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 THIRD VOYAGE OF THE “MERMAID”
to the north west coast of Australia
1820 July 12th
The “Mermaid ” left Port Jackson to start her third voyage of exploration on July 12, 1820, Cunningham being on board as well as a naval surgeon named Hunter. Shaping her course nearly on the track that she had taken in 1819, the ship steered along the east coast as before.
It was Lieutenant King’s intention to touch at as few ports as possible and to proceed with all speed to the north-west coast, where he meant to avail himself “of the remaining portion of the favourable monsoon then already far advanced”; but the old adage, “L’homme propose mais Dieu dispose,” proved its truth, for we read in another letter written by Cunningham [*] that “on the 20th July , while standing into Port Bowen (one of Flinders’ discoveries on the east coast), the ‘Mermaid’ having approached an extensive shoal partly dry, took the ground and remained practically fast, after bumping a good deal on the sandy bottom as the sea receded. By dint of hard labour she was at length warped off into deeper water, when it was found that she had received considerable injury.”
[* To Aiton, dated Parramatta, February 1, 1821.]
1820 July 21st
“On the following day,” writes the botanist, “I landed and began my collection of plants of this voyage . . . of which several are already described and published by Mr. Brown, their original discoverer.” In telling of the landing at Port Bowen Cunningham mentions that “here we passed a line of beach abounding with the common purple Dolichos.” It was a little to the north of this spot that these beans were eaten by Bligh and his starving men, in 1789, with rather serious effects.
1820 July 27th
The letter continues: “With extremely fine weather we . . . reached Endeavour River again on the 27th, where I occupied my time during a period of eight days. I gathered the seeds of many of the indigenous plants of this part of the coast . . . with a few additions, among which were specimens (with ripe fruit) of the Ground Rattan, so frequently met with during . . . 1819 [p445] in shaded woods between Fitzroy Island and Endeavour River. . . . It proves to be a species of Calamus. I likewise procured a further supply of the bulbs of Crinum angustifolium.”
At Endeavour River, King saw the remains of his last encampment. A carpenter’s bench was in exactly the same state as it had been left twelve months before, and the “Mermaid’s” name carved upon a tree was also legible. Mr. Bedwell visited Turtle Reef in quest of turtle, but found none, while Cunningham in seeking fresh plants walked to the summit of Mount Cook, and made a sketch of the bay on the south side of the mountain, and of the rivulet falling into it. This was a bay [*] that Cook had first fixed upon as a suitable place to repair his ship; but, having found it inconvenient for his purpose, he afterwards “discovered” Endeavour River.
Kangaroo were still in numbers round the shores of the harbour, and the surgeon shot some birds, among them a Blue Mountain parrot like those of Port Jackson, and a bird that resembled a crane.
1820 August 5th
On August 5th the “Mermaid” left the Endeavour’s old anchorage for Lizard Island, which was now more thoroughly explored than it had been since the days of Cook.
1820 August 6th
“On the 6th of August,” resumes Cunningham, “I landed on Cook’s Lizard Island (where a whaler’s ton butt and several cocoanuts — one quite sound and perfect — were found upon the beach), as well as at Cape Flinders, which we again visited.”
[* According to King. It is the Walker Bay of modern charts.]
