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Report of Captain Bannister's Journey in King George's Sound, over Land, Feb. 5th, 1831

A REPORT of Captain Bannister's Journey to King George's Sound, over Land.

February 5th, 1831.


I beg leave to state to you, for the information of his Excellency, the Lieutenant Governor, that agreeably to the instructions contained in a letter of the 5th of December last, which his Excellency did me the honour to address to me, I on the 14th of December, accompanied by Mr. Smythe, of the Surveyor General's Department, John Gringer, and John Galway, commenced our journey from Fremantle to King Georges Sound. To Mr. Smythe was entrusted the direction of our route. I understood he had been furnished with all that was requisite from the office, to enable him to do so. I shall take as rapid a sketch as possible of our route, remarking merely what I consider main features on it, begging leave to refer his Excellency to my journal for details, and also to the plan which Mr. Smythe will furnish. I have not attempted to give any details of the mineralogical or botanical productions of the country, as, even if I were capable, it would be impossible, except by accident, to come to any sound opinion on the former, and the latter would have required more time than we had to bestow. I have confined myself simply to the nature of the land, the timber upon on it, and the rivers, &c. flowing through it, together with the bearings of a few remarkable hills. As to the trees, I have used such terms as are generally known in the colony, with a view that the details in the journal, if thought worth reading, might be clearly understood by all. In the first instance, we proceeded to St. Anne's Mountain, on the left bank of the Canning, above Kelmscott about ten miles, when, for the convenience of water, making the Canning, as I knew we should do so in several places, and also that we might cross the Darling Range quickly, we took a S.E. course, and passed the range from the summit of St. Anne's Hill in two days, travelling only about twenty miles. These hills are exceedingly rugged, but on them the finest timber, known in the colony by the name of mahogany; in some of the valleys tolerably good soil, of a light hazel colour, with an abundance of herbage, fit for cattle on their way from a good interior country to the coast; on the uplands iron-stone, with a little gravel and scrub. Arriving on the eastern side of the range in the evening of the 18th, I was induced, seeing a hilly though lower country before us, to continue our route to the S.E., in the hope of entering on those extensive plains of which Mr. Dale and others had spoken so favourably, as being a few miles more to the northward; we therefore pursued the S.E. course until the 23d of December, when coming to a more level country, and by Mr. Smythe's observations, we were in lat. 33°3', long. 117°15'. we changed our route to the S. by E. From the higher range of Darling's Mountains to the point where we changed our direction, we computed it to be about forty miles; and the Assistant Surveyor's observations agreeing with distance supposed to have been traversed at the time, I concluded our position as correctly laid down. The character of the country through which we had passed, was generally not so good as I had hoped to have seen, but there were not wanting tracts of excellent land—that for upwards of six miles broad, for instance, as mentioned in the Journal of the 19th December;—and as it is a country in which there is a great deal of food for stock, I would by no means condemn it; on the contrary, my impression was, on a closer examination, there will be found available land to a considerable extent to the west and east, in both of which directions the water courses tended generally, and in their courses the soil was generally a very fair brown loam. The timber is the mahogany, the blue and red gums, with (in the valleys of the last few miles) the white gum; in the swamps, and very low lands, the banksia and tea tree. From the 23d to the 5th of January we pursued a S. by E. course for eighty or ninety miles of actual distance, through, in many tracks, a country which surpassed our most sanguine expectations; a very great proportion of this tract was land of the first description, fit for the plough, sheep, or cattle. The beauty of the scenery near to, and distant from, the rivers which we crossed, is equal to any I have seen in the most cultivated timbered country, in those parts of Europe which I have happened to pass through. The character of the country generally is undulating, with here and there moderately high hills, some of them crowned with rocks of granite, pudding-stone rocks, and a blue stone; but there are broad flat lands and valleys, the former of which, as will be seen in the Journal, not unfrequently extended several miles, even in some places far beyond our power to ascertain. The hills were in general so gradual in their ascent, that where those of a rougher character were seen, they only gave a certain character to the country, that destroyed the dull feeling of the mind which a mere flat country engenders in many. When I consider that the rivers, five of which we crossed, not to mention the numerous water courses, some of which still had water in pools in them, traversed the country from E. to W., and that our course being nearly N. and S. we cut them; I cannot but think that the colony must possess a body of fertile land, of no inconsiderable magnitude, in this part of its territory. I am the more sanguine in this view, from the fact of our having taken excursions from our bivouac of the 24th of December (when we were detained several days by the state of our horses) for several miles in every direction, and each night we returned exceedingly gratified. It may not, perhaps, be uninteresting to mention, that on the first of June we entered a country in which grows a tree, about as large as an Englidi plum tree, not unlike it in its size, in its leaf and branches, but its stem resembles more that of the pear tree when old; it bears a nut almost round, having a strong shell, and as large as a pigeon's egg, with small holes in it similar to the almond, and an out covering, which it throws off appar ently when ripe. The kernel we found nutritious, possessing a glutinous property, and very easy of digestion. I am afraid to say more, lest disappointment should be felt by any individual whose fortune may lead him to this remote part of the world; but unquestionably, from the quantity of good land, the excellence of the water, which I have no doubt, when the country becomes known, might be obtained, renders it not undeserving of the closest examination. The trees are the mahogany on the higher and rugged lands, but among them the white and red gum. I should remark, that in this district it most frequently happens that under them we found herbage generally, which affords excellent food for stock at this unfavourable season of the year; many parts had recently been burnt, probably last year, and this year the herbage was quite green and fresh. On the sides of the hills, the lowlands, and crowning the more moderately high hills, grew the white and red gum generally, and the nut tree, near to the rivers and large water courses, a few of the blue gums, and the wattle, and on the immediate banks of the rivers the tea tree, and banksia, &c. In many places the country had a most fertile appearance, not possessing more timber than was necessary for ornament.

