[King's Third Voyage--Early misadventures--Examines North-West coast closely--The Mermaid careened--Unforeseen result--Return to Sydney--The Bathurst--King's Fourth Voyage--Last of the Mermaid--Love's stratagem--Remarkable cavern--Extraordinary drawings--Chasm Island--South-West explorations--Revisits his old camp--Rich vegetation--Greville Island--Skirmish at Hanover Bay--Reminiscence of Dampier--His notes on the natives and their mode of living--Cape Levêque--Buccaneers' Archipelago--Provisions run out--Sails for the Mauritius--Survey of South-West re-commenced--Cape Chatham--Oyster Harbour anchorage--A native's toilet--Seal hunt--Friendly intercourse--Cape Inscription--Vandalism--Point Cloates not an island--Vlaming Head--Rowley Shoals--Cunningham--Botanical success--Rogers Island closely examined--Mainland traced further--An amazing escape from destruction--Relinquishment of survey--Sails for Sydney--Value of King's work--Settlement on Melville Island--Port Essington--Colonisation--Fort building--A waif--Roguish visitors--Garrison life--Change of scene--Raffles Bay--Dismal reports--Failure of attempt.]
King, now got ready for his third voyage, and on the 14th June, 1820, left Port Jackson to again encounter the perils of the north coast in his little cutter, with the addition to his company of Mr. James Hunter, as surgeon.
His late voyage had led him to recommend to vessels the passage of the Barrier Reef, between the reef and the shore, instead of the outside passage, that had been usually adopted by northern bound ships. His start was unfortunate; heavy weather set in, the cutter lost her bowsprit, and they had to put back. On the way up, after repairs had been effected, the little craft struck heavily on a sandbank, and damaged her hull considerably, but the voyage was continued.
On the 19th of August the voyagers were at their former anchorage at Goulburn Island, taking in fresh water, and watching narrowly for their old friends the natives, who were so long in making their appearance. They cut off Lieutenant Roe, when by himself, and nearly succeeded in spearing him; he was only rescued, when quite exhausted, by the boat's crew coming to his assistance.
King proceeded to examine that part of the north-west coast that M. Baudin had overlooked, more minutely than he had been enabled to do before. Reaching Hunter's River on September 14th, an opportunity was offered for filling the water casks. The harbour of this river is of considerable size, and in most parts offers good anchorage, with abundance of fuel and water. The harbour was called Prince Frederic's, and the sound that fronts it, York Sound.
"After passing Point Hardy we entered a fine harbour, bounded on the west by a group of islands, and on the east by the projection of land that forms the western side of Prince Frederic's Harbour. The flood tide was not sufficient to carry us to the bottom, so we anchored off the east end of the southernmost island of the group, which, on the occasion of the anniversary of the late king's coronation, was subsequently called the Coronation Islands. The harbour was called Port Nelson, and a high, rocky hill that was distinguished over the land to the southward received the name of Mount Trafalgar."
From the alarming increase of the leak which the Mermaid had sprung, it was found necessary to find a place to careen her in, in order, if possible, the damage might be repaired, that they might continue the survey, or, at least, ensure their safe return to Port Jackson. On the sandy beach of a bay, which they named Careening Bay, a place was found in every way suitable.
"These repairs were completed by the 28th, but just as we were congratulating ourselves upon having performed them, a fresh defect was discovered, which threatened more alarming consequences than the others. Upon stripping off some sheets of copper, the spike nails which fastened the planks were found to be decaying, and many were so entirely decomposed by oxidation that a straw was easily thrust through the vacant holes. As we had not enough nails to replace the copper, for that was now our only security, we could not venture to remove more than a few sheets from those parts which appeared to be the most suspicious, under all of which we found the nails so defective that we had reason to fear we might start some planks before we reached Port Jackson. . . When the repairs were completed, and the people were more at leisure, I made an excursion as far as Bat Island, off Cape Brewster. . . . Bat Island is a mass of sandstone superincumbent upon a quartzoze basis, and intersected by nearly vertical veins of white quartz, the surface of which was in a crystallised state. The floor of the cavern was covered with heaps of water-worn fragments of quartzoze rock containing copper pyrites, in some of which the cavities were covered by a deposit of greenish calcedony. The sides of the cavern had a stalagmitical appearance, but the recess was so dark that we could not ascertain either its formation or extent. . . . On first entering it we were nearly overpowered by a strong, sulphurous smell, which was soon accounted for by the flight of an incredible number of small bats, which were roosting in the bottom of the cave, and had been disturbed at our approach. We attempted to grope our way to the bottom, but not having a light, were soon obliged to give up its further examination. . . . From the summit of this place a set of bearings were obtained, particularly of the islands to the northward and westward, and Mr. Cunningham secured here specimens of eighteen different sorts of plants."
