Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 7


Visit to Croker's Island—Laws' Plains—Interview with the Inhabitants—Bowen's Straits—Barker's Bay—Return to the Settlement—Departure of H.M.S. Satellite for India—Arrival of the Governor Phillips—Embarkation of part of the Settlers—Brigs Amity and Thompson sail for Swan River—Public Garden—Departure of the Natives.

On Friday, the 14th, Captain Laws formed a party to go to Croker's Island, to pay the natives a visit; and accordingly, after an early breakfast on board the Satellite, the party, consisting of Captains Laws, Barker, Dr. Davis, Mr. Clery, purser, and myself, started in the yawl. Having arrived at the island, we landed in a small bight a little to the southward of Palm Bay. Captain Barker, Captain Laws, and I, struck into the interior, while Mr. Clery, and Dr. Davis, walked along the shore in search of shells; and the boat was ordered to ply to windward through Bowen's Straits. After we had walked a little distance, we came in sight of a considerable tract entirely free from trees, (here and there a clump of pandanus excepted,) and exhibiting an agreeably verdant appearance. We walked across it, and found the soil tolerably good, and abounding with grass. Skirting the eastern and southern boundaries of this plain, there is a lagoon of considerable width, containing water as clear as crystal. We walked some distance into this, but the water becoming too deep, and the reeds very high, we were obliged to retrace our steps, which we found some difficulty in doing.

Having at length got out of the lagoon, we took a detour southerly, and ascending a rising spot of ground, we had a commanding view of the plain, which Captain Barker named Laws's Plains: this tract, by a rough computation, contains about 5000 acres of land, the half of which may safely be said to be fit for, and would reward the labour and expense of, cultivation. It is probable that part of it may be overflowed during the rainy season; but this would be rather advantageous for the growth of rice,—at all events, it could be easily drained.

Leaving this spot, we proceeded in a south-westerly direction, and after a fatiguing walk, we came to mangroves, and experienced much difficulty in penetrating through the almost impervious jungle. Arriving at length at a creek, we crossed it by a native bridge of rather a fragile texture. Issuing out of the mangroves, we came to a circular sandy spot of some extent, on which we perceived numerous and recent marks of children, as if they had been in play. We looked around on all sides, and called out, but did not meet any of them. During our excursion, we saw fires in several parts of the island, and fell in with many of the haunts of the natives: we were somewhat disappointed in not having had an interview with any of them, particularly as, knowing this island to be well inhabited, we had anticipated such an event.

A short walk from this spot brought us to the beach, and we saw the yawl standing into a fine bay a little to the southward of us We had not walked far, when we observed some native boys running towards us, calling out "Commandant! Commandant!" It appeared evident that they only knew him by name; and it must have been extremely pleasing to him, to receive such an unequivocal proof of the estimation in which he was held by these children of nature.

Others of the natives soon joined us, who in like manner were only acquainted with the Commandant by name; none of them having visited the settlement, as far as he could recollect. They endeavoured to come into the little boat with us; but as it was sufficiently deeply laden, they were given to understand that a boat would be sent for them afterwards; and it was accordingly sent, but they would not come on board. Mr. Clery and Dr. Davis we found in the yawl; they had not been successful in gathering shells, and, as the day was hot, they thought it more prudent to take a sail, than to walk along the sandy shore.

We now willingly betook ourselves to dinner, our expedition having given us a good appetite. We kept at the same time coasting along, many of the natives running after us, until nearly dark, when we anchored, and Captain Barker went on shore to communicate with them. In a short time, off came my friend Miago, who expressed much satisfaction at seeing me; he was accompanied by several others, who received a hearty welcome.

The tide in a short time fell so much, that the yawl was aground, and we could walk on shore without difficulty. We all did so, and found many of the natives assembled, and Captain Barker in the midst of them. We learned that Wooloogary, the King, was absent, with a number of his people, catching turtle. His brother, Wadiea, a placid-looking old man, dressed in a shirt, (which I recognised as having formerly belonged to me,) received us very politely, and was presented by Captain Barker with a hatchet,—an article which is held in the highest estimation.

The women were at some distance, and we were promised a sight of them, if we remained until next morning; but although desirous of obtaining a glimpse of the sable beauties, we did not take advantage of their offer, which in all probability was not sincere. To amuse us, as well as themselves, they turned to, and danced away with much mirth and glee round a large fire, to their own musical instrument, the ebero.

