John MacGillivray.

Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By the Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During the Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries and Surveys in New Guinea, the Louisiade online

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Online LibraryJohn MacGillivrayNarrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By the Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During the Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries and Surveys in New Guinea, the Louisiade → online text (page 20 of 26)
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spectators on the sands, it being then low water. A great deal of violent
gesticulation and shouting took place, the parties became more and more
excited, and took up their position in two scattered lines facing each
other, extending from the margin of the beach to a little way in the
bush, and about twenty-five yards apart. Paida, too, partook of the
excitement and could refrain no longer from joining in the fight; he
dropped my haversack and bounded away at full speed to his camping-place,
where he received his spears from little Purom his son, and quickly made
his appearance upon the scene of action.

The two parties were pretty equally matched - about fifteen men in each.
The noise now became deafening; shouts of defiance, insulting
expressions, and every kind of abusive epithet were bandied about, and
the women and children in the bush kept up a wailing cry all the while
rising and falling in cadence. The pantomimic movements were of various
descriptions; besides the singular quivering motion given to the thighs
placed wide apart (common to all the Australian dances) they frequently
invited each other to throw at them, turning the body half round and
exposing the breech, or dropping on one knee or hand as if to offer a
fair mark. At length a spear was thrown and returned, followed by many
others, and the fighting became general, with an occasional pause.

DEXTERITY IN THROWING THE SPEAR.

The precision with which the spears were thrown was not less remarkable
than the dexterity which with they were avoided. In nearly every case the
person thrown at would, apparently, have been struck had he stood still,
but, his keenness of sight enabled him to escape by springing aside as
required, variously inclining the body, or sometimes merely lifting up a
leg to allow the spear to pass by, and had two been thrown at one person
at the same moment he could scarcely have escaped, but this I observed
was never attempted, as it would have been in war, here each individual
appeared to have a particular opponent. I had a capital view of the whole
of the proceedings, being seated about fifty yards behind and slightly on
the flank of one of the two contending parties. One spear thrown higher
than usual passed within five yards of me, but this I was satisfied was
the result of accident, as I had seen it come from Paida's party. Soon
afterwards I observed a man at the right extreme of the line next me, who
had been dodging round a large scaevola bush for some time back, make a
sudden dart at one of the opposite party and chop him down the shoulder
with an iron tomahawk. The wounded man fell, and instantly a yell of
triumph denoted that the whole matter was at an end.

Paida rejoined me five minutes afterwards, apparently much refreshed by
this little excitement, and accompanied me on my walk, still he would not
explain the cause of the fight. The wounded man had his arm tied up by
one of our people who landed soon afterwards, and, although the cut was
both large and deep, he soon recovered.

DISCOVERY OF MEW RIVER.

The frequent excursions of our shooting parties being more extended than
during our last visit became the means of adding considerably to our
knowledge of the surrounding country. One of the immediate consequences
was the discovery of several small streams of fresh water. The principal
of these, which we named Mew River (after its first finder, the sergeant
of marines on board) has its mouth in a small mangrove creek three
quarters of a mile to the eastward of Evans Bay. About five miles further
up its source was found to be a spring among rocks in a dense calamus
scrub. It waters a fine valley running nearly east and west behind the
range of hills to the southward of Evans Bay, and its line is marked by a
belt of tangled brush exceeding in luxuriance anything of the same
description which I had seen elsewhere. The variety of trees in this
dense brush is very great, and many were quite new to me. The Seaforthia
palm attained the height of 60 to 80 feet, and the rattan was very
abundant, and from the recurved prickles catching and tearing the
clothes, it was often no easy matter to penetrate the thickets. Among the
plants along the river the most interesting is an indigenous species of
banana or plantain, probably the same as that found at Endeavour River
during Cook's first voyage. The fruit is of small size with numerous hard
seeds and a small quantity of delicious pulp; cultivation would,
doubtless, wonderfully improve it. Another remarkable plant found on the
grassy borders of the jungle and characteristic of rich damp soil is a
beautiful species of Roscoea (?) (one of the Scitamineae or ginger
family) about a foot high, with a solitary leaf and large bracteae, the
lower green and the upper ones pink, partially concealing handsome yellow
flowers. From its succulent nature I failed in preparing specimens for
the herbarium, but some roots were preserved and given to the Botanical
Garden at Sydney.

