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
KING’S VOYAGE IN THE “BATHURST”
The “Mermaid” having proved herself unseaworthy King had to abandon his intention of employing her upon his fourth voyage, and the New South Wales Government then purchased a larger and more convenient ship for his use. This was an Indian teakbuilt brig of 165 tons register called the “Haldane,” which was renamed the “Bathurst,” her complement numbering thirty-three. A surgeon named Montgomery, who succeeded Hunter, joined her at Sydney, as well as Percival Baskerville, one of the midshipmen of H.M.S. “Dromedary,” then lying in the harbour. Allan Cunningham again went as botanist to the expedition, and a Port Jackson native named Bundell took the place of Boongaree.
1821 May 26th
On May 26, 1821, Lieutenant King set forth to continue his exploration of the unknown north-west coast in company with the merchant ship “Dick.”
1821 July 5th On July 5th King anchored once more in South-West Bay, South Goulburn Island.
He wrote home to the Admiralty authorities from this anchorage and gave precise information concerning the “Bathurst’s” voyage. “Since leaving Port Jackson,” his letter runs, “I felt pleasure in proving the strength of the vessel, for we have made scarcely 12 inches of water although we experienced much bad weather between it and Breaksea Spit. To the south-east of Cape Capricorn I discovered four small isles in addition to the one laid down by Captain Flinders and have every reason to believe that all that space is occupied by low wooded isles and extensive reefs. At Percy Island (No. 2)[*] I remained[p460] two days (between the Pine Islets and the basin) to shift a topmast that was found to be damaged, and at the anchorage at Cape Grafton[**] I stopped two days to await the termination of thick weather, after which, without much improvement in the weather, we continued our course and anchored on June 21st behind Cape Flinders, stopping one night, June 20th, at Lizard Island on our way. In passing round Cape Flinders there appeared to be a considerable diminution of the ‘Frederick’s’ wreck, no vestige being left of her stern or forecastle which before were so very conspicuous. At Lizard Island we had a friendly communication with the natives, but at Cape Flinders we narrowly escaped being speared, being suddenly surrounded by natives who threw several spears at us and wounded one of the ‘Dick’s’ people. Here I remained three days, during which I obtained several useful spars for spare yards and masts from the wreck of the ‘Frederick,’ which we had visited on former voyages. We also got many iron bolts and teak planks.”
[* In the “Mermaid’s” second voyage she had anchored at Percy Island, No. 1. No. 2 is the largest of the Percy Islands. Here King met a ship which had left Port Jackson after him. This was the “San Antonio” (Hemmans, master), who declined King’s offer of guidance through Torres Strait, and said that he meant to run day and night through the reefs; shortly afterwards he set sail. The “Bathurst” met the ship again at the largest Frankland Island, and the master stated that he had been aground at the Palm islands (on a reef now known as San Antonio Reef). He was now glad to follow King, and never left him until the “Bathurst” had passed through Torres Strait.]
[** King steered through the strait that separates Cape Grafton from Fitzroy Island, and anchored about half a mile from its northern extremity. “It is a little remarkable,” he writes, “that the day on which we anchored should be the anniversary of its discovery; for Cook anchored here on the eve of Trinity Sunday, fifty-one years before, and named the bay between Capes Grafton and Tribulation in reverence of the following day.”]
While King was salving spars from the “Frederick” in Wreck Bay (a part of Bathurst Bay) one of the “San Antonio’s” boats conveyed Mr. Montgomery and Allan Cunningham to Clack’s Island, three miles north from Cape Flinders. On the southern part, where the island is most exposed, the botanist discovered some caves. He noticed that the weather “had excavated several tiers of galleries there upon which were some curious native drawings. They were executed upon a ground of red ochre rubbed on the black schistus rock with dots of white argillaceous earth and represented figures of sharks, porpoises, turtle, lizards (of which there were several seen among the rocks), trepang, starfish, canoes, water-gourds and quadrupeds probably intended for kangaroos and dogs. The figures besides being outlined in dots were decorated all over with the same white pigment. Tracing a gallery round it brought me to a cave which was large enough to afford shelter for twenty natives whose fire-places[p461] appeared on the floor. Turtle-heads had been placed in niches in the rock and the roof and sides of the cave were covered with the same uncouth figures.”[*] Cunningham ends these remarks with the following comment “Captain Flinders had discovered figures on Chasm Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria formed with a burnt stick; but this performance, displaying 150 figures which must have occupied much time, appears at least to be one step nearer refinement than those simply executed with a piece of charred wood.”
[* See Hooker’s “Journal of Botany,” and King’s “Voyages.”]
On taking leave of the east coast, King says “We sailed from Cape Flinders with line weather, but the same evening thick, rainy weather set in which lasted without intermission until we cleared Torres Strait and accompanied us even to the westward of Wessel’s Islands. The state of the weather rendered the navigation among the reefs very intricate and dangerous, but I had the satisfaction to find that the chart I had previously constructed was tolerably correct.”
After telling how he had lost his anchors, the last one carrying away with it about a hundred fathoms of chain cable, King continues: “The ‘Dick’ also broke her anchor at the same time from having dropped it on rocky ground. Between 12 o’clock and daylight I had to continue under weigh and, being surrounded by reefs on one side and land on the other, it was not without danger. We managed however to keep her off the reefs and the following morning cleared the strait without further accident. I have only one bower anchor now with which to carry on the survey, but having been twice before in the same predicament without sustaining damage I feel more confident of being able to continue my proceedings up to the beginning of September. I had intended to go to King George’s Sound previous to commencing the examination of the west coast; but, as I shall not be able to effect this without a better supply of anchors, I have . . . some idea of going to the Isle of France (Mauritius) which . . . is more convenient than Batavia. In anchoring a week ago[*] on the east coast (at Cairncross Island) Mr. Roe who was aloft had the misfortune to fall from the mast-head nearly 50 feet, but providentially escaped with a severe wound over the right eye . . . His loss till he recovers will be much felt as the whole of the survey will fall upon me. . . . He however is in a fair way of recovery. I have constructed a chart of that part of the[p462] coast between Cambridge Gulf and Clarence Strait which . . . I will forward, as also my journals for the last two voyages.”
[* On June 30th.]
1821 July 9th to 17th
In his next letter home Lieutenant King gives the following account of his proceedings after he had taken his departure from Goulburn Island: “On parting company with the ship ‘Dick,’ Captain Harrison, bound for Calcutta, in sight of Cape Van Diemen on the 9th July, the San Antonio having sailed to the N.W. on the 8th, I steered towards Cape Londonderry, and on 12th July passed Troughton Island off Cape Bougainville, and after dark passed round the north-end of the extensive reefs situated on the west side of the Cape. At daylight next morning Cassini Island was seen, but having much calm weather we were drifted by the current in various directions and narrowly escaped being thrown on the extensive banks to the northward of that island.
1821 July 18th – 21st
“Between the 18th and the 21st we were becalmed near a group of isles which were seen last year both from Cape Pond and from Careening Bay, and appear to be noticed on the French charts. They are situated off the north-west end of Bigge Island.[*] On the 22nd July the brig was near Keraudren Island but I did not reach the anchorage in Careening Bay until the following evening. As soon as the vessel was secured I visited our former encampment in order to ascertain if I could procure water, but . . . everything was dried up and not the least sign of what we wanted was found. The next and only resource left to us was the Cascade in Prince Regent’s River . . . but it was not until the evening of the 25th that I anchored in St. George’s Basin immediately off the entrance of the river.” On the following morning King ascended the river and found plenty of water at the Cascade, and, the boats being despatched, they obtained sufficient to last the ship until the middle of October.
