Read CHAPTER 8 of Narrative Of The Voyage Of H.M.S. Rattlesnake Volume 1, free online book, by John MacGillivray, on

Rescue a white Woman from Captivity among the Natives.
Her History.
Bramble and boats complete the Survey of Torres Strait.
Wini and the Mulgrave Islanders.
Intercourse with the Cape York Natives.
Nearly quarrel with them at a night dance.
Witness a Native fight.
Discover some fine country.
Incidents of our stay.
Many new Birds found.
Remarks on the Climate, etc. of Cape York.

On the day after our arrival at Cape York the vessel from Sydney with our supplies anchored beside us, and besides provisions and stores, we had the additional pleasure of receiving five months’ news from home.


On October 16th, a startling incident occurred to break the monotony of our stay. In the afternoon some of our people on shore were surprised to see a young white woman come up to claim their protection from a party of natives from whom she had recently made her escape, and who, she thought, would otherwise bring her back. Of course she received every attention, and was taken on board the ship by the first boat, when she told her story, which is briefly as follows. Her name is Barbara Thomson: she was born at Aberdeen in Scotland, and along with her parents, emigrated to New South Wales. About four years and a half ago she left Moreton Bay with her husband in a small cutter (called the America) of which he was owner, for the purpose of picking up some of the oil from the wreck of a whaler, lost on the Bampton Shoal, to which place one of her late crew undertook to guide them; their ultimate intention was to go on to Port Essington. The man who acted as pilot was unable to find the wreck, and after much quarrelling on board in consequence, and the loss of two men by drowning, and of another who was left upon a small uninhabited island, they made their way up to Torres Strait, where, during a gale of wind, their vessel struck upon a reef on the Eastern Prince of Wales Island. The two remaining men were lost in attempting to swim on shore through the surf, but the woman was afterwards rescued by a party of natives on a turtling excursion, who, when the gale subsided, swam on board, and supported her on shore between two of their number. One of these blacks, Boroto by name, took possession of the woman as his share of the plunder; she was compelled to live with him, but was well treated by all the men, although many of the women, jealous of the attention shown her, for a long time evinced anything but kindness. A curious circumstance secured for her the protection of one of the principal men of the tribe a party from which had been the fortunate means of rescuing her, and which she afterwards found to be the Kowrarega, chiefly inhabiting Muralug, or the Western Prince of Wales Island. This person, named Piaquai, acting upon the belief (universal throughout Australia and the Islands of Torres Strait so far as hitherto known) that white people are the ghosts of the aborigines, fancied that in the stranger he recognised a long-lost daughter of the name of Giaom, and at once admitted her to the relationship which he thought had formerly subsisted between them; she was immediately acknowledged by the whole tribe as one of themselves, thus ensuring an extensive connection in relatives of all denominations. From the headquarters of the tribe with which Giaom thus became associated being upon an island which all vessels passing through Torres Strait from the eastward must approach within two or three miles, she had the mortification of seeing from twenty to thirty or more ships go through every summer without anchoring in the neighbourhood, so as to afford the slightest opportunity of making her escape. Last year she heard of our two vessels (described as two war canoes, a big and a little one) being at Cape York only twenty miles distant from some of the tribe who had communicated with us and been well treated, but they would not take her over, and even watched her more narrowly than before.


On our second and present visit, however, which the Cape York people immediately announced by smoke signals to their friends in Muralug, she was successful in persuading some of her more immediate friends to bring her across to the mainland within a short distance of where the vessels lay. The blacks were credulous enough to believe that as she had been so long with them, and had been so well treated, she did not intend to leave them only she felt a strong desire to see the white people once more and shake hands with them; adding, that she would be certain to procure some axes, knives, tobacco, and other much prized articles. This appeal to their cupidity decided the question at once. After landing at the sandy bay on the western side of Cape York, she hurried across to Evans Bay, as quickly as her lameness would allow, fearful that the blacks might change their mind; and well it was that she did so, as a small party of men followed to detain her, but arrived too late. Three of these people were brought on board at her own request, and as they had been instrumental in saving her from the wreck, they were presented with an axe apiece, and other presents.