THE VALLEY OF THE MEW.

The lower part of the valley is open forest land, or nearly level and
thinly wooded country covered with tall coarse grass. Further up it
becomes more beautiful. From the belt of wood, concealing the windings of
the river, grassy sloping meadows extend upwards on each side to the
flanking ridges which are covered with dense scrub occasionally extending
in straggling patches down to the water, and forming a kind of imperfect
natural fence. The soil of these meadows is rich sandy loam, affording
great apparent facilities for cultivation from their proximity to what is
probably a never-failing supply of fresh water. Here, at the end of the
dry season, and before the periodical rains had fairly set in, we found
the stream at halfway up to be about six feet in average breadth, slowly
running over a shallow, gravelly, or earthy bed, with occasional pools
from two to four feet in depth.

PROPOSED SETTLEMENT AT CAPE YORK.

I have alluded to this subject at greater length than under ordinary
circumstances I would have done, in the belief that, should a settlement
ever be established at Cape York, the strip of good land that runs along
the upper part of Mew River may hereafter be turned to good account.
Several other valleys watered by small and apparently permanent streams
were discovered by our shooting parties, chiefly by Wilcox and the
sergeant of marines; these were afterwards visited by me, and my opinion
of the productiveness of the country about Cape York almost daily became
more and more favourable the further I extended my excursions.

I need scarcely repeat the arguments which have been adduced in favour of
the expediency, I may almost say necessity, of establishing a military
post, or small settlement of some kind, in the vicinity of Cape York,
simply because, while perfectly agreeing with Mr. Jukes* and several
other persons who have drawn the public attention to the subject, I have
little in addition to offer. Still a few words on the question may not be
out of place.

(*Footnote. Voyage of the Fly volume 1 page 302.)

ITS ADVANTAGES.

The beneficial results to be looked for were such a settlement to be
formed would be:

1. A port of refuge would be afforded to the crews of vessels wrecked in
Torres Strait, and its approaches, who otherwise must make for Booby
Island, and there await the uncertainty of being picked up by some
passing vessel, or even attempt in the boats to reach Coupang in Timor, a
distance of 1100 miles further. And now that the settlement at Port
Essington has been abandoned the necessity for such a place of refuge is
still greater.

2. Passing vessels might be supplied with water and other refreshments,
also stores, such as anchors, etc., which last are frequently lost during
the passage of the Strait.

3. The knowledge of the existence of such a post would speedily exercise
a beneficial influence over our intercourse with the natives of Torres
Strait, and induce them to refrain from a repetition of the outrages
which they have frequently committed upon Europeans; the little trade in
tortoiseshell which might be pushed in the Strait (as has frequently been
done before by small vessels from Sydney and even from Hong Kong) would
no longer be a dangerous one - and protection would be afforded to the
coaling depot for steamers at Port Albany.*

(*Footnote. I adduce this last advantage on the presumption, which now
assumes a greater degree of probability than before - that the steam
communication before alluded to will be established, and that the Torres
Strait route, the one which is almost generally advocated, will be the
one adopted.)

4. In a military point of view the importance of such a post has been
urged upon the ground, that in the event of war, a single enemy's ship
stationed in the neighbourhood, if previously unoccupied, could
completely command the whole of our commerce passing through the Strait.

5. From what more central point could operations be conducted with the
view of extending our knowledge of the interior of New Guinea by
ascending some of the large rivers of that country, disemboguing on the
shores of the Great Bight?

6 and last. But on this point I would advance my opinion with much
diffidence - I believe that were a settlement to be established at Cape
York, missionary enterprise, JUDICIOUSLY CONDUCTED, might find a useful
field for its labours in Torres Strait, beginning with the Murray and
Darnley Islanders, people of a much higher intellectual standard than the
Australians, and consequently more likely to appreciate any humanising
influence which might be exercised for their benefit.

KANGAROOS AND NEW BIRDS.

