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Australian Search Party by Charles Henry Eden



IN a former narrative, published in the preceding volume of the ILLUSTRATED
TRAVELS, I gave an account of a terrible cyclone which visited the
north-eastern coast of Queensland in the autumn of 1866, nearly destroying
the small settlements of Cardwell and Townsville, and doing an infinity of
damage by uprooting heavy timber, blocking up the bush roads, etc.  Amongst
other calamities attendant on this visitation was the loss of a small
coasting schooner, named the 'Eva', bound from Cleveland to Rockingham Bay,
with cargo and passengers.  Only those who have visited Australia can
picture to themselves the full horror of a captivity amongst the degraded
blacks with whom this unexplored district abounds; and a report of white
men having been seen amongst the wild tribes in the neighbourhood of the
Herbert River induced the inhabitants of Cardwell to institute a search
party to rescue the crew of the unhappy schooner, should they still be
alive; or to gain some certain clue to their fate, should they have

In my former narrative I described our exploration of the Herbert River,
lying at the south end of Rockingham Channel, with its fruitless issue; and
I now take up the thread of my story from that point, thinking it can
hardly fail to be of interest to the reader, not only as regards the wild
nature of the country traversed, but also as showing the anxiety manifested
by the inhabitants of these remote districts to clear up the fate of their
unhappy brethren.  I may also here mention, for the information of such of
my readers as may not have read the preceding portions of the narrative,
that Cardwell is the name of a small township situated on the shores of
Rockingham Bay; and that Townsville is a settlement some hundred miles
further south, known also as Cleveland Bay.


We were all much pleased at a piece of intelligence brought up by the
'Daylight', to the effect that a party of volunteers had been assembled at
Cleveland Bay, and intended coming up in a small steamer to the south end
of Hinchinbrook, to assist in the search for the missing crew.  As it would
be of the utmost importance that both parties should co-operate, I sent my
boat down to the mouth of the channel, with a note to the leader of the
expedition announcing our intention of landing on the north end of the
island and working towards the centre; and requesting them to scour their
end, and then push northward, when we should most probably meet in the
middle of the island.  The boat had orders to wait at the bar until the
arrival of the steamer, and then to return with all speed.  In the
meanwhile, the 'Daylight' was discharging her cargo, and we were making
preparations for what we well knew would prove a most arduous undertaking;
the sequel will show that we did not overrate the difficulties before us.

At the risk of being tedious, I must explain to the reader some of the
peculiarities of Hinchinbrook Island.  Its length is a little short of
forty miles, and its shape a rude triangle, the apex of which is at the
south, and the north side forming the southern portion of Rockingham Bay.
Now this north side is by no means straight, but is curved out into two or
three bays of considerable extent, and in one of them stand two islands
named Gould and Garden Islands.  The latter of these was our favourite
resort for picnics, for the dense foliage afforded good shade, and, when
the tide was low, we were enabled to gather most delicious oysters from
some detached rocks.  Gould Island is considerably larger; but, rising in a
pyramid from the sea, and being covered with loose boulders, it was most
tedious climbing.  From the township we could, with our glasses, see canoes
constantly passing and repassing between these two islands; and as the
'Daylight' had a particularly heavy cargo this trip, and would not be clear
for the next two days, we made up our minds to search the islands, and
drive the blacks on to Hinchinbrook, so that one of our parties must
stumble across them when we swept it.  This may seem to the reader
unnecessary trouble, but most of our party were conversant with the habits
of the blacks and their limited method of reasoning; and we judged it
probable that the Herbert River gins would have at once acquainted the
Hinchinbrook blacks with our unceremonious visit, and warned them that we
should probably soon look them up also.  Now on the receipt of this
unwelcome intelligence, the first thing that would strike the blacks would
be the facilities for concealment afforded by Gould or Garden Islands, more
particularly had they any captives; and they would say to themselves that
we should certainly overlook these two out-of-the-way little spots; and
when we were busy on Hinchinbrook, they could easily paddle themselves and
their prisoners to some of the more distant chain of islands, where they
could lie by until all fear of pursuit was past.  Such was the opinion both
of the troopers and of the experienced bushmen; and as we were fully
resolved to leave them no loophole for escape, we jumped into our boat and
pulled gently over to Garden Island.

It was about seven o'clock in the morning when we started, six strong --
four whites, and Cato, and Ferdinand -- well armed, and with a good supply
of provisions.  The sun was already very hot, and the water smooth as
glass, save where the prow of the boat broke the still surface into a tiny
ripple, which continued plainly visible half a mile astern.  I find it
difficult to bring before the reader the thousand curious objects that met
us on our way.  The sullen crocodile basking in the sun, sank noiselessly;
a splash would be heard, and a four feet albicore would fling himself madly
into the air, striving vainly to elude the ominous black triangle that cut
the water like a knife close in his rear.  Small chance for the poor
fugitive, with the ravenous shark following silent and inexorable.  We lay
on our oars and watched the result.  The hunted fish doubles, springs
aloft, and dives down, but all in vain; the black fin is not to be thrown
off, double as he may.  Anon the springs become more feeble, the pursuer's
tail partly appears as he pushes forward with redoubled vigour, a faint
splash is heard, the waters curl into an eddy, and the monster sinks
noiselessly to enjoy his breakfast in the cooler depths beneath.  And now
we come to a sand bank running out some miles or so into the bay, and on
which the water is less than three fathoms.  Here the surface is broken by
huge black objects, coming clumsily to the top, shooting out a jet of
spray, and again disappearing.  We let the boat glide gently along until
she rests motionless above the bank, and stooping over the side with our
faces close to the water, and sheltered by our hands, we can peer down into
the placid depths, and see the huge animals grazing on the submarine
vegetation with which their favourite feeding-place is thickly overgrown.
But what animal is he talking about? the reader will ask.  It is the dugong
('Halicore Australis'), or sea-cow, from whence is extracted an oil equal
to the cod-liver as regards its medicinal qualities, and far superior to it
in one great essential, for instead of a nauseous disagreeable flavour, it
tastes quite pleasantly.  It frequents the whole of the north-eastern coast
of Australia, and when the qualities of the oil first became known, it was
eagerly sought after by invalids who could not overcome their repugnance to
the cod-liver nastiness.  The fishermen, however, spoilt their own market,
for greed induced them to adulterate the new medicine with shark oil, and
all kinds of other abominations, so that the faculty were never quite
certain what they were pouring down the throats of their unhappy patients.
Thus the oil lost its good name, though I am convinced from personal
observation that fresh, pure dugong is quite equal, if not superior, in
nourishing qualities to cod-liver oil, and do not doubt that a time will
come when it will enter largely into the Pharmacopoeia.  The animal itself
is so peculiar, that a brief description of it may not be here amiss.  Its
favourite haunts are bays into which streams empty themselves, and where
the water is from two to five fathoms in depth, feeding on the 'Algae' of
the submerged banks, for which purpose the upper lip is very large, thick,
and as it turns down suddenly at right angles with the head, it much
resembles an elephant's trunk shorn off at the mouth.  Its length averages
from eight to fourteen feet; there is no dorsal fin, and the tail is
horizontal; colour blue, and white beneath.  Its means of propulsion are
two paddles, with which it also crawls along the bottom, and beneath which
are situated the udders, with teats exactly like a cow's.  Its flesh is far
from bad, resembling lean beef in appearance, though hardly so good to the
taste, and the skin can be manufactured into gelatine.  I have often
wondered that this most useful animal was not oftener captured.  A fishing
establishment with a good boat, a trained crew, and proper appliances for
extracting the oil, could not fail to return a large profit to the
proprietors, and every now and then they could kill a whale, one or more of
which could be frequently seen disporting themselves in the waters of the


By ten o'clock we had reached Garden Island, and beached the boat on a long
sandy spit that stretched into the sea.  Leaving one man as boat-keeper, we
spread ourselves into line, and regularly beat the little island from end
to end, but without finding a single black; we could, however, see their
smoke-signals arising from Gould Island, and observed several heavily-laden
canoes making the best of their way towards Hinchinbrook.  Our search
having been unsuccessful, we hurried down to the boat, with the intention
of cutting the fugitives off, but found to our disgust that the tide had
fallen so low during our absence that our united strength was insufficient
to move the boat, so we were perforce compelled to remain until the return
of the water.  This did not in reality so much signify, indeed, some of the
party were rather averse to our plan of intercepting the canoes, arguing
that if closely pressed, the blacks might make an end of their captives.
However this might be, there was no help for it, we were stuck fast until
the afternoon, so had to summon such philosophy as we possessed, and while
away the time as best we could.  The boat's sail, spread under the shade of
a tree, kept the intense heat a little at bay until after dinner, and this
most essential part of the day's programme have been done ample justice to,
and the pipes lighted and smoked out, we wandered about the long space left
bare by the tide, amusing ourselves by collecting oysters, cowrie shells,
and periwinkles.

The way we captured the two latter was by turning over the rocks, to the
under sides of which we found them adhering in great numbers, sticking on
like snails to a garden wall.  Some of the cowries were very beautiful,
particularly those of a deep brown colour approaching to black.  This kind,
however, were rather rare, and the lucky finder of a large one excited some
envy.  These beautiful little shells are of all sizes, from half an inch to
two inches in length.  When the stone is first turned over, the fish is
almost out of its home, and the bright colour of the shell is hidden by a
fleshy integument, but a few seconds suffice for it to withdraw within
doors, and then the mottled pattern is seen in its full beauty.  The best
way to get the shell without injury to its gloss, is to keep the fish alive
in a bucket of salt water, until you reach home, and then to dig a hole a
couple of feet deep, and bury them.  In a month or so, they may be taken
up, and will be found quite clean, free from smell, and as bright in hue as
during life.  I have tried boiling them, heaping them in the sun, and
various other methods, but this is undoubtedly the best.

[Illustration -- SATIN BOWER-BIRDS]

Should it ever fall to the lot of any of my readers to have to cook
periwinkles -- and there are many worse things, when you are certain of
their freshness -- let them remember that they should be boiled in 'salt
water'.  This is to give them toughness; if fresh water is used, however
expert the operator may be with his pin, he will fail to extract more than
a moiety of the curly delicacy.  These little facts, though extraneous to
our subject, are always worth knowing.

At one end of Garden Island, and distant from it about 200 yards, stands a
very singular rock, of a whitish hue, and when struck at a certain angle by
the sun, so much resembling the canvas of a vessel, that it was named the
"Sail Rock."  At low tide this could be reached by wading, the water being
little more than knee-deep.  Its base was literally covered with oysters of
the finest quality.  The mere task of getting there was one of considerable
difficulty, for the rock was as slippery as glass, and whenever you got a
fall -- which happened on an average every five minutes -- bleeding hands
and jagged knees bore testimony to a couch of growing bivalves being
anything but as soft as a feather bed; also the oysters cling so fast that
they might be taken for component parts of the rock, and only a cold chisel
and mallet will induce them to relinquish their firm embrace.  Three or
four of the party had ventured out, and we had secured a large sackful,
after which we all retired to the tent, except one of our number, who,
having a lady-love in Cardwell with an inordinate affection for shell-fish,
lingered to fill a haversack for his 'inamorata'.  We were comfortably
smoking our pipes and watching with satisfaction the tide rising higher and
higher, when a faint "coo-eh" from the direction of the rock reached us,
followed by another and another and another, each one more shrill than the

"By Jove, Wordsworth's in some trouble!" exclaimed one of our party, and,
snatching up our carbines, we hurried to the end of the island at which
stood the Sail Rock.  The tide had now risen considerably, and the water
between the rock and ourselves was over four feet deep, and increasing in
depth each moment.  We saw poor Wordsworth clinging on to the slippery
wall, as high up as the smooth mass afforded hand-hold.

"Come along, old fellow!" we shouted; "it's not up to your neck yet."

"He turned his head over his shoulder -- even at the distance we were, its
pallor was quite visible -- and slowly and cautiously releasing one hand,
he pointed to the water between himself and the island.

"By Jove!" cried the pilot, "he's bailed up by a shark, look at his
sprit-sail!" and following his finger we saw an enormous black fin sailing
gently to and fro, as regularly and methodically as a veteran sentry paces
the limits of his post.

"Stick tight, old man! we'll bring the boat," and leaving the pilot to
keep up a fusillade at the monster with the carbines, we darted back.  I
shall never forget the efforts we made to launch the boat, but she was
immovable, and every moment the tide was rising, the little ripples
expending themselves in bubbly foam against the thirsty sand.  We strained,
we tugged, we prised with levers, but unavailingly, the boat seemed as if
she had taken root there and would not budge an inch.  A happy thought
struck me all of a sudden, as a reminiscence of a similar case that I had
seen in years gone by came back in full vigour.

"Give me a tomahawk," I said.

One was produced in a minute from under the stern-sheets.  Meanwhile I had
got out a couple of the oars.

"Now, Jim, you're the best axeman, off with them here!"

Half a dozen strokes to each, and the blades were severed from the looms.

"Now boys, lay aft and lift her stern."

It was done, and one of the oars placed under as a roller.

"Now, launch together."

"Heave with a will."

"She's moving!"

"Again so.  Keep her going."

"Hurrah!" and a loud cheer broke forth, as, through the medium of the
friendly rollers, the heavy boat trundled into the water.

The pull was long, at least it seemed to us long, for we had to round the
sandy spit before we could head towards the rock, and nearly got on shore
in trying to make too close a shave.  We could hear the crack of the
pilot's carbine every few minutes, borne down to us by the freshening
breeze, and the agonising "coo-ehs" of poor Wordsworth, whose ankles were
already hidden by the advancing waters; added to this, we had only two
oars, and the wind, now pretty strong, was dead in our teeth.  I was
steering, and Jim was standing up in the bows with his carbine for a shot,
if the shark offered such an opportunity.  As we neared the rock we could
distinctly see the black fin within six feet of the narrow ledge on which
the poor fellow was standing, and only when we approached to within a
couple of boats' lengths, did the ferocious brute sail sullenly out to sea,
pursued by a harmless bullet from Jim's rifle.  Poor Wordsworth dropped
into the boat fainting from terror, exhaustion, and loss of blood, for,
although he was unconscious of it all the time, in his convulsive grip, the
sharp oyster-shells had cut his hands to the very bone.  A good glass of
grog and some hot tea -- the bushman's infallible remedy -- soon brought
him round, but the scars on his hands and knees will accompany him to his
grave.  He afterwards described the glances that the shark threw at him as
perfectly diabolical, and confessed that he it not been for the cheery
hails of the pilot, he should most certainly have relinquished his hold,
and met with a death too horrible to contemplate.

It was now about three o'clock in the afternoon, and the boat being
launched, we resolved to reach Gould Island before dark.  The tent was soon
struck, the provisions stowed away, the priming of the carbines looked to
afresh, and in a few minutes we were sweeping across the small belt of
water that separated the two islands.  We approached the shore with
caution, for, as I mentioned before, the sides of Gould Island are
everywhere very steep, and hostile blacks, by simply dislodging some of the
loose masses of rock, could easily have smashed the boat and its crew to
pieces without exposing themselves to the slightest danger.  Noiselessly,
and with every faculty painfully alert, we closed the land, sprang on to
the rocks, and at once set about the tedious task of breasting the hill.
Hill climbing, under the vertical sun of North Australia, is by no means an
enjoyable undertaking, more particularly when the loose shale and rock
gives way at every stride, bringing down an avalanche of rubbish on the
heads of the rearmost of the party.  Encumbered with our carbines, we made
but slow progress, and it was nearly six o'clock before we attained the
summit, from whence we saw several canoes making their way with full speed
towards Hinchinbrook.

"So far then, so good," we said; "we have made certain that none of the
rascals are lurking about the two islands, and we are sure to get them now,
when we sweep Hinchinbrook."

We had now done everything that was possible until the 'Daylight' had
finished unloading, and so spread ourselves out about the island to see if
the blacks had left any of their curious implements behind them.  We were
in no hurry to get back to the township, so purposed having supper where we
were, and pulling back in the cool of the evening, by the light of the
moon, which was just then in full glory.  We found plenty of traces of the
blacks, the embers of their fires even still glowing, but they had carried
off everything with them, and no trophies crowned our search of Gould
Island; and yet I am wrong, for I got one memento, which I have by me
still, and which is so curious to lovers of natural history that I am
tempted to describe it.  In rummaging about, I came to a place strewed with
old bones, shells, parrots' feathers, etc., close to which stood a platform
of interwoven sticks.  I was terribly puzzled at first to account for the
presence of this miniature rag and bone depot, and my astonishment culminated when Ferdinand informed me that --

"Bird been make it that fellow; plenty d--d thief that fellow, steal like it pipe, like it anything."

It then flashed across me that I had fallen in with the "run" of the
bower-bird, of which I had so often heard, and had so often sought for
without success.

The satin bower-bird ('Ptilonorhynchus holosericus') belongs to the family
of starlings, and though tolerably common in New South Wales, is but a rare
visitor to the hotter climate of Northern Queensland.  The plumage of the
adult male is of a glossy satin-like purple, appearing almost black, whilst
the females and the young are all of an olive-greenish colour.  The
peculiarity for which this bird is generally known, is its habit of
constructing a sort of arbour of dry twigs, to act as a playground.  These
bowers are usually made in some secluded place in the bush -- not
infrequently under the shady boughs of a large tree -- and vary
considerably in size, according to the number of birds resorting to them,
for they seem to be joint-stock affairs, and are not limited to one pair.
The bower itself is somewhat difficult to describe, and a better idea can
be formed from the engraving, or by visiting the British Museum, where
several are shown, than I can ever hope to set before the reader in words.
A number of sticks, most artistically woven together, form the base, from
the centre of which the walls of the structure arise.  These walls are made
of lighter twigs, and considerable pains must be taken in their selection,
for they all have an inward curve, which in some "runs" cause the sides
almost to meet at the top.  The degree of forethought that these
self-taught architects possess is strikingly exemplified in the fact that,
whilst building the walls, any forks or inequalities are turned 'outwards',
so as to offer no impediment to their free passage when skylarking (if it
is not an Irishism, using such an expression with regard to a starling) and
chasing each other through and through the bower, to which innocent
recreations, according to the testimony of Messrs. Cato and Ferdinand, they
devote the major part of their time.  Their love of finery and gaudy
colours is also most remarkable.  Interwoven amongst the twigs of which the
bower is composed, and scattered about the ground in its vicinity, are
found bleached bones, broken oyster, snail, and cowrie shells, and not
unfrequently, in the more civilised districts, pieces of coloured rag, and
fragments of ribbon pilfered from some neighbouring station, for, in search
of attractive objects to decorate his playground, the bower-bird entirely
ignores the eighth commandment, and, I fear, justifies the somewhat strong
expression of "d--d thief" which Ferdinand bestowed on him.  Indeed, so
well are his filching propensities known to the natives, that they make a
practice of searching the runs whenever any small article of value is
missing, and often succeed in recovering the lost object.

