Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 62, Number 385. November, 1847. online

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Transcriber's Note

Spellings are sometimes erratic. A few obvious misprints have been
corrected, but in general the original spelling has been retained.
Accents in the French phrases are inconsistent, and have not been















* * * * *


One of the most striking, and perhaps the most intellectual advances
of the age, is in the progress of geographical discovery. It is
honourable to England, that this new impulse to a knowledge of the
globe began with her spirit of enterprise, and it is still more
honourable to her that that spirit was originally prompted by
benevolence. Cook, with whose voyages this era may be regarded as
originating, was almost a missionary of the benevolence of England,
and of George III.; and the example of both the great discoverer and
the good king has been so powerfully impressed on all the subsequent
attempts of English adventurers, that there has been scarcely a voyage
to new regions which has not been expressly devised to carry with it
some benefit to their people.

When the spirit of discovery was thus once awakened, a succession of
intelligent and daring men were stimulated to the pursuit; and the
memorable James Bruce, who had begun life as a lawyer, grown weary of
the profession, and turned traveller through the South of Europe at a
period when the man who ventured across the Pyrenees was a hero;
gallantly fixed his eyes on Africa, as a region of wonders, of which
Europe had no other knowledge than as a land of lions, of men more
savage than the lions, and of treasures of ivory and gold teeming and
unexhausted since the days of Solomon. The hope of solving the old
classic problem, the source of the Nile, pointed his steps to
Abyssinia, and after a six years' preparation in his consulate of
Algiers, he set forward on his dangerous journey, and arrived at the
source of the Bahr-el-Azrek, (the Blue River,) one of the branches of
the great river. Unluckily he had been misdirected, for the true Nile
is the Bahr-el-Abiad, (the White River.)

His volumes, published in 1790, excited equal curiosity and censure;
but the censure died away, the curiosity survived, and a succession of
travellers, chiefly sustained by the African Association, penetrated
by various routes into Africa.

The discovery of the course of the Niger was now the great object. And
Mungo Park, a bold and intelligent discoverer, gave a strong
excitement to the public feeling by his "Travels," published towards
the close of the century. His adventures were told in a strain of good
sense and simplicity which fully gratified the public taste. And on
his unfortunate death, which happened in a second exploration of the
Niger in 1805, another expedition was fitted out under Captain Tuckey,
an experienced seaman, to ascertain the presumed identity of the Congo
with the Niger. But the sea-coast of Africa is deadly to Europeans,
and this effort failed through general disease.

The next experiment was made by land - from Tripoli across the Great
Desert - under Denham, Clapperton, and Oudney. This effort was
partially baffled by sickness, but still more by the arts of the
native chiefs, who are singularly jealous of strangers. In a second
attempt Clapperton, the only survivor of the former, died.

The problem of the course of the Niger was reserved for Richard
Lander, who in 1830, sailed down the Niger from Baossa, and reached
the Atlantic by the river Nun, one of its branches.

Other travellers, more highly accomplished, but less fortunate, had in
the meantime explored the countries to the east and north of the
Mediterranean. Of these, Burckhardt, a German, was among the most
distinguished. After preparing himself for the most complete adoption
of Mahometan life by a sojourn of two years at Aleppo, and even
risking the pilgrimage to Mecca, he was on the point of travelling to
Fezzan, when he died of a country fever. His works throw much light on
the habits and literature of Syria and Palestine. The narratives of
Hamilton, Leigh, Belzoni, and of Salt the consul in Egypt, largely
increased the public interest in countries, universally known to have
been the birth-places of religion, science, and literature; and Lane
and Wilkinson have admirably availed themselves of those discoveries,
and added important information of their own.

The old connexion of trade with China naturally suggested a wish for
more direct intercourse with that mysterious region, and in 1792, an
embassy conducted by Lord Macartney was sent to Pekin. The narrative
of the embassy, by Sir George Staunton, contributed largely to our
knowledge of the interior. But the late Chinese war, and the freedom
of our commerce, will probably open up all the secrets of this most
jealous of empires.