Being somewhat fatigued from the walk through wood, water, and mangroves, I lay down on the beach, suffering from headach, increased by a complete ducking I received by falling into the creek. Wadeia observing that I did not appear well, came towards me, and, on understanding that I complained of headach, he pressed it in the same manner as any civilized nurse would have done. I requested him to send one of the boys for water: not one of them, however, would obey him, and, instead of enforcing obedience, he went for it himself, and, in a short time, returned with a basket-ful.

Having spent about an hour with them, we returned to the yawl; and after supper, it was agreed to take a nap for a few hours. At two, A. M., we awoke, got under weigh, and plied to windward. At daylight, we saw three canoes, with two natives in each, who seemed rather to avoid us, but we would have joined them, had we not been prevented by a reef that extended a considerable way from the shore.

We sailed round Mount Norris Bay, and observed that it had been correctly surveyed by Captain King. We then returned by Bowen's Straits, which, as Captain King had not passed through, and as it is the common route of all the Malay proas, passing to and from the eastward, Captain Laws surveyed very carefully. Moreover, we noticed that the trepang, the object of their voyage, abounded here.

About half way through the Straits, on the side of the Cobourg Peninsula, there is a capacious bay, having a sufficient depth of water for a first-rate man-of-war, within a few fathoms of the shore. This bay, which was considered by Captain Laws as a very eligible spot for a settlement, he named, in compliment to the Commandant, Barker's Bay. On surveying the bay, we could not help expressing regret, that the settlement had been so hastily formed.

We returned to the camp about three,P.M., rather fatigued. In the afternoon, the Satellite ship's company re-embarked, and also the party of marines left by H. M. S. Success.

On Monday, the 17th, I learned that Langton, overseer of the prisoners, had taken to the bush, with another prisoner. This action appeared quite inexplicable, as far as regarded Langton, who had all along conducted himself with much propriety; and, from his general usefulness, stood in high favour with the Commandant. As he was liked by the natives, there is little doubt that he will be kindly treated by them, until the return of the Malay proas next season; when, it is presumed that he and the other runaways will, by representing themselves as having been left behind by accident, most likely get a passage to Macassar. They have taken with them a fowling-piece, and a pistol. Eight soldiers volunteered to proceed in search; but, for obvious reasons, their services, in this way, were not accepted: and several prisoners, who were suspected of an intention to run away, were sent on board the Thompson.

This morning, H. M. S. Satellite sailed for India, and I parted with considerable regret from those whose society had tended to enliven many hours, that otherwise would have passed heavily away; more particularly from my former shipmate and friend, Lieutenant Robert Campbell, with whom I had visited many interesting scenes, in various parts of the world[1].

Captain Barker forwarded by Captain Laws information of the abandonment of the settlement to Admiral Gage, the Commander in Chief, requesting him to give information thereof to the Dutch Governor of Macassar, to prevent the disappointment that the Malays might experience, by bringing articles of traffic (as they had promised) to Raffles' Bay, in the ensuing season.

Tuesday, August 18th.—Another prisoner took to the bush this morning, and during the course of the day, two others followed his example. Between seven and eight o'clock in the evening, while I was walking from the fort to the cottage, in company with Dr. Davis, the piercing lamentations of a pig were distinctly heard, and shortly afterwards, a flash was seen. Presently, my boy informed me he had heard a "row" in the stock-yard, and that one of the Bushrangers had "bolted" with a young pig. We gave the alarm, and the settlement was soon in commotion. A Serjeant, and several soldiers, marched, in battle array, into the woods; but, in a short time, returned.

It appears, by this daring act, that the bushrangers are hovering in the vicinity; they seized the opportunity of the overseer being absent, just before the moon rose. The overseer, who returned in time to witness a man running as fast as his legs could carry him, with a pig on his back, fired, but did no injury: indeed, it may be, without much injustice, imagined, that the affair was well understood by the overseer, stock-keeper, and runaway.

As it was not improbable that all the prisoners for life might follow their companions, measures were taken to prevent them. Their plan had evidently been well formed; but, through the precipitancy of the leading members, caused by intoxication, it had been put in execution before affairs were properly ripe. Their intention (as before stated) most probably is, to await the arrival of the Malay proas; but, perhaps their design may be, to capture the Governor Phillips, should she arrive after our departure; and, as this would be a very easy matter, it is by no means improbable.

