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


This volume deals with only a portion of the exploration of the Southern Continent and is not intended to be a complete history of Australian discovery. I have endeavoured, however, to relate in addition to the better-known discoveries, many important voyages and surveys which have been less frequently described and in many cases I have left the explorer to tell the story of his adventures in his own words.

Throughout the various chapters I have tried to trace the first arrival of English ships on the west coast, the trend of maritime exploration on the north and north-west coasts from the days of Dampier down to King, the surveys of Cook and of his successors on the east coast, the rediscovery of Moreton Bay, the finding of Port Phillip, and the circumnavigation and settlement of Tasmania.

The book also deals with certain inland discoveries from the time of the landing of Governor Phillip in New South Wales until Allan Cunningham had begun his exploration of Queensland. These include the expeditions of Caley, Evans, and all those who struck out westward across the Blue Mountains, and I have dealt with them as constituting a prelude to Cunninghain’s journal, in order to show in whose footsteps Cunningham followed and to indicate the extent of the colony at the time of his arrival there.

Allan Cunningham was a Kew botanist who became also famous as an explorer. It would be difficult to say in which field of enterprise he won most renown. The collections of new plants and seeds that he sent and brought home from the most distant shores of Australasia were hardly surpassed by those made by Robert Brown, and with regard to Cunningham’s explorations we find that historians to-day place him in the very front rank of discoverers of the Southern Continent.

It was not until after he had journeyed as botanist with Oxley’s party into the interior of New South Wales in 1817, and had traversed bush and mountain and beheld the wide rivers winding inland that the desire to study anything beyond the flora of the country entered his mind. In his accounts of his journey with Oxley one can trace how he gradually came to listen to “the call of the wild,” and by looking at the map of Australia of those early days it is possible to gauge to some extent the fascination that tempted him. He must have seen the great spaces left blank on that map, but whether mountains, plains, lakes, or rivers lay there none could tell, for the spaces were unexplored territory that no traveller had ever crossed. In the map they surround the small colony at Port Jackson, then ruled by Governor Macquarie, and spread over nearly the whole continent.

Even where fresh discoveries across the Blue Mountains had been made up to 1814 a single line suffices to show how far Europeans had been able to advance into the Unknown.

The days, then, which followed Cunningham’s coming to the colony were glorious days, appealing to men of spirit and courage to blaze a road through country where no civilized man had yet been, and to learn whether it possessed the features of grass and water absolutely necessary if civilization was to be drawn from the small settlements near the coast into the heart of the continent.

How nobly Cunningham responded to the call is well known–perhaps by none better than by those who live in the townships along the route that he toiled so earnestly to discover, many of which are even now only just springing up. How, without neglecting the duties connected with his post as King’s Botanist, he wrested from the land the knowledge of its mountain-passes, its fine rivers, its rich pastures, it has been my humble endeavour to make known afresh in the present volume, in which his journal, here first printed in full, is the special feature.

After a careful study of his letters, of his journal, and of his reports (extant in England) I have come to the conclusion that Cunningham himself would have preferred to be best remembered as a botanist. For this reason I decided to give some account of his botanical researches. Botany being an entirely new study to me, in dealing with the names of the plants and flowers of Australia mentioned by Cunningham. I have had the assistance of Mr. N. E. Brown, A.L.S., who has kindly given me most able help and advice.

Cunningham’s manuscripts are to be found in the Libraries of the Botanical Departments of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington and at Kew, and I beg to thank the authorities of both Libraries for their courtesy in permitting me to transcribe them.

With regard to my own story of Cunningham’s explorations I can only add that I had proposed writing of them in a different manner from that which I have adopted, but owing to illness continually hampering my efforts I have been unable to carry out my original intentions. I therefore trust that in due course an abler writer will deal with what I have omitted and do Cunningharn’s memory the justice it so richly deserves.

To all who have helped me in various ways to complete this work I offer my sincere and grateful thanks; had it not been for their aid the book could not have been produced in its entirety. To the Librarians of the various English Libraries, of the Sydney Public Library, and of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, I wish to express my gratitude for their valuable assistance. To Mr. Henry Selkirk of the Royal Australian Historical Society I am greatly indebted for his examination of Allan Cunningham’s journal and Field Books, preserved in Sydney, and for comparing Cunningham’s maps there with those of modern geographers. I also wish to thank Mr. C. H. Bertie, F.R.A.H.S., for permitting me to reproduce the illustrations of Cook’s Landing-place and of the brass tablet at Kurnell, previously published by him and I desire to acknowledge Mr. Kashnor’s kindness in allowing me to reprint some rare charts in his collection of those made by Dalrymple which I had not met with elsewhere.