Several kangaroos or wallabies, the largest of which weighed forty
pounds, were killed during our stay at Cape York. A kangaroo dog
belonging to Captain Stanley made several fine runs, all of them
unsuccessful however, as the chase was seldom upon open ground, and there
was little chance of overtaking the kangaroo before it got into some
neighbouring thicket where the dog could not follow it. This wallaby
proved to be the Halmaturus agilis, first found at Port Essington, and
afterwards by Leichhardt in Carpentaria. A singular bat of a
reddish-brown colour was shot one day while asleep suspended from a
branch of a tree; it belonged to the genus Harpyia, and was therefore a
contribution to the Australian fauna.

Among many additions to the ornithological collections of the voyage were
eight or nine new species of birds, and about seven others previously
known only as inhabitants of New Guinea and the neighbouring islands.*
The first of these which came under my notice was an enormous black
parrot (Microglossus aterrimus) with crimson cheeks; at Cape York it
feeds upon the cabbage of various palms, stripping down the sheath at the
base of the leaves with its powerful, acutely-hooked upper mandible. The
next in order of occurrence was a third species of the genus Tanysiptera
(T. sylvia) a gorgeous kingfisher with two long, white, central
tail-feathers, inhabiting the brushes, where the glancing of its bright
colours as it darts past in rapid flight arrests the attention for a
moment ere it is lost among the dense foliage.

(*Footnote. Many of these have since been figured and described, with
accompanying notes on their habits, etc., in the recently published
Supplement to Mr. Gould's Birds of Australia.)

I may next allude to Aplonis metallica - a bird somewhat resembling a
starling, of a dark glossy green and purple hue, with metallic
reflections - in connection with its singular nest. One day I was taken by
a native to the centre of a brush, where a gigantic cotton-tree standing
alone was hung with about fifty of the large pensile nests of this
species.

NATIVE BIRD-NESTING.

After I had made several unsuccessful attempts to shoot down one of the
nests by firing with ball at the supporting branch, the black volunteered
to climb the tree, provided I would give him a knife. I was puzzled to
know how he proposed to act, the trunk being upwards of four feet in
diameter at the base, and the nearest branch being about sixty feet from
the ground. He procured a tough and pliant shoot of a kind of vine
(Cissus) of sufficient length to pass nearly round the tree, and holding
one end of this in each hand and pressing his legs and feet against the
tree, he ascended by a series of jerks, resting occasionally, holding on
for half a minute at a time with one end of the vine in his mouth. At
length he reached the branches and threw me down as many nests as I
required. He afterwards filled the bag which he carried round his neck
with the unfledged young birds, which on our return to the native camp on
the beach were thrown alive upon the fire, in spite of my remonstrances,
and when warmed through were devoured with great apparent relish by
himself and his friends.

A NEW BOWERBIRD.

Two days before we left Cape York I was told that some bowerbirds had
been seen in a thicket, or patch of low scrub, half a mile from the
beach, and after a long search I found a recently constructed bower, four
feet long and eighteen inches high, with some fresh berries lying upon
it. The bower was situated near the border of the thicket, the bushes
composing which were seldom more than ten feet high, growing in smooth
sandy soil without grass.

Next morning I was landed before daylight, and proceeded to the place in
company with Paida, taking with us a large board on which to carry off
the bower as a specimen. I had great difficulty in inducing my friend to
accompany me, as he was afraid of a war party of Gomokudins, which tribe
had lately given notice that they were coming to fight the Evans Bay
people. However I promised to protect him, and loaded one barrel with
ball, which gave him increased confidence, still he insisted upon
carrying a large bundle of spears and a throwing-stick. Of late Paida's
tribe have taken steps to prevent being surprised by their enemies. At
night they remove in their canoes to the neighbouring island Robumo, and
sleep there, returning in the morning to the shore, and take care not to
go away to a distance singly or unarmed.

