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Commencing with the examination of Exmouth Gulf, the survey embraced in its course the entire line of coast extending to Deputch Island, with the group of islands which front it. The name of Dampier's Archipelago, given to that group by the French, was admitted by the expedition, with the difference only of its being extended to the islands forming the east side of " Mermaid's Straits, which islands are laid down on the French chart as part of the mainland. The whole coast was found composed of very low shores bordered either by “dunes,” or by impervious forests of mangrove trees, beyond which no part of the interior could be seen.
With the natives, both on the mainland and on the small islands fronting it, every means was resorted to for establishing a friendly intercourse. One of them even, while passing from one island to another on a catamaran, formed of two mangrove logs lashed together, and on which he sat astride and paddling with his hands, was intercepted, brought on board, caressed, fed, and sent back to his alarmed friends with presents; but all these attempts proved of no avail, as, with but few exceptions, wherever a necessity for landing occurred, the unfriendly disposition of the natives led them either to oppose it, or to molest the whites when it was effected.
Thé expedition next determined the position of the long shoal called Rowley Shoal, a dangerous reef in the open sea about 120 miles from the coast; and as the easterly monsoon was at hand, it then sailed to the northward, in order to resume the survey at Cape Arnhem, at which point Flinders' survey ceased. Contrary winds, however, only allowed the vessel to reach that part of the coast called Point Braithwaite, from whence it was, that, in proceeding to examine the coast to the westward, Captain King discovered Port Essington, — an important discovery, as its situation
not only connects it with the commercial interests of the opposite islands and settlements, but, in case of war, enables it to protect the passage through Torres Straits. *
* In the address on the anniversary meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, the distinguished President of that Society, Roderick Impey Murchison, Esq., said, in reference to the importance of Port Essington :
“If we are to confide in the clear and decisive testimony of Sir Gordon Bremer and other naval officers, including Captain Sir Everard Home, as well as in that of Mr. Earl and Captain M'Arthur, who have thoroughly examined the regions around it, we should be led to think that in all her schemes of future commerce, Great Britain has rarely had it in her power to place her standard on a more desirable spot than Port Essington. With an outer harbour capable of containing the whole British navy, and an inner harbour in which twenty-five sail of the line can lie at ease; with a climate peculiarly healthy to Europeans ; in which spices, indigo, sugar-canes, the cotton, and the choicest woods, can be grown in abundance, whilst the sea swarms with the finest fish ; this port further offers the great advantage of having a quiet and industrious race of inhabitants in the adjacent islands, who, as well as the more active inhabitants of Timor and the neighbouring isles, and also the Chinese, are ready to flock to the settlement. I am, indeed, led to believe, that no sooner shall our government render Port Essington a permanent and independent colony of the Crown, than several rich mercantile houses in London will at once set up establishments there, and freight large vessels for the trade which they would carry on, through it, with the Eastern Archipelago and China. Already many of the enterprising Malays resort thither for the fisheries, and are ready to exchange their salted fish and other products for British cottons; and as an entrepôt, it is daily becoming more important, from the rapidly increasing intercourse between our Australian and Indian possessions. Grand as is the future prospect of intercourse with India, the Eastern Islands, and China, Port Essington is not, however, to be viewed merely in reference to commerce. As a place of refuge in a wide ocean, it has a strong claim upon our nation, and it has already, even in its infant state, been the means of saving the lives of crews who had taken to their boats even as far off as Torres Straits. In this respect, indeed, a more intimate acquaintance with the Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Straits, so dangerous from the adjacent coral reefs to ships which try that passage, may lead to the discovery of an additional harbour in its vicinity. But independently of this consideration, Port Essington ought to be viewed as a most advantageous naval station for Great Britain in case of war; and with the extension of steam navigation, it is further to be regarded as the point by which, in all probability, our future correspondence with our South Australian colonies might be most expeditiously and beneficially carried on.”
The landing on the northern coast was as much interfered with by the hostility of the natives as that on the western; and on one occasion, when the boat with the principal officers of the expedition was entangled amongst mangroves, this hostility very nearly proved fatal to them, as the concealed natives assaulted them with clubs, spears, and stones : notwithstanding the danger which thus attended the landings, they were persevered in, whenever the interests of the survey and of science required it.