Upon being asked by Captain Stanley whether she really preferred remaining with us to accompanying the natives back to their island, as she would be allowed her free choice in the matter, she was so much agitated as to find difficulty in expressing her thankfulness, making use of scraps of English alternately with the Kowrarega language, and then, suddenly awaking to the recollection that she was not understood, the poor creature blushed all over, and with downcast eyes, beat her forehead with her hand, as if to assist in collecting her scattered thoughts.


At length, after a pause, she found words to say: “Sir, I am a Christian, and would rather go back to my own friends.” At the same time, it was remarked by everyone that she had not lost the feelings of womanly modesty even after having lived so long among naked blacks; she seemed acutely to feel the singularity of her position dressed only in a couple of shirts, in the midst of a crowd of her own countrymen.

When first seen on shore our new shipmate presented so dirty and wretched an appearance that some people who were out shooting at first mistook her for a gin, and were passing by without taking further notice, when she called out to them in English: “I am a white woman, why do you leave me?” With the exception of a narrow fringe of leaves in front, she wore no clothing, and her skin was tanned and blistered with the sun, and showed the marks of several large burns which had been received from sleeping too near the fire on cold nights; besides, she was suffering from ophthalmia, which had previously deprived her of the sight of one eye. But good living, and every comfort (for Captain Stanley kindly provided her with a cabin and a seat at his table) combined with medical attention, very soon restored her health, and she was eventually handed over to her parents in Sydney in excellent condition.

Although perfectly illiterate, Mrs. Thomson had made good use of her powers of observation, and evinced much shrewdness in her remarks upon various subjects connected with her residence among the blacks, joined to great willingness to communicate any information which she possessed. Much of this will be found in another part of this volume, incorporated with the result of my own observations. Several hundred words of the Kowrarega language, and a portion of its grammar, were also obtained from time to time, and most of these were subsequently verified. And, although she did not understand the language spoken at Cape York, yet, as some of the Gudang people there knew the Kowrarega, through its medium I was usually able to make myself tolerably well understood, and thus obtain an explanation of some matters which had formerly puzzled me, and correct various errors into which I had fallen. It was well, too, that I took an early opportunity of procuring these words, for my informant afterwards forgot much of her lately-acquired language, and her value as an authority on that subject gradually diminished.


Giaom was evidently a great favourite with the blacks, and hardly a day passed on which she was not obliged to hold a levee in her cabin for the reception of friends from the shore, while other visitors, less favoured, were content to talk to her through the port. They occasionally brought presents of fish and turtle, but always expected an equivalent of some kind. Her friend, Boroto, the nature of the intimacy with whom was not at first understood, after in vain attempting by smooth words and fair promises to induce her to go back to live with him, left the ship in a rage, and we were not sorry to get rid of so impudent and troublesome a visitor as he had become. Previous to leaving, he had threatened that, should he or any of his friends ever catch his faithless spouse on shore, they would take off her head to carry back with them to Muralug; and so likely to be fulfilled did she consider this threat, being in perfect accordance with their customs, that she never afterwards ventured on shore at Cape York.


During the period of our stay at Cape York, the Bramble, Asp, and Rattlesnake’s pinnace were sent away to the western entrance of Torres Strait to finish the survey, and returned after a month’s absence.