I find that I have been using the pronoun 'he' hitherto, whilst describing
this insatiable love of finery, but on reflection I cannot but think that I
am utterly wrong, and that when more is known of the domestic arrangements
of the bower-bird, it will be found that the lady alone is responsible for
this meretricious taste, and that the poor 'he', whom I have so
unblushingly accused, is in reality gathering berries and fruit for the
little ones, guiltless of the slightest inclination towards picking and

These birds live and thrive in confinement, and busy themselves immensely
in the construction of runs, but they never multiply whilst captive.
Indeed, the place and manner of their breeding is as yet a mystery, for, so
skilful are they in concealment, that even the lynx-eyed blacks have failed
to discover their next.

We found the descent to the boat incomparably preferable to the tedious
climb of two hours previous, and, thanks to the promise of a "nobbler of
rum each," Cato and Ferdinand transported my precious "run" in safety to
the stern-sheets; the sun having then sunk in crimson beauty behind the
coast-range, and the breeze having fallen to the faintest whisper, we
shoved off, and pulled leisurely over the calm bay to Cardwell, arriving
about ten o'clock, to hear the welcome news that the 'Daylight' would be
ready for us on the following afternoon.


The sun was just showing above the distant sea-line, and the bay was lying
motionless as a mirror, with a rosy hue thrown across its placid surface,
when I awoke on the following morning, stiff from the clamber of the
preceding day.  The short half-hour before the rays of the sun have
attained an unpleasant fierceness is most enjoyable in Australia,
particularly in a wild region such as Cardwell, where birds, beasts, and
fishes pursue their daily avocations, heedless of the presence of man.  My
house was situated at the extreme north end of the township, and far apart
from the nearest dwelling -- so much so, in fact, that it was only by a
stretch of the imagination that I could say I was included within the
village boundary.  On the side farthest from the settlement lay the virgin
bush, whilst outside the garden at the back, all was wild and rude as
Nature had left it, except a small clearing I had made for the growth of
maize, sweet potatoes, etc.  Now this clearing had many enemies, and of
many species, ranging from feathered and furred to biped.  The cockatoos
came down in such clouds as almost to whiten the ground, and made short
work of the maize; the bandicoots and the township pigs dug up and devoured
the sweet potatoes, just as they were becoming large enough for use --
commend me to your half-starved pig to find out in a moment where the
juiciest and finest esculent lies buried -- and the chattering little
opossums stripped the peach-trees of their wealth, in which labour of love
they were eagerly assisted by the flying-foxes during the night, whilst any
that had escaped these nocturnal depredators became the spoil of two or
three idle boys, who loafed about all day, seeking mischief, and, as always
happens, succeeding in finding it, even in this sequestered region.  From
this it will be seen that my efforts in the direction of husbandry were
attended with some difficulty, and, despite a real liking for the animal
world, I had imbibed a holy hatred of that particular section of its
society which insisted on devouring my substance under my very nose, only
retreating to the nearest tree until my back was turned, and then resuming
operations with unblushing effrontery.  By way of a mild vengeance, I had
got into the habit of coming out every morning directly I awoke, with my
gun, and easing off both barrels amongst the cockatoos, wallabies, or
whatever particular class of robbers happened to be afield at the moment --
a practice which served as a safety-valve for my injured feelings, whilst
at the same time it provided me with a cockatoo pie, or a good bowl of
kangaroo-tail soup.

Once, in my indignation at finding my palings broken down, and some
sugar-cane, that I had been most carefully rearing, rooted up and
destroyed, while the author of the mischief, a huge sow, innocent of the
restraining ring (I would have hung the ring of the 'Devastation's' best
bower-anchor to her snout, had I been allowed to follow out my wishes),
stood gloating over the havoc she had caused.  Then, in my wrath, I had
hastily loaded a carbine with a handful of salt, and prematurely converted
a portion of my enemy's flank into bacon; but even this just act of
retribution was not to be accomplished without further loss to myself, for
on receipt of my hint to move on, her sowship dashed straight ahead, and
brought down a whole panel of my fence about her ears, owing to which the
village cows, which I had often observed throwing longing glances over the
paling at my bananas, doubtless apprised of their opportunity by the
evil-minded and malicious sow, took a mean advantage of the weakness of my
defences, and on the same night devoured everything in the garden that they
thought worthy of their attention.

Though I had now become hardened to the many injuries thus heaped upon me,
and had almost discontinued all attempts at cultivation, I still retained
the habit of stepping out into the verandah every morning with my gun, but
more with an eye to the pot than for any other reason.

Beautiful as the scene always was, it struck me that day as being of
unusual splendour.  The tall gum-trees, with their naked stems, and curious
hanging leaves that exasperate the heated traveller by throwing the
scantiest of shadows, glistened dew-beaded in the rising sun.  The laughing
jackass, perched upon a bare limb, was awaking the forest echoes with his
insane fits of laughter, alternating from a good-humoured chuckle to the
frenzied ravings of a despairing maniac.  Suddenly ceasing, he would dart
down upon some hapless lizard, too early astir for its own safety, and,
with his writhing prey in his bill, would fly to some other branch, and
after swallowing his captive, burst forth into a yell of self-gratulation
even-more fiendish than before.  The delicate little "paddy melon," a small
species of kangaroo, turned his gracefully-formed little head, beautiful as
a fawn's, and, startled at the strange figure in the verandah, stood
hesitatingly for a few seconds, and then, bending forward, bounded into the
scrub, the noise caused by the flapping of its tail being audible long
after the little animal itself was lost to sight.  The white cockatoos,
alarmed by the outcry of the sentry -- for, like the English rooks, they
always tell off some of their number to keep a look-out -- who with
sulphur-coloured crest, erect and outstretched neck, kept up a constant cry
of warning, rose from the maize patch, the spotless white of their plumage
glancing in the sun, and forming a beautiful contrast to the pale
straw-colour of the under portion of their extended pinions.  With
discordant screams they circle about, as if a little undetermined, and then
perch upon the topmost branches of the tallest trees, where they screech,
flap their wings, and engage in a series of either imaginary combats, or
affectionate caresses, until, the coast being clear, they are again enabled
to continue their repast.

A curious and indescribable wailing cry is heard in the air, singularly
depressing in its effect, and a string of some dozen black cockatoos flit
from tree to tree, the brilliant scarlet band on the tail of the male
flashing as he alternately expands and contracts it, to keep his balance
whilst extracting the sweets from the flowers of the 'Eucalypti'.  Few
things present so great a contrast as the cries of these two birds -- of
the same family, and so alike in everything but colour -- and yet both are
disagreeable:  that of the white variety from its piercing harshness, and
that of the black from an indefinable sensation of the approach of coming
evil it carries with it -- at least, such is the effect it always has upon
me.  On strolling to the paling and looking into the clearing -- for
although my gun is in my hand, it is loaded with ball cartridge, and I do
not fire -- the nimble little bandicoot scuttled away towards his hollow
log, looking so uncommonly like a well-fattened rat, that I mentally wonder
how I could ever have had the courage to eat one, and a flight of
rainbow-hued Blue Mountain parrots, who have held their ground to the last,
whirr up with a prodigious flapping of wings, and, alighting on a gum-tree,
can be seen hanging about the blossoms, head downwards, sucking out the
honey with their uncouth beaks and awkward little tongues, which seem but
badly adapted to such a delicate task.  But I find I am digressing
terribly, and the gloomy winter days of England, which make the
recollection of a bright tropical morning so agreeable a task to
contemplate, must be my excuse.

After breakfast, I hurried down to the beach to see if Tom Frewin, the
skipper of the little cutter, 'Daylight', would be likely to keep his
promise, and have the vessel ready to start by noon.  I found him busily
engaged with his not over-numerous crew -- for it consisted only of a man
and a boy, besides himself, though Mrs. Tom, who also lived in the tiny
craft, ought to be counted as no inconsiderable addition to the vessel's
complement, for she did the cooking, and on occasions could take the tiller
and steer as cunningly as the gallant Tom himself.  I found him hard at
work hurrying the cargo over the side, assisted by the townspeople, who all
showed the greatest anxiety that no time should be lost in setting out for
the relief of the shipwrecked men.  Everything thus pointing to the
probability of our getting away that afternoon, the provision question had
to be next considered, for the party would be numerous, and the exact time
our expedition would take could scarcely be correctly estimated.  We knew
Government would refund us for any reasonable outlay, and so determined our
search should not be cut short by any scarcity of food, and our fears of
overshooting the mark and laying in more than we could consume, were
allayed by Mr. McB--, the store-keeper who generously offered to supply us,
and to take back, without charge, anything that remained at the expiration
of the trip.  All difficulties being thus disposed of, we were left at
liberty to make our own private arrangements, until one o'clock, by which
time the 'Daylight' would have laid in her water, etc., and be ready to

But I must now say something of the party itself, which we were compelled
to limit to ten men, inclusive of the native police.  These consisted of
the pilot and his crew of two men, Mr. Dunmore, the officer in command of
the police, with the two troopers, Ferdinand and Cato, three volunteers,
and myself.  Where all were anxious and willing to aid in the good task, it
would have been invidious to select, and the volunteers drew lots from a
bag in which all were blanks but three, the gainers of these lucky numbers
becoming members of the party.

One other addition we had, and right yeoman's service she did, for it was a
'she', reader as the sequel will prove.  About eighteen months before, the
troopers had visited Hinchinbrook Island, to recover stolen property, and
in one of the native camps had found an exceedingly pretty gin of some
fourteen summers.  The personal charms of this coy nymph of the forest had
proved too much for the susceptible heart of Ferdinand, who, regarding her
as his lawful prize, had borne her, irate and struggling, to the boat, from
whence she was in due course transported to the police camp (mounted on the
pommel of the saddle in front of the adventurous swain), where, in a very
short time she became perfectly at home, and under the name of Lizzie, made
Ferdinand a remarkably pleasant wife.

Certainly the blacks are a curious race, the like of which was never before
seen under the sun.  For two days after Lizzie's arrival in camp, she
refused to speak or eat; for the next two days she ate everything she could
lay her hands on, but still kept an unbroken silence; and for another two
days, whenever she was not eating, she "yabbered" so much and so fast that
the other gins looked on aghast, unable to get a word in edgewise, so
continuous was the flow of Hinchinbrook vituperation.  On the seventh day,
as if by magic, she brought her tirade to a close, went down to the creek
with the other gins to fetch water, cooked her husband's supper, appeared
perfectly reconciled to her change of life, and henceforth, from her
sharpness, the aptitude with which she picked up the broken English in
which the officers communicate with the troopers, and her great knowledge
of the surrounding country, she became a most useful acquisition to the
camp, and Dunmore used frequently to say that Lizzie was worth three extra
troopers.  One of the most extraordinary things about her -- and she was
not unique, for all the Australian blacks are alike constituted in this
respect -- was the facility with which she seemed to rupture all the
natural ties of kinship and affection.  Her own tribe -- her father,
mother, sisters, all were apparently wiped from her mind as completely as
writing is removed from a slate by a sponge; or, if ever remembered, it was
never with any mark of regret.



BETWEEN one and two o'clock, the report of a little swivel gun, with which
the taffrail of the 'Daylight' was armed, echoed over the bay, and
announced to the party that all was in readiness.  In a very few minutes we
were all mustered on the beach, looking, I must confess, remarkably like
brigands, in our slouching and high-crowned Californian hats, coatless, and
with shirt-sleeves either tucked up or cut off above the elbow, which, with
the carbine that each man carried in his hand, and the revolvers, knives,
etc., stuck into the waist-belts, made our 'tout ensemble' such, that I am
convinced no honest citizen, with a plethoric purse, who saw us thus for
the first time, would have felt quite at his ease in our company.  With a
ringing cheer from the townspeople assembled on the beach, under the shade
of the big trees, we shoved off, and, manned by willing hands, the cable
rattled in, in a fashion that must have astonished the old windlass,
accustomed to the leisurely proceedings that usually obtained on board the
'Daylight'.  The sail was soon clapped on, the little vessel heeled over to
the sea-breeze now setting in pretty stiffly, and ten minutes after
quitting the shore we were down in the hold, the captain and his lady
occupying the cabin.  Making our preparations for the night, which
consisted, I may mention, mainly of spreading out our blankets, whilst the
'Daylight', with the Government whale-boat towing astern, was beating up
against the adverse wind for the north end of Hinchinbrook, where we
purposed anchoring for the night, and commencing our search on the
following morning.

What with a contrary wind and tide, it was not until past ten o'clock that
we glided into the little bay, and, shortening sail as noiselessly as
possible, let down the anchor by hand to avoid the rattling of the chain
through the hawsehole, which, in the stillness of the night, would have
certainly reached the keen ears of the blacks, were there any in the
neighbourhood, and caused them to shift their quarters.  The little inlet
or creek in which we now found ourselves, was entirely new to us, and we
were indebted to Lizzie for the discovery of such a quiet retreat.  With
straining eyes, our novel pilotess stood at the heel of the bowsprit,
extending an arm in the direction she wished the vessel to go, and, her
task completed, she wrapped her blanket round her active little body,
scarcely shrouded in the striped twill shirt that constituted her sole
attire, and, sinking down in the waterways under the lee of the gunwale,
was soon sound asleep -- a sensible proceeding, which, as soon as
everything was secured, we hastened to imitate.

We had arranged our plans for the morrow in the following manner.  Before
dawn, the whale-boat was to land all the party, including Lizzie, with the
exception of the pilot and his two men.  He was to return to the 'Daylight'
after having put us ashore, and, getting under weigh as soon as the wind
was strong enough, was to take her round to a small inlet on the island,
some distance down Rockingham Channel, and there await either our arrival
or further instructions.  Our expedition was to join him there in two or
three days at the farthest, perhaps sooner; but, whatever happened, he was
to remain with the cutter at the rendezvous, and on no account, nor under
any inducement, was he to quit until he either saw or heard from us,
however long the time might be.  During the daytime the whale-boat was to
be kept hauled up alongside the cutter, with the carbines belonging to the
crew loaded and triced up under the thwarts, ready for immediate service,
and a bright look-out was to be kept on the channel, in both directions.
If the natives attempted the smallest communication with the mainland, the
whale-boat was to give chase immediately, and either intercept and capture
the canoes, or compel them to return to Hinchinbrook Island.

Such was the rough plan we sketched out for the guidance of the 'Daylight'.
With regard to ourselves, we could make no standing rule, for the country
was comparatively unknown to us, and we must, Micawber-like, trust to
something turning up and, in the pursuit of this happy event, must follow
whithersoever fortune and Miss Lizzie thought fit to lead us.

At least an hour before dawn we were astir, and swallowing the scalding tea
that the man on watch had prepared:  this done, and a snack of damper and
cold meat eaten, we got quietly into the boat and were pulled ashore.
Until daylight, we were unable to make our way, for paths there were none,
and the ground was dangerous from the quantity of stones, etc., so we were
compelled to sit down quietly and smoke our pipes until we could see to
pick our way.  In the tropics there is but little dawn; the sun springs up
without heralding his approach by a lengthened gradation from darkness to
night, as obtains in more temperate climes, and but little patience was
requisite to enable us to commence our search.  As many of our readers are
doubtless aware that in Australia no journey is ever undertaken on foot;
that the real bushman would think himself sunk to the depths of abject
poverty, if he had not at least 'one' horse of his own; and that a man will
wander about for a couple of hours looking for a horse to carry him half a
mile, when he might have gone to his destination and back half a dozen
times, in the interval wasted in searching for his steed.  Knowing this,
they will doubtless wonder why we did not bring our mounts with us, and
perform the journey comfortably, in place of the tedious method we now
adopted.  It must not for a moment be imagined that the great assistance
horses would have afforded us had not been duly weighted and considered,
and our reasons for leaving them behind were as follows: -- From the little
we knew of Hinchinbrook, and from the description Lizzie gave of the
country, they would have been rather in our way than otherwise.  The whole
island is a mass of lofty volcanic mountains; and the passes through the
gorges so strewn with huge boulders, debris, and shale, that we should have
been compelled to lead our nags, and thus they would have only proved an
encumbrance.  This was one reason, and apparently a very good one, but I
doubt if it would have had much effect upon our party, who could hardly
contemplate any undertaking without the agency of horseflesh, had not a
more cogent argument been forthcoming, to which they were compelled to give
in their adherence.

"The 'Daylight' is quite big enough to carry them all, for such a short
distance, if they're properly stowed," said Jack Clark, the roughrider, who
was a zealous advocate for the conveyance of his pet quadrupeds.

"Of course she can," said another; "and we shall get the work over as
quickly again."

"How will you land them?" I ventured to suggest; "for the cutter can never
go near enough to the shore to walk them out."

"She can't get within a quarter of a mile," said the pilot; for at this
time none of us knew of the little inlet, into which Lizzie so deftly
guided us.

"Pitch them overboard, of course," cried Jack; "they'll pretty soon make
for the land; and I'll send my mare Gossamer first; she'll give them a
lead, I'll bet.  Cunning old devil!"

The impetuosity of Jack was fast gaining converts, when Cato pulled Dunmore
quietly by the sleeve, and said --

"Marmy, baal you take 'em yarroman like 'it Hinchinbrook; my word, plenty
of alligator sit down along of water.  He been parter that fellow like 'it

"By Jove!  Cato's right," said Dunmore; "we forget about the alligators and
sharks.  I won't let the boys take their horses, and shall not take my own.
I lost one horse from an alligator last year, on the Pioneer River, and
Government wanted to make me pay for it, and I'll take care I don't risk
losing 'three'.  Bring Gossamer, if you like, Clark, but, take my word for
it, you'll never see her again."