Shortly after the survey of Port Essington was completed, the expedition was forced to return to Port Jackson, owing to the injuries sustained by the vessel, the loss of anchors, and the sickly state of the ship's company.
Their stay in Port Jackson was short, as the anxiety of Captain King to lose no time expedited every necessary arrangement in the outfit. So great, indeed, was the solicitude he evinced for the interests entrusted to his care, that, having some time to spare before the monsoon would allow him to proceed by way of Torres Straits in order to resume his labours, he sailed for Van Diemen's Land, for the purpose of surveying and exploring Macquarie Harbour, and verifying some other positions on its southern coast.
This being accomplished, the expedition returned to Port Jackson, and, immediately after, sailed to the northward and surveyed Port Macquarie, the River Hastings, and Rodd's Bay; re-examining also the position of parts of the great Barrier Reef, and of the numerous bays and inlets of the eastern coast which front it, and which were embraced in the previous survey of the “Investigator.” Where that survey ceased, the survey of Captain King began; and in its course finally led him to the important discovery of the inner route for vessels bound through Torres Straits, and which, in point of easy, safe, and speedy sailing possesses incontestable advantages over that called the outer route.
After rounding Cape York, and passing the Gulf of Carpentaria, the survey of the N.W. coast was resumed at Cape Wessel : in the course of a month it was carried out so as to connect itself with that of the last year; and on comparing the relative meridional distances ascertained in the two surveys, the difference was found to amount only to 1' 2", - an instance of the accuracy of the nautical observations, and the goodness of the chronometer, as gratifying to every lover of exact science as it must have been to Captain King.
Passing Melville and Bathurst Islands, the examination, omitted the previous year, of the coast to the S. W. of Vernon Island was continued. On arriving at Cape Londonderry, the expedition found that the plan of the islands which face it, as given by the French, was, with the exception of Cassini Islands, so defective that many of them could not be recognised. In the space embraced between Cape Bougainville and Cape Voltaire, and which was named Admiralty Gulf, Captain King fixed the position of at least forty islands and inlets.
The leaky state of the vessel, with loss of anchors and want of provisions, compelled the expedition to return to Sydney, which was reached on the 12th January, 1820. On the 21st of June, the repair and refitting being completed, the “ Mermaid ” sailed on her third voyage, being her second through Torres Straits, and resumed the survey. with the coast S. W. of Cape Londonderry, from which, as before said, the French kept at a distance, and were thus prevented not only from noticing the minuter but even some of the main features of the coast. The survey of Montague Sound, York Sound, Prince Frederick Harbour, and the Hunter and Roe River followed ; and there is no doubt that the greater part of the unsurveyed coast laying between Cassini and Deputch Islands would have been also duly examined, had it not been for the leak which the cutter had sprung, the necessary repair of which delayed the expedition at Careening Bay, and ultimately forced it back to Port Jackson.
On her arrival at Sydney in December, 1820, the cutter was condemned, and another vessel being provided, the expedition sailed in May on its fourth voyage, and, passing for the third time through Torres Straits, resumed and completed the survey of the coast-line between Careening Bay and Cape St. Eveque, including its bays, inlets, and rivers, and Buccaneer's Archipelago.
In Hanover Bay, the expedition tried again, by presents and kindness, to conciliate the natives, but on this occasion they showed their inimical disposition more than upon any, as, on the party's turning their backs to regain their boats, the surgeon of the expedition, Mr. Hunter, was dangerously wounded with a spear.
The fatigue of wooding and watering, and the constant harassing employment attendant on the survey of this part of the coast, produced bilious fever attacks amongst the crew, which, together with the dry provisions, much spoilt by rats and cockroaches, and the loss of two anchors, obliged the expedition to seek assistance at the Mauritius. Accordingly, it left the coast in September, and returned to it from Port Louis in December. The examination of the coast from Cape Leeuwin to Rottney Island, which followed, proved that a portion of it was correctly laid down by the French; but as the outline of that part to the northward of Rottney Island, as given in their charts, was chiefly taken from Van Keulan, Captain King made a survey of it, and continued the same to Dirk Hartog's road. The examination of the coast