The geographical discoveries of this embassy were of more value than
its diplomatic services. The coast of Corea was found to be bordered
by a vast and fertile Archipelago. The sea is actually studded with
islands; and the narratives of Macleod, and Captain Basil Hall, the
latter one of the liveliest narrators of his time, gave the
impression, that they contained scenes of singular beauty.

On the cessation of the war in 1815, the British Admiralty directed
their leisure to the promotion of science; and the exploration of the
northern coasts of America was commenced in a series of expeditions
under the command of Parry, Ross, Back, Franklin, and other
enterprising officers. Their narratives gave us new islands and bays,
but the great problem of the north-west passage continues unsolved.

It has been alleged, that such expeditions are useless. But it must be
remembered, that true philosophy disdains no advance of knowledge as
useless; that, however difficult, or even to our present means
impassable, the route may be, no man can decide on the means of
posterity; that we may yet find facilities as powerful for passing the
ice and the ocean, as the railroad for traversing the land; and that
the evident design of Providence in placing difficulties before man
is, to sharpen his faculties for their mastery. We have already
explored the whole northern coast, to within about two hundred miles
from Behring's Straits, and an expedition is at present on foot which
will probably complete the outline of the American continent towards
the Pole.

Within the last quarter of a century, discovery has turned to the
islands of the Pacific, perhaps the most favoured region of the globe.
Our great continental colony of Australia, its growing population, and
its still more rapidly growing enterprise - its probable influence on
our Indian empire, and its still more probable supremacy over the
islands which cover the central Pacific, from the tenth to the
forty-fifth degrees of south latitude; have for the last thirty years
strongly directed the observation of government to the south. And a
succession of exploring voyages, from the days of Vancouver to the
present time, have been employed in ascertaining the character of
superb shores, and the capabilities of vast countries, which will
perhaps, in another century, exhibit the most vivid prosperity,
cultivation, and activity, of any dominion beyond the borders of

Australia has an importance in the eyes of England, superior perhaps
to all her other colonies. The climate is obviously more fitted for
the English frame than that of Canada or the West Indies. The English
settler alone is master of the mighty continent of New Holland; for
the natives are few, savage, and rapidly diminishing. The Englishman
may range over a territory of two thousand miles long, by seventeen
hundred broad, without meeting the subject of any other sovereign, or
hearing any other language than his own. The air is temperate, though
so near the equator, and the soil, though often unfertile, is
admirably adapted to the rearing of sheep and cattle. The adjoining
islands offer the finest opportunities for the commercial enterprise
of the Englishman; and its directness of navigation to India or China,
across an ocean that scarcely knows a storm, give it the promise of
being the great eastern _depôt_ of the world. Van Diemen's Land, about
the size, with more than the fertility of Ireland, is said to resemble
Switzerland in picturesque beauty; and New Zealand, a territory of
fifteen hundred miles in length, and of every diversity of surface, is
already receiving the laws and the population of England.

The distance is the chief drawback. Sydney is, by ordinary ship's
course, sixteen thousand miles from London, and the voyage, under the
most prosperous circumstances, has hitherto occupied about four
months. But better hopes are at hand.

On the 20th of last May, a charter was obtained by a company for
establishing a steam communication with Sydney, which proposes to make
the whole course within about _two months_. The route is as
follows, - making twelve thousand seven hundred and thirty miles in
sixty-four days: -

From England to Singapore, by Egypt, eight thousand three hundred and
ninety miles. From Singapore to Fort Essington, by Batavia, two
thousand miles. From Port Essington to Sydney, two thousand three
hundred and forty miles; the rate being one hundred and ninety-nine
miles a-day. The first portion occupying forty-two days, - the second,
ten, - and the third, twelve.

