Narrative of an expedition undertaken for the exploration of the country lying between Rockingham Bay and Cape York, by William Carron

No. III.


From the private log of T. Beckford Simpson, master of the brig “Freak,” giving an account of her proceedings when employed in searching for the papers, &c., connected with the late Mr. Kennedy’s exploring party.

Sunday, April 15, 1849. — At half past one P.M., the Harbinger in company, blowing strong with hard squalls and heavy rain, the appearance of the weather threatening, considered it advisable to anchor under the lee of the North Percy Island, then in sight; at two, bore away for that purpose; at half-past two, rounded the north end of the Island, stretched over towards two small islets, made a short board in, and anchored in thirteen fathoms, about one and a half miles from the shore; the largest islet of the two bearing S. W. by S., Pine Peak just open with the north end of Percy Island.

Shortly after rounding the end of the Island, Jackey and his companions pointed out two men on the island who were waving and making signals for us to land; Jackey firmly asserted they were “white fellow,” he knew them by their walk. After the vessel had anchored, and I had leisure to examine them through the glass, I perceived, whether black or white, they had clothes on; manned the boat and went alongside the Harbinger, when Captain Sampson joined me. As we approached the shore we found Jackey was right, they were Europeans; they represented themselves to be shipwrecked seamen who had been cast away in a schooner named the Bona Vista, from Port Nicholson, bound to Torres Straits for the purpose of obtaining beche-le-mere: we then asked if there were any more men on the island, one of them (Clarke) at first said no, and subsequently stated that another of their companions had left an hour or two ago for the purpose of getting a kettle of water; when last seen he was in a very weak state, and he thought he must be dead; I immediately sent the boat’s crew in different directions to find him, he was found about one hundred yards from where we landed, in a dying state, quite insensible, his eyes fixed and glassy; a little weak brandy and water was given him, which appeared to revive him; sent the boat on board to get restoratives, on her return gave him some arrow-root and port wine; our aid came too late, he was too much exhausted to resuscitate; he died at sunset. We returned on board, taking the two men with us to the Freak.

The conflicting statements given by these men, and the fact of their having at first concealed from us the fact that there was a third man on the island, created suspicion in my mind. I consulted with Captain Sampson, and we decided to remain the next day and examine the place more minutely. Towards midnight hard squalls with heavy rain.

Monday, April 16. — During the night blowing strong from the southeast, with thick rainy weather. In the morning it was reported to me that one of the men (Clarke) that we had taken off the island was tearing up papers and throwing them overboard. I immediately had some of the fragments picked up, I having no doubt their story was a fabrication, and that there was evidently something in these papers they wished to conceal; upon examining the scraps picked up, I found that of an envelope addressed to Matthew Clarke, on board the Marion, Woolwich; on other scraps I found allusions to the unfortunate situation of the individual addressed, with hopes, &c., that at some future period he might return to his family, with remarks about good conduct, which left no doubt on my mind that the man Clarke was a runaway prisoner of the Crown.

At ten A.M. went on shore, and examined the cave in which these men had been living, and made strict search. found a water-breaker, painted stone colour, a small piece of light canvass, apparently part of the fore-and-aft sail of a boat, with a brass thimble in it, a small piece of tarpaulin, with a few strands of fine Manila rope.

The remains of the unfortunate man who died last evening were sewed up, and taken round to the sandy beach opposite the two small islets, and buried on the north end, the funeral service having been read over him. We afterwards landed on other parts of the island, but found nothing that gave any further clue respecting the men found.

North Percy Island.

This island, from what little I saw of it, appears to be composed of a reddish indurated claystone, very hard, portions of it having evidently been under the action of fire; near the water-side were strong indication of iron, some of the small boulders near the beach had large quantities of iron in their composition. On no part of the island where I landed was there coral formation, not even a small fringe reef; at the bottom of some of the small bays, in deep water, I observed only a little coral formation. I landed on one of the small islets to the westward of the main island; I found the body of it composed of trap, scoriae, &c., evident signs of its volcanic origin. On the sea beach I found masses of conglomerate formation, and in the trap occasional lamina of felspar.

