Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 2
FROM SYDNEY TO NEW GUINEA.
Colonists demand Annexation of New Guinea—Lord Derby's Vacillation—Appointment of Sir Peter Scratchley as High Commissioner—His Arrival and first Proceedings—Departure from Sydney—Pathetic Parting of the Commissioner and his Family—A Sabbath Day on Board—Northwards to Brisbane—Description of the "Governor Blackall"—Music hath Charms to soothe the hardy Seaman's breast—An Eminent Naturalist—Gentle Savages—Departure from Brisbane—A New Patent Log—The Tragedy of Percy Island—A Strange Ocean Product—An Island Paradise—An Apron Signal—Townsville—Meeting with a "Vagabond"—Cooktown—The Tragedy of Lizard Island—New Guinea in Sight.
HE repeated demands of the Australasian Colonists for the annexation of New Guinea failed, for a long period, to move the Imperial Government. The policy of Lord Derby, when Secretary of State for the Colonies in Mr. Gladstone's Administration, seemed to be of the Fabian order. His lordship (as Mr. Froude told the Colonists), was in the habit of looking at both sides of a question, and taking time to make up his mind. But somehow the march of events outstripped Lord Derby's calm deliberation. Rumours came abroad that some great Foreign Power was meditating the annexation of the northern island. Stimulated to action by these reports, the patriotic Premier of Queensland, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, resolved upon taking the matter into his own hands, and he despatched an agent to New Guinea with orders to take possession of the territory in the name of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. These orders were promptly obeyed, but the patriotic act did not meet with Lord Derby's approval. The annexatlon was disavowed in Downing Street, and the Colonial Minister continued his tranquil meditations on both sides of the New Guinea question. At length Germany stepped in, and forestalled the fixed purpose of the Australian Colonist. The larger half of the coveted territory was added to the German possessions in the Pacific. Then Lord Derby—doubtless with a feeling of thankfulness to Prince Bismarck for his considerateness in leaving a fragment of the prize unappropriated—bethought him of the propriety of taking steps to secure the interests of his own nation in the matter. His lordship appointed an Imperial Special Commissioner, and despatched him to Australia to obtain the funds requisite for establishing and maintaining a British Protectorate over Southern New Guinea and the adjacent Archipelago.Sir Peter Scratchley, the newly-appointed Commissioner, set forth upon his mission, and arrived in Melbourne at the close of the year 1884. His first task was to procure a vessel to convey him to his destination, and also suitable for a floating viceregal residence, pending the erection of a palace on shore. His next business was to obtain from the several Australian Governments contributions towards the salary and expenses of the Special Commissioner. This object was gained without any difficulty, although there was a good deal of grumbling at Lord Derby's remissness in allowing Germany to steal a march upon him. But, as matters could not now be remedied, the Colonial Premiers, one and all, agreed to share jointly the expenses of the Protectorate, and the Premier of New South Wales, in addition, offered the use of H.M.C.S. "Wolverene," then stationed in Sydney Harbour, for a six months' service on the New Guinea coast. This offer the Commissioner gladly accepted; but just then, as it happened, reports were raised of an impending rupture of friendly relations between Great Britain and Russia, and the "Wolverene" would, in case of that event occurring, be required for purposes of local defence. Instead of continuing his efforts to procure another vessel, Sir Peter Scratchley devoted his attention to the condition of the colonial defences, most of which had been constructed under his own supervision. Happily, the Russian scare speedily subsided, and tenders were called for from shipowners possessing a vessel suitable for