On the 9th, leaving Careening Bay, passing between Cape Brewster and the Coronation Islands, they enter a spacious sound, which received the name of Brunswick Sound. And here they also found and named the Prince Regent's River, afterwards the scene of Grey's discomfiture. Here it was patent that, in spite of their late repairs, the cutter leaked so much that, for the safety of the crew, King had reluctantly to return to Sydney; and when off Botany Bay, narrowly escaped total wreck during a dark and stormy night.
The tiny craft that had carried King so far and so safely was now laid up for repairs, and a brig of one hundred and fifty tons was purchased and re-christened the Bathurst. On the 26th of May, 1821, King sailed from Port Jackson upon his fourth and last voyage to the north coast, accompanied by the merchant ships Dick and San Antonio, bound for Batavia, who requested permission to accompany King through Torres Straits.
Meantime, the Mermaid had been thoroughly repaired and fitted out, leaving Port Jackson to carry the first establishment to Port Macquarie, on which service she was wrecked.
Their company now numbered thirty-three, but three days after they left port, King says:--
"A discovery was made of another addition to the crew. Upon opening the hold, which had been locked ever since the day before we sailed, a young girl, not more than fourteen years of age, was found concealed among the casks, where she had secreted herself in order to accompany the boatswain to sea. Upon being brought on deck she was in a pitiable plight . . . that her acquaintances, of which she had many on board, could scarcely recognise her. Upon being interrogated, she declared she had, unknown to all on board, concealed herself in the hold the day before the vessel sailed, and that her swain knew nothing of the step she had taken. As it was now inconvenient to return to put her on shore, and as the man consented to share his rations with her, she was allowed to remain; but in a very short time heartily repented of her imprudence, and would gladly have been re-landed, had it been possible."
Along the east coast the Bathurst was accompanied by the Dick and San Antonio, both going north, and near the wreck of the Frederick, they had a trifling brush with the natives. While here, Mr. Cunningham visited Clack's reef:
"The reef abounded with shells, of which they brought back a large collection, but not in any great variety; an indifferent Cypraea was the most common, but there were also some Volutae and other shells, besides trepang and Asteriae in abundance.
"Mr. Cunningham observed a singularly curious cavern upon the rock, of which he gave me a description in the following account of the island:--
"'The south and south-eastern extremes of Clack's Island presented a steep rocky bluff, thinly covered with small trees. I ascended the steep head, which rose to an elevation of a hundred and eighty feet above the sea.
"'The remarkable structure of the geological feature of this islet led me to examine the south-east part, which was the most exposed to the weather, and where the disposition of the strata was, of course, more plainly developed. The base is a coarse granular, silicious sandstone, in which large pebbles of quartz and jaspar are imbedded. This stratum continues for sixteen to twenty feet above the water; for the next ten feet there is a horizontal stratum of black schistose rock, which was of so soft a consistence, that the weather had excavated several tiers of galleries, upon the roof and sides of which some curious drawings were observed, which deserve to be particularly described. They were executed upon a ground of red ochre (rubbed on the black schistus), and were delineated by dots of white argillaceous earth, which had been worked up into a paste. They represented tolerable figures of sharks, porpoises, turtles, lizards (of which I saw several small ones among the rocks), trepang, star-fish, clubs, canoes, water-gourds, and some quadrupeds, which were probably intended to represent kangaroos and dogs. The figures, besides being outlined by the dots, were decorated all over with the same pigment in dotted transverse belts. Tracing a gallery round to windward, it brought me to a commodious cave, or recess, overhung by a portion of the schistous sufficiently large to shelter twenty natives, whose recent fire places appeared on the projecting area of the cave.
"'Many turtles' heads were placed on the shelfs or niches of the excavation, amply demonstrative of the luxurious and profuse mode of life these outcasts of society had, at a period rather recently, followed. The roof and sides of this snug retreat were also entirely covered with the uncouth figures I have already described.'
