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Sail on our Second Northern Cruise.
Entrance to the Inner Passage.
Arrive at Rockingham Bay.
Land Mr. Kennedy’s Expedition.
Commence the Survey at Dunk Island.
Communication with Natives.
Barnard Isles.
Botanical Sketch.
Examine a New River.
Frankland Isles.
Find the Coconut Palm.
Fitzroy Island.
The Will-o-the-Wisp and her Story.
Trinity Bay.
Animals of a Coral Reef.
Stay at Lizard Island.
Howick, Pelican, and Claremont Isles.
Bird Isles.
Meet party of Natives in Distress.
Cairncross Island.
Arrive at Cape York.


April 29th.

The season for passing through Torres Strait from the southward having arrived, we left Port Jackson on a ten-months cruise, in order to complete the survey of the Inner Passage, or the clear channel between the north-east coast of Australia and the inner edge of the outer reefs, which again are bounded to seaward by the Great Barrier Reef, stretching from north to south, for a distance of upwards of 1000 miles.

In the evening we were joined by the Tam O’Shanter, a barque having on board a colonial overland expedition under Mr. Kennedy, which we are to accompany to Rockingham Bay, 1200 miles north from Sydney, where we are to assist in the disembarkation and starting of the party.

For the first nine days we averaged only thirty miles a day, owing to a long continuance of calms and light winds with a strong adverse current, which on one occasion set us to East-South-East fifty-three miles in twenty-four hours. At length, on May 8th we picked up a strong southerly breeze, accompanied by a northerly set. On May 12th we rounded Breaksea Spit, and Captain Stanley finding his original intention of passing inside of Lady Elliot’s Island impracticable, or at least involving unnecessary delay, determined to bear up North-West by West keeping outside of the Bunker and Capricorn Groups, and try the channel previously passed through by Captain F.P. Blackwood in H.M.S. Fly. Captain Stanley’s remarks on this subject are so important, that I give them verbatim:


“After reaching Lady Elliot’s Island, we steered a course direct for the High Peak of the Northumberland Islands, so as to pass between Bunker’s Group and Swain’s Reef, which affords a far better entrance into the Inner Passage, than the old route round Breaksea Spit inside the Bunker Group; when the course requires to be changed, and the channel is much narrower. We sounded every half hour without finding bottom, with from 80 to 120 fathoms, till we came to the soundings laid down by the Fly, which we found to agree almost exactly with ours.

“Our soundings were obtained by using Massey’s patent lead, with which we found we could reach the bottom at twenty-six fathoms, when the ship was going 9.2 knots an hour; and with such a guide any error in the reckoning would be detected, even by night, as the Bunker Group gives warning by the soundings. For a steamer going to Sydney by the Inner Route, this channel would be invaluable as far as the Pine Peak of the Percy Isles. One direct course will lead out to sea clear of all the reefs, a distance of more than 200 miles, during which period there would be ample time to ascertain by observations of the sun, whether any current had been experienced sufficient to place the ship in danger, and, as the channel between Swain’s Reef and the Bunker Group appears to be clear, there is a drift of thirty miles on each side the course from the High Peak.”

May 15th.

After having at daylight sighted the land about Port Bowen and Cape Townshend, we passed the Northumberland and Percy Isles to the westward, the water being very smooth with light airs from South to East-North-East. A very offensive smell which has been experienced in the after part of the ship for a week back, was today traced to some preserved meats prepared in Sydney; 1036 pounds of these being found quite putrid were condemned.

[Footnote. It is but justice to state here that the English invention of preserving meat in air-tight canisters had only recently been attempted in Sydney; and it was then to be regarded merely as an experiment to try whether a new and important article of colonial export could not be produced. Since then, further experience in the process has enabled the introducers of the plan to succeed so perfectly, that afterwards, the colonial preserved meats supplied to the Rattlesnake, including some which had been kept for eighteen months, were always preferred by us to those prepared in England. The meat itself, I allude to beef and mutton, was of better quality, and the cost much less.]


May 19th.

At length, after several days of light and contrary winds, the wind came round to South-East and assumed the appearance of the trade, which we had at last picked up. We ran round the north-east end of the Cumberland Islands, passed Cape Gloucester, and in the evening anchored under Cape Upstart in our former berth.

During a solitary ramble next day, chiefly in order to search for a kind of rock wallaby, or small kangaroo, peculiar to this place, and which I failed on this occasion (as during two previous visits) to procure, I walked as far as the place where the Fly had watered some years previously. The large rocky basin which we had found dry in December last, when the whole plan of our first northern cruise had to be altered, in consequence of this unexpected result, was now nearly full. The aspect of the country had been considerably changed by the late abundant fall of rain, and the vegetation everywhere looked quite green. No signs of natives were seen their visits to the immediate vicinity of the Cape appear to be made only at rare intervals; and the just chastisement bestowed upon them some years ago, in consequence of a wanton attack made upon a seining party will, probably, for some time to come, render them cautious of coming in contact with white men. While wading about among the tall grass, the long sharp awns of the prevailing kind, an Anthistiria, were more annoying than can be described, having forced their way in hundreds through my thin clothing, causing an annoying and painful irritation; to which, the bites of clouds of mosquitoes in a mangrove swamp which I had entered in chase of some bowerbirds, added a finishing touch, as if to test the powers of human endurance. Having expended my stock of dust shot, I tried fine sand which I had somewhere read of as a substitute, but, although used under the most favourable conditions, the experiment proved a complete failure. Sights for rating the chronometers to get which was the only object in coming here, having been obtained, we left for Goold Island in the afternoon.


May 21st.

Passing outside of the Palm Islands, and rounding Cape Sandwich, we entered Rockingham Bay, and anchored on the North-West side of Goold Island, where we found the Tam O’Shanter. This island is about seven miles in circumference, gradually rising towards the centre, to form a peak 1376 feet in height. The shores are rocky, with occasional sandy beaches, and the island is well wooded up to its summit; Eucalypti (gumtrees) frequently of great size, being the predominant trees. The grass was very luxuriant and even difficult to wade through, indicating an abundance of water, of which several small streams were seen. One of these streamlets close to the anchorage is well adapted for watering a ship at, as boats can approach within a few yards; and the supply can never, I have good reason to believe, entirely cease.


The natives, a small party of whom were here, have had frequent intercourse with Europeans, and indeed the sight alongside the ship of eight canoes, four of which carried two unarmed men, and the others one each, would of itself, to most people, have been a convincing proof of a friendly disposition. That such apparent desire to be on friendly terms might often mislead strangers, is not to be wondered at. Yet these same people, a few years ago, made a sudden and most wanton attack upon a seining party belonging to H.M.S. Fly, and shortly after we left them, they attempted to cut off a small vessel which had called there for water.