1. LOADING LAKATOI, PORT MORESBY.
2. WOMEN MAKING POTTERY.
By the end of July, 1885, everything was in readiness for a start; but another fortnight's delay occurred through the sudden illness of the Commissioner. His health restored. Sir Peter Scratchley gave orders to Captain Lake to have steam up and all ready for the voyage by half-past eight on the morning of Saturday, 15th August. It was with no little joy and pride that I shipped my personal baggage and apparatus, and enrolled myself as a member of the Expedition. It seemed to me that a goal I had long been striving to reach was now in sight, and that I was fortunate enough not only to obtain exceptional facilities for seeing a country whose physical peculiarities, and the manners and customs of whose inhabitants had hitherto been little known and imperfectly described, but to be the humble means of communicating truthful information to others. A large party of friends came on board to take a farewell breakfast, and to accompany us down the beautiful harbour. We rounded H.M.S. "Nelson," and the band on board that vessel struck up "Auld Lang Syne" by way of parting salute. A number of small steamers were conveying the men garrisoned in the various forts and batterie to a grand review that was to come off that day, and the men, as they passed our vessel, greeted us with hearty cheers. A little past Bradley's Head our Captain slackened speed to allow Lady Scratchley and her children to be taken on board the launch "Gladys." I could not help noticing that the parting between the Commissioner and his wife and eldest daughter was touched with pathos and solemnity, as if they all felt deeply that the enterprise in which the husband and father was engaged was not wholly free from serious risks and dangers. Alas! it was their final parting on earth. The younger members of the Commissioner's family, however, entertained no misgivings. "With the happy carelessness of childhood, they evidently regarded the occasion as only a pleasant holiday, too soon brought to a close. At length the moment for the final leave-takings came; the last affectionate adieux were exchanged, the last tearful embraces were given and taken, the last good wishes were spoken; the visitors were conducted on board the "Gladys;" and, with waving of white handkerchiefs and many unspoken prayers for a prosperous voyage and a safe return for the adventurers, they reluctantly turned their faces in the direction of Sydney.
The North Head was passed at 10.40, and, steering her course North by East, our gallant little vessel fairly entered on her mission, with a fair westerly wind, a smooth sea, and weather of the true Australian mildness and brilliancy. Broken Bay was speedily left behind us, and next Newcastle, famed for its coal mines. As the sun was sinking below the horizon we found ourselves abreast of the Port Stephens Lighthouse. The wind had freshened considerably during the afternoon, so as to spoil the appetites of some of our party, who had not yet found their sea-legs; the carpenter was battening down the hatches, evidently in anticipation of a squally night, and the company generally betook themselves to the horizontal position in their berths at an early hour of the evening. Happily, the fears of a coming storm were not realised. About midnight the wind fell, and the adventurers slept as calmly in their bunks as if they had been in a palatial hotel on shore.
Sunday morning dawned with Sabbath stillness and brightness. After breakfast the Commissioner issued orders for a general muster at half-past ten. The hour appointed found every man not actually engaged on duty ranged on the quarter-deck; the roll was called, and the Captain announced that Divine Service would be held at eleven, that attendance was not compulsory, but that the Commissioner would be pleased to see every man in attendance. Punctually at eleven the bell tolled for prayers; the crew, to a man, came up on deck, the ship then going at half-speed; prayer books and hymn books were handed round, and then the Commissioner read with great solemnity the beautiful service of the Church of England for those at sea, Mr. Fort leading in the reading of the responses. The singing of the 166th hymn, in which the whole of the little congregation heartily joined, concluded this very impressive service, and every one of the worshippers seemed to feel that he had performed an act of devout thankfulness to Almighty
LAKATOI OR MOTU TRADING VESSEL UNDER SAIL.
Once more the engines were put at full speed, and with a light wind and a calm sea our vessel went joyfully skimming over the deep. Smoky Cape and Trial Bay were passed before noon; the lighthouse tower on South Solitary hove in sight; the S.S. "Birksgate" passed us on our way southward; several smaller sailing craft were sighted, and one of them, a three-masted schooner, passed so close under our bows that we could read her name—the "Sarsfield"—with the naked eye.