“During his stay at Cape Flinders,” King tells us, “Mr. Cunningham ascended a remarkably rugged-looking hill at the south point of the bay on the east side of the island, which had received several appropriate names from our people such as Mount Dreary and Mount Horrid. Mr. Cunningham calls it Rugged Mount, and says it is thinly covered with a small variety of plants similar to those of Cape Cleveland. This mount is a pile of rugged rocks, towering above the sea which washes its base, the stones of the summit being conical, while the masses on the slopes are deeply excavated, and furnish spacious retreats for the natives. Mr. Cunningham entered one of the caverns (the walls of which were of a decomposing sandstone) having a window formed in it, where a portion of the side rock had fallen. The cave was a large natural chamber, capacious enough to hold a large tribe of natives, who, from the numerous fire-places, broken turtle shells, and other relics, had not long since dwelt there. He also found numerous fragments of quartzose rock[p446] lying about, and pieces of a kind of marble of a brown colour were abundant in the cavities, as well as upon the face of the Mount.[*]
[* King’s “Intertropical Australia,” Vol. I, P. 378. The mount referred to as situated on the east side of Stanley Island, possibly was that known as Castle Rock. On this coast the boulders occasionally assume the form of buildings. Hume Nisbet, the well-known writer, accurately describes some seen by him near Cape Melville: “I noticed what I took to be an extensive and superb mansion close by the shore, the dividing lines and sharp shadows making perfect resemblances to windows, pillars, and doors . . . the colour was like that of sandstone . . . in design it had a Tudor cast, built with many turrets and gables.”]
1820 August 8th
As the “Mermaid” passed round Cape Flinders on the 8th the remains of the “Frederick’s” wreck were again seen lying upon the rocks. Cunningham landed at Cape Flinders — for the second time — on August 9th.[*] He also landed at Pelican Island, Haggerston’s Island, and Cairncross Island. At the last-named he went ashore with King to the western sandy point, which is covered with a thick brush, having at its extremity a dark shaded damp wood, where he saw growing “Guettarda sp., a very luxuriant tree, having a hollow stem 6 feet in diameter, whose base is much like the spurred butt of a tropical fig. Maba laurina bearing green fruit. Mimusops kauki in fruit. Cordyline cannaefolia, and a strong plant of arborescent growth,” in addition to several unknown twining and climbing plants, ascending to the summits of the highest trees, forming with Flagellaria indica an impassable barrier in his path. He left this wood in order to return to the departing boat, when he found a liliaceous plant having an elliptical nerved leaf, as in Pancratium amboinense. . . . He dug up all the roots he could find, and says, “Little doubt can exist of its being Mr. Brown’s Calostemma album.”
[* The “Mermaid” anchored as before to the westward of Cape Flinders, which formed the west head of Wreck Bay.]
1820 August 15th
On August 15th the “Mermaid” doubled Cape York and steered to the southward of Prince of Wales’s Island through Endeavour Strait. Before entering the strait she passed the night under No. 2 Possession Island, and next day reached Booby Island, where she anchored.
THE POST OFFICE
In the afternoon King landed on Booby Island. We learn from him how the island first earned the name of the Post Office:
“On the summit of the island or rather rock several piles of stones were observed that had been heaped up by the crews of various ships passing by as memorials of their visit. Among other notices of a similar nature we found a board indicating the safe passage through the strait of the ship ‘Sea-flower,’ which our log-book informed us had left Port Jackson on the 21st of May last, and from the memorandum on the board we found that she took the outer passage and entered Torres Strait at Murray Island and arrived at Booby Island after a passage of 22 days.”
King adds with satisfaction:
“A good opportunity was here offered of comparing our voyage with that of the ‘Sea-flower’ and of proving the superiority of the inshore route. The ‘Mermaid’ left Port Jackson on 12th July, passed Booby Island on August 16th, which is an interval Of 35 days — deducting 15 for delays thus: — at Port Bowen 2 days, at Endeavour River 9 days, at Lizard Island, Cape Flinders, Haggerston Island and Possession Island one day each, leaves 20 days for our passage, this being two days shorter than that of the ‘Sea-flower.'”