Their canoes are very simply constructed of a single sheet of bark of the gumtree brought together at the ends, and secured by stitching. The sitter squats down with his legs doubled under him, and uses a small square piece of bark in each hand, as paddles, with one of which he also bales the water out by dexterously scooping it up from behind him.

On May 23rd, a convenient spot for landing the overland expedition having been found on the shores of Rockingham Bay, we shifted our berth in the afternoon a few miles further to leeward, and anchored under the westernmost of the Family Islands, in order to be near the place of disembarkation.


On the two following days everything belonging to Mr. Kennedy’s party (with the exception of one horse drowned while swimming it ashore) was safely landed, and his first camp was formed on some open forest land behind the beach, at a small freshwater creek.

The object of Mr. Kennedy’s expedition, was to explore the country to the eastward of the dividing range running along the North-East coast of Australia at a variable distance from the shore, and terminating at Cape York, where a vessel with supplies was to meet the party in October, after which they were to start on their return to Sydney; proceeding at first down the western side of the peninsula to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and then shape such a course as was best calculated to bring them to the settled districts of New South Wales.

Of the disastrous results of this unfortunate expedition, I need not here speak; I shall afterwards have to allude to the melancholy death of its gallant leader, within a day’s journey almost of the goal which he was struggling with desperate energy to reach the nearest place where assistance could be procured for the few remaining survivors of his party, of whom, eventually, only three were saved. I last saw poor Kennedy on the evening before he broke up his camp; he was then in high spirits and confident of success.


The party, of thirteen men and twenty-eight horses (with carts, a flock of sheep for food, etc.) appeared to be furnished with every requisite for their intended journey, and the arrangements and appointments seemed to me to be perfect. Nor did I, despite the forebodings of others, argue anything but a successful result to an undertaking, the blame of failure of which was AFTERWARDS attempted to be thrown upon those who had planned it.

The small granite island (one of the Family Group) off which we were anchored, afforded little of interest to us. Fresh water was found in small quantities, not available, however, for the use of vessels. The most curious production of the island is an undescribed plant of the singular family Balanophoraceae, not before known as Australian, which was found here in abundance in the gloomy brushes, parasitic upon the roots of the tallest trees. We also met with here in probably its southern limit upon the coast a species of rattan (Calamus australis) with long prickly shoots, well illustrated in the annexed drawing by Mr. Huxley, representing the process of cutting through the scrub, during an excursion made with Mr. Kennedy, for the purpose of searching for a way out from the low swampy district of Rockingham Bay.


May 26th.

During the forenoon, the ship was moved over to an anchorage under the lee (North-West side) of Dunk Island, where we remained for ten days. The survey of the coastline and Inner Passage to the northward was here commenced, and afterwards continued up to Torres Strait, by an unbroken series of triangulation; it included a space varying in width from 5 to 15 miles, extending through 7 1/2 degrees of latitude and 4 1/2 of longitude, with a coastline of upwards of 600 miles.


The programme of the survey may be briefly given as follows: at the principal stations chiefly islands off the coast the various observations for determining astronomical positions and theodolite angles, were made by Captain Stanley and Mr. W.H. Obree, and the ship remained there at anchor for several days. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Dayman, in the Asp, laid down the coastline and neighbourhood as far as the next station twenty or thirty miles in advance. Lieutenant Simpson with the pinnace continued the soundings several miles further out, both working in conjunction, and often assisted by another boat in charge of Mr. Heath, while the outside soundings devolved upon Lieutenant Yule in the tender. The Rattlesnake in shifting from place to place, aided by boats in company, sounded the centre of the channel, usually following one of the lines run by Captain P.P. King, and marked upon his charts. The available boats permanently attached to the ship, were employed under various officers in the neighbourhood of the different anchorages, cutting up the ground, and filling up any gaps which might otherwise have been left in the new charts.

The summit of a very small rocky island, near the anchorage, named by Captain Stanley, Mound Islet, formed the first station. Dunk Island, eight or nine miles in circumference, is well wooded it has two conspicuous peaks, one of which (the North-West one) is 857 feet in height. Our excursions were confined to the vicinity of the watering place and the bay in which it is situated. The shores are rocky on one side and sandy on the other, where a low point runs out to the westward. At their junction, and under a sloping hill with large patches of brush, a small stream of fresh water, running out over the beach, furnished a supply for the ship, although the boats could approach the place closely only at high-water.

Among the most interesting objects of natural history, are two birds, one a new and handsome fly-catcher, Monarcha leucotis, the other a swallow, which Mr. Gould informs me is also an Indian species. Great numbers of butterflies frequent the neighbourhood of the watering place one of these (Papilio urvillianus) is of great size and splendour, with dark purple wings, broadly margined with ultramarine, but from its habit of flying high among the trees I did not succeed in catching one. An enormous spider, beautifully variegated with black and gold, is plentiful in the woods, watching for its prey in the centre of a large net stretched horizontally between the trees.

The seine was frequently hauled upon the beach with great success one evening, through its means, in addition to plenty of fish, no less than five kinds of star-fishes, and twelve of crustacea, several of which are quite new, were brought on shore.

Among the plants of the island the most important is a wild species of plantain or banana, afterwards found to range along the North-East coast and its islands as far as Cape York. Here I saw for the first time a species of Sciadophyllum, one of the most singular trees of the eastern coastline of tropical Australia; a slender stem, about thirty feet in height, gives off a few branches with immense digitate dark and glossy leaves and long spike-like racemes of small scarlet flowers, a great resort for insects and insect-feeding birds.


Soon after the ship had come to an anchor, some natives came off in their canoes and paid us a visit, bringing with them a quantity of shellfish (Sanguinolaria rugosa) which they eagerly exchanged for biscuit. For a few days afterwards we occasionally met them on the beach, but at length they disappeared altogether, in consequence of having been fired at with shot by one of two of the young gentlemen of the Bramble, on a shooting excursion, whom they wished to prevent from approaching too closely a small village, where they had their wives and children. Immediate steps were taken, in consequence, to prevent the recurrence of such collisions, when thoughtless curiosity on one side is apt to be promptly resented on the other, if numerically superior in force. I saw nothing in the appearance of these natives to distinguish them from those of Goold Island, and the canoes are the same. The men had large prominent cicatrices on the shoulders, and across the breast and belly, the septum of the nose was perforated, and none of the teeth had been removed. I saw no weapons, and some rude armlets were their only ornaments.