The botanical productions of these islands were few, there being but little soil. The most conspicuous were a few stunted amicacia (pine), some small casuarina, and MELALEUCA. Saw no quadrupeds, and but few land birds-some rooks, and some small birds resembling tile swallow.

Many fruitless attempts were made to catch fish. At three, P.M., returned on board.

The following are the voluntary statements of the two men taken off the North Percy Island.

Statement of Matthew Clarke.

“I left Port Nicholson about the middle of last February, in the schooner Bona Vista, about 30 tons burden, Dadds, master, and a crew of six men, bound on a beche-le-mere voyage to Torres’ Straits. I shipped by the month. After leaving Port Nicholson, we saw no land until we made the land about Wide Bay. After being, out three or four weeks, at about eight o’clock one evening struck on a reef, which we supposed to be the Great Barrier Reef; made several attempts to get the schooner off, got the bower anchors out astern, but in spite of all our efforts the vessel forged further on the reef, and bilged. The only boat we had was a very small one, not large enough to carry all hands. We made a raft of the vessel’s spars, and secured it under the boat’s bottom. At daylight we abandoned the wreck, in the small boat, supported by the raft, and steered for land (two peaks) then in sight to the westward. On the following morning we landed on an island, the one we had seen, where we remained about eight or ten days. The only provisions saved from the wreck were a piece of beef and about half a hundred of damaged biscuit, also a small quantity of tea. We then agreed to make for the main land: we all left, and steered for a small island to the westward. On this island three of our men were left. The remainder proceeded to another island still further to the westward. Here we found natives. Left that island, and made for another, where natives were also seen; from their manner they appeared to be hostile. We then returned to the island where we left the three men. It was then agreed to go over to a large island then in sight about six miles to the southward of us, as we thought from its size it was more likely to afford us better means of sustenance, and greater facilities of making our boat larger.

“Myself and three others proceeded to this island, where we landed. One man took the boat back for the remainder. I have not seen them since. It is now about three weeks since we landed; have had nothing to eat during that time but small oysters and winkles.

“The schooner belonged to Port Nicholson, had no cargo on board, nothing but ballast; had a few metal dishes on board, which I supposed were to be used for curing the beche-le-mere. The schooner was not coppered, and had no square topsail. I do not know to whom she belongs. The man who died on the island was named Thomas Birch, or Beach; he was a native of Ireland.”

Statement of John Davis.

“I left Port Nicholson, New Zealand, about the middle of February last, as seaman, on board a schooner about 80 tons burden; I do not recollect her name. She was a topsail schooner; was sure she was coppered. She was bound for Singapore, in ballast, had no cargo on board. I got £2 10s. per month. There was nothing said about beche-le-mere in the articles. The captain’s name was Thomas Dadds. There were seven men on board besides the captain. About five weeks after leaving Port Nicholson the schooner struck on a reef, about two o’clock in the morning. I was at the helm at the time. We then got the boat out, a very small one, and carried an anchor out astern, to haul the vessel off, but did not succeed. When the tide fell, the vessel bilged. We then got breakers and spars lashed under the boat’s bottom. At low water the schooner was high and dry. When the tide flowed, we all got into the boat, and pulled to the westward. We left the wreck about an hour after the schooner struck.

“At daylight saw an island, which we pulled for; landed on it the next morning; here we remained about three weeks living on shellfish; tried to get plank for the purpose of lengthening our boat; did not succeed for want of tools, nails, &c.