Notwithstanding King’s figures to show the superiority of the inshore route, the question whether the outer or inner route (i.e. within the Barrier Reefs) is preferable for sailing ships remains to this day unsettled. The outer route stretches off to the east of the Great Barrier Reefs — ships steering between them and Chesterfield Reef islets, as far as Mellish Reef, then through the Coral Sea entering Torres Strait by Raine Island, the Great North East Channel (by way of Bligh Entrance) or other openings in the Great Barrier northward of Cape Melville. The inner route, now tolerably well lighted — beacons being placed on all the most dangerous reefs — is always used by steam vessels passing through Prince of Wales’s Channel on their way to and from Sydney and other ports on the coast. Large sailing vessels, however, seldom use it. [*]
[* “Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]
The piles of stones seen by King at Booby Island to record ships’ visits were soon dispensed with, and a small shed was erected, beneath which was kept a chest containing a book of printed forms, pens and ink, while provisions were placed in a cave near by for starving sailors. Letters also began after a time to be left by passing ships, which other ships took away and captains filled up the forms in the book with the addition of any remarks they considered of interest when announcing their safe arrival. Then the name of Post Office appeared upon the maps[p448] as the actual designation of the island. [*] The shed was probably built in 1835 by order of Captain Hobson of H.M.S. “Rattlesnake,” who placed the chest and the book there and who also erected a flagstaff bearing S. 65° E.
[* It is the western limit of the dangerous part of Torres Strait.]
The officers on board H.M.S. “Beagle” saw the log-book in 1839. In 1841, when Captain Stokes called again, he found it had been destroyed “by some mischievous visitors” and the chest much dilapidated. He had the latter repaired and left a new book, with a supply of pens and ink. During the ‘fifties the second log-book disappeared. When Captain Leeman, of the barque “Ambrosine,” called at Booby Island in September, 1858, he wrote in his journal: “The Post Office consists of a canvas bag hung on a cask standing on end and screened from the weather by an old tarpauling which at one time had had the letters ‘Post Office’ painted on it: could see nothing of the book said to be there for entering ships’ names, but found several memoranda of shipping which had passed. On the summit of the island a flagstaff had been erected and a tattered Union jack was flying in the breeze. At a little cove which forms the landing place there was a ship’s boat, painted black, hauled up but with a large hole in her bottom and the oars had been taken away. The only natives seen throughout this passage were on Wednesday Island where they appeared on the beach and waved us to come on shore. Many turtle’s eggs were found nearly hatched, the young turtle being fully formed and alive, and in every hole and corner we found birds’ eggs: there must have been thousands which would of themselves afford means of subsistence to a shipwrecked crew.”[*]
[* Imray’s “Indian Ocean and China Sea.”]
King calls Booby Island a mere rock,[*] the retreat of boobies and turtle, and says: “The number of birds here was incredible; they hovered around the ‘Mermaid’ as if to drive her from their haunts.” Birds from a distance seem to have come there to breed, and Raine Island formed another breeding ground. In 1843, when the Admiralty gave directions for a beacon to be placed there to mark the principal channel through the Barrier Reef for ships making the outer passage, “the whole surface of the island was found covered with birds young and old: there were frigate birds, gannets (a new species), boobies, noddies and[p449] black and white terns: the only land birds being landrails. . . . As night closed in it was curious to see the long lines and flocks of birds streaming from all quarters of the horizon towards the island . . . when the noise was incessant.”[**]
[* “A valley intersects the N.W. side, in which were seen a few creepers, some brushwood, and two or three trees with a peculiar broad green leaf.”]
To return to the “Mermaid.”
1820 August 21st
Continuing her voyage, she crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria and, on August 21st, made her old anchorage in South-West Bay, South Goulburn Island, where she “remained five days, completing her wood and water under a continued alarm of the natives, who again had to be dispersed by force of arms.”[*]
“I gathered bulbs,” says Cunningham, “in a swampy wood on this island, which may be different from any heretofore seen by me, on account of the particular situation in which they were alone to be found. I likewise landed on Sims’s Island and at Sanson’s Head added to my collection . . . augmenting at the same time my seed list with packets of very desirable species.
