John Lort Stokes.

Discoveries in Australia, Volume 2 Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coasts and Rivers Explored and Surveyed During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in The Years 1837-38-39-40-41-42-43. By online

. (page 16 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn Lort StokesDiscoveries in Australia, Volume 2 Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coasts and Rivers Explored and Surveyed During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in The Years 1837-38-39-40-41-42-43. By → online text (page 16 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

South Wales. The first that came across were Messrs. Bonny and Horden. An
interesting account of them will be found in Captain Grey's work. Many of
these pioneers of civilization endure extraordinary hardships during
their expeditions; as an example of which I may mention that Mr. Bonny,
in endeavouring to find a new route, was compelled to kill a calf and
drink its blood to save his life. On this occasion water was found by the
cattle, turned loose for that purpose. Another gentleman, who had lost
his way in the bush, had recourse to a curious expedient to assuage his
burning thirst, namely, to bleed the horse he rode, which was the means
of preserving both himself and the quadruped also.

On our arrival in Adelaide the town was full of the Overlanders, and
everyone was engaged in buying or selling stock, which gave the place
quite an animated appearance. From one of these gentlemen I learned
undeniable proofs that the Australians indulge in cannibalism. He had
seen in a woman's bag the hand of a child that had been partly eaten.
Since that time the matter has been placed beyond a doubt by the report
of the Protector, Mr. Sievewright, who witnessed with his own eyes a most
horrible feast off the body of a young woman.* It is extraordinary that a
custom so remarkable should have so long wanted confirmation.

(*Footnote. See Mr. Eyre's Discoveries in Central Australia.)


At Adelaide I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the intrepid
traveller Captain Sturt, who has since again taken the field,
endeavouring to penetrate to the interior of the Australian continent,
and to remove the veil of mystery that now hangs over it. From him I
learnt that the same strange kind of bird, a species of rail, that once
visited Swan River, also made its appearance in South Australia on one
occasion. I have already alluded to this remarkable circumstance in a
former chapter.

During our stay we visited Mount Lofty, placed by our observations in
latitude 34 degrees 58 minutes 20 seconds South, and longitude 12 degrees
30 minutes 20 seconds West of Sydney. The cool air of this range, the
greatest elevation of which is 2200 feet, was very pleasant after a ride
over the heated plain. I was agreeably surprised to find in the heart of
the hills a most comfortable inn, where our party sat down to a luncheon
of lamb chops and green peas, with a beautiful cool bottle of sherry.
Such is the march of civilization! To the north of our road was a lead
mine, which will ultimately be a source of great riches to the colony;
for which, indeed, nature has done much in the way of mineral


I was greatly pleased with the apparent success that had attended the
schools of the German Missionaries; and especially with the aptitude for
learning displayed by both boys and girls; but my pleasure would have
been much increased had I not felt convinced that the system of education
adopted, possessed many serious defects. In the first place, sufficient
care did not seem to have been taken to recommend the schools to the
natives, and to induce them to send their children voluntarily. That it
was necessary to resort to some means of effecting this beyond mere
persuasion, will be evident when we recollect how useful even the
youngest member of an Australian family is to its parents. Almost as soon
as the child begins to walk, certainly as soon as it is capable of
receiving instruction, light tasks, even in the hunting expeditions, are
allotted to it; so that, to remove either boys or girls, and take them to
school, is, in reality, to deprive their friends of assistance, which to
them is valuable. For this reason, some compensating advantage should be
offered to the father, to prevail on him to send his children to school.

Again, when once pupils have been procured, it is exceedingly unwise to
allow them to maintain a constant intercourse with their tribe, and be
thus subjected to deteriorating influences that must almost irresistibly
combat the beneficial effects of their education. But it is needless to
dwell further on this subject, as Mr. Eyre has so completely stated the
question in his late work.