The boats had held no intercourse with any of the natives, except a small party of Kowraregas, the inhabitants of Mulgrave and Banks Islands having carefully avoided them. Hopes had been entertained prior to starting of seeing something of a white man of the name of Wini, who had lived with the Badus for many years. Giaom had seen and conversed with him during a visit to Muralug which he had made in hopes of inducing her to share his fortunes. She supposed him to be a foreigner, from his not appearing to understand the English she used when asked by him to speak in her native tongue. He had reached Mulgrave Island in a boat after having, by his own account, killed his companions, some three or four in number. In course of time he became the most important person in the tribe, having gained an ascendancy by procuring the death of his principal enemies and intimidating others, which led to the establishment of his fame as a warrior, and he became in consequence the possessor of several wives, a canoe, and some property in land, the cultivation of which last he pays great attention to. Wini’s character appears from the accounts I have heard for others corroborated part of Giaom’s statement to be a compound of villainy and cunning, in addition to the ferocity and headstrong passions of a thorough savage it strikes me that he must have been a runaway convict, probably from Norfolk Island. It is fortunate that his sphere of mischief is so limited, for a more dangerous ruffian could not easily be found. As matters stand at present, it is probable that not only during his life, but for years afterwards, every European who falls into the hands of the Badu people will meet with certain death.

[Footnote. In further illustration of this assertion I give the following note with which I have lately been furnished by Mr. J. Sweatman, R.N., who served in the Bramble at the time of the occurrence of the murder to which it alludes. In June 1846 the supercargo and a boat’s crew of a small vessel from Sydney procuring trepang and tortoise-shell in Torres Strait, landed upon Mulgrave Island (the vessel being about seven miles off) in order to barter for tortoise-shell. The natives appeared at first to be friendly enough, but, towards evening some circumstances occurred which induced the boat’s crew to re-embark, and they then went to a small sandbank about a mile off to pass the night there. The supercargo and three men landed, leaving two men in the boat at anchor; about midnight the latter were alarmed at hearing shouts and yells on shore, and, landing in haste, found that the natives had attacked their comrades, whose muskets being damp, were quite useless. The supercargo and two men were killed a shot from the boat however dispersed the natives sufficiently for the two men to drag their surviving comrade into the boat, but he had an arrow through the body, and his hands were partially severed, and he soon died. The bodies of the three people on the sandbank could not be recovered, the natives returning to the attack with showers of arrows, nor could the small force on board the schooner attempt to punish the perpetrators of this unprovoked murder.]

The inhabitants of the neighbouring Banks Island are described by Giaom as evincing the same hostility towards Europeans. Only a few years ago the Italegas, one of the two tribes inhabiting that island, murdered two white men and a boy, who had reached their inhospitable shores in a small boat, probably from a wreck. Such savage outrages committed by the inhabitants of the north-western islands would probably be completely prevented were they oftener visited by Europeans; such was the case with the people of Darnley Island, once dangerous savages, now safely to be dealt with by taking the usual precautions, and where, as at the Murray Islands, I believe strangers in distress, without valuable property, would now be kindly treated.


We remained nine weeks at our anchorage in Evans Bay. The natives, of whom there were usually a number encamped in the neighbourhood, attracted by the presence of the ship, as vultures by a carcass, continued on perfectly friendly terms, assisted the wooding and watering parties, brought off fish and portions of turtle to the ship, and accompanied us on our walks on shore. The usual remuneration for their services was biscuit, and, next to that, tobacco, besides which axes and knives were highly prized and occasionally given them. Immediately on landing for the purpose of an excursion, each of us looked out for his kotaiga from among a crowd of applicants surrounding the boat, the haversack was thrown across his shoulders, and away we started for the bush. It was often difficult for the possessor of a good stock of biscuit to shake off other useless volunteers; these hangers-on, with few exceptions, were more remarkable for their capacity for food than for their powers of endurance, showing a deeply rooted antipathy to any exertion not actually necessary, and for every trifling additional service asking for bisiker muro, choka muro, neipa, or some such thing. Still a few of these same blacks make a very agreeable addition to a shooting party, as besides their services as guides, and in pointing out game, they formed amusing companions and enlivened many a noonday bivouac or dull thirsty march in the hot sun with their songs, jokes, and mimicry.

[Footnote. Derived from the Kowrarega word Kutaig (younger brother); here in the jargon used between us it signified friend, associate, companion, etc.]