1820 September 3rd
On the 3rd September we made the land of the North-west coast about Cape Voltaire and Cassini Island[**] (of Baudin), at which place. . . Mr. King terminated his survey in October, 1819, whence the examination was resumed to the southward and westward with redoubled vigour. The shores and island of a bight in the coast-line, which has been named Montague Sound, were productive of some curious plants, particularly of the genus Acacia, and other islets within those of Buonaparte Archipelago likewise furnished me with some fine plants and . . . excellent seeds.
1820 September 11th
On our advancement to the southward and westward we at length, on the 11th September, entered a very deep bight, tending to the S.E., whose examination occupied us the succeeding seven days, and here we discovered an entirely new feature in this hitherto inhospitable coast.”
[* Cunningham to Aiton.]
[* Seen by Baudin on August 14, 1801,]
PRINCE FREDERICK HARBOUR. YORK SOUND
1820 September 3rd
In working his ship round the north coast to the point where the survey of his previous voyage had terminated, King tells us that he directed his course towards Baudin’s Banc des Holothuries, near Cape Bougainville. He passed between its south-east extremity and Troughton Island on September 3rd, after which a good breeze on the following day enabled him to double Cape Voltaire, and at sunset on the 5th to drop anchor a few miles to the south of the cape. To the westward were some[p450] twenty-three islands supposed to be the Montalivet Isles of Baudin. A green tinge upon the nearest islet saved them from being condemned as absolutely sterile.
1820 September 4th
Next morning a boat visited the north-easternmost islet, named in the chart Water Island. The boat’s crew found “fresh water enough to fill our bareca,” says King, “a discovery so unusual that the island was complimented with a name that will serve to record the fact, rather than to imply that water can be procured here with any certainty.” An extensive view was obtained from this island’s summit, and the sound wherein the surrounding islands were scattered was, at Hunter’s request, named after Robert Montagu, Esq., Admiral of the ‘White.'”
1820 September 7th
The “Mermaid” next anchored at the bottom of Swift Bay, in the entrance of a strait separating Kater’s Island from the main. In the evening King landed at the south-east end of the island, which was covered with spinifex, as were most of those inspected, making walking painful and difficult. On the 7th Bedwell examined a small inlet at the bottom of Swift Bay, which proved to be merely a salt-water creek bounded by rocks and mangroves. Traces of a small species of kangaroo were found in every part; its principal food being the seeds and leaves of an acacia. Cunningharn also observed a gigantic nest six feet in diameter, formed mainly of sticks, which was doubtless that of the bird known as the Queensland scrub turkey.
1820 September 8th
On the 8th, after Roe had sounded the strait separating Kater’s Island from the main, the “Mermaid” passed through it; and in rounding Wollaston Island King named Mudge Bay, an indentation in the coast to the southward. In the evening the ship anchored off an island, which, on account of the peculiar shape of a rock lying close to the beach, was called Capstan Island. King climbed to its summit, and says, that the view therefrom repaid him for his trouble in mounting it. Montague Sound proved to be bounded on the west by an island of considerable size, which was named Bigge Island, after Mr. John Thomas Bigge, the Royal Commissioner who visited Sydney in 1819. It was separated from the mainland by a strait named after the Rev. Thomas Hobbes-Scott, who recently had been appointed Archdeacon of New South Wales.
1820 September 9th
Steering through Scott Strait the tide prevented further progress, so the “Mermaid” dropped her anchor (on September 9th) off Cape Pond, and the evening was spent ashore on a rocky island that fronts the cape. Like Capstan Island this was[p451] merely a heap of sandstone rocks clothed with spinifex and small shrubs. A native path was seen winding through the grass, and on the beach footprints were observed. To the southward of the cape the coast-line was seen to trend very deeply into the land, and next morning King, after rounding Cape Pond, entered the opening, but did not penetrate beyond some islands called Anderdon Islands.