I cannot, however, refrain from alluding to another point in connection
with this matter; namely, that when I visited South Australia, all
instruction was communicated in the native language. My attention had
already been drawn to the subject on visiting Tahiti, in 1835, when I
perceived with regret, that the missionaries, instead of endeavouring to
introduce the English tongue, persisted in imparting instruction in a
kind of corrupted dialect, of which the words were for the most part
native, whilst the syntax and construction were in exact conformity with
our own; the observation of the same circumstance at New Zealand, had
further induced me to reflect on the subject. How much more prudent would
it have been to introduce, at once, the language of Great Britain into
the islands of the Pacific; as, judging from every indication, it must
ultimately prevail over the vast variety of primitive and imperfect
dialects now spoken; and which serve as barriers between the various
tribes. That the same mistake should have been made in South Australia
was the more remarkable, as public opinion seems to run completely
counter to it. It appears evident indeed, that if the object was to
benefit and civilize the aboriginal inhabitant, the right course to take,
was to give him an instrument which he could employ to enlarge his mind
and extend his experience. It was wrong to expect that much good could be
done by confining him within the sphere in which his thoughts had been
accustomed to move; or at any rate, to limit the expansion of his
knowledge, within the bounds of a dialect which was only imperfectly
understood by the masters who taught it. I am aware that the excellent
men who adopted this plan, were fearful of allowing the natives to
acquire a facility of communicating with the vicious part of the white
population; but had they taken a more enlarged view, and considered the
absolute impossibility of preventing a certain amount of intercourse - had
they had more confidence in the better part of their own race, and
reflected on the immense advantage which the inquisitive savage would
derive from being enabled to put questions to men who could enlighten him
by their answers, they would more speedily have effected their benevolent
intentions. I am of opinion that no surer method of raising the
Australian in the scale of civilization could have been devised, than to
put him in possession of the English language; and I am glad to hear that
the opinion I so early formed has at length been partially acted upon.
The natives will soon be open to an engagement on board a vessel, and may
expect to emulate the New Zealanders, some of whom have risen to be
mates; and to acquire the information and experience of which they stand
so much in need. Whereas, were their knowledge confined to their own
imperfect dialect, not only would they be unable to extend their
acquaintance with other parts of the world, and with the arts of
civilization, but they would remain, as many of them now are, actually
incapable of communicating with many inhabitants of their own districts.
For it must be borne in mind, that very frequently, a tribe inhabiting
one valley is ignorant of the language spoken in the next. So that to
instruct them only in their own forms of speech, is not only difficult,
since, on the death of each master someone else has to learn the grammar
and vocabulary to supply his place, but absolutely tends to perpetuate
the isolation in which the natives now live; and which is the main cause
of the little development of their minds, and the inferior position they
occupy in the scale of civilization.


We sailed from Holdfast Road, on December 7th, but in consequence of
light winds, with occasional very heavy squalls, it was not until the
afternoon of the 10th, that we got out to sea by Backstairs Passage,
between Cape Jervis and Kangaroo Island. On the morning of the 8th, we
were obliged to shorten all sail to a very heavy squall from
West-South-West, which announced its appearance by a distant roaring,
some time before it was seen on the water. These squalls generally
succeed the hot winds that prevail at this season in South Australia,
coming from the interior.*

(*Footnote. During the hot winds we observed the thermometer, in the
direct rays of the sun, to be 135 degrees.)


Easterly winds prevented us from entering Bass Strait until the 16th. In
reaching in towards the coast, seven or eight miles west of Cape Otway,
we found that it projected three or four miles too much on the charts.
Bass Strait appeared under a different aspect from what it had been
accustomed to wear; light winds, by no means in keeping with our
impatience, detaining us till the 21st, when we got a kick out of the
eastern entrance from a strong south-wester, and afterwards had a good
run up to Sydney, where we arrived on the 23rd.


Land Sales.
Unsettled boundaries.
New Zealand.
Hunter River.
Midnight alarm.
Ludicrous scene.
Changes in Officers of ship.
Leave Sydney.
Port Stephens.
Gale at Cape Upstart.
Magnetical Island.
Halifax Bay.
Astonish a Native.
Description of country.
Correct chart.
Restoration Island.
Picturesque arrival.
Interview with the Natives from Torres Strait.
Their weapons.
Shoal near Endeavour River.
Discover good passage through Endeavour Strait.
Booby Island.
New birds.
The Painted Quail.