"As this is the first specimen of Australian taste in the fine arts that we have detected in these voyages, it became me to make a particular observation thereon. Captain Flinders had discovered figures on Chasm Island [Note, below] in the Gulf of Carpentaria, formed with a burnt stick, but this performance, exceeding a hundred and fifty figures, which must have occupied much time, appears at least to be one step nearer refinement than those simply executed with a piece of charred wood. Immediately above this schistose stratum is a superincumbent mass of sandstone, which appeared to form the upper stratum of the island."
[Note: "Chasm Island lies one mile and a half from a low point of Groote Eylandt, where the shore trends southward and seemed to form a bay. In the deep sides of the chasms were deep holes or caverns, undermining the cliffs; upon the walls of which I found rude drawings made with charcoal and something like red paint upon the white ground of the rock. These drawings represented porpoises, turtle, kangaroos, and a human hand; and Mr. Westall, who went afterwards to see them, found the representation of a kangaroo, with a file of thirty-two persons following after it. The third person of the band was twice the height of the others, and held in his hand something resembling the 'whaddie' or wooden sword of the native chiefs of Port Jackson, and was probably intended to represent a chief. They could not, as with us, indicate superiority by clothing or ornament, since they wear none of any kind, and, therefore, with the addition of a weapon similar to the ancients, they seem to have made superiority of person the principal emblem of superior power, of which, indeed, power is usually a consequence of the very early stages of society."]
From the wreck of the Frederick the crew had been busy during their stay here procuring all the spars and planks that would be of use to them, and on the 25th June the Bathurst got under weigh, and with her two companions resumed their course to the northward, following the same route as that traversed last year by the Mermaid--steering across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Cape Wessell, which they sighted on the 3rd June. Anchoring in South-West Bay, they landed at their former watering place on Goulburn Island, but found the stream had failed, and the parched appearance of the island showed that the season had been unusually dry. Leaving South-West Bay, they passed to the eastward of New Year's Island, and the following day sighted Cape Van Dieman. Here they parted company with their companions, the Dick and San Antonio, by an interchange of three cheers, the Dick having King's letters for conveyance to England. The course of the Bathurst was now south-west towards Cape Londonderry, sighting, during the next few days, Eclipse Hill, Sir Graham Moore's Islands, and Troughton Island. Light baffling winds detained them for two days in the vicinity of Cassini Island, and on the 23rd the Bathurst anchored about half a mile off the sandy beach of Careening Bay.
"As soon as the vessel was secured we visited the shore, and recognised the site of our last year's encampment, which had suffered no alteration except what had been occasioned by a rapid vegetation. A sterculia, the stem of which had served as one of the props of our mess tent, and to which we had nailed a sheet of copper, with an inscription, was considerably grown, and the gum had oozed out in such profusion where the nails had pierced the bark that it had forced one corner of the copper off. The large, gouty-stemmed tree on which the Mermaid's name had been carved in deep indented characters remained without any alteration, and seemed likely to bear the marks of our visit longer than any other memento we had left. The sensations experienced at revisiting a place which had so seasonably afforded us a friendly shelter and such unlooked-for convenience for our purposes, can only be estimated by those who have experienced them; and it is only to strangers to such feelings that it will appear ridiculous to say that even the nail to which our thermometer had been suspended was the subject of pleasurable recognition.
"No water in the gully where last year it was running, and no sign that it had contained any for some time, yet from the luxuriant vegetation and verdant appearance of the grass, it was the more astonishing. After examining the bight to the eastward, where formerly there had been a considerable stream, all hope of success in finding water here was given up, and an anchorage made in St. George's Basin, finding an abundant supply at the cascade in Prince Regent's River.
"While the boat's crew rested and filled their baricas, I ascended the rocks over which the water was falling, and was surprised to find its height had been so underrated when we passed by it last year; it was then thought to be about forty feet, but I now found it could not be less than one hundred and fifty. The rock--a fine-grained, silicious sandstone--is disposed in horizontal strata, from six to twelve feet thick, each of which projects about three feet from that above it, and forms a continuity of steps to the summit, which we found some difficulty in climbing; but where the distance between the ledges was great, we assisted our ascent by tufts of grass firmly rooted in the luxurious moss that grew abundantly about the watercourses. On reaching the summit, I found that the fall was supplied from a stream winding through rugged chasms and thickly-matted clusters of plants and trees, among which the pandanus bore a conspicuous appearance, and gave a picturesque richness to the place. While admiring the wildness of the scene, Mr. Montgomery joined me; we did not, however, succeed in following the stream for more than a hundred yards, for at that distance its windings were so confused among rocks and spinifex that we could not trace its course. Large groves of pandanus and hibiscus, and a variety of other plants, were growing in great luxuriance upon the banks of the Prince Regent's River, but, unhappily, the sterile and rocky appearance of the country was some alloy to the satisfaction we felt at the first sight of the fresh water."