1820 September 11th
On September 11th he again set sail. He found now that he was nearing the bottom of an extensive harbour, bounded by bold and irregular ranges of rocky hills, particularly on its eastern side, where there were several peaks, two of which were named Manning Peak and Mount Anderdon. Under these hills there was the mouth of a large opening, and to the eastward of where he anchored another larger but less interesting in appearance. Hunter accompanied the cornmander to explore the opening under Manning Peak, while Roe and Cunningham embarked in second boat to examine the river that fell into the sea at the far end of the bay. This river was named Roe River, after the rector of Newbury, Mr. Roe’s father, while the opening explored by King and Hunter received the name of Hunter River. The harbour itself was called Prince Frederick Harbour, and the sound that fronts it was designated York Sound, in honour of his Royal Highness the Duke of York.
Allan Cunningham closely studied the botany of this part of the north-west coast and made many excursions. He writes of Prince Frederick Harbour: “The shores are bounded with lofty ridges . . . distant wooded ranges peeping over those nearer us where deeply grooved gullies on their steep declivities and obvious breaks among the hills and hummocks as of a channel of a river all operated as inducements to entertain hopes that sufficient water might be found to relieve us from inconvenience on the and shores of this coast.”
Cunningham also gives the following account of the discoveries made within Prince Frederick Harbour. These King could claim were all his own, for he did not have to share the honour of making them with any early Dutch or French navigator, as sometimes was the case with regard to his surveys of the north-west coast.
“I accompanied Mr. Roe, the most intelligent of Lieutenant King’s young gentlemen, who was directed to explore the extremes[p452] of this deep bight south-easterly, and to examine a presumed opening to the interior in that direction. We were absent on our voyage two entire days, in which space of time the survey of the channel of a river abounding with alligators was examined to 27 miles from the anchorage, throughout which this body of water is either bounded by steep rocky hills or perpendicular cliffs fully 300 feet above its surface.”
Roe and Cunningham encamped on the banks of the river, and the latter ascended to the summit of a leading range, where he obtained a view inland to the south-east in the supposed direction of the river’s course. The country he saw was one continued series of high, irregular land, almost mountainous in character. “The river,” he says, “is of perfectly salt water as far as we could possibly discover, and although there did not appear to be any tributary fresh streams communicating with it, its channel evidently receives vast bodies of fresh water in the rainy season from the very hilly country on either side.” It was thought that the river must be full of alligators, for on her way back to the “Mermaid” the boat passed eleven floating asleep on the water.
1820 September 12th
Meanwhile Lieutenant King and Mr. Hunter had succeeded in tracing the inlet under Manning Peak to the north-west, where they discovered “at the end of a salt-water channel” fresh water oozing through the mud among the mangroves about twelve miles from the anchorage, but Cunningham tells us that it was not till the following day, when Mr. Hunter and he, with the watering-party had traced the salt water to the rocky bed of a river,[*] that “a fine fresh-water rivulet was discovered silently meandering among large stones to the salt water, which expanded into large limpid, cool, fresh pools of considerable extent; the marks of floods were at least ten feet above its present level, so that in the season of rains the large stones with which its bed is thickly studded are covered, the whole forming, at those periods, a rapid expanse of rumbling water, at least 100 yards wide. This valuable discovery afforded us the means of filling up our water, and enabled Lieutenant King to form plans of future operations on his being able to quit this coast at the breaking up of the monsoon.”
[* Writing of this river, King says: “It was called Hunter River after my companion, Mr. Hunter.” It was discovered on September 12th.]
[p453] “Among the plants, this new feature of the North-west coast afforded a species of Callitris crowning the cliffs with its pyramidal picturesque form, Myristica insipida of Mr. Brown and Cryptocarya triplinervis were the most remarkable, with Abroma fastuosa of New South Wales and the Moluccas, bearing flowers on its naked aculeated branches.”