No improvement had taken place in colonial affairs, and the sales of
land, in consequence of the high price, were very limited. The fact was,
the regulations that had recently been made gave very little
satisfaction. By these the minimum price was fixed at one pound per acre;
in consequence of which many predicted that millions of acres would be
excluded from the market for ages to come, as it seemed not conceivable
that any change could make them worth a quarter that sum, especially as
on an average the natural grasses of the country will only support one
sheep to four acres. The inevitable consequence was to prevent an
augmentation of the emigration fund, which inflicted a serious evil on
the colony, though by many the high price was considered a great boon, as
it enabled them to enjoy, at a trifling charge, immense back runs, as
safe from the intrusion of interlopers as if they had been granted by the
Crown in perpetuity. It is my impression that the attempt to raise the
largest sum of money by the sale of the smallest number of allotments is
unwise, as it operates as a discouragement to small capitalists, who wish
to occupy the land for themselves; it would in the end be more
advantageous almost to give the land away, to a certain extent, in order
to encourage people to go there. It may be worth remarking here, that on
a rough calculation the pound per acre system would realise, supposing
the whole continent were sold, the sum of about 1,679,616,000 pounds.


The most curious circumstance connected with the division of land in New
South Wales, is the uncertainty that prevails respecting the boundary
line of estates, which must be the source of endless disputes and
expensive litigation among the colonists. The whole arises from the
system adopted of laying down the boundaries by the magnetic north
instead of by the true. This is in itself no easy matter, owing to the
local attraction and the difficulty of finding needles that agree. But
the chief cause of endless change is the variation, which has
progressively increased at Sydney since the colony was first formed, so
as to make a difference in the boundary of a grant of land of one square
mile in ten.

I will suppose a case in order to illustrate my meaning. In the early
days of the colony a piece of land is obtained by a person who merely
performs the location duties, and does nothing to his estate until the
present time, when he or his successor goes to occupy it. When the land
was purchased the direction of the boundary line was, by compass North 20
degrees East; but the proprietor finds that in consequence of the
increase of variation during the interval, a North 20 degrees East line
by compass at this time would differ from what it was when his title
deeds were made out, one square mile in ten. As this change has at Sydney
been progressive, and may indeed take a contrary direction, the boundary
lines of grants of lands depending on it will vary accordingly, and
afford endless food for the lawyers. A scientific friend of mine, who was
once trying to remedy the evil in a particular instance, was entreated by
one of that profession not to interfere, for by so doing he would be
taking the bread out of the mouths of himself and his brethren.


Since our last visit to Sydney the colonisation of New Zealand had taken
place, but from what I heard of the loose system pursued by the Company
of obtaining lands from the natives, I could not but form an opinion that
those who bought lots of them must in the end be ruined; even their right
to sell these lands at all was at the time much questioned. This being
the case, the difficulty any Governor must have to contend with, who
should attempt to solve the intricate problem involved in the
land-question, was apparent, and it will be evident also that those who
pretend to form a judgment on the conduct of Captain R. Fitzroy, must
take into consideration the character of the people, both white and
coloured, with whom he had to deal, and various other circumstances that
are usually kept out of sight.

During our long stay at Sydney I visited the mouth of the Hunter, for the
purpose of determining the position of Newcastle. The courthouse,
according to my observations, is in latitude 32 degrees 55 minutes 50
seconds South and longitude 0 degrees 34 minutes 45 seconds East of
Sydney. This is the district from which all the coal used in New South
Wales is brought, and a good harbour is therefore of importance. A party
of convicts were employed in building a breakwater, connecting a cliffy
island at the entrance with the south point of the river, for the purpose
of deepening the mouth, but I much question whether it will answer, as
the silt that is washed down by the stream not finding its former exit
may by meeting the sea form a bar.

In ascending the valley of the Hunter I saw sufficient to convince me
that a railroad could easily be carried up from Newcastle to Maitland,
and thence to Patrick's Plains.*

(*Footnote. It appears that a company having for its object the
realization of this idea has just been formed.)