Next day we breasted the Clarence Peak, a well-known landmark, at 4.15 p.m.; and passed the Clarence River Heads at 5.30. After dinner we discerned the lights of the camp-fires of the Custom House officers guarding the wreck of the "Cahors," wrecked a few days before on Evans Reef, and the red light at the Richmond River Heads showed out just as the company were "turning in." During the night the mouths of the Tweed and Brunswick rivers were passed; Cape Byron, the most easterly point of Australia, was rounded, and our vessel kept thenceforward a more northerly course. The next point passed was the southern entrance to Moreton Bay, which—it is a pity to record—has of late years become shallower and unsafe for vessels of any size. Moreton Island, a sandy, sterile-looking spot, was passed on the left, and at 9.45 a.m. we breasted the lighthouse situated on the highest part of the island. Entering the mouth of the Brisbane River, the harbour-master's steam-launch conveyed on board Mr. Romilly, the Deputy Commissioner, and Mr. Chester, police-magistrate at Somerset and Thursday Island, who had the honour of hoisting the British flag at Port Moresby and taking possession of New Guinea in the name of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Next appeared H.M.S. "Gayndah," which had been specially constructed for the defence of the Port, to escort us up the river, and at 2 p.m. the "Governor Blackall" cast anchor opposite the Government Domain.
At this point in our narrative it may not be unfitting to give the reader a description of our gallant ship and the appointments made for the expedition. The trial in Sydney Harbour was thus described in the "Sydney Morning Herald" of 7th August:—
"About two months ago Her Majesty's High Commissioner for New Guinea, Sir Peter Scratchley, chartered the A. S. N. Company's steamer 'Governor Blackall,' in which to visit the different parts of the new colony over which he has been appointed to act as the Queen's representative; and on her arrival in Sydney she was taken over to the Company's works, and altered and improved in her internal fittings to such an extent as to give her the appearance of a new ship. Yesterday the steamer was taken for a trial trip, and the result was regarded as in every way highly satisfactory. She cast off from the A.S.N. Company's wharf at about a quarter to eleven, and proceeded down the harbour and outside the Heads for a distance of several miles, the speed attained when covering the measured mile being equal to eleven knots per hour. As the day was beautifully fine, with a gentle 'north-easter,' the trip was greatly enjoyed by the company present, among whom were Messrs. Cruickshank (chief Government engineer-surveyor), A. B. Portus (superintendent of dredges), Gray (Mort's Dock), Captain Vine Hall, Dr. Glanville, and others.
"There was but one opinion among the the company as to the suitability of the steamer for the work in which she is to be engaged, also in reference to the exceedingly comfortable, even luxurious manner in which she has been fitted out. The 'Governor Blackall' is a most attractive looking vessel of 487 tons gross register, and was built from designs supplied by Mr. Norman Selfe by Mort's Dock and Engineering Company, in 1871, to the order of the Queensland Government, who employed her for some years in conveying the mails along the coast of that colony. She then came into the possession of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company, and has been running in the coastal trade of Queensland ever since. About five years ago the Company went to the expense of providing her with new engines and boilers, which, with the other parts of the ship, have been carefully overhauled and put in first class order, so that yesterday the machinery worked very smoothly and without the lightest hitch of any kind. On the 1st of July last the
1. LAKATOI, NEAR ELEVALA ISLAND.
2. ELEVALA ISLAND, FROM MISSION STATION
From this description it will be seen that no expense was spared (as was fitting) in adapting our vessel to the requirements of the expedition. With a laudable purpose of lightening by innocent amusement the monotonous duties of the seamen, and enlivening the spirits of the company generally, the Commissioner, whilst in Brisbane, purchased a handsome stock of musical instruments—concertinas, flutes, banjos, bones, &c.—suitable for what, in the language of the music halls, is called a "variety entertainment." Those of the party who were musically inclined no doubt anticipated much pleasant recreation from this new acquisition; but it may, perhaps, be doubted whether, on the whole, the amateur performers themselves do not win larger delight from these performances than the average of their auditors. Another provident purchase was a set of oil-skin suits for the use of the crew; but when, on the second day after our leaving Brisbane, the cases containing the waterproof gear was opened, it was found that most of the suits were rotten and quite useless. They were of all colours, from lemon yellow to Vandyke brown, and looked very much as if they had been bought by the vendors as salvage stock from a great fire in the warehouse. No doubt the clever fellows thought that they had done a very smart stroke of business in thus disposing of a case of worthless and damaged goods at the price of sound and serviceable articles; but the Commissioner had the bad goods carefully repacked, and re-shipped from Towsville to the too clever vendors.