While watching in the scrub I caught several glimpses of the tewinya (the
native name) as it darted through the bushes in the neighbourhood of the
bower, announcing its presence by an occasional loud churrrr, and
imitating the notes of various other birds, especially the leatherhead. I
never before met with a more wary bird, and for a long time it enticed me
to follow it to a short distance, then flying off and alighting on the
bower, it would deposit a berry or two, run through, and be off again (as
the black told me) before I could reach the spot. All this time it was
impossible to get a shot. At length, just as my patience was becoming
exhausted, I saw the bird enter the bower and disappear, when I fired at
random through the twigs, fortunately with effect. So closely had we
concealed ourselves latterly, and so silent had we been, that a kangaroo
while feeding actually hopped up within fifteen yards, unconscious of our
presence until fired at. My bowerbird proved to be a new species, since
described by Mr. Gould as Chlamydera cerviniventris, and the bower is
exhibited in the British Museum.

Among the gamebirds of Cape York, the emu is entitled to the first rank.
Only two or three, however, were seen, and we were not fortunate enough
to procure one. One day an emu allowed me to approach within fifty yards
by stalking it cautiously, holding up a large green bough before me,
when, becoming alarmed, it darted in its fright into a thicket and was
lost to view.

BRUSH TURKEY.

Many brush turkeys (Talegalla lathami) were shot by our sportsmen, and
scarcely a day passed on which the natives did not procure for us some of
their eggs. The mode in which these and other eggs are cooked by the
blacks is to roll them up in two or three large leaves, and roast them in
the ashes; the eggs burst, of course, but the leaves prevent the contents
from escaping. Both bird and eggs are excellent eating; the latter,
averaging three and a half inches in length, of a pure white colour, are
deposited in low mounds of earth and leaves in the dense brushes in a
similar manner to those of the megapodius, and are easily dug out with
the hand. I have seen three or four taken out of one mound where they
were arranged in a large circle, a foot and a half from the surface. The
laying bird carefully effaces any mark she may have made in scooping out
a place for the eggs, but the keen eye of a native quickly detects the
slightest sign of recent disturbance of the mound, and he seldom fails to
hit upon the eggs.

SEASONS.

As at Port Essington, the year at Cape York is divided into two seasons,*
the dry and the rainy. From personal observation and other sources of
information, it would appear that the limits and duration of these admit
of so much variation that it is impossible to determine with certainty,
even within a month, when one ceases and the other begins. It would
appear however that the dry season, characterised by the prevalence of
the south-east trade, usually terminates in November, the change having
for some time previous been indicated by calms, light winds, sometimes
from the westward, a gloomy unsettled appearance in the weather, and
occasional showers - violent squalls of wind and rain are frequent about
this time until the westerly breezes set in, when the weather becomes
moderate with frequent rain, occasionally very heavy, and intervals,
often of many days duration, of dry weather. In the month of March the
south-east trade usually resumes its former influence, the change being
often attended with the same thick squally weather, and perhaps a gale
from the north-west, which ushered in the westerly monsoon.

(*Footnote. The natives of the neighbouring Prince of Wales Island
distinguish the dry season (aibu or the fine weather) the wet (kuki or
the North-West wind which then prevails) and the period of change
(malgui) equivalent to our Spring and Autumn.)

WINDS.

Our own experience of the winds during our last stay at Cape York, at the
period when the change of the monsoon was to be expected, may be summed
up as follows. During the month of October the trade-wind prevailed,
keeping pretty steady at East-South-East, and generally blowing rather
strongly, with hazy weather and an occasional shower. For three days in
the middle of the month we experienced light north-westerly winds dying
away again in the evening, and on the 25th a violent squall from the same
quarter accompanied by very heavy rain rendered it expedient that the
ship should next day be moved a cable's length further offshore. During
the four last days in the month we had calms and light winds from the
northward of east, as if the trade were about to cease, but it commenced
afresh and continued until the 26th of November, generally very moderate,
with fine weather. During the last six days of our stay we had light airs
from about North-West, succeeded in the evening by a slight puff of
south-easterly wind followed by a calm lasting all night. Last year,
during the month of October, we experienced no northerly or westerly
winds, but a moderate trade prevailed throughout, pretty steady at
East-South-East, but varying much in strength.

TEMPERATURE.

