Read CHAPTER 6 of Narrative Of The Voyage Of H.M.S. Rattlesnake Volume 1, free online book, by John MacGillivray, on

Leave Coral Haven.
Brierly Island.
Communication with the Natives.
Description of their Huts.
Bartering for Yams and Cocoa-nuts.
Suspicious conduct of the Natives.
They attack the Surveying Boats.
Calvados Group.
Further communication with the Inhabitants.
Stay at Duchateau Islands.
Their Productions.
Proceedings there.
Duperre Islands.
Unable to find Anchorage.
Pass out to Sea, and proceed to the Westward.
Western termination of the Louisiade Archipelago.
Reach the Coast of New Guinea.

July 2nd.

The Bramble having returned from an exploration to the westward with the report that there was a passage out of Coral Haven in that direction, the ship left her anchorage off the watering-place this morning, with boats ahead and on each side of her, repeating the soundings by signal; she ran along the land to the westward seven or eight miles, passed between Pig and South-east Islands, rounded the north-west end of the latter, stood between it and Joannet Island to the West-South-West for about five miles, and anchored early in the forenoon in 15 fathoms, water, under a small detached reef and dry sandbank. Several very fine red snappers were caught with hook and line soon after anchoring, and smaller fish of many kinds were caught in abundance they were mostly species of Pentapus, Diacope, and Mesoprion.


While passing a small island afterwards named in honour of Mr. Brierly distant from our anchorage about two miles North-west by West, several women and dogs were seen on shore, and soon afterwards two canoes, which had followed us from the anchorage, were seen to put in there. In the afternoon two boats were sent to this island, to communicate with the natives, and search for an anchorage near it.


We landed upon a sandy beach, after wading over the fringing reef, and were met by some natives who had come round a neighbouring point from the windward or inhabited side. Although at first cautious of approach, yet in the course of a few minutes they came freely about us to the number of twenty, each carrying two or three spears not the beautifully polished and well-balanced ones we had seen elsewhere, but merely slender, rudely-fashioned sticks sharpened at each end. About twelve women, dressed in the usual petticoat of grass-like stuff, followed at a distance, and kept close to the point for some time; but at length the natural curiosity of the sex (I suppose) overcame their fear, and although repeatedly ordered back by the men, they drew up closer and closer to have a peep at the strangers. Two of the youngest and most attractive of these ladies advanced to within twenty yards, and received with much apparent delight, and a great deal of capering and dancing about on the sand, some strips of a gaudy handkerchief conveyed to them by a lad decorated with streamers of pandanus leaf at the elbows and wrists evidently the Adonis of the party. Some of the men had formerly been off to the ship, and one or two carried axes of the usual form, but headed with pieces of our iron hoop, neatly ground to a fine edge. A few coconuts were given us for a knife or two, and we saw their mode of climbing for them, which one man did with the agility of a monkey, ascending first by a few notches, made years ago, afterwards by clasping the trunk with his arms, arching his body with the feet against the tree, and then walking up precisely in the mode of the Torres Strait Islanders. Like these last people too, they open the nut with a sharp stick, and use a shell (a piece of mother-of-pearl oyster) for scraping out the pulp. After a stay of half an hour we returned to the boat leaving the natives in good humour. Our search for a safe anchorage for the ship was unsuccessful, so we returned on board.

July 3rd.

After the good understanding which appeared to have been established yesterday, I was rather surprised at observing the suspicious manner in which we were received today by the people on Brierly Island. In two boats we went round to a small sandy point on the northern side of the island where seven or eight canoes were hauled up on the beach, but some time elapsed before any of the natives came close up even to a single unarmed man of our party who waded ashore the others remaining in the boats although tempted by the display of pieces of iron hoop and strips of calico. One of the natives, carrying a wooden sword, and apparently a leading man among them, made some signs and used gesticulations expressive of sleep or death with reference to a part of Joannet Island which he repeatedly pointed to. This we could not understand. After a certain degree of confidence had been restored, five or six of us remained on shore, and great harmony appeared to prevail throughout the combined party. In one place the sergeant of marines was seated on the sand with a ring of people round him whom he was drilling into the mode of singing a Port Essington aboriginal song, occasionally rising to vary his lesson with a dance in another, a group of natives were being initiated in the mysteries of the Jew’s harp, or kept amused by the performance of various antics. Mr. Huxley as usual, was at work with his sketch-book, and I employed myself in procuring words for an incipient vocabulary. My principal informant was called Wadai, a little withered old man with shaved head, on which someone had stuck a red night-cap which greatly took his fancy. Not being of so volatile a nature as the others he remained patiently with me for half an hour.

[Footnote. Although not understood at the time, he referred to an affray between two boats detached from the ship on surveying service and some Joannet Island canoes, which had occurred only a few hours before at the place indicated; of this we had not yet heard, but the news had reached Brierly Island, and occasioned our strange reception. This is a remarkable instance of the rapidity with which intelligence may be conveyed from one island to another.]