Whilst at Brisbane, our vessel was constantly beset by sightseeing citizens, and our party equally so with "interviewing" reporters. The visitors were treated with uniform courtesy, and they all appeared to be very much pleased with the arrangements. Here the party was joined by Mr. H. O. Forbes, the eminent naturalist. His instruments had been damaged at Batavia, through an accident that sunk the lighter conveying his luggage, and he had come on to Brisbane to get them repaired. On our starting, Mr. Forbes left behind him, to follow by the next steamer, his Malay servant and Amboynese hunters. He spoke to me very highly of these dusky retainers as being faithful and affectionate; some of them were in tears at their master temporarily leaving them. This testimony I am able to corroborate from my own experience; I have found both the Malays and the Sundanese as servants industrious and obedient, and so long as they are kept in their native tropical climate they are hardy and enduring; but they cannot stand the cold, and what to an English constitution is pleasant and bracing weather is to them severe suffering and complete collapse.
We left Brisbane on the 20th, at 3 p.m., the Commissioner having finished his inspection of the fortifications. Mr. Romilly, the Deputy Commissioner, embarked with us. He was limping a little, as I noticed, from a slightly lamed foot. Our vessel was laden rather above the Plimsol standard, in consequence of the quantity of coal and luggage taken on board at the city; but as this was a defect that time would remedy, not much notice was taken of the circumstance. It told materially, nevertheless, against the comfort of the voyagers throughout the stormy night that followed, the ship rolling heavily in a swell from the eastward. At nine on the morning of the 21st we passed Sandy Cape.
The Captain had fitted up one of Walker's Patent Taffrail Logs, to test its accuracy. The instrument was not altogether a success; the distance from Sandy Cape to Lady Elliot Island is seventy-two nautical miles, and the dial of the Patent Log showed only sixty-three miles. Captain Lake ascribed the discrepancy to the use of an unsuitable line carrying the fan, or propeller, of the log, which error he proposed to rectify upon a second trial.Lady Elliot Island was passed about six in the afternoon. This place is merely a low stretch of coral reef, standing only a few feet above the water level; but it bears a lighthouse, and it is of some importance geographically, as indicating the commencement of the Great Barrier Reef. A showery day, with a rather rough sea on, was followed by a bright and tranquil evening, so that we looked forward to enjoying a
On passing Percy Island No. 1 in the afternoon of the next day, the 22nd, Captain Lake mentioned that he knew the place well from a tragic incident that occurred there within his own knowledge. The captain has spent all his naval life on these coasts, and in the year 1854—some time before the separation of Queensland from New South Wales—the Government of Sydney sent out an expedition to make explorations along that portion of the territory. The party started from Brisbane in a cutter named the "Percy," and after making an inspection of various islands they came upon the one that was now in sight. As the place presented an inviting appearance, they all landed to make researches, with the exception of four men, who formed the crew of the little vessel. But they never returned, every one of them being murdered by the blacks. The geologist of the party, Mr. Strange, was a personal friend of our captain's, and the sad catastrophe was therefore stamped indelibly upon his memory. The island bears the name of the cutter, and the recollection of the tragedy is thus perpetuated.
A second trial of the taffrail log already mentioned was made on the 23rd, with much more satisfactory results. The instrument rings a bell every quarter of a mile traversed, and is self registering up to one hundred miles. Then the time is taken, and the same process is repeated, the instrument requiring no attention save oiling a couple of times a day.