From the earliest dawn of Australia’s history the beautiful flora and singular fauna of the country have appealed to discoverers and naturalists. Yet the old Dutch voyagers who first came to the Great South Land collected few specimens of what they found there, and apparently no record exists of any of the country’s natural productions having reached Europe until long after the names of Eendracht Land, Dedel’s Land, and the Land of the Leeuwin were engraved upon the maps of the world.[*]

[* Heeres says: In 1605 Jansz surveyed the cast coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria as far as about 13°45’S. In the year 1616 the Dutch ship ‘Eendracht,’ commanded by Dirk Hartog, on her voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia . . . for the first time surveyed part of the west coast of Australia. As early as 1619 this coast was known by the name of Eendracht Land, and Dedel’s Land (called after a sea captain named Jacob Dedel) was made in July, 1619, and appeared in the charts of 1627.” The same writer observes: “Dedel’s Land is bounded by the Land of the Leeuwin, surveyed in 1622. (See “Part Borne by the Dutch in the Discovery of Australia.”–J. E. Heeres.)]

According to Labillardière, the first specimens of any kind to reach Holland from New Holland were two shells which had been given to Burgomaster Witsen of Amsterdam in 1698 by a sea captain in the service of the Dutch East India Company. This was William Vlamingh, who had visited Western Australia in the previous year; and, in a letter to Dr. Lister of the Royal Society Witsen says “he found them on the seaside, and I make bold to send you the draught of them, the shells themselves being twice as long and as broad as the draught.” He adds the courteous message “I could not bestow them better than on one who hath the best knowledge of these and all other sea products.” A description of the shells, with illustrations, was afterwards published in Lister’s “Synopsis Conchyliorum “–one being the first nautilus,[*] the other then named the Concha persica clavicula radiata.

[* Nautilus pompilius.]

The Burgomaster’s letter mentions other curiosities seen by Vlamingh in the new land, among them black swans, three of [p002] which were caught and taken to Batavia, but shortly afterwards died there; and on an island near the coast were “rats as great as cats which had a kind of bag or purse hanging from the throat downwards.” On this account the Dutch gave the name of Rottennest[*] to the island and called the river where the swans were taken the Swan River.

[* Rats’ Nest. The rats were a species of kangaroo rat.]

There were found also “many well-scented trees, and out of the wood is to be drawn oil smelling as the rose.” A small bottle of it was distilled at Batavia and sent to the Directors of the Dutch East India Company at Amsterdam, which appear to prove that the eucalyptus first yielded its oil to the Dutch.

Soon after Witsen’s letter had reached Dr. Lister, William Dampier brought home his collection of dried plants, including many gathered in Western Australia. Dampier had twice visited that country: he was there before Vlamingh, on his voyage with the buccaneers in the ship “Cygnet” of London under Captain Read, entering on January 5, 1688 what is now called Cygnet Bay, and he was there in 1699 in the “Roebuck,” of which vessel he was in command;[*] and after Dampier’s return from this voyage in 1702 more than ever before was known in England concerning the South Land.

[* After leaving Australia on his first voyage Dampier quarrelled with Captain Read and quitted the “Cygnet” at Nicobar. He made his way to Sumatra and reached England in 1691. Having been brought under the notice of King William III by the Earl of Pembroke, he was placed in command of Roebuck,” an Admiralty ship, and sent on a second voyage of discovery.]

In the journal of his first voyage Dampier mentions New Holland several times before he is able to record that he has seen it. First of all, at the Ladrones he had been told by experienced seamen that ships bound to Java from the Cape of Good Hope often found themselves, and sometimes to their cost, on the shoals off New Holland; ships had been known to run aground there when their navigators thought that they were a great way from it, as to which Dampier remarks: “Hence possibly the Dutch call that part of the coast the Land of Indraught, as if it magnetically drew ships to it.” In this, however, Dampier assigns a meaning of his own to the word Eendracht, which the Dutch had bestowed upon a part of Western Australia; for we know that the land was named in [p3] honour of the ship “Eendracht,” the word itself meaning, in Dutch, “union” or “concord.”

He mentions New Holland again after the ship had passed Timor, and, being uncertain as to what was the form or shape of the country he was about to land in, he describes it as “a part of Terra Australis Incognita.” When he reached a shoal off the coast, he complained that it was laid down too far to the north-ward in the Dutch charts, and after the “Cygnet” rounded what is now known as Cape Lévêque and anchored a league to the eastward of its shores, on January 5, 1688, he gave this account of the country:

“New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a continent, but I am certain that it joins neither to Asia, Africa, nor America.”

