Excursions in the Swan River Colony by William Taylor Jay
… each took a knapsack containing biscuits, tea, salt peppers and tobacco, a tinder box and matches, a small tin can to boil water in & a bottle to carry the same, & a sketch book, each had a gun or rifle and the its accompaniments, and one thing extra the Sergeant was blessed with, a spade to dig for water. Thus equipped we left Freemantle with the determination of remaining away three or four days, but which afterwards proved a fortnight – generally walking about sixteen miles daily – some days living sumptuously on wild ducks, swans, shags, Kangaroos, parrots, cockatoos, paroquets and pigeons &c and even rats we did not scruple to cook and good eating we found them, & on other days we had nothing but hard biscuits and little water – none of these luxuries were met with within twenty miles of Freemantle.
At night after digging for water which was the most laborious part of our daily occupations we made a fire, cooked our dinner (when fortunate enough to have any thing to cook) smoked our pipes, drank tea, and then laid ourselves under a bush with each his knapsack for his pillow and a gun for his bedfellow.
We constantly arose from our sweet slumbers a little before day-light, added fuel to our fire a practice we most strictly adhered to of keeping fire in through the night both for warmth and to attract moschettos and other flying insects from our tender skins, made tea and partook of breakfast, filled our bottles (quart botle) with a fluid at S: R: erroniously termed “Aqua pura” – the allowance for the day so that we might not be compelled to dig for it oftener than absolute necessity required, shouldered our knapsacks and tramped off until either stopped by the beauty of the scenery, an extraordinary plant, a precious mineral or a curious insect, or the enormous heat of the sun at mid-day forced us to seek some shady retreat from twelve till two o’clock which time was rationally spent in making notes, sketching or inhaling the gass of that inestimable plant Nicotiana – from two o’clock we walked till six & then prepared for the coming night.
5 February 1830.
Leading this gipsy kind of life for fourteen days and walked upwards of 200 miles in a circuitous semicircular direction, first steering … from Freemantle, leaving Clarence Town a little more than two miles to the right, and passing several salt water lagoons, some upwards of two miles in circumference possessed with the appearance of all being united into one immense sheet of water during the rainy seasons and extending upwards of fifteen miles interrupted every half mile by a profusion of rushes, Grass trees, or large thickets which is almost the only underwood of any quantity for many miles around Freemantle – the country having been kept in a general fire by the natives either for the purpose of anoying the settlers or killing their food, (the latter I should deem most probable) these lagoons are frequented by a few swans pelicans, cranes, and myriads of wild ducks which afford considerable amusement to the industrious part of Mr T. Peel’s community, many of them are so far under the influence of some sluggish disease that they are actually too indolent even to build themselves a common hut of sufficient dimensions to cover their delicate personages. Near one of these superb lagoons we indulged ourselves the first night with the intention of proceeding the same course next morn.
6 February 1830.
On quitting the coast we met several natives, all armed with spears, but very peaceably inclined, we much excited their curiosity, for often would they collect around us, burst into roars of laughter, eye us from head to foot, pull our clothes and seem anxious to touch every thing we possessed excepting our guns, which they much dreaded, we made them shew us where to find water (water they call Moka) and gave them a few biscuits; they accompanied us perhaps a mile, until suddenly one gave a loud yell and they left us. We took up our séjour the second night in the invirons of a wood, hard by a Native well in view of the Murry river and satiated our craving appetites with a plentiful repast consisting of stewed pigeons and boiled samphire.
7 February 1830.
After breakfast, and prior to Sun rise we reached an arm of Murray River (exactly … of Clarence Town & distant about … miles) and within gun shot of hundreds of Black Swans we each fired and killed several and to our satisfaction discovered very many more unable to fly, not from, the effects of our guns, but moulting – this added considerably to our days enjoyment for no sooner did we perceive it than each furnished himself with a pole, undressed and with the two dogs plunged in and gave chase sometimes up to our middles in water, at other it scarcely covered our ankles; In thus amusing ourselves we spent two hours and were successful in killing five. We then conveyed our baggage across (the mouth of the Estuary, (a space of about 200 yards and not exceeding three feet of water in the deepest part) and paced its rushy banks (towards the sea coast[?]).