One evening I was asked to join a party made up for the purpose of witnessing a native dance. Many strange blacks were then encamped on the margin of the beach, and altogether about 150 people belonging to four or five tribes had collected. Not being apprised of our coming they showed much surprise and suspicion at our landing after dark, but, with some trouble, a number were induced by the promise of a quantity of biscuit to get up a dance round a large fire on the sand to the music of a drum which we had taken with us to announce our approach. The dance after all was a very poor affair none of the performers were painted and decorated, there was little scenic effect, and they seemed glad when it was over. The bag containing the promised biscuit was most injudiciously handed over to an old woman named Baki, or queena woman Baki, as someone had taught her to call herself, for distribution among the party. She doled out a few handfuls to some women and children who had not been at all concerned in the matter, and would have marched off with the remainder had she not been prevented. The appointment of a woman to this office gave great offence to the men who had been dancing while not one among them would have scrupled forcibly to deprive her of the whole on the very first opportunity, yet every man there scorned the idea of having to ASK a woman for anything the consequence was that the performers were not rewarded, and naturally imagined that we had broken faith with them. The discontent increased, some of the men left in a state of great excitement, and went for their spears and throwing sticks. One or two rockets were sent up soon after to amuse them, on which the few remaining women and children hurried to their sheds of bark and hid their faces in terror. When a blue light was burned, and lit up the gloomy shadows of the neighbouring bush, it disclosed the spectral figures of many armed men among the trees, singly and in groups, intently watching our motions. Paida, who with other native allies of ours still remained with us, was very urgent for us to be off, telling me that spears would be thrown immediately (kaibu kalaka muro); being a kotaig of mine, he considered himself bound to attend to my safety, so conducted me to the boat which he assisted in shoving off, nor did he retire from the beach until we had got into deep water.


I have alluded to this occurrence, trivial as it may appear, not without an object. It serves as an illustration of the policy of respecting the known customs of the Australian race, even in apparently trifling matters, at least during the early period of intercourse with a tribe, and shows how a little want of judgment in the director of our party caused the most friendly intentions to be misconstrued, and might have led to fatal results.


I must confess that I should have considered any injury sustained on our side to have been most richly merited; moreover, I am convinced that some at least of the collisions which have taken place in Australia, between the first European visitors and the natives of any given district, have originated in causes of offence brought on by the indiscretion of one or more of the party, and revenged on others who were innocent. As a memorable instance I may give that which happened during Leichhardt’s overland journey to Port Essington, when his camp was attacked one evening, and Mr. Gilbert lost his life. Long afterwards the undoubted cause of this apparently unaccountable attack transpired in the acknowledgment, while intoxicated, by one of the persons concerned, that a gross outrage had been committed upon an aboriginal woman a day or two previously, by the two blacks belonging to the expedition.

One day I witnessed a native fight, which may be described here, as such occurrences, although frequent enough in Australia, have by Europeans been witnessed only in the settled districts. It was one of those smaller fights, or usual modes of settling a quarrel when more than two people are concerned, and assumed quite the character of a duel upon a large scale. At daybreak, I landed in company with six or seven people who were going out on different shooting parties. The natives came down to the boat as usual, but all carried throwing-sticks contrary to their usual practice of late; and at the place where they had slept, numbers of spears were stuck up on end in the sand. These preparations surprised me, but Paida would not explain the cause and seemed anxious to get me away. The shooters marched off each with his black but I loitered behind, walking slowly along the beach.


About 200 yards from the first camping-place, two groups of strange natives, chiefly men, were assembled with throwing-sticks in their hands and bundles of spears. While passing them they moved along in twos and threes towards the Evans Bay party, the men of which advanced to meet them. The women and children began to make off, but a few remained as spectators on the sands, it being then low water. A great deal of violent gesticulation and shouting took place, the parties became more and more excited, and took up their position in two scattered lines facing each other, extending from the margin of the beach to a little way in the bush, and about twenty-five yards apart. Paida, too, partook of the excitement and could refrain no longer from joining in the fight; he dropped my haversack and bounded away at full speed to his camping-place, where he received his spears from little Purom his son, and quickly made his appearance upon the scene of action.

