might, ere this, have paid his justly-forfeited life to the offended laws of his country." From the said brother, whom (strange enough) I carried out some years afterwards, as a prisoner in the ship Governor Ready, I learned that this exemplary youth had made his escape from the colony in a brig; and, after various adventures, had arrived at Philadelphia, where he was now a respectable bookseller. This brother, who went by the name of Collins, was, immediately on his arrival at Hobart Town, discovered to be a runaway convict: consequently, he was immediately packed off to Macquarrie Harbour for life.
  3. King George's Sound was discovered by Captain Vancouver, on the 29th of September, 1791, who thus describes it:—"This port has its entrance in latitude 35° 5', longitude 118° 17'. It is easily known on approaching it from the westward, as it is the first opening in the coast that presents any appearance like a harbour eastward of Cape Chatham. The Eclipse Islands being the only detached land that can be so regarded, are an excellent guide to the Sound, having, between them and Bald Head, some rocks, on which the sea breaks with great violence. The port is safe, and easy of access."
  4. Vancouver's description is exceedingly accurate.
  5. A few words of their language, which is much more guttural than that of the Aborigines of the north coast, will be found in the Appendix.
  6. Vide "Sturt's Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia," vol. ii. p. 239.
  7. Captains Flinders and King placed it farther to the westward.
  8. The ship Portland was not so fortunate; having been lately wrecked in this place, under similar circumstances.