This unexpected contingency; the prophesied fate of Gossamer, which was as
the apple of Jack's eye; and the point-blank and sensible refusal of
Dunmore to hazard the Government horses, completely turned the tables.
After a little inward grumbling, Jack consoled himself, saying --

"Well, at all events, I can 'think' of riding!"

And thus it came to pass that we landed on Hinchinbrook, with no means of
locomotion beyond those with which nature had endowed us.

And now, headed by Lizzie, and walking in single file and in silence, we
struck out for the interior of the island.  The path -- if path it could be
called, for it consisted only of a dim track beaten by the naked feet of
the blacks -- wound in and out among the long grass, which, as we
approached the foot of the mountain range, became exchanged for boulders
and loose shale, which rendered walking most tedious, and played the very
mischief with our boots.  Here even this track seemed, to our eyes, to die
out; but Lizzie led the way confidently, and evidently with a thorough
knowledge of what she was about.  We had now been walking for more than
three hours, and had apparently only got half way up a kind of gorge in the
mountains, which seemed to become gradually narrower and narrower, and from
all appearances afforded every prospect of terminating in a 'cul-de-sac'.
A watercourse must at some period have run down this ravine, for the
boulders were rounded; but it was now quite dry.  As the sides of the
mountains drew nearer, our path led along this watercourse, and the walking
became dreadfully fatiguing.  The boulders were sometimes so close as to
render walking between impossible, and then it became necessary to clamber
over them, which, loaded as we were, was very painful.  If, on the other
hand, we attempted to journey on the 'top' of the boulders, they were not
only of unequal heights, but sometimes so wide apart, that a good spring
was requisite to get from one to the other.  Lizzie was the only one of the
party who appeared thoroughly at home; her light figure bounded from rock
to rock with the greatest ease and rapidity.  Even Cato and Ferdinand,
barefooted as they were, seemed to be a long way from enjoying themselves,
and for us wretched Europeans, with our thick boots, that obtained scarcely
any foothold, we slipped about from the rounded shoulders of the rocks, in
a way that was anything but pleasant.

Thus we scrambled along for another hour, at the expiration of which we
could only see a blank wall of mountain before us, up which it would have
been both impossible and useless to climb.  Wondering where the deuce
Lizzie was leading us, we blundered along until we arrived at the base of
the perpendicular cliff, and saw that by some convulsion of nature the
ravine now branched off at a right angle to the left, and gradually widened
out into a beautiful and gently declining stretch of country, perfectly
shut in by hills, and into which a pretty little bay extended, with several
canoes on its placid surface.  We were distant from the beach about three
miles, and could see clearly the smoke of several fires; while with
binocular glasses we could make out the figures of the blacks fishing, and
of the piccaninnies and gins romping in the sand.

Lizzie was a sight to see, as she pointed triumphantly to the unconscious
savages, and, trembling with eagerness, tapped the butt of Dunmore's
carbine, as she whispered --

"Those fellow sit down there, brother belonging to me, plenty you shoot
'em, Marmy."

"You take us close up along of those fellow, Lizzie?" said Dunmore.

"Your Marmy, plenty close, you been shoot 'em all mine think," replied our
amiable little guide, who, enjoining the strictest silence, at once put
herself in motion, bidding us, by a sign, to follow her.

For more than an hour and a half we crept cautiously along, sometimes
crawling on all fours where the country was open, and frequently stopping,
while Lizzie went noiselessly forward and reconnoitred, before beckoning to
us to advance again.  The direction in which she led us lay at the base of
the hills, which on one side bounded the little plain and its bay, and
though we could form but a crude idea of where we were going, owing to the
thickness of the undergrowth, yet it was sufficiently evident that the
young lady was one of nature's tacticians, and meditated a flank blow at
her unfortunate relatives.  Proceeding, we came at last within a stone's
throw of the beach, and could hear the mimic waves rolling on the sand, at
no great distance, on our right hand.  Lizzie now pointed to a small belt
of vine shrub that lay in front of us, and indicated that immediately
outside it were the 'gunyahs', or huts; and, "plenty you shoot," she added
showing her white teeth as she grinned with glee at the thoughts of the
cheerful surprise she had prepared for her old companions.  We were not
thoroughly on the 'qui vive', for we thought this unknown bay would be the
very spot in which the blacks were likely to seclude any prisoners from the
'Eva', and accordingly willingly followed the lithe figure of our little
guide, as she wound her way through the tangled brake, like a black snake,
and with a facility that we in vain attempted to imitate.  The troopers --
who had reduced their clothing to a minimum, for their sole vestment
consisted of a forage-cap and cartridge-belt -- wound along as noiselessly
as Lizzie; but we poor whites -- with our flannel shirts and other
complicated paraphernalia that custom would not permit us to dispense with
in the matter-of-fact way they were laid aside by our sable allies -- were
getting into continual trouble; now hitched up helplessly by a lawyer vine,
whose sharp prickles, like inverted fish-hooks, rent the skin; now crawling
unsuspiciously against a tree-ants' nest, an indiscretion that the fierce
little insects visited with immediate and most painful punishment; or else,
becoming aware, by unmistakable symptoms, that we were trying to force a
passage through a stinging tree-shrub.  Whenever we thus came to grief,
Lizzie would stop, turn round, and wave her arms about like a semaphore,
indicative of impatience, contempt mingled with pity and warning.

Luckily for us, the belt of scrub was not of great extent; Lizzie had
already reached its edge, and was peering cautiously through, and we were
struggling along, each after his own fashion, when bang went a carbine, the
bullet of which we distinctly heard whistle over our heads, and turning
round we got a glimpse of Jack, the roughrider, hung up in a vine, one of
whose tendrils had fired off his weapon; and had just time to hear him
exclaim, "If I'd only been mounted, this wouldn't have happened," before we
broke cover, and all further concealment being now unnecessary, rushed
recklessly on to the encampment.

But we were too late to capture any of the men, for I need hardly tell the
reader that never had we intended to make use of the curt arguments that
Lizzie had relied upon for cutting off the abrupt exit of her quondam
friends; it would be quite time enough to commence a system of reprisals
when it was ascertained that the blacks had actually been guilty of any
atrocity.  At present it was mere surmise on our part, and putting
altogether on one side the natural reluctance to shed blood, an aggressive
policy would have been an unwise one, engendering, as it infallibly would,
a bad feeling against any other luckless mariners whom the winds and the
waves might in time to come cast upon the inhospitable shores of
Hinchinbrook Island.

The sudden report of Jack's carbine, which occasioned a momentary halt, and
the few seconds required to burst through the scrub, afforded sufficient
time for the male portion of the encampment to make their escape at speed,
in different directions, some taking to the water, where they were picked
up by the fishermen in the canoes; others diving into the nearest cover,
and being lost to sight without hope of recovery.  The women and children
followed the tactics usual on such occasions, and flung themselves into a
heap, similar in colour and contour to that described in a previous
chapter, when we searched the Herbert River.  The same thing took place
again exactly; we sat down in a circle round them, waiting for the
deafening "yabbering" to die away, which "yabbering" burst forth in all its
pristine discord, whenever one of the party made the slightest movement.
Time and patience, however, had the desired effect, restoring tone to their
not over sensitive systems, and at the expiration of half an hour, we could
distinguish sharp, bead-like black eyes peering at us out of the mass,
which had now sunk into silence, but burst out again louder than ever, when
Lizzie made her appearance from one of the gunyahs -- perhaps the paternal
roof, who knows? -- where she had retired, swelling with indignation, and
as sulky as a whole team of mules.  Finding that no one took any notice of
her, and half an hour's reflection having, I suppose, convinced her, that
if she wanted to make a display before her relations, now was the time, her
ladyship came slowly up to the circle, and commenced an attack on poor
Dunmore, as she knew him best.  To transcribe her words would be
impossible, for she put in a native sentence whenever she found herself at
a loss for an English one, but the burden of her plaint was this: --

"Plenty d--d fooly fellow, white fellow" -- a string of Hinchinbrook
vernacular -- "Baal you been shoot 'em like 'it dingo" -- more
Hinchinbrook, but evidently, from the accompanying gestures, indicative of
intense disgust -- "Baal mine take any more along of black fellow camp" --
half sobs -- "Baal mine care suppose you fellow all go like 'it --"

And she summarily consigned us to the bottomless pit, as the only place at
all suited for such stupid idiots who could refrain from shooting blacks
when so grand an opportunity presented itself.  Her eyes flashed fire as
she delivered herself of her woes, and at the concluding sentence she
stamped her little foot, and flinging a short waddy she held, with
remarkable dexterity and no mean force, into the midst of the sable mass,
she turned round to depart with the dignity of a tragedy queen, when
Dunmore jumped up, caught her, and holding her wrist, walked off a little
way from us.

"You like 'it one fine fellow red shirt, Lizzie?  Mine give you one with
'plenty long tail'.  Baal any other gin along of camp have shirt like 'it
you; and when piccaninny sit down" (for there was a prospect of her
presenting Ferdinand with a little pledge of affection), "mine give that
fellow two budgeree flour-bag shirts, suppose only you good fellow girl

Evidently, Dunmore knew the way to the young lady's heart -- we nicknamed
him "Faust" afterwards -- for at the mention of the red shirt, with the
lengthy tails, her eyes lost their fierceness, and the allusion to the
piccaninny completed his victory, and changing at once from one extreme to
the other, as only a black or a child can, Miss Lizzie took her seat in the
circle, lighted her pipe, commenced nodding to, and chatting most affably
with, her relatives, and looking so kind, that it seemed impossible to
believe that an intense longing for bloodshed and cruelty had so shortly
before lurked in the breast of the pretty, smiling little savage who was
now beside us.

During the task of pacifying Lizzie, the "heap" had again sunk into
comparative silence, and only a confused murmur was audible from its
depths.  Allowing no time to be lost, Dunmore said to Lizzie -- who was
puffing out huge mouthfuls of smoke, greatly to the astonishment of the
other gins, who looked as if they expected to see her suddenly blaze up --

"Lizzie, you ask, suppose they been see any white fellow on island?  White
fellow in plenty big canoe.  That fellow canoe been come like 'it shore.
You tell them, 'Baal white fellow hurt you, suppose you been show, where
brother belonging to him sit down.'  You tell them that, Lizzie."

Lizzie proceeded with the greatest gravity, and evidently with an
overwhelming sense of self-importance, to put the required questions,
whilst we anxiously awaited her replies.

"Well, what they been say?" exclaimed Dunmore at last, when there was a
momentary break in the conversation.

I should imagine that the vernacular of the Hinchinbrook Islanders was not
pre-eminently adapted for the noble intricacies of diplomatic intrigue.  In
the first place it contains but few words, and none representing any number
higher than five, so that even the courtly nobleman now presiding over
Foreign Affairs, would find the smooth flow of his amenities subjected to
rude shocks; and as for expressing any large number either in words or
figures -- say, for instance, the Alabama indemnity of three millions -- to
do so, would tax to the utmost the genius of the late Chancellor of the
Exchequer.  Lizzie, in her first flash of pride, as representing a
plenipotentiary armed with extraordinary powers, had commenced negotiations
with the dignity and slowness of speech adapted to so exalted a personage.
But the shrill chorus which emanated from the audience was decidedly
antagonistic to grave deliberation, and the anxious curiosity of the woman
superseding the self imposed role of the diplomatist, our envoy lost the
pompous tone she had first adopted, and a volley of queries and replies was
exchanged so rapidly, and with such appalling shrillness, that we onlookers
ran a great risk of being either deafened, or driven out of our senses.  At
the first slackening of the wordy warfare, Dunmore put his questions, and
then Lizzie said --

"Baal there been any white fellow along of here."

"You been sure, Lizzie, ask suppose they been see any big fellow canoe."

Again the same hideous noise now took place, but I will not tire my readers
with too minute a description of a scene with which they must now be pretty
conversant, suffice it to say, that what with the real or pretended
stupidity of the gins, and the imperfect English of our interpreter, we
were more puzzled at the conclusion of the debate than we had been at its

"Had they seen a vessel?"

"Oh yes, big fellow, with wings like 'it bird."

"How long ago?"

"Plenty long time ago."

"One moon ago?"

"Yes, one moon ago."

"Sure it was one moon?"

"No, thought it must be one day ago, and plenty smoke sit down along of big

Altogether the skein was too tangled for us to attempt to unravel it.  They
had seen vessels evidently, both sailing ships and steamers, but whether it
was yesterday, or ten years back, there were no means of ascertaining; but
to make certain that we were not being deceived, we instituted a strict
overhaul of the gunyahs, in hopes of finding something that might give us a
clue to the fate of the missing men.  When we broke up our circle for this
purpose, the component parts of the "heap" assumed an upright posture, and
it was remarkable to witness the awe with which they regarded Lizzie.  At
first they seemed afraid to approach her, and stood some five yards
distant, watching her whilst she puffed out the smoke from her relighted
pipe, and posed herself in an attitude of becoming superiority, for she saw
clearly enough that the happy moment for making an impression had arrived.
Gradually they drew closer and closer, and at last, three of the eldest
gins going down on all fours, crept slowly up until close in front of her,
when they stopped, and buried their withered old faces in the sand at her
feet.  After enjoying their humiliation for a few seconds, she condescended
to speak to them, and very shortly they were all chattering away on the
most amicable terms.

Meanwhile the gunyahs or native huts, and the camp, had been thoroughly
searched, but without bringing to light anything European, except a few
bottles, and a pint pot which had been accidentally left behind by one of
the party on the occasion of Lizzie's abduction.  The gunyahs were better
constructed than usual, and consisted of saplings bent in an arch and
covered with tea-tree bark, a great improvement on all the native dwellings
we had hitherto seen, which were generally little better than a rude screen
against the wind.  But our time was precious, for we carried but little
provision; and we could not afford to loiter about, even in so pleasant a
spot as this little bay; so, after dispatching a hasty dinner, we started
off afresh, to the immense relief of the gins, and got out of the valley by
another pass, which Lizzie showed us.  I must not forget to mention one
ludicrous circumstance, which convulsed us with laughter.  The gins showed
such curiosity about Lizzie's pipe, that she handed it round and made them
each take a puff.  Their expressions, when the pungent smoke caused them
either to sneeze, cough, or choke, were most laughable; and I have no doubt
that it is still a matter of wonder to them, and a fruitful source of
debate over the camp-fires, what pleasure the white man can find in filling
his mouth with smoke, apparently with no better object than to puff it out
again as soon as possible.  Our course now lay due south, and the
travelling was much the same as in the morning, that is to say, as bad and
as fatiguing as it well could be.  Lizzie said she could take us to another
bay, where there were sure to be more blacks; and so we trudged patiently
along under her guidance, with the sun blazing down so fiercely that the
carbine-barrels became quite heated.  Our new path was very similar to the
last one, seeming to come to an abrupt termination, but really shooting off
at an angle, and leading down to a bay, which opened out to our view about
five o'clock, and did not present nearly so pretty an appearance as the one
we had just left, for the ground seemed swampy, and the beach was a nasty
muddy mangrove-flat.  We were also disappointed in not finding any blacks;
but as there is nothing so bad that it has not some redeeming quality, so
this dreary-looking swamp had its advantages, for the trees were loaded
with Torres Straits' pigeons, and sea-crabs were abundant.  This would
enable us to lay in an extra day's provisions, and to extend our search, if
necessary, before visiting the 'Daylight', from which vessel we were now
separated by more than twenty miles of unknown country, inclusive of a
mountainous range.  We determined not to shoot any pigeons that night, for
they would only keep the less time; and having lit our fire by the side of
a small creek, we had supper, and were soon sleeping the sleep of the
weary, the watch having instructions to call us at an early hour for the
purpose of replenishing our larder before the birds took their departure
for the mainland.

A pint pot of tea swallowed -- what a blessing it is that this glorious
beverage is so portable that abundance can always be carried -- three of us
sallied forth with our carbines, from which we had extracted the bullets
and substituted shot, each taking a different direction, the troopers
guaranteeing a crab breakfast, and Lizzie cutting and peeling wooden
skewers to roast the game on; for in this climate nothing will keep beyond
a few hours, unless partially cooked.  I struck away towards the left with
the intention of making the mangroves as soon as possible, where I knew I
should find plenty of birds.  The walk of the day previous had made me a
little stiff; but I felt lightly clad, without the heavy blanket, which I
had left in camp; and, by way of getting rid of the stiffness, I started
off at a run and soon reached my destination, where I sat down until there
was sufficient daylight to enable me to see the game.  As I rested on the
root of a tree, perfectly motionless, I saw something large moving among
the mangroves; but the dawn was as yet so uncertain that I could not
distinguish whether it was a human being or not.

"If that is a black fellow," I thought, "he's worth all the pigeons put
together, and I'll wait quietly to try and capture him," for the object I
saw was moving in the direction my companions had taken; and if it were a
native, he would be certain to return by the road he had come, when he
heard the firing.  Sitting still, waiting for anything or anybody, when
waited on yourself by hungry mosquitoes, may be agreeable enough to Mr.
Fenimore Cooper's typical Red Indian, but I can safely say that it is
anything but pleasant work to a thin-skinned Englishman.  Daylight had now
fully come, and I was beginning to hesitate as to whether I had not better
bag some of the birds that were fluttering over my head, and get out of the
swamp as fast as I could, when I heard the distant report of a gun, and
said to myself, "Well, I'll give the nondescript five minutes more, and if
it doesn't turn up by then, I'll blaze away at the pigeons."  Half the
allotted time had barely elapsed, when another report broke the stillness
of the morning, and immediately afterwards I heard a rustling among the
mangrove-leaves, and a slight crackling, as though some heavy weight were
passing over the arched roots.  I stayed quiet, almost breathless, as the
noise came nearer and nearer, and, turning my head, I peered through the
bush behind which I had taken up my quarters, and saw a fine-looking black
gliding cautiously from one to another of the interlaced mangroves.  He was
evidently quite unsuspicious of any danger in front, and kept all his
faculties concentrated on the direction in which he had heard the
carbine-shots, which now followed each other rapidly, as the two gunners
fired at the birds as fast as they could load.