He showed me the mode of using the betel, which, as practised by these people has this peculiarity, that the leaf of the siri or betel pepper is not employed, as is universally the case among the Malays. A small portion of the green betelnut (the fruit of the Areca catechu) which here curiously enough is named ereka is broken off with the teeth and placed in the mouth; then the spatula, formerly described, moistened with saliva, is dipped into a small calabash of lime in fine powder, with which the tongue and lips are smeared over by repeated applications. The bolus is then kept in the mouth, and rolled over and over until it is thought requisite to renew it. The practice of betel chewing is not confined to the men, for the few women whom we had seen alongside the ship in Coral Haven, had their teeth blackened by it.

One of the natives seen today exhibited a remarkable case of malformation of the teeth. The lower incisors were wanting, and the upper ones had coalesced and grown downwards and outwards, forming an irregular dark protruding mass which I at first took to be a quid of betel. Another man with a diseased leg had lost one hand at the wrist, and the long shrivelled arm presented a curious appearance.

Several dogs were also seen close to, for the first time they were wretched half-starved objects of various colours, but agreed in being long-bodied, short-legged, and prick-eared, with sharp snout and long tail, slightly bushy, but tapering to a point. They do not bark, but have the long melancholy howl of the dingo or wild dog of Australia.


At length some of us found our way to the huts of the natives which were close at hand, and had thus an opportunity of examining one of them minutely, besides verifying what we had before seen only from a distance, and with the aid of the telescope. The distinctive characters of these huts consist in their being long and tunnel-like, drooping and overhanging at each end, raised from the ground upon posts, and thatched over. The four huts composing the village were placed in two adjacent clearings, fifty or sixty yards in length, screened from the beach by a belt of small trees and brushwood, behind is the usual jungle of the wooded islands of the Archipelago, with a path leading through it towards the centre of the island. A solitary hut stood perched upon the ridge near the summit shaded by cocoa-palms, and partially hid among the bushes and tall grass. It differed from those of the village in having the posts projecting through the roof, but whether used as a dwelling or not, is a matter of conjecture. It may possibly have been used for the reception of the dead. In the village an approximate measurement gave thirty feet as the length, nine the breadth, and thirteen the height in centre of one of these huts the one figured in the accompanying plate; the annexed woodcut gives an end view of another. All four were built upon exactly the same plan. The supporting posts are four in number, and raise the floor about four and a half feet from the ground, leaving a clear space beneath. Before entering the body of the hut each post passes through an oval disc of wood, a foot and a half in diameter, the object of which is probably to prevent the ingress into the dwelling of snakes, rats, or other vermin, most likely the Mus indicus, with which all the islands to the westward are overrun. To the stout uprights are lashed transverse bars supporting three long parallel timbers running the whole length of the floor; on these seven or eight transverse poles are laid, crossed by about a dozen longitudinal and slighter ones, on which a flooring of long strips of the outer wood of the coconut-tree is laid across. After penetrating the floor, the main posts rise five feet higher, where they are connected at top by others as tie-beams, which cross them, and project a little further to sustain the two lateral of the five longitudinal supports of the roof, which, at the gable ends, are further secured by other tie-beams. On the two central cross-bars also is laid a platform running one half the length of the hut, floored on one side, forming a partial upper story, with a space of three feet between it and the ceiling. The sides and roof are formed of slender poles or rafters arching over from side to side, secured by lashings of rattan to five poles running lengthways; the whole forming a strong framework thatched over with coarse grass pulled up by the roots in large tufts, with a few cocoa-palm leaves laid over all. The lower part of the sides and upper portion of the ends under the overhanging gables are formed by strips of coarse matting. There are usually entrances at both ends, and the centre of one side, closed by a flap of matting finer than the rest. Opposite each door an inclined beam one end of which rests on the ground, and the other leans against the fork of a short upright post serves as a step for mounting by.

Near these huts were several large sheds, open at one side, where the cooking is performed judging from the remains of fires under them. On two small stages, planked over, we saw a number of thin and neatly carved earthen pots, blackened with smoke; these are usually a foot in diameter, but one was as much as eighteen inches. I was struck with a feature exhibiting the cleanly habits of these savages, from whom in this respect the inhabitants of many villages in the mother country might take a lesson it consisted in the well swept ground, where not a stray stone or leaf was suffered to remain, and the absence about the dwellings of everything offensive to the smell or sight.


I could not help contrasting the condition of these people with that of the Australian blacks, a considerable portion of whose time, at certain periods of the year, is spent in shifting about from place to place, searching for food, living from hand to mouth, and leading a hard and precarious life. But here, on this little island, the coconut-tree alone would be sufficient to supply many of the principal wants of man. The fruit serves both for food and drink the shell is used to carry about water in the fibres of the husk are converted into cordage, and the leaves into matting, while the wood is fashioned into spears and other useful articles. The cultivation of bananas and yams of the latter of which, and of two other edible roots, we saw large quantities in the huts costs him very little trouble he occasionally keeps a few pigs, and when inclined, can always catch plenty of fish, and occasionally a turtle upon the reefs at low-water.