On June 6th we ran to the northward 15 1/2 miles, and anchored at noon under Number 3 of the Barnard Isles, a group consisting of six high rocky wooded isles, the two southernmost of which are separated from the rest by an interval of four miles. I landed upon the two largest (1 and 3 of the charts) on the first only once. I there found nothing of much interest, except some very thick beds of conglomerate superimposed upon a compact basaltic-looking rock. Number 3, on the other hand, consists of mica slate, much contorted, and altered from its usual appearance, and containing lead ore (galena) with several veins of quartz, one of which, about two feet in thickness, traverses the island from side to side.


The islands of the North-East coast of Australia hitherto and subsequently visited during the survey, afford all the gradations between the simplest form of a sandbank upon a coral reef scantily covered with grass, a few creeping plants and stunted bushes on one hand and on the other a high, rocky, well-wooded island with an undulating succession of hills and valleys. In those of the latter class, to a certain extent only in the islands of Rockingham Bay, but in a very striking degree in those to the northward, there is so great a similarity in the vegetation, that an illustration of the botany may be taken from one of the Barnard Isles, Number 3 exhibiting what may be termed an Indo-Australian Flora.

The upper margin of the coral beach is overrun with Ipomoea maritima, a large purple-flowered Bossiaea, and some other leguminous plants, of which the handsomest is Canvallia baueriana, a runner with large rose-coloured flowers. To these succeeds a row of bushes of Scaevola koenigii, and Tournefortia argentea, with an occasional Guettarda speciosa, or Morinda citrifolia, backed by thickets of Paritium tiliaceum, and other shrubs supporting large Convolvulaceae, vine-like species of Cissus; Guilandina bonduc, a prickly Caesalpinia, Deeringia coelosioides, and a variety of other climbers. Penetrating this shrubby border, one finds himself in what in New South Wales would be called a brush or scrub, and in India a jungle, extending over the greater part of the island. Overhead are trees of moderate size, whose general character is constituted by a nearly straight stem, seldom branching except near the top, and furnished with glossy dark-green leaves. Interspersed with them there are many which attain an enormous size, as in the case of a Hernanda, a Castanospermum, two fabaceous trees, and others of which neither flowers nor fruit were observed. Two palms, Seaforthia elegans, and Livistona inermis, also occur here. By far the most remarkable vegetable productions are the larger kinds of climbers. The principal of these, with a leafless and almost branchless cable-like stem, sometimes two or three hundred yards in length, rises over the summits of the tallest trees, and connects one with another in its powerful folds, occasionally descending to the ground. Another climber, Lestibudesia arborescens, rises by its slender stems to the tops of the trees, hiding them in its cascade-like masses and graceful festoons of exuberant foliage. Besides several other exogenous woody climbers, of which a very remarkable one is a Bauhinia, with a compressed stem spirally twisted round its axis the most interesting is Calamus australis, rising in a clump, then arching along the ground and from tree to tree in a similar manner to Flagellaria indica, here also abundant. Among the other plants of these brushes, are the curious Dracontium polyphyllum, with large simple and pinnatifid leaves, creeping like ivy up the trunks and lower branches of the trees parasitical Loranthaceae, with long dependent tufts of rush-like leaves enormous masses of Acrosticum alcicorne and A. grande, with an occasional Hoya carnosa, Dendrobium, or other epiphyte. When the soil is rich Caladium macrorhizon grows gregariously in shady places, and Hellenia coerulea on their margins and among stones and sometimes on trees, tufts of Grammitis australis spread out their large and handsome undivided fronds.


Two species of rat occur here one is the large bandicoot of India, Mus giganteus, doubtless introduced by some wrecked vessel, the other is the pretty little Mus indicus, found on all the islands of the north-east coast and Torres Strait. Among the birds, we found numbers of the Megapodius, always a welcome addition to our bill of fare; but our greatest prize was a new and splendid rifle-bird, which Mr. Gould has since described from my specimens and named Ptiloris victoriae, as a mark of respect and gratitude for the patronage bestowed upon his great work on the Birds of Australia, in the forthcoming supplement to which it will be figured along with some other novelties of the Voyage of the Rattlesnake.

Before taking leave of the natural history of the Barnard Group, I must not omit a pretty butterfly inhabiting the densest parts of the brush; it is the Hamadryas zoilus of the Voyage of the Astrolabe, erroneously supposed in that work to be a native of New Zealand.


One day I crossed over to the mainland in a boat sent for the purpose of examining a small river seen there to open upon a long sandy beach. We found a depth of four feet on the bar at low-water, so had no difficulty in entering at a quarter of a mile from the mouth the water was quite fresh. We ascended about two miles and a half, when it became necessary to return on account of the shoalness of the stream, the boat having grounded repeatedly. A party of about twenty natives made their appearance as soon as we entered the river, and after making ineffectual and repeated attempts to induce us to land, two or three of their number followed us along the bank, while the others made a straight course so as to cut off the windings and meet us at our turning place. The current here ran one and a half knots, but the quantity of water was trifling and the channel throughout very narrow, at times sweeping under the bank, so as not to allow room for the oars. At first the river was fringed with mangroves, afterwards with dense brush. The natives followed us down until we anchored for dinner in one of the reaches, when they all left on hearing the report of my gun while shooting on shore. They were painted with red and white, two of them being smeared all over with the former colour, mixed up with some greasy substance. They seemed peaceably disposed, as we saw no arms among them, and they approached close enough to take biscuit from our hands.

[Footnote. Our first cutter, very serviceable on such occasions from her light draught; with fourteen men, arms, provisions, and stove for cooking, etc. she drew only a foot of water.]


Near the mouth we again landed for half an hour, and found a cluster of three or four dome-shaped huts, large and roomy, of neat construction, covered with sheets of melaleuca bark, and having one, sometimes two entrances. Some fishing nets, similar to those used at Moreton Bay, were seen. The men retired into the bush when we landed, nor would they come out to me when I advanced alone towards them, in order to look at the huts. We anchored for the night under Number 1 of the Barnard Isles. Megapodii were here very plentiful, and about daylight very noisy, running about in all directions, repeating their loud call of chro-co chro-co. Some of the bushes presented a fine show of the scarlet flowers of Disemma coccinea, a kind of passion-flower, before only found at Endeavour River by Sir Joseph Banks, during Cook’s first voyage. In the morning we returned to the ship.

On June 12th, while passing a small opening in the land, a little to the northward of Double Point, the Asp was observed on shore with a signal for assistance, which was immediately sent, when she was got off without damage. At this place, as Lieutenant Simpson informed me, a boomerang was obtained from the natives; we had not before observed this singular weapon upon the north-east coast, and its use is quite unknown on the north coast from Cape York to Port Essington. This one too was painted green, a colour which I never heard of elsewhere among the Australians, whose pigments are black, white, yellow, and red.