"Now," thought I, "if I can only cut you off so as to keep you between me
and them, I am pretty certain to capture you, my friend;" and, judging my
time, I rushed from behind my bush, and was within ten yards of him before
he saw me.  In his amazement he dropped the long fish-spear with which he
was armed, stood one moment undetermined, and then made his way, with the
greatest agility, from tree to tree, not back towards my friends, as I had
fondly hoped, but straight for the bay.  I followed as fast as I could, but
he went two paces to my one.  I confess I felt sorely tempted to handicap
him with a charge of small shot, lodged somewhere about the calves of those
lean legs that were carrying him over the roots with such provoking
rapidity, and have often wondered since why I refrained; but I did, and
continued to scuttle after him, now slipping down and barking my shins, now
nearly losing my carbine, and often compelled to sprawl on all fours.  He
was now forty or fifty yards ahead of me, and I was nearly giving up the
useless chase, when an unforeseen accident turned the tables in my favour,
and caused me to push on with redoubled vigour.  As we approached the bay,
the whole of the roots and lower portions of the mangroves became thickly
studded with oysters, whose shells, sharp as razors, cut the bare feet of
the fugitive; while, on the contrary, they proved of assistance to me by
preventing my thick boots from slipping off the treacherous roots.  I now
gained ground as fast as I had previously lost it, and made certain of
capturing my prisoner on arriving at the end of the mangroves, through
which I could already catch glimpses of the sea.  Animated by the thoughts
of bringing a captive into camp, from whom we should probably gain valuable
information, I jumped from tree to tree in hot pursuit, and when the bay
opened out clearly, I was only a short distance in the rear.

"Now I've got you," I muttered, as the black fellow jumped on to the last
stool of roots, and as I was eagerly following, holding my breath for a
tussle; when, to my intense mortification, he plunged headlong into the
sea, leaving me disconsolate and out of wind, to get back as best I could.
I waited until his head reappeared, which was not until he had put a good
thirty yards between us, and, pointing my carbine, shouted to him to return
or I would fire.  It was quite useless.  He went quietly out seaward, and
at the last, when I turned unwillingly to retrace my steps, I saw his black
head bobbing about on the calm surface.  When, after a series of
involuntary feats on the mangrove rope, I again stood on 'terra firma', all
the pigeons had left; and I was compelled to make my way back to camp,
empty-handed, muddy, cut about the shins, and with my boots almost in
tatters.  "So much," thought I, "for trying to catch a black fellow

My companions had shot plenty of pigeons, after roasting which we started
for the interior of the island, and without meeting with anything beyond
the ordinary routine of bad bush and mountain travelling; certainly
encountering nothing that would justify me in inflicting a prolix
description upon the reader -- we arrived late on the following evening at
the rendezvous, found the 'Daylight' safely at anchor, and thus completed
one portion of our search, without having obtained the faintest clue to an
elucidation of the mystery of the 'Eva'.

The pilot reported that, to the best of his belief, no blacks had succeeded
in making their escape to the mainland; several canoes had attempted to
cross, but they had been seen and intercepted, though none of their
occupants had been captured.  One canoe he had taken possession of, and now
showed us, which was, I think, the most primitive piece of naval
architecture any of us had seen.  Canoe it could hardly be called, for it
was only a sheet of bark curled up by the action of fire; the bow and stern
formed by folding the extremities, and passing a tree-nail, or, rather, a
large skewer, through the plaits.  When placed in the water, the portion
amidships, which represented the gunwale, was not four inches above the
surface, and so frail that no European could have got into it without a
capsize, though the black fellows are so naturally endued with the laws of
equilibrium that they can stand upright in these tiny craft, and even spear
and haul on board large fish.

We slept in the hold of the 'Daylight' that night, after making all
arrangements for a start at early dawn.  We trusted that the Cleveland Bay
party would have performed their portion of the task, and thoroughly
overhauled the southern part of the island, and fully expected to fall in
with them on the following day.

Our road lay through most abominable country -- stony, precipitous, and in
places covered with dense vegetation.  The traces of blacks were abundant,
and we could travel but a short distance without falling in with some of
the numerous camping-places.  In many of these, the fires were still
smouldering, but the inhabitants had cleared out, most probably warned by
those whom the whale-boat had intercepted.  Each camp was subjected to a
rigid scrutiny, but without revealing anything European, except fragments
of bottles, to which we attached no importance, for they were probably
flung over-board by some passing vessel, and carried ashore by the tide.
These are highly valued by the blacks, who do not use them for carrying
water, but break them, and scrape down their spears with the fragments.

To make a spear must be a work of many weeks' duration, when the imperfect
implements at the natives' disposal are taken into consideration.  In the
first place, his missile must be perfectly straight, and of the hardest
wood; and no bough, however large, would fulfil these requirements, so it
must be cut out bodily from the stem of an iron-bark tree, and the nearer
the heart he can manage to get, the better will be his weapon.  His sole
tool with which to attack a giant iron-bark is a miserable tomahawk, or
hatchet, made of stone, but little superior to the rude Celtic flint
axe-heads, that may be seen in any antiquarian's collection.  These are of
a very hard stone, frequently of a greenish hue, and resembling jade; and,
having been rubbed smooth, are fitted with a handle on the same principle
that a blacksmith in England twists a hazel wand round a cold chisel.  The
head, and the portion of the handle which embraces it, then receive a
plentiful coating of bees'-wax, and the weapon is ready for use.  Fancy
having to chop out a solid piece of wood, nine feet long, and of
considerable depth, from a standing tree, with an instrument such as I have
described, which can never, by any possibility be brought to take an edge!
I have frequently examined the trees from which spears have been thus
excised, and the smallness of the chips testified to the length of the
tedious operation; indeed, it would be more correct to say the segment had
been bruised out than excised.  Having so far achieved his task, there is
still a great deal before the black can boast of a complete spear, for the
bar is several inches in diameter, and has to be fitted down to less than
one inch.  Of the use of wedges he knows nothing, so is compelled to work
away with the tomahawk, and to call in the aid of fire; and when he has
managed to reduce the spear to something approaching its proper size, he
gets a lot of oyster-shells, and with them completes the scraping, and puts
on the finishing touches.  It may easily be imagined what a boon glass must
be to the savage, enabling him to do the latter part of the operation in a
tithe of the time.

I am afraid that it is often the habit with us Australians to either
destroy or carry away as curiosities, the weapons and other little things
that the blacks manufacture, utterly regardless of the loss we thus inflict
upon them; for without his weapons the wretched native is not only
defenceless against neighbouring tribes, who would not scruple to attack
him when unarmed, but he is also literally deprived of the means of
subsistence.  Without his spear, he is unable to transfix the kangaroos and
wallabies on which he so much depends for his daily food, and, robbed of
his boomerangs and nullah-nullahs, the wild duck can pass him scatheless,
and the cockatoo can scream defiance from the lofty trees.  I know that
this practice of returning laden with native spoil is more frequently the
result of thoughtlessness or curiosity than anything else.  The implements
appear so trumpery, that the European thinks they can be of little use to
anybody, but the bad blood thus engendered between the aborigines and the
settlers is greater than would be easily credited.  Another reason, I would
venture to submit, in opposition to this custom is, that in the case of the
blacks doing any mischief, no method of punishing them can possibly be
devised equal in severity to the destruction of their weapons.  A tribe is
rendered more helpless and more innocuous by this than by shooting down
half the males, and I am sure that if they once found that only in case of
mischief was this punishment resorted to, we should hear infinitely less of
cattle-spearing and shepherd-murdering than at present obtains.  I mention
this, not from any good-will towards the blacks, who have been causes of
much sorrow to me and mine, but because I am sure that a discontinuance of
this idle habit would tend to lessen the existing causes of friction
between the two races.

In one of the camps we found a blanket -- not, O reader, made of the finest
wool, deftly woven at the looms of Witney, but a blanket of Dame Nature's
own contrivance, stripped by the aboriginal from the bark of the Australian
tea-tree ('Melaleuca squarrosa'), no small shrub, but a noble fellow
standing from 150 to 200 feet high, and generally found in the
neighbourhood of fresh water, or in the beds of creeks.  The bark of this
tree is of great thickness, and composed of a series of layers, each of
which can be easily separated from its neighbours, and, in fact, much
resembling a new book, just issued from the hot-press of the binder.  From
a portion of this -- the inner skins, I imagine -- the blacks manage to
make a flexible, though not over warm, covering for the winter nights, or
for the newly-born piccaninnies.  The whole of the process I am not
acquainted with, but from all I could gather from Lizzie, the bark is
stripped in a large sheet at the end of the rainy season, the inner cuticle
of several leaves carefully separated from the remainder, and placed in
fresh water, weighted with heavy stones to retain it in its position.
After the lapse of a certain time, known only to the initiated, it is taken
out, hung up to dry, and at a peculiar stage, before all the moisture has
evaporated, it is laid on a flat rock, and cautiously beaten with smooth
round stones, which operation opens out the web sufficiently to make it
quite pliant, after which it is allowed to dry thoroughly, and is then
ready for use.  These vegetable blankets are very strong, and must be a
great protection to the naked savages, but, despite the ease with which
they can be obtained, and the small time and labour occupied in their
preparation, but few of the gins have them, and none of the men.

We also found several fish-hooks of a most peculiar shape, and made out of
a curious material.  In shape they were like a circular key-ring, with a
segment of exactly one-third cut out.  One end was ground sharp, and to the
other was attached the line, cleverly spun from the tea-tree bark.  Now, of
all shapes to drive a Limerick hook-maker to despair, none, one would
think, could have been invented better than this, for the odds are
certainly ten to one against its penetrating any portion of a fish, even
though he should have gorged it.  The material of which these quaint hooks
are made is tortoise or turtle shell, for both tortoises and turtles abound
on this coast, the former frequenting the fresh-water creeks and lagoons,
and the latter the sea.  Whether they were cut out of the solid, or whether
a strip was soaked, bent, and then dried in the sun until it became firmly
set in the required shape, I never could ascertain, but most probably the
former plan was adopted.

The whole island seemed to teem with game, and had we been able to fire, we
should speedily have made a good bag, but this we dared not do, so I made a
mental resolve to return at some future time and make amends for this
enforced restraint.  At nearly every step, we put up some bird or beast
strange to European eyes.

I have no doubt it is known to most of my readers that Australia is
destitute of 'Ferae' proper, and that elephants, lions, tigers, etc., are
unknown.  They will also know that the kangaroos are marsupial animals;
that is to say, the females have a peculiar pouch for their young, which
are born in a far less advanced state than the young of other animals.  But
perhaps it is not so generally known that, with two or three exceptions,
such as the dingo or native dog, the platypus, and several species of bats,
the 'whole' of the animals on the continent are marsupial.  The brains of
this species are very small, and they sadly lack intelligence, in which
respect they exhibit a wonderful affinity to the aboriginals who live by
their capture.


Of kangaroos there are more than thirty different kinds, but the English
are now so well acquainted with this curious animal that it needs no
description.  There are two things about it, however, that I may with
propriety here point out -- viz., the use of the pouch, and the various
ways in which the kangaroo is serviceable to the settler.  The average size
of the ordinary female kangaroo is about six feet, counting from the nose
to the tip of the tail; and, marvellous though it may appear, the young
kangaroo, at its birth, is but little over an inch in length, having a
vague kind of shape, certainly, but otherwise soft, semi-transparent, and
completely helpless.  Now the pouch comes into use.  The little creature is
conveyed there by the mother's lips, and immediately attaches itself to one
of the nipples, which are retractile, and capable of being drawn out to a
considerable length.  Thus constantly attached to its parent, it waxes
bigger daily.  From two to eight months of age it still continues an
inhabitant of its curious cradle, but now often protrudes its little head
to take an observation of the world at large, and to nibble the grass
amongst which its mother is feeding.  Sometimes it has a little run by
itself, but seeks the maternal bosom at the slightest intimation of danger.
It quits the pouch for good when it can crop the herbage freely; but even
now it will often poke its head into its early home and get a little
refreshment on the sly, even though a new-comer may have succeeded to its



A FULL-GROWN "paddy melon," a small and beautiful species of kangaroo,
bearing the same resemblance to the "boomer" that a Cingalese mouse-deer
does to an elk, was once given to me as a pet, and we became great friends.
Whenever I went into the room and opened my shirt or coat, the little
fellow would bound in and coil himself snugly away for hours, if permitted;
thus showing, I think that he still retained a recollection of the snug
abode of his childhood.  Like most pets, he came to an untimely end -- in
fact, met with the fate that ultimately befalls all the members of his
tribe who are domesticated and allowed to run about the bush huts in
Australia.  The fireplaces are large recesses in the wall, and on the same
level as the floor.  Wood only is burnt, and large heaps of glowing ashes
accumulate, for the fire never really goes out, by night or day.  As long
as it is blazing, the pet kangaroo will keep his distance, but when it has
sunk down to living coals, his foolish curiosity is sure to impel him,
sooner or later, to jump right into the thick of it; and then -- and here
his want of brains is painfully shown -- instead of jumping out again at
once, he commences fighting and spurring the burning embers with his hind
feet, and, as a natural sequence, is either found half roasted, or so
injured that his death is inevitable

The uses to which the settler puts this animal are many.  He has to take
the place of the stag when any hunting is going on (as the dingo has to act
for the fox); and most remarkably good sport an "old man" or "boomer" -- as
the full-grown males are called -- will afford; and most kangaroo dogs bear
witness, by cruel scars, how keen a gash he can inflict with his sharp hind
claw when brought to bay.  From ten to twelve miles is by no means an
unusual run, and when thoroughly exhausted he makes a stand, either with
his back against a tree, or in the water.  In both of these positions he is
no despicable adversary, and will do much damage to a pack of hounds, by
grasping them in his short fore arms and ripping them open, if on land; or
by seizing and holding them under, if in the water.  Instances are on
record of a despairing kangaroo dashing through the dogs on the approach of
a dismounted hunter, and severely wounding him.  The common practice when
the animal is brought to bay is to ride up and pistol him.  But, however he
may be killed, his useful qualities have by no means departed with his
breath.  His skin, properly cured, will make good door-mats, boots,
saddle-cloths, stock-whips, gaiters, and numberless other useful articles.
His long and heavy tail is much valued for the soup it yields; and the hams
can be cured, and, thus preserved, find many admirers.  The hind-quarters
of a large "boomer" will run little short of seventy pounds; and, with the
tail, form the only parts commonly eaten by Europeans.

The birds that we encountered were of every form and size; pigeons, some
coloured like parrots, others diminutive as sparrows, and of the same
sombre hue:  pheasants, quail, every kind of feathered fowl that could
gladden the heart of the sportsman, were found in abundance, and amongst
these the scrub turkey and its nest.  This latter bird is so little known,
that I am tempted to give a short account of it.

The Australian scrub turkey ('Tallegalla Lathami') is common in all the
thick jungles in the north of Queensland, and, though smaller than the
domestic bird, is sufficiently like it to be easily recognised, having the
same wattle, and neck denuded of feathers.  The most remarkable feature
about this turkey is its nest, which is composed of sand, leaves, and
sticks, piled up into a great mound three feet or so in height, and ten or
more in diameter.  This enormous mass is not the unaided work of one pair,
but of a whole colony, and the material is got together by the bird
grasping a quantity in its foot, and throwing it behind him; the ground in
the immediate vicinity of the mound is thus entirely stripped of every
blade of grass,or fallen leaf.  In process of time, the heap partially
decomposes, and when the female judges that enough heat has been engendered
to serve her purpose, she proceeds to lay her eggs.  These are enormous
when compared with the size of the bird, and are not simply deposited and
covered over, but buried at a depth of eighteen or twenty inches, each egg
nearly a foot from its neighbour, and standing on end, with the larger half
uppermost.  Thus they remain until hatched, though how the bird manages to
plant them with such dexterity has, I believe, never been ascertained; no
one yet having been sufficiently lucky to witness the proceeding.  Directly
the little birds chip the shell, they run about with the greatest agility,
and their capture is exceedingly difficult.  A nest with freshly-laid eggs
is a glorious find, for several dozen are frequently extracted, and are
most delicious eating.

The evening was fast approaching, when we camped for the night by the side
of a nice clear water-hole in a sequestered valley, and, after bathing and
having tea, we tried our luck at fishing, for these holes are sometimes
full of eels.  We prospered, and soon had several fine fellows on the bank,
from whence they were speedily transferred to the hot ashes, and roasted in
their integrity; they were thus spared the skinning, to which, it is
averred, custom has habituated them.  Ferdinand and Cato were collecting
firewood for the night, for, in the position we had selected, we were not
afraid of making a good blaze, and we were sitting and lounging round the
fire, conjecturing what had become of all the blacks, and how soon we
should fall in with the other party, when Lizzie -- who had accompanied the
troopers -- came rushing back, and said: --

"One fellow snake been bit 'em Cato; plenty that fellow go bong (dead)
by-and-by, mine believe."