In a place situated like Cape York, only about 640 miles distant from the
equator, the atmospheric temperature may be expected to be very high;
still the heat, although occasionally very oppressive for a time, caused
very different sensations from those experienced during the almost
stifling calms of Port Essington. At Cape York, however, calms seldom
lasted above a few hours, as from its peninsular position the land
receives the full influence of nearly every breeze. An abstract of the
thermometrical observations made on board the Rattlesnake shows the
following results:

COLUMN 1: DATE.
COLUMN 2: AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN DEGREES AND MINUTES.
COLUMN 3: AVERAGE MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE IN DEGREES AND MINUTES.
COLUMN 4: AVERAGE MINIMUM TEMPERATURE IN DEGREES AND MINUTES.

October 1848 : 81 : 85 : 77 5.
October 1849 : 81 : 83 8 : 78 7.
November 1849 : 81 9 : 84 8 : 79.

During the above period, the highest and lowest temperatures recorded by
the self-registering maximum and minimum thermometer are, for October
1848, 88 and 73 degrees; for October 1849, 83.8 .and 77 degrees; and for
November 1849, 88 and 76 degrees.

...


APPENDIX 1.

OBSERVATIONS ON THE TEMPERATURE OF THE SEA, MADE DURING THE VOYAGE OF
H.M.S. RATTLESNAKE, DECEMBER 1846 TO JULY 1847,

BY LIEUTENANT J. DAYMAN, R.N. LIEUTENANT AND ASSISTANT SURVEYOR.

COLUMN 1: DATE.
COLUMN 2: POSITION OF SHIP. LATITUDE IN DEGREES AND MINUTES.
COLUMN 3: POSITION OF SHIP. LONGITUDE IN DEGREES AND MINUTES.
COLUMN 4: TEMPERATURE OF AIR.
COLUMN 5: TEMPERATURE OF SEA. SURFACE.
COLUMN 6: TEMPERATURE OF SEA. DEPTH IN FATHOMS.
COLUMN 7: TEMPERATURE OF SEA. DEPTH IN FATHOMS.