Near this place, while tacking close in shore, a native dog was seen by Lieutenant Simpson, in chase of a small kangaroo, which, on being close pressed, plunged into the water and swam out to sea, when it was picked up by the boat, leaving its pursuer standing on a rock gazing wistfully at its intended prey, until a musket ball, which went very near its mark, sent it off at a trot. The kangaroo lived on board for a few days, and proved to constitute quite a new kind, closely allied to Halmaturus thetidis.


We anchored in the evening off the northern extreme of Frankland Isle, Number 4 about three quarters of a mile off shore. At night a party was sent on shore to look for turtles, but, after remaining there for three hours, having walked several times round the island, they returned without having seen the slightest trace of these animals.

The Frankland Group consists of four islands, two of which are very small, and each of the other two (1 and 4) about a mile in length. To these may or may not be added another high and much larger detached island situated about five miles to the North-West, about midway between the remainder of the group and the mainland. Number 4 is formed of two wooded rocky éminences at its extremes, connected by level ground, consisting of dead coral and sand, thickly covered with trees at one part, and scattered bushes at another. The low woody portion of this island is strewed with flat blocks of the same kind of recent coral conglomerate that occurs in situ on the beach, also with quantities of pumice twelve feet above high-water mark of spring tides. There is little underwood, the trees overhead forming a shady grove. Herbaceous plants are few in number of the others I shall only mention a wild nutmeg, Myristica cimicifera, not, however, of any commercial importance.


The Torres Strait rat was exceedingly plentiful here, in hollow trees and logs, also about the roots of the pandanus trees and under blocks of coral. Our dogs caught many, as they do not show so much agility as is usual in the genus. The principal bird is the megapodius a gecko, and another small lizard are abundant of landshells we found a new Scarabus and a small brown Helix, in great abundance under blocks of coral, and on the trunks and branches of trees, a pretty Cyclostoma (C. vitreum) formerly found by the French in New Caledonia, also a new and pretty Helix, remarkable for its angular sinuated mouth and conical spire this last has been named H. macgillivrayi by Professor E. Forbes. The reef furnished many radiata and crustacea, and as usual the shell collectors consisting of about one-half the ship’s company, reaped a rich harvest of cowries, cones, and spider shells, amounting to several hundredweight. One day I was much amused when, on hailing one of our men whom I observed perched up among the top branches of a tree, and asking whether it was a nest that he had found, the answer returned was: “Oh no, Sir, its these geotrochuses that I am after.”


The southernmost island of the group differs from Number 4 in being higher and more rocky. Many of the trees here were very large, straight, and branching only near the top. It appeared to me that they would be highly useful as timber, and so regretted being unable to procure specimens, on account of their great height. With the exception of a low sandy portion, overgrown with shrubs and small trees, the remainder of the island is quite free from underwood. Two small clumps of coconut-trees, loaded with fruit, were found on the eastern side of the island, within reach of the spray, in a place where they might have originated from a floating nut or two thrown upon the beach. This is the only instance in which I have seen this useful plant growing wild in any part of Australia, or the islands strictly belonging to it. We succeeded in shooting down a number, and I know no more grateful beverage than the milk of a young coconut, especially under the influence of tropical noonday heat, on an island where there was not a drop of fresh water to be found. As usual the megapodius was plentiful, and one of our party killed six in a few hours. I also shot a fine large crested pigeon, of a species hitherto considered peculiar to the settled parts of New South Wales, and to which the singularly inappropriate specific name of antarcticus is applied; it thus ranges 380 miles within the tropics.


June 20th.

After anchoring for a short time to form a station, we finally came to under Fitzroy Island, half a mile from the shore. This island is about five miles in circumference, high and well-wooded, with two peaks, one of which is 861 feet in height. The rock, when exposed, is granitic. The small bay on the western side of the island, where the ship lay, has a steep beach of fragments of dead coral, through which oozes the water of two streamlets, at one of which the ship completed her stock with great facility. Following upwards one of the two branches of the principal stream through a narrow gully, one reaches a small basin-like valley, filled with dense brush, through which it is difficult to pass, on account of the unusual quantity of the prickly Calamus palm. Several trees of the pomegranate (Punica granatum) were met with bearing fruit; as this plant is found wild in India, and here occurred in the centre of a thick brush not likely to have been visited by Europeans, it is probably indigenous. A kind of yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) was found here, and proved good eating. In consequence of this, a party from the ship was sent to dig for more, but, having mistaken the plant, they expended all their time and trouble in rooting up a convolvulus, with small, inedible, and probably cathartic tubers.


A new species of large fruit-eating bat, or flying-fox (Pteropus conspicillatus) making the third Australian member of the genus, was discovered here. On the wooded slope of a hill I one day fell in with this bat in prodigious numbers, presenting the appearance, while flying along in the bright sunshine, so unusual in a nocturnal animal, of a large flock of rooks. On close approach a strong musky odour became apparent, and a loud incessant chattering was heard. Many of the branches were bending under their loads of bats, some in a state of inactivity, suspended by their hind claws, others scrambling along among the boughs, and taking to wing when disturbed. In a very short time I procured as many specimens as I wished, three or four at a shot, for they hung in clusters but, unless killed outright, they remained suspended for some time when wounded they are to be handled with difficulty, as they bite severely, and on such occasions their cry reminds one of the squalling of a child. The flesh of these large bats is reported excellent; it is a favourite food with the natives, and more than once furnished a welcome meal to Leichhardt and his little party, during their adventurous journey to Port Essington.

One day we were surprised to see a small vessel approaching the anchorage from the southward. She proved to be a cutter of twenty-five tons, called the Will-o-the-Wisp, fitted out by a merchant in Sydney, and sent in a somewhat mysterious way (so as to ensure secrecy) to search for sandalwood upon the north-east coast of Australia. If found in sufficient quantity, a party was to be left to cut it, while the vessel returned to Moreton Bay with the news, and communicated with the owner, who was to send a larger vessel to pick it up and convey it at once to the China market. An inferior kind of sandalwood, the produce of Exocarpus latifolia (but which afterwards turned out to be useless) was met with in several localities as the Percy Isles, Repulse Bay, Cape Upstart, Palm Islands, etc. At this last place they had much friendly intercourse with the natives, who were liberally treated with presents.

[Footnote. In 1847 nearly 1000 tons of this wood, procured chiefly from New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, etc. were exported from Sydney to China, where it is burnt with other incense in the temples. The sandalwood trade in these islands gives employment to about six small vessels, belonging to Sydney. In China it realises about 30 pounds per ton.]