The two parties were pretty equally matched about fifteen men in each. The noise now became deafening; shouts of defiance, insulting expressions, and every kind of abusive epithet were bandied about, and the women and children in the bush kept up a wailing cry all the while rising and falling in cadence. The pantomimic movements were of various descriptions; besides the singular quivering motion given to the thighs placed wide apart (common to all the Australian dances) they frequently invited each other to throw at them, turning the body half round and exposing the breech, or dropping on one knee or hand as if to offer a fair mark. At length a spear was thrown and returned, followed by many others, and the fighting became general, with an occasional pause.


The precision with which the spears were thrown was not less remarkable than the dexterity which with they were avoided. In nearly every case the person thrown at would, apparently, have been struck had he stood still, but, his keenness of sight enabled him to escape by springing aside as required, variously inclining the body, or sometimes merely lifting up a leg to allow the spear to pass by, and had two been thrown at one person at the same moment he could scarcely have escaped, but this I observed was never attempted, as it would have been in war, here each individual appeared to have a particular opponent. I had a capital view of the whole of the proceedings, being seated about fifty yards behind and slightly on the flank of one of the two contending parties. One spear thrown higher than usual passed within five yards of me, but this I was satisfied was the result of accident, as I had seen it come from Paida’s party. Soon afterwards I observed a man at the right extreme of the line next me, who had been dodging round a large scaevola bush for some time back, make a sudden dart at one of the opposite party and chop him down the shoulder with an iron tomahawk. The wounded man fell, and instantly a yell of triumph denoted that the whole matter was at an end.

Paida rejoined me five minutes afterwards, apparently much refreshed by this little excitement, and accompanied me on my walk, still he would not explain the cause of the fight. The wounded man had his arm tied up by one of our people who landed soon afterwards, and, although the cut was both large and deep, he soon recovered.


The frequent excursions of our shooting parties being more extended than during our last visit became the means of adding considerably to our knowledge of the surrounding country. One of the immediate consequences was the discovery of several small streams of fresh water. The principal of these, which we named Mew River (after its first finder, the sergeant of marines on board) has its mouth in a small mangrove creek three quarters of a mile to the eastward of Evans Bay. About five miles further up its source was found to be a spring among rocks in a dense calamus scrub. It waters a fine valley running nearly east and west behind the range of hills to the southward of Evans Bay, and its line is marked by a belt of tangled brush exceeding in luxuriance anything of the same description which I had seen elsewhere. The variety of trees in this dense brush is very great, and many were quite new to me. The Seaforthia palm attained the height of 60 to 80 feet, and the rattan was very abundant, and from the recurved prickles catching and tearing the clothes, it was often no easy matter to penetrate the thickets. Among the plants along the river the most interesting is an indigenous species of banana or plantain, probably the same as that found at Endeavour River during Cook’s first voyage. The fruit is of small size with numerous hard seeds and a small quantity of delicious pulp; cultivation would, doubtless, wonderfully improve it. Another remarkable plant found on the grassy borders of the jungle and characteristic of rich damp soil is a beautiful species of Roscoea (?) (one of the Scitamineae or ginger family) about a foot high, with a solitary leaf and large bracteae, the lower green and the upper ones pink, partially concealing handsome yellow flowers. From its succulent nature I failed in preparing specimens for the herbarium, but some roots were preserved and given to the Botanical Garden at Sydney.