1846
December 17 : 34 52 N : 16 24 W : 59 : 61 : 61 132.
December 28 : 28 34 : 18 38 : 66 : 67 : 63 130.
December 30 : 23 22 : 20 58 : 68 : 69 : 66 66 : 61 190.
December 31 : 21 13 : 22 1 : 66 : 71 : 61 193.
1847
January 1 : 18 40 : 23 18 : 68 : 73 : 70 78 : 57 178.
January 2 : 15 28 : 23 22 : 72 : 73 : 53 180.
January 3 : 8 55 : 22 38 : 78 : 82 : 59 191.
January 5 : 6 28 : 22 39 : 82 : 84 : 51 185.
January 6 : 5 54 : 22 34 : 79 : 82 : 50 361.
January 7 : 5 8 : 22 19 : 82 : 83 : 49 340.
January 12 : 1 5 : 22 32 : 77 : 83 : 52 335.
January 14 : 2 37 S : 26 15 : 79 : 80 : 53 268.
January 15 : 5 9 : 27 51 : 78 : 80 : 54 153 : 60 293.
January 16 : 7 55 : 29 11 : 79 : 80 : 53 183 : 47 273.
January 17 : 12 49 : 32 23 : 79 : 81 : 80 59.
January 19 : 15 5 : 34 44 : 79 : 80 : 59 226 : 62 317.
January 20 : 17 48 : 36 20 : 80 : 81 : 67 132.
January 21 : 20 10 : 37 58 : 78 : 80 : 59 146 : 50 306.
February 4 : 26 7 : 40 30 : 66 : 77 : 60 231 : 51 351.
February 5 : 27 21 : 38 1 : 73 : 76 : 65 182 : 51 342.
February 8 : 30 52 : 36 48 : 71 : 73 : 61 200 : 51 360.
February 9 : 33 22 : 36 54 : 68 : 70 : 60 184 : 50 324.
February 10 : 35 21 : 35 31 : 68 : 68 : 62 168 : 49 309.
February 12 : 37 20 : 30 58 : 69 : 66 : 57 205 : 45 355.
February 13 : 36 50 : 27 50 : 66 : 66 : 62 215 : 45 370.
February 15 : 36 31 : 24 7 : 63 : 64 : 58 194 : 45 339.
February 16 : 36 7 : 21 4 : 59 : 66 : 55 196 : 47 336.
February 17 : 35 30 : 19 34 : 64 : 69 : 58 215 : 51 366.
February 18 : 36 47 : 18 47 : 64 : 68 : 57 128 : 50 257.
February 19 : 38 7 : 16 43 : 65 : 63 : 48 370.
February 21 : 37 54 : 10 28 : 59 : 62 : 53 205 : 43 345.
February 23 : 36 54 : 4 53 : 62 : 67 : 61 205 : 48 345.
February 24 : 34 42 : 4 15 : 69 : 70 : 51 364 : 44 650.
February 25 : 35 28 : 3 6 : 68 : 69 : 54 195 : 46 335.
February 26 : 36 57 : 1 31 : 65 : 67 : 53 195 : 49 335.
February 27 : 38 22 : 0 28 : 64 : 62 : 55 192 : 45 338.
March 1 : 38 25 : 4 1 E : 56 : 55 : 48 195 : 44 335.
March 3 : 36 47 : 10 24 : 63 : 66 : 54 208 : 46 348.
March 4 : 36 41 : 12 1 : 66 : 64 : 55 188 : 46 328.
March 5 : 36 22 : 13 40 : 66 : 68 : 52 217 : 46 367.
March 6 : 36 24 : 14 42 : 71 : 70 : 65 147 : 56 284.
April 13 : 36 17 : 26 43 : 61 : 68 : 62 215 : 60 360.
April 14 : 36 53 : 27 49 : 66 : 69 : 65 215 : 56 360.
April 15 : 38 10 : 29 39 : 67 : 69 : 67 205 : 58 350.
April 16 : 38 8 : 32 54 : 69 : 69 : 64 128 : 60 278.
April 19 : 37 49 : 39 50 : 64 : 59 : 51 266 : 53 316.
April 21 : 38 13 : 45 36 : 66 : 60 : 55 158 : 52 293.
April 24 : 34 24 : 54 14 : 60 : 64 : 60 157 : 58 287.
April 26 : 30 13 : 56 50 : 65 : 71 : 61 162 : 60 283.
April 27 : 28 16 : 57 18 : 70 : 73 : 60 210 : 57 360.
April 28 : 26 56 : 57 31 : 70 : 74 : 60 200 : 57 350.
May 1 : 25 48 : 61 6 : 74 : - : 62 165 : 59 320.
May 3 : 20 42 : 58 47 : 76 : 77 : 74 140 : 57 300.
May 18 : 21 53 : 56 45 : 77 : 77 : 63 182.
May 19 : 24 16 : 56 58 : 76 : 75 : 71 182.
May 20 : 26 9 : 58 45 : 74 : 71 : 63 140 : 73 360.
May 21 : 27 36 : 61 9 : 69 : 73 : 54 333.
May 22 : 28 6 : 63 30 : 68 : 69 : 53 300.
May 24 : 28 1 : 67 28 : 67 : 69 : 54 286.
May 25 : 29 49 : 67 14 : 66 : 66 : 54 360.
May 26 : 32 4 : 68 6 : 65 : 65 : 55 340.
May 27 : 33 48 : 70 11 : 63 : 63 : 54 350.
May 28 : 35 33 : 72 6 : 61 : 60 : 55 350.
May 29 : 36 6 : 74 15 : 60 : 59 : 52 350.
June 1 : 35 0 : 80 56 : 61 : 59 : 55 346.
June 6 : 36 42 : 97 54 : 55 : 56 : 51 320.
June 12 : 39 57 : 118 0 : 48 : 54 : 45 320.
June 14 : 40 46 : 123 26 : 49 : 53 : 48 380.
July 9 : 15 miles East of Cape Pillar, Van Diemen's Land : 53 : 55 : 48 375.


APPENDIX 2.

ABSTRACTS OF MERIDIAN DISTANCES MEASURED DURING THE VOYAGE OF H.M.S.


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Online LibraryJohn MacGillivrayNarrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By the Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During the Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries and Surveys in New Guinea, the Louisiade → online text (page 20 of 26)