Dampier wrote boldly; for, although early in the seventeenth century the Dutch had made discoveries on the north and west coasts, in 16o6 Torres had sailed through the strait now known by his name, in 1627 Peter Nuyts had crossed the Australian Bight to Nuyts’ Archipelago off the south coast, and in 1642 Tasman had discovered the shores of both Tasmania and New Zealand, yet nothing was known of the eastern or south-eastern coasts, and a multitude of geographers still believed the old fables that Australia was included within the boundaries of the vast Terra Australis Incognita, the imaginary Antarctic continent supposed to cover the whole of the southern portion of both the eastern and western hemispheres–an idea founded on the ancient theory that a southern continent was needed to maintain the equilibrium of the globe.

In the western hemisphere the southern continent was believed to join Tierra del Fuego or Magellanica (South America), and in the eastern hemisphere it was thought to stretch as far north as New Guinea, while its southern boundary ran as far south as the Pole itself. So firmly was this idea fixed in the minds of the most learned men that it had become difficult to eradicate it, and we find this imaginary continent portrayed in maps of the world up to the time of Dampier’s coming to Australia.[*]

[* P. du Val, in his World Map of 1674, in order to show the Dutch discoveries in Australia, makes a sharp break in the outline of the imaginary continent, but he still keeps New Zealand as one of its promontories–part of a territory whose coast-line ran southward till it almost reached the southern extremity of South America; and Tasmania was thought to be another part of it.]

[p4]Points of this vast land had been identified and named by European seamen and others, the most familiar names given tc the various parts being Beach or Locach and Maletur–names handed down since the time of Marco Polo–Terra di Vista, Brasiliae Regio, Psittacorum Regio, or the Land of Parrots, in the eastern, and, contiguous to Tierra del Fuego Regio Patalis and Regio Magellanica in the western hemisphere.

By far the oldest portion of the Terra Australis was the land of Beach or Cape Beach. It was the title given to a tract of country in Northern Australia in the neighbourhood of Arnhem Land, while the old name Regio Patalis (the region of Patala at the mouth of the Indus) was bestowed at different periods upon various parts of the vast continent; Terra di Vista was another ancient name for land in 42° S. lat., of which nothing was known except that “it was 450 leagues from the Cape of Good Hope.” Buache, the French geographer, is best remembered for the memoir he published in 1763 (only five years before Cook sailed on his first voyage), in which he enumerates the names appearing on the maps of Terra Australis, or, as he calls it, Terra Antarctica. In writing of Terra di Vista, Buache points out that “on Mercator’s Great Chart published in 1569 (and on Wytfliet’s Of 1597) there is also marked in these latitudes the great Gulf of St. Sebastian[*] and an island called Cressalina,” “of which,” he adds, “there is a MS. map in the collection of the Marshal d’Estrèes” . . . Buache’s memoir was regarded as an important work at the time of its publication, so much so that afterwards it was reprinted by Alexander Dalrymple, hydrographer at the Admiralty, who possessed a wonderful knowledge of old and rare charts, and who collected valuable information respecting the tracks of vessels which were the first to sail among the islands and shoals of the Pacific and especially among those around the Australian

[* Not to be confused with the channel of that name in Tierra del Fuego.]

To return to the Gulf of St. Sebastian. Although Buache did not himself give its position as being near or off Australia, he believed that it was not far from Terra di Vista. Now, how-ever, it is thought that in all probability what he referred to as Terra di Vista was a portion of Western Australia, since it was placed to the south of the Cape of Good Hope and no land exists in the position assigned to it upon the maps themselves.

[p005] Cook was aware of the importance attached by geographers to the rediscovery of the Gulf of St. Sebastian, and as the Dutch formerly had given orders to their seamen to look for Cape Beach, so in like manner Cook was instructed to search for this gulf. The “Resolution” and the “Adventure” both looked for it, and we even find Dr. Solander, on his return to England in 1774, mentioning it in a letter to a friend when thus describing Furneaux’s homeward voyage:[*] “He [Furneaux] sailed directly south from New Zealand till he came into lat. 55° and between that and 6o° continued his course eastward . . . looking for St. Sebastian’s Land and for Cape Circumcision, but arrived the 18th March last at the Cape of Good Hope without having seen an inch of new land. . . . He has proved that there is no southern continent and that the French discoveries are small islands instead of continents; or perhaps, as my friend Omai calls ice, ‘things that the sun drives away or causes to vanish.'”