On Wednesday, the 19th, all hands were busily employed (as they have been these few days past) in embarking stores, provisions, &c. from the settlement, on board the colonial brig Amity, and hired brig Thompson; yet the embarkation did not proceed so rapidly as could be wished, in consequence of the low tides, leaving the mud-bank, in front of the settlement, quite dry.

Thursday, the 20th.—The night passed quietly, none of the bushrangers having made a public entré. A little after daylight, as Dr. Davis and myself were going to take our accustomed aquatic exercise, we descried a vessel at anchor, near Palm Bay, which we had little doubt was the Governor Phillips; and, about ten, A. M., she arrived in Raffles' Bay, and proved to be that vessel.

By her arrival, the arrangements for leaving the settlement were altered. Dr. Davis, Mr. Hickey, and Mr. Kent, (who had arrived in the Governor Phillips, to take charge of the Commissarat department in King George's Sound,) with a party of soldiers and prisoners, were to proceed in the Thompson as far as Swan River; (where, in conformity to instructions from head-quarters, various stores and cattle were to be landed;) thence they were to embark in the Amity for King George's Sound. Captain Barker, and myself, with the remainder of the people and stores, were to proceed in the Governor Phillips. By letters from Sydney, Captain Barker was informed of his appointment as Commandant of the Settlement at King George's Sound, and Dr. Davis was also to remain there in medical charge.

Friday, the 21st.—This morning, Wellington, and fifteen natives, paid us a visit: they appeared sorrowful while beholding the preparations for our departure. Wellington begged Captain Barker to take him with him; but, on consideration, it was not deemed prudent to grant his request. He then begged that Riveral might not be left behind, and appeared pleased when assured that she would be taken with us. During the day, Mimaloo and Waterloo, and a few others, joined the party. In the evening, one of the bushrangers, named Tobin, came into the settlement, and gave himself up. He was a poor ignorant Welchman, who had run away, without any definite notion of what he was doing. As he came to Sydney, under my care, upwards of five years ago, and, at that time, could not talk one word of English, I interceded with the Commandant, who was easily persuaded, not to punish him. On examining him, he denied having any knowledge of the pig; he also declared, that he had not seen any of the other runaway prisoners; nor had he tasted a single article since he left the settlement. Although this appeared rather doubtful, yet his sunken eyes showed that he had not fared very sumptuously during his ramble.

Saturday, August the 22d.—This morning, a great number of the natives, who had slept at a little distance from the settlement, paid us an early visit, and several of them assisted in conveying different articles to the beach, on the promise of being rewarded.

In the afternoon. Dr. Davis, Mr. Kent, and a detachment of the soldiers, and half of the prisoners, embarked in the Thompson; and also the native girl, Riveral, (neatly dressed,) after taking leave of her countrymen, who shook hands with her very affectionately, and appeared much pleased with, though somewhat envious of, her good fortune. She left the land of her fathers, not only without regret, but with much satisfaction, seemingly delighted to be out of the reach of her sable kindred, towards whom she invariably evinced great shyness, and even antipathy.

Sunday, the 23d.—Early this morning, the settlement was crowded with natives; many of whom were entire strangers. While taking the sun's altitude, I was surrounded by upwards of fifty of them, who viewed my movements with great curiosity. As I could not perform the object I wished, from their pressing round me, I requested Wellington to make his people keep out of the way; he instantly complied with my desire, making his followers form an open space, so as to admit of the sun's image falling on the quicksilver,—he standing on one side, and Monanoo on the other, to keep the space clear, which they did very effectually; but not perceiving any visible effects follow my actions, they seemed much disappointed.

Wellington expressed a wish to go on board the Thompson, to see Riveral; but, for various reasons, it was deemed better to divert him from his purpose. Shortly afterwards, all the natives left the settlement, but encamped in the immediate vicinity, to be in readiness for a share of the plunder,—iron and nails,—as soon as we were gone.

In the cool of the evening. Captain Barker and myself took a walk in the woods, where we met three sailors (my old shipmates) whose walk had been cut short by the appearance of a number of natives, who, they affirmed, were lying in ambush, for no good purpose. Convinced, however, that we had nothing to fear. Captain Barker and myself continued our promenade towards the spot pointed out by the sailors; but we neither met the natives, nor saw any traces of them: and it appeared evident to us, that our informants had imbibed the prevalent opinion regarding these savages; which is not to be wondered at, as they had heard terrible accounts of their ferocity from the sojourners at Raffles' Bay; several of whom were, to the very last, only restrained from ill-using them, by Captain Barker's example and authority.