1820 September 20th
On September 20th the “Mermaid” passed Hardy, the extreme of the peninsula or projection of land that forms the western side of Prince Frederick Harbour, and entered another inlet bounded on the west again by a group of islands. Since it was the anniversary of the late King’s coronation, these islands were named Coronation Islands, and the harbour called Port Nelson, a high rocky hill overlooking land to the southward being christened Mount Trafalgar.
“I Having at length examined the deep bay (which has been named York Sound),” continues Cunningham, “we stood out to the S.W., and on the 20th September the injury our little vessel had sustained when aground in Port Bowen, not only became apparent, but was a matter of alarm, for the slight leak had suddenly increased so much as to render an early survey indispensable, previous to the period which would oblige us to leave the coasts.
1820 September 21st to October 8th
Fortunately a safe and convenient place for laying the vessel on shore was discovered, on the following day, in a sandy bay where our Commander proposed or careen her.” This spot, the western bight to Port Nelson, was named Careening Bay.
Tents were pitched without loss of time at the back of the beach, and the vessel, lightened of three-fourths of her cargo of provisions and water, was warped at flood tide well upon the shore, where she was left dry by the ebb. The repairs covered a period of nearly three weeks (until the 8th of October), during which time Cunningham sought for fresh plants on the hills some miles from the encampment. A number of bush fires then raging in every direction prevented to a great extent the collecting of botanical specimens.
On one of these excursions Mr. Hunter, who accompanied Cunningham, discovered the waters of “a deep bay bounded by steep hills.” Hitherto this bay had been unknown, now both Hunter [p454] and Cunningham were able to trace the situation of the entrance to it from the sea. Later, when King had left Careening Bay he took his ship through the entrance, and it formed one of his most important discoveries.
In Cunningham’s journal [*] appears the following further account of his stay at Careening Bay “Towards the close of the afternoon I landed with Lieutenant King and found that the hills beyond the beach had been recently fired by natives, whose old temporary huts were standing on the sands: I traced two gullies that came down to the beach, and was gratified with the diversity of small trees and shrubs that shadowed the rocky edges of these water channels. . . .”
[* In Hooker’s “Journal of Botany,” Vols. III and IV, Mr.Heward gives additional information.]
1820 September 24th
And on September 24th he writes: “We were fortunate in our discovery of pools of fresh water at the base of one of the gullies, whose grooved appearance fully declared the torrents that pass through it in the rainy season. As far as we advanced up this gully we found small . . . holes of clear water . . . that appeared to be draining from one pool to another, passing through luxuriantly green patches of grass . . . pleasing to the eye and affording food to the kangaroo, whose traces were observed on the rocks.
“In these situations I gathered specimens of Convolvulus sp. and Senecio sp. and two species of Capparis in the brushes, as those seen at Vansittart Bay. An arborescent species of this genus Capparis, which was first observed on the shores of Cambridge Gulf is frequent here, growing to an enormous size and laden with large fruit. I measured the stem of one . . . tree and found it near 28 feet in circumference and scarcely 25 feet high. I observed a fine pinnate-leaved Acacia (A. suberosa), found in an imperfect state last year at Encounter Cove, Vansittart Bay. It bore pods, which yielded some good seeds. A tree of the Urticaceae, related to Antidesma, afforded me flowering specimens. Sersalisia obovata of Endeavour River was remarked among the rocks, bearing neither flower nor fruit; Acacia stigmatophylla forms brushes clothing the declivities; an Asparagus, probably A. fasciculatus, rambled over the tops of the clumps of under shrubs, forming a barrier, with a species of Capparis and Persoonia velutina. . . .
1820 September 25th
Early this morning, September 25, I took my departure on an excursion with Mr. Hunter, our surgeon, to strike the river-like water which had been discovered by that [p455] gentleman yesterday.[*] On passing the ridges above our tents we shaped our course towards the inland water seen from the hills, whence an extensive view of the country to the southward and eastward presented us with a succession of hummocky land as far as eyes could search.”
[* Subsequently called Rothsay Water.]