[* Solander to Ellis, “Correspondence of Linnaeus,” Vol. II, p. 17.]

On hearing that Cook did not find the Gulf of St. Sebastian, Dalrymple remarked that he should have looked for it in the eastern and not in the western hemisphere;[*] and possibly Dalrymple, although his theory regarding the existence of a huge southern continent was disproved, possessed evidence relating to the discovery of the gulf which has not been handed down to us. The remark at least raises a question as to where Dalrymple expected that Cook would find this gulf. We only know that upon some ancient maps, as for example on Wytfliet’s of the continent of Terra Australis, 1597 (Map 1), there appears on its southern shores a wide opening (not unlike the real Spencer Gulf of early Australian maps) which bears the name of Golfo S. Sebastiano, and to the eastward of this is another river-like opening in front of which is an island called Cressalina. If we follow the coast-line of the continent round to the westward we come to another part of it named Psittacorum Regio, and this, in the opinion of competent authorities, was in[p006] fact Western Australia. Opposite Psittacorum Regio, or the Land of Parrots, and at a short distance from it, looms the Cape of Good Hope, but, judging from the position of Java Major to the northward and the Pacific Ocean to the eastward, the outlines of the Cape are even more out of their proper place on the map than are those of Western Australia.

[* Many believed that the gulf would be found in the western hemisphere, and Thomas Kitchin, the well-known geographer, in banishing the imaginary Terra Australis from his maps after Cook’s return from his researches still retained a small portion of the land bearing the name of the Gulf of St. Sebastian, which he places to the south-east of the Falkland Islands–a little to the westward of where Ortelius had placed it on his map in 1587.]

In spite of the fact, too, that in this map the Gulf of St. Sebastian seems to have its origin a few miles from the South Pole, or that portions of Terra Australis are laid down within the limits of the Antarctic Circle, and that to the south-eastward the land shows no sign of ending, it seems to convey the impression of being an authentic discovery of Australia. Its eastern shores are bounded by the Pacific; New Guinea is shown as an island, and Beach on the north part is face to face with the island of Java Major. The text which was published with it gives this description: “The Australis Terra is the most southern of all lands. It is separated from New Guinea by a narrow strait. Its shores are little known, since after one voyage and another that route has been deserted and seldom is the country visited unless when sailors are driven there by storms. The Australis Terra begins 2 or 3 degrees from the Equator and is maintained . . . to be of so great an extent that if it were thoroughly explored it would be regarded as a fifth part of the world.”

No great land south of the Equator excepting Australia answers to this description of Terra Australis, and, as Dalrymple believed the Gulf of St. Sebastian would be found in the eastern hemisphere, it would seem that he must have regarded the land on whose southern shores its name is inscribed, not as the huge imaginary continent supposed to spread over the southern portions of both hemispheres and to encircle the South Pole, but as a smaller continent confined within the limits of the eastern hemisphere, which could have been no other land than Australia.

It is probable that Europeans visited this continent even before the Dutch discovered portions of it. Witness the Portu-guese word “Abrolhos” on early sea charts, the name Terra del Zur on many old maps, and the rock carvings, found by Sir George Grey in Western Australia, one figure among them being garbed as a priest. These carvings apparently were the work of shipwrecked people who took up their abode in caves.[p007] The countenance of one man engraved in the rock shows that they were Europeans: they do not appear to be connected with any Dutch visit, and it is thought that they were survivors either of a French or a Portuguese ship, long since lost on these shores, of which no traces have been found. There is the story too, that Spanish ringbolts have been discovered in Sydney Harbour, which, if really true, would prove that this side of the continent also was visited. While controversy usually attends the finding of any signs of the presence of Europeans on the mainland at an early date, the knowledge that more than one old map showing Terra Australis bear dates prior to the arrival of the Dutch is sufficient to justify the belief that Australia was discovered before the beginning of the seventeenth century.[*]

[* The wooden globe of Paris, one of the most famous geographical records extant, made about the year 1535, bears an outline of a continent in the far south, having inscribed upon it the legend: “Terra Australis recenter inventa, Anno 1499. Another inscription of a similar nature appears upon the map of Oroncé Finé (1531), only omitting the date of discovery. In a work by Francis Monarchus entitled “De Orbis Situ,” a small map bears a similar notice, and in the text of the book the date of discovery is set down as 1526. Vopellio’s map, 1556, adheres to 1499 as the correct date. From this time forward cosmographers of different periods seem to have had no doubts concerning the authentic discovery of the South Land, although they could not agree in their methods of delineating its outline.]