“We then all agreed to make for the main land, making short stages from island to island; three first went and landed on an island a few miles to the westward; the boat returned and took the remainder over. The master with four hands left next morning, and went on some islands nearer the main land; they returned at night and said they had had ‘a sideout with the natives.’ It was then agreed to land on the island we were taken off. The master, myself, and two companions landed about three weeks since; the master returned to bring the remainder of the crew. I have not seen them, since; they never returned. We have had nothing to eat but small oysters and winkles; we have had no fire. I could not have held out much longer. The man who died was named Perch. I came out to Port Nicholson in a ship called the Vanguard, about eighteen months ago; I came out free. I have been working as a journeyman baker at Port Nicholson, for a man named Kemp. I was also working at sailmaking for a man named Baker. I was in Port Nicholson in October and November last; there was no earthquake there when I was there, I must have known if there had been one.”

On this man was found a certificate of freedom, dated Hobart Town, the 4th day of November, 1846, No. 1009, for one Ryan Larkin, tried in Sydney Supreme Court, 1839, transported for seven years; the description of the individual was nearly obliterated. The man Davis, first claimed it as his own, and subsequently, stated it belonged to the man who died on the island, and was taken from him after we landed.

Tuesday, April 17. — In the night the wind became light and the weather fine; at daylight weighed and made sail to a light breeze from the eastward, the Harbinger in company; steered for Pine Peak, as I intend sending a boat on shore for the purpose of ascertaining whether the remaining part of the schooner’s crew had left the island, and to get if possible a portion of the spars which the man Clarke said had been left there; at eight A.M., sent the second officer away in the boat to land on the island with the man Clarke; at half-past nine A.M., the boat returned. she brought off a part of the vessel’s mast, it was very small, and, apparently belonging to a boat of about eight tons; they brought also the head of a breaker similar to the one we got previously, painted stone colour, with the Government mark and the letters E.D. marked thus E^D. Clarke said the men had returned to the island and probably gone in the boat to the northward in hopes of falling in with a vessel. Made sail and shaped a course for island K; found a strong tide setting to the eastward.

As regards the two men taken off the North Percy Island, I feel assured they are not what they represent themselves to be, from the inconsistency of their respective statements, and the prevaricating manner in which they were given, and from the fact of the vessel’s mast (Clarke admitted it to be the mast)— part of the hounds were still attached to it — being so very much smaller than the size required for a vessel of the burden they reported her to be, one said thirty, and the other eighty tons — and the fact of the Government mark being found on the breakers, and the absurdity of going on a beche-le-mere voyage with only one boat, a small dingy, for there was nothing more; and from various other circumstances, I have no doubt they are both runaway prisoners of the Crown, who have cut out some small craft from one of the penal settlements, probably from Hobart Town or Launceston.

From the comparative robust state in which we found the two men, I can hardly credit their having been living for three weeks only on small oysters and winkles. There also appears a mystery connected with the unfortunate man who died on the island: the statements of the two men do not agree as to the time when he was last seen by them, and the state he was in, and from the fact of their having at first denied his being on the island, and when they found search was about to be made, reluctantly admitted there was another man who, most likely, they said was dead; and also from the fact of there being a purple mark on the deceased’s throat, I have reason to fear there has been some foul work going on.

In looking over the Chart I find these men must have struck on one of the numerous reefs about thirty miles to the eastward of the Pine Peak in about latitude 21½° S.; afterwards they got on the Peak, and from thence to No. 5. The islands where the natives were seen, were most likely some of the Beverly Group. It is not unlikely in our progress to the northward we may fall in with the remainder of the crew. During the 18th, 19th, and 20th, we had light winds from the N. and N.W.

At five P.M., on the 20th, a light breeze sprung up from the eastward. At noon on the 21st, we were of the north end of the Cumberland Group.

At sun-set on the 22nd, we were close to the Palm Islands. On the 23rd, calm, abreast of Dunk Island, off Rockingham Bay.

On the 24th anchored under the lee of Fitz Roy Island.

On the 25th, anchored off Snapper Island.

On the 26th, anchored abreast of Cape Bedford.

On the 27th, anchored in Ninian Bay, a very bad anchorage. On the 28th and 29th, blowing hard from the eastