by Ida Lee
F.R.G.S and Hon. F.R.A.H.S
From the Log-Books and Journals
with maps and illustrations
First Published 1925 by
Methuen & Co Ltd
36 Essex Street WC London
Transcribed to eText by
Permission to use eText given by
Col Choat of Project Gutenburg Australia 2003
Converted to Web Enhanced eText by
J&DChallenor of The Allan Cunningham Project 2009
THE SECOND VOYAGE OF THE “MERMAID”
TO THE NORTH-WEST COAST
8 May 1819 to January 1820
The “Mermaid” had completed a voyage to Tasmania at the beginning of the year 1819, when Cunningham, who accompanied King thither, brought back with him a variety of Tasmanian plants.
1819 May 8th
On May 8, 1819, King sailed again from Sydney to continue his exploration of the north and north-west coasts from where he had left them on May 31, 1818. Cunningham again went with him. In this voyage King left the harbour in company with the “Lady Nelson” under Oxley, who voyaged with King as far as Port Macquarie, and after surveying that harbour and the Hastings River the “Lady Nelson” returned to Port Jackson.
1819 May 13th
On landing at Port Macquarie, Cunningham thought three-fourths of the plants that he saw there resembled those of the Illawarra. On an arm of the river near Rawdon Island he found, however, a fig-tree of gigantic growth, as well as a new palm, which seldom attained more than twelve feet in height. The forests on the Hastings also abounded in rosewood and red cedar and several kinds of Laurineae and Meliaceae, of small diameter, that he believed would be useful timbers for building and ornamental for furniture, thickly and beautifully covered the river banks.
1819 May 31st
On May 31st the “Mermaid” left the port.
From Port Macquarie, King threaded his way up the east coast, following in the tracks of Cook and Flinders, and examined its shores thoroughly. Lieutenant Jeffreys, in H.M.S. “Kangaroo” in 1815, had already surveyed this portion of the mainland.
In describing the Mermaid’s route to Sir Joseph Banks, who, since the days of Cook’s voyage, had taken a deep interest in the botany of Australia, Cunningham wrote:[* Letter dated November 9, 1819.]
“Coasting along northerly up the east coast, our first anchorage was on the 30th May in a bay (Rodd’s Bay) just without the Tropic, a little to the southward of Flinders’ Port Curtis, where, during our short stay, I made some additions to the foundation[p428] of the collection formed originally at Port Macquarie. On the shores of this bay I observed, among others, plants detected in the last voyage on the north coast, originally discovered in the Gulf of Carpentaria and elsewhere by Mr. Brown. On the 3rd of June  we anchored again under one of the Percy Isles (No. 1),[*] and remaining there the whole of the next day, a favourable opportunity was afforded me to examine the botany of this elevated island.
1819 June 8th
On the 8th of June an opportunity enabled me to land upon one of the islands in Captain Cook’s Repulse Bay,[**] which afforded me, among other plants, a beautiful nondescript Bossiaea, not observed elsewhere.
1819 June 9th
The next day a landing was effected under that great navigator’s Cape Conway (in a small bight on the north side), and other parts of Whit Sunday Passage, each of which furnished me with some increase to the specimens and seeds. At Cleveland Bay (off whose Cape we arrived on the [1819 June] 14th)[***] our stay to complete our water from some gullies at its head enabled me to make several excursions on the bold rocky hills on its shores; each ridge of the hills and even the more depressed flat. . . on the spurs presented novelties or interesting specimens.”
[* “I anchored in the westernmost sandy bay of No. 1 Percy Island of Captain Flinders to the westward of the small Pine Islet.”–King.]
[** One of the Repulse Isles.]
[*** Now Townsville.]
No natives were seen at Cape Cleveland, although King counted nine derelict huts in different places close to the beach and saw footprints on the sand. A fresh green coco-nut, recently tapped for milk, and some bamboos were picked up.
The air was swarming with butterflies, probably of the same variety as those Cook had met with at Thirsty Sound: “The stem of every grasstree was crowded with them, and when they were on the wing the air appeared in perfect motion.”
The air was swarming with butterflies, probably of the same variety as those Cook had met with at Thirsty Sound: The stem of every grasstree was crowded with them, and when they were on the wing the air appeared in perfect motion.
“On Palm Island, in Halifax Bay, and more particularly on the islands in Rockingham Bay (where we remained the whole of the [1819 June] 20th),” continues Cunningham to Banks, “I found plants common to both Indies, viz.: Sophora tomentosa, Guilandina bonduc, and a beautiful purple-flowering Melastoma (M. Banksii), a splendid South American genus, of whose existence in Terra Australis I had not the most distant idea.
On the shore of a lofty wooded island (Goold Island), in the latter bay (Rockingham Bay), we had our first communication with the natives, who came off to us in their small bark canoes and received us in a[p429] peaceable, quiet manner, having previously sent their women across the island.[*]
In our run along the coast from this bay I landed upon one of the Family Islands (the north easternmost) for a few moments, and occupied the whole of the 23rd of June  [**] in the elevated woods of Fitzroy Island, off Cape Grafton, where, among other plants, I detected a species of Myristica in fruit, which may be an original discovery of your own in that celebrated voyage of Captain Cook, whose track we followed to Endeavour River, where we arrived on the 27th [June 1819] of that month, [***] anchoring under the south shore, about the particular spot where the ‘Endeavour’ had been hove down 50 years since.”
[* “The natives came alongside the “Mermaid” in five canoes and ventured on board. Upon leaving the ship they pointed to their huts and invited the English by signs to return their visit.”–King.]
1819 June 23rd
[** At this time King traced with great care the coast between Double Point and Frankland Island, which Cook “passed in the night and did not see.” When the “Mermaid” passed Point Cooper, “the summit of the back hills were named by Mr. Cunningham’s desire after John Bellenden-Ker, Esq.”–King.]
1819 June 22nd to 25th
[*** After anchoring successively on the 22nd at Fitzroy Island, on the 24th at Snapper Island (of Jeffreys), and on the 25th at Weary Bay, examining Blomfield’s Rivulet.]
28th June to 12 July 1819
“Our protracted detention till the 12th July at this memorable part of the eastern coast was occasioned by a temporary loss we had previously suffered off the cloud-capped mountainous land of Cape Tribulation, by the swamping of one of our most serviceable whaleboats, which we replaced by building another from the frames of a spare boat we had with us; and thus the convenient south shore of Endeavour River–which, most probably has never been visited since the departure of Captain Cook in 1770–has been a second time converted into a temporary dockyard .[*] Here was a period of 14 days that might have been wholly at my disposal, had it not been for the annoyances experienced from the prowling natives, who made a rather determined but unsuccessful attack upon the boat-builders while I was at some distance from the cutter on an excursion to the . . . ranges of hills bounding the grassy flat land southerly (these natives had to be dispersed by firing a gun).
[* The “Mermaid” anchored “in all probability in the same spot where Cook had landed his stores.”–King. King now named Mount Cook, in honour of the great seaman.]
“In my various daily walks . . . during the first week of our stay, much pleasure was derived in tracing your steps with[p430] those of . . . Dr. Solander, and detecting many plants then discovered, that in all probability have never been seen in a living state since that period; among which you . . . may call to remembrance the Grevillea gibbosa, in flower and fruit, so prevalent on the rocky hills; the beautiful bluish flowering Nymphaea (like the late Dr. Roxburgh’s N. versicolor), expanding itself on the surface of the chains of stagnant pools in the lower lands; and the ornamental Melastoma Banksii above-mentioned, clothing the muddy shaded banks of these small ponds. The rocky gullies, trickling with small runs of water, afforded me scope for much minute research; particularly the delicate filiform minute Stylidia; some small Eriocaula and Xyrides appeared to abound, with some others of the gentian family, delighting in a humid shallow soil.
“Among the plants observed on a strip of sandy desert under the range of hills to the southward of our anchorage, I was successful in collecting a number of bulbs, which could be but barely traced by the existence of slight vestiges of decayed foliage lying on the surface of the sand. The summits of the ridges, and more especially the northern sandy shore, added some interesting plants. On the arid wastes . . . I gathered a most beautiful plant of the Dilleniaceae: Hemistemma Banksii of Mr. Brown.
“It was a subject of much regret that, in consequence of the rupture with the natives, my walks were . . . much circumscribed or else wholly prevented. I had determined (in an absence of two days, at least, from the vessel) upon an excursion to the more distant and loftier hills, where woods densely matted to their summits would doubtless have afforded considerable scope for research. This however was wholly frustrated by the decidedly hostile dispositions of these Australians, and the smallness of our company not allowing me two or three armed men as a guard . . . in distant walks. I trust, however, that the specimens gathered at Endeavour River will prove an acceptable renovation of the plants preserved at Soho Square and originally discovered by yourself and Dr. Solander in July and August, 1770.”