The subject was, for a considerable time, before government, and
various plans of communication had been suggested. - A route by the
Isthmus of Darien, and a route by the Cape with a branch to the
Mauritius. The route by Egypt and India has at length been chosen, and
the most sanguine hopes are entertained of its success. The steam
establishment will have the farther advantage of shortening the
distance by one-half between Calcutta and Sydney; and reducing it to
thirty days, or perhaps less.

Bright prospects, too, are opening for India herself. The great
railway is decided on, the engineers are about to embark, and the
harvests of cotton and the thousand other tropical productions with
which that most magnificent of all countries is covered, will be
poured into the bosom of Australia and the world.

It is scarcely possible to look upon the results of establishing
railroads in India, without something of the enthusiasm which belongs
more to poetry than to statistics. But, "in the Golden Peninsula,"
there spreads before the Englishman a space of nearly a million and a
quarter of square miles, inhabited by about one hundred and
thirty-four millions of souls, with a sea-coast of immense extent,
washed by two oceans, and bordering on vast countries of hitherto
unexplored opulence. The resources of Birmah, Siam, and the Eastern
Archipelago, have been scarcely touched by the hand of man. Savage
governments, savage nations, and savage indolence, have left those
countries almost in a state of nature; yet it is within the tropics
that the true productiveness of the earth is alone to be looked for.
Our long winters, our mountains, and the comparative sterility of
Europe, prohibit that richness of produce which only waits the hand of
man in the South, and it is only when the industry of the European
shall be suffered to throw its strength into the Asiatic soil, that
man will ever be able to discover the true extent of the bounties
provided for him by creation.

The three great divisions, or rather three zones of India - the country
comprehending the great northern chain of mountains, the belt of
plains, from the foot of the mountains to the head of the peninsulas,
a breadth of twelve hundred miles; and the peninsula itself, a
territory extending from thirty-five degrees north latitude to the
equator - give every temperature and every product of the world. The
mighty rivers intersecting this region, the Indus, the Ganges, and
their tributaries, will soon be occupied by the steamboat; and the
railway, running through immense plains on which the harvests of
thousands of years have been suffered to perish, will soon develope
the powers of the people and the fertility of the soil, by opening to
India the market of all nations.

It is to India, that the chief enterprise of British commerce and
civilisation should be directed by an intelligent legislature. The
country will naturally become a vast British province, and this, not
by violence or injustice, but by the course of things, and the
interests of India itself. The native princes, reared in vice and
indolence, will be speedily found unfit to meet the requisitions of a
people growing in instruction. The race will perish, and their power
will be made over to England. The Indian, hitherto the slave of a
capricious tyranny, will then become the object of a judicious
protection, - his property secure, his person safe, his rights guarded,
and with equal law, in place of the grasping avarice of a crafty
minister, or the hot fury of a drunken tyrant. The Indian subject of
England will then form a contrast to the wretched serf of a Rajah,
that will be a more powerful pledge of obedience than fifty conquests.

Even now, it can be no longer said, in the words of the eloquent
appeal of Burke, that if we left India, we should have no more
monuments of our sojourn to show, than if we had been lions and
tigers. We shall have to show the steamboat, the railroad, and the
true origin and foundation of both, - public honour, public
intelligence, and a sense of the rights of subjects and the duties of

The increasing passage of the southern commerce through Torres Strait,
had attracted the notice of the British government to the peculiar
perils of the navigation. The Strait is one of difficult passage from
the state of the currents, reefs, &c., and the difficulty was enhanced
by the imperfect nature of the charts. Along the east coast of
Australia, and as far to the north as New Guinea, an immense ridge of
coral rock extends; and through the gaps in this barrier reef, vessels
must find their way to the Torres Strait. The two government vessels,
the Fly and the Bramble, were sent out to make a survey of the barrier
reef. The especial objects of the expedition being - the survey of the
eastern edge of the great chain of reefs - the examination of all the
channels through the barrier reef, with details of those which afford
a safe passage - and the erection of beacons on their outer islands as
guides to the navigation.