It is supposed that the sight of so many valuable articles had excited the cupidity of these savages, for, one morning, at half-past three o’clock, a party came off in large canoes with outriggers, and boarded the cutter when all hands were below. Their first act was to throw into the cabin and down the fore hatchway some lighted bark, and when the master and one of the crew rushed on deck in a state of confusion, they were instantly knocked on the head with boomerangs and rendered insensible. At this crisis, had it not been for the successful courage of the mate, who cleared the deck with a sword, and allowed the remainder of the crew to come up to his assistance, the natives would probably have obtained possession of the vessel; as it was the survivors retired in confusion, which was further increased by the discharge among them of a swivel gun, mounted on a pivot amidships.

At Goold Island, where the Will-o-the-Wisp next went in search of water, they had another affray with the natives, of whom several were shot, but whether justifiably, or from revengeful motives, is known to themselves only. Knowing that the Rattlesnake was upon the coast they proceeded in search of her to obtain surgical and other assistance, and, meeting two of the surveying boats, they were directed to Fitzroy Island.

Some parts of this account appeared so extraordinary, and others so improbable, that Captain Stanley felt it his duty to report it to the Colonial Government, along with the depositions of the men. Some days afterwards, the master, whose skull had been fractured, being pronounced to be in as fair a way to recovery as was possible under the circumstances the Will-o-the-Wisp sailed for Moreton Bay, which we afterwards learned she reached in safety.


June 26th.

A party left before daylight in the pinnace and first galley, to examine an opening in Trinity Bay, marked upon King’s chart. We found it to present the appearance of a wide creek running through low mangrove swamps, and with the eye could trace its windings for the distance of two or three miles. In all probability this is the embouchure of a considerable freshwater stream, but the shallowness of the head of the bay and the usual bar off the mouth of the supposed river, determined Captain Stanley to return to the ship, as the time which would otherwise have been spent in exploring a useless creek might be devoted to some better purpose.


June 29th.

Left Fitzroy Island for an anchorage under Cape Grafton, where we remained for the three following days. While running down to the anchorage we entered a large patch of discoloured water, with a perfectly defined margin, yet the lead showed no difference in the depth or nature of the bottom. It would also appear that since Captain King’s survey the water has been shoaling hereabouts. On a small island inshore, the skull of a crocodile was found upon the beach, and this reminds me that several of these animals were seen in one of the rivers of Rockingham Bay. The Australian alligator, as it is usually called, is a true crocodile, identical, according to Mr. Gray, with the common Indian species.


July 3rd.

Ran to the north-west fifteen miles, and, after having anchored midway to form a surveying station, brought up finally under a small unnamed islet in Trinity Bay. This island, viewed from our anchorage on its north-west side, presents the appearance of a ridge connecting two rounded éminences, with a sharp sea-face exposing the stratification of the rock. This is a micaceous rock, assuming at one place the appearance of mica slate, and at another being a conglomerate, with frequent veins of quartz. The strata, which are often flexuous, or slightly contorted, have a westerly dip of 60 degrees, and the strike is North-North-West and South-South-East. On the windward side there is a long gradual slope, covered with tall coarse grass, among which many quail were found. The shore is fringed with the usual maritime trees and bushes, and an extensive mangrove bed runs out upon the reef in one place. This reef is of great extent, stretching out to windward upwards of a mile, as far as a small rocky isle like a haycock.


On July 7th we anchored to leeward of the Low Isles, in the northern part of Trinity Bay, in eight fathoms, mud, half a mile from the shore, and remained there for the four succeeding days. This small group may be said to consist of three islets. One is low, sandy, and well wooded, about 300 yards in diameter, and is situated at the north-west extremity of a horse-shoe reef, with its concavity to leeward; the other two may be looked upon as merely groves of mangroves on the reef, the roots of which are washed at high-water, except in a few places, where narrow ridges of dead coral have afforded footing for the growth of a samphire-looking plant (Salicornia indica). The sandy islet presents no remarkable feature. The remains of burnt turtle bones indicate the occasional visits of natives from the mainland. A solitary megapodius was shot, but the only other land-birds are a little yellow Zosterops, and the larger ground-dove (Geopelia humeralis).


During our stay we were fortunate in having fine weather, light winds, and low tides, which enabled such as were inclined to look for shells upon the reef to do so under the most favourable circumstances. This reef is of great extent, with all the varieties of coral, mud, and sand, and proved a most productive one. A sketch of the distribution of the principal of its productions may be of interest to some. Many kinds of fishes, Muraena, Diodon, Balistes, Serranus, etc. are found in the pools among the coral blocks; the first of these, of bright colours variously striped and spotted, resemble water-snakes, and are exceedingly active, gliding through the interstices in the coral and hiding in its hollows they bite savagely at a stick presented to them, and are by no means pleasant neighbours while wading about knee-deep and with bare arms turning over the coral which they frequent. On a former occasion I had been laid hold of by the thumb, and the wound was a long time in healing. Crustacea are also numerous; blue and green Gonodactyli leap about with a sharp clicking noise legions of Mycteris subverrucata traverse the dry sands at low-water and in the shallow muddy pools, dull green Thalamitae and Lupeae swim off rapidly, and smooth Calappae seek refuge by burrowing under the surface.

Of mollusca, two species of olive (O. Erythrostoma and O. leucophoea) were found on the sandy margin of the islet several Cerithia and Subulae (S. maculata and S. oculata) creep along the sand flats, and, with some fine Naticae, and a Pyramidella, may be found by tracing the marks of their long burrows. Several Strombi and Nassa coronata inhabit the shallow sandy pools; the egg-shell and many Cypraeae occur under coral blocks, which, when over sand, often harbour different kinds of cones of which the handsome C. textile is the commonest. A delicate white Lima (Lima fragilis) is abundant here, merrily swimming away in the pool under an upturned stone, and leaving its fringe-like tentacles adhering to the hand when seized. Lastly, it would be improper to omit mentioning the very fine oysters adhering to the roots of the mangroves. But these are only a small portion of the shellfish collected here. Among radiate animals, several Ophiurae and Ophiocomae and other Asteriadae, with two kinds of Echinus, are also plentiful under blocks of coral (Astraea and Maeandrina) in the pools; one of the last, remarkable for its very long, slender, black spines, has the power of giving an exceedingly painful puncture, if carelessly handled for a few minutes the sensation is similar to that caused by the sting of a wasp; of the others, a fine Ophiura is remarkable for its great size and grass-green colour, and an Ophiocoma for the prodigious length of its arms.


July 19th.

Six days ago we anchored under the lee of the reef on which the Hope Islands are situated, but in a position which afforded little shelter. While off Cape Tribulation, a remarkable hill in the background so strongly reminded us of the Peter Botte at Mauritius, that it was so named upon our chart it is 3,311 feet in height, the Cape itself being 1,454 feet. For about six days lately the weather has been very boisterous, blowing hard from East-South-East with a considerable sea.