In his remarks upon the inhabitants, Cunningham says: “It appears rather singular that of a dozen natives, with whom we communicated a day or two previous to the commencement of open hostilities, and who were very communicative, they had no idea of the word kangaroo, although they knew the animal[p431] we spoke of, as well by our signs as by its frequency on the rocky hills around us. The animal bearing the generally established name of kangaroo throughout Europe they called Mauya (or Menuah).”[*]
[* Banks and Cook both called it kangaroo, and said that it was so described by the natives seen there. King says he saw the same people and thought that the word had become obsolete. It is possible that these seen by King were of another tribe, since the language sometimes differs within the limits of a small area. Near King’s tent some pieces of coal were picked up, which he says no doubt were relies of Cook’s visit, which had lain undisturbed for nearly half a century.]
He continues: “Having examined the river itself, laid down its soundings, several miles from the sea[*] and launched our new boat for future service on the N. and N.W. coasts, we departed on the morning of the 12th July, with an intention to double Cape York. . . . And in the meantime, in coasting towards that promontory, to lay down the true trendings of the coast north from Cape Bedford, about where Captain Cook stood off, on account of the dangerous reefs with which it was feared its shores were invested, and which, although partially surveyed in 1815 by Lieutenant Jeffreys in the “Kangaroo”, armed brig, required a more correct definition (owing to its sinuous outline).”
[* This appears to have been the first exploration of Endeavour River since the days of Cook. Roe, who went in charge of the party, found its waters fresh at nine miles from its mouth. He followed a tortuous channel through low country, and passed the mangrove forests described by Banks. Where the party turned back, the river’s width was not more than six yards. Another arm on the north side was not examined.]
On his way up the coast Jeffreys had drawn a chart which King says did him very great credit, for he filled in the space between Endeavour River and Cape Direction, unseen by Cook.
Jeffreys had left Port Jackson on April 19, 1815, bound to Ceylon with a detachment of troops. On his way to Wreck Reef (of Flinders) he experienced thick weather, which made it unsafe to steer through the narrow channels in the Barrier Reefs, and sought a passage by what is now called the Inner Route.[*] On April 28th he rounded Breaksea Spit and entering Harvey Bay anchored off Sandy Point. From there he sailed to Port Bowen, where he watered his ship, being detained in this harbour for several days by a gale. Throughout the month of May he followed Cook’s tracks as nearly as possible within the Northumberland and Cumberland Islands, and to-day two rocks[p432] in the Duke Group are called, after him, Jeffrey’s Rocks. While passing through Whit Sunday Passage he gave its name to Port Molle, and on Molle Island a grassy hill is also known as Mount Jeffreys.
[* Captain Cripps in the brig “Cyclops,” Port Jackson to Bengal, was the first to pursue the Inner Route in 1812. His vessel being crank he was afraid to sail the outer passage and followed Cook’s track after making the land at Bustard Bay, but apparently he has left no chart showing his actual route.]
The parts of the coast which Cook had passed in the night Jeffreys now saw by daylight, and placed them upon his chart. At Cape Sandwich (Rockingham Bay) some fruit–wild currants possibly–was obtained from the natives, who were quite friendly. On May 29th, having passed Cape Flattery and Endeavour River (where Cook steered away from the coast) the “Kangaroo” continued to sail along the unexplored part of the land during the daytime, anchoring at night under one of the innumerable reefs or shoals which line the shore. At one point he saw, seven to nine miles away, the loom of the Great Barrier Reef; the continuation of this had been first discovered at Cape Grafton. Snapper Island, seen, but left unnamed, by Cook, was now named by Jeffreys.
In tracing the coast between Cape Flattery and Cape Weymouth Jeffreys seems to have been an active explorer, discovering and christening among other places Cape Bowen, Port Ninian (Ninian Bay) Cape Melville, and Princess Charlotte Bay. This he observed to be an extensive bay at least thirty miles in depth, its neighbouring shores presenting a fertile inland country interspersed with trees; while off its eastern head was a group of five islands which Jeffreys named Flinders Group. Farther northward a deep indentation in the mainland between Cape Direction and Cape Weymouth was called Lloyd Bay.
On June 1st, in lat. 13°32′ S. and long. 143°47′ E., his ship passed within ten yards of a mushroom coral rock about four feet under water (possibly Obree Reef); the rays of the sun prevented the red colour of the water being seen until the vessel was close to it. To the southward of Bolt Head the “Kangaroo” grounded on another coral shoal, which could not be seen; this is still called Kangaroo Shoal. On June 6th he rounded the northernmost shores of Cape York, and found that York Island was a separate island and not a part of the mainland as hitherto supposed. There he anchored for the night. The native name of this small island is Wamilug. Jeffreys left it on June 7th, and passing through Endeavour Strait spent the night at Booby Island. He reached Timor on June 19th, where he remained until the 26th, and, continuing his voyage, arrived safely on July 24th at Colombo.
Telling of the “Mermaid’s” coming to the scene of Jeffreys’ most important discoveries, Cunningham writes:
“On the evening of the 13th July 1819, whilst standing round the outer island of a group off the coast named by Jeffreys, Flinders Group, our progress was stopped by the sudden appearance of the wreck of a large ship . . .
“On the evening of the 13th [July 1819], whilst standing round the outer island of a group off the coast named by Jeffreys, Flinders Group, [*] our progress was stopped by the sudden appearance of the wreck of a large ship, which had been hove upon the rocks in a small bay by the force of the surf. We anchored to the westward of a projecting point of the Wreck Bay, named Cape Flinders in the “Kangaroo’s” chart[**] and upon landing found it was the hull of a large ship called the “Frederick,”[***] the identical vessel that had been commanded by Captain Williams, who left Port Jackson early in the year (1818) on his voyage to India, for a cargo, by way of Torres Strait. As a number of her iron bolts, blocks, etc., which were lying among the rocks, would be useful to the vessel, Mr. King determined to spend a day at the wreck, which enabled me to add a few specimens of plants to my collection, although generally of the same description as those of Endeavour River.
[* Flinders Group comprises five islands, viz. Stanley, Flinders, Denham, Blackwood, and Maclear Islands, which form the western head of Bathurst Bay.]
[** Cape Flinders is the northern extremity of Stanley Island.]
[*** The “Frederick” was wrecked on the east side of Stanley Island, the northernmost of the Flinders Group. We read in “The Sydney Gazette,” May 15, 1819: “The ship ‘Frederick’ was lying at anchor in Torres Strait (within the Barrier Reef) in company with the ‘Wellington’ (Captain Collins), and the’ Lynx’ (Captain Siddons) in the month of September (1818). Between six and seven in the morning, when getting under weigh, she went broadside on a reef and canted on her side. She fired distress signals, which were answered by the ‘Wellington,’ who hoisted out her boats, but it was too late to render help. The ‘Lynx’ was far ahead, and did not know of the disaster. The long-boat took 21 persons on board, 5 casks of powder, salt meat and peas, but neither bread nor water. Captain Williams with five others left in the jolly-boat. It is feared that the long-boat was lost in Endeavour Straits. The jolly-boat reached the ‘ Wellington,’ and arrived at Timor en route for Bengal.” When he called at Coepang in the November following, King learned that the master and four of the crew had arrived there safely, but the long-boat had been given up as lost.]
“I here collected a few more bulbs of a large kind, apparently the same plant as that at Endeavour River, which I have suspected may prove to be the Crinum angustifolium of Mr. Brown, touching at Sunday Island, of the late Admiral Bligh, near Cape Grenville, on the 22nd July , off which we remained at anchor all the day in Margaret Bay.”[*]
[* King had tried to find an anchorage first at Bligh’s Restoration Island, but the ground was too rocky. Before arriving at this island he had named Claremont Isles, Night and Young Islands and the Home Islands.]
On July 24th [July 1819], continuing to steer northward, the “Mermaid” passed close to the western shores of the Bird Isles of Captain Cook. Eight or ten natives stood to gaze at the passing ship and two canoes were seen hauled up on the beach.
Sailing outside Hannibal and McArthur Groups, shortly after noon King came abreast of Cook’s Orfordness and Bligh’s Pudding-Pan-Hill. He passed within Cairncross Island, noticeable for the long reef off its south point, and at 3-30 p.m. steered for Bligh’s Turtle Island. Attracted, however, by the river-like opening near Newcastle Bay, he hauled in to examine it; while he was standing towards it the water suddenly shoaled and the vessel struck, and afterwards continued to beat against a hard, sandy bottom, with the result that before King could bring her into deeper water she was very nearly thrown back on the bank.
To commemorate his ship’s escape from the great danger she then encountered, King named the opening Escape River. He now bore up for Turtle Island; but, finding no suitable anchorage there, was at last obliged to anchor “in an exposed situation without protection from wind or sea.” At four next morning, through the ring of the anchor breaking, it was lost, and King stood away to the eastward of Albany Islands, towards Mount Adolphus.
KING ROUNDS CAPE YORK
In rounding Cape York, the most northerly point of the Australian continent, King noticed its rugged hills, of which Mount Bremer forms the highest part, and saw York Island, the little island lying off the cape, “of conical shape and separated from it by a narrow rocky channel,” its cone rising to a height of 275 feet. The “Mermaid” sailed into Torres Strait through the channel between Mount Adolphus and Albany Island, now known as Adolphus Channel, which is the main waterway leading from the Inner Route to Torres Strait.
“We doubled Cape York on the 24th [July 1819],” resumes Cunningham and, pursuing Captain Flinders’ track,[*] sought anchorage off (the south end of) Good’s Island, one of the Prince of Wales’s Islands, but without finding the particular spot on which the celebrated navigator anchored.
[* Round the north side of Wednesday Island.]
“An unfortunate circumstance in bringing up, occasioned by the vessel’s dragging her anchor beyond the spot about which[p435] she came to, obliged us to weigh again with a broken anchor; finding shelter under Booby Island,[*] we bore up to the westward across the Gulf for the Wessel Isles on the north coast. Thus, in a voyage . . . more immediately destined for survey, the chart of this easterly coast, which had remained imperfect since the time of Captain Cook, from Cape Bedford northerly to Cape York, has been at length completed. And the plants gathered at different parts . . . will, I trust, when compared with the journal (that I hope to transmit from Port Jackson), extend the knowledge of the botany of New South Wales, as well as enable botanists at home to trace the wide diffusion of many remarkable intertropical genera through several parallels of latitude.
[* King did not again attempt to anchor at Booby Island, for having lost two anchors he would not risk losing a third.
On the north coast, after making Wessel’s Islands (at daylight on the 27th [July 1819]), our progress was more rapid to the westward, the line of coast forming but few bights of importance,[*] . . . till the 4th August , when we dropped anchor in a bay with a river at its head, named Liverpool River, in honour of the noble Lord of the Treasury, which we examined about 40 miles to the southward from our anchorage. It bears all the character of the Alligator River of our last voyage. We found fresh water about 12 or 14 miles from the sea, at flood tide, where we also saw alligators, although by no means so numerous as those seen in the two large rivers in Van Diemen’s Gulf last year. The land on either side this stream is extensive low grassy flats, subject to inundation, the soil . . . a stiff clay. The survey of this coast (carried out in our last voyage) being now completed to Cape Arnhem,[**] we anchored in our old ground (on August 8th ) in South-West Bay, Goulburn Island, to complete our wood and water, not being certain of meeting with another supply whilst we might continue on that or the N.W. coast.”
[* “On the 30th July 1819 anchored at the bottom of a bay inside a group of islands which appear to be the Crocodils Eylandts of the old [Dutch] charts. The bay was called after Viscount Castlereagh. “–King.]
[** Lieutenant John McCluer, while carrying out his surveys for the Indian Government in 1790-91, brought his ships the “Panther” and “Endeavour” towards the north coast of Australia and made Arnhem Land. He steered along this part of the coast until it was found to dip away and then left it. The point of his turning is placed in 11°15′ S. and this is the Cape Van Diemen of old Dutch voyagers. McCluer did not land anywhere, but he ascertained the positions of several small islands, shoals and projecting points, verifying some of the early discoveries of the Dutch.]
On the evening of the “Mermaid’s” arrival at Goulburn Island, King landed with a watering party to dig a well for water[p436] that came trickling down through the cliffs. He then went to Bottle Rock to see if he could find the record he had left there of his previous voyage. The bottle was gone and the rocks were now covered with terns’ eggs, of which the sailors gathered about eight dozen. King sent the boat’s crew in pursuit of a turtle which was perceived swimming towards the beach, but they failed to trace it, and on their return reported that they had seen the footmarks of natives and a dog in the sand.
Next day Mr. Bedwell took another party on shore; he found that the tide had reached the hole the men had lately dug and spoilt the water, and the work had to be re-done.
Bedwell visited the “Mermaid’s” former wooding place, and saw the remains of old wood-cuttings there, though many had been burnt.
On his return to the watering party, who had begun their operations, a shower of large stones was thrown down upon them from the cliffs above, on the edge of which a body of natives suddenly appeared and as suddenly retreated when a volley of muskets was fired over their heads from the boat.
“After a stay of 10 days,” continues Cunningham, “during which I was prevented landing, partly on account of indisposition and partly from the mischievous disposition manifested by our last year’s friends — the natives on the islands — we weighed on August 18th  and proceeded on our voyage to the termination of our last year’s examination of this coast at Clarence Strait and Vernon Islands, which we did not reach till the 27th of that month [1819 August 27th] .[*]
Thence the large bight of the coast line, named Joseph Buonaparte’s Gulf on the French charts, commences, at which we resumed our survey of the N.W. coast, viewing Cape Van Diemen at the western part of the north coast.
1819 September 5th
Our first anchorage was on the 5th September, in a bay which has a trending off about 10 miles to the southward and eastward and, being deeply invested with mangroves, was a very unfavorable landing. It has been named Port Keats” (in compliment to Admiral Sir Richard Keats).