I cannot at this place resist the temptation of relating an anecdote,
which, though it is not exactly connected with the subject of my work,
may not be thought uninteresting by the reader. I was one night sleeping
at a friend's house; all the family had retired to rest, and I have no
doubt that a perfect stillness prevailed around. Suddenly, a noise like
thunder startled me from my slumbers, and as soon as I was able to
collect my scattered thoughts, I distinctly heard a series of violent
blows against a door at the foot of the staircase leading up to my
bedroom. Though the first impression might have been that the disturbance
was caused by thieves breaking into the house, it appeared improbable
that such characters should make their approach with so much clamour. I
instantly leaped out of bed, and arrived in time to see a sight which I
shall never forget.


The owner of the house, who slept on the ground floor, equally astonished
with myself at the noise, had also quitted his pillow, and, arming
himself with a sword and taper, advanced, in the costumes of Iago, when
he reappears upon the stage after stabbing Cassio and Rodorigo, towards
the door against which the monotonous thumping still continued at regular
intervals. It now appeared that the cause of his alarm was on the inside;
and my host who believed that a party of robbers had introduced
themselves into his premises, hailed them in a loud voice, promising that
if they did not cease their hammering, and surrender, he would put them
every one to death. So far from attending to his suggestion the thumps
increased in rapidity and violence, and he had scarcely time to put
himself in a defensive position when the door burst open and out rushed
his assailants - a multitude of round figures of all sizes, without heads,
legs, or arms! His first thought was that the supernatural existences of
New South Wales had now for the first time revealed themselves to his
eyes! Here was material for a fairytale! The genii of this country in
which everything runs into leg were then it appeared all body! Such were
the fancies that flashed through his mind as he made a desperate lunge at
the advancing foe, one of whom he transfixed from breast to back, whilst
the rest in an instant overthrew and trampled him under foot, if I may
use the expression. And now arose a wild scream - of laughter from myself
and the others who had witnessed this mortal combat, for the disturbers
of our night's repose were no other than a number of huge pumpkins, which
had been placed in a heap upon a press on the landing, and from having
been perhaps carelessly piled had given way, and rolled, one by one,
downstairs, accumulating at the bottom against the door, until by their
weight they forced it open!


During our stay at Sydney some important changes took place among the
officers of the ship, the principal of which were the departure for
England of Captain Wickham, who had never thoroughly recovered from the
attack of dysentery he experienced on our first arrival at Swan River,
and the promotion of the writer to the vacancy thus created. Lieutenants
Emery and Eden also left for England; the former was succeeded by
Lieutenant Graham Gore.

This almost total change in the arrangements of the ship requiring some
delay, and the season for passing through Torres Strait, moreover, not
having commenced, it was the 3rd of June 1841, before the Beagle again
rounded Breaksea Spit, having touched on the way for a meridian distance
at Port Stephens.*

(*Footnote. We ran out of Port Stephens before a westerly gale. After
passing between Entrance Island and Soldier Point, we steered for
Salamander Head, and then for Tomaree Summit, when it was over the centre
of the first projection inside Nelson Head, which led over the south-west
corner of the shoal patch lying abreast of Red Point in 4 fathoms. When
Nelson Head just shut in Yacaba extreme, we steered for the former, and
passing it hauled over North-East 1/2 East for the western part of Yacaba
Head, keeping a white spot on the second point inside Nelson Head, just
open of the latter, until the leading marks for running out (which I have
before given in my former visit to Port Stephens) were on.)


Whilst at the latter place, I witnessed a corrobory presenting a peculiar
feature. As soon as it was dark, a number of heaps of fuel scattered here
and there were simultaneously ignited, and the whole surface of the green
was speedily lighted up by the flames. When the illumination was
complete, the men, painted with spots and lines of white commenced the
dance, which consisted in running sideways or in file, stamping with
great violence, and emitting an inharmonious grunt, gesticulating
violently all the time, and brandishing and striking together their
weapons. The peculiar feature in this corrobory, was the throwing of the
kiley, or boomerang, lighted at one end; the remarkable flight and
extraordinary convolutions of this weapon marked by a bright line of
fire, had a singular and startling effect.