Water had been obtained sufficient to last until October. Preparations were then made to leave this anchorage, when they explored Half-way Bay, finding in it a strait that communicated with Munster Water, so insulating the land that forms the northwest shore of the Bay. This island was named Greville Island.
Whilst in Hanover Bay, a skirmish with the natives enlivened proceedings. In spite of all the many warnings the party had received by this time, they would venture amongst the natives quite unarmed, and when their men came to their assistance the muskets, as a rule, would not go off. This time the surgeon, Mr. Montgomery, was speared in the back--fortunately, not fatally.
From Hanover Bay, King sailed some distance to the westward, anchoring on August 21st, near the Lacepede Islands. The next day Cape Baskerville was named, and the smoke of fires was noticed at intervals for miles along the shore; from which one might infer that this part of the coast was very populous. Captain Dampier saw forty Indians together on one of the rocky islands to the eastward of Cape Levêque, and in his quaint description of them says:--
"The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest people in the world. The Hodmadods, of Monomatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen to these, who have no houses and skin garments, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the earth, ostrich eggs, etc., as the Hodmadods have; and, setting aside their human shape, they differ but little from brutes. They are tall, straight-bodied, and thin, with small, long limbs. They have great heads, round foreheads, and great brows. Their eye-lids are always half-closed to keep the flies out of their eyes, they being so troublesome here that fanning will not keep them from coming to one's face; and without the assistance of both hands to keep them off, they will creep into one's nostrils, and mouth too, if the lips are not shut very close. So that, from infancy, being thus annoyed with those insects, they do never open their eyes as other people; and therefore they cannot see far unless they hold up their heads, as if they were looking at somewhat over them. They have great bottle noses, pretty full lips, and wide mouths. The two fore-teeth of their upper jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young. Whether they draw them out or not I know not. Neither have they any beards. They are long-visaged, and of a very unpleasant aspect, having not one graceful feature in their faces. Their hair is black, short, and curled like that of the negroes; and not long and lank like the common Indians. The colour of their skins, both of their faces and the rest of their body, is coal-black like that of the negroes of Guinea. They have no sort of clothes but a piece of the rind of a tree tied like a girdle about their waists, and a handful of long grass, or three or four small green boughs full of leaves thrust under their girdle to cover their nakedness. They. have no houses, but lie in the open air without covering, the earth being their bed and heaven their canopy.
"They live in companies-twenty or thirty men, women, and children together. Their only food is a small sort of fish, which they get by making weirs of stone across little coves or branches of the sea, every tide bringing in the small fish, and there leaving them a prey to these people, who constantly attend there to search for them at low water. This small fry I take to be the top of their fishery. They have no instruments to catch great fish should they come, and such seldom stay to be left behind at low water; nor could we catch any fish with our hooks and lines while we lay there. In other places, at low water, they seek for cockles, mussels, and periwinkles; of these shell-fish there are fewer still, so that their chief dependency is upon what the sea leaves in their weirs, which, be it much or little, they gather tip and march to the places of their abode. There is neither herb, root, pulse, nor any sort of grain for them to eat that we saw, nor any sort of bird or beast that they can catch, having no instruments. I did not perceive that they did worship anything. These poor people have a sort of weapon to defend their weirs or fight with their enemies, if they have any, that will interfere with their poor fishery. They did at first endeavour with their weapons to frighten us, who, lying ashore, deterred them from one of their fishing places. Some of them had wooden swords, others had a sort of lance. The sword is a long, straight pole, sharp at one end, and hardened afterwards by heat. I saw no iron, nor any sort of metal; therefore, it is probable they use stone hatchets. How they get their fire I know not, but, probably, as Indians do, out of wood. I have seen the Indians of Bon-Airy do it, and have myself tried the experiment. They take a flat piece of wood that is pretty soft, and make a small dent in one side of it; then they take another hard, round stick, about the bigness of one's little finger and sharpened at one end like a pencil; they put that sharp end in the hole or dent of the flat, soft piece, and then rubbing or twirling the hard piece between the palm of their hands, they drill the soft piece till it smokes and, at last, takes fire.