[* The “Mermaid” on her way passing between McCluer and New Year Islands, and between New Year and Oxley Islands.]
Before he reached Port Keats, King rounded Cape Van Diemen on August 23rd , and steered a course down the west side of Bathurst Island, passing on the 26th Cape Fourcroy of French seamen. On the following evening he sighted the shores of the mainland on the south side of Clarence Strait. The land here had been seen by King in May, 1818, and it was the last seen [p437] by him before he then left the coast.
“At daylight on August 28th ,” remarks King, “we found ourselves near the land to the south-west of Vernon’s Islands,[*] which were also in sight.
“To the south was a deep opening, trending to the south-east, of a river-like appearance, but as it did not seem to be of sufficient importance to detain us we passed to the, westward.”
“When he wrote these words, little did King dream that on the eastern shores of the river-like opening, in future years, would stand Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, and that the port within it would become and (to quote from “Admiralty Sailing Directions “) “probably will continue to be the principal port in the northern part of Australia, and port of call for the largest steamers communicating with China, Singapore, Java, and India.”
[* Three wooded coral islands: North-west Vernon, East Vernon, and Southwest Vernon Islands.]
“The land hereabouts is low,” we read in King’s journal, and thickly wooded to the brink of the deep red-coloured cliffs. . . . At the bottom of the opening was a remarkable flat-topped hill, under which the waters of the inlet appeared to flow in a south-east direction.” The flat-topped hill is now designated King’s Table Hill, in his honour.
Sixteen miles to the south-westward of the opening, known to us as Port Darwin, King saw a deep bight, which he called Paterson Bay.[*] It is now called Port Patterson, and between these two openings the land appeared to him at first “like an island,” but was afterwards presumed to be “a projecting head separating the opening (Port Darwin) from the deep bight (Port Patterson.)” This projecting head was, of course, Cox or Douglas Peninsula, which separates the two ports.
[* In honour of Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson, who died in 1810.]
Continuing his voyage King kept on a south-westerly course and at this time seems to have closely compared with his own observations those made by the French Commodore Baudin in 1801, when he explored the north-west coasts. Péron’s Islands, one of which has a grassy peak nearly 100 feet high, came in sight on the 2nd. (According to Dalrymple it was here that Tasman had met with Australian natives.) King now named various parts of the coast, including Point Blaze, Channel Point, Cliff Head, Anson Bay, and Cape Ford, during his progress along the shore, and on September 4th saw Baudin’s Cape Dombey. The French charts showed islands in front of this cape under the name[p438] of the Barthélemy Islands. King found that they did not exist, and transferred the name Barthélemy to some hills seen over the low land on shore. Their summit was named, by him, Mount Goodwin.
1819 September 5th
On arriving at Port Keats on September 5th a party put ashore at the only accessible landing-place; its shores were overrun with mangroves, and, among other plants, Cunningham found a stunted Eucalyptus six feet high. The usual traces of natives were noticed, though none were seen, but their large fires were blazing three miles away. No fresh water was obtained; and on the following morning, September 8th, the “Mermaid” left the harbour to continue her voyage. She soon lost sight of land, but next day Cape Hay, and on the 10th Point Pearce, were visible. Round the last point the land trended to the south-east, forming a deep indenture. Into this indentation (it has since been discovered) the Fitzmaurice and Victoria Rivers discharge their waters.
1819 September 13th
At daylight on the 13th, from the “Mermaid’s” track, the land behind her about Point Pearce bore due east, and on this day a remarkable hill, answering in position to one on Baudin’s Lacrosse Island, was sighted to the south-westward. King was prevented steering towards it by a shoal which extended to the north-west and crossed his course. He anchored near it at sunset. In his remarks he says: “After leaving Port Keats we met with large quantities of a very beautiful species of medusa. . . . It is from this animal the French have named their Bane des Meduses.” King had to round the north-west end of the Medusa Banks, and the ship appeared then to have entered a channel, since some shoals or narrow sand ridges formed another barrier along the opposite side-these being now called King Shoals.
In this channel many medusae were seen, and also sea-snakes, of which a curious one with a black back, being yellow underneath and having a striped tail, was the most remarkable. King anchored two miles from the north-west end of Lacrosse Island, which lies at the mouth of Cambridge Gulf, dividing its entrance into two channels, being nearly midway between Capes Domett and Dussejour.