The weather having at length moderated, I yesterday and today visited the islands composing the group. A deep and clear channel of a mile in width separates these islands, the larger of which is surrounded completely, and the smaller partially, by an extensive reef. The former, or western one, is merely a long strip of heaped-up coral and shells, with a little sand and some driftwood running parallel to the outer edge of the reef, in the direction of the prevailing wind. It is overrun with low bushes, and a few other plants, such as the large purple-flowered Bossioea, and Ipomoea maritima. A long bank of dead coral only a few feet above high-water mark, with an intervening ditch-like hollow, separates it from the sea to the eastward; while on the other side, towards the reef, it is margined with tall mangroves. Small and barren though this spot be, it is yet inhabited by lizards and a species of rat. Besides the usual waders on the reef, I found great numbers of doves and honeysuckers, and, among the mangroves, fell in with and procured specimens of a very rare kingfisher, Halcyon sordida. Among the mangroves a rare shell, a species of Quoyia, occurred.

The eastern and northern islet is nearly circular, half a mile in circumference formed of coral and shell-sand, covered with bushes and small trees. The most conspicuous plant is the prickly Guilandina bonduc, the long briar-like trailing and climbing shoots of which impede one while traversing the thickets. A pair of white-headed sea-eagles had established their aerie in a tree not more than twenty feet from the ground, and I could not resist the temptation of robbing them of their eggs.


July 28th.

Anchored under the Three Isles, between Capes Bedford and Flattery. The principal one of the group, situated to leeward of an extensive reef, is margined towards the reef by beds of coral conglomerate, and elsewhere by a sandy beach it is half a mile in length, composed of coral sand, the highest part not more than twelve feet above high-water mark, with several groves of low trees, and is overrun with tall sedge-like grass; the second is composed of a strip of heaped-up fragments of coral, to windward covered with bushes, and to leeward separated from the reef by a belt of mangroves; the third is a mere clump of mangroves not deserving of further notice. The botany of an island of this class, of which there are many on the North-east coast of Australia, may serve as a specimen, as the plants are few. Mimusops kaukii constituted the principal part of the arboreal vegetation, Clerodendrum inerme and Premna obtusifolia form low straggling thickets scattered bushes of Suriana maritima and Pemphis acida fringe the sandy margin of the island, and behind these the beautiful Josephinia grandiflora, a large white-flowered Calyptranthus, Vitex ovata and a Tribulus creep along the sand, or spread out their procumbent branches.

Traces of natives, but not very recent, were met with in a dried-up well dug to a great depth, and several low, dome-shaped huts, and numerous fireplaces, around which remains of shellfish and turtles were profusely scattered. Many of the heads of these last animals were here and elsewhere seen stuck upon branches of trees, sometimes a dozen together.

July 31st.

I landed this morning with Mr. Obree, on one of the Two Isles off Cape Flattery, and we were picked up by the ship in passing. It is well-wooded, chiefly with the Mimusops kaukii, trees of which are here often sixty feet high and 3 in diameter. Under the bark I found two new land-shells (to be described in the Appendix) one of them a flattish Helix, in prodigious numbers and this more than ever satisfied me that even the smallest islands and detached reefs of the north-east coast may have species peculiar to themselves, nor did I ever return from any one of the 37 upon which I landed without some acquisitions to the collection.


We remained a fortnight at Lizard Island, at the usual anchorage, off a sandy beach on its north-western side. Lizard Island is conspicuous from a distance, on account of its peak the central part of a mountainous ridge running across the island, and dividing it into two portions, of which the eastern is hilly and the western low, and intersected by small ridges of slight elevation. The island is about 2 1/2 miles in greatest diameter; the rock is a coarse grey granite, easily decomposable. A large grassy plain enters westward from the central ridge a portion of this, half a mile from the beach, densely covered with coarse grass and reeds and scattered over with Pandanus trees, is usually a marsh. At present it is dry, with a few pools of fresh water, connected below with a mangrove swamp opening upon the beach by a narrow creek. Formerly boats could ascend this a little way, but now the entrance dries across at low-water nor could the fresh water conveniently be conducted to the beach by the hose and engine, as I had seen done in the Fly in the month of May. Fortunately, however, we found a small stream in a valley on the northern corner of the island, which supplied our wants.

[Footnote. Captain Stanley’s azimuth and altitude observations, taken at two stations at the base, the distance between having been measured by the micrometer, give its height as 1,161 feet; and Lieutenant Dayman’s barometrical measurement makes it 1,151 feet, above the sea level.]

Although the dry barren nature of the soil varying from coarse quartzose sand (from the disintegrated granite) to reddish clay is not favourable to the growth of luxuriant vegetation, still several interesting plants were added to the herbarium. Of these the finest is a new Cochlospermum, a low-spreading tree, nearly leafless at this time, but covered with clusters of very large and showy golden blossoms. A heath-like shrub (Chamaelaucium) common here, was remarkable for existing on the open plains as a weak prostrate plant, while in the scrub it formed a handsome bush 10 feet high, with a stem 6 inches in diameter.

Of quail, which in 1844 were very abundant, I saw not more than one or two probably the burning of the grass during the breeding season had effected this partial clearance. Snakes appear to be numerous two out of three which I examined were poisonous the other was the diamond snake of New South Wales. A very fine land shell, Helix bipartita, was found in colonies at the roots of the trees and bushes. A large and handsome cowrie, Cypraea mauritiana, generally distributed among the islands of the Pacific, was here found for the first time in Australia.


August 1st.

I crossed over to Eagle Island with Mr. Brown, and spent a day and night there. This place was so named by Cook, who states in explanation of the name “We found here the nest of some other bird, we know not what, of a most enormous size. It was built with sticks upon the ground, and was no less than 26 feet in circumference, and two feet eight inches high." An American professor conjectures the above nest to have possibly been that of the Dinornis, the gigantic New Zealand bird, known only by its fossil remains. A very slight knowledge, however, of ornithology, would be sufficient to confute the notion of any struthious bird constructing a nest of this kind, or of a wingless land bird of great size inhabiting an islet only a quarter of a mile in length. Both Mr. Gould and myself have seen nests of the same construction, the work of the large fishing-eagle of Australia.

[Footnote. Hawkesworth’s Voyages volume 2 page 599.]