Cunningham now came to a tract ravaged by a bush fire inland. He says, “The face of the country assumed an unusually sterile appearance, which was heightened by its starved vegetation . . . recently destroyed by a fire still seen raging on the slopes in the distance. We passed several blackened ridges . . . till we reached the summit of a flat-topped hill, whose bluff face to the southward overhung the waters of our new river, [*] which has a very flattering appearance, trending away to the S.S.E., bounded by elevated land.”
[* Afterwards named Prince Regent River, the hill was called Mount Knight.]
“From the eminence on which we stood important bearings were taken, that would prove useful to the surveyors of the water before us, which appeared to have its embouchure on the coast at a supposed bay to the S.W. of the one in which we are now detained; and we observed a tolerable clear channel trending in that direction, although some ramifications were remarked to terminate in shoaly flats clothed with mangroves, and in one part a low island occupies a portion of its breadth. Upon looking to the W.S.W. over the hills bordering the coast a considerable archipelago (formed of small sandbanks or islets) invests these shores, and very elevated land was distinguished in that direction . . . barely perceptible on the horizon.
“Large columns of black smoke arose from vivid flames upon the distant hills, proofs of the continued devastation going on, although perhaps not of the actual presence of natives. We saw no quadrupeds, only the usual tracks of the kangaroo; of birds a few were remarked on the wing, chiefly of the pigeon family. At noon, having satisfied ourselves of the existence of an inland water, and its tendency southward, and finding nothing interesting in a country over whose surface the flames were raging in every direction, we prepared to return to our encampment, distant about 6 miles N. by W. by a less difficult route, which enabled us to reach our destination in three hours’ hard walking, without adding a single specimen to my collection, except an imperfect one of the family of Caryophylleae. . . .
1820 September 27th
“On the 27th, I visited a part of the hills that had not been[p456] fired. I gathered there specimens of Chionanthus axillaris, Hibiscus sp. and Acacia stigmatophylla. Grevillea mimosoides very generally bore its viscid green fruit, and some specimens that were 16 ft. high still had old flowering spikes. In returning to the rocky entrance shore of our little bay I remarked the picturesque Pandanus pedunculatus heavily laden with ripe fruit. This genus is not confined to intertropical climates. I have heard of its existence a few miles north of the Coal River, near Port Stephens, whence some fruit had been brought to Port Jackson . . . and I have seen the plant at Port Macquarie in lat. 31°, and about 28° to the eastward of this part of the coast. The plant therefore has a wide diffusion thro’ all parallels and meridians between these given points. It is most probably, however, confined (as I suspect the locality of Araucaria excelsa is) to the sea coast.[*] . . .
[* Araucaria Cunninghamii. Heward says: “Mr. Cunningham at this time was not aware of the specific difference between the Norfolk Island Pine and the one seen on the eastern shores of New Holland.”]
“On my return I secured a curious lizard[*] of extraordinary appearance (Chlamydosaurus Kingii) which had perched itself on the stem of a decayed tree; four kinds of snakes have been observed on the shores of the bay, and . . . we are remarking new insects and reptiles creeping out of their dormitories daily.”
[* “It was sent home by Cunningham to the College of Surgeons, where it has been preserved.” — King. It was apparently the well-known “frilled” lizard, a picture of which appears in ” King’s Voyage.”]
1820 October 9th
Having completed the vessel’s repairs, or at least rendered her somewhat more seaworthy, though the leak still gave cause for anxiety, the name of His Majesty’s cutter “Mermaid” was deeply carved upon the stem of the largest tree (Capparis) on the shores of this bay, with certain initials and the date of her visit and, on October 9th, Lieutenant King left his anchorage, passing out between Cape Brewster [*] and the Coronation Islands. From Cape Brewster the land was found to extend for six miles southwestward to Cape Wellington [*] on the other side of which King believed that there would be found a channel communicating with the water visible from the hills above Careening Bay, that Cunningham and Hunter had seen. The “Mermaid” entered a spacious sound, which King called Brunswick Bay, [*] and after spending the night off Cape Brewster, was next day carried by[p457] the sea breeze round Cape Wellington into a considerable opening trending to the southward and resembling the mouth of a river.