[* Maret Group.]
Cunningham thought the Cascade “a singular feature of this unique coast which had been only partially examined before. It was found to tumble–a sheet of water–one hundred feet over the rock in a most picturesque manner,” and was evidently fed from “an inexhaustless source situated . . . in some higher ridges to the S.W.” The watering operations proved a strain on the sailors, who had to work the boats a distance of twenty miles to the watering place, but the delay enabled the officers to complete the survey and to make a tour up the river beyond the Cascade. In this expedition Cunningham, through illness,[p463] was unable to accompany the party. King also made extensive minor observations, “to compare with those taken last year at the observatory in Careening Bay” by which the longitude of that place was determined as 125° 0′ 46″
The “Bathurst” left Prince Regent River on August 6th for a bay to the westward that in 1820 had been named Hanover Bay, where King remained for several days. A point divided the bight of the bay into two openings, of which the easternmost communicated with Munster Water and Prince Regent River. A few casks of water were obtained from a fresh stream here. During their stay a serious affray with the natives occurred which might have had fatal consequences for at least one of King’s party. The commander had landed with the surgeon and two of his officers when the natives, who had laid down their arms and were apparently inclined to be friendly, came towards them. Presents were given, but in a short time it was noticed that they seemed mistrustful, and, retreating step by step, suddenly picked up their spears.
Having left his muskets in the boat King gave orders to some of his men to return for them, and they were in the act of descending the rocks that ran to the water’s edge when two natives each threw a spear at them. One fell short of the midshipman at whom it was aimed, but the other pierced Mr. Montgomery, the surgeon, in the back. The latter fired off a pistol and the blacks instantly fled. Cunningham remarks that had the spear been more slender and been discharged with a throwing-stick the wound would certainly have been fatal, but fortunately, although it was painful, Mr. Montgomery recovered.
The next morning at eleven o’clock a native was seen on a float or catamaran paddling round the west point of the strait, and another man, with whom were a woman and a child, was observed upon the rocks. “In less than a quarter of an hour the men came down to the spot where we saw them yesterday and began to wave and call to us. An opportunity, says Cunningham, “now offered to punish these wretches for their treachery and of disappointing their present plans, for they were evidently intent upon mischief.” Mr. Bedwell was therefore despatched to secure their catamaran, which was hauled[p464] up on a sandy beach near the outer point, whilst another boat was sent towards the natives.
“When the boat arrived near the shore they were sitting on the rock and inviting us to land, but it was necessary to convince them that we were not so defenceless as they imagined and as soon as we were sufficiently near several muskets were fired over their heads. One of the men fell down behind a rock–the others made off. The native who had fallen was wounded in the shoulder and was recognised to be the very man who had speared Mr. Montgomery. He made several attempts to get away but every time his head appeared above the rock which concealed him a pistol or musket was fired to prevent his escape. At last he sprang up, and, leaping upon the rock, vanished out of sight.
“As soon as he was gone we pulled round to the sandy bay where the natives had landed and overtook Mr. Bedwell . . . Upon the beach we found two catamarans, in each of which was a large bundle of spears tied with ligatures of bark; and, on searching in the grass, we soon secured all their riches, consisting of water baskets, tomahawks, throwing-sticks, fire-sticks, fishing-lines, and 36 spears, one being headed with a piece of stone curiously pointed and worked. This last was propelled by a throwing-stick which we found lying with it.”
From Hanover Bay, on August 11th, the “Bathurst” may be said to have begun her new survey on this voyage. Westward from Hanover Bay she entered yet another very fine harbour, which was called by King, in honour of His Majesty, King George IV’s Sound. Its western side was found to be formed by an extensive island,[*] to the westward again of which lay a continuation of rocky islands. “They are all rocky and barren[**] and are surrounded by reefs which render them dangerous to approach. The strength of the tide was found to be very great and its rise considerable.”
[* Augustus Island, thirteen miles in length.]
[** King, MS. letter to Admiralty. These islands being Champagny Isles, Heywood Isles, and Byam Martin Island.]
PORT GEORGE THE FOURTH
Port George the Fourth is a most excellent harbour, and, like Hanover Bay, King found it very convenient, but the numerous reefs and islands which skirt the outer coasts of both[p465] ports appeared to him likely to lessen their value as safe havens for ships. An island lying in the centre of the entrance to Port George the Fourth divides the waterway into two channels. The passage on the western side between Point Adieu[*] and Entrance Island has several patches of rocks in it, but that on the eastern side is nearly clear of danger. Two miles to the southward of Entrance Island is an islet which from its peculiar shape King named the Lump–it is now called the Hummock–and abreast of this the “Bathurst” anchored at about a mile and a half from the shore. On landing and ascending the “Lump” the commander obtained some desired bearings. While he was thus employed lie despatched Mr. Baskerville to examine an opening at the bottom of the port, which proved to be a strait and was called Rogers Strait in honour of Captain Rogers, R.N. Baskerville reported that its waters were dotted with islands and dry reefs of considerable extent.
[* At the northern extremity of Augustus Island.]
1821 August 13th
On August 13th King cleared the harbour, passing out of it by the eastern channel, but having to beat against the wind was soon compelled to anchor again off Point Adieu. King had first seen and named this point during his third voyage in the “Mermaid.”
At daylight on the 14th the “Bathurst” left Point Adieu and came abreast of a strait leading between some rocky islands to the southward[*] (this appears to have been the strait eastward of the Champagny Isles), through which she was driven by a floodtide with tremendous impetus on the 15th, anchoring at six miles from the southern outlet of the strait. Here King remained all the evening. A little before sunset he obtained a good view to the south-east, where he again saw a great number of islands: beyond these the mainland could not be traced. A point of the land afterwards christened Point Hall bore from the anchorage S. 19° E. (the vessel being then in Camden Sound).
[* To the north of these extend other islands one of which named Vulcan Island is the land seen in 1801 by Captain Heywood, and called by him Vulcan Point after his ship H.M.S. “Vulcan.”]
The direction of the tides at this place led King to suspect that an opening to the eastward of the bay in which he had anchored, and which he named in compliment to the Marquis Camden, not only connected it with Rogers Strait but was also the outlet of another considerable bay or river. This opening was Brecknock Harbour and its eastern continuation Camden Harbour, the former being remarkable for the manner in which[p466] its coast-line is everywhere indented with bights. Rogers Strait at its north-eastern extremity was found to lead back into Port George the Fourth.
1821 August 16th
On the 16th the “Bathurst” weighed and made sail round Point Hall, steering towards a group of islands which the commander named Montgomery Isles after the surgeon of the “Bathurst.” Another bight in the coast-line to the southward where the land again trended in deeply, was called Collier’s Bay, in compliment to the late Captain Sir G. Collier, R.N., and here a few good-sized trees were noticed growing over a sandy beach on one of the islands at its entrance.
1821 August 17th
On August 17th the “Bathurst” came to an anchorage off a bay, the east head of which was formed by several islands. (This probably was in Yampi Sound). Proceeding forward, though making little progress, towards Buccaneer Archipelago, the brig at sunset on the 18th hauled to the wind for the night off the northernmost of a range of islands which King identified as the Caffarelli Island of Baudin. He was now in the vicinity of Brue/ Reef of the French commander. Shortly after daybreak on Sunday, August 9th, he passed the “dry rock”[*] off the west end of Caffarelli Island, and endeavoured to steer between the range of islands to which it belonged and a group of rocky isles close to it, but without success. He then approached some other islands to the south-westward which formed the eastern side of a channel or strait.
