From the diaries
The direction of the coast, which had been north to north-west the day before, was now again W.N.W.. The shore is very low and broken, with many dry rocks and banks lying near it; and in the space of seven or eight miles we had counted 5 small openings, and behind them some lagoons were perceived from the mast head. The Abel Tasman's River of the old chart is marked in about this situation; and however little these shallow openings and salt lagoons resemble a river, there is no other place to which the name could have been applied.
Many rocks are scattered along the east side of this land; some of them are steep, and one, which we approached within a mile soon after one o'clock, resembled the crown of a hat. The main coast on the south side of the opening had been seen extending W. N. W., two or three leagues from the sandy head; it was low as ever, and there was no appearance of the northern land, which was hilly and rocky, being connected with it; and I therefore called the separated piece Vanderlin's Island.
I landed early in the morning, with the botanical gentlemen; and amongst them set the craggy north end of the western island, which I call Cape Pellew.
On our return to the ship, we steered for the opening between Cape Vanderlin and Cape Pellew. An outer rocky islet next Cape Vanderlin bore N. 70º E., and a small island within half a mile of the ship covered five points in the south-eastern quarter. The botanical gentlemen landed abreast of the ship, and Lieutenant Flinders went to commence observations on the small island, thence called Observation Island. My attention was attracted by a cove in the western shore, upon the borders of which, more abundantly than elsewhere, grew a small kind of cabbage palm, from whence it was called Cabbage-tree Cove. This presented the appearance of a complete little harbour; and supposing it to afford fresh water, was just such a place as I wished for the ship, during the time necessary for making an examination of the islands in my whale boat. I found the cove to run near two miles into the island, and there was a small rill at the
head; but unfortunately, the depth was insufficient for the ship.
In the morning I took the ship over to Cape Vanderlin; both for the convenience of the survey, and to give the botanical gentlemen a better opportunity of examining that island, which appeared to be the most interesting, as it was the largest of the group. The highest parts of Cape Vanderlin are hillocks of almost bare sand; on the isthmus behind it were many shrubs and bushes, and amongst the latter was found a small nutmeg, in tolerable abundance. The fruit was small, and not ripe; but the mace and the nut had a hot, spicy taste.
Two canoes found on the shore of North Island were formed of slips of bark, like planks, sewed together, the edge of one slip overlaying another, as in our clincher-
built boats; their breadth was about two feet, but they were too much broken for the length to be known. I cannot be certain that these canoes were the fabrication of the natives, for there were some things near them which appertained, without doubt, to another
people, and their construction was much superior to that of any part of Terra Australis hitherto discovered; but their substance of bark spoke in the affirmative.
The same degree of doubt was attached to a small monument found on the same island. Under a shed of bark were set up two cylindrical pieces of stone, about eighteen inches long; which seemed to have been taken from the shore, where they had been made smooth from rolling in the surf, and formed into a shape something like a nine pin. Round each of them were drawn two black circles, one towards each end; and between them were four oval black patches, at equal distances round the stone, made apparently with charcoal. The spaces between the oval marks were covered with white down and feathers, stuck on with the yolk
of a turtle's egg, as I judged by the gluten and by the shell lying near the place. Of the intention in setting up these stones under a shed, no person could form a reasonable conjecture; the first idea was, that it had some relation to the dead, and we dug underneath to satisfy our curiosity; but nothing was found. This simple monument is represented in the annexed plate, with two of the ducks near it: the land in the back ground is Vanderlin's Island,
Indications of some foreign people having visited this group were almost as numerous, and as widely extended as those left by the natives. Besides pieces of earthen jars and trees cut with axes, we found remnants of bamboo lattice work, palm leaves sewed with cotton thread into the form of such hats worn by the Chinese, and the remains of blue cotton trowsers, of the fashion called moormans. It was evident that these people were Asiatics, but of what particular nation, or what their business here, could not be ascertained; I suspected them, however, to be Chinese, and that the nutmegs might possibly be their object. From the traces among Wellesley's Islands, they had been conjectured to be shipwrecked people; but that opinion did not now appear to be correct.