[Footnote. Some of these are represented in the preceding woodcut the hole in the top is usually plugged with a portion of banana leaf.]

Before leaving the beach I presented old Wadai with an axe, as a recompense for his civility. The poor man looked quite bewildered at his unexpected good fortune, and for a little while was quite speechless not understanding the nature of a gift, or being taken with a sudden fit of generosity, he afterwards waded out to the boat with some coconuts to give me in return.


July 4th.

The first cutter was sent to Brierly Island today, for the double purpose of endeavouring to procure yams from the natives for the use of the ship’s company, and enabling me to make additions to my vocabulary and collection. Mr. Brady took charge of the bartering, and drawing a number of lines upon the sandy beach, explained that when each was covered with a yam he would give an axe in return. At first some little difficulty occurred as the yams were brought down very slowly two or three at a time but at length the first batch was completed and the axe handed over. The man who got it the sword-bearer of yesterday had been trembling with anxiety for some time back, holding Mr. Brady by the arm and watching the promised axe with eager eye. When he obtained possession of it he became quite wild with joy, laughing and screaming, and flourishing the axe over his head. After this commencement the bartering went on briskly amidst a good deal of uproar, the men passing between the village and the beach at full speed, with basketfuls of yams, and too intent upon getting the kiram kelumai (iron-axes) to think of anything else. Meanwhile Mr. Huxley and myself walked about unheeded by almost anyone. The women kept themselves in the bush at a little distance, making a great noise, but avoided showing themselves. Occasionally we caught a glimpse of these sable damsels, but only one female came near us a meagre old woman who darted past with an axe in her hand, and sprang up into one of the huts like a harlequin, showing at the same time more of her long shrivelled shanks than was strictly decorous. Besides the usual petticoat reaching to the knee, made of a grass or some leaf perhaps of the pandanus cut into long shreds, this dame wore a somewhat similar article round the neck, hanging over the breast and shoulders, leaving the arms free. An axe was offered to one of the men, who had previously sat for his portrait, to induce him to bring the woman to Mr. Huxley, who was anxious to get a sketch of a female, but in spite of the strong inducement we did not succeed, and any further notice taken of the woman seemed to give offence. While wandering about the place we came upon a path leading into the adjacent brush, but blocked up by some coconut leaves recently thrown across. This led past an enclosure of about three quarters of an acre, neatly and strongly fenced in, probably used as a pen for keeping pigs in, judging from the absence of anything like cultivation, and the trodden-down appearance, apparently made by these animals, a jaw-bone of one of which was picked up close by.


At length the natives appeared anxious to get rid of us, after obtaining about seventeen axes and a few knives, in return for 368 pounds of yams, which cost us little more than a halfpenny per pound. After wading out to the boat, the natives assisted in shoving her off, and when we had got well clear of the beach, they treated us to what might have been one of their dances, dividing into two parties, and with wild pantomimic gesture, advancing and retiring, and going through the motion of throwing the spear, with one or two of which each was provided.


Even during the height of the bartering very few of the natives had laid aside their weapons, and it was evident that they were influenced by no very friendly feeling towards us, and were glad to be relieved of our presence. They had latterly become more noisy than usual, and even insolent, and I believe that had we stayed a little longer, hostilities would have commenced, as they probably regarded our forbearance to be the result of fear.

We landed on the opposite side of the island to give me an opportunity of procuring some specimens, as it was judged that our shooting there would not annoy the inhabitants. The boat remained off at anchor while some of us strolled along the beach, getting an occasional shot. Birds however were few. Among those seen were the fishing-eagle, osprey, and two smaller birds all Australian. On the slope behind the beach we saw for the first time signs of cultivation in a small plantation of bananas and yams. There was no fence, but the ground had been partially cleared, leaving the stumps of the smaller trees and shrubs as posts for the yam plants (a Dioscorea with broad heart-shaped leaves) to train themselves upon. After a stay of nearly an hour, we were moving down towards the boat, when the natives made their appearance round the point, coming up in straggling order. One in advance of the rest came along at a rapid pace with his spear poised, and pointed it at the nearest of our party, when within a few yards of him, with what intention I do not presume to say but the natives were evidently in a state of great excitement. As they might erroneously have supposed that we had been making free with their coconuts and yams, some grass which had been cut for the sheep on board was taken out of the bag and shown them as being intended for our bobo (pigs) which they appeared to understand. The one among them who had yesterday made the allusion to Joannet Island pointed to our guns, talking at the same time with great energy, and making signs as if wishing to see the use of a weapon of whose wonderful effects he had lately heard. As many swallows were flying about, I told Wilcox probably the best shot of the party to shoot one, which was done cleverly, and the bird fell at our feet. The indications of surprise were not so great as I expected to have seen exhibited, but after several more shots had been fired, some with ball along the water, a few of the natives began to show signs of uneasiness and sneaked away. Old Wadai, however (perhaps feeling perfectly secure under the shelter of his perfect insignificance) and one or two others sat down under a tree beside us, apparently unconcerned, and some of the rest remained on the beach until after our departure.