We all jumped up, and sure enough, poor Cato came slowly towards us,
looking the ashy-grey colour to which fear turns the black, and followed by
Ferdinand, who dragged after him a large black snake, the author of the

If Australia is exempt from wild beasts, the number of venomous reptiles
with which it is cursed make it as dangerous to the traveller as other
tropical countries in which ferocious animals abound.  Hardly a tree or a
shrub can be found that does not contain or conceal some stinging
abomination.  The whole of these are not, of course, deadly, but a
tarantula bite, or a centipede sting, will cripple a strong man for weeks,
while a feeble constitution stands a fair chance of succumbing.  But of all
these pests, none can equal the snakes, which not only swarm, but seem to
have no fear of man, selecting dwellings by choice for an abode.  These
horrible reptiles are of all sizes, from the large carpet snake of twenty
feet, to the little rock viper of scarcely half a dozen inches.  The great
majority of these are venomous, and are of too many different kinds for me
to attempt their enumeration here.  The most common with us were the brown,
black, and whip snakes, and the death-adder, all poisonous; and the
carpet-snake, harmless.  The brown and black snakes run from two to eight
feet in length, frequent the long grass, chiefly in the neighbourhood of
swamps, and from the snug way in which they coil up, and their
disinclination to move, are highly dangerous.  The latter is very handsome,
the back of a brilliant black, and the under portion of a sea-shell pink.
Their skin is sometimes used by bushmen as a cover to their waistbelts,
which are much beautified thereby.  The whip-snakes are of all sizes and of
all colours; in fact, under this name the colonists include all the slender
climbing snakes, so many of which inhabit Australia.  In my opinion, these
are the worst; for they come boldly into your room in search of warmth, and
may be found stowed away in a boot, or under the pillow, or in any place
where they are least expected.  Last and worst of our venomous snakes comes
the death, or deaf, adder, for it is called indiscriminately by both names,
and amply justifies either prefix.  The hideous reptile is very thick and
stumpy in proportion to its length, which rarely exceeds two feet, whilst
its circumference may be put down at one-fifth of its total measurement.
The tail is terminated by a small curved spike, which is commonly regarded
as the sting; but though when touched it doubles up, and strikes with this
horn, as well as bites, I do not think the tail does any material damage,
but this opinion one would find it difficult to make a bushman credit.  I
once saw a man take a death-adder up -- quite unintentionally, you may be
sure -- between two shingles, and it immediately struck backwards with both
head and tail, the two extremities luckily meeting above his hand.  From
the sluggish habits of this reptile, it is popularly accounted deaf, and it
seems quite unalarmed even by the report of a gun.  You may walk over it a
dozen times, as it lies basking in the sun, usually in the most frequented
part of the road, and it will take not the slightest notice, but if
touched, however gently, it bites at once.

When I first went to Cardwell, I was talking about death-adders, and the
naive remark made by one of the inhabitants amused and at the same time
rather terrified me, for the perfect knowledge he exhibited of the reptiles
showed plainly how common they were there.

"Nasty things," he said, "but Lord, they won't hurt you.  Best not try to
get one alive into a bottle, though.  I tried that little game on, with a
pickle-jar and a stick, but I couldn't get him in, and he doubled up and
very nearly bit me; his tail just grazed my hand as it was."

I thanked my informant, and assured him from the bottom of my heart, that
whenever I 'did' try to coax a death-adder into a bottle, I would benefit
by his experience and use the greatest caution.

The eye of this snake is remarkable for its vivid yellow, crossed by a
black longitudinal pupil.  The colour of the body is a mixture of dull
hues, and the abdomen pinkish; the head broad, thick, flattened, and its
'tout ensemble' hideously repulsive.  But I am digressing, and leaving poor
Cato still uncared for.

The snake, which was a very large one, had been laid hold of by the boy in
the imperfect light, and had instantly bitten him in the wrist, on which
the punctures of the fangs were plainly visible.  A handkerchief was at
once tied round the wounded limb, with a small pebble so placed as to
compress the brachial artery inside the forearm, and with the iron ramrod
from a carbine as a lever, we screwed this rough tourniquet up until the
circulation was in great measure cut off.  Luckily Dunmore had a
pocket-knife with him, for the sheath-knives we carried were but rude
instruments for surgery, and with the small blade he slashed the bitten
part freely, while Lizzie, applying her lips to the wound, did her best to
draw out the subtle venom.  Some of us carried flasks, containing various
spirits, and the contents of these were at once mixed -- brandy, rum,
hollands, all indiscriminately -- in a quart pot, and tossed off by the
sufferer, without the slightest visible effect.  Had the spirit taken the
smallest hold upon him, we should have felt hope, for if a man suffering
from snake-bite can be made intoxicated, he is safe.  But the poison
neutralised the potent draught, and poor Cato showed no indication of
having swallowed anything stronger than water.  With the superstition
inherent in the blacks, he had made up his mind to die, and his broken
English, as he moaned out, "Plenty soon this fellow go bong," was painful
in the extreme.

"It's no use," said Dunmore.  "I know these fellows better than any of you,
and Cato will never recover.  I had a boy down on the Mary River, who was
knocked down with low fever.  Half a pennyweight of quinine would have put
him to rights, but he had made up his mind to die, and when once they have
done that, all the drugs in a doctor's shop won't do them any good."

Everything we could think of was proposed, but speedily rejected as useless.

"Pour a charge of powder on the wound," said Jack Clarke, "and then fire
it, that will take the part out clean enough;" but we agreed that it would
be putting the boy to unnecessary pain, for the poison must be already in
the system and beyond the reach of local remedy; and the patient had become
drowsy, and repeatedly begged to be left alone and allowed to go to sleep.

"We must walk him about," said Dunmore, "it is the only chance, and painful
as it is, I must have it done.  Remember, I'm responsible for the boy, and
no means must be left untried."

I had withdrawn a little from the group, and as I stood some distance off,
outside the circle of light thrown by the fire, I could not help thinking
what a scene for the painter's brush was here presented.  The dark outline
of the lofty gums looked black and forbidding as funeral plumes, against
the leaden sky.  The rugged range starting up in the rear, cast a
threatening gloom over the little valley in which we were encamped, and the
distant thunder of a falling torrent could, with little effort, be
interpreted as a dull voice of warning from the mountain.  The fitful glare
of the fire, now sinking, now rising as a fresh brand was added, threw a
ruddy glare over the actors in this strange scene; showing the hopeless
face of the poor patient, the undemonstrative countenances of his sable
companions, and the anxious air apparent in the white men, more
particularly in Dunmore, as he knelt over his follower, and tried to
inspirit a little hope by dwelling on the chances of recovery.  The
fantastic dresses, and the wildness of the spot, all combined to add a
weird aspect to the group; and recalled forcibly to the mind those scenes
of Pyrenean robber-life, so faithfully portrayed by the magic pencil of
Salvator Rosa.

But drowsiness was fast closing the eyes of poor Cato, and, as the last
chance, we compelled him to walk about, despite his piteous prayers for
repose.  It soon became evident that our labour was thrown away, for he
dropped heavily down from between the two men who were supporting him, and
no power could induce him to rise.  A heavy stertorous sleep overwhelmed
him, his breath came gradually slower and slower, and about two hours from
the time of the accident, poor Cato passed away, peacefully and without

Can no antidote be discovered for this virulent poison?  Empirics are
common who profess to cure snake-bites, but I doubt if they ever really
succeed.  It is beyond all question that in the early days of Australia,
and whilst this beautiful continent was held by Great Britain as nothing
more than a useful place for the safe custody of her criminal classes, a
convict named Underwood discovered a remedy for snake-bite, and in many
cases treated it successfully.  The story has by no means died out in the
colonies, of the good old laws of brutal terrorism, under which, when a
bitten man was brought to Underwood, the latter proceeded to apply his
remedy, stimulated by the pleasing threat of a severe flogging, should his
treatment be of no avail.  He appears to have been a man of great firmness
of purpose, for he never could be betrayed into divulging his secret,
though many unworthy means were resorted to for that end.  The utmost that
he would acknowledge was that the antidote was common, and that Australians
trampled it under-foot every day of their lives.  The way he became
acquainted with the remedy was by accidentally witnessing a fight between a
snake and an iguana.  The latter was frequently bitten, and in every case
ran to a certain plant and ate it before renewing the contest, in which it
was ultimately victorious, leaving the serpent dead upon the plain.
Underwood demanded his pardon and liberty as the price of his precious
knowledge, and I believe a mixed commission of military men and civilians
deliberated on the case at Sydney, and decided not to grant the convict's
request.  In due time he died, and with him perished his invaluable secret.
It is to be presumed the commission knew what they were about, but
undoubtedly their adverse decision has been a real misfortune to all those
whose lives are passed in a country inhabited by venomous reptiles.  We are
much indebted to Doctor Fagren for the exhaustive researches he has made
into the action of snake-poison and its remedy -- the result of which the
reader can find in his elaborately got-up volume, entitled "The
Thanatophidia of India" -- and on looking over the concise directions given
by him for immediate use in the event of such an accident, I do not see
that we could possibly have done more than we did, considering the limited
material we had at our command.  Perhaps, had it been a white man, with a
strong constitution, he would have pulled through; for the settled
conviction that he was doomed, doubtless accelerated the death of the black
boy; but the action of the poison is so rapid, that most cases terminate
fatally.  Two instances I know of, in which the patient recovered.  The
first was an Irish labourer, who whilst reaping took up a snake, which bit
him in the finger.  He walked at once to the fence, put his hand on a post,
and severed the wounded member with his sickle.  Irishman-like, he forgot
to move the sound fingers out of the way, and two of them shared the fate
of their injured companion.  Paddy walked into the nearest township, had
his wounds dressed, and felt no inconvenience from the venom.  Under the
soubriquet of "Three-fingered Tim," this individual may frequently be met
with at Sydney, and, for a glass of grog, will be delighted to recount the
whole affair, with the richest of Milesian brogues.  The second case was
that of a woman.  She was going from the hut to the fireplace, when she
trod on a snake, which bit her just below the joint of the little toe; for,
like Coleridge's Christabel --

"Her blue-veined feet unsandall'd were."

She was in a terrible position; her husband, and the other man for whom she
acted as hut-keeper, had both gone out with their flocks some hours
previously, and there was nobody about but a poor half-witted lad, who hung
about the place doing odd jobs.  She was a resolute woman, and made up her
mind how to act, in far less time than it takes me to set it down on paper.
Coo-ehing for the lad, she went into the hut, and came out again with a
sharp tomahawk and an axe.

"Take this," she said, handing the latter to the boy, "and strike hard on
the back of it when I tell you."

Thus speaking, she placed her foot on a log of wood, adjusted the keen edge
of the tomahawk so that when struck it would sever the toe and the portion
of the foot containing the bite, and, holding the handle of the tomahawk
steady as a rock, with firm determination gave the words --

"Now, Jim, strike!"

It needed three blows from the back of the axe to complete the operation,
for the poor lad grew frightened at the sight of the blood; but the
undaunted woman encouraged him, nerved him to a fresh trial, and guided the
tomahawk as coolly as if she were cutting up a piece of beef, until the
shocking task was completed.  With Jim's assistance, she then bound up the
foot to arrest the bleeding, and, accompanied by him, rode ten miles into
the township, and, need I say, in due course recovered.

In these instances the reader will see that the measures taken were both
prompt, and such as would require more nerve than is possessed by the
ordinary run of mortals.  In the above cases, also, the bitten part was
capable of being removed; but for a bite on the wrist, had such an extreme
measure as immediate dismemberment been performed, the cure would have been
as fatal as the disease.

Poor Dunmore was terribly cut up at the premature death of his follower;
Lizzie, having smothered her head with fluffy feathers from some cockatoos
that had been roasted for supper, employed herself in chanting a most weird
kind of dirge over the body, to which she beat a species of accompaniment
on the bottom of a pint pot; while Ferdinand, by Dunmore's directions, had
set to work to strip a sheet of bark off a tea-tree, to act as a rude
coffin.  A great difficulty now presented itself, for we had no tools
whatever, and how could we dig a grave?  In such hard ground, knives would
make no impression, and the body must be buried deeply, or it would be
rooted up by the dingoes, whose howl we could plainly hear around us, as
they bayed at the moon.  We spread ourselves out in different directions,
in the hope of finding some rift or recess that would answer the purpose,
but in the imperfect light, we failed to discover anything, so were
compelled to wait for dawn.  I do not think any of us slept much.  One of
our little party suddenly snatched away in so unforeseen a manner, gave us
all food for reflection -- for which of us knew that the same fate would
not befall him to-morrow?  When I dropped off into a slumber, it was so
light and broken, that I seemed to be conscious of Lizzie, continuing her
melancholy drone, and battering monotonously on the tin pannikin, nor was I
surprised when in the morning I ascertained that such had really been her
occupation all night; for the purpose of keeping the body from harm, she
avowed, but, I am inclined to think, much more from fear of sleeping in the
neighbourhood of a dead body, for the blacks are dreadfully superstitious,
and frightened to death of ghosts.

At daylight we were lucky enough to find a tree that had been blown down in
the late hurricane, leaving a hollow where its roots had been torn out of
the ground.  In this natural grave we laid the poor trooper, wrapped in his
bark shell, and, having raised a pile of stones upon the spot, of such
dimensions as to preclude the probability of the body being disturbed by
dingoes, we went on our way, silent and melancholy.



OUR next day was a repetition of the last; camps in abundance, but no
blacks, and we had as yet seen no signs of the Townsville party.  At night
we camped by the side of a large creek, and, after supper, were lying down,
with the intention of making up for the broken slumbers of the previous
night, when Ferdinand, who had moved higher up the stream to get a private
eel for himself and his lady, came back and shook Dunmore, saying --

"Many big fellow fire sit down up creek."

We were on our feet in a moment, and, stealing quietly through the bush,
soon saw the glare, and on our nearer approach, could make out many
recumbent figures round the fire, and one man passing to and fro, on guard.

"By Jove!  it's the Cleveland Bay mob," said Dunmore; "we must take care
they don't fire into us.  Lie down, or get behind trees, all you fellows,
and I'll hail them."

"Holloa there!" he cried, when we had all "planted" (in Australian parlance
signifying "concealed") ourselves.  "Don't fire, we're Cardwellites!"

In a moment the sentry's rifle was at his shoulder, pointed in the
direction whence the voice came; but it was my old friend Abiram Hills,
ex-mayor of Bowen, a thorough bushman, and possessed of great nerve, whose
turn it then happened to be to keep watch over his slumbering companions.
As quickly as it had been raised, his rifle fell into the hollow of his
arm, and shouting out, "Get up, you fellows, here are the Rockingham
Bayers!" he rushed forward, and in a moment was shaking hands with Dunmore,
while the sleepers, uncertain whether it was an alarm, stood rubbing their
eyes, and handling their carbines so ominously as they peered into the
darkness, that we deemed it the best policy to remain under cover until
their faculties had grasped the fact that we were not enemies, and as such
to be slain incontinently.

It is a startling thing to be hailed suddenly in the silence of the bush,
and had a less experienced sentry than Abiram been on guard, he would most
likely have fired.  We had also before our eyes the case of a party who not
long before had gone out to chastise the blacks, and having split into two
divisions, opened a brisk fire upon each other when they drew near again,
luckily without effect.  Some of these warriors we knew to be amongst
ourselves, so it behoved us to exercise caution.

Our greeting was most cordial, and we were soon all assembled round the
fire -- now blazing up with fresh fuel -- smoking the pipe of peace, which
we moistened with a modicum of grog from the well-filled flasks of the
Cleveland Bayers, and comparing notes, previous to making our plans for the
morrow.  Like ourselves, they had found plenty of camps, but not a living
creature in them; and they were as perplexed as we were as to what had
become of their occupants.  On their way up from Townsville, they had seen
smoke-signals thrown up from the mangroves at the mouth of the Herbert
River, and these were answered both from the range behind Cardwell, and
from Hinchinbrook, so it was evident there were blacks on the island,
though most likely concealed in some of the hidden valleys, which, from the
volcanic nature of the country, were so plentiful, and so difficult to find.

Lizzie was now brought forward, and subjected to a most rigid
cross-examination, with which I will not trouble the reader.  She said that
they must have crossed over to the main-land, for every place had now been
searched.  We were in despair, when Abiram Hills said --

"Baal bora ground been sit down along of Hinchinbrook, Lizzie?"

A "bora ground" is a particular place to which the blacks are in the habit
of resorting at certain seasons of the year, to hold "corroborries" or
dances, and also to perform divers mysterious rites on the young people of
both sexes attaining the marriageable age.  What these solemnities really
are, is but little known, and they seem to differ widely in each tribe.  In
some, the young girls have a couple of front teeth knocked out; in others
they lose a joint of the little finger; and at that time the hideous lumps
with which the men embellish their bodies must be raised.  These curious
ornaments are formed by cutting gashes in the flesh three-quarters of an
inch long, and stuffing the wound with mud, which prevents the edges from
adhering, and when the skin grows over, leaves a lump like an almond.  The
number, proximity, and pattern of these adornments are according to the
peculiar tastes of the family, and vary considerably, but the breast, back,
shoulders, and arms are usually pretty thickly sown, giving the appearance
of a number of fresh graves, placed close together in a black soil field.


Abiram's question was one of those lucky inspirations that sometimes strike
one, changing, as by magic, obscurity into distinctness, and pouring in a
flood of light where no ray could be seen before.

"My word!" -- cried Lizzie, her whole face lighting up with eagerness and
joy -- "my word, close up mine been forget.  Mine know one fellow bora
ground, plenty black fellow sit down there, mine believe.  My word, plenty
d--d fooly me!"

We could see from the girl's face that we were now on the right scent, and
having ascertained that she could take us to the "bora ground" by the
following evening, we finished our pipes, and lay down to sleep, thankful
for what promised a possible solution of the mystery.

The Cleveland Bay party consisted of seven white men and two black boys, so
we now mustered a strong force.  Lizzie would hardly allow us time to
swallow our breakfast, so impatient was she to be under weigh; and one
wretched man, lingering for a moment later than the rest of us, over a
slice of beef and damper, found himself the object of general attention,
when our little guide stamped her foot, and, trembling with indignation,
said --

"Plenty big bingey (belly) that fellow.  Baal he been fill 'em like 'it

The travelling was worse than ever now; up and down steep ravines in which
the tangled scrub grew so thickly that progress was almost impossible, and
we were compelled to wade along the bed of the creek; now tripping over a
sharp ledge of rock, now floundering up to the waistbelt in a treacherous
hole; past the base of a beautiful waterfall, where the action of the
torrent had worn a hollow basin in the rock, in which it sparkled, cool,
transparent, and prismatic, in the rays of the burning sun, and where the
view, so unlike the generality of Australian scenery, was perfectly
bewitching; on, through more scrub, through swamps, and over stiff
mountains, wet, draggled, moody, and cross, crawling along after the little
black figure in front, that held steadily on its way, as though hunger and
fatigue were to it things unknown.

At length, about three o'clock in the afternoon, we found ourselves in a
sort of natural funnel in the rock, the end of which grew narrower and
narrower as it wound about in curious curves.