As we were rounding Breaksea Spit, we met four merchant ships, who gladly
availed themselves of our convoy. On the 6th, being anxious to repeat our
last meridian distance, and also the magnetic observations, we anchored
under Cape Upstart. We likewise availed ourselves of the visit to
complete the examination of the bay on the east side of the Cape. The 7th
was a remarkably gloomy day, signalized by a very unusual fall in the
barometer between 8 A.M., and 2 P.M., from 30.14 to 30.00, when the
breeze which had been fresh in the morning, increased to a gale with
squalls. At 3, the wind shifted to the southward, and at 8 when it
moderated, the barometer again rose to 30.17. It is these sudden breezes
that are so fatal to ships caught off the outer barrier without an
opening to get within its shelter. No traces of natives were seen; but
the supply of water was as abundant as before, and we took the
opportunity of completing our stock.


On the 8th in the evening we left for Magnetical Island, about half a
mile off the west side of which we anchored next day in 5 fathoms. The
depth from thence shoals in gradually to the head of the bay. A small
rocky islet, to which our observations refer, bore south half a mile, in
latitude 19 degrees 7 minutes 10 seconds South and longitude 4 degrees 29
minutes 12 seconds West of Sydney. On this I found a greyish kind of
slate; but on Magnetical Island I discovered no local attraction
affecting the needle, so as to warrant the name bestowed by Cook. It is a
high piece of land, with an ill-defined peak in the centre, 1770 feet

A description and view of it have been given in the first volume. We
remained there five days, in order to rate the chronometers, and to
examine the head of Halifax Bay, where a large estuary had been reported
by Captain King; but of this we could see nothing, and came to the
conclusion that he must have been deceived by mirage. The land certainly
was low in that direction, and trending in to the southward appeared
afterwards to wind round to South-West, offering facilities for getting
over the range before spoken of as 3,600 feet high, and bounding the
shore of Halifax Bay. We were, however, glad of this opportunity of
examining a portion of the continent, that had always excited the
attention of those who passed, by its fertile aspect.


A party landed in the south corner of Halifax Bay, on a long flat sandy
beach, which at high-water is completely covered. Crossing some small
sand dunes, bound together by a sort of spinifex, we got into a luxuriant
growth of grass, rich and soft, with a springing sort of feel to the
feet. A few wallaby were started in this, but we obtained none; and
seeing a group of rich-looking eucalypti and tea-trees, some of us bent
our steps thitherwards, and found a small stream of fresh water, which
filtered itself through the sand towards the beach. There was no time to
trace it; but for some distance inland we could follow its course with
the eye, from the luxuriant vegetation it nourished. The soil was light
and sandy, covered with dense creepers, and innumerable quantities of the
Angustifolia in splendid flower, many of the clusters occupying a space
of three feet in diameter, with a proportionate stem of about five feet
from the earth. The hum of insects, and sudden disturbance of
rich-coloured parrots, screaming and fluttering through the branches, and
the strong, short, rapid flight of the dove, with its melancholy cooing,
transported us in imagination a long way inland, whereas we were not
three hundred yards from the beach. We now wended our way towards a small
eminence, through long grass, in most places interwoven with creepers,
compelling us to tear our way through them in the ascent.


In doing so Mr. Bynoe flushed a native; but before the rest of the party
could come up, he had taken to flight. The simultaneous cries of "here's
a native!" "where!" "here!" "there he goes stark naked," rose; and before
ALL EYES could catch a glimpse, his dark figure insensibly blended with
the waving branches of his wild solitude, and without a cry of fear or
joy, he was lost to us, perhaps for ever! We burst through the same
brushwood he had recently thrown aside, and entered a labyrinth of forest
trees, without finding a clue to the direction he had taken.

The whole of the country appeared to be granitic; the eminence on which
we stood bore that character, and some parts, near the beach, were thrown
into massive blocks, at high-water, completely surrounded by the flux of
tide. The view inland was intercepted by hills and trees, the former

Online LibraryJohn Lort StokesDiscoveries in Australia, Volume 2 Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coasts and Rivers Explored and Surveyed During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in The Years 1837-38-39-40-41-42-43. By → online text (page 16 of 35)