In the morning, our course was continued to the northward, leaving extensive land, which I supposed to be the Groote Eylandt of the old charts, six or seven leagues on the starboard. Before commencing the investigation of that island, I wished to trace the main coast further on, and if possible, to give the botanists an opportunity of examining its productions; for it was upon the main that they usually made the most interesting discoveries, and only once, since entering the Gulph of Carpentaria, had we been able to land there. At seven o'clock we edged in for the coast. No part of Groote Eylandt was in sight; but an island of considerable extent and elevation, not noticed in the old chart, lay six or seven miles to the E. N. E.; and I have called it Bickerton's Island, in compliment to Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton. Between it and the main coast is an open space through which, to all appearance from this side, a ship might safely pass. Whilst the botanical gentlemen landed abreast of the ship, I took the whale boat to a woody islet, five miles off, close to Bickerton's Island. The points of the opening to the northward bore N. 18º E. and N. 2½ W.; this last proved afterwards to be a projecting cape, I named it Cape Barrow, after John Barrow, Esq., author of the interesting travels at the Cape of Good Hope
The woody islet is about half a mile long, and though many bushes and some trees grew upon it, is little more that a bed of sand. There were holes in the beach, made by turtle; and besides other proofs of the islet being sometimes visited by the Indians, I found four human skulls lying in the back of the shore. The author of this home page visited the island in 1973 to erect an anemometer and found Flinders' description accurate, except that the skulls were gone.
On the 7th and 8th, the winds hung between S.E. and N.N.E.; and the direction of the south side of Groote Eylandt being nearly east, it took us those days and part of a third, to make the examination, though the extent be little more than twelve leagues. In the afternoon of the 9th, we passed round the south-east rocky point. In the morning of the 14th we weathered many straggling rocks and two islets off the north end of Groote Eylandt, the outer North-point Islet then bore E. 3º S. five miles, and the furthest extreme of a higher cliffy island, S. 38º W. three miles. I went in a boat to this last island with the botanical gentlemen, intending to take bearings from the uppermost cliffs; but the many deep chasms by which the upper parts are intersected, made it impossible to reach the top in the short time we had to spare. This was called Chasm Island.
We found on Chasm Island a fruit which proved to be a new species of eugenia, of the size of an apple, whose acidity of taste was agreeable; there were also many large bushes covered with nutmegs, similar to those seen at Cape Vanderlin; and in some of the chasms the ground was covered with this fruit, without our being able , for some time, to know whence it came. In the steep sides of the chasms were deep holes or caverns, undermining the cliffs; upon the walls of which I found rude drawings, made with charcoal and something like red paint upon the white ground of the rock. These drawings represented porpoises, turtle, kanguroos, and a human hand; and Mr. Westall, who went afterwards to see them, found the representation of a kanguroo, with a file of thirty-two persons following after it. The third person of the band was twice the height of the others, and held in his hand something resembling the whaddie, or wooden sword of the natives of Port Jackson; and was probably intended to represent a chief. They could not, as with us, indicate superiority by clothing or ornament, since they wear none of any kind; and therefore, with the addition of a weapon, similar to the ancients, they seem to have made superiority of person the principal emblem of superior power, of which, indeed, power is usually a consequence in the very early stages of society.
At five we hauled round Chasm Island with 12 fathoms of water, which diminished gradually as we proceeded up the bay. The situation of this bay in Groote Eylandt led me to give it the name of North-west Bay. It is formed on the east and south by that island; and on the west by a separate piece of land which, in honour of the noble possessor of Burley Park, in the county of Rutland, I named Winchilsea Island; and a small isle of greater elevation, lying a short mile to the east of the ship, was called Finch's Island
In the morning we lay up south-west, on the starboard tack, and weathered Winchilsea Island,leaving a rock one mile and a half on the other side. The wind then came a-head, and we tacked towards two small isles, where the anchor was dropped. I went immediately, with the botanical gentlemen, to the southwestern and largest of the two sandy isles. I ascended the highest hillock, which, from the clump of trees upon it, was called Padanus Hill. Some of the trees being cut down, I had a tolerably extensive view of points, and islands before passed; and saw more to the north-westward, behind Wedge Rock, all of which the dutch chart represents as part of the main land. One of these I have called Burney's Island, in complement to captain James Burney of the navy, and another Nicol's Island, after His Majesty's bookseller, the publisher of this work. beyond these was a more extensive land, which also proved to be an island; and its form having some resemblance to the whaddie or woodah, or wooden sword used by the natives of Port Jackson, it was named Isle Woodah A low sandy island, lying four or five miles N. by E. from my station, seems to be the northernmost of the three isles laid down between Groote Eylandt and the main. There was little wood upon the two sandy isles, nor did they furnish any thing new to the botanists; but they were partly covered with long grass amongst which harboured several bustards, and I called the Bustard Isles.