The lower part of the valley is open forest land, or nearly level and thinly wooded country covered with tall coarse grass. Further up it becomes more beautiful. From the belt of wood, concealing the windings of the river, grassy sloping meadows extend upwards on each side to the flanking ridges which are covered with dense scrub occasionally extending in straggling patches down to the water, and forming a kind of imperfect natural fence. The soil of these meadows is rich sandy loam, affording great apparent facilities for cultivation from their proximity to what is probably a never-failing supply of fresh water. Here, at the end of the dry season, and before the periodical rains had fairly set in, we found the stream at halfway up to be about six feet in average breadth, slowly running over a shallow, gravelly, or earthy bed, with occasional pools from two to four feet in depth.


I have alluded to this subject at greater length than under ordinary circumstances I would have done, in the belief that, should a settlement ever be established at Cape York, the strip of good land that runs along the upper part of Mew River may hereafter be turned to good account. Several other valleys watered by small and apparently permanent streams were discovered by our shooting parties, chiefly by Wilcox and the sergeant of marines; these were afterwards visited by me, and my opinion of the productiveness of the country about Cape York almost daily became more and more favourable the further I extended my excursions.

I need scarcely repeat the arguments which have been adduced in favour of the expediency, I may almost say necessity, of establishing a military post, or small settlement of some kind, in the vicinity of Cape York, simply because, while perfectly agreeing with Mr. Jukes and several other persons who have drawn the public attention to the subject, I have little in addition to offer. Still a few words on the question may not be out of place.

[Footnote. Voyage of the Fly volume 1 page 302.]


The beneficial results to be looked for were such a settlement to be formed would be:

1. A port of refuge would be afforded to the crews of vessels wrecked in Torres Strait, and its approaches, who otherwise must make for Booby Island, and there await the uncertainty of being picked up by some passing vessel, or even attempt in the boats to reach Coupang in Timor, a distance of 1100 miles further. And now that the settlement at Port Essington has been abandoned the necessity for such a place of refuge is still greater.

2. Passing vessels might be supplied with water and other refreshments, also stores, such as anchors, etc., which last are frequently lost during the passage of the Strait.

3. The knowledge of the existence of such a post would speedily exercise a beneficial influence over our intercourse with the natives of Torres Strait, and induce them to refrain from a repetition of the outrages which they have frequently committed upon Europeans; the little trade in tortoiseshell which might be pushed in the Strait (as has frequently been done before by small vessels from Sydney and even from Hong Kong) would no longer be a dangerous one and protection would be afforded to the coaling depot for steamers at Port Albany.

[Footnote. I adduce this last advantage on the presumption, which now assumes a greater degree of probability than before that the steam communication before alluded to will be established, and that the Torres Strait route, the one which is almost generally advocated, will be the one adopted.]

4. In a military point of view the importance of such a post has been urged upon the ground, that in the event of war, a single enemy’s ship stationed in the neighbourhood, if previously unoccupied, could completely command the whole of our commerce passing through the Strait.

5. From what more central point could operations be conducted with the view of extending our knowledge of the interior of New Guinea by ascending some of the large rivers of that country, disemboguing on the shores of the Great Bight?

6 and last. But on this point I would advance my opinion with much diffidence I believe that were a settlement to be established at Cape York, missionary enterprise, JUDICIOUSLY CONDUCTED, might find a useful field for its labours in Torres Strait, beginning with the Murray and Darnley Islanders, people of a much higher intellectual standard than the Australians, and consequently more likely to appreciate any humanising influence which might be exercised for their benefit.


Several kangaroos or wallabies, the largest of which weighed forty pounds, were killed during our stay at Cape York. A kangaroo dog belonging to Captain Stanley made several fine runs, all of them unsuccessful however, as the chase was seldom upon open ground, and there was little chance of overtaking the kangaroo before it got into some neighbouring thicket where the dog could not follow it. This wallaby proved to be the Halmaturus agilis, first found at Port Essington, and afterwards by Leichhardt in Carpentaria. A singular bat of a reddish-brown colour was shot one day while asleep suspended from a branch of a tree; it belonged to the genus Harpyia, and was therefore a contribution to the Australian fauna.

Among many additions to the ornithological collections of the voyage were eight or nine new species of birds, and about seven others previously known only as inhabitants of New Guinea and the neighbouring islands. The first of these which came under my notice was an enormous black parrot (Microglossus aterrimus) with crimson cheeks; at Cape York it feeds upon the cabbage of various palms, stripping down the sheath at the base of the leaves with its powerful, acutely-hooked upper mandible. The next in order of occurrence was a third species of the genus Tanysiptera (T. sylvia) a gorgeous kingfisher with two long, white, central tail-feathers, inhabiting the brushes, where the glancing of its bright colours as it darts past in rapid flight arrests the attention for a moment ere it is lost among the dense foliage.

[Footnote. Many of these have since been figured and described, with accompanying notes on their habits, etc., in the recently published Supplement to Mr. Gould’s Birds of Australia.]

I may next allude to Aplonis metallica a bird somewhat resembling a starling, of a dark glossy green and purple hue, with metallic reflections in connection with its singular nest. One day I was taken by a native to the centre of a brush, where a gigantic cotton-tree standing alone was hung with about fifty of the large pensile nests of this species.


After I had made several unsuccessful attempts to shoot down one of the nests by firing with ball at the supporting branch, the black volunteered to climb the tree, provided I would give him a knife. I was puzzled to know how he proposed to act, the trunk being upwards of four feet in diameter at the base, and the nearest branch being about sixty feet from the ground. He procured a tough and pliant shoot of a kind of vine (Cissus) of sufficient length to pass nearly round the tree, and holding one end of this in each hand and pressing his legs and feet against the tree, he ascended by a series of jerks, resting occasionally, holding on for half a minute at a time with one end of the vine in his mouth. At length he reached the branches and threw me down as many nests as I required. He afterwards filled the bag which he carried round his neck with the unfledged young birds, which on our return to the native camp on the beach were thrown alive upon the fire, in spite of my remonstrances, and when warmed through were devoured with great apparent relish by himself and his friends.


Two days before we left Cape York I was told that some bowerbirds had been seen in a thicket, or patch of low scrub, half a mile from the beach, and after a long search I found a recently constructed bower, four feet long and eighteen inches high, with some fresh berries lying upon it. The bower was situated near the border of the thicket, the bushes composing which were seldom more than ten feet high, growing in smooth sandy soil without grass.

Next morning I was landed before daylight, and proceeded to the place in company with Paida, taking with us a large board on which to carry off the bower as a specimen. I had great difficulty in inducing my friend to accompany me, as he was afraid of a war party of Gomokudins, which tribe had lately given notice that they were coming to fight the Evans Bay people. However I promised to protect him, and loaded one barrel with ball, which gave him increased confidence, still he insisted upon carrying a large bundle of spears and a throwing-stick. Of late Paida’s tribe have taken steps to prevent being surprised by their enemies. At night they remove in their canoes to the neighbouring island Robumo, and sleep there, returning in the morning to the shore, and take care not to go away to a distance singly or unarmed.

While watching in the scrub I caught several glimpses of the tewinya (the native name) as it darted through the bushes in the neighbourhood of the bower, announcing its presence by an occasional loud churrrr, and imitating the notes of various other birds, especially the leatherhead. I never before met with a more wary bird, and for a long time it enticed me to follow it to a short distance, then flying off and alighting on the bower, it would deposit a berry or two, run through, and be off again (as the black told me) before I could reach the spot. All this time it was impossible to get a shot. At length, just as my patience was becoming exhausted, I saw the bird enter the bower and disappear, when I fired at random through the twigs, fortunately with effect. So closely had we concealed ourselves latterly, and so silent had we been, that a kangaroo while feeding actually hopped up within fifteen yards, unconscious of our presence until fired at. My bowerbird proved to be a new species, since described by Mr. Gould as Chlamydera cerviniventris, and the bower is exhibited in the British Museum.