Other geographers award the honour of discovery to the Malays, who came to fish for trepang on the north and north-west coasts. Both Flinders and King when surveying those shores met with their proas, and it is said that they had fished there for centuries. And probably if one race of mankind outside its native inhabitants can claim to have had the earliest knowledge of Northern Australia, that race would be the Malays. They are said originally to have inhabited Palembang and the banks of the River Malayu in Sumatra and to have migrated thence about the end of the twelfth century to the south-east extremity of the opposite peninsula, where they built the ancient town of Singapore and afterwards that of Malacca (though the name Malaya was applied to the peninsula many ages before). Some of the Malays, especially the traders of Celebes, lost sight of their coasts and pushed out on the open seas, directing their course by the position of the stars and sometimes by the aid of a compass. (At what time they came into possession of this seaman’s guide is conjectural, although it was thought to have been introduced from[p008] China.) A voyage as far southward as Melville Island or Admiralty Gulf would have been quite an easy matter for their fleets.

But turning from the mists of tradition to the clear light of written history, the fact that the Portuguese and Spanish first made charts of Australia carly in the sixteenth century would show that at that time they must have gained some definite knowledge of its coast-line. So jealously, however, did these two nations guard the secrets of their voyages and charts that no records of their discoveries have been handed down to us. It may be significant in this connexion that Wytfliet’s map was dedicated to the King of Spain.

At the end of the sixteenth century a new maritime power sprang into being. Holland, having successfully waged her war of independence against Spain and wrested from Portugal her supremacy in the eastern seas, China as well as India and the Spice Islands became the scene of Dutch activity, and Dutch ships began to take the leading part in the maritime exploration of Southern Asia. These ships when bound for Bantam (the western portion of Java) must have sighted Australia, especially when stormy weather drove them to its shores. Their first knowledge of the southern continent is believed to have been acquired in 1595 in a voyage fitted out by some rich Dutch merchants, at the instigation of Cornelius Houtman, a merchant who had lived in Lisbon and had gathered from the Portuguese particulars concerning their discoveries. Being imprisoned for debt there, Houtman wrote home to the Dutch merchants, giving them much information regarding the East, and they obtained his release and sent him upon this voyage to the East Indies. On the way from Antongil (on the east side of Madagascar) to Java the compasses of the Dutch ships were subject to great variation, and by going too far north they failed to make certain sandbanks (probably the Abrolhos or those near Point Cloates) “marked on their Portuguese charts” which they should have sighted, and Wytfliet says that on this voyage much was learned of the Australis Terra. For fully sixty years the southern continent now became the goal of the Dutch navigators, and Dutch expeditions left Holland in quick succession with instruc-tions to investigate and report upon the South Land, to which they gave the name of New Holland. The stories of these [p009] voyages have their places in the Dutch archives and are well known to us. Of late years the records have been published and contain all that is known concerning the Dutch discoveries in New Holland.

About the year 1600, after the founding of the East India Company, we find English ships beginning to compete with the Dutch for a portion of their trade with the East. With the eastern monsoon the English sailed eastward principally by what the Dutch called their “new route,” that is to say, round the Cape of Good Hope past the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, thence making the coast of New Holland.[*] Between New Holland and the south-eastern shores of Asia the Indian Ocean flows through many channels into the Pacific, and ships coming from the southward across the Equator to China and japan had to pass through some of these channels. “It soon became a recognized practice for British seamen destined for the straits between Java and Timor to secure the land-fall from New Holland.”[**] Instead of coming there by accident or through being blown out of their course, we learn that now the ships made it “their principal care to fall in with New Holland.”

[* Early Dutch navigators recommended seamen to make the South Land in 26° Or 27°. British ships usually made it in 22° or 23° S.]

[** “A New Directory for the East Indies,” S. Dunn. 5th ed. London, 1780. P. 368.]

The earliest accounts in their captains’ log-books and journals telling of how they first saw what is now a British possession are full of interest to-day and should have a place in every Australian history. There are not many records relating to these English voyages. Here and there a log-book of ancient date states the bare fact that the land was sighted, or an old directory quotes the remarks made by some captain–small scraps of intelligence, yet sufficient to prove that long before Cook discovered the east coast in the “Endeavour” British seamen had reached and taken their bearings from the west coast of New Holland.

One experienced commander[*] (the date of whose voyage is not stated), after giving 22° 31′ S. as the latitude that ships should endeavour to make for, sounds a note of warning with regard to the perils around its shores. “I must observe,” he writes, “that till under the lat. of 26° S. the coast of New Holland must be[p010] approached with caution as there is great danger, though there are many never-failing guides to warn you of your approach, such as great quantities of skuttle-bones, weeds and drifts, and near the Bank grampuses playing like seals and innumerable quantities of Tropick birds, but skuttle-fish and weeds are commonly the first marks. The land in lat. 22° S. and 23° S. is low, the soundings 130 fathoms mud about 14 leagues from the coast.”