[* An islet 120 feet high.]
Here the vessel was soon placed in a perilous situation. The tide which had been with her turned, and setting with great force first drove her towards some rocks and then caused her to drift into the channel. In entering this there was only just enough wind to enable her to clear the rocks, and she had no sooner avoided them than she was nearly thrown upon some islets. In this unexplored strait with rocks and islands all around her, with the afternoon far advanced, and with an unfavourable wind, the “Bathurst” for some time was at the mercy of the tide, and all that could be done was patiently to await its ebbing, in order that she might drift out as she had been carried in. Now and again she was caught in eddies and whirlpools that caused her to spin round so rapidly as to endanger her masts. At 5 p.m., however, the tides and eddies ceased, and gradually she began to drift through the channel and to meet again the dangers that she had experienced when coming in.
[p467] To add to the difficulties of navigation in such circumstances the breeze continued unfavourable. In spite of this King tried to make sail and beat out, and before long had made progress, the land being lost sight of. At night, however, a dead calm set in, the tide began to flow and the ship to drift so near to the land, that the breakers could plainly be heard. Shortly afterwards the moon rose, and then it was seen that this land consisted of islands which fortunately were still some distance off. A few minutes after midnight a favourable breeze from the south-west at last brought her out of danger. King named the strait Sunday Strait, and in 1838 Captain Stokes called the passage from which the “Bathurst” made her escape from her perilous position, Escape Passage. At daylight on the 20th the ship was eight miles to the north-east of Caffarelli Island, Brué Reef being clearly seen as she passed between them. At noon the low land of Cape Lévêque bore to the southward.
In one of his letters King says that between Camden Bay and Cape Lévêque the coast-line was “very indifferently noticed ” by him on account of the danger, and for this reason he was compelled to bear away. At the bottom of Collier’s Bay there appeared to be an opening[*] which he thought was not very considerable, but, he writes, at the bottom of Cygnet Bay, I think it not unlikely that there is a very extensive opening.[**] We were becalmed and carried into its entrance and sunset overtook us before we were extricated from danger, but the ebb tide fortunately drifted us out clear of the numerous reefs and shoals which are so thickly strewn over this interesting partinteresting not only from the rapidity and great rise and fall of the tides as well as from the considerable depth of the water, being in some parts from 40 to 50 fathoms, but on account of its being the bay visited and described by our celebrated navigator Dampier during his voyage with the buccaneers in the’Cygnet’.”
[* Secure Bay, the easternmost of two bays at the head of Collier Bay, is a considerable sheet of water.–“Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]
[* The heads of many of the bays named by King are even to-day little known, and we read in “Admiralty Sailing Directions” that large portions of the coast are still unsurveyed. Wickham and Stokes (1838-42) and Denham (1858), who surveyed these coasts after King, added largely to the knowledge of them.]
[p468] In the story of his voyage King proceeds to quote Dampier’s remarks about this part of the coast when the “Cygnet” came here in 1688, and he adds: “From this description I have little hesitation in settling Cape Lévêque to be the point he passed round.[*] In commemoration, therefore, of his visit the name of Buccaneers Archipelago was given to the cluster of isles that fronts Cygnet Bay, the latter so called after the ship in which Dampier sailed, the point within Cape Lévêque being named Point Swan after her captain[**] while to a remarkable lump in the centre of the Archipelago the name of Dampier’s Monument[***] was assigned.”
[* King’s “Intertropical Australia,” Vol. 1, Part 11, p. 88.]
[** Captain Swan, however, did not visit New Holland.]
[*** The most conspicuous island of the archipelago; it is conical with a rounded Summit 283 feet high, on which is a solitary bush.–“Admiralty Sailing Direction.”]
King’s letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty at this point becomes an historic document, and shows how anxious he was to investigate Dampier’s landing-place. His lack of anchors, however, prevented him surveying it as he would have wished to have done, and he writes: “I reluctantly found myself obliged to leave the particular examination of this part until a more favourable opportunity[*] . . . and after fixing the position of all the islands, I rounded Cape Lévêque and continued the examination of the coast. From that point it took a decidedly new character and continued low and sandy as far as the part where I quitted it.”
[* He returned in the following February.]
1821 August 20th
King left the scene of Dampier’s first landing on August 20th. He saw no natives on any of the islands where Dampier had seen them, but noticed their fires at the back of Cygnet Bay. Continuing his voyage round the coast, next day at sunset he anchored at about four miles from the shore. During the afternoon an immense number of whales had surrounded the “Bathurst’s ” track, leaping and thrashing the water. The noise, says King, was as loud as that of a volley of musketry. At noon on August 22nd Cape Borda was sighted, and on the same afternoon the sloop came abreast of Emeriau “Island” of Baudin; and as this proved to be a part of the mainland the word “point” was substituted for “island” on the charts. At five o’clock Lacépéde Islands, a group of four low islands[*] composed of sand and coral and covered with coarse grass, was[p469] sighted, and at sunset King anchored for the night within them. While steering along the Australian coast on the 23rd he named a sandy projection Cape Baskerville after his midshipman. From it the land trended inward to form a bay, which the commander says he christened Carnot Bay, since no island could be traced in the position assigned to Baudin’s Carnot Island.
[*West Islet, Middle Island, and Sandy and East Islets.]
The “Bathurst” passed Cape Berthollet, Point Coulomb, and Cape Boileau of the French charts and came to an anchorage on August 24th, some six miles from a sandy point of the mainland, which was identified as the Gantheaume “Island” of Baudin, the name of Point Gantheaume therefore being bestowed upon it. On this day, after a thick haze had enveloped the shore, a mirage was observed from the ship, which produced an extraordinary effect upon the coast, causing high chalky cliffs crowned by wooded hillocks to appear, whereas in reality the land south of Point Gantheaume is of a low and sandy character, and beyond this point trends to the south-east. King named the bight between Cape Villaret and Point Gantheaume, Roebuck Bay, “after the ship that Captain Dampier had commanded when he visited this part of the coast in 1699.”
The “Bathurst” found an anchorage at sunset on August 25th about six miles to the north of Cape Villaret, and weighing next morning at daylight sighted, as soon as the breeze had dispersed the mist enveloping it, the hillocky summit of Cape Latouche-Treville. From here the vessel turned and left the coast.
Cunningham had gathered a few seeds at King George IV’s Sound, but found its botany did not differ from that of the shores examined by him to the eastward, and he makes the following remarks with regard to this part of his voyage: “Upon leaving the sound on the 13th we saw little of the main, for, having . . . stood outside the many . . . barren islands . . . so surrounded by reefs that they could not be approached, we were . . . barred from closing in with the coast-line till about the 20th, when . . . we stood in and made a low depressed sandy shore. This miserable line of coast,” writes the botanist, who was ill at the time, “trended rapidly to the southward, and assumes all the extremes of sterility so obvious during former voyages–a feature that continued to the close of our stay . . . when we reached the lat. of 18°S., having recognized some points seen by the French, to whose names every possible respect has been paid.”
[p470]In addition to the opportunities for landing in Dampier Land being few and far between, Cunningham suffered from indisposition for some time, which fully accounts for the fact that he did little botanizing; indeed, he had gathered few fresh specimens since leaving Prince Regent’s River, although King and his officers made collections of plants for his benefit, when they went on shore. He does not seem, however, to have obtained any plants after leaving Cape Lévêque, for King states: “No opportunity offered, nor was there any inducement for me to land between Capes Lévêque and Latouche-Treville, but the appearance of the country was sufficiently indicative of its sterility. It is so low as not to be visible from a ship’s deck at a greater distance than 4 or 5 leagues.” The “Bathurst’s” water was now nearly expended, her provisions in a very bad state, besides which her lack of anchors, having but one left, caused King so much anxiety that he decided to leave the shores at once. On taking his departure on August 27th he directed his ship’s course to the Mauritius.