Among the gamebirds of Cape York, the emu is entitled to the first rank. Only two or three, however, were seen, and we were not fortunate enough to procure one. One day an emu allowed me to approach within fifty yards by stalking it cautiously, holding up a large green bough before me, when, becoming alarmed, it darted in its fright into a thicket and was lost to view.


Many brush turkeys (Talegalla lathami) were shot by our sportsmen, and scarcely a day passed on which the natives did not procure for us some of their eggs. The mode in which these and other eggs are cooked by the blacks is to roll them up in two or three large leaves, and roast them in the ashes; the eggs burst, of course, but the leaves prevent the contents from escaping. Both bird and eggs are excellent eating; the latter, averaging three and a half inches in length, of a pure white colour, are deposited in low mounds of earth and leaves in the dense brushes in a similar manner to those of the megapodius, and are easily dug out with the hand. I have seen three or four taken out of one mound where they were arranged in a large circle, a foot and a half from the surface. The laying bird carefully effaces any mark she may have made in scooping out a place for the eggs, but the keen eye of a native quickly detects the slightest sign of recent disturbance of the mound, and he seldom fails to hit upon the eggs.


As at Port Essington, the year at Cape York is divided into two seasons, the dry and the rainy. From personal observation and other sources of information, it would appear that the limits and duration of these admit of so much variation that it is impossible to determine with certainty, even within a month, when one ceases and the other begins. It would appear however that the dry season, characterised by the prevalence of the south-east trade, usually terminates in November, the change having for some time previous been indicated by calms, light winds, sometimes from the westward, a gloomy unsettled appearance in the weather, and occasional showers violent squalls of wind and rain are frequent about this time until the westerly breezes set in, when the weather becomes moderate with frequent rain, occasionally very heavy, and intervals, often of many days duration, of dry weather. In the month of March the south-east trade usually resumes its former influence, the change being often attended with the same thick squally weather, and perhaps a gale from the north-west, which ushered in the westerly monsoon.

[Footnote. The natives of the neighbouring Prince of Wales Island distinguish the dry season (aibu or the fine weather) the wet (kuki or the North-West wind which then prevails) and the period of change (malgui) equivalent to our Spring and Autumn.]


Our own experience of the winds during our last stay at Cape York, at the period when the change of the monsoon was to be expected, may be summed up as follows. During the month of October the trade-wind prevailed, keeping pretty steady at East-South-East, and generally blowing rather strongly, with hazy weather and an occasional shower. For three days in the middle of the month we experienced light north-westerly winds dying away again in the evening, and on the 25th a violent squall from the same quarter accompanied by very heavy rain rendered it expedient that the ship should next day be moved a cable’s length further offshore. During the four last days in the month we had calms and light winds from the northward of east, as if the trade were about to cease, but it commenced afresh and continued until the 26th of November, generally very moderate, with fine weather. During the last six days of our stay we had light airs from about North-West, succeeded in the evening by a slight puff of south-easterly wind followed by a calm lasting all night. Last year, during the month of October, we experienced no northerly or westerly winds, but a moderate trade prevailed throughout, pretty steady at East-South-East, but varying much in strength.


In a place situated like Cape York, only about 640 miles distant from the equator, the atmospheric temperature may be expected to be very high; still the heat, although occasionally very oppressive for a time, caused very different sensations from those experienced during the almost stifling calms of Port Essington. At Cape York, however, calms seldom lasted above a few hours, as from its peninsular position the land receives the full influence of nearly every breeze. An abstract of the thermometrical observations made on board the Rattlesnake shows the following results:


October 1848 : 81 : 85 : 77 5.
October 1849 : 81 : 83 8 : 78 7.
November 1849 : 81 9 : 84 8 : 79.

During the above period, the highest and lowest temperatures recorded by the self-registering maximum and minimum thermometer are, for October 1848, 88 and 73 degrees; for October 1849, 83.8 .and 77 degrees; and for November 1849, 88 and 76 degrees.