We noticed here a peculiar yellowish scum spread over the surface of the ocean. Upon inquiring of our skipper what the substance was, he told me that seamen suppose it to be the spawn of the coral insect. Sometimes it is met with in such large quantities that a landsman would think that the vessel was running on a sandbank. The substance, whatever it may be, makes its appearance in these waters about the beginning of August, and is rarely seen later than December.
At 4 p.m. we passed Percy Island No 2, or rather, two islands divided from one another by a narrow strait. Seen under the tinted lights of a brilliant sunset, the place looks as lovely to the eye as Prospero's enchanted island. The sky was covered with those aerial "woolpacks" which the trade winds always bring with them, and the soft shadows of the silvery clouds flecked the green hillsides of the happy land. There is abundance of timber, pine, and grazing ground sufficient for a few thousand sheep in all seasons. An inlet runs up to a perfectly sheltered basin, navigable for small craft. Our second engineer had once been driven upon this island through stress of weather, and going ashore, he found a fine lake of fresh water, with unlimited fishing and shooting privileges for whomsoever chose to claim them. Two or three European settlers vegetate in calm contentment in this ideal island-pastoral solitude.
Pine island is the name of the adjacent small territory, and is so called from the immense quantity of white-stemmed pine, growing right up to the summit of the highest hills, which it contains. A lighthouse has recently been erected here, and the cottage of the keeper, standing amidst a grove of tall graceful pines, looks to the distant observer a charmingly romantic habitation for a sentimental hermit. Whilst we were gazing at the house through our glasses we caught sight of the lighthouse-keeper's wife walking up and down in the verandah, with her baby in her arms. We waved our handkerchiefs by way of kindly greeting, and the good woman, handing the baby to her husband, returned our salute. On the side of the island which fronts the continent the cliff is extremely steep, the rise and fall of the tide being fully twenty feet. To draw up the building materials and stores from the landing-place on the beach the aid of an iron-wire tramway is required.
I could not help thinking that this group of islands would be a most delightful place to spend a summer holiday. Access to the place could easily be obtained by means of a boat from the Australian Steam Navigation Company's vessel. The islands are well sheltered, game is abundant, and the climate is simply perfection; what other element of holiday enjoyment is needed? One of the settlers would, no doubt, readily lend his services to the party of excursionists, and what glorious campings out they would have! One of the group is named Sphinx
THE HAUNT OF THE ALLIGATOR, LALOKI RIVER
During the night our skipper was busily engaged superintending the navigation of the vessel through Whit-Sunday Passage, a narrow strait running through an almost bewildering maze of islands. This passage is counted the most beautiful spot in the whole extent of the Queensland coast. We cleared the passage at six in the morning, so that we just missed feasting our eyes on the varied loveliness of this romantic archipelago. Ever since passing Lady Elliot Island we have had perfectly calm seas and Italian skies; the vessel skims along the surface of the unruffled waves like a sea-bird; and one happy result of these favourable conditions is that not a soul amongst the party is now absent from the table at meal times.
Cape Upstart and Cape Bowling Green stand closely adjacent to one another, both named from their peculiar aspects. The one rises abruptly from the sea to a height of more than 1,000 feet; the other lies flat with the sea-level. A vessel might very easily run aground at the latter spot, as the captain of the S.S. "Gunga" found to his cost a few months ago, when he got stranded there. The casualty occurred in broad daylight, and so simply, that the wife of the lighthouse keeper, standing only a few yards inland, waved her apron to warn the skipper of his danger.