1821 September 26th
On the evening of September 26th the “Bathurst” reached Mauritius, and anchored off the town of Port Louis. Captain Fairfax Moresby, of H.M.S. “Menai,” then in the port, rendered her commander much assistance, helping him to make the necessary repairs to his ship and to purchase the three anchors and two cables which he so badly needed. While at Port Louis, Cunningham learned that General Macquarie had been succeeded by Sir Thomas Brisbane as Governor of New South Wales. Several excursions on the hills in the neighbourhood of the town kept the young botanist busily employed, although, the season being unfavourable, few plants were in flower or fruit. He repeatedly visited the Botanic Gardens at Pamplemousses and saw the many rare exotics from India, Africa, and Madagascar. Of these he was able to make a good selection for the Royal Gardens at Kew, and in return presented the Pamplemousses establishment with some packets of seeds of such Australian plants as he had in quantity, and of which he had already sent home specimens.[*] Among the plants then sent to[p471] Kew were some green, well-ripened nutmegs, probably of the kind known as the Banda or round nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), so highly esteemed by the old Dutch traders.
[* During his stay Cunningham made the acquaintance of Mr. Telfair, Founder of the Society of Natural History at Mauritius, and received his hospitality at Bois Cheri.]
KING GEORGE’S SOUND
1821 November 15th
Having completed her supplies the “Bathurst” left Port Louis on November 15, 1821 and anchored in King George’s Sound, Western Australia, at one mile from the entrance of Port Royal, on December 23rd, after a passage of thirty-nine days. Next morning several natives were seen waving to the ship from the north head of the harbour.
After breakfast King pulled towards them in a whale-boat. Although they seemed to invite the British to land, he ordered his men to row out into the harbour while the blacks walked along the beach. It was evident that they were unarmed; each wore a kangaroo skin over his shoulder, but left the right arm exposed. When they saw the white party turning off shore they seemed very disappointed, and upon perceiving the sailors making signs for fresh water, called out “Badoo” (a Port Jackson native word for water), and pointed to a part of the bay where Flinders had marked a rivulet. The word kangaroo was also familiar to them; and as the “San Antonio” had visited here in 1820, King felt sure that both words had been obtained from the crew of that ship. Their name for kangaroo was Beango.
Cunningham gives the following account of his arrival
1821 November 24th
On the afternoon of the 24th I landed with Captain King on the beach, where our tents had been pitched four years since, and was much surprised at the change in the vegetable kingdom on that shore. We could discover no trace of the garden which I had formerly made with so much labour. The breadth of the beach had considerably diminished, by a great accumulation of decayed seaweed . . . and the stumps of large trees (two feet diameter) cut down in 1818 were wholly concealed from our view by the luxuriant stems that had grown out of them, exhibiting with every shrub around the most luxuriant growth of vegetation. . . . On the side of the wooded hills above the beach I remarked almost every plant to be in a much more backward state than . . . in January, 1818, the season on the whole being more favourable for flowering specimens than for ripened seeds. Banksia grandis and B. coccinea (“the Pride of the Sound”)[p472] were extremely fine in flower, as were also several Leptospermae, and among the plants around I gathered the following: Calythrix sp. a shrub with white flowers. Lysinema ciliatum. Comesperma sp. allied to C. confertum, Labill. Hakea ceratophylla and H. florida. Johnsonia lupulina, a curious plant of the Asphodeleae. Acacia decipiens and A. nigricans.
“Nothing could possibly exceed the beauty of Pimelea decussata, on rocks nearly washed by the sea, where Scaevola nitida was also frequent; upon the lower slopes I gathered fruit of Banksia attenuata; upon the gravelly ridges I gathered specimens of Leptomeria aphylla and L. squarrulosa. . . . Some delicate Stylidae were discovered among gramineous plants, where also I detected Conostylis setigera in flower, and some specimens of Haemodorum were shooting forth their lurid brown stems.
“The summit of the ridge was wholly uninteresting, the plants being chiefly stunted Eucalypti, Banksia grandis, and the arborescent Xanthorrhoea of the shores. Agreeing in habit and producing a stem similar to this last mentioned species, exists a plant (Kingia australis R.B.) on these hills, whose fructification. has never been detected in a perfect condition.
“Having traced the narrow ridge of the highest hill above the anchorage in a northerly direction, I descended upon the eastern shore of Oyster Harbour, and in passing through a shaded forest land was furnished by reason of the shade with a pleasing change in vegetation. . . . On the 26th, in a day’s walk, I gathered:–Synaphea dilatata . . . Lemcopogon verticillatus, a tall shrub bearing white fruit . . . Casuarina sp., a shrub of low stature. . . . A showy Gompholobium, with numerous ascending stems and linear ternate leaves, decorate these woods with its unproportionately large flowers. . . . With a view of avoiding the natives, whom we perceived strolling between their encampment and the vessel, we kept the leading ridge of the hills, from which we had a fine view of the distant country west of Oyster Harbour.
“By a circuitous route back we at length arrived at an elevated spongy bog. In this bog I found later the curious Cephalolus follicularis, a pitcher plant of very weak growth.” Of this he adds, “The plants of Cephalotus were all in a very weak state . . . the ascidia or pitchers, which are inserted on strong foot-stalks, all contained a quantity of discoloured water, and in some the drowned bodies of ants and other small insects.” Whether this fluid was considered by him to be a secretion of the[p473] plant, as with the Nepenthes or pitcher plant of India, or of the ascidia themselves, or was simply rain-water, Cunningham does not positively tell us, but appears to have agreed with Mr. Brown in thinking the fluid was a secretion of the plant. He says: “I spent much time in fruitless search for flowering specimens,” and informs us that the only edible plants he found here were a creeping parsley, Apium prostratum (Labill.), and a species of orache, Atriplex halimus, Brown.
Not being quite so intently engaged, King was able to see more of the blacks, and found them friendly and amicable. One man in particular showed great intelligence, and became much attached to the British, who dressed him in European clothes and christened him “Jack,” by which name he was always known. King writes of Oyster Harbour: “At this place, during watering operations, I had a daily and very interesting communication with the natives, who conducted themselves towards me in a most open, confiding, and friendly manner, and I am happy to say that we left them much pleased with our visit.”On Christmas Day, the blacks speared a young seal, and the whole tribe collected to devour it, eating the raw flesh in a way which rather disgusted Captain King and Mr. Cunningham, who, prompted by curiosity, came to watch them consume it. They possessed neither the fiz-gig, shield, nor boomerang, says King, but their throwing-sticks or “mearas” were rather ingeniously formed.
The stem of the Casuarina at Oyster Harbour, on which the “Mermaid’s” name and date of her previous visit had been carved was now seen almost destroyed by fire, the date 1818 alone being visible. The initials of some of King’s people, however, were still quite perfect upon the stem of a large Banksia grandis, then richly in flower and magnificent in appearance. Near the stream, from which water was obtained for the ship, felled trees were lying with the staves of a cask, evidently mementoes of the “San Antonio’s” visit when she wooded and watered there in 1820. On January 4th King went again to Seal Island to look for the bottle which had been placed there in 1818. It was found suspended as it had been left by the “Mermaid’s” people and on being brought on board, another memorandum giving particulars of the “Bathurst’s” coming was enclosed, as well as a copy of the vocabulary of the native language.
