Quotes from the diaries
At two o'clock, the largest island was seen. At half past five, the largest Island bore S. 36º E. 28º W., one mile and a half. We had scarcely anchored when between forty and fifty Indians came off, in three canoes.
They would not come along-side of the ship, but lay off at a little distance, holding up cocoa nuts, joints of bamboo filled with water, plantains, bows and arrows, and vociferating tooree! Tooree! and mammoosee!. A barter soon commenced, and was carried on in this manner: a hatchet, or other piece of iron (tooree) being held up, they offered a bunch of green plantains, a bow and quiver of arrows, or what they judged would be received in exchange; signs of acceptance being made, the Indian leaped over-board with his barter, and handed it to a man who went down the side of him; and receiving his hatchet, swam back to the canoe. Somehow delivered their articles without any distrust of the exchange, but this was not always the case. Their eagerness to get torree was great, and at first, any thing of the same metal was received; but afterwards, if a nail were held up to an Indian, he shook his head, striking the edge of his right hand upon the left arm, in the attitude of chopping; and he was well enough understood. At sunset, two of the canoes returned to Murray's Island; paddling to windward with more velocity than one of our boats could have rowed; the third set a narrow, upright sail, between two masts in the fore part of the canoe, and steered north-westward, as I judged to Darnley's Island of captain Bligh.
While returning from Tahiti, captain Edwards made the reefs of Torres' Strait. He fell in with three Islands, rather high, which he named Murray's Islands.Some canoes, with two masts, were seen running within side of the reef which lay between the islands and the ship. This reef was of considerable extent; and, during the whole of August 26 and 27 , captain Edward ran along it, without finding a passage through. On the 28 th, a boat was dispatched to examine an opening in the reef. At five in the evening, the boat made a signal for a passage being found; but fearing to venture through so near sunset, captain Edward called the boat on board. In the mean time, a current, or tide, set Pandora upon the reef; and, after beating there till ten o'clock, she went over it into deep water; and sunk in 15 fathoms, at daylight of the 29th. A dry sand bank was perceived within the opening; and thither the boats> repaired with the remaining officers and people; thirty-nine men having lost their lives in the melancholy disaster.
01.09.1792 Bligh and Portlock at Portlock's ReefAt noon, part of the reef, which was named after captain Portlock, seen in the N.N.W., form the mast head. At four o'clock, the vessels edged away round the northern end of the reef.
At noon, their course was interrupted by a reef, which was named Bond's Reef. The north side of the strait being judged impracticable, the wind was again hauled to the southward; and at dusk, the vessels anchored in 37 fathoms, five or six miles of a reef, upon which was a dry bank, called Anchor Key An island of considerable height was then seen from the mast head; Captain Bligh gave it the name of Darnley's Island; and to the space between Portlock's Reef and Bond's Reef, by which the vessels had entered the Strait, that of Bligh's Entrance.
At four o'clock, the vessels anchored. Betwixt a sand-bank, called Canoe Key and a reef lying in the W. by S., there appeared to be a passage, which the boats were sent to examine. Next day, they were again sent to sound the passage. Several large sailing canoes were seen; and the cutter making a signal for assistance, the pinnace was sent to her, well manned and armed. On the return of the boats in the afternoon, it appeared, that, of four canoes which used their efforts to get up to the cutter, one succeeded. There were in it fifteen Indians, black and quite naked; and they made signs which were interpreted amicable. These signs the officer imitated; but not thinking it prudent to go so near as to take a green cocoa-nut, which was held up to him, he continued rowing for the ship. A man, who was sitting upon the shed erected in the centre of the canoe, then said something to those below; and immediately they began to string their bows. Two of them had already fitted arrows, when the officer judged it necessary to fire in his own defence. Six muskets were discharged; and the Indians fell flat into the bottom of the canoe, all except the man on the shed; the seventh musket was fired at him, and he fell also. During this time, the canoe dropped astern; and the three others having joined her, they all gave chase to the cutter, trying to cut her off from the ship; in which they would probably have succeeded, had not the pinnace arrived, at that juncture, to her assistance. The Indians then hoisted their sails, and steered for Darnley's Island.
In sailing from Canoe Key, the vessels had left, on the larbord hand, a long chain of reefs and banks; at the north-west end of which, were three low, woody islands; the nearest of these was named Nepean Island This day, several canoes fromDarnley's Island came off to both vessels.
The boats having found deep water round the north end of the three low islands, the vessels followed them; but anchored again, soon after noon, being sheltered by the two western islands, named Stephen's Island and Campbell's Island, and the reefs which surround them.