The commanders of the vessels were directed to give marked attention
to all circumstances connected with the health of the crews, the
climate, temperature, products, and science; and especially the
phenomena of magnetism. A geologist and a zoologist were added to the
expedition, the whole under the command of Captain Francis Blackwood.
In order to make the subsequent details more intelligible, we give a
brief abstract of the voyage. The Fly, with her tender the Bramble
schooner, sailed from Falmouth, April 11, 1842, and made the usual
course to the Cape, touching at Teneriffe on the way, where a party
ascended the Peak, and determined its height to be twelve thousand and
eighty feet above the sea. Reaching Van Diemen's Land in August, and
Australia soon after, they sailed from Port Stephens December 19, to
commence their survey. After an examination of the Capricorn Group,
they commenced the survey of the northern part of the great
barrier-reef, up to the Murray Islands.

In the next year, they erected a beacon on Raines Islet to mark the
entrance of a good passage through the reef. The rest of the year was
spent in surveying Torres Straits. They remained thus occupied till
the beginning of 1845, when they sailed for Europe, and anchored at
Spithead in June 1845, after an absence of three years.

The result of those investigations was, a large accession to our
previous knowledge of the sea to the eastward of Australia, now become
important from our settlements; and a survey of five hundred miles of
the great chain of coral reefs which act as the breakwater against the

We have heard much of coral islands, certainly the most curious means
of increasing the habitable part of the world; in fact, a new insect
manufacture of islands. They are of all sizes. We give the description
of a small one of this order in the Capricorn Group, an assemblage of
islands and reefs on the north-east coast of Australia, so called from
the parallel of the Tropic of Capricorn passing through them.

"The beach was composed of coarse fragments of worn corals and
shells bleached by the weather. At the back of it, a ridge of the
same materials four or five feet high, and as many yards across,
completely encircled the Island, which was not a quarter of a mile
in diameter. Inside this regular ridge was a small sandy plain.
The encircling ridge was occupied by a belt of small trees, while
on the plain grew only a short scrubby vegetation, a foot or two
in height. Some vegetable soil was found, a few inches in
thickness, the result of the decomposition of vegetable matter and
birds' dung. On the weather side of the island was a coral reef of
two miles in diameter, enclosing a shallow lagoon. In this lagoon
were both sharks and turtles swimming about. The island was
stocked with sea-fowl, and the trees were loaded with their

It was a sort of bird-paradise, into which the foot of man, the
destroyer, had probably never entered before.

There is considerable beauty in a small coral reef, when seen from a
ship's mast-head, at a short distance, in clear weather. A small
island with a white sand-beach and a tuft of trees, is surrounded by a
symmetrically oval space of shallow water, of a bright grass-green
colour, enclosed by a ring of glittering surf as white as snow;
immediately outside of which is the rich dark blue of deep water. All
the sea is perfectly clear from any mixture of sand or mud. It is this
perfect clearness of the water which renders navigation among coral
reefs at all practicable; as a shoal with even five fathoms water on
it, can be discerned at a mile distance from a ship's mast-head, in
consequence of its greenish hue contrasting with the blue of deep
water. In seven fathoms water, the bottom can still be discerned on
looking over the side of a boat, especially if it have patches of
light-coloured sand; but in ten fathoms the depth of colour can
scarcely be distinguished from the dark azure of the unfathomable
ocean. This bed of reefs stretches along the coast of Australia, and
across Torres Strait, nearly to the coast of New Guinea, a distance of
one thousand miles!