1822 January 6th
On January 6, 1822, the ” Bathurst ” left King George’s Sound and began her minute examination of the west coast.[p474] At daylight on the 10th the dreaded Leeuwin was sighted from the masthead. King, in his journal, reminds us that from Cape Leeuwin or the Land of the Lioness, the south-westernmost extremity of Australia, Flinders had commenced his exploration of the south coast and that Baudin’s ships had twice rounded it. At noon a large, bare patch of sand on the mainland, the “Tache Blanche remarquable,” of Captain Baudin, bore N. 77° E. At six in the evening the “Bathurst” passed Cape Naturaliste.
On the following day, January 11th, Capes Péron and Bouvard were seen from the ship, and distant land was visible to the eastward, trending towards the entrance of the Swan River, which King did not enter. On the 12th, at 9.30, the ship was steering five miles from the low and sandy shore between Cape Péron and Cape Bouvard. On this day a remarkable mirage was witnessed; a haze had concealed the true coast-line, when “land appeared all round us, on which rocks, sandy beaches, and trees were seen so plainly that the officer of the watch actually reported two islands on the western horizon.” The French had witnessed just such another magical scene in Géographe Bay. At sunset the haze cleared away, and the true outlines of Rottnest Island were clearly discerned in the north-east.
“During the night the “Bathurst” made short tacks, and next morning King brought her to an anchorage at the northeast end of Rottnest Island, off a point now known as Bathurst Point. In the afternoon he landed in a bay on the east side of the island, where a tremendous surf came rolling in upon the beach. Cunningham, who was included in the landing party, took particular interest in the botany of this island, so small, yet so famous in the history of Dutch exploration, and he gives the following description of his visit:[*]
[* Cunningham to Telfair.]
1822 January 14th
“On the 14th January, 1822, we landed at Rottnest Island . . . which is situated about 13 or 14 miles from the main and from the estuary of Black Swan River . . . and was discovered by the Dutch navigator Cornelis de Vlamingh[*] when the main to the northward called Edels Land was also seen and Swan River examined, of which the sketches of Van Keulen who accompanied that navigator are still extant. Landing on the island they (the Dutch) observed the soil to be perforated in every direction as well perpendicularly as horizontally with long burrows . . . the operations of rats[**] which appeared to have overrun the island[p475] and have given rise to the name it then received of Rottenest or Rottnest but which, according to the French, are in reality the retreats of a nondescript animal forming a distinct genus allied to Didelphis. The true face of Rottnest is better seen at a moderate distance at sea when it forms into a series of low hills and hillocks. The soil is intermixed with shells . . . the rocks are a grey sandstone coated with coral shells and sand.
[* This should be Willem de Vlamingh.]
[** A species of kangaroo rat described by Vlamingh as having “a purse or bag hanging from its throat.”]
“At the back of the beach upon tracing a declining vale covered with spinifex (a prickly grass) about 300 yards, I reached the margin of a lake of salt water having by the marks on its edge a sensible tide[*] on all sides . . . it is bounded by hills alike sandy but thickly covered with Callitris or pine of heavy robust growth . . . the elevation of these rising grounds being . . . not more than 150 feet above the sea. The extent of the lake, which appeared very shoally and wound round the rising land towards the centre of the island could not be ascertained but, at the extremity I had visited, it did not exceed 200 feet in breadth and part of that space was occupied by a rocky islet, its shores, which were 30 feet wide, being formed of shells in beds of bivalves among which the genus Mya was abundant. No fresh water has ever been discovered on the island, indeed the loose filtering nature of the soil has nothing in its component parts tenacious enough to retain that element near the surface, and it is most probable that the bed of the lake being lower than the level of the sea the latter finds its way into it through the loose sand at flood tides.
[* Freycinet had named this lake Duvaldailly’s Ponds “from the name of the cadet who accompanied us.”]
“No kangaroos were seen by us although very recent traces of these animals were observed as also the well defined paths of seals which according to the French (Péron’s Voyage, 1811) wander over all parts of the island. But their skins (at least those killed by our people) were not of the fur kind as is stated by Captain Freycinet. . . . No parrots were seen and but a solitary pigeon of a large size seemingly not distinct from Columba chalcoptera of our colony. Groups of sandpipers ran on the beach and large flocks of boobies (of our sailors, certainly a Pelecanus) inhabit some rocks in the offing.
“The sad wrecks of once beautiful shells afforded me subject for contemplation of the riches ‘of the unfathomed caves of Ocean’ which although there were no perfect specimens for the cabinet showed the extent and importance of the conchological[p476] subjects of these shores. I recognized there Buccinum, Bulla, Murex Trochus, Haliotis and Helix, all of which might be collected alive and perfect immediately after a westerly gale on the weather shore. The island is situate in lat. 31°58′ S. and long. 115°29′ E. and is about 7 miles in length and its extreme breadth 1½ mile. It does not appear to be inhabited nor were any indications observed of the aborigines of the neighbouring main having crossed the strait to it.”
Of the Island-flora, Cunningham remarks: “It is surprising that an island at so short a distance from the S.W. coast should bear so small a feature of the characteristic vegetation of King George’s Sound as not to furnish a single plant of the several genera of Proteaceae or Acaciae, and but a solitary plant of Leguminosae-Templetonia retusa. The timber is a Callitris, having much the habit of Pinus cedrus, or cedar of Lebanon, which is found abundantly spread over the island, and to within a few yards of the sea-beach: I saw also a large spreading Melaleuca and a narrow-leaved Pittosporum; these three trees constitute the timber of the island. The ground in some parts if profusely clothed with Spinifex hirsutus Labil.”
Weighing on the 14th from Rottnest, King steered up the coast, and traced the shores of Western Australia to the northward, at from three to six miles off shore, as far as North-West Cape, without finding them to vary much from the Dutch chart of Van Keulen. He sighted, on the 15th, Baudin’s Cape Leschenault, and on the 16th his Jurien Bay, in which were noticed two rocky islets,[*] and on January 17th passed within the “Abrolhos Banks, a part of which he had seen during his previous examination of the West coast.”
[* Favourite and Long Islands.]
The Abrolhos, or Houtman’s Abrolhos, form three groups of small islands and rocks enclosed by reefs, and extend forty-nine miles along the coast of Western Australia, Wallabi, the northernmost, being separated from Easter Group by Middle Channel, and the latter from Pelsart Group by Zeewyk Channel. The Dutch ship “Batavia,” Commodore Pelsart, was lost on the south end of Pelsart Isle in 1629. The passage between the Abrolhos and the coast was called Geelvink Channel by King,[p477] in honour of Vlamingh’s ship, since she was the first to pass within them in 1697. Before Houtman’s name was added these rocks already had been christened Abrolhos by some earlier voyagers, for the name appeared on charts before the Dutchmen arrived there. It is the Portuguese word for cliffs or rocks rising from the sea, and is believed to be derived from a nautical expression meaning “keep your eyes open” or “open your eyes”–“mind your eye” would be a modern paraphrase–and so to have been given by Portuguese sailors to dangerous places.
Frederick Houtman arrived in the “Dordrecht,” which, with another ship with Jacob d’Edel on board, on the way to Batavia, sailed from the Cape of Good Hope on June 8, 1619. Houtman wrote, in his account of this voyage: “On July 19th we suddenly came upon the South Land Beach in lat. 32°20′, where we spent a few days.” It is to this voyage that Dedel’s Land and Houtman’s Abrolhos owe their names.