Having prolonged our walk to a considerable distance from the settlement, we returned by the beach, where we found Wellington's canoe, (the one he had received from Captain Barker,) and several things in it. Shortly afterwards, we met Wellington and Wooloomary, pretty heavily laden with empty bottles, and old iron hoops; which, they did not fail to inform us, had been given to them as presents.

After a little friendly chat, we separated,—Wellington having promised to bring his wife and children to see us, before we left his territory: he said she would have visited the settlement long ere this, had she not been very ill with the oyiē boyiē[2]. This excuse of ill health was (as frequently occurs in civilized society) mere pretence; as, on it being remarked to him, that most likely all the yalcuhéé[3] were labouring under the same complaint, he and his companion laughed heartily.

Shortly after our return to the fort, while we were at tea, Serjeant Drew marched in with a fowling-piece and shot-belt, and informed Captain Barker, that Langton and Fellows (the two prisoners who first made a start for the bush) had returned, and given themselves up. They were ordered to the cells, where, by Captain Barker's request, I visited them. They pretended to be exceedingly ill; but this was soon found to be feigned, to avert or to delay the punishment, which, being conscious of deserving, they anticipated. They were much emaciated, and no doubt heartily tired of their sylvan excursion.

They declared that they had not seen any of the other runaways; that they had had no previous communication with them; and that their intention was to wait for the return of the Malay proas. They had remained at the fern-creek, and subsisted entirely on fern roots. Had there been settlers to plunder, or settlers to screen and protect them, as is common in New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land, it is not likely that they would have returned.

On Monday, the 24th, the brigs Amity and Thompson sailed for Swan River. On the evening of the 25th, Dwyer, another of the runaways, gave himself up: he had fared better than the others, by keeping near the beach, where he obtained cockles in abundance.

The runaways are now all returned, excepting two, who, it is expected, will speedily follow the others; and that they should do so, is desirable for several reasons, but principally lest, being left behind, they might destroy the various animals and vegetables which Captain Barker intended to leave, for the advantage of future visitants to this place.

On Wednesday, the 26th, all hands were busily employed in embarking the remaining stores and provisions on board the Governor Phillips. In the afternoon, Miago and several other natives visited the deserted camp. While rummaging about the empty houses, they discovered a plant (according to convict phraseology) of oatmeal, about fifty pounds, under the kitchen of the cottage; placed there (as he afterwards confessed) by Fellows, who was servant to Mr. Hickey.

Captain Barker and myself walked through the public garden with Miago and his friends, and explained to them, as well as we could, the nature of the different vegetables that were flourishing there in great luxuriance. The bananas, some of which were ripe, and greatly to their taste, called forth particular admiration. They were informed, and clearly understood, that they were not to pluck them until they assumed a yellowish hue. The sugar cane, pine apples, lemons, oranges, papaws, cocoa nuts, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables, were also pointed, out and their various properties explained to them. The bamboo immediately attracted their notice, as being well adapted for spears.

Whether the natives would wantonly destroy any of the fruit trees, &c., we could not conjecture; but, from the pains taken to teach them their utility, we hoped they might refrain from doing so;—as for the houses, we thought it likely that they might be destroyed for the sake of the iron, which the natives use in pointing their spears, rendering them thereby more efficient in spearing the turtle.

On Thursday, the 27th, in the morning, I superintended the placing a tombstone over the remains of Dr. Wood. It was forwarded from Sydney, in the Governor Phillips, by his executors. I felt regret that some such mark of remembrance could not be placed over the remains of my respected friend, Mr. Radford; where, however, I planted several European flowers, and also some cocoa nuts, to mark the spot. Several of the natives were present during the ceremony,—the intent of which they appeared to comprehend.

Miago had called me up, before daylight, to receive a tomahawk which I had promised him the preceding evening; and he stuck by me until he got it, when he, and all the other natives, departed into the woods, in search of honey.

  1. I received from him a collection of books, exactly similar to many I had lost,—being purchased at the same time, and from the same bookseller, in the gay Parthenope. On seeing them ranged in my apartment, I occasionally forgot that I had left my own copies in Torres Straits.
  2. Small-pox.
  3. Women.