We did not afterwards land upon Brierly Island, so I may conclude with a short description. It is not more than half a mile in length, with a central ridge attaining the height of 347 feet, and sloping downwards at each end. It is well wooded with low trees and brushwood, and mixed up with them there is a profusion of cocoa-palms scattered about in clumps, from the margin of the beach to the shoulders of the hill; long coarse grass, at this time of a beautiful light green tint, covered the remainder. The usual fringing coral reef surrounds the island, running off to a great distance in one direction. The greater part of the shore and the projecting points are rocky (where the soft splintery mica slate has been exposed) with occasional sandy beaches. We saw no fresh water, but the declivities here and there showed deep furrows in the red clayey soil, the effects of torrents after heavy rains.


Today and yesterday I obtained in all about 130 words of the language of the Brierly Island people. The small vocabulary thus formed, the first ever obtained in the Louisiade Archipelago, leads to some interesting results, and fills up one of the gaps in the chain of philological affinities which may afterwards be brought to bear upon the perplexing question Whence has Australia been peopled? Taking the numerals as affording in the present instance the most convenient materials for hasty comparison, I find words in common not only with those of other divisions of the Pelagian Negroes, as the inhabitants of the north coast of New Guinea on the one hand, and New Ireland on the other, but also with the Malay and the various Polynesian languages or dialects spoken from New Zealand to Tahiti. This latter affinity between the woolly and straight-haired sections of oceanic blacks appears to me to render it more curious and unexpected that the language of the Louisiade should completely differ from that of the northern part of Torres Strait, the inhabitants of both being connected by strong general similarity and occasionally identity in manners and customs, and having many physical characteristics common to both. Yet while the natives of the Louisiade use the decimal system of the Malays and Polynesians, the Torres Strait islanders have simple words to express the numerals one and two only, while three is represented by a compound.

[Footnote. Natural History of Man by J.C. Prichard, M.D. 2nd edition page 326.]


July 6th.

Lieutenants Dayman and Simpson, with the pinnace and second galley, returned to the ship after an absence of several days. On the morning of the 4th, after having spent the night at anchor in one of the bays on the south side of Joannet Island, they were attacked by the natives under the following circumstances: In the grey of the morning the lookouts reported the approach of three canoes, with about ten men in each. On two or three persons showing themselves in the bow of the pinnace in front of the rain-awning, the natives ceased paddling, as if baulked in their design of surprising the large boat, but, after a short consultation, they came alongside in their usual noisy manner. After a stay of about five minutes only they pushed off to the galley, and some more sham bartering was attempted, but they had nothing to give in exchange for the kelumai so much coveted. In a short time the rudeness and overbearing insolence of the natives had risen to a pitch which left no doubt of their hostile intentions. The anchor was got up, when some of the blacks seized the painter, and others in trying to capsize the boat brought the gunwale down to the water’s edge, at the same time grappling with the men to pull them out, and dragging the galley inshore towards the shoal water. The bowman, with the anchor in his hand, was struck on the head with a stone-headed axe, the blow was repeated, but fortunately took effect only on the wash-streak; another of the crew was struck at with a similar weapon, but warded off the blow, although held fast by one arm, when, just as the savage was making another stroke, Lieutenant Dayman, who until now had excercised the utmost forbearance, fired at him with a musket. The man did not drop although wounded in the thigh; but even this, unquestionably their first experience of firearms, did not intimidate the natives, one of whom, standing on a block of coral, threw a spear which passed across the breast of one of the boat’s crew and lodged in the bend of one arm, opening the vein. They raised a loud shout when the spear was seen to take effect, and threw several others which missed. Lieutenant Simpson, who had been watching what was going on then fired from the pinnace with buckshot and struck them, when, finding that the large boat, although at anchor, could assist the smaller one, the canoes were paddled inshore in great haste and confusion. Some more musket shots were fired, and the galley went in chase endeavouring to turn the canoes, so as to bring them under the fire of the pinnace’s 12-pounder howitzer, which was speedily mounted and fired. The shot either struck one of the canoes or went within a few inches of the mark, on which the natives instantly jumped overboard into the shallow water, making for the mangroves, which they succeeded in reaching, dragging their canoes with them. Two rounds of grape-shot crashing through the branches dispersed the party, but afterwards they moved two of the canoes out of sight. The remaining one was brought out after breakfast by the galley under cover of the pinnace, and was towed off to some distance. The paddles having been taken out and the spears broken and left in her, she was let go to drift down towards a village whence the attacking party were supposed to have come. Some blood in this canoe, although not the one most aimed at, showed that the firing had not been ineffective.