18th to 29th September 1819
[p439] From Lacrosse Island (4 miles E. of C. Dussejour)[*] Cambridge Gulf extends S.-S.-westerly for twenty-three miles to Adolphus Island, where it is divided into two arms that running westward of Adolphus Island[**] extends for seven miles, and then is again divided by a projecting point under View Hill. While one stream runs eastward and unites with the East Arm, the other trends southward and opens into an extensive basin eleven miles in length, which contracts as it winds under the base of Bastion Hills. The shore opposite these hills is low, and the gulf trends round to the south-west, narrowing through the gorge called the Gut for about two miles, and leading into an interior basin that terminates, in a narrow stream, which winds under the base of Mount Cockburn.
[* Three hills named Faith, Hope, and Charity, north-west of Cape Dussejour, attain a height Of 400 to 530 feet.]
[* The arm westward of Adolphus Island is the channel to the settlement of Wyndham. The aim eastward of Adolphus Island is the northern mouth of Ord River,–“Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]
From this anchorage King pulled round to a sandy bay, where the sailors found turtle marks and the remains of a turtle’s nest, recently plundered by the natives, impressions of whose feet lay upon the sand. Nine of the blacks were observed in the brush when the visitor’s took their departure. The ship weighed and made sail round a bluff point (on the west side of the island), where King again anchored. At night the whole island was illuminated by native fires, and from the “Mermaid” presented a grand and imposing spectacle.
Cambridge Gulf was the next inlet in which Cunningham landed and where he was able to extend his collections. “Continuing to the westward,” he writes, “among dangerous and extensive banks and shoals, we again came to under the north side of an elevated island named on the French charts Ile Lacrosse, which we discovered was situate in the entrance of a gulf about 60 miles deep, to the southward, and in which we occupied several days. This gulf was named Cambridge Gulf, in honour of the seventh son of His Britannic Majesty; and its rocky, hilly shores, barren and and as they are, added some remarkable plants to my collection, particularly of the Mimosae, of which a small Acacia having sets of small delicate verticillate leaves, in habit like some Tetratheca, is most novel.
1819 September 29th
“On leaving Cambridge Gulf on the 29th September[*] we made the outer islands of a large group lying off the main, and named by the French Iles d’Institut, which comprise several small islets, with some small but elevated flat-topped islands, of which each has received a name from those navigators, but of the identity of many it appears a perfect problem to determine. The deep sinuosities of the main shoreline occupied us within the Institut Isles till the middle of last month (October), by which period we had explored two bights named Vansittart Bay and Port Warrender, both of which afford ample shelter and good soundings for the anchorage of shipping; the great droughts of the main islands (it being then the extreme of the dry season) not enabling us to recruit our stock of water by a solitary discovery of even the smallest portion. Its existence on these shores at this period, the presence of natives, of whom we saw eleven-including children-together, and the recent traces of small rock kangaroo, clearly demonstrated.
[* On this day at sunset, King saw Cape St. Lambert and Mount Casuarina of Baudin, and at noon on September 30th Cape Rulhières and Lesueur Island, whence the land trends in a westerly direction towards Cape Londonderry.]
King gives a more detailed account of how those on board the “Mermaid” occupied their time throughout the month of October, when the two bights mentioned by Cunningham were surveyed and added to his chart.
“We had now reached a part of the coast,” writes King, “which, excepting a few islands that front it, the French did not see.”
1819 October 1st
On October 1st he sighted a bay (behind a group of islands), the eastern head of which was named Cape Talbot, and next morning at nine o’clock the ship was anchored to the north of the group, which was called after Sir Graham Moore, then a member of the Admiralty Board, an island to the north-west of the group being christened Jones Island. At sunset the ship again dropped her anchor at the entrance of a bight or bay nearly blocked with reefs; at first King thought that he would be unable to penetrate it without rounding other islands, which on account of an eclipse of the moon that took place on that evening, were named Eclipse Islands. He continued to the southward, however, and first landed on the south-east end of[p441] an island called Long Island, where he took bearings and obtained a tolerable view up the bay. Mr. Cunningham obtained some new plants and saw signs of natives having been there.
1819 October 4th
The “Mermaid” then passed through a deep channel, and on the 4th came to an anchorage near the west side of the bay, which King now named Vansittart Bay. There again natives seemed to have recently congregated in large numbers, as at one place in one of its inner sandy bays no less than forty small native fire-places were arranged in one straight line along the beach. Near these fire-places were some stones on which the blacks had been bruising seeds, principally the fruit of a new species of Sterculia, the husks of which were strewn around. Two native huts were here observed. There were also traces plainly showing that Malay proas had visited the place.
1819 October 5th
On October 5th the “Mermaid” proceeded to the south-east corner of the bay, where King landed in the evening on a projecting point and ascended to its summit, which he christened Vine Head.