1822 January 18th
On January 18th, at five o’clock in the morning, from the “Bathurst’s” deck, land about 1,000 feet high was seen forming a range of flat-topped hills. This range, which had been noticed by the “Naturaliste” in 1802, was named by King in honour of Captain Moresby, who had rendered him valuable assistance at Mauritius. The summit in the centre was called Mount Fairfax, the hills at the north end Menai Hills, and three others at the south end were given the name of Wizard Hills. From here the coast trends to the N.W. by N. and “a large patch of bare sand terminates the sandy shores, in lat. 27°55′ S. A steep cliff then extends to the Red Point of Vlamingh, behind which is a bight called by the French Gantheaume Bay.”
DIRK HARTOG ISLAND
The “Bathurst” made a very speedy run on the 19th, and on the 20th reached the parallel Of 25°56′ S., when King anchored in Dirk Hartog’s Road at the northern extremity of the island of that name. Of the island’s history as then known to him and of his coming there Cunningham gives an interesting account:[*] “This island . . . was discovered by Captain Hartach or Hartog in the ship ‘Eendracht’ of Amsterdam (1616) as appeared by a platter of tin which was seen eighty years afterwards by Vlamingh[p478] (1696) who subgraved his name and date of arrival to it.[*] In 1801 Commodore Baudin discovered the remains of Hartog’s original post to which was attached the tin plate and having carefully copied the inscription replaced the platter on the original spot, erecting a new post for it.
[* To Telfair, February 15, 1823.]
[** Vlamingh placed another plate where Hartog’s had formerly stood and carried the original back to Holland. See account below.]
“Upon the approach to this memorable extremity of the island,[*] previous to our arrival at the anchorage in the Road, we most distinctly perceived the spot whereon Captain Dirk Hartog had erected a cross in 1616. It was on the verge of a high cliff which we ascended the following morning, each of us being anxious to behold the original metallic testimonial of the discovery of the island which had been there at so late a period as 1801. To our disappointment we simply found two posts of recent erection of different lengths, standing by being fixed in between the deep fissures of the rocks but without the plate attached to either which could not be found in or about the vicinity of the spot, although a very diligent search was made. One of the staffs was of fir seemingly part of a top-gallant mast, the other appearing to be of the Callitris of Rottnest and was probably erected by Captain Freycinet of ‘L’Uranie’ in 1818. The fir post was probably that to which Baudin had in 1801 again fixed the original platter. Our conclusions were that, although Dirk Hartog’s post which was of oak had remained undisturbed by natives 185 years it is nevertheless probable that the appearance of the new one had so excited the wonder and doubts of the barbarous wandering aborigines as to induce them to deface it. . . . This island . . . has the greatest surface of red sandy bare desert I have ever observed in New Holland, over which I traversed nearly three miles, gathering a few of those curious plants in my route originally discovered and collected by the celebrated Dampier.”
[* This was Cape Inscription.]
King states that the post of the wood of the Callitris was two feet high. It appeared broken but the other post was erect, and seemed to have once been either the heel of a ship’s royal-mast or part of a studding-sail boom. On one side of it were marks showing that a flag had been fastened to it. King, like Cunningham, thought that the natives had removed the plates, but on returning to England he learnt that they were preserved in Paris, having been carried away by Louis de Freycinet during his[p479] voyage in the “Uranie” in 1818. Upon beaches to the eastward of the cape were found varieties of sponges and coral, and béche-de-mer in the crevices of the rocks.
On the 24th Mr. Roe visited the cape again, to fix on the post (the old studding-sail boom) a memorial of the “Bathurst’s” visit. An inscription was carved on a small piece of wood (at the back of which was deposited another memorandum written on vellum), and placed in the sheave-hole of the post, where it was made secure.
In the year 1697 William Vlamingh had left the Swan River and was tracing the coast-line of Western Australia northward when he reached Hartog Island. He found, as Cunningham has stated, at its northern point, on February 4th, a tin platter, which Hartog had left as a record of his stay there, and saw other traces of his visit. Vlamingh brought the plate away and gave it to the Gentlemen Seventeen at Batavia, and in the account of his voyage, printed in Amsterdam in 1704, there appears a copy of the following memorandum, sent by the Gentlemen Seventeen to the authorities at Amsterdam:
“This old plate brought to us by William Vlamingh we have now handed over to the commander, in order that he might bring it to your Nobilities, and that you may marvel how it remained through such a number of years unaffected by air, rain or sun.”[Which seems to speak well for the preservative properties of the Australian climate.]
Vlamingh wrote on the chart [see Van Keulen] which he afterwards made of the coast: “Here I found the tin platter,” placing a cross on Hartog Island to show the exact spot where he came upon it.[*] [This platter has been discovered in quite recent years in the States Museum at Amsterdam.] But before Vlamingh had left Hartog Island the above memorandum continues: “He erected on the same spot another pole, with a flat tin plate as a memorial, and wrote on it as you will read in the journals.[**]
[* Alexander Dalrymple has thus translated the Dutch inscription which is possibly the correct rendering “At this cross was found a pewter dish.”]
On this “flat tin plate” Vlamingh placed together the two inscriptions recording both Hartog’s and his own visits. It was this second plate, on the post erected by Vlamingh, that was seen by Captain Hamelin in the “Naturaliste” (one of Baudin’s ships) when he called at Hartog Island in August, 1801. The plate was discovered still nailed to the post but half buried in[p480] the sand. The French commander refixed the plate on a new post, after its inscription had been copied by the artist on board his ship (inaccurately it is said), and an illustration of it taken from the picture published in Louis de Freycinet’s work is reproduced. When Hamelin erected the new post in the old position he put up another, to which was fixed a plate bearing an inscription recording his own visit; and it was these two memorials that King had hoped to find there.
Many another seaman since King’s day has regretted that the two missing plates were carried away by Louis de Freycinet. The two inscriptions upon the more ancient one were, of course, in Dutch, of which the following is a translation:
DIRK HARTOG’S PLATE
“On the 25th of October came here the ship the’ Eendraght'[*] of Amsterdam. The chief merchant,[**] Gilles Miebais of Luck,[***] skipper Dirck Hatichs of Amsterdam. On the 27th ditto sailed for Bantam. The undermerchant, Jan Stins; the upper steersman,[****] Pieter Doores of Bil. Anno 1616.”
[* The “Concord.”]
[*** Stands for Luyk (Liège).]
[**** First mate.]
[***** Probably Bril is meant (then an important sea town), now Brielle.]
WILLIAM VLAMINGH’S PLATE
“On the 4th of February came here the ship the ‘Geelvinck'[*] for[**] Amsterdam. The commander and skipper, Willem de Vlamingh of Vlielandt: Assistant, Joannes Bremer of Coppenhagen: Upper Steersman, Michil Bloem of the Bishopric Bremen. The Hooker the ‘Nyptangh'[***] Skipper, Gerrit Colaart of Amsterdam: Assistant, Theodoris Heirmans of ditto: Upper Steersman, Gerrit Geritsen of Bremen.
“The Galliot, the’Weeseltie'[****] Master, Cornelis de Vlamingh[*****] of Vlielandt; Steersman, Coert Gerritsen of Bremen. Sailed from here with our fleet to further explore the south land, and bound for Batavia.”
[* The “Greenfinch.”]
[** The text says for, but obviously of was intended]
[*** The pincers, i.e. nipping tongues.]