This act of deliberate treachery was perpetrated by persons who had always been well-treated by us, for several of the natives present were recognised as having been alongside the ship in Coral Haven. This, their first act of positive hostility, affords, I think, conclusive evidence of the savage disposition of the natives of this part of the Louisiade when excited by the hope of plunder, and shows that no confidence should ever be reposed in them unless, perhaps, in the presence of a numerically superior force, or the close vicinity of the ship. At the same time the boldness of these savages in attacking, with thirty men in three canoes, two boats known to contain at least twenty persons even in hopes of taking them by surprise and in not being at once driven off upon feeling the novel and deadly effects of musketry, indicates no little amount of bravery. In the course of the same day, when Lieutenant Dayman was close inshore with the galley laying down the coastline, he had occasion to approach the native village before alluded to, and observed the men following the boat along the beach within gunshot, sharpening and poising their spears, violently gesticulating and calling out loudly, as if daring him to land. A favourable opportunity was now afforded for punishing the natives for their treachery; but from highly commendable motives of humanity, no steps were taken for this purpose by Lieutenant Dayman, and they were treated with silent contempt.

July 10th.

The Bramble and two of our boats were sent to ascertain whether an easy passage to the westward existed inshore near the islands (Calvados Group) extending in that direction, while, at the same time, the ship stood to the southward and anchored in 28 fathoms, four miles inside the barrier-reef. On our way we passed numerous small coral patches, and others were afterwards found to the westward, running in irregular lines, and partially blocking up the passage inside the barrier, which it was expected would have been found clear.


We remained here for five days, during which period we had much variety of weather sometimes blowing hard from East-South-East to East-North-East with squalls and thick gloomy weather at other times nearly a calm, the air disagreeably close and muggy, the temperature varying from 75 to 85 degrees, with occasional heavy rain.


Small fish appeared to abound at this anchorage. I had never before seen the sucking-fish (Echeneis remora) so plentiful as at this place; they caused much annoyance to our fishermen by carrying off baits and hooks, and appeared always on the alert, darting out in a body of twenty or more from under the ship’s bottom when any offal was thrown overboard. Being quite a nuisance, and useless as food, Jack often treated them as he would a shark, by spritsail-yarding, or some still less refined mode of torture. One day some of us while walking the poop had our attention directed to a sucking-fish about two and a half feet in length which had been made fast by the tail to a billet of wood by a fathom or so of spun yarn, and turned adrift. An immense striped shark, apparently about fourteen feet in length, which had been cruising about the ship all the morning, sailed slowly up, and, turning slightly on one side, attempted to seize the apparently helpless fish, but the sucker, with great dexterity, made himself fast in a moment to the shark’s back off darted the monster at full speed the sucker holding on fast as a limpet to a rock, and the billet towing astern. He then rolled over and over, tumbling about, when, wearied with his efforts, he laid quiet for a little. Seeing the float, the shark got it into his mouth, and disengaging the sucker by the tug on the line, made a bolt at the fish; but his puny antagonist was again too quick, and fixing himself close behind the dorsal fin, defied the efforts of the shark to disengage him, although he rolled over and over, lashing the water with his tail until it foamed all around. What the final result was, we could not clearly make out.

Many water snakes were seen here, swimming about on the surface; and one of two chasing each other and playing about the ship was shot by Captain Stanley from his cabin window, and brought on board. It appeared to be of the genus Hypotrophis, and measured 37 1/2 inches in length; it had a pair of minute poison fangs on each side of the upper jaw; the colour was a dirty greenish with numerous pale narrow bands.


July 16th.

The pinnace having returned yesterday and reported a clear passage for the ship to the westward close inshore, we got underweigh and returned on the same line by which we had come out, anchoring for the night in 19 fathoms water, under Observation Reef 2. Next day we rounded Brierly Island from the eastward, passed between it and Joannet Island, and after running a few miles further to the westward, anchored in 30 fathoms 15 miles West-North-West from Brierly Island, and two miles from the nearest of the Calvados Group. In passing Brierly Island the place appeared to be deserted. We saw a single canoe hauled up on the beach, but no natives.

On July 18th, after standing to the westward 32 miles, we hauled out south, and anchored in 22 fathoms, about eight miles from the nearest of the Calvados. We remained at this anchorage for the next three days.