While the people were pulling the boat inshore towards the west side of the bay, the commander was amused to see a native running along the rocky beach towards the point for which they were steering. On the other side of it there seemed to be a cove or inlet. This man was alone and unarmed, and as he ran he sprang nimbly from rock to rock. On one eminence he stopped for a moment to look round at the boat, but took no notice of invitations that the sailors by signs were making to him to approach it. Eventually he disappeared into the mangroves on the south shore, at the bottom of the inlet, where a fire was burning, and where he evidently gave the alarm to a family of natives consisting of three men, two women, and four children who were cooking their repast. As soon as the boat drew inshore the women took up their baskets and movables and hurried away with the children, while the men seized spears as if to guard their retreat. Not to frighten them, King pulled over to the opposite shore and with Cunningham ascended a hill that rose steeply from the beach.
The view from the eminence was disappointing, though King was able to discover that Bougainville Island was not an island, as the French had surmised, but a peninsula. While the explorers were descending the hill, natives armed with spears and short pieces of wood like throwing-sticks, and one of them carrying a shield, came towards the foot of the hill, but did not intercept the visitors. After the strangers had re-embarked,[p442] however, the blacks rushed to the water’s edge shouting loudly and threw stones at the departing boat. They also were seen to be preparing to use their spears, so the commander gave orders for a musket to be fired over their heads. The noise of the explosion struck them with panic and they fled. Owing to this incident the name of Encounter Cove was given to the inlet, the bay itself, as already mentioned, being named Vansittart, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who became Lord Bexley.
1819 October 8th
At daylight on the 8th the “Mermaid” weighed and stood to the north-west, between Troughton Island and Cape Bougainville. Two flat islands seen in the south-west afterwards proved to be Baudin’s Institut Islands. The ship was steering down the western side of the cape when she was stopped by a considerable reef (Long Reef), and dropped anchor in the offing in twenty-two fathoms. Next day she made her way towards the bottom of the gulf, passing through an archipelago of islands, whose positions her commander then fixed. At noon he sighted the hill he had climbed in Encounter Cove. By four o’clock the “Mermaid” entered an extensive port at the bottom of the gulf and anchored in a bay (afterwards called Port Warrender) on its western shore. On the following day (October 10th) a party landed on Crystal Head, at the western end of the bay, where King made some observations, and in the evening, on ascending the summit of the headland, took bearings of the land around Cape Bougainville by which the survey was connected with Vansittart Bay.
1819 October 11th
Accompanied by Roe and Cunningham, on the 11th, King went in the whale-boat to examine the port, which was found to terminate in two inlets. In rowing back to the ship no signs of life were seen save a kangaroo skipping over the hills and an alligator lying asleep on the beach, which woke up and rushed into the water. Next day Roe explored both arms of the inlet and the name of Port Warrender was then bestowed upon it, while the space between Cape Bougainville and Cape Voltaire was called Admiralty Gulf. After naming Point Pickering and Walmsley Bay, King left this port on the 13th, and his next anchorage was to the eastward of Point Bigge.
1819 October 15th
On the 15th, after an ineffectual attempt to pass out through the islands in the vicinity of Cape Voltaire, he anchored midway between three of “high, flat-topped form” which he does not appear to have named. The wind now veered to west-north-west and obliged him to pass to the eastward of Cassini Island, it had been[p443] previously seen by him, and found a useful point by which to compare his charts with those of Baudin.
1819 Octobert 16th to January 1820
Cunningham again takes up the thread of the narrative. He writes to Mr. Aiton: “The fear of being caught on the coast at the change of the monsoon obliged Mr. King to take his departure on the evening of the 16th ultimo from Ile Cassini, steering a N.W. course for Timor.
Our survey therefore terminated in about 13° 24′ S. lat. and 123° 32′ E. long., having proved the large Bougainville Islands of the French charts to be a promontory (named Cape Bougainville) of the mainland, dividing Port Warrender from Vansittart Bay. Upon a rough calculation my specimens gathered on this coast . . . will exceed 400 kinds; my seeds amount to upwards of 200 packets, excellently ripened, which, adding thereto fifty-five bulbs, constitute the total of my collections . . . since my departure from Port Jackson.”
In summing up the principal results of this expedition, Cunningham remarks: “Lieutenant King filled up the blanks in Captain Cook’s chart of the east coast between Endeavour River and Cape York, and it was highly gratifying to my feelings to reflect that it was left to me to complete several specimens of plants originally discovered in imperfect condition by those eminent naturalists who accompanied the Great Navigator in 1770, desiderata that had been wanting ever since.”
THE JOURNEY ENDS
1820 January 12th
The “Mermaid” returned to Sydney on the morning of January 12, 1820, after having examined 540 miles of coast-line, in addition to the 500 miles that she had previously explored.