"Close up now," said Lizzie, "water sit down along of other side; baal
black fellow get away."

We halted for a few minutes to get breath, and to steady ourselves, and
then, keeping close together, stepped out of the gloomy passage into the
broad daylight.  It was a beautiful sight.  The "bora ground" had been
selected in a miniature bay, of about three acres in extent, closed in by
perpendicular rocks, and attainable only by boat, or by the passage through
which we had just arrived.  In this secluded spot a quantity of coca-nut
palms were growing, waifs, carried there by the ocean from the distant
South Sea Islands, fructifying and multiplying on the hospitable shore, and
shielded from the tomahawk of the native, on account of the shelter they
afforded his mysterious retreat.  Under the palms stood several conical
huts, or lodges, of considerable dimensions, used, I presume, on state
occasions for the deliberations of the elder warriors.  But the thing most
pleasing to our eyes, was the sight of some two hundred natives, of both
sexes, and all ages, who now started to their feet, with wild cries of
alarm, and motions expressive of the utmost terror, at this sudden invasion
of their retreat by the dreaded white man.

Some of the blacks flew to arms at once, and stood with poised spears in a
menacing attitude, whilst the gins and piccaninnies cowered together on the
beach.  We had our carbines in hand, cocked, and prepared to defend
ourselves in the event of hostilities, which we earnestly hoped to avoid.
Lizzie, who had at last begun to understand that slaughter was not our
object, and who had been reconciled to our tame proceedings by the promise
of much finery, now advanced towards the threatening natives and made a
speech in their own language, to the effect that we wished to do them no
harm, beyond ascertaining whether there were any whites among them, though,
if we found murder had been committed, we should discover the perpetrators,
hold them answerable, and punish them.  Rewards were offered for any
information that would lead to a knowledge of the real fate of the
shipwrecked crew, and an exaggerated estimate of our strength, and the
capability of our firearms, was given by our interpreter, on her own
account, and was perfectly intelligible to us from the signs and
gesticulations she made, and the scorn with which she pointed to the rude
weapons of her country-men; for the intrepid little girl had marched
fearlessly up to the group of warriors.

After delivering her speech, Lizzie withdrew to us, and we waited, rather
anxiously, the turn that affairs would take; for a peaceful solution would
be far preferable to a fight, in which, though we must ultimately be the
victors, yet success would only be achieved at considerable loss of life,
probably on both sides.

Whilst matters rested thus, and the blacks were holding an animated
discussion, one of the troopers espied a solitary dingo on the rocks
overlooking the "bora ground," and distant from us about fifty yards.
Lizzie at once said --

"Suppose you shoot 'em that fellow dingo, plenty that frighten black fellow."

"By Jove, Lizzie, what a good idea!" we said.  "Who's the best shot; for it
will be fatal to miss?"

"Let your boy fire," said Abiram, "it will astonish them much more if they
see it done by a black; and let Lizzie warn them of what is going to take

"You believe you shoot 'em that fellow dingo?" asked Dunmore of Ferdinand.

"Your (yes), marmy, mine believe."

"Plenty big glass of rum, suppose you shoot 'em bony (dead)," added Abiram.

The trooper's eyes glistened, and he licked his lips as if the spirit were
already won.

Meanwhile Lizzie had told her countrymen to watch the dog, and they would
see him killed, and the blacks stood straining their eyes at the doomed
dingo, who, with pricked ears and drooping tail, stood motionless against
the sky-line, intently surveying the unusual scene beneath, and wondering
probably how soon he should get the relics of the roasted fish, whose
fragrant odour had assailed his nostrils, and drawn him into his present

It was a moment of intense suspense while the trooper raised his carbine --
slowly and deliberately; no hurry, not even the quiver of a muscle, for his
mind was on the rum, and he recked little of the moral influence of a
successful shot; -- we drew a long breath of relief as the weapon flashed
forth, and the dog, making a convulsive bound forward, fell stone dead at
the foot of the rocks, where it was instantly surrounded by the awestruck
savages, who carefully examined the body, and thrust their fingers into the
bullet-hole, for  the ball had passed clean through the animal, just behind
the shoulder-blade.

The trooper first loaded his empty barrel, and then twitching Abiram by the
sleeve, whispered, "You give 'em rum now.  Plenty you make him strong, mine
believe."  His task was accomplished, and that the reward should
immediately follow was with him a natural consequence.

Ferdinand's shot and Lizzie's eloquence had, however, rid us of all further
trouble.  The blacks laid down their arms, and expressed themselves quite
willing to assist us in any way.  They vehemently denied having seen any
white men, but acknowledged that some had been heard of on the Macalister
River, and thought they were detained by the tribes inhabiting its banks.
They were cognizant of our expedition up the Herbert, and knew that we were
searching Hinchinbrook, but never thought we should have found them in
their present position.

It was now evident that further search on Hinchinbrook was useless.  There
was no reason to doubt the truth of what they told us, for Lizzie would
have gathered information had there been any outrage, or some small piece
of rag or blanket would have betrayed them.  That the unfortunate men might
be on the Macalister was not improbable, and thither we must bend our
steps, as the last resource.  If we were unsuccessful then, we could only
conclude that the vessel had foundered at sea, and we should have the
melancholy satisfaction of knowing that we had done everything in our power
to rescue the sufferers.

We camped for the night at one extremity of the little bay, while the
natives occupied the other, in which there was a well sunk, where we
supplied ourselves with fresh water.  We soon became on friendly terms with
our wild neighbours, but took care never to linger amongst them singly, and
always had our weapons ready for immediate use.

In the evening Lizzie came over from the blacks' camp, where she had been
holding a great palaver, and asked us if we should like to see a
"corroborrie," or dance; and much pleased at getting a glimpse of the
native customs, and glad of anything to break the monotony of our lives, we
followed her to the group of palms, and there took up our positions to
watch the proceedings.  A tremendous fire was soon flaming on the beach,
near it the gins and piccaninnies assembled, with bits of stick, clubs, and
calabashes, on which to beat time.  Some thirty of the men then stood up,
armed with spears, tomahawks, nullah-nullahs (war-clubs), and boomerangs,
and commenced a series of ludicrous antics, to a most melancholy dirge
chanted by the women, a kind of rude time being observed.  Gradually,
however, they grew excited, and worked themselves up by going through a
sort of mock fight; and when at the last the women danced round them with
torches, all howling and shrieking at the top of their voices, and banging
the calabashes with kangaroo bones or anything that would add to the noise,
the whole scene reminded one of the infernal regions broken loose.  This
lasted an hour, at the end of which time we withdrew, after expressing
ourselves highly gratified, and the whole camp was shortly buried in
repose.  We kept double sentries, but we might all have gone to sleep, for
there was no symptom of treachery.  At daylight we had breakfast; gave the
warriors and gins a few trifling things we could spare, such as knives, two
or three blankets -- for we hoped to reach the township that night -- and,
wonder of wonders to the savages, some matches (nearly all of which they
expended in verifying the fact that they would go off), and then took our
departure from the "bora ground," guided by a native, who showed a very
short way, unknown to Lizzie, by which we arrived at the 'Daylight' early
in the afternoon, to find that the latter had been joined by the 'Black
Prince', the steamer that had brought up the Cleveland Bay party.  We
quitted in our little craft for Cardwell, and the Townsville men went south
in their steamer, intending to get some shooting at the Palm Islands before
going home for good.  Eleven o'clock that evening saw us at our township,
fully determined to carry out the work thoroughly by searching the
Macalister River, an account of which I hope to give in a future chapter.




The reader who has been good enough to follow me so far, will see that
hitherto our efforts had been unattended with the slightest success, and
that the fate of the missing schooner and her living freight still
remained buried in the deepest mystery.  To say that we were not
disheartened by our numerous disappointments would be untrue, for we
well knew that each closing day rendered our chances of affording relief
to the survivors more and more difficult; so much so, in fact, that at
the council assembled to discuss the matter in the large dining-room of the
hotel, several voices urged the expediency of abandoning any further
attempts.  Much valuable time, they remarked, had been already expended by
men to whom time represented money, nay more -- the means of living.  Their
own avocations imperiously demanded their presence, and although they were
the last men in the world to desert their fellow-beings in extremity,
still, in a country where every man lived by the sweat of his own brow,
self-interest could not be entirely sacrificed.


Even we, who were most anxious to organise another expedition, could not
but acknowledge that the searchers had much justice on their side; but when
we were discussing matters in rather a despondent tone, a new ally came to
the front in the person of Jack Clarke, the horse-breaker.

"Where do you propose going next?" he asked Dunmore.

"We must search the ranges at the back of the township first, and another
party must go up the Macalister River," was the reply.

"Need both parties start at the same time?"

"The chances of success would, of course, be greater if they did," replied
the officer, "but still it is not absolutely necessary."

"Well," said Jack, "suppose you take the pilot boat, and go up the river,
which will take much longer to explore than the ranges; and, at the end of
a week, we shall have got our own affairs pretty straight, and will beat
all the country at the back, and join you on the Macalister.  What do you
think of that, mates?" he added, turning to the company.  "Won't that suit
us all?"

"Capitally!" was echoed from every side, and after sundry drinks the party
broke up; Dunmore and I hastening to make immediate preparations for our
new trip.

The Macalister River was at this time most imperfectly known; for, lying to
the extreme north of Rockingham Bay, its fertile banks had hitherto
attracted little or no attention; the great sugar industry being then
comparatively in its infancy in Queensland.  A dangerous bar at its mouth,
over which heavy rollers were always breaking, made pleasure-seekers rather
shy of attempting its entry, more particularly as the muddy mangrove flats
held out small hope of aught save mosquitoes and blacks.  Since then the
sugar-cane has become one of the chief sources of wealth to the colony,
and, in the search for land adapted to its growth, the Macalister was not
likely to remain long in obscurity.  Along its beautiful banks were
discovered many thousands of acres of magnificent black soil country,
without a stick of timber to impede the plough, over which a furrow, miles
in length, could have been turned without an inch of deviation being

Where the wretched bark 'gunyah' of the native stood, is now found the
well-finished house of the planter; and where the savage pastimes of the
'bora' ground once obtained, and the smoke from cannibal fires curled
slowly upwards to the blue vault of heaven, is heard the cheerful ring of
the blacksmith's hammer, the crack of the bullock-whip, as the team moves
slowly onward beneath the weight of seven-feet canes, and the measured
throb of machinery from the factory, where the crushed plant is yielding up
its sweets between the inexorable iron crushers.  In this, our newest
world, improvements when once set afoot, proceed with marvellous celerity,
and a turn of Fortune's wheel may in a single year convert a howling
wilderness into a flourishing township.  But I find myself digressing
again, and resisting rambling thoughts, must revert to our preparations for
the morrow.


The meeting at which we had just been present, took place on the morning
following our return from the search on Hinchinbrook Island; and not only
was another day indispensable for the arrangements that were necessary, but
we also felt that one more night of comfortable rest would render us better
able to encounter the fatigues of the coming expedition.  Only bushmen and
explorers can appreciate the intense enjoyment of a night of unbroken rest
between the sheets, after knocking about for a length of time, catching
sleep by snatches, and never knowing the luxury of undressing.  Turning in
like a trooper's horse, "all standing," as the nautical phrase is, may be
an expeditious method of courting the sleepy god, but it certainly is not
the best for shaking off fatigue.  Bound up in the garments you have
carried all day, the muscles are unable to relax to their full, the
circulation of the blood is impeded, and your slumber, though deep, is not
refreshing; more particularly when -- as had happened to us on this last
trip -- our boots were so soaked that we were afraid to take them off, lest
we should find it impossible to struggle into them in the morning.
Dunmore's camp was also some distance from the township, and he had to
visit it to find out how matters had gone on in his absence, to get another
trooper in the place of poor Cato, and to replenish his exhausted wardrobe
and ammunition.

But I will not occupy the reader with all these minor details, nor with the
numberless little trifles that it devolves upon the leader of such an
expedition to remember, suffice it to say that by noon on the following
day, all our preparations were completed, and we shoved off from the beach
in high spirits, the party consisting this time of nine, viz., Dunmore, the
pilot, two boatmen, Lizzie, three troopers, and myself, about as many as
the boat could carry comfortably.  A rendezvous had been arranged on a
known portion of the river; the other expedition was to start in seven
days; and, according to our programme, if all went well, we should meet on
the tenth, or on the eleventh day at furthest.

The sea-breeze was blowing steadily, cresting the tiny waves which sparkled
in the hot sun as they broke into foam, and under its grateful coolness we
glided comfortably along, with a flowing sheet.  The bar at the mouth of
the Macalister was eighteen miles distant, and we hoped to cross it about
sunset, when the breeze would have dropped, and the passage through the
surf would be readily distinguishable; but our plans were completely upset
by one of the troopers espying smoke issuing from the scrub on a small
creek, that entered the bay about half-way between the town and the

"We had better have a look in here," said Dunmore, "there is no knowing
where we may stumble on some information."

Accordingly, the helm was put up, and we ran into the mouth of the inlet,
with the wind right aft.  Beaching the boat on the soft sand, we sprang
out, and advanced cautiously in the direction of the smoke, but, after
several minutes of scrambling, we reached the fire only to find it
deserted, its original proprietors having seen our sudden alteration of
course, and sought the safety of the dense bush, where further search would
have been useless.

"Now that we are on shore," said Dunmore, "let us make a billy full of tea;
it won't take long.  Here, you boys, get 'em like 'it waddy to make 'em

The troopers and Lizzie dispersed in quest of fuel; Ferdinand walking up
the bank of the creek, where he was soon lost to sight.  A loud coo-eh from
that direction soon brought us to the spot from whence it issued, and we
found the boy staring at several pieces of timber sticking out of the sand.

"Big fellow canoe been sit down here," he said, on our approach, and
examining the protruding stumps, we soon saw enough to convince us that the
boy was right, and that we were in the presence of a vessel, wrecked, or
abandoned, Heaven only knows how many years ago.  With our hands, with pint
pots, with a spade we had brought with us -- mindful of the difficulty we
had experienced in finding a resting-place for poor Cato -- with every
utensil, in fact, that ingenuity could devise, we set to work clearing away
the sand that had accumulated round the old ribs.  Suddenly, the tin rim of
one of the pots gave back a ringing sound, as if it had struck against
metal, and in less than a minute, a much rusted cannon-shot was exposed to
view, and passed round from hand to hand.  It was of small size, weighing,
perhaps, five pounds, though its dimensions were evidently much decreased
by the wasting action of damp.

"By Jove!" said Dunmore, "perhaps she was a Spanish galleon, and we shall
come across her treasure.  Won't that be a find, eh, old fellow?"

"She's more likely a pirate," I answered, as visions of the old buccaneers
floated through my brain; and Edgar Poe's fanciful story of the "Gold
Beetle" occurring to me, I sung out, "Whatever you do, keep any parchment
you stumble across," and abandoned myself to thoughts of untold wealth,
whilst I wielded a quart pot with the energy born of mental excitement.

"My word! that been big fellow sit down like 'it here," cried Ferdinand,
who, lying on one side, had his bare arm buried at full length in the sand.
"I feel him, Marmy, plenty cold."

We rushed to the boy's assistance, and speedily scraped away the shingle,
until an old-fashioned gun was exposed to view; it was coated and scaly
with rust to such an extent, that we were unable to form any idea as to its
age or nationality.  It would most probably have been a twelve or
eighteen-pounder howitzer, for it was about four feet in length, and
disproportionately large in girth; but one of the trunnions, and the button
at the breech, were broken off, the portion that had lain undermost had
entirely disappeared, and the remainder was so honeycombed, that beyond
ascertaining that it was a piece of ordnance, we could elicit nothing from
this curious relic of a bygone generation.

Further search brought to light several more round-shot, but in the same
state as the first, and we noticed that in several places the timbers were
burnt, most probably by the natives, or the crew themselves, for the sake
of the copper bolts.

What a number of melancholy recollections are awakened by the discovery of
a forgotten memorial of the past, such as this nameless wreck; and if those
old timbers could have spoken, what a strange record of hopes unfulfilled,
and high adventure unachieved, would have been disinterred from the dark
storehouse of the past!  That the vessel came in her present position by
accident, could hardly be supposed.  More probably, having struck on the
Barrier Reef, or on some of the hidden coral shelves with which this sea
abounds, she had been taken into this secluded creek for repairs.  Cook,
the great circumnavigator, careened his ship at a spot not far distant from
this; but we were unanimously of opinion that this vessel must have become
embedded long prior to his time.  Not only was the framework some distance
from the present bed of the creek, but it was raised considerably above the
water level.  That the eastern coast of Australia is slowly rising from the
waves is well known, for in the neighbourhood of Brisbane valuable
reclamations have been made within the memory of living men; but at least
two centuries must have elapsed to account for the altitude attained by
this old craft.  Our regret was great at getting no more certain
information, but although we persevered in digging until sundown, no casket
of jewels, no bags of specie, and no mysterious parchments rewarded us; and
with the darkness we were compelled to abandon our search, rather angry at
having wasted several valuable hours to such little purpose.

As it would have been madness attempting to cross the bar before daylight,
we hauled the boat up on the beach, and made ourselves comfortable for the
night.  About one o'clock, the trooper who was on watch,awakened us with
the news that there was a light out at sea.  We thought at first it could
only be some blacks in their canoes, spearing fish by torchlight, but it
gradually drew nearer and nearer, until at last we could distinguish the
distant sound of voices, and the faint rattle of the iron cable as it flew
out through the hawse-hole.

"Some coasting craft, I suppose," said Dunmore.

"Most probably, but we shall find out in the morning;" and we were soon
again in the land of dreams.