One day we were visited by a canoe from a neighbouring island, and on the following morning two more canoes came off. The people in one canoe kept at a safe distance, but those in the other came alongside, and after exhausting their stock of yams and other articles of barter, went off to their more cautious companions, and speedily returned to us with a fresh supply. The canoe was an old patched-up affair, and while one of the natives was standing up with a foot on each gunwale, a previous fracture in the bow, united only by pitch, gave way, and a piece of the side, four feet long, came out, allowing the water to rush in. The canoe would speedily have been swamped, had not the author of the mischief held on the piece in his hand, while some of the others bailed away as rapidly as possible, and the remainder paddled off with desperation, shouting loudly to the people in the second canoe for help. But their friends seemed as much frightened as themselves, not knowing the nature of the accident, and probably supposing that we had been roughly treating their companions they made sail for the shore, and did not stop until they had got half a mile away from the ship, when they waited until the damaged canoe came up in a sinking state, bailed her out, and after taking some people out of her, both made off, under sail, and we saw no more of them.

But for this accident I would probably have got a few words of their language to compare with those obtained at Brierly Island. Our visitors were profusely decorated with the red, feathery, leafy shoots of an Amaranthus, which they wore fastened in bunches about the ankles, waist, elbows, and in the hair. In other respects, I saw nothing among them different from what has already been described at Coral Haven.


From this anchorage we enjoyed an extensive view of the south-eastern portion of the Louisiade Archipelago. On the extreme right is the large South-east Island, with its sharply undulating outline, and Mount Rattlesnake clearly visible, although distant 45 miles. Next, after a gap partially filled up by Pig Island, Joannet Island succeeds, 10 1/2 miles in length, not so high as South-east Island but resembling it in dimness of outline its highest point, Mount Asp, is 1,104 feet in height. Next come the Calvados, of various aspect and size, some with the undulating outline of the larger islands, others rising more or less abruptly to the height of from four to upwards of nine hundred feet. They constitute a numerous group upwards of 40 some of which, however, are mere rocks, are delineated upon the Rattlesnake’s chart, and there are others to the northward. Behind them, in two of the intervals, the large and distant island of St. Aignan (so named after one of D’Entrecasteaux’ lieutenants) fills up the background, falling low at its eastern extreme, but the western half high and mountainous, with an elevation of 3,279 feet. Further to the westward the last of the Calvados in this view was seen to form a remarkable peak, 518 feet in height, to which the name of Eddystone was applied; and still further to the left Île Real, of D’Urville’s chart, shoots up to the height of 554 feet, as a solitary rocky island with rugged outline and an abruptly peaked summit.


July 23rd.

Yesterday we were prevented from reaching our intended anchorage at the Duchateau Isles by a strong easterly tide, the wind at the same time being too light to allow us to stem it. Today the ship was moved closer in, and moored in a convenient berth in 13 fathoms, half a mile north from the middle island.

We remained here for eleven days, thus affording good opportunities for examining the group. The Duchateau Isles are three low, wooded, coral islets, the largest of which is only three-fourths of a mile in length. The two eastern islands are connected by a reef, partly dry at low water, and separated by a narrow passage from the smaller reef, surrounding the western island. The southern, or windward margin of these reefs, presents a similarity to the barrier class by rising up suddenly from an unknown depth, with constant and very heavy breakers, but the northern, and at present the leeward portion, extends only a little way, with irregular and not well defined outline, and anchorage near it in from twelve to fifteen fathoms. The three islands agree in presenting the same physical characters.


They are margined by a beach of white coral sand, with occasional thin beds and ledges of coral conglomerate, succeeded by a belt of tangled bushes and low trees, after which the trees become higher and the ground tolerably free from underwood, with occasional thickets of woody climbers. The cocoa-palm grows here in small numbers, usually several together, overtopping the other trees among which one of the Bombaceae (silk-cotton trees) and Pisonia grandis attain the greatest dimensions, having frequently a girth of twelve or fifteen feet, with a height of sixty or seventy. A large-leaved Calophyllum is the prevailing tree of the island, and among the others I may mention a Myristica and a Caryophyllum, neither of which, however, are of the species furnishing the nutmegs and cloves of commerce.

Of mammalia a large Pteropus, or fruit-eating bat, was seen once or twice, but no specimen was procured. The little Indian rat occurs abundantly on all the islands, taking to hollow logs and holes under the roots of trees for shelter. Here it is tamer than I have elsewhere seen it by sitting down in a shady place, and remaining quiet, I have sometimes had three or four within a few yards of me playing about, chasing each other, or turning over the dead leaves. It even climbs bushes and low trees, and gets out among the branches like a squirrel.