[**** The “Weasel.”]
[***** Son of the Commodore.]
[p481] During his stay at Hartog Island, where the “Bathurst” remained several days, Cunningham worked indefatigably, and while he worked his thoughts carried him back to “Old Dampier,” as he calls him. The island resembles a peninsula, and shelters the shores of Shark Bay, where the “Roebuck” had anchored in 1699. It was here, as already related, that Dampier had collected those first specimens of the Australian flora which are still preserved with others from different parts of the coast in his herbarium at Oxford. The picture of the shore drawn by Cunningham is hardly so flattering as that which Dampier has left us, but the “Bathurst’s” visit occurred at the height of a dry season, when the vegetation looked parched and the whole country was languishing for want of rain. And possibly Cunningham did not see many of the plants and shrubs, that Dampier saw there flowering in profusion, the description of whose blossoms forms such an attractive feature in his account of this place.
Cunningham thus describes it: “Perhaps no part of the coast we have visited can possibly exceed this island, considering its extent, for its barren appearance, as upon the shores near us downs of sand appeared, rising to a ridge perhaps 200 feet high, in most parts bare of vegetation, and those parts which were covered seemed altogether burnt up.”
Cunningham first botanized along the summit of the ridge, and in a walk of two hours obtained the following plants: “Beaufortia Dampieri (A. Guns.), Artemisia sp. Westringa cinerea. Sida sp. Euphorbia eremonophila, a shrub frequent in low brushwood. Gomphrena sp., a diffuse plant, past flowering, but bearing seed. Hibiscus sp. Podolepis sp. A shrub of the order Rutaceae seemingly Diplolaena of Mr. Brown, originally discovered and figured by Dampier; and a curious procumbent plant of Capparideae.”
In Cunningham’s collection were the following plants, originally brought to England by Dampier, viz. “Trichinium incanum Br. Diplolaena Dampieri, Desf. Solanum, a thorny species. Dampiera incana Br. A cordate-leaved Melaleuca, figured by Dampier, and a beautiful Loranthus growing on the branches of Acacia ligulata Cunn. Many were wrecks of interesting plants which had fallen sacrifice to the long-protracted drought, but it was impossible amid the languor of vegetation not to admire the luxuriant and healthy habit of an undescribed species of Pittosporum oleifolium, Cunn, which formed a small robust tree laden with ripe fruit.”
[p482]The “Bathurst” was compelled to remain in Turtle Bay for some days, as the weather blew a gale all the while she was there. The sailors spent their time hunting for turtle, and on the 22nd no less than fifty were turned. As only ten could be taken on board, the other forty were left on shore upon their backs for the night. All were found dead next day, having killed themselves trying to escape, but many others were captured afterwards, some of which weighed four hundredweight. For this reason the harbour was so named. A seal was seen here, which King thought might have been of a species described as Dugong by Péron. Of fish two kinds only were caught, the Snapper, a species of Sparus, called by the French “Rouge Bossu,” and a Tetradon, which the sailors would not eat.
Sharks in great numbers surrounded the ship, and King remarks that the sight of so many “impressed us with the propriety of Dampier’s nomenclature.”
The only bird seen was a solitary species of Loxia, but a huge nest, built of sticks and about five feet high, discovered on a steep ledge of rock, bore witness to the presence of other feathered inhabitants. The rocks below were covered with a prostrate Capparis. Near this spot a small black kangaroo was disturbed, busily feeding on the seeds of an acacia, but the little animal bounded away at Cunningham’s approach, without finding a single bush or rock large enough to conceal itself, “so bare were these and sandy plains.”
1822 January 26th
On the morning of January 26th the “Bathurst” left Hartog Island to continue her voyage to the north-east. She passed outside Dorre and Bernier Islands, and at six o’clock Kok Island bore north-east, distant seven miles. Next day the ship made Cape Cuvier–formed of light red cliffs 400 feet high–and at one o’clock saw a sandy projection, which King named Cape Farquhar, another sighted a little later being designated Point Anderson. On January 29th the land, which at this time had been concealed by haze, revealed itself, and was called Point Cloates. King no longer doubted it was that which earlier navigators had christened Cloates Island, or, as it appears in some ancient East India documents, “Cloates or Doubtful ” Island. At noon on this day Vlamingh Head, which lies three miles to the south-westward of North-West Cape, was sighted, with breakers extending along the whole length of the shore.
Having already charted this part of the coast-line, King determined to leave it and make his way to Rowley Shoals, in[p483] order that after fixing their true position he might examine the bight round Cape Lévêque, which he had been obliged to leave unexplored during the earlier part of this voyage. The first of these objects was effected on February 4th, when he passed round the south end of the Imperieuse Shoal (named after Captain Rowley’s ship), and it was found to extend four miles farther to the southward than he had suspected when surveying it in 1818.
Continuing his voyage, on the morning of February 8th, the mainland was sighted in the south-east, and soon afterwards the ship rounded Cape Lévêque. On her way towards Point Swan the “Bathurst” had to pass through breakers, and although she remained in them only for the space of about two minutes, so violent were the shocks of the sea and so great the strain put upon the vessel that King says he feared for the safety of her masts. He then steered between Point Swan and Swan Islands, intending to come to an anchorage off the point.
At this time King also thought of William Dampier, more particularly because he wished to chart the exact spot where the “Cygnet” had anchored during her stay in New Holland. In trying to reach it, however, King nearly lost his own vessel among the islets in the north of King Sound, and the perils that he then experienced are recounted in the following letter to the Admiralty:
1822 February 1st
“On the eighth of February I made Cape Lévêque, which is the westernmost head of the deep opening of Cygnet Bay, and attempted to anchor under it, but no sooner were we under its lee than it fell calm, and, the brig being quite unmanageable, we were carried through a crowded cluster of low rocky islands and shoals by a terrific tide, which was running in some parts at 5 knots; and in the narrowest part of the strait through which we drifted (and which was not more than 100 yards wide) it was running at the rate Of 7 or 8 knots–the stream of which carried us towards a dry rock, which was in mid-channel, and from which we were only four yards[*] distant as we passed it by.”
[* In his journal he writes: “the rudder was not more than six yards from the rock.”]
When the ship approached this narrow strait the voices of natives were heard, and soon afterwards some black men were[p484] seen on each side of the strait waving their arms and shouting. One party came so close to the “Bathurst” in their eagerness to watch the vessel’s progress that they easily might have thrown their spears on board. “These natives,” writes King, “had a dog with them, which Mr. Cunningham remarked to be black, but our situation was too awful to give us time to notice the motions of the Indians, for we were then entering the narrowest part of the strait, and the next moment were close to the rock–which it appeared almost impossible to avoid–when the consequences would have been truly dreadful.
“As soon as we had escaped this imminent danger we found ourselves within a group of islands and drifting to southward over a clear and deep channel. But the tide of flood was nearly done, and I feared lest we should be carried back by the ebb through the dangers we had so happily escaped. The bottom was deep, and of so rocky a nature that the loss of the anchor would have been the certain consequence of such a step. At the moment, however, of the change of tide a breeze sprang up, and soon removed us far from the dangerous influence of this rapid tide; and before sunset we were at anchor on the western side of a bay on the north-west side of a point of land [named by King, Point Cunningham], to the eastward of which no land, excepting a group of crowded islands was visible, and even here the tide was setting at 2½ knots.” In reading King’s letter one is forcibly reminded of Cook’s experiences in the “Endeavour” when he was swept through Providential Channel into the inner waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Happily both navigators escaped the dangers which lay in their path.