Before daylight we had finished breakfast, and by the time the sun rose,
were in the whale-boat, pulling towards the new arrival.  She was a dirty,
weather-beaten, nondescript-looking little craft, half fore and aft
schooner, half dandy-rigged cutter, and the look-out on board was evidently
not very vigilant, for we had almost arrived alongside, before a black head
showed over the gunwale, and, frightened at seeing a boat-load of armed men
in such an unexpected spot, poured out a flood of shrieking jargon that
would have aroused the Seven Sleepers, and which speedily awoke from their
slumbers the remainder of the crew.  There seemed to be only two white men,
one of whom introduced himself as the captain, and asked us, in French, to
come on board.  The vessel was the 'Gabrielle d'Estonville', of New
Caledonia, commanded by Captain Jean Labonne, and had put into Rockingham
Bay for water, during a 'beche-de-mer' expedition.  Anything to equal the
filth of the fair 'Gabrielle', I never saw.  Her crew consisted of another
Frenchman besides the captain, and of seven or eight Kanakas, two of whom
had their wives on board.  As perhaps this extraordinary trade is but
little known to the reader who has not resided in China, I will briefly
narrate how it is carried out.

From the neighbourhood of Torres Straits to about the Tropic of Capricorn,
extends, at a distance of fifty to a hundred miles from the shore, an
enormous bed of coral, named the Barrier Reef.  There, untold millions of
minute insects are still noiselessly pursuing their toil, and raising fresh
structures from the depths of the ocean.  Neither is this jagged belt --
though deadly to the rash mariner -- without its uses.  In the first place,
a clear channel is always found between it and the mainland, in which no
sea of any formidable dimensions can ever rise, and now that modern surveys
have accurately indicated where danger is to be found, this quiet channel
is of the greatest use to the vessels frequenting that portion of the
ocean, for they avoid the whole swell of the broad Pacific, which now
thunders against and breaks harmlessly on the huge coral wall, instead of
wasting its fury on the coast itself.  In the second place on the Barrier
Reef is found the 'Holothuria', from which the 'beche-de-mer' is prepared.
It is a kind of sea-slug, averaging from one to over two feet in length,
and four to ten inches in girth.  In appearance, these sea-cucumbers are
more repulsive, looking like flabby black or green sausages, and squirting
out a stream of salt water when pressed.  But despite their disgusting
appearance, they are a most valuable cargo, from the high price they fetch
in the Chinese market, where they are a much-esteemed delicacy.  The vessel
that goes in quest of 'beche-de-mer' takes several expert divers -- usually
Kanakas, or South Sea Islanders -- and having arrived at the ground they
propose fishing, a sort of head-quarters is established on some convenient
island, where vegetables are planted, to stave off the scurvy that would
otherwise soon attack the adventurers.  This done the little vessel
proceeds to the edge of the reef, and begins work in earnest.

The sea-slug is found buried amidst the triturated sand, worn away by the
constant play of the waves, and only the experienced and keen-eyed Kanakas
can detect its whereabouts, by the  fitful waving of the long feathery
tentacles surrounding the mouth of the fish, which immerses its body in the
sand.  The vessel being anchored, her boat is got out, and pulled to the
smooth water within the reef, the divers keeping a keen scrutiny on the
milk-white floor for any indication of their prey.  Suddenly, the man in
the bows holds up his hand, as a sign to desist from pulling.  He drops
quietly into the clear water, and the length of time that elapses before
his black head reappears, is enough to make a bystander nervous.  Often the
diver has to encounter his dread enemy the shark, and if cool and
collected, generally comes off victorious in the contest.  The South Sea
Islanders have a thorough knowledge of the habits of this salt-water
pirate, and know that by keeping underneath him, they cannot be touched,
and they will fearlessly stab the intruder with their knives, and avail
themselves of his momentary departure to regain the boat.  I have known one
instance of a native jumping into the water to distract the attention of a
shark that was swimming guard over his friend, and both escaped unhurt; but
still, despite their utmost skill, accidents do often occur.  In shallow
water the 'beche-de-mer' is caught with a five-pronged instrument,
resembling an eel-spear.  The animals are split open, boiled, pressed flat,
and dried in the sun, and after a sufficient number have been taken, they
are carried to the island rendezvous and there smoked with dry wood, which
last process converts the slug into genuine 'beche-de-mer', fit for the
market, and for the palates of Celestial epicures.  I tried to cook some,
but after boiling it for a couple of hours in a quart pot, it came out like
a dirty piece of indian-rubber, and so tough that no teeth could penetrate

Captain Labonne welcomed us very cordially -- the sight of a strange face
must have been a godsend -- and most hospitably asked us to share his
breakfast, but as it consisted only of dried fish, which smelt most
abominably, we declined, and he was very grateful for a couple of pots of
sardines which we gave him out of our slender stock.  The 'Gabrielle' was
on her way to Cardwell for fresh provisions and water, and after the
dangers to be avoided had been pointed out by the pilot, we bade adieu to
Jean Labonne and his queer crew, though not before one of our party had
succeeded in jotting down the features of a Kanaka diver, his wife and



WE now pulled for the mouth of the Macalister River, and on sighting the
bar shortly before eight o'clock, were glad to find but little surf
running.  On our way we passed several water-snakes, one of which seemed of
large size, but we were too distant to form any accurate estimate of its
length.  It was not altogether without misgivings that we encountered the
ridge of sand that extended completely across the entrance of the river.
Only one of our party had ever crossed it before, and it was known to be
very dangerous.  The calm water rolled itself up in smooth walls, which
sailed majestically along until the upper portion broke into a line of
white, and soon the entire mass rushed onward in a sheet of foam.

The great danger in crossing a bar is, that the helmsman either loses his
head and permits the boat to present her broadside to the surf, or that the
steering power is not sufficient to keep her head straight.  Neither of
these misfortunes befell us in entering the Macalister, for, from the hour
we had selected, the sea was at its quietest, and we got over without
shipping a thimbleful of water.  We found a broad expanse studded with
dense mangrove flats, and it was with difficulty we ascertained which was
the main channel.  We pulled on until about noon, by which time the mud
swamps had disappeared, and we were fairly in the river, which much
resembled the Herbert, of which I have already given a description, except
that it was smaller, and that the vegetation was more luxurious.  On
landing, we lit a fire, and cooked our dinner, consisting of ducks and
moor-fowl that we had shot on our way up.  I never remember seeing
water-fowl in such profusion as here.  The ducks and geese were literally
in tens of thousands, and the beautifully-plumaged moor-fowl quite
blackened the mangrove bushes as we passed.

The scenery was perfectly lovely.  Tall palms shot up in every direction;
wild bananas spread forth their broad leaves, amidst which were seen the
bunches of fruit; and the larger trees -- fig, Leichhardt plum, etc. --
threw their branches across the river, and there interlacing, formed a
leafy canopy such as we imagined was unknown in Australia.  Some of the
young palms we cut down for the sake of the head, which is very pleasant
eating.  Stripping off the leaves, you come to a shoot twenty inches or two
feet in length, the interior of which consists of a white substance
resembling an office ruler in thickness, and which tastes something like a
chestnut, but is much more milky and sweet.  The fruit of the wild banana
has a most delicious flavour, but is so full of small seeds that it is
impossible to swallow it.  The huge fig trees, with which the banks of most
of the northern rivers abound, have the peculiarity that the fruit is found
growing on the trunk, and not at the extremity of the smaller boughs.  On
an enormous stem, and at a distance of only a few feet from its base, are
seen bunches of figs, and these, though of smaller size than the European
fruit, are very palatable, if they can be selected free from insects.
Usually, the ants have been first afield, and have taken up their abode in
the very heart of the fig, forming a most undesirable mouthful for the
unwary stranger.  The wild plums are very good, but to attain perfection,
should be buried for some days previous to eating.  I trust these details
will not prove tedious to my readers, but I know from experience the
benefit arising from even a slight knowledge of wild fruits and herbs,
which have often quenched thirst and assuaged hunger when other food was
wanting, and rendered endurable what would otherwise have been a painful

We camped that night where darkness overtook us, close to a thick scrub
which lined the bank of the river, and we paid for our stupidity in not
selecting a more open spot, for myriads of mosquitoes put sleep out of the
question.  The truth was that this belt of scrub had lined the river for
several miles past, and we hoped at every turn to come to a break, but night
set in whilst we were still between the leafy walls.

Daylight came at last, and we pushed onward.  An hour took us into a
beautiful black-soil plain of great extent, without a stick of timber, and
well watered, not only by the Macalister, which meandered through its
centre, but by several large lagoons, overgrown with the lovely white
lotus, and crowded with waterfowl.  The existence of such a planter's
paradise was totally unsuspected, and we all gazed spell-bound on this
splendid tract of country, possessing every requisite for successful
cultivation, and a water road for the produce.  Dunmore was a true prophet
when he exclaimed --

"Before a year is past this will be settled upon."

A fine sugar plantation now stands on "Bellenden Plains," with superb cane
growing in unwonted luxuriance, and horses and cattle have taken the place
of the kangaroos, that we on this first visit found grazing there in
troops.  In the distance could be seen the coast range behind Cardwell,
which seemed to recede inland as it trended towards our position, and
sweeping round, approached the sea again farther north, forming a natural
boundary to a vast space of available country.  A silver line shone out on
the mountains, and with our glasses we could make out that it must be a
waterfall of very large dimensions.  We at once agreed that it must be the
source of the very river we were on, the Macalister, but, as the sequel
will show, we found so many streams, that most probably we were mistaken in
our judgment.  We resolved to make this charming spot our head-quarters for
the present, as we had everything to be desired -- water, game, etc. --
close at hand, and, from the absence of timber, no blacks would be able to
steal upon us unperceived.

Leaving the pilot and one man in charge of the boat, we trudged along
through the high grass, which reached to our middles, and was dripping with
moisture from a shower that had fallen during the night; and, after a
tedious walk, reached the edge of the scrub.  It was thicker than anything
we had encountered before, the density of the foliage totally excluding the
sun, and giving rise to a dank humid odour that struck a chill to the heart
directly you entered.  We wound along the path, or rather track, that the
blacks had made, with the greatest difficulty.  It was all very well for
the troopers, who had stripped, but our clothes hitched up on a thorn at
every other step.  One of our most provoking enemies was the lawyer vine, a
kind of rattan enclosed in a rough husk, covered with thousands of crooked
prickles.  These, with their outer covering, are about an inch and a
quarter in diameter, and extend to an enormous distance, running up to the
tops of lofty trees, and from thence either descending or pushing onward,
or festooning themselves from stem to stem in graceful curves of
indescribable beauty.  From the joints of the parent shoot are thrown out
little slender tendrils, no thicker than a wire, but of great length, and
as dangerously armed as their larger relation.  These miserable little
wretches seem always on the watch to claw hold of something, and if you are
unhappy enough to be caught, and attempt to disengage yourself by
struggling, fresh tendrils appear always to lurk in ambush, ready to assist
their companion, who already holds you in his grasp.  I have measured the
length of one of these canes, and found it over 250 paces; and this is not
the maximum to which they attain, for I have been assured by men employed
in cutting a telegraph road through the scrub that they had found some over
300 yards long.  They seem to retain the same circumference throughout
their whole length, and, as the bushman puts everything to some use, the
lawyer is divested of his husk, and takes the place of wire in fencing,
being rove through the holes bored in the posts as though they were ropes.
It is almost needless to add that this cane derives its 'soubriquet' of
"lawyer" from the difficulty experienced in getting free if once caught in
its toils.

Another of the torments to which the traveller is subjected in the North
Australian scrubs, is the stinging-tree ('Urtica gigas'), which is very
abundant, and ranges in size from a large shrub of thirty feet in height to
a small plant measuring only a few inches.  Its leaf is large and peculiar,
from being covered with a short silvery hair, which, when shaken, emits a
fine pungent dust, most irritating to the skin and nostrils.  If touched,
it causes most acute pain, which is felt for months afterwards -- a dull
gnawing pain, accompanied by a burning sensation, particularly in the
shoulder, and under the arm, where small lumps often arise.  Even when the
sting has quite died away, the unwary bushman is forcibly reminded of his
indiscretion each time that the affected part is brought into contact with
water.  The fruit is of a pink, fleshy colour, hanging in clusters, and
looks so inviting that a stranger is irresistibly tempted to pluck it; but
seldom more than once, for though the raspberry-like berries are harmless
in themselves, some contact with the leaves is almost unavoidable.  The
blacks are said to eat the fruit; but for this I cannot vouch, though I
have tasted one or two at odd times, and found them very pleasant.  The
worst of this nettle is the tendency it exhibits to shoot up wherever a
clearing has been effected.  In passing through the dray tracks cut through
the scrub, great caution was necessary to avoid the young plants that
cropped up even in a few weeks.  I have never known a case of its being
fatal to human beings; but I have seen people subjected by it to great
suffering, notably a scientific gentleman, who plucked off a branch and
carried it some distance as a curiosity, wondering the while what was
causing the pain and numbness in his arm.  Horses I have been die in agony
from the sting, the wounded parts becoming paralysed; but strange to say,
it does not seem to injure cattle, who dash through scrubs full of it
without receiving any damage.  This curious anomaly is well known to all

For a couple of hours we followed the tortuous windings of the track,
without we white men having the faintest conception where we were going,
though the troopers and Lizzie declared that we were pushing straight
through.  At length a ray of sunlight became visible, and in a few minutes
we emerged from the sombre depths of the jungle, and found ourselves on the
banks of a splendid river, the Mackay.  Traces of blacks were seen in every
direction, the white sand being covered with their foot-prints.  Abandoned
gungales were plentiful on the opposite bank, which was clear of scrub, and
whilst we were eating the damper and beef with which each of the party was
provided, Lizzie espied a thin column of smoke at no great distance.

We approached it as cautiously as possible, taking advantage of every shrub
that offered a cover, and finally, lying down and worming our way through
the grass on all fours, a mode of progression that is in itself
particularly fatiguing and objectionable, but not without excitement, for
we never knew the moment when we might chance to put our hands on a dormant
snake, or find ourselves sprawling over a nest of bulldog ants.  We were
successful in completely surprising the camp, which consisted entirely of
gins and piccaninnies, all the males, as usual, being out hunting.  The
gins spoke quite a different language from that of the Hinchinbrook and
Herbert River people, and Lizzie was a long time before she could make them
understand.  They seemed to know nothing of any white men, nor, I may say,
of anything else in particular.  They were ignorant where the Mackay rose,
or where it debouched, and could give us no information regarding the
waterfall we saw on the distant range, what river it supplied, or what kind
of country was between us and the hills.  Altogether they were a most
unsatisfactory lot; and having rummaged their camp without finding any
suspicious articles, and threatened them with wholesale destruction if they
gave warning of our approach to any other tribe, by either smoke signals or
messengers, we departed, much disgusted.

On arriving at the edge of a small copse, at a short distance from the
camp, we found the arsenal of the male portion of the tribe.  Why they had
stacked their arms so far away from the gungales we never could make out;
but there they were, consisting of the usual spears and shields, and, in
addition, several of the enormous swords used by these natives, of which we
had often heard, but that few of our party, except Dunmore, had ever seen.
These curious weapons are made of the heaviest iron-bark wood, are about
five feet in length, by as many inches in breadth, and about an inch thick
in the centre -- rather more than less, and both edges scraped down to as
sharp an edge as the material will receive.  They are slightly curved; but
the most wonderful part about them is the handle, which is so small that a
European can with difficulty squeeze three fingers into it.  The mystery
is, how do they use them? for Goliath of Gath could never have wielded an
instrument as heavy as this with one hand.  It is supposed that the warrior
raises the cumbrous weapon on his shield, and having got within sword's
length of his enemy, lets it drop on his head.  This portion of a black's
frame is undeniably hard; but such a blow would crush it like an egg-shell;
and as he may be credited with sufficient sense to know this, it seems
difficult to understand why he should stand still and allow such a
disagreeable operation to be performed.  Whether or not the use of these
weapons has been discovered since I left Australia, I am unable to say; but
certainly up to that time we who lived in their neighbourhood were unable
to appreciate the varied excellencies they doubtless possess.

We pursued our way up the Mackay River in hopes of finding some termination
to the thick scrub on the opposite bank, so that we might return to our
boat without having to thread its intricate mazes again; and in this we
were successful, finding a break in the jungle an hour before sunset, which
at once admitted us to the plain, through the centre of which ran the
Macalister, and in due course we reached our camp, where, after having a
glorious "bogey" (the Australian term for bathing) in the river, and
overhauling each other well, to see that no ticks were adhering to our
skins, we had supper, and turned in, having done little good, except
finding a road to the Mackay less tedious than the one we had taken in the
morning.  The ticks that I mentioned just now, are little insects no bigger
than a pin's head when they first fasten on to you, but soon become swollen
with blood until larger than a pea.  They do no harm to a man besides the
unpleasant feeling they occasion, but they almost invariably kill a dog.
Nearly all our dogs fell victims sooner or later to either the alligator or
the tick.


We now determined to carry with us enough tea, sugar, and flour to last for
a week, and to work up towards the unknown country at the head of the
Mackay, leaving the boat in its present position, under the charge of two
men.  We intended to push towards the range whence both the Macalister and
the Mackay rivers drew their supply; and as the former stream in its
windings over the open plain approached within a mile of its large
neighbour, we resolved to move the boat a little further up before starting
on our new expedition.  By occasionally lightening her, and dragging her
over the shallows, this was accomplished in a couple of hours, and we
finally halted at a bend in the river where the bank was high enough to
shield the boat from all observation, whilst the scrub bordering the
Mackay, standing at less than a quarter of a mile distant, the men left
behind could easily see if any considerable body of blacks moved between
the two streams, and could take the bearings of all smoke arising from
fires in the direction of the coast, so that we might visit them hereafter,
if deemed necessary.  The fact of two rivers, each containing a constant
supply of water, being found in such close proximity to each other, caused
much remark, for none of us had ever observed a similar instance in
Australia, which is as a rule very deficient in permanent rivers.

We now turned our attention to getting sufficient provisions cooked to last
the exploring party for three days, as we were determined to employ the
utmost vigilance, and show as little smoke as possible, for nothing creates
such suspicion amongst the aboriginals as seeing fresh fires constantly
lighted, unless accompanied by the smoke signals, which I have described in
a former chapter.  As we were utterly ignorant of the code they employed,
we resolved only to light our fires at night, and not even then unless we
found some sequestered spot where the flame would be unseen.  Some of us at
once started for a large lagoon that we had passed in the morning, and
creeping up through the long grass, found its surface quite covered with
water-fowl of every description, from the black swan to the beautiful pigmy
goose.  A volley, fired at a concerted signal, strewed the surface of the
lake with the dead and wounded, and we were compelled to stand idly on the
bank until the wind wafted the game ashore, for at the report of the guns
two or three heavy splashes and as many dusky forms gliding into the water
betokened that we had disturbed alligators, either having a nap, or lying
in wait for kangaroos and wallaby coming down to drink.  More than one
house now stands on the margin of this lagoon, but their inhabitants are
still afraid to bathe in the broad sheet of water spread so invitingly
before them.