"These people speak somewhat through the throat, but we could not understand one word they said. . . . We went over to the islands, and there we found a great many of the natives. I do believe there were forty on one island--men, women, and children. The men, on our first coming ashore, threatened us with their lances and swords, but they were frightened by firing our gun, which we purposely fired over their heads. The island was so small that they could not hide themselves, but they were much disordered by our landing. This, their place of dwelling, was only a fire, with a few boughs before it, set up on the side the winds were off.
"After we had been here a little while, the men began to be familiar, and we clothed some of them, designing to have some service of them for it; for we found some wells of water here, and intended to carry two or three barrels of it aboard. But it being somewhat trouble some to carry to the canoes, we thought to have made these men to have carried it for us, and therefore, we gave them some old clothes; to one an old pair of breeches, to another a ragged shirt, to the third a jacket that was scarce worth owning, which yet would have been very acceptable at some places where we had been, and so we thought they might have been with these people. We put them on them, thinking that this finery would have brought them to work heartily for us; and our water being filled in small, long barrels, about six gallons in each, which were made purposely to carry water in, we brought these our new servants to the well, and put a barrel on each of their shoulders for them to carry to the canoe. But all the signs we could make were to no purpose, for they stood like statues, without motion, but grinned like so many monkeys, staring one upon another; for these poor creatures seem not accustomed to carry burthens, and I believe that one of our ship boys, of ten years old, would carry as much as one of them. So we were forced to carry our water ourselves, and they very fairly put the clothes off again, and laid them down, as if clothes were only to work in. I did not perceive that they had any great liking to them at first, neither did they seem to admire anything we had. Four men, captured while swimming, were brought aboard; two of them were middle aged, the other two young men about eighteen or twenty years old. To these we gave boiled rice, and with it turtle and manatee boiled. They did greedily devour what we gave them, but took no notice of the ship, or anything on it, and when they were set on land again, they ran away as fast as they could. At our first coming, before we were acquainted with them, or they with us, a company of them, who lived on the main, came just against our ship, and standing on a pretty high bank threatened us with their swords and lances, by shaking them at us; at last the captain ordered the drum to be beaten, which was done of a sudden with much vigour, purposely to scare the poor creatures. They, hearing the noise, ran away as fast as they could drive, and when they ran away in haste they would cry gurry-gurry, speaking deep down in the throat. Those inhabitants, also, that live on the main would always run away from us yet we took several of them. For, as I have already observed, they had such bad eyes that they could not see us till we came close to them; we did always give them victuals, and let them go again." ["Dampier." Vol. I, p464.]
August 20. King, when laying down the plan of the coast upon his chart, found Cape Levêque to be the point Dampier anchored under when on his buccaneering voyage in the Cygnet, 1688. In commemoration of his visit the name of Buccaneer's Archipelago was given to the islands that front Cygnet Bay, which bay is so named after his vessel; and on August 26, Roebuck Bay received its name after the ship Captain Dampier commanded when he visited this coast in 1699. Their water being nearly out, and the provisions generally being in a bad state, besides the want of a second anchor being very much felt, King deemed it prudent not to rely longer upon the good fortune that had attended them, but to sail for the Mauritius, entering Port Louis on September 26th.
On November 15th they were again ready for sea, and left the Mauritius to re-commence their survey on the south-west coast of New Holland. Sighting Cape Chatham, a course was directed to the eastward for King George's Sound, where they intended to get wood and water previous to commencing the examination, and anchored close to the entrance of Princess Royal Harbour. This harbour not proving suitable, their old anchorage in Oyster Harbour was taken up. The luxuriant growth of vegetation had almost entirely destroyed all traces of the visit of 1818. The garden in which Mr. Cunningham had planted seeds was covered with three or four feet of additional soil, formed of sand and decayed vegetable matter, and clothed with a thicket of plants in flower. The natives appeared to be very friendly, and some visited the vessel.