At ten o'clock, the vessels were forced to haul the wind to the southward, their course being impeded by reefs; upon one of which, was Pearce's sandy Key. At noon, they anchored under the lee of Dalrymple's Island, the westernmost before seen; but two other islands were then visible; and reefs extended from N. 4º, to S. 55º W., at the distance of three of four miles. Several canoes were lying upon the shore of Dalrymple's Island; but no natives could be distinguished from the ships. When the boats returned, however, from sounding, in the afternoon, they came out upon the beach; waving green branches and clapping upon their heads, in token of friendship. Boats were afterwards sent to them, and were amicably received.
Before two o'clock, an extensive reef, partly dry, to which the name of Dungeness was given, made it necessary to heave to, until the boats had time to sound; after which, captain Bligh bore away along the north side of the reef, and anchored a mile from it. In this situation, Dungeness island, which is low and very woody, bore N. 64º to 87º W. three miles; and a small sandy isle, named Warriours Island, N. 6º to 1º W. four miles.
The boats sounded the channel to the north-west, between Dungeness Island and Warriours Island; and finding sufficient water, the vessels got under way, at noon, to follow them. There were many natives collected upon the shore of Dungeness Island, and several canoes from Warriours Island were about the brig. Presently, captain Portlock made the signal for assistance; and there was a discharge of musketry and some guns, from his vessel and from the boats. Canoes were also coming towards the Providence; and when a musket was fired at the headmost, the natives set up a great shout, and paddled forward in a body; nor was the musketry sufficient to make them desist. The second great gun, loaded with round and grape, was directed, at the foremost of eight canoes, full of men; and the round shot, after raking the whole length, struck the stern. The Indians leaped out, and swam towards their companions; plunging constantly, to avoid the musket balls which showered thickly about them. The squadron then made off, as fast as the people could paddle without shewing themselves; but afterwards rallied at a greater distance, until a shot, which passed over their heads, made them disperse, and give up all idea of any further attack. No arrows fell on board the Providence; but three men were wounded in the Assistant, and one of them afterwards died: The depth to which the arrows penetrated into the decks and sides of the brig, was represented to be astonishing.
Captain Bligh proceeded on his course to the W. N. W., and passed two islands, to which the descriptive names of Turtle-backed Island and The Cap were given. There was a dry sand bearing N. 63º W. two or three miles; between which, and the third high island, called The Brothers, it was judged necessary for the boats to sound. Besides the islands already mentioned, there was in sight a mountainous island, to which the name of Banks was given; also Burke's Island and Mount Cornwallis, on another island, and from behind this last there extended a level land, which was supposed to be a part of the coast of New Guinea.
Captain Bligh proceeded on his course to the W. N. W., and passed two islands, to which the descriptive names of Turtle-backed Island and The cap were given; and, soon after noon, the vessels anchored in 7 fathoms, soft bottom. There was a dry sand bearing N. 63º W. two or three miles; between which, and the third high island, called The Brothers, it was judged for necessary for the boats to sound, before proceeding further. Besides the islands already mentioned, there was in sight a mountainous island, to which the name of was given; also Burke's Island; and Mount Cornwallis, on another island; and from behind this last, to N. 7º W., there extended a level land, which was supposed to be a part of the coast of New Guinea.
The vessels followed the boats to the westward; but were interrupted by reefs, and obliged to anchor again before noon. Two other islands were then in sight; a low one, named Turn-again Island; and Jervis Island, which is rather high. A gale from south-east did not allow Providence and Assistant to proceed onwards for three days.
The vessels passed to windward of the southern reef until half past noon; when they anchored. The sole direction in which the eye could range without being obstructed, was that whence the vessels had come; every where else the view was arrested by rocks, banks and islands. The most extensive of these, was Bank's Island; with a hill upon it named Mount Augustus. Another large island, named Mulgrave;s Island, extended from behind the last to a cluster of rocks. The nearest land, bearing S. 24º E., one mile and a half, was the northwesternmost of three small isles; and to this, the second lieutenant was sent, for the purpose of taking possession of all the islands seen in the Strait, for His Brittanic Majesty George III, with the ceremonies used on such occasions; the name bestowed upon the whole, was Clarence's Archipelago.
North Possession island was found to be little else than a mass of rocks surrounded by a reef; but it was covered with a variety of trees and shrubs. Amongst them was a cluster of cocoa-nut trees, bearing a small, but delicious fruit; and the tree bearing a plum, such as had been seen at Dalrymple'sIsland. Besides these the botanists found the peeha and Taheity; and two new plants, of the size of the common mulberry. One of the class polyadelphia, bears a scarlet, bell-shaped flower, large as the China rose; the other was a species of erythrina, bearing clusters of butterfly-shaped flowers, of a light yellow, tinged with purple; both were entirely destitute of leaves, and their woods remarkably brittle. There did not appear to be any fixed inhabitants upon Possession island; but from a fire which had been recently extinguished, and the shells and bones of turtle scattered around, it was supposed to have been visited not many days before. The bushes were full of green ants; which proved exceedingly troublesome to those who had sufficient hardihood to penetrate their retreats. Another, and larger species of ant, was black; and made its nest by bending and fixing together the leaves, in a round form, so as to be impenetrable to the wet. These, and a small kind of lizard, were all the animals found on the island.