As by Mr. Smythe's observations we were to the east of King George's Sound, it was deemed necessary to proceed more westerly. (By his observations we were got quite near to our destination, but experience proved that his observations were erroneous, and that our travelling had been greatly overrated). Seeing, therefore, some elevated lands to the S.W., distant one mile and three-quarters, we turned towards them, and ascending the highest, but not observing any thing satisfactory, we pursued four days and a half a course to the S., making forty miles. We were then, owing to the difficulty, it being mountainous and the underwood extremely thick, obliged to bear away to the S. by W, which course we pursued for a day and a half, making sixteen miles and a half; thence coming to some granite rocks, and seeing from them some high mountains, three of which were conical and of considerable altitude, one of them had two bare heads,—and Mr. Smythe being of opinion that this twoheaded mountain was to the north of King George's Sound—we directed our steps towards it, halting for the night on the banks of a considerable river flowing to the south. The following morning, the 12th of January, on reaching it, left the men and ascended to the summit, from which nothing satisfactory could be seen; as far as the eye could reach, was one vast forest; to the S. and S.W. by W. high lands, twenty to thirty miles distant. The intermediate country presented occasional open valleys, winding between apparently moderately high hills to the eastward; in the distance, were high hills or mountains; behind the southern hills, we hoped to come to the sea, a matter now of great importance to us, as our provisions were nearly expended; we therefore, seeing, as we imagined, through the smoke and haze, sand hills bearing S.W. by W., directed our steps towards them, until the evening of the following day, making seventeen miles, when, not finding the hills we had hoped to have reached, we turned due south, determined to pursue it, until I came to the sea, as, from whatever cause, I was almost certain that we were a long distance from King George's Sound, and that, consequently, our provisions being all expended, with the exception of tea for twelve days, and a little tobacco, our very existence depended upon procuring shell-fish from the rocks. Shooting birds was very uncertain, and kangaroos more so.