This island is low and sandy, with a few casuarinas, or she-oaks, a fringe of Suriana maritima, some Tournefortiae, and thickets of Clerodendrum inerme. Landrail and other birds were numerous. The reef, which is very extensive, did not dry throughout at low-water, but some sandbanks along its lee margin were exposed, and upon them I found the greatest assemblage of pretty shells that I ever met with at one place. What would not many an amateur collector have given to spend an hour here? There were fine Terebrae in abundance, orange-spotted mitres, minutely-dotted cones, red-mouthed Strombi, glossy olives, and magnificent Naticae, all ploughing up the wet sand in every direction yet, with two exceptions, they are to be seen in every collection in Europe.


As usual we found plentiful remains of recent turtle feasts. One of the boat’s crew, not over-stocked with brains, during his rambles picked up a human skull with portions of the flesh adhering. Accidentally learning this from the conversation of the men at our bivouac during supper, inquiry was made, when we found that he had foolishly thrown it into the sea, nor could it be found during a subsequent search. I was anxious to determine whether it was aboriginal or not. On the one hand, the natives of all parts of Australia usually evince the strongest desire to bury or conceal their own dead; on the other, there might have been some connection between the skull and the remains of a hut of European construction, portions of clothing, a pair of shoes, some tobacco, and fragments of a whaleboat seen here. But all is mere conjecture.


August 14th.

After leaving Lizard Island, we passed to the southward of Number 3 of the Howick Isles, and anchored off the North-West extremity of Number 1 in 6 1/2 fathoms, mud. This is the largest of a group of about ten islands, which agree in being low, and covered for the most part with mangroves. Number 1, however, is distinguished by having three bare hillocks at its south-eastern end, the central one of which forms a rather conspicuous peak. A party of natives was there seen watching our movements, but no communication with them was attempted. Opposite the ship we landed on a small sandy, bushy portion of the island, slightly elevated, fronted by the reef, and backed by mangroves. We found here the usual indications of occasional visits of the natives in a pit dug as a well, and numerous remains of turtle and fish about the fireplaces. A few quails, doves, and other common birds were met with.

On August 18th we removed to an anchorage under Number 6, the second largest of the group. With the exception of a sandy, grassy plain, half a mile in length, the whole of the island is densely covered with mangroves, and fringed with a reef of coral, chiefly dead. Great numbers of large turtle-shells were scattered about, showing the periodical abundance of these animals. Another large vampire-bat, Pteropus funereus, differing from that of Fitzroy Island, was met with in great numbers among the mangroves a very large assemblage of these animals on the wing, seen from the ship while approaching the island, quite resembled a flock of rooks. Here, as elsewhere on the mangrove-clad islands, a large honeysucker (Ptilotis chrysotis) filled the air with its loud and almost incessant, but varied and pleasing notes I mention it, because it is the only bird we ever met with on the north-east coast of Australia which produced anything like a song.


August 21st.

We ran to the North-East about twenty-eight miles, and anchored off Cape Melville, a remarkable granitic promontory; here the Great Barrier Reef closely approaches the coast, being distant only ten miles, and visible from the ship. A few miles to the south some pine-trees were seen on the ridges, as had previously been noticed by Cunningham, during King’s Voyage. They appeared to be the same kind as that formerly alluded to at the Percy Isles, in which case this useful tree has a range on the north-east coast of 500 miles of latitude, being found as far south as Port Bowen.

Next day we shifted our berth to a more secure anchorage under the neighbouring Pipon Islets, where the Bramble joined us in the evening. The schooner had been sent on in advance of the ship to the northward nearly a month before, in order to be at the head of Princess Charlotte’s Bay during the first week in August, according to an arrangement made by Captain Stanley with Mr. Kennedy, but no signs of the overland expedition were met with during ten days spent at the rendezvous.

[Footnote. We afterwards learned that it was not until the middle of October (or two months afterwards) that Kennedy’s party reached the latitude of Princess Charlotte Bay, at a considerable distance too, from the coast.]

While at this anchorage, the Bramble, being in want of water, filled up at a small stream, inside of Cape Melville, assisted by some of our boats and people. The party so employed was one day attacked by a number of natives, but, the usual precaution of having sentries posted and a guard of marines close at hand prevented the loss of life on our part.


August 28th.

After a run of 45 miles, we reached Pelican Island, the survey of the space thus rapidly gone over being left to Lieutenant Yule and the Bramble. The island is rather more than a quarter of a mile in length, with a large reef to windward; it is low and sandy, covered with coarse grass, and a bushy yellow-flowered Sida. Great numbers of birds frequent this place; of these the pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) are the most remarkable, but, incubation having ceased, they were so wary that it was not without some trouble that two were killed out of probably a hundred or more. A pair of sea-eagles had their nest here, placed on a low bush, an anomaly in the habits of the bird to be accounted for by the disappearance of the two clumps of trees, mentioned by King as formerly existing on the island, and the unwillingness of the birds to abandon the place. The shell collectors picked up nothing of consequence, but the sportsmen met with great success. On the 29th, about twenty brace of quail and as many landrail were shot, in addition to many oyster-catchers, plovers, godwits, and sandpipers. Shooting for the pot is engaged in with a degree of eagerness commensurate with its importance, now that our livestock has been exhausted, and we have little besides ship’s provisions to live upon. Three turtles, averaging 250 pounds weight, were caught by a party sent for the purpose of searching for them, and it was supposed that one or two others which had come up to lay escaped detection from the darkness of the night.


On August 31st, we removed to an anchorage under Number 5 of the Claremont group, and remained there during the following day. The island is about two-thirds of a mile in circumference, low and sandy, with a large reef extending to windward. The island is thinly covered with coarse grass and straggling bushes, with one large thicket containing a few trees, of which the tallest is a solitary Mimusops. We found quail here in great plenty, and they afforded good sport to a First of September shooting party, provided with a setter. At length the poor quail had their quarters so thoroughly beaten up, that several, in attempting to escape from the island, were observed to fall into the water from sheer exhaustion. Nor did the birds receive all the benefit of the shot, for Captain Stanley, while observing with the theodolite, became unwittingly a target for a juvenile shooter; but, fortunately, no damage was done. Some turtles were seen at night, but they were too wary to be taken. I found several nests with eggs, by probing in all the likely places near their tracks with my ramrod; in passing through an egg, the end of the rod becomes smeared with the contents, and comes up with a little sand adhering to it, directing one where to dig.

Number 6 of the Claremont group was next visited. This, which is only a quarter of a mile in length, is situated on the lee side of an extensive reef. It is quite low, being composed of heaped-up fragments of shells and coral, overrun with a suffruticose Sida, and stunted bushes of Clerodendrum and Premna, with a glossy-leaved euphorbiaceous plant occasionally forming small thickets. Seafowl and waders were very numerous, but the breeding season was over. Landrail existed in such great numbers that upwards of fifty were shot.