"After an absence of an hour our two friends returned, when it appeared that they had been at their toilet, for their noses and faces had evidently been fresh smeared over with red ochre, which they pointed out to us as a great ornament; affording another proof that vanity is inherent in human nature, and not merely the consequence of civilization.
"Two of them were watching a small seal that, having been left by the tide on the bank, was endeavouring to waddle towards the deep water. At last one of the natives, fixing his spear in its throwing-stick, advanced very cautiously, and when within ten or twelve yards, lanced it, and pierced the animal through the neck, when the other instantly ran up and stuck his spear into it also; and then, beating it about the head with a small hammer, very soon despatched it. This event collected the whole tribe to the spot, who assisted in landing their prize and washing the sand off the body. They then carried the animal to their fire, at the edge of the grass, and began to devour it even before it was dead. Curiosity induced Mr. Cunningham and myself to view this barbarous feast, and we landed about ten minutes after it had commenced. The moment the boat touched the sand the natives, springing up and throwing their spears away into the bushes, ran down towards us, and before we could land, had all seated themselves in the boat, ready to go on board, in as unceremonious a manner as passengers would seat themselves in a ferry-boat; but they were obliged to wait whilst we landed to witness their savage feast. On going to the place, we found an old man seated over the remains of the carcass, two-thirds of which had already disappeared. He was holding a long strip of the raw flesh in his left hand, and tearing it off the body with a sort of knife. A boy was also feasting with him, and both were too intent upon their breakfast to notice us, or to be the least disconcerted at our looking on. We, however, were very soon satisfied, and walked away perfectly disgusted with the sight of so horrible a repast, and the intolerable stench occasioned by the effluvia that arose from the dying animal, combined with that of the bodies of the natives, who had daubed themselves from head to foot with a pigment made of redocherous earth, mixed up with seal-oil. Returning on board, the natives were very attentive to the mixture of a pudding, and a few small dumplings were made and given to them, which they put on the bars of the fire-place, but, being too impatient to wait until they were baked, ate them in a doughy state, with much relish. One of them, an old man, was very attentive to the sail-makers cutting out a boat's sail, and, at his request, was presented with all the strips that were of no use. When it was completed, a small piece of canvas was missing. After a great search, in which the old rogue assisted, it was found secreted under his arm. The old man appeared ashamed and conscious of his guilt, and although he was frequently afterwards with us, yet he always hung down his head and sneaked into the background."
So with the exception of a few thefts all communication with the natives was here carried on in a most friendly manner, and on the 1st of January the anchors were lifted, and the Bathurst left for Seal Island, where they intended to refit the sails. Leaving King George's Sound they sailed at a distance from the land to ensure a quicker passage to Cape Péron, Flinders and M. Baudin having minutely examined the coast between.
Frederick Houtman's Abrolhos were sighted on January 17th, and the passage or channel between the Abrolhos Bank and the coast has been distinguished by the name of Vlaming's ship, the Geelvink, since she was the first vessel that passed there, 1697. The cliffs of Red Point named by Vlaming partake of a reddish tinge, and appear to be of horizontal strata; behind Red Point is a bight, named by the French Gantheaume Bay. Reaching Dirk Hartog's Island they anchored off Cape Inscription, and searched for the historical plates, but although the posts were standing, the plates had been removed.
King found that former navigators had taken that part of the coast he named Point Cloates for an island, calling it Cloates Island; the next day Vlaming Head, of the North-West Cape, came in sight, and a north course bore him to Rowley Shoals, wishing to fix their position with greater correctness, and to examine the extent of the bight round Cape Levêque, which during the earlier part of their voyage they were obliged to leave unexplored. Landing next at Point Cunningham, Mr. Cunningham botanized with great success; a fresh stream was running down the rocks into the sea, and at the back of the beach was a hollow full of sweet water; the heat was terrible, and the soil of a red coloured earth of a very sandy nature.