Birds were plentiful, and our sportsmen committed great havoc among the megapodii and pigeons. The former were very numerous, running about the thickets, and calling to each other like pheasants in a preserve at home. Among the other game birds, first in size and splendour comes the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica). As its appearance exhibits a near approach to the gallinaceous birds, so do its habits. It lives chiefly on the ground, runs with great swiftness, and flies up into a tree when disturbed. A nest found here was of the rude platform construction usually found among the pigeon family; it was built in a tree about ten feet from the ground, and contained a single white egg. The most common of the family, however, is one of the nutmeg pigeons, Carpophaga oceanica. Many of both sexes were furnished with a large, round, fleshy caruncle on the bill at the base of the forehead this is said to be present during the breeding season only. Its favourite place of resort during the heat of the day is among the nutmegs and other spreading shady trees where we found it difficult of detection, even when led up to the spot by its cooing. This last may be represented by the letters poor-oo-oo-oo hoor-r-r-r, the first syllable loud and startling, the remainder faint and long drawn-out; on the other hand the cry of the Nicobar pigeon is merely hoo-hoo. In flavour the Oceanic pigeon far surpasses the white or Torres Strait species, the merits of which, as an article of food, we had so often fully appreciated during our last cruise. Most of them were very fat, and some even burst open in falling to the ground after having been shot. A solitary specimen of another large pigeon with the throat white, and the plumage with purple and green metallic reflections was obtained, also a small dove of a new species, with pink forehead and broad cream-coloured pectoral band, which has been named by Mr. Gould Ptilonopus strophium.


The only other bird which I shall mention is a very fine kingfisher (Halcyon saurophaga) with white head, neck, and lower parts, green scapulars, and blue wings and tail, previously known by a single specimen from New Guinea in the British Museum. It is a very shy bird, frequenting the margin of the island, usually seen perched on some detached or solitary branch, as if sunning itself, and darting off into the dense brush upon being approached.

Small lizards were plentiful, but we met with no large ones or snakes during our rambles on the Duchateau Isles. These islands are probably much resorted to by turtles, as they were daily seen swimming about, and one was caught on shore during our stay by a party of natives. The variety of fishes caught at this anchorage was considerable, and furnished many additions to the ichthyological collection, to which the paucity of other objects in zoology for some time back enabled me to bestow much attention. Among the genera most remarkable for singularity of form and brilliancy of colouring I may mention Holocentrum, five kinds of which were procured here, one brilliantly coloured with blue and silver, and the remainder more or less of a bright scarlet.

[Footnote. Besides many kinds preserved in spirits, which have not yet been examined, my collection contained stuffed specimens of about forty species of Louisiade fishes. These, I have been informed by Sir John Richardson, have nearly all been previously described from other parts of Oceania, the Indian Ocean, and the China Sea. The family Sparidae is that best represented in the Louisiade Archipelago so far as I could judge three species of Pentapus numerically more than equal all the rest, and the next commonest fish is Diacope octo-lineata.]


The landshells appear here to be limited to a solitary Helicina, found on the leaves and trunks of trees; and the trifling amount of rise and fall of tide, not exceeding three feet, prevented any search for marine species upon the reef. By dredging, however, in some of the sandy channels among the coral patches, in two or three fathoms water, some small Mitrae, Nassae, Subulae, and other interesting shells were procured, but no zoophytes came up in the dredge, and hardly any crustacea. One can scarcely avoid taking notice of the prodigious numbers of small hermit-crabs (Coenobita) tenanting dead univalve shells, and occurring from the margin of the beach as far back as the centre of the islands, where they are found even in the holes of decaying trees at some height above the ground.

During our stay at this anchorage the weather was fine for the first three days, but afterwards was usually hazy, with strong breezes from between east and south-east, with squalls and occasional showers, the thermometer ranging between 72 and 85 degrees respectively the maximum and minimum temperature registered on board.


We were frequently visited by canoes from the Calvados Islands. The parties of natives usually landed on one of the adjacent Duchateau Islands before communicating with the ship, and sometimes passed the night there before returning on the following morning. They brought with them coconuts, yams, and various other articles to barter with; among these were some productions of the country which I had not previously seen Indian corn, ginger, and sugarcane. The canoes were of the common description, with the exception of one of large size, closed at the bow and stern, with a high peak at each end, a standing mast, large oval sail, and the platform entirely covered over. Few additional observations upon the natives were made here. On one occasion I procured a few words of their language, all of which, with one doubtful exception, are similar to those formerly obtained at Brierly Island. At another time we saw squatted down in a canoe alongside, with four men in it, two female children about three years of age, quite naked, with their hair twisted into long yarn-like strands falling over the shoulder; one of the two was a plump, laughing, intelligent creature, with fine features, great black eyes, and long silky eyelashes.

At this place we had the misfortune to lose by death our carpenter, Mr. Raymond. His remains were interred on the largest of the islands, in a clearing made by the woodcutters, and as an additional precaution, for the purpose of concealing the grave from the keen sight of the natives, a large fire was made upon it to efface all marks of the spade.


August 4th.

We left our anchorage this morning for the Duperre Islands, twenty-one miles to the westward, and reached them before noon. On our way we passed in sight of the Montemont and Jomard groups, each consisting of two low, wooded islets, similar to those which we had left. As the ship went along she raised prodigious numbers of flying-fish in large schools, closely watched by frigate-birds, boobies, and terns.