On the day following the “Bathurst’s” coming to Cygnet Bay, King did not leave the anchorage. He sent Roe, however, to examine the coast round Point Cunningham and Baskerville, to make soundings about the bay. From the vessel, on one of the sandy beaches at the back of the bay near Park Hillock–a spot so called because of its parklike appearance–eight or ten natives were perceived, evidently searching for shellfish. Some of them were observed to be children, the others were believed to be women, excepting two or three who carried spears, while a dog trotted along behind them.
After dark port-fires were burnt every half hour to enable Roe to find his way back to the “Bathurst,” and before midnight he safely rejoined the ship. He reported that there was good anchorage round Point Cunningham, and that at the spot where he landed he had found plenty of fresh water. In the meantime Mr. Cunningham, who had accompanied him, secured new plants, and met with recent traces of natives and dogs at a camp, around which were strewn many turtle bones and broken shells, the native fire-places showing that they had been used lately. Point Cunningham was described as low, wooded, and sandy.
1822 February 11th
On the 11th of February King got the ship under way and crossed the sandbank that fronts the bay, when the wind falling he was compelled to drop anchor again off Point Cunningham. At the early hour of three o’clock on the morning of the 12th Roe and Baskerville went on shore to take bearings, but did not succeed in landing before the sun had risen. Without loss of time the two officers, with one of the boat’s crew, made their way to the summit of the point, and on reaching it heard the voices of natives among the trees not more than thirty yards away from them. The black people, however, could not be seen, nor did they venture from their place of concealment until the officers had finished their survey and returned to the beach, where the footmarks of men and boys were traced on the sand. A number of fire-places of recent date were noticed at this spot, and some pieces of wood, sharply pointed, suggesting that the natives had been employed in manufacturing their spears.
From the north-west trend of the point the officers obtained a view to the eastward, which showed that the islands did not extend farther southward than N. 88° E., and that beyond this lay the open sea.
Some remarkable shells were picked up on the beach, and a few insects obtained, among them a beautiful sphynx. One of the crew also caught a flying fox, like those of Port Jackson. Of shells there was not a great variety; they included a chama (Tridacna gigas, Lamk.), a Pinna, and the Trochus of Dirk Hartog Island, in addition to a large Voluta, found close to a native fire-place, which had evidently been used as a vessel for water.
On the ship making sail again on the 12th the wind was found unfavourable, and eventually the “Bathurst” anchored in a bay to the south of Point Cunningham.[p486] A remarkable flat-topped hill, a mile and a half from the anchorage, was named Carlisle Head, and the bay itself was called Goodenough Bay, in compliment to the Bishop of Carlisle. In the evening four natives, armed with spears, were seen sitting in the shade upon the beach under Carlisle Head, watching the ship. At this place the extreme heat affected the whole ship’s company, but not seriously.
Next day, on again sailing, the “Bathurst” experienced calms and light airs, and was drifted by the tide to the northward of a point which was called Foul Point, because here the ship fouled her anchor. She was then in the outer part of a bay, afterwards named Disaster Bay by King, “because of the loss and perplexity we met with in it,” and its southern extremity, off which is a small rocky island, was called Repulse Point.
On the 14th, since the brig could not proceed further with safety, King despatched boats to gain further knowledge of his surroundings. In the afternoon Baskerville and Cunningham set off in the second cutter to Repulse Point. No sooner had they left the ship than a breeze, freshening to a gale, parted her cable and King was obliged to weigh with all haste and return to his former anchorage in Goodenough Bay, which, however, the commander did not reach until sunset. Meanwhile the safety of the cutter caused him great anxiety. Port-fires were burned and signal-guns fired, to guide it back to the ship, but it was ten o’clock before it got on board. Mr. Baskerville had gained useful knowledge of the coast, although unable to land on Repulse Point, for the gale springing up had nearly swamped the cutter. Only with difficulty had its occupants been able to regain the ship, as in addition to the bad weather the light of the portfires and flashes of signal-guns fired for their guidance had only proved confusing. In the darkness it had been impossible to distinguish them from flashes of lightning and the camp-fires of the natives. On the 15th, after searching without success for the “Bathurst’s” lost anchor, and having now but one left, King was forced to abandon further examination of this “interesting place.”
He informs us, however, that during his stay he had examined the western shores of the large opening for forty miles in a southerly direction. It is now called King Sound, in his honour: in so naming it, Captain Stokes wrote: “We gave it the name of King’s Sound in full confidence that all for whom the remembrance of skill, constancy, and courage have a charm will[p487] unite in thinking that the career of such a man should not be without a lasting monument.” At the termination of King’s survey the mainland, on the opposite side of the bay, was not visible. He stopped his exploration “on account of the unfavourable weather and from having lost an anchor.” When he left it he says that he could not tell for certain what was the nature of this inlet,[*] but it was his opinion that “it communicates at the back of Buccaneer Archipelago with Collier’s Bay,[**] and forms a deep gulf (or perhaps a river running to the S.E., like Prince Regent’s River), but the greater body of water joins the sea by a narrow strait at Cape Villaret, making the land from Cape Lévêque to Point Gantheaume an island.[***]
[* King Sound is an arm of the sea extending about sixty-five miles southward from Sunday Strait to Derby at the entrance of Fitzroy River-” Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]
[** It does not connect with Collier Bay.]
[*** Later explorations have proved that there is no Strait here but that the land between King Sound and Point Gantheaume forms a peninsula.]
“Examination,” he continues, “can alone prove the truth of this supposition, and although I am not sanguine of its turning out to be more than an inlet (like Prince Regent’s River, excepting of a larger size), yet I regret exceedingly having been twice repulsed in examining it. I trust a third attempt (which I promised to undertake before I return to England) may be successful. The heat of the weather during our last visit to this opening was at times almost insufferable. The thermometer on board indicated a temperature of from 86° to 90° under the main hatchway, but in the sun it rose to 120°. On taking his departure from this inlet, which from the intricate clusters of islands that face it caused him to run many risks whilst steering his ship to the open sea, King writes: “I intended to send a boat to examine the east coast of Collier’s Bay while we were completing our water, but . . . was prevented by the easterly winds and rain from S.E . . . . which induced me to finally leave the coast.”
1822 February 17th
On February 17th, after leaving King Sound, Captain King passed out through Sunday Strait. At the entrance of the strait the ship again found herself amid perils, nearly striking upon a reef of rocks while being carried through by a rapid ebb-tide without a breath of wind. In the evening heavy clouds announced the approach of a storm, and soon after eight o’clock a boisterous gale began to blow. Early next morning Adèle Island was seen. From there King steered an eastward course, but the state of the weather growing more and more threatening[p488] as he proceeded in this direction he decided to return to Port Jackson immediately by a westwardly route. He left the north-west coast on February 21st, and holding on a course to the northward of Rowley Shoals, and from there steering southwestward, he eventually rounded Western Australia, coasted the shores of South Australia and passing through Bass Strait, arrived at Sydney after an absence Of 344 days.
1822 April 25th
In writing an account of his latest discoveries to the First Lord of the Admiralty, King thus ends his letter: “I experienced a long and tedious voyage. Our bread was entirely expended and we had three days’ water on board when we arrived at Sydney on April 25th. The only part of the N.W. coast that I have not seen is contained between Cape Villaret and Depuch Island, and by a reference to the French charts His Lordship will see that the shore has been sufficiently examined by the French as to leave no doubt of its being a shoal and low coast. The mainland of the Archipelago remains yet to be seen, which I trust I shall be able to accomplish on my way home.”