Another anchor lost, in a bay they afterwards called Disaster Bay. The succession of bad weather, and only one anchor left, made it desirable to go to Port George the Fourth, as they wanted both food and water; and during the delay here, a part of the crew in the boats could examine the islands in Rogers Strait, and trace the continuation of the mainland, behind the. islands, that forms the south-east coast of Camden Bay, of which nothing was known; also continuing the examination of the deep bay behind Montgomery's Islands, and connect that part with the gulf or strait behind Buccaneers' Archipelago, which King felt sure existed. Here they had a most amazing escape, that reads more like fiction than sober fact. The astonishing influx and reflux of the tides amongst these islands had been noticed by Dampier, and had led that navigator to conclude that a strait or large river must be situated near this part of the coast. Whilst among these islands, King was caught in one of these tidal draughts during a dead calm. The following is his description of the position. He was at the mast-head--his usual position for conning the ship when near the land--but seeing his vessel carried swiftly and, as he thought, inevitably on the rocks, he descended to the deck:--
"Happily, however, the stream of the tide swept us past the rocks without accident, and after carrying us about half-a-mile farther, changed its direction to south-east, and drifted us towards a narrow strait separating two rocky islands, in the centre of which was a large insulated rock, that seemed to divide the stream. The boat was now hoisted out to tow, but we could not succeed in getting the vessel's head round. As she approached the strait the channel became much narrower, and several islands were passed at not more than thirty yards from her course. The voices of natives were now heard, and soon afterwards some were seen on either side of the strait, hallooing and waving their arms. We were so near to one party that they might have thrown their spears on board. BY this time we were flying past the shore with such velocity that it made us quite giddy; and our situation was too awful to give us time to observe the motions of the Indians; for we were entering the narrowest part of the strait, and the next moment were close to the rock, which it appeared almost impossible to avoid, and it was more than probable that the stream it divided would carry us broadside upon it, when the consequences would have been dreadful. The current, or sluice, was setting past the rock at the rate of eight or nine knots, and the water being confined by its intervention, fell at least six or seven feet; at the moment, however, when we were upon the point of being dashed to pieces, a sudden breeze providentially sprang up, and filling our sails, impelled the vessel forward three or four yards. This was enough, but only just sufficient, for the rudder was not more than six yards from the rock. No sooner had we passed this frightful danger than the breeze fell again, and was succeeded by a dead calm; the tide, however, continued to carry us on with a gradually decreasing strength until one o'clock, when we felt very little effects from it."
This was the last danger that King was to escape on the north-west coast, as after a little more examination of the neighbourhood of this dangerous archipelago, the thick weather and easterly winds compelled him to relinquish his work and sail for Sydney.
King left the coast thoroughly impressed with the idea that behind Buccaneers' Archipelago there was, if anywhere, an opening into the interior of New Holland; the constant loss' of his anchors had prevented him from confirming his conjecture; but he had good reason for then thinking so. In these days of strong, well-found surveying steamers, it is wonderful to recall the work that King did in the Mermaid, amongst all the dangers of unknown seas, and constantly having to get his wood and water in the face of hostile savages.
It was not long after his return to England, and whilst engaged preparing his journal for publication, that he heard a settlement had been founded on Melville Island, one of his discoveries. As this settlement was in accordance with his recommendation, and a detailed account of its foundation has not been given in these pages, the present may be a fitting time to do so.
It must be remembered that this settlement was finally, after many removals, abandoned, and the one established at Port Essington, when Leichhardt arrived there, was a second attempt at colonisation.
The Tamar, under captain Bremer, left Sydney in August, 1824, having with her the Countess of Harcourt, and that ever useful colonial brig, the Lady Nelson.
Arrived at Port Essington, the little fleet anchored off Table Point, the marines landed, the Union Jack was hoisted, and formal possession taken of the north coast of Australia, between the meridians of 129 deg. and 136 deg. east of Greenwich. After the Tamar had fired a royal salute, and the marines three volleys, the business of finding a site commenced.
This was no such easy matter, the first object being to find fresh water; parties were despatched in all directions, but for a long time unsuccessfully; at last some was obtained at a sandy point, where there was an old Malay encampment, but it was a deficient supply, only to be got by digging holes in the sand, and the inducements for remaining were not considered sufficiently attractive. An examination of St. Asaph Bay, in Melville Island, was next made, and possession taken in like manner; but no fresh water was forthcoming there, and at last, after much searching, a small river and plenty of water were found in another part of Melville Island, opposite Harris Island. A point of the land for the town was fixed upon, and named Point Barlow, after the commandant. The cove where the ship anchored was called King's Cove, and the entrance to Apsley Strait, Port Cockburn.
A redoubt was built of logs, seventy-five feet long by fifty broad, and a ditch dug surrounding it; the quarter-deck guns were mounted, the colours hoisted, and it was formally christened Fort Dundas, under a royal salute from itself.