The boats led to the westward, steering for a passage between Mulgrave's Island and Jervis' Island; but seeing it full of rocks and shoals, the vessels anchored; until the boats should sound a-head. On the signal being made for good anchorage further on, the Assistant led to the W. by S.; but on reaching the boats, the bottom was found much inferior; the approach of night, however, obliged captain Bligh to anchor. On clearing the dangerous pass, which captain Bligh named Bligh's Farewell, he anchored in 6 fathoms. When the wind moderated on the 19th, the vessels steered W. by S. until noon. No land was in sight; nor did any thing more obstruct captain Bligh and his associate, in their route to the island Timor. Thus was accomplished, in nineteen days, the passage from the Pacific, or Great Ocean, to the Indian Sea; without other misfortune than what arose from the attack of the natives, and some damage done to the cables and anchors. Perhaps no space of 3½º in length, presents more dangers than Torres' Strait; but with caution and perseverance, the captains Bligh and Portlock proved them to be surmountable; and within a reasonable time; how far it may be advisable to follow their tracks through the Strait, will appear more fully hereafter.
Soon after daylight, the natives were with us again, in seven canoes. Wishing to secure the friendship and confidence of these islanders to such vessels as might hereafter pass through Torres' Strait, and not being able to distinguish any chief amongst them, I selected the oldest man, and presented him with a hand-saw, a hammer and nails, and some other trifles; of all which we attempted to show him the use, but I believe without success; for the poor old man became frightened, on finding himself to be so particularly noticed. Murray's largest Island is nearly two miles long, by something more than one in breadth. On the shore were many huts, surrounded by palisades, apparently of bamboo. There were many Indians sitting in groups upon the shore, and the seven canoes which came off to the ship in the morning, contained from ten to twenty men each, or together, about a hundred. If we suppose these hundred men to have been one half of what belonged to the islands, and to the two hundred men, add as many women and three hundred children, the population of Murray's Isles will amount to seven hundred; of which nearly the whole must belong to the larger island.
At half past two, another small island was in sight, nearly in our track; and not seeing any other island a-head to afford shelter for the night, we came to anchor. A boat was lowered down, and I went on shore with the botanical gentlemen, to look about the island. It is little better than a bank of sand, upon a basis of coral rock; yet it was covered with shrubs and trees so thickly, that in many places they were impenetrable. The north-western part is entirely sand, but there grew upom it numbers of padanus trees, similar to those of the east coast of New South Wales; and around many of them was placed a circle of shells of the chama gigas, or gigantic cockle, the intention of which excited my curiosity. This little island forms a convenient anchorage for the night to a ship passing Torres' Strait; I named it Half-way Island
It appeared that this little island was visited occasionally by the Indians, who obtained from it the fruit of the padanus, and probably turtle, for the marks of them were seen; and the reef furnishes them with cockles, which are of a superior size here to those we had found upon the reefs of the East Coast. There being no water upon the island, they seem to have hit upon the following expedient to obtain it: Long slips of bark are tied round the smooth stems of the padanus, and the lower ends are led into the shells of the cockle placed underneath. By these slips, the rain which runs down the branches and stem of the tree, is conducted into the shells, and fills them at every considerable shower; and as each shell will contain two or three pints, forty or fifty thus placed under different trees will supply a good number of men. A pair of these cockle shells, bleached in the sun, weighed a hundred and one pounds; but still they were much inferior in size to some I have since seen.
In the morning, the wind being more moderate than for two days and at E.S.E., we steered between Hammond's Island and the north-western reef. Another Island appeared beyond Hammond's Island, to the south-west, which, as it had no name, I called Good's Island, after Mr.Good, the botanical gardener.
In the morning, the wind was moderate at E.S.E. and we made sail to get in with the main land to the south of the Prince of Wales' Islands. Between Cape Cornwall and the low main land above set, is the opening called in the old Dutch chart, Speult's River; but which captain Cook, who sailed through it, named Endeavour's Strait. Wallis' Isles are small, low, and rocky, and the northernmost seemed destitute of vegetation. We passed them, steering southward to get in with the main coast; but the shoals forced us to run seven or eight miles to the west, out of sight of land, before regular soundings could be obtained and a southern course steered into the Gulph of Carpentaria.