[* Remarks published by William Nichelson of H.M.S. “Elizabeth,” 1758-64.]

One can picture, while the east coast remained all unknown the little stream of British ships making its way eastward to Western Australia, creeping along the reefs in the darkness past the low sandhills and grassy slopes in the neighbourhood of Point Cloates and North-West Cape, where now, from lighthouses of grey concrete, every five or seven seconds a flashing white light is thrown upon the seaman’s path. The little stream of ships with the advancement of time has grown into a big river with many branches, which divide and penetrate every harbour of the continent.

Trial Rocks (from Dalrymples Collection)
TRYALL ROCKS (from Dalrymples Collection)

The first English ship to reach Australian waters of whose coming a record survives was the ship “Trial”[*] She was wrecked in 1622 upon rocks which soon were placed on charts under the name of the Tryal Rocks, although for long they were thought to be of doubtful existence. Ten of the ship’s passengers safely reached Batavia on July 5th; a second boat came there on the 8th with thirty-six survivors, and these informed the Dutch Governor (Koen) that they had abandoned their ship with ninety-seven people on board in lat. 20°10′ S. They also stated that the “Tryal” had struck upon the reef during the night in fair weather. Both English and Dutch ships looked for the rocks, yet gradually people doubted their existence, because seamen who claimed to have sighted them placed them in entirely different latitudes. Dampier hoped to find them. The “Jane” frigate in 1705 searched for them in vain, although her com-mander guessed the truth concerning their situation. In his journal he wrote on June 27th of that year: “Hove to, according to custom, on account of the Tryal Rocks (if such exist), for although they are reported to extend 20 leagues in length I was[p011] informed by the Commodore of the Dutch ships … that he never heard of these rocks being seen. If they exist they must lie much farther east than in the route toward Java Head.”

[* The “Tryal” carried a letter from the Hague to Dutch authorities in the East giving particulars of the Treaty concluded in 1619 between the English and Dutch E.I. Companies.]

Many years after a Dutch sloop was again sent to explore them in consequence of their having been seen by the ship “Vaderland Getrouw” in 1718 in 20½° S. The sloop sighted and charted them and reported that they ranged from east to west forty miles, were in lat. 19°30′ S. and were eighty leagues from New Holland. Captain Foss of the Danish ship “Fredensberg Castle” saw them in 1777, and geographers continued to place them on their maps, yet many sailors still refused to believe that they existed. At last the voyage of the ship “Greyhound,” on her passage from China to Port Jackson as late as 1819, reopened the question by her commander declaring that he had met with a reef of rocks in lat. 19°59′ S., long. 103°30′ E., which were the long-lost Tryal Rocks.

In 1820, after a minute survey of the different situations where these rocks had been reported, Lieutenant Phillip Parker King in H.M.S. “Mermaid” came to the conclusion that the Monte Bello Islands exactly answered the description given by the Danish captain, and he states, “There remains no doubt in my mind but that Barrow Island (in 20°40′ S., 115°27′ E.) and Trimouille Island (of the French) and the numerous reefs around them are the identical Tryal Rocks.” Since King’s day naval surveyors have found the exact position of the rocks. “Admiralty Sailing Directions” (1917) state that “Tryal Rocks, awash at high water, are near the outer edge of the S.W. part of Monte Bello Islands reef and 5 miles N. of the north extreme of Barrow Island.” King attributed the difficulty of identification to errors in longitude on the part of early navigators whose reckonings, as is well known, cannot be relied upon, owing to the fact that they had to depend upon their chronometers, which were liable to get out of order.

The second English ship to make the Australian coast of whose presence off the Abrolhos a record has been preserved was the “London” under Captain Daniel, who came there in June, 1681, according to Thornton, Horsburgh and Thomson (Dalrymple places the date as 1687), and therefore Daniel saw these shores before his countryman Dampier. Of his coming Captain Daniel wrote in his journal: “With the wind S.W. by W. steering by[p012] compass N.E. by E, at 10 a.m. the water was discoloured: a man at the foretop saw a breach rise ahead of us. We put our helm hard a starboard and stood away N.W. by W. and weathered the N.W. end of it about ½ a mile: at that distance the depth was 35 fms. white corally ground with some red mixed: next depth (about 2 hours after we tacked) was about 40 fms., the same ground, and at 9 p.m.having run off by log on a N.W. by W. course had no ground at 65 fms. . . . The breach which we first saw happened to be the northernmost of all, there being several and by our computation are 20 miles in length. Within the breaches several small white sandy islands were seen with some bushes on them: a very heavy sea broke against the south part of these. When close to them the mainland was not seen.”