The afternoon was ineffectually spent in searching for an anchorage, the pinnace and one of the cutters having been sent inshore for that purpose. In the evening the anchor was let go after a cast of fifty fathoms, but slipped off the bank, and had to be hove up again. In company with the Bramble we passed the night in standing off and on the islands, directed by bright moonlight, and a fire on the westernmost of the group which the pinnace’s people had been sent in to make.

The following day was spent in a similar manner, and with the like result. The Bramble, when ordered by signal to point out the anchorage which Lieutenant Yule had found a week before, at once passed through an opening in the northern margin of the reef connected with the Duperre Isles, and brought in the smooth and moderately deep water inside, but it was not judged safe for us to follow, so the pinnace was hoisted in-board, and the ship kept underweigh all night.

August 6th.

We passed out to sea to the southward by a wide and clear channel between the Duperre and Jomard Islands. The former are five in number, all uninhabited, small, low, and thickly covered with trees. They extend over a space of about six miles on the northern margin of a large atoll or annular reef extending eleven miles in one direction and seven in another, with several openings leading into the interior, which forms a navigable basin afterwards called Bramble Haven. Inside the greatest depth found was twenty fathoms, with numerous small coral patches showing themselves so clearly as easily to be avoided outside, the water suddenly deepens to no bottom with one hundred fathoms of line, at the distance of a mile from its edge.


For several days we continued making traverses off and on the line of barrier reefs extending to the westward, obtaining negative soundings, and occasionally communicating by signal with the Bramble, which was meanwhile doing the inshore part of the work. The next islet seen was Île Lejeune of D’Urville, situated in latitude 10 degrees 11 minutes South and longitude 151 degrees 50 minutes East, eight miles to the westward of the nearest of the Duperre group, with a wide intervening passage. The sea-face of the barrier now becomes continuous for twenty-one miles further, its northern side broken into numerous openings, leading into shoal water. It is, in fact, an elongated, almost linear atoll, with islands scattered along its sheltered margin. After this, the barrier becomes broken up into a series of small reefs, with passages between, still preserving a westerly trend, until it ends in longitude 150 degrees 58 minutes East. Several small, low islets are scattered along its course; of these the Sandy Isles come first, three in number, two of them mere sandbanks, and the third thinly covered with trees, apparently a kind of Pandanus. The neighbouring Ushant Island (supposed to be that named Île Ouessant by Bougainville) is larger and densely wooded, and still further to the westward we saw the two Stuers Islands, also low, and wooded. All those islets hitherto mentioned as occurring along the line of the barrier reef are of the same character low, of coral formation, and generally wooded and so are two others situated a few miles to the northward of the reef, and unconnected with it. These last are Kosmann Island, in latitude 11 degrees 4 1/2 minutes South and longitude 151 degrees 33 minutes East, and Imbert Island, situated thirteen miles further to the westward.

August 11th.

Today we came in sight of two groups of high rocky isles, very different from the low coral islets in the line of the barrier reef, which here ceases to show itself above water. These are the Teste and Lebrun Islands of D’Urville, the latter two in number, and of small size (the westernmost, in latitude 10 degrees 53 minutes South and longitude 150 degrees 59 minutes East) the former, a group of four, of which the largest measures two and a half miles in length, while the smallest is a remarkable pyramidal projection, to which the name of Bell Rock was given this last is situated in latitude 10 degrees 57 1/2 minutes South and longitude 151 degrees 2 minutes East.


August 12th.

We saw in the distance part of the high land of New Guinea in the neighbourhood of where its south-east cape has been conjectured to be, and approached within a few miles of the Dumoulin Islands, a group of four rocky isles, the westernmost of which is 400 feet high, and less than a mile in length; there are besides five rocks, some of considerable size.

[Footnote. The hydrographical engineer attached to D’Urville’s last expedition, and the constructor of most of the charts published in the Hydrographical Atlas of Voyage au Pole Sud etc.]


The Dumoulin Isles are inhabited, and appear fertile they are tolerably well-wooded with small trees and a sprinkling of cocoa-palms. In standing off for the night, the water suddenly shoaled from no bottom with 80 fathoms to casts of 16 and 12 fathoms, of coral, and sand and shells, and then deepened again as we went out. One is inclined to suspect that this may be a submarine extension of the barrier reef.

The Bramble meanwhile had been ordered in to look for anchorage, and found it under the lee of the largest island in 25 fathoms. She remained in that neighbourhood for several days while we were beating about at sea. Several of the Dumoulin Islands proved to be inhabited, and the natives exhibited no hostile feeling towards the Bramble’s people. A specimen of the rock, taken from the shore and given me by Lieutenant Yule, is a very curious siliceous breccia; when viewed from the sea I had observed the cliffs to exhibit horizontal and vertical fissures apparently lines of cleavage as I had seen assumed on various occasions during our last cruise by granite and porphyry. This, at least, indicated a great approaching change in the geological structure of the New Guinea Islands, contrasted with those of the Louisiade Group which had come under our observation.