After all this display of enthusiasm and gunpowder, work commenced in earnest, quarters were built inside the stockade, a deep well sunk, a wharf constructed, and gardens laid out.
As might have been reasonably supposed, the evil-disposed natives of the island soon got over their first scare at this invasion of their territory. At first they came into the fort in friendly guise.
"I was greatly astonished to see amongst them," says Lieutenant Roe, "a young man of about twenty years of age, not darker in colour than a Chinese, but with perfect Malay features, and like all the rest, entirely naked; he had daubed himself all over with soot and grease to appear like the others, but the difference was plainly perceptible. On observing that he was the object of our conversation, a certain archness and lively expression came over his countenance, which a native Australian would have strained his features in vain to produce. It seems probable that he must have been kidnapped when very young, or found while astray in the woods."
All this friendliness soon disappeared, the aborigines took to robbing the working parties of their tools, and spear and musket soon came to be used on either side. Up to the time the Tamar left, however, no harm had been done. In all, the settlement consisted of one hundred and twenty-six individuals, of whom four were women, and forty-five convicts.
The fortunes of this little colony, and even its existence, being almost forgotten, it may be interesting to the reader to follow them to the end. After the Tamar left for India, and the Countess of Harcourt proceeded on her voyage, the settlement was left with the colonial brig, the Lady Nelson, as the nucleus of a fleet, but she sailed for Timor, and was never heard of again. The hostility of the natives increased, and the Malays, who were expected to visit and trade with the English, did not put in an appearance, it being out of the track of their proas; and of Fort Dundas, of which such high hopes were entertained, in a few short years not a vestige remained.
At last, what with scurvy amongst the garrison (which, considering the amount of vegetables grown, should not have been the case), the incessant feud with the natives, the most gloomy reports were sent down at every opportunity afforded by a vessel calling. Latterly, it was unsafe to venture out of the camp unarmed, and the surgeon and commissariat officer were murdered only a few yards from the stockade. The public policy pursued was not of a liberal nature, and it was decided to try the experiment of a settlement on the mainland.
As it was considered that Port Essington was deficient in fresh water, Raffles Bay was selected, and two years before Melville Island was finally abandoned, Captain Stirling, of the Success, was ordered to proceed there. The settlement was formed on the 18th June, and in honour of the date, was called Fort Wellington.
The usual scene of activity ensued, the erection of a house, the formation of a garden, and finally, the old routine of commencing intercourse with the natives; then the thieving and the usual retaliation.
Two shipwrecked men were picked up during the early days of the settlement, one a Portuguese sailor belonging to the Frederick, wrecked on the east coast, so often mentioned by King. This man, in company with two others, had escaped in a small boat, and reached Port Essington, where his two companions had died. The other was a Lascar belonging to the ship Fame, that had been wrecked in the straits. He had been with the blacks six or seven years.
On the final abandonment of Melville Island, in 1829, the live animals, stores, plants, etc., were transferred to Raffles Bay, but although such doleful accounts of the island had been sent down, Captain Lawes, who visited it only a few months before the removal, gives a favourable report of its healthiness, and of the success attending the growth of vegetables and tropical fruits. The same dismal reports concerning the unhealthiness of the climate were reported about Raffles Bay, and, much to the surprise of the commandant, Captain Barker, orders were received to abandon that place, too, in the same year.
On the 28th of August the abandonment took place. The principal natives, who had been admitted near the settlement, were taken over the stockade and garden, and an attempt made to teach them the value of the fruits.
The whites left behind them orange, lime, and lemon trees, bananas, in abundance, shaddocks, citrons, pine-apples, figs, custard apples, cocoa-nuts, sugar-cane, and many other plants. In addition, paw-paws, bananas, and cocoa-nuts were planted in many other places where it was thought they would thrive.
Poultry, pigs, a bull and three cows (buffaloes), a Timor horse, and mare in foal, were also left, in the hope of their increasing. An old Union Jack was then nailed on the deserted fort, and the garrison went on board the brig. On notice being given of the intended removal, a disposition to abscond had been evinced by many of the prisoners. Some succeeded; the idea being to hide until the departure of the commandant, and then live with the natives until the arrival of the Malay proas. All returned and gave themselves up with the exception of two, and these two were left behind. Their fate is of course unknown. This was the end of the first attempt at colonisation of the north coast.