Captain Daniel apparently saw Wallabi Group, the northern-most of the three groups of islands and rocks comprising the Abrolhos. He named it “Dangerous Rocks,” He also may have given the name of Maiden’s Isle to Rottnest Island, as it is so called in many old atlases. He made a chart of the Abrolhos which was published by Dalrymple, and, however imperfectly it may represent these shoals, it seems to have been the first attempt by an Englishman to chart the shores of Australia.

There is a curious silence among historians regarding Cloates Island, or Cloates Doubtful Island, off Western Australia, yet to sailors in olden days it was an island of mystery; and for English sea captains who made it their duty to fall in with New Holland it possessed a peculiar attraction. They looked for it and wrote about it in their log-books more than any other part of the continent, because for years people were wont to disbelieve in its existence too. Owing to the hidden trendings in the coast and the elbow that is formed in its outline where they first sighted land a difficult problem was presented to one sailor after another which none could solve.

Captain Daniel’s Chart of Houtman’s Abrolhos

Lieutenant King also found that Cloates Island did exist and was not an island or shoals like the Tryal Rocks and the Abrolhos, but actually formed a part of the mainland. Early explorers had passed along this portion of the coast, though none had named the point until in 1719 it was suddenly christened Cloates Island, and Cloates Island it remained until a hundred years later, when King proved it to be a peninsula. This supposed island was[p013] discovered by Captain Nash (possibly an Englishman), in com-mand of a Flemish ship, the “House of Austria,” bound from Ostend to China. On seeing it he wrote in his journal: “Being clear weather brought to, sounded, and had no ground with 100 fms. though not above four miles off shore. The day before and several days after observed an incredible quantity of seaweed like that from the Gulf of Florida and small birds like lapwings both in size and flight. This island cannot be seen far even in clear weather and lies N.E. by E. and S.W. by S. about 32 leagues in length with terrible breakers from each end running about three miles into the sea.” He gave the lat. as 22° S. and from it made 7°26′ westing to Java Head. As he could find no account of this land in any of his books or charts Captain Nash named it Cloates or Cloot’s Island in honour of a Flemish Baron, one of the owners of the ship.[*]

[* “A New Directory for the East Indies,” S. Dunn. 5th ed. 1780.]

Other ships followed Captain Nash’s route and saw Cloates Island, and reported having seen it. Captain Pelly of the ship “Prince of Wales” in 1739 at first sight thought the land like small islands, so very low that they could not be seen from the deck. A great smoke was rising only at five or six leagues distant. He “sounded and had no ground at 160 fms. . . . raised the land and found it long and level about the height of the Lizard.” . . . He believed “the land like islands joined to the rest.” The last sentence seems to show that Pelly queried the report that the land was a single island, or else had seen other islands in the north-east.

Another East India Company’s ship, the “Haeslingfield,” sighted Cloates Island in 1743. On July 16th Captain Robert Haldane[*] records having seen weeds and common berries in the water in lat. 24°33′ S.; “also next day but not so much as before.” On the following day, Monday, July 18th, he writes: “Saw Cloot’s Island. Lay to. . . . Made sail. . . . Kept a good look out all night, having been yesterday at noon only 75′ to ye southward of Cloot’s Island discovered by ye ‘House of Austria,’ an Ostend shipping, by our account not a great way from ye meridian in which they made it. At daylight saw it bearing S.E. ½ S. to E. by S. distant 6 leagues. Sounded, but had no ground with fms., nor have we seen any scuttle bones[p014] at all nor weeds since the 16th and 17th as they mention, and but 2 or 3 birds of a whitish colour and of size of a pigeon. It extends from N.N.E. to S. by W. about 9 or 10 leagues in length and rises gradually towards the middle; from the N.E. end of it runs a ledge of rocks upon which we saw breakers a great way out. By a very good observation I make it to lie in lat. 22°08′ S. and 32°01′ East from St. Paul’s, which agrees pretty well with a journall of ye above mentioned ship by accident found on board.[**] . . . I am apt to believe that this island is laid down . . . in charts a good deal too much to westward.” The last remark was true. “Doubtful” Island has always been placed too much to westward, and at some distance from the mainland.[***]

[* India Office Log-Book.]