I cannot see the propriety of considering the sandbank, marked Number 7, as a member of the Claremont group, as, at high-water, it is a mere strip of sand 200 yards in length, with a few plants of Salsola on the highest part.


On September 8th, we anchored to the westward of the north end of Night Island, a mile off shore, and remained there for the two succeeding days. This island is two miles in length, and half a mile in breadth, surrounded by a narrow reef of dead coral and mud. With the exception of a very narrow portion fronted by a sandy beach, the place is densely covered with mangroves. A sandy portion, of about five acres in extent, is thickly covered with bushes and small trees, of which the most conspicuous is a Bombax or cotton-tree, 20 to 30 feet in height, with leafless horizontal branches bearing both flowers and fruit. Numbers of the Torres Strait Pigeon (Carpophaga luctuosa) crossed over from the mainland towards evening to roost; and at that time, and early in the morning, great havoc was usually made among them. Even this small spot produced a fine white, brown-banded Helix, not found elsewhere it occurred on the branches of the cotton-trees.


Three days afterwards we ran to the northward ten miles, and anchored under the Sherrard Isles, where our stay was protracted until the 16th by blowing weather. These islets are two in number, a quarter of a mile apart, surrounded and connected by a reef. One is 120 yards in length, sandy, and thinly covered with coarse grass and maritime plants, with a few bushes; the other is only 30 yards across, and is covered by a clump of small trees of Pemphis acida and Suriana maritima, appearing at a distance like mangroves.

A small low wooded islet off Cape Direction, where I landed for a few hours, was found to be composed entirely of dead coral with thickets of mangrove and other bushes, and presented no feature worthy of further notice. We were detained at an anchorage near Cape Weymouth for seven days by the haziness of the weather, which obscured distant points essential to the connexion of the survey.


After having anchored once for the night under the lee of reef e of King’s chart one of the most extensive we had hitherto seen, being fourteen miles in length on September 26th, the ship anchored under the largest of the Piper Islets.

This group consists of four low bushy and wooded islets, situated on two reefs separated by a deep channel. The larger of the two on the south-eastern reef, off which the ship lay, is about half a mile in circumference. The trees are chiefly a kind of Erythrina, conspicuous from its light-coloured trunk and leafless branches; one of the most abundant plants is a Capparis, with long drooping branches, occasionally assisted by a Cissus and a Melotria, in forming small shady harbours. In the evening, vast numbers of white pigeons came over from the mainland to roost, and of course, all the fowling-pieces were put in requisition. Some deep pits dug in the centre of the island were perfectly dry, and are probably so during the latter half of the dry season, or after the month of July. On this island we observed the remains of a small establishment for curing trepang a large seaslug found on the reefs and in shoal water, constituting a valuable article of commerce in the China market, where in a dried state it fetches, according to quality, from 5 to 200 pounds a ton. This establishment had been put up by the crew of a small vessel from Sydney, and several such have at various times made voyages along this coast and in Torres Strait, collecting trepang and tortoiseshell, the latter procured from the natives by barter.


September 28th.

On our way to the northward today, we passed Young Island, of King, which had been previously examined in one of our boats, and found to be merely a reef covered at high-water. Twenty-nine years before it was an embryo islet with two small trees upon it. And as the subject of the rate of increase of a coral reef, and of the formation of an island upon it, is a subject of interest and of great practical importance, I give below in a note two records of the former appearance of Young Island.

[Footnote. “...Passed at about three-quarters of a mile to the northward of a small rocky shoal, on which were two small trees. This particular is recorded as it may be interesting at some future time, to watch the progress of this islet, which is now in an infant state; it was named on the occasion Young Island.” Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia, performed between the years 1818 and 1822, by Captain P.P. King, R.N., volume 1 page 226. Its appearance in 1839 is described as “an elevated reef, with one small mangrove growing on the highest part.” Stokes’ Voyage of the Beagle volume 1 page 57.]

September 29th.

Passing inside of Haggerstone Island, we rounded Sir Everard Home’s group and anchored under Sunday Island, where the Bramble joined us after a month’s absence. This is a small, high, rocky island, of flesh-coloured compact felspar. On one side is a large patch of brush with some mangroves and a coral reef.


A few days afterwards we ran down to the Bird Isles, and anchored. They are three low, wooded islets, one detached from the other two, which are situated on the margin of a circular reef.


On the north-west island we saw a small party of natives from the mainland, consisting of two men and a boy, in great distress from want of water, until Lieutenant Yule kindly supplied their wants. They had been wind-bound here for several days, the weather for some time previously having been too boisterous to admit of attempting to reach the shore, although only a few miles distant, in their split and patched-up canoe. This was of small size, the hollowed-out trunk of a tree, with a double outrigger, and altogether a poor imitation of that used by the islanders of Torres Strait; the paddles were of rude workmanship, shaped like a long-handled cricket-bat. Their spears and throwing sticks were of the same kind as those in use at Cape York, to be afterwards described. These people were wretched specimens of their race, lean and lanky, and one was suffering from ophthalmia, looking quite a miserable object; they had come here in search of turtle as I understood. Each of the men had lost a front tooth, and one had the oval cicatrix on the right shoulder, characteristic of the northern natives, an imitation of that of the islanders. They showed little curiosity, and trembled with fear, as if suspicious of our intentions. I made a fruitless attempt to pick up some scraps of their language; they understood the word powd or peace of Torres Strait.

On this island the principal trees are the leafless Erythrina, with waxy, pink flowers. Great numbers of pigeons resorted here to roost. I found here a large colony of that rare and beautiful tern, Sterna melanauchen, and mixed up with them a few individuals of the still rarer Sterna gracilis.


We anchored under Cairncross Island, on the afternoon of September 3rd, and remained during the following day. The island is about a quarter of a mile in length, low and sandy, covered in the centre with tall trees, and on the outskirts with smaller ones and bushes. These large trees (Pisonia grandis) form very conspicuous objects from their great dimensions, their smooth, light bark, and leafless, dead appearance. Some are from eighty to one hundred feet in height, with a circumference at the base of twenty feet. The wood, however, is too soft to be useful as timber. Nowhere had we seen the Torres Strait pigeon in such prodigious numbers as here, crossing over in small flocks to roost, and returning in the morning; yet many remained all day feeding on the red, plum-like fruit of Mimusops kaukii. In the first evening not less than one hundred and fifty-nine pigeons were brought off after an hour’s work by seven shooters, and next day a still greater number were procured. Being large and well flavoured birds, they formed no inconsiderable addition to our bill of fare, and appeared on the table at every meal, subjected to every possible variety of cooking. Some megapodii also were shot, and many eggs of a fine tern, Onychoprion panaya, were picked up.