Late in the evening we entered Cleveland Bay, and dropped anchor in the open roadstead, about two miles from shore. Townsville stands upon the beach, on both sides of Ross's Creek, and high hills, rising abruptly, enclose it all round. I had learned from the Brisbane papers that "The Vagabond" was abroad in Northern Queensland, and next morning, upon landing, I encountered this particular eye of the "Melbourne Argus," looking as fresh and jolly as ever. By Mr. Julian Thomas I was introduced to Mr. Gulliver, of Acacia Vale, who received me very hospitably, and lent me the manuscript diary of Mr. Edelfeld, who had been employed by him in collecting botanical specimens in New Guinea. From the perusal of this record I gained much valuable information. Here a small flock of about fifty sheep were bought for the use of the expedition, the survivors of the voyage amongst the lot being reserved for pasturage at the Mission Station at Port Moresby. Amongst our visitors whilst at Townsville were Captain Sandeman and his amiable wife, who took a farewell dinner with us, and then returned home in their smart steam launch.
We left Townsville at 10 p.m. on the 24th, and next day at noon were abreast of the Johnston River, the scenery along the banks of which was described to me by "The Vagabond" as being more beautiful than anything he had ever seen, with the exception of the wizard Fijian streams.Cooktown was reached at 9 a.m. of the 26th. The wharf here is situated at the base of a steep hill, on the top of which stands the signalling station at an elevation of about 500 feet. As the cliff intercepts the cool south-east breezes, we began to experience, while lying here, the true tropical heat, the thermometer in the saloon rising to 80". So steep is the hill, that when the dwelling of the company's agent was being built, it was necessary to make an excavation in the side, in order to lay the foundations. The situation of the house exposes it to the danger of inundation from the tropical rains, but in the dry season the fresh water required for domestic purposes has to be carried up the steep ascent. On the opposite bank of the Endeavour River rises the volcanic pile, Mount Sanders, its rugged slopes deeply scarred and worn by the rains of many centuries. Cooktown wears a straggling and stagnant appearance, in this respect contrasting strongly with Townsville. As is usual with all the towns in Northern Queensland, galvanised corrugated iron is here the universal building material, being so useful as a rain-catching roofing. Walking through the town I noticed a good hospital (built on a principle that suits it to a tropical climate) and several churches and schools. At the girls' school the children were being taught their lessons on the shady side of the building under the verandah. Their appearance struck me as being particularly neat and tidy. I took two photographic views of the town, one of them from the summit of the hill, taking in the mangrove swamps of the Lower Endeavour River. The missionary schooner, the "Ellangowan," a very well-fitted and smart-looking craft, lay at the wharf next to our vessel, and H.M.S. "Raven" was moored a
ROASTING YAMS FOR BREAKFAST, BADEBA CREEK.
At daybreak Cape Flattery was passed, and, about 7 o'clock, Lizard Island, where a few years ago a party of Bêche-de-mer gatherers were murdered by the blacks. This incident was rendered memorable by a peculiarly tragic circumstance. Mrs. Wilson, the wife of one of the party, had accompanied her husband on the expedition. With her baby at her breast, she contrived to escape from the massacre, and accompanied by the Chinese cook to the party, put to sea in a ship's tank, in the hope of saving their lives. The poor fugitives drifted on to an island in the Howitt group, about forty miles to leeward, and there perished from want of water. The son of our skipper, happening to touch at this spot some months afterwards, found the skeletons of the poor mother and her babe lying on the beach, and that of the Chinaman a little way off. Beside the bleached remains of the mother lay a scrap of paper, upon which she had contrived to scribble, in the midst of her prolonged agony, a rough diary of the adventures and sufferings of herself and her companion. What unrecorded tragedies these sunlit ocean regions have witnessed!
Clearing Lizard Passage, and keeping the largest island of the Lizard group right astern, we steered straight for the mile-and-a-half opening in the Great Barrier Reef. Our skipper here mounted to the fore-cross-trees, to keep sharp observation of our course; nor was the precaution needless, for on both sides of our little craft we could plainly discern the long waves breaking heavily into foam on the coral reefs. Skilful piloting carried us safely through all dangers; and, the Barrier Reefs once cleared, our vessel ploughed securely the deep waters of the open Pacific, heaving into billows under the influence of the south-east trade winds.
A favourable run of thirty-six hours further brought us within sight of the shores of the island of our destination.