[**] The curious fact of Captain Nash’s journal being found on board the “Haeslingfield” is additional evidence that he was of English nationality.

[***] Upon the charts showing Cook’s first discoveries, and upon the atlas pub-lished with La Pérouse’s voyage, it is shown between the erroneously charted Tryal Rocks and the Australian coast. On the map drawn by Lieutenant Roberts, R.N., to describe Cook’s track in his last voyage, Cloates Island appears twice, to the south-east and again to the south-west of the Tryal Rocks and beneath the latter island is given the further information “according to the French.” In Purdy’s “General Chart of the World,” 2nd ed., 1812, it is shown with the addition of “doubtful,” and also (without that qualification) in Espinosa’s Spanish Chart of the same date. Cloates Island must not be confused with Kalatoa, or Old Clouts Island (upon which the “Ocean” was wrecked) in the Flores Sea.] 

Fifty-three years after the “Haeslingfield” had passed (in the year 1796) the master of the ship “Belvedere” reported having seen Cloates Island “on the lee bow bearing E. by N. 5 or 6 miles at 9; breakers off each end. . . . 10 a.m. a bluff point seen from the masthead.” After steering ten miles, the observed lat., being 21°10′ S.[*] “the body of Cloat’s Island was seen half way up the mizen shrouds.”

[*] Its true lat. 22°42′ S., long. 113°’41’ E.

But by this time geographers were inclined to be sceptical, and Horsburgh writes: “This evidently was not Cloates Island but some of the low islands in the bight to the east of North-West Cape.” Joining the unbelievers, he adds: “Cloates Island very probably has no real existence.”


Lieutenant King, however, who was sent by the Admiralty to explore the north-west coast, was not the man to pass over any reliable evidence concerning early discoveries in those regions and he determined to examine this coast. He came there first in 1818, and on February 10th saw the land and described its[p015] outer shore very much after the manner of early seamen: “The coast is tolerably elevated, may be seen at a distance of 6 or 7 leagues. The shore is fronted with rocks that extend 3 or 4 miles into the sea, on the extremity of which the surf breaks with a continued foam.” On the 14th he rounded North-West Cape and entered the bight which he named Exmouth Gulf, and before dark his ship, the “Mermaid,” had sailed twenty-five miles down the opening without seeing its termination. Exmouth Gulf is twenty-seven miles wide between Tubridgi Point and North-West Cape, and has been traced fifty miles into the land yet even to-day a great part of it is very imperfectly known. “The western side trended southwards, losing itself in distance and bore the appearance of being an island,” King records after bringing the “Mermaid” to an anchorage in an inlet called Bay of Rest, or Jogodor. From here he continued his examination, but was forced to leave Exmouth Gulf without being positively certain whether the bay within it in which his ship had anchored was a part of an island or of the continent.[*]

[* Allan Cunningham, the botanist on board, had little doubt that it formed part of the mainland. (See his journal, February 16, 1818.)]

In October, 1820, during his third voyage to the north-west coast, King wrote: “The existence of Cloates Island, of which there are so many undeniable descriptions, was for a long time questioned by navigators. I think, however, that it does exist, and that it is no other than the mainland to the southward of North-West Cape.” When he came to the curious arm or elbow in the coast-line which had caused sailors to mistake this peninsula for an island, he observed: “In the neighbourhood of the Bay of Rest (within the Gulf) the shore is more sinuous . . . here the Gulf is twelve miles across . . . the Gulf then shoalens and at fifteen miles farther terminates in an inlet . . . at the south end of the high land that forms the west side of the Gulf and which is doubtless the identical Cloates Island that has puzzled navigators for the last eighty years.[*] It perfectly answers the descriptions that have been given, and the only thing against it is the longitude, but this like that of the Tryal Rocks is not to be attended to.”

[* King’s “Intertropical Australia,” Vol. 11, P. 365.]

It is evident that King was keenly interested in the history of Cloates Island and was determined to remove all doubts as[p016] to its identity. And after he had examined it he says: “The description of this island by Captain Nash of the ship ‘House of Austria,’ as well as that of the ‘Haeslingfield’ in 1743 and by Captain Pelly, accord exactly with the appearance of this promontory, nor is the longitude much in error when we consider the strength of the currents which set to the north-west during the easterly monsoon in the space between New Holland and Java.”[*]

[* King’s “Intertropical Australia,” vol. 1, P. 443.]

Thus once and for all King cleared up the mystery which had for so long surrounded Cloates Island.

From these glimpses into the log-books of British seamen who sighted the west coast, we pass to the journal of William Dampier, the first Englishman of whose landing we have actual record.