Having secured our game, we returned to the boat, and after plucking and
splitting open the birds, some were roasted over the fire for immediate
use, but by far the greater number were boiled in a pot, which was portion
of the boat's furniture when on an expedition.  One of the troopers had
with a tomahawk stripped off a sheet of bark, and on this was manufactured
a gigantic damper.  For the information of such of my readers as may be
unacquainted with Australia, I must explain that damper is unleavened
bread, well kneaded and baked in the ashes.  But simple though such a rough
form of loaf may seem from the above description, it is in reality a very
difficult thing to turn out a thoroughly good damper, and only practice
will enable the new-comer to obtain the sleight of hand necessary for the
production of a first-rate specimen.  In form a damper resembles a flat
cheese of two or three inches thick, and from one to two feet in diameter.
Great care and much practice are requisite to form this shape so that no
cracks shall appear, and when this is done the work is by no means over,
for the exact heat of the fire must be judged by the cook, otherwise he
will either burn up his dough, or it will come out a crude, sodden,
uneatable mass.  A good wood fire that has been burning several days, and
has gained a quantity of ashes, is the best; but wood is plentiful enough
in the bush, and if you only know the right kind to use, you find no
difficulty in soon providing yourself with a glorious heap of glowing
embers.  Scraping away a hole in the centre of the fire a little larger
than the disc, you gently drop it in with your hands, strew it over with
enough powdery white ash to prevent the embers coming into actual contact
with the dough, and then cover the whole with the glowing coals.  Only
practice can enable the bushman to judge the exact depth of this layer,
which, of course, differs in every case, according to the size of the
damper.  It is left in this fiery bed until small cracks appear on the
covering caused by the steam forcing its way out.  This is a sign that it
is nearly done, confirmation of which is sought by introducing a
knife-blade through the ashes, and sounding the crust.  If this gives back
a hard sound, the damper may be considered cooked, and is then withdrawn,
stood carefully 'on its edge' -- never forget this -- and is ready to eat
when cool.

As there was nothing very particular to do that afternoon, we watched the
troopers spearing fish, in which they were most skilful.  There is in some
of the Australian rivers a splendid fish, called the 'Barrimundi', which
not only much resembles the salmon in appearance, but, like it, requires
running water and access to the sea.  Many a time I have vainly tried to
lure them from their watery depths, but no bait would tempt them that I
could ever hit on, though I have little doubt that a fly or artificial
minnow would prove killing.  We could see them in the Macalister, lying
with their heads pointed up stream, and seemingly motionless but for the
slight waving of the tail that retained them in their places.  Having cut
several slender switches, not thicker than a tobacco-pipe stem, and
sharpened one end with a knife, the trooper Ferdinand, who was by far the
most expert among his brethren, grasped this apparently inoffensive little
weapon between the thumb and middle finger, whilst the blunt end rested
against the ball of the forefinger.  Stooping down, he approached to within
four or five yards of the fish, which were only a few inches from the
surface, and suddenly jerking his switch forward, it entered the water
almost horizontally, and rarely failed to transfix a 'Barri mundi', which,
darting forward, was soon hampered by the weapon catching in the weeds, and
became the prey of its sharp-eyed captor, who had never lost sight of it in
its endeavour to escape.  This fish is excellent eating, and averages from
eight to thirty pounds in weight.

As Dunmore and I were strolling along a small lagoon overgrown with
water-lilies, he pointed out to me a pretty graceful little bird, about the
size of a jack-snipe, but with longer legs, and most extraordinary claws.
I am ashamed to say I shot this poor little fellow, to examine him, and
found that each toe measured at least three inches from the leg to the
extremity of the claw.  This is to enable the bird to run along safely over
the floating leaves of the lotus, on which plant it seems to get its
living.  I had never seen one before; and the simple manner in which Nature
had adapted it to its peculiar line of life struck me as both curious and
beautiful.  What this little bird's scientific name is I never heard, but
we colonists call it the "Lotus bird."

As there was a remote chance of the party left with the boats coming in
contact with the blacks, it was deemed advisable to leave them a trooper,
who would more readily recognise their whereabouts than the white men;
therefore a boy known by the not euphonious sobriquet of "Killjoy," was
selected to remain with the pilot and his two boatmen, and after dividing
the big meat damper in five equal portions, the exploring party, consisting
of Dunmore, Ferdinand, Larry, Lizzie and myself, struck out for the opening
in the scrub on the Mackay river.  We descended into the sandy bed, and
crossed to the opposite side, which was much more open country, consisting
of park-like land, lightly timbered, but the soil not nearly so rich as the
fertile plain through which wound the Macalister.  It would be tedious to
weary my readers with a minute account of our doings each day; enough to
say that we passed through new country of every description, crossing from
side to side of the Mackay, to cut off its many bends, and that our
progress was but slow, the distant ranges seeming hardly nearer on the
third day than they were at starting.  We were disappointed in not meeting
with any blacks, though their traces were plentiful; and we had commenced
to fear that the tribe we had surprised five days before had given warning
of our approach, when Ferdinand reported smoke a couple of miles on our
right.  It was about mid-day when this was seen; and having made a hurried
meal off the damper, which I may here state answered its purpose admirably,
we crept towards the fire with the utmost caution.  Our route took us away
from the river, and on arriving at the edge of a small belt of scrub, we
could make out that the fire was by the side of a water-hole, but the two
hundred yards between it and ourselves was so open, that surprising the
camp seemed almost impossible.  The hour was in our favour, for the blacks
were lying about listlessly, resting themselves after the fatigues of
procuring the food of which they had just made a meal.  They numbered about
twenty of both sexes, and were evidently quite unconscious of our
proximity.  Detaching the two troopers to make a detour, and cut them off
from the scrub in that direction, Dunmore, Lizzie, and I remained perfectly
motionless for above an hour, and then, judging that the boys must have
reached their position, we advanced towards the camp swiftly but silently.
We got over a third of the distance before the blacks saw us, and then
ensured a general scrimmage.  The women and children jumped into the
lagoon, and the men, snatching up their weapons, threw a volley of spears
with such force and precision that, had we been twenty yards closer, it
would have gone hard with both my companions and myself.  As it was, the
missiles nearly all fell short, seeing which the warriors dropped their
arms and took to their heels, running directly for the spot where Ferdinand
and Larry lay in ambush.  Both Dunmore and myself fired our carbines over
the heads of the retreating Myalls (wild blacks), which completed their
panic, and one of them, rushing recklessly forward, was captured by the
troopers, and brought by them in triumph to the camp, amidst the yells and
jabbering of the gins and piccaninnies.

After half an hour or so, seeing that no harm was intended to them, the
women came out of the water, and we were very much pleased to find that
they readily understood Lizzie.  On being addressed by her, the warrior,
who had hitherto maintained a sullen and defiant attitude, became
conversational, and readily replied to all the questions put to him by
Dunmore.  Unlike most of the blacks, he appeared to be very little
frightened at the situation in which he found himself, and seemed
instinctively to know that all danger was past.  On being questioned
regarding the shipwrecked crew, he denied all knowledge of any vessel
having been lost, but said at once that a white man had lived with this
tribe for many moons, though he was dead now.  This rather astonished us,
and we asked if any relics were still in the camp, upon which one of the
gins produced an old sheath-knife, worn down nearly to nothing by constant
sharpening; half a dozen horn buttons, one of them still sewn to a fragment
of moleskin; and an empty tin match-box.  We asked how long the white man
had been dead, and were told that he died three moons before, of fever, and
that we could see his grave if we liked, for it was within a day's journey.
There was an openness about this tribe, and a frankness in their answers,
that made us certain that all we heard was the truth, and as they had
evidently befriended this poor wanderer, we were anxious to repay them in
some measure, and strengthen the kindly feelings they felt for the white
men, so we told Lizzie to assure them that our visit was only to search for
our lost brethren; that we should like to visit the grave, if one of them
would guide us; and that in return for their services we would give them a
new knife and a tomahawk.

As they were profoundly ignorant of the use of fire-arms, and we wished to
impress upon them the irresistible power of the white man, it was agreed
that we should ask them to guide us to the nearest place frequented by
kangaroos, and pick off two or three of these animals in their presence, if
possible.  They were very curious to know the meaning of our "lightning
sticks," and we repaired, escorted by nearly the whole tribe, to a
neighbouring water-hole, where we could remain concealed, and get an easy
shot at any game coming down to drink.  We were not kept long waiting, for
within half an hour a couple of wallabies came hopping leisurely along, and
were very cleverly dropped in their tracks, one by Dunmore, the other by
Larry.  Our hosts were in ecstasies, and seemed very grateful that a
similar fate had not befallen some of their number in the morning; but we
made Lizzie explain to them clearly that our object was not to hurt our
black friends, unless they were wicked -- ill-treating white men, or
spearing cattle.  A couple of noble emus now came stalking slowly towards
the water, and, passing within forty yards of our hiding-place, both fell
victims to the breechloaders of Dunmore and myself.

This beautiful bird inhabits the open country throughout Australia, where
at one time it was very common, but is now rarely seen in the settled
districts.  However, in the north emus may be found in plenty; and I do not
think there is the slightest fear of their becoming extinct, as some
writers suggest.  All my readers must have seen this bird at the Zoological
Gardens, and remarked its likeness to the ostrich, both in form and habits;
but the prisoner portrays but poorly the free majestic gait of the wild
inhabitant of the plains.  The colour of the adult bird is a greyish brown,
the feathers are very loose and hairy, whilst the height of a fine male is
often nearly seven feet.  The usual mode of capturing these birds is to
ride them down, using dogs trained for the purpose to pull them to the
ground.  The dogs should be taught to reserve their attack until the emu is
thoroughly tired out, and then to spring upon the neck; but an unwary puppy
will bitterly rue his temerity should he come within reach of the powerful
legs, which deal kicks fiercely around, and of sufficient power to disable
any assailant.  The ostrich always kicks forward, in which he differs from
the emu, whose blow is delivered sideways and backwards, like a cow.  This
bird is very good eating, if you know the part to select; the legs proving
tough and unpalatable, while the back is nearly as tender as fowl.  But to
the bushman the most valuable thing about the emu is its oil, which is
looked upon as a sovereign remedy for bruises or sprains when rubbed into
the affected part either pure or mixed with turpentine.  This useful oil is
of a light yellow colour, and from its not readily congealing or becoming
glutinous, it is in much request for cleaning the locks of fire-arms.  It
chiefly resides in the skin, but also collects in great quantities near the
rump.  The usual mode of obtaining it is to pluck out all the feathers, cut
the skin into small pieces, and boil them in a common pot; but a still
simpler plan, though less productive, is to hang the skin before a fire,
and catch the oil as it drips down.  A full-sized bird will yield from six
to seven quarts.  The food of the emu consists of grass and various fruits.
It emits a deep drumming sound from its throat, but no other cry, that I
ever heard.  Its nest is only a shallow hole scraped in the ground, and in
this hollow the eggs, which vary in number, are laid.  Dr. Bennett remarks
that "There is always an odd number, some nests having been discovered with
nine, others with eleven, and others again with thirteen."  When fresh they
are of a beautiful green colour, and are in much request for mounting in
silver as drinking cups; but after a little while the colour changes to a
dirty brownish green.  One peculiarity about the next is, that the parent
bird never goes straight up to it, but walks round and round in a narrowing
circle, of which the nest is the centre.  I once caught seven little emus,
only just out of the shell; but shutting them up for the night in an empty
room, I was horrified the next morning to find that they had all been
killed by rats.  The young ones have four broad longitudinal stripes down
the back, which disappear as they grow up.  The emu is easily domesticated,
and on many cattle and sheep stations tame specimens are funning about the
paddocks.  To my mind they are an intolerable nuisance, always doing some
mischief -- either frightening the horses, or stealing things from the
workmen.  I saw one cured of his thievish propensities for a long time.  He
always loafed about the kitchen when dinner was being served, and if the
cook turned his back for a moment, his long neck was thrust through the
window, and anything within reach -- from an onion to a salt-spoon --
disappeared with marvellous celerity.  But my friend caught a tartar when
he bolted two scalding potatoes, steaming from the pot.  He rushed round and
round the little paddock, and at last dropped down as if dead, from pain
and fatigue.  Poor wretch, he must have suffered dreadfully; and I am sure
we all pitied him, except the cook, whose patience he had quite worn out.

Out sable allies were gratified beyond measure when we presented them with
the game, and a great feast took place that evening.  We neglected no
opportunity of gaining information about both the shipwrecked crew and the
unknown white man, whose grave we were to visit on the following morning.
Through Lizzie we questioned different individuals separately, but they all
agreed that such an event as the loss of a vessel and the arrival of her
crew amongst the blacks, could not possibly have happened without their
hearing something of it.  From their imperfect knowledge of time, and their
difficulty in expressing any number higher than five, we could not form the
slightest idea how long the white man had lived among them; but they
pointed to the ranges behind the township of Cardwell as indicating the
place where he first joined them.

We camped at the opposite end of the water-hole, not thinking it judicious
to remain too close to our allies, and kept a strict watch during the
night; but we might all have enjoyed a good sleep in perfect safety, for
the blacks were far too busy stuffing themselves with emu meat to think of
treachery.  Before sunrise we started, guided by our late captive and two
of his companions.  After a tedious walk, we arrived at an open plain, on
which the grass was trodden down in every direction, in some places worn
quite away by the feet of the natives -- for this was the great "bora
ground" of the coast tribes, where the mystic ceremonies mentioned in a
former chapter took place.  Traversing the sacred plain, our thoughts busy
in conjecturing the weird scenes that the posts had witnessed, we came to a
little creek whose clear stream babbled cheerfully among the rocks, and
soon saw a giant fig-tree, which our guides indicated as being the spot we
sought.  As we approached we perceived a greyish-looking form on a large
limb about ten feet from the ground, and a closer inspection revealed to us
that it was unmistakably the body of a white man, rolled up in tea-tree
bark, and kept in its position by fastenings of split cane.  We could not
examine the corpse very minutely, for it was too offensive; but from the
portions of the face that still remained, and the long blonde locks and red
beard, we satisfied ourselves that the poor wanderer was not one of the
'Eva's' crew; indeed, we judged that his death must have taken place some
time before the loss of that vessel.  We were much pleased to observe the
respect with which the natives had treated the remains, and as they think
that exposure either on a platform or in a tree is the most honourable way
in which a corpse can be disposed of, we left the body as we found it, and
returned to the camp, where we passed the night.

Our damper was now at an end, and we had no flour with us, so made up our
minds to return to the boat.  On talking the matter over, it seemed quite
clear that the shipwrecked men had never been thrown on this part of the
coast, and that any further exploration would only be lost time.  On the
following morning we presented the tribe with our knives, and some matches,
and taking a friendly leave of them, started for the Macalister,
accompanied by two of the warriors.  We reached the boat on the sixth day,
found the pilot and his party well, and having dismissed the blacks, with
the present of a tomahawk and a blanket, we started at once for the place
lower down the river, which had been agreed upon with Jack Clark as a
rendezvous.  When we arrived at this spot on the following day, the
horsemen had not turned up, so we amused ourselves as best we could,
fishing, shooting, and eating damper thickly plastered over with honey, for
Larry had found a "sugar bag."

The way the trooper performed this feat was not a little ingenious.  Having
noticed several bees about, he caught one, and with a little gum, attached
to it a piece of down from a large owl that somebody had shot.  Releasing
the insect, it flew directly towards its nest, the unaccustomed burden with
which it was laden serving not only to make it easily visible, but also
impeding its flight sufficiently to admit of the boy following it.  The
next was at the top of a large blue gum tree, about three feet in diameter,
and sending up a smooth column for fifty feet without a branch or twig.
Most people would have given up all thoughts of a honey feed for the day;
not so Mr. Larry, whose movements we followed with considerable curiosity.
Divesting himself of his clothing, he repaired to an adjoining scrub, and
with his tomahawk cut out a piece of lawyer cane twenty feet in length.
Having stripped this of its husk, he wove it into a hoop round the tree of
just sufficient size to admit his body.  Slinging his tomahawk and a
fishing-line round his neck, he got inside the hoop, and allowing it to
rest against the small of his back, he pressed hard against the tree with
his knees and feet.  This raised him several inches, when with a dexterous
jerk he moved the portion of the hoop furthest away from him a good foot up
the stem, and thus -- somewhat on the same principle that boys climb a
chimney, for the hoop represented the chimney -- he worked himself upward,
and in much less time than I have taken to describe it, was astride on the
lowest branch, and chopping vigorously at the hollow which contained the
golden store.  The use of the fishing-line now became apparent, for we bent
on to its end a small tin billy (round can), used for making tea, and by
hauling this up and filling it, Larry soon supplied us with honey enough to
fill our bucket and the boat's baler.  As perhaps my readers may be tempted
to wonder why the bees did not attack the naked hide of the robber who was
thus rudely despoiling them, I must state that the wild Australian bee is
stingless.  It is a harmless little insect, not much larger than the common
house-fly, and though it produces abundance of honey and wax, it has not
been subjected to domestication, and from its diminutive proportions and
its habit of building on very high trees, probably never will be.  The
English bee has been most successfully introduced into Queensland; and many
of the farms in the neighbourhood of Brisbane make a good thing out of
their honey and wax.

A meeting was held the next day, at which it was agreed that all further
search would be useless, and, indeed, I am certain that every possible
measure had been attempted for the discovery of the missing men.  There
seems every reason to think that the ill-fated 'Eva' was sunk in the
cyclone.  Most likely she went down in deep water, and all on board her
were drowned.  Such was the supposition that received most favour at the
time, and with it we must rest content until the great day when all secrets
are revealed.

End of Australian Search Party by Charles Henry Eden

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