8 February 1830.
Conjecturing that we should be fortunate in discovering good land on the banks of the M:R: it was resolved that we should pay a visit of at least another days journey towards its source – Pursuant to this resolution, after walking about nine miles through the midst of barren undulated plains, rushy moors and sloping woodlands we came to a little hill running down to the waters edge, from whence projected numerous coral rocks, some having the appearance of trees and shrubs, presenting a kind of petrified grove. They struck us with amazement knowing them to be mere productions of nature, who, in solitude, had, in her frolicksome moments, formed the scene as it were for her own amusement. We discerned from the summit of a hill a native fire and on directing our course thither had the gratification of witnessing their method of catching fish which they very dexterously accomplish with a spear, we saw them kill upwards of half a hundred weight in a short time and seldom miss the object thrown at, but their mode of cooking it was really curious and one that can scarcely be surpassed at home by an English cook. They first take out the inside, and extract every bone without breaking the fish in any very perceptable manner, then wash them and fold each separately in the bark of the Tea tree, which being of a porous nature they immerse in water; afterwards, placing them on stick laid purposely over a slow fire, so cook them by a process of evaporation, this bark contains a slight acidity which adds greatly to the flavour of the fish. We had the honor of making a sumptuous meal with these natives and in return for their generosity presented them with a couple of pigeons and a few biscuits. They also use the bark of the Tea tree when drinking by putting a layer to float upon the water (in a well for example) and placing their lips to it, suck the water through to preclude any insects or extraneous body entering their oral regions. Not feeling anxious to take up our nightly residence with these fellows, delayed not our time longer than we were necessitated, but whether owing to curiosity or politeness, I will not presume to say, some would accompany us, although we did every thing in our power to prevail upon them to the contrary and even expressed in their language “Warra” (i.e. go away) and not until the Sergeant espying a Cockatoo proudly displaying his plumage on the top of a lofty tree about 150 yards distant from us and drawing the attention of the natives in that direction, R____ with his rifle shot it which so astounded them that they stood motionless until taking a sudden leap they scampered off making the most horred yell imaginable and in a few seconds not one of our black associates was to be seen. Thus freed, we journeyed onwards in search of a convenient spot where on to rest our wearied limbs and seek a sweet repose during the night.
9 February 1830.
We were here sheltered from the sun by peppermint trees that seemed to bow with allurement to the Zephyrs of the water and it was not until 9 o’clock a.m. that we could find in our hearts to leave it and then bidding adieu to Murray River, steered inland passed through a forest at least 3 miles where there were many beautiful trees but not of that magnitude one would have expected, over a plain where innumerable horizontal as well as parallel strata of rocks are scattered over on a bed of red ferruginous sand, a few sickly looking shrubs attempting to desplay themselves but are overtopped by Grass Trees, the predominant characteristics of bad soil. But still farther inland we discovered a few patches (about an acre each) of better soil land than any we had before seen, varying from mould to red marl, but exhibiting too much the sandy properties of Freemantle.
We were now about twenty miles from the Sea shore, if we turned our course in that direction we calculated that we must traverse at least 15 miles (to the Banks of the M:R:) ere our wants could be supplied but the Sergeant deeming that a retreat and contrary to his opinion of champaigning defeated the idea – towards the mountains we were fearful success would not attend us, and homewards we were not inclined, therefore Southwards was now our course from 2 o’clock p.m. and not until 5 that evening (walking at the rate of 3 miles pr hour) did we see a tree a foot in circumference – an hour more brought us to a thinly wooded country much resembling both in trees and soil the few patches we discovered in the earlier part of the day – we dug for water, but in vain, it was here more precious than Gold – our dogs were lame and parched with thirst but Pity bestowed on them the little water that remained in our flasks. We were fatigued, and lay down to rest, but thirst prevented our sleeping.