One of the charms of Natural History is, that it gives a perpetual
interest to Nature, - that things, to the common eye of no attraction,
have the power of giving singular gratification; and that, in fact,
the intelligent naturalist is indulged with a sense of beauty, and an
accession of knowledge in almost every production of nature. We cannot
avoid quoting the example in the writer's own words. The subject was a
block of coral, accidentally brought up by a fish-hook from the bottom
of one of the anchorages. Nothing could have been less promising, and
any one but a naturalist would have pronounced it to be nothing but a
piece of rock, and have flung it into the sea again. But what a source
of interest does it become in the hands of the man of science.

"It was a mere worn dead fragment, but its surface was covered with
brown, crimson, and yellow _Nulliporæ_, many small _Actinæ_, and soft
branching _Corallines_, _Flustra_, and _Eschara_, and delicate
_Reteporæ_, looking like beautiful lace-work carved in ivory. There
were several small sponges and _Alcyonia_, seaweeds of two or three
species, two species of _Comatula_, and one of _Aphiura_, of the most
vivid colours and markings, and many small, flat, round corals,
something like _Nummulites_ in external appearance.

"On breaking into the block, boring shells of several species pierced
it in all directions, many still containing their inhabitants; while
two or three _Nereis_ lay twisted in and out among its hollows and
recesses, in which, likewise, were three small species of crabs."

If it should be supposed that the receptacle or _nidus_ of all those
curious and varied things was a huge mass of rock, we are informed
that, -

"The block was not above a foot in diameter, and was a perfect
museum in itself, while its outside glared with colour, from the
many brightly and variously coloured animals and plants. It was by
no means a solitary instance; every block which could be procured
from the bottom, in from ten to twenty fathoms, was like it."

The reflection on this exuberance of nature is striking and
true. - "What an inconceivable amount of animal life must be here
scattered over the bottom of the sea! to say nothing of that moving
through its waters; and this through spaces of hundreds of miles:
every corner and crevice, every point occupied by living beings,
which, as they become more minute, increase in tenfold abundance."

And let it be remembered, too, that those creatures have not merely
life, but enjoyment; that they are not created for any conceivable use
of man, but for purposes and pleasures exclusively suited to their own
state of existence; that they exist in millions of millions, and that
the smallest living thing among those millions, not merely exceeds in
its formation, its capacities, and its senses, all that the powers of
man can imitate, but actually offers problems of science, in its
simple organisation, which have baffled the subtlest human sagacity
since the creation, and will probably baffle it while man treads the

In the navigation along the coast, the officers had frequent meetings
with the natives, who seemed to have known but little of the English
settlements, for their conduct was exactly that of the savage. They
evidently looked with as much surprise on the ships, the boats, and
the men, as the inhabitants of Polynesia looked upon the first
navigators to their shores. They were all astonishment, much craft,
and a little hostility on safe occasions.

But some parts of the coast still invite the settler, and the
communication of this knowledge from a pen so unprejudiced as that of
the voyager, may yet be a service in directing the course of
colonisation. We are told that the tract of coast between Broad Sound
and Whitsunday Passage, between the parallels of twenty-two degrees
fifteen seconds, and twenty degrees twenty seconds, exhibits peculiar
advantages. Superior fertility, better water, and a higher rise of
tide, are its visible merits. A solid range of hills, of a pretty
uniform height, cuts off from the interior a lower undulating strip of
land from five to ten miles broad, the whole seeming to be of a high
average fertility for Australia. The grass fine, close, and abundant;
the timber large-sized and various. The coast is indented with many
small bays and inlets. The great rise and fall of tide is, of course,
admirably adapted for the construction of docks for the building and
repair of ships.

Nor are those advantages limited to the soil. The coast is protected,
as well as enriched and diversified, by numerous small islands, lofty,
rocky, and picturesque, covered with grass and pines.

The most vexatious part of the narrative relates to the natives;
whether they have been molested by the half-savage whalers, or are
treacherous by habit, it was found necessary to be constantly on the
watch against their spears. The parties who were sent on shore merely
to take astronomical observations, were assailed, and were sometimes

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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 62, Number 385. November, 1847. → online text (page 1 of 22)