On the 16th we made the coast, having for the last day, traversed as rough a country as can be imagined. We travelled two days and could only make seven or eight miles by toiling the whole day: by Mr. Smythe's observation, we were only forty three miles west of King George's Sound, but it proved to be to the eastward of Cape Chatham,—west of Nornor-up, nine miles; we had made, therefore, but about twenty miles west since turning from our S. by E. line on the 5th of January. Mr. Smythe attributes the mistakes in his observations to his not having a watch, and partly to the instruments with which he was furnished from his office, being out of order. He will, I trust, be able to give, a satisfactory explanation to his Excellency. The country through which we passed to the double peaked mountain, which proved to be the Mount Mitchell of Dr. Wilson, and the Matchercrop of the natives. Dr. Wilson saw it when twenty miles off; to the eastward, is, in general, very hilly, and in tracts, may be called mountainous; the soil is of an excellent quality in many places. On the 6th and 9th for instance, before we came to the considerable rivers which I mention having crossed on those days, and after you have crossed them, you find a rich brown earth. On the 6th, it will be observed, the land was not much encumbered by timber, and neither was it on the 9th, immediately near to the river; but the latter was a much more hilly country; the grass and herbage, of an excellent description, was thick, and higher than the knee, nearly up to the summit of the hills; we thought that an immense number of stock might be kept there (near the banks of the rivers) in the driest months; but away from them I am not quite so clear, except the settler went to the expence of deepening some of the channels of the water course; but really, journeying as we did through the country, it is next to impossible to say what capabilities it has or has not. These were not the only days on which we passed over, for a considerable distance, what appeared to us to be fair land, but so thickly timbered, it would require great nerve in a settler, and great support from Government, to venture among them, with any hope (without great means) of success. The forest trees are, the mahogany, the red and white gum. On the higher hills, and on the poor lands, the former predominated,—on the lower lands, and sides of the hills, where good land was, the latter; there were the usual trees, such as the banksia, tea tree, &c., in this tract; as for underwood, there was great quantity in some places. From the double peaked mountain to the coast, is only about thirty miles; we made first seventeen miles to the S.W. ½ W., then sixteen or eighteen miles to the south. To attempt to say anything of the soil for a considerable distance, except that which we actually trode upon, and the open valleys and swamps, would be absurd; the underwood was so thick, that it was, in many places, with the greatest difficulty that we could get on, and occasionally we were obliged to make a road with our hatchet. The trees were principally the blue gum; and if others had not seen them, I should be afraid to speak of their magnitude; I measured one, it was, breast-high, forty-two feet in circumference; in height, before a branch, 140 or 150 we thought at least, and as straight as the barrel of a gun: from the immense growth of these trees, I formed an opinion that the land upon which they grew could not be bad; what little we did see was a brown loam, capable of any cultivation, and where the underwood was not remarkably thick, grass and herbage grew luxuriantly,—such was the character of the country generally as far as we could see; at a distance, you would suppose that the country was very undulating, and broken in places; but the height of the woods give it a much higher appearance than it really has, and being intersected with swamps and valleys, with very few trees on them, and those of stunted banksia or tea tree, they have the full advantage of their height. In these valleys there is a vast quantity of feed for stock, but not sheep: coarse grass herbage and brush—they are dry enough in summer to pass over—some of them are several miles in length, and one or two broad. Within five miles of the sea, you come to sand hills, which are as difficult to pass over as the woods, for the horses, being extremely broken; those over which we passed were well calculated for sheep, being covered with an abundance of grass, a pea, thorn, and the peppermint. We had now been absent frwn Fremantle thirty-three days; we had halted, on account of our horses, six days, and had made, on some days, very little head-way, on one occasion only three miles. We reached the coast, therefore, in twenty-seven days travelling; had we not turned off on the 5th of January, I have not a doubt but that we should have reached our destination in twenty-eight days, including our six days halt, since we should soon have entered upon the country described by Dr. Wilson, and we should have escaped a most difficult march to the coast, and also the disasters and sufferings to which we were exposed while on the coast for nineteen days without provisions, and for several days before we reached it. But then, if I may be permitted to remark it, if this colony prospers,—and from the body of good land in the interior, of the existence of which I have now no doubt,—a certain good will arise from our disasters, since I am tolerably certain it would not have been traversed for years to come; and, consequently, the fact of there being good land, even among these hills, would not have been known to exist. I shall not trouble his Excellency with a long detail of our sufferings; I shall merely state, that we were on the coast for nineteen days, depending entirely upon shell-fish for subsistence; sometimes, where we found them, and the surf was not too great, we fared pretty well. The delay this mode of procuring subsistence occasioned, together with the exceeding bad travelling for our horses, (two of which, on our arrival on the coast, were very nearly exhausted, though they had but little to carry,) was very great, and the fatigue excessive, so that by the time we arrived at King George's Sound, we were all nearly exhausted, though we were able the last day, through the friendly aid of the natives, (who showed us the native path,) to walk twelve miles, all, with the exception of John Gringer, carrying knapsacks. This man would have suffered as much as any of us, had he carried the same weight. It will be seen, that on the 21st and 27th of January, we lost two of the horses, they could go no farther; I beg you will assure his Excellency they were done every justice to by the men who led them,—privation, want of rest, and exceeding bad travelling, were the causes of their death. We passed round an estuary, "Nornorlip," nine miles from where we made the coast; had time permitted, or, in other words, had we had provisions, we should have examined the entrance to this sheet of water, which I have since heard, possesses a port for large vessels. We succeeded, at low water, in crossing at a depth of at most four feet, the outlets of two estuaries; they were apparently as large as the Murray Waters; besides these, the outlets of two other estuaries, which were choked up by sand thrown up by the S.E. wind. I beg to refer his Excellency to Mr. Smythe's plan for an outline of the coast and of these waters;—it will be sufficient for me to say here, that the land, near the coast, is generally high, having headlands of granite rocks, which appear here and there in the bays; some of these bays have a tolerable beach, with high sand hills, at the back of these we principally travelled, and it is as fatiguing a country as ever man or horse walked over; for about three miles inland, there is but little wood,—in the hollows, a few of the banksia, a little cedar, swamp oak, tea tree, grass tree, scrub, and bushes, and, I should add, the peppermint tree, and always water.

On the 4th of February we arrived here. I have not words to convey to his Excellency the great kindness and friendship (of which we stood in the greatest need) with which we were received by Captain Barker, (the commandant,) and officers of the settlement. Dr. Davies, of the 39th, and Mr. Kent, of the Commissariat; and, under the care of Dr. Davies, the party, I trust, will soon recover its strength. From what I have written, it will be concluded, and justly so, that there is a body of available land, with certain extensive tracts or the richest description, fit for the plough, sheep, or cattle, or indeed any cultivation in the interior commencing about twenty-five or thirty miles from King George's Sound, which, under a judicious system of colonization, the main roads being made in the first instance by forced labour, would, in the course of a few years, become inhabited by thousands of industrious men, sent out by the parishes of England, Scotland, or Ireland, or brought out by individuals bettering their condition, as well as relieving their country. I have been induced to make this remark, from the conviction that we can do nothing without the powerful aid of Government, in our infancy. Like every young community, we must be nursed at first, which, though perhaps a little costly^ will give rise to a good feeling to- wards our country^ in those who follow us, which will last for ages.
I have the honor to be,
Your obedient humble Servant,
(Signed) Thomas Bannister.
To J. S. Roe, Esq.
Surveyor General, Perth.

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