At 8 o’clock p.m. we renewed our journey determined not to stop until we had found water but this long wished for draught was not obtained before one o’clock a.m. and then by our dogs disturbing a number of wild ducks, which noise soon evinced us of our approach to water, it was a salt water lagoon; we dug within a few feet of it, and ere exceeding the depth of two spades the Sergeant had a can to his lips and no infant could have have adhered more firmly to the breast of its mother or lover to the cheek of his mistress than the poor fellow did to his can. And not less anxious to take this ambrosial draught were R____ , myself and our faithful companions (the dogs) After we had allayed our thirst each lay down, for we were too fatigued to kindle a fire though wood was at hand, too fatigued to eat though we had not eaten since morning and too fatigued to sleep though sleepy – we were heated and restless – we became chilled and our muscles grew sore and stiff.
10 February 1830.
On raising my eyelids my first glance was on the Lagoon where again I beheld water fowl in profusion, I crept to the water’s edge and shot a brace, but no dogs came to my assistance – I called to no effect – one I beheld unable to move, his feet were so blistered by the hot sands and the other lay lifeless (we believe from drinking too much water) however R____ did the office of a dog in this instance and we were soon able to compensate for the meals we had in arrear. After we had partaken of these ducks (4 o’clock p.m.) R____ and myself strolled round the Lagoon, one going to the right, the other to the left, leaving the Sergeant and dog in care of our knapsacks &c. Half an hour after we had parted and both being almost at the opporte extremity of the Lagoon from whence we started, I was alarmed by the report of R____ rifle attended with loud shouts of “Look out J__” “Look out, shoot the D___ls shoot” and scarcely had the words reached my ears, when lo! more like Life guardsmen than birds, three Emus or Cassowarys passed within two yards of me. I fired and missed but the contents of my second barrel lodged in the head of one of these Monsters. It was almost as much as I could carry and on meeting R____ found he had a similar burthen which afforded considerable astonishment to the Sergeant who suspended them from the branches of a tree and soon deprived them of their skins giving to our habitation more the appearance of a butchers shambles than a Swan River Château.
We were now puzzled to know the best method of cooking our game, one felt a relish for a boiled joint, a second for a stew and a third maintained that he would have it roasted, however this last proposition was not acceeded to, therefore as there was an abundance we came to an agreement that every man should cook for himself. Our first care was to make a tremendous fire which being done the two former processes were soon in a forward way while the latter had nearly been left in the lurch for want of a dish – At length with much difficulty a large stone was procured and sunk in the grown [sic] to bring it to a proper level with the fire and on it the thigh of an Emu was placed greatly resembling a fine leg of mutton – The boiled was done first, but proved so excessively tough that neither of us would eat it especially as we expected something something more favourable would attend one of the others, the dog therefore reaped the benefit of that – next the stew came which was universally approved and deemed equal to jugged hare – and last the roast which might have been tolerable eating had the cook been in possession of suitable requisites for basting besides having just made a hearty meal we were little inclined to give it a fare trial.
11 & 12 February 1830.
At an early hour next morning I was disturbed by the Sergeant requesting medical attendance, he was afflicted with a severe attack of the prevailing complaint Dysentery which not only excited much alarm but put my Physical knowledge to the test, for how to relieve him I hardly knew. My Prescription was half a teaspoonful of Cayenne pepper in a pint of Saltwater, to be taken immediately.
The draught had the desired effect which being followed up by a corresponding one and several cans of Emu broth, were the means of placing the Sergeant once more in an able condition to march; but not until the ninth morning. During this detention (after seeing the Sergeant had every thing we could procure for his comfort) R____ and myself walked about the neighbourhood and found several acres of tolerable land but too small a quantity to entice any one to settle there.
13 February 1830.
The result of thus far of our expedition sufficiently demonstrated that good land if there were any must be sought further to the Southward and far from being descouraged by the fatigues and perils which we had encountered determined on visiting Port Lechenault, considering that portion of the Settlement we had left behind (with the exception of a few acres) must be devoted to complete and hopeless sterility and ever remain unoccupied by the agriculturist. Little more than four hours walk brought us to the banks of the River in quest.
… this land was represented in still more brilliant colours than before and not to be outried even at V:D:L: or Sydney – Now as far as R____ and myself could judge, this land is formed from the decomposition of organized vegetable substances and quartzose sand on a basis of limestone or what is here termed coral, moistened daily by the over flow of the river at high water and particularly if a sea breeze sets in with the tide. It certainly bears a very fertile appearance when compared to the neighbouring land.
I consider this land, in comparison, as much too swampy for cultivation as other parts of the country too dry. More or less in this manner the country continues for six or seven miles to almost the Northern extremity of the æstuary where the land rises and exhibits a red ferruginous sandy loam in patches with quartzose sand, here the Spotted gum Swamp Oak, Tea Tree and Banksia seemed to have been equally attracted by a dryer soil and more in union with each other than any which had before come under our observation so much so that they proved a great obstacle to the prolongation of our days march in as much as it drew rapidly towards the close of the Evening and here we rested from the fatigues of a ninth days journey.
14 February 1830.
Earlier than usual the following morning we continued our route determined to see Cape Cassuarina ere night. Directing our path SW about seven miles leaving the æstuary to the left and passing over what Captn Sterling has represented in the chart as “Undulated grass plains” but which we found undulated sand plains scarcely differing a degree from that we discovered opposite Mangles Bay. Then going exactly Sth brought us to the river within a few miles of its entrance. Here the country is thinly wooded and Grass Trees again become the predominant features, we paced the banks of the river until obtaining a distant view of Cape Cassuarina projecting into the sea. A consultation was now held to determine the best method of crossing the river before night as neither felt desirous to bathe previous to sun rise the next morning. It was resolved that R____ being the taller should attempt to cross alone, which to our satisfactory astonishment he accomplished in less than five feet of water; we required no persuasion to follow him carrying the baggage upon our heads. This event necessarily proves an impediment to navigation. After we had chosen an agreeable spot some twenty yards from the water between two immense sandhills for our nightly sojourn, enjoyed a bountiful meal of Shags and Pigeons in which both the river and ajoining country abound, and retired to rest, we were disturbed by hearing the noise of natives and on approaching the summit of one of the sand hills we had the gratification of beholding on the opposite side of the river twenty or thirty dancing with each a stick flaming a vivid blue light in their hands which they waved to and fro as they passed each other at the same time sending forth a kind of wild chaunt which would not have been descordant to the ear of a Terpsichore. The scene appeared like magic, the lights were so beautifully and so dexterously waved around and across each other. We watched them above half and hour when R____ shouted their native cry and in an instant the lights were extinguished and total silence ensued. No one we believe as yet ascertained what the nature of this ceremony could have been, there is however something misterious about it as they are known to be very superstitious and have never on any other occasion been seen after dark.
16 February 1830.
Anxiously wishing to find the source of Port Lechenault we rose early and traced its banks through a variety of beautiful valleys occasionally having to cross a brook or dribbling stream faintly extending its particles in a zigzag direction towards the deep and almost motionless waters of the river to which we paid duly homage by taking a copious draught.
After three hours walking every step seemed to intimate our approach to its source, its briny taste had vanished its sides inclined towards each other and two hours more the assistance of several rivolets were unable to prevent our fording it without wetting our knees. A little more than three miles farther the river divides into two equal branches†, one seeming to come from the … the other in … direction from the mountains, the latter we traced through a winding valley (about four miles in extent) at the end of which the rivers turns abruptly and the mountains become an object of admiration on the opposite side of a plain of forty or fifty acres where almost every step disturbed a Kangaroo or Wallaby to our great amusement.
17 February 1830.
At day break our exertions were first lead to the ascent of the highest mountain near (about 1500 feet) opining from such an eminence we should be competent of judging the best course to persue and have at least a view of that “Extensive champagne country, rich in soil &c &c &c” recorded in Captn Sterling’s account of Swan River. After an hours fatigue we reached the summit commanding a view of not less than forty or fifty miles extent of land and where we enjoyed a short respite. This view comprehends an immense mass of forest country broken only by a glimps of some parts of Port Lechenault and neighbouring lagoons trees and at our backs nothing could we see but a plurality of mountains after mountains all possessing the same appearance as the one we stood upon. Its sides were entirely covered with pieces of stone, rocks, quartz, granite, ironstone and a few Grass trees, but on the summit trees of some height were to be found and unwieldy masses of granite. Instead of ascending more we descended and wound round the base of the next in range; but in going down we were struck by finding a deep hole the exact shape of a coffin, with the earth recently dug up – which must have been made by some of the Aborigines whose foot steps remained impressed in the newly turned soil …
As we rounded the next in succession we were greeted by the sight of a number of the largest blocks of granite I ever witnessed, some of them very beautiful, displaying a scintillatious appearance as the sun shon upon them which cannot be passed unnoticed by the traveller and not less in many instances than forty or fifty feet in height. We also found feldspar in a state of translucent crystallization forming oblique angle parallelopiped prisms and mica in small thin plates.