[* Cape Brewster is a rocky cape five miles westward of Careening Bay, and Bat Islet a mass of sandstone connected with the Cape.]
[* Forming the east side of the approach to Prince Regent River.]
[* Brunswick Bay communicates with Hanover Bay, Prince Regent River, and Port George the Fourth–“Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]
Standing on at first with and afterwards against the tide, the ship reached, at seven miles from the entrance, Rothsay Water, the opening that Hunter had discovered on the west side, while another opposite to it was called Munster Water, in front of which were rocky islands covered with trees and grass. Continuing her course up the main stream the “Mermaid” soon passed a point where the river turned to the south-east.
1820 October 10th
After running for five miles she entered an extensive sheet of water named Saint George’s Basin, in which were two large islands called by King Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick. The vessel was hauled round a point called Strong Tide Point into a strait between St. Andrew and the main, and there she came to an anchorage. From this point Lieutenant King carried out the further examination of the river by boats. He called the river itself Prince Regent River, as he considered it quite the most remarkable feature of the north-west coast. [*] Cunningham describes this exploration in the following passages:
[* It trends in a south-easterly direction into the interior for a distance of fifty-four miles.–“Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]
“We entered the supposed opening[*] to the inland water (discovered by our surgeon Mr. Hunter), which we found of nearly the same character as York Sound, with very steep flat-topped hills, reminding us of the scenery of Cambridge Gulf of the “Mermaid’s” second voyage. On the summit of the boundary cliffs we remarked the picturesque pine Callitris with the tall fan-palm Livistona.”
[* Brunswick Bay.]
PRINCE REGENT RIVER
1820 October 11th
“A river was discovered at the head of this deep bay which Mr. King traced 28 miles to the S.S.E., and in which a beautiful cascade was seen tumbling in small detached bodies at least 40 feet. I landed beneath some cliffs near the anchorage, which I ascended, but made no considerable discoveries. The plants were chiefly those frequently seen elsewhere, with some south-west coast specimens, particularly a Gompholobium.
“A remarkable Apocynum of Mr. Brown was sparingly seen on the verge of the cliffs; and the deep shaded ravines descending[p458] from them abound in the Myristica and Cryptocarya of York Sound. As the period of the breaking up of the monsoon — so favourable for our stay — was clearly indicated by the regularly clouded mornings and evenings, our early departure from these shores became a matter of serious consideration.
1820 October 14th
On the completion of the survey of this deep port [*] we stood out, it having been determined by our commander to leave the coast, which we did on 14th October.”His point of departure was the Keraudren Island (of Baudin). [**]
[* Brunswick Bay, at which port our survey closed in lat. 15° S. and long. 124° 30′ E.–King.]
[* The last of the mainland seen was named Point Adieu.]
Having run down to Cape Leeuwin — purposing to run up the west coast and then return to these shores — the “Mermaid” had not been long at sea before the leak alarmingly increased and rendered it necessary for King to make his way back to Port Jackson, which he says he reached on December 9, 1820, with all on board in good health.
The ship herself narrowly escaped shipwreck upon Cape Banks when nearing the harbour in a storm, flashes of lightning alone enabling her commander to navigate her out of her dangerous position in the very nick of time.
1820 December 9th
On landing in Sydney, Cunningham learned the news of the death in England of his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, and in his next letter to Mr. Aiton he expresses the deep sorrow he had experienced “at hearing of the loss of such an excellent and invaluable friend.”
The chief result of this survey, we are told, was “ascertaining the safety of the in-shore route along the Eastern coast of Australia: the Barrier Reef having left between its inner side and the shore a space of clear water varying in width and perfectly smooth.”