Following this valley which I have little doubt is the course of the winter floods and which seemed to prognosticate we were on the right road for water, we passed around the base of several mountains apparently loftier than the one we had ascended, and about three hours brought us to a scene (if my meaning can be understood) awfully grand, on each side of us was a steep mountain literally deprived of all symptoms of vegetation and jutting out innumerable large rocks that seem only to await the commands of Nature that they may hurry with impetuous velocity down the mountn side and crush all beneath them.
A few minutes soon brought us out of this into a more open valley than any we had we had before visited amidst the Darling Range but altogether incapable of cultivation, the superfices are covered with stones, many of amazing dimensions and here and there on the sides of the hills a blighted shrub attempts to shew itself lift its faint head above the rocks while in the valley a crooked tree occasionally attracted our attention; above our heads a number of Eagles hovered, sending forth cries that seemed to hint we were by no means welcome visitors and to our amaze soon proved it, for we had not extended our walk far ere discovering an unfortunate Kangaroo rat scarcely dead with its entrails torn out, which might have afforded a delicate nunchion had it been properly cooked, but hot luncheons being contrary to our accustomed habits and fearful of idling our time; the dog I believe shared the better part, no doubt to the great envy of his aerial observers.
In following the vale which lead us into the interior of the range a distance of about twelve miles where there is the appearance of a dried lake enclosed by mountains on all sides excepting where we entered – we dug for water but were unsuccessful therefore ascended the mountn (which is bicipital) farthermost within the range hoping it to be the last and that we should be able to see a more levil country, but to our utter disappointment we were environed by Mountains and as far as the eye could discern inland there was nothing but a continuation of range beyond range.
It was now nearly five o’clock and we began to descend (on the inland side) in order to discover water at the base we crossed the bed of a stream which consisted of a broad smooth sheet of granite and on following it came to some ravines, (in winter would be termed cataracks) at the bottom we found water of a very bad taste but of which thirst compelled us to partake. The non-accommodations here for our nightly residence forced us to proceed onwards and bending our course round the base of several mountain in a circuitous direction and perceiving no prospect of obtaining water we felt persuaded our better plan would be to lean our way once more a little to the eastward. Under such circumstances, if we crossed over one mountain we certainly crossed a dozen which with the different ascents and descents I am positive we walked upwards of fifteen miles until necessitated by fatigue to surrender and submit to the bare soil for our beds and the little stagnant water that remained in our bottles (for we had not filled them in the hope of being more fortunate) was the only relief for our parched mouths.
18 February 1830.
Before the dawn of morn our repose was disturbed by so heavy a shower of rain that we were nearly swept from our beds by the torrent, accompanied by frequent lightning and loud claps of thunder which being reiterated by the mountains produced a scene indescribably terrific, and although deprived of our quantum of sleep and thoroughly drenched to the skin, never was rain more welcomed by the agriculturest than by us at this moment, we were enabled to catch a sufficiency in the cans to alley our thirst which had now become almost intolerable, and also to replenish our bottles with acqua pura del cielo.
The only resource now left for our own comfort was to make the best of our way out of the Darling range, and moreover to prevent our taking cold proceeded on our home ward way before day light, having no fuel to kindle a fire so that we might cook a breakfast. This day was a tiresome one, the rain continued best part of the morning which made our walk laborious, we had no spirits left to amuse each other, no relish for the scenery, even conversation was an anoyance and I verily believe half an hour frequently elapsed without a syllable being uttered, but mutually determined not to stop until having cleared the mountains, about three of the Clock p.m. we arrived on the summit of “Mount William” (which we think is not so high as represented in the chart) where to our gratification perceived a resting place for our wearied limbs again on level ground. We made an immense fire, boiled the little water left in our bottles, enjoyed a meal of tea and biscuits, (the only obtainable ingrediences for our palates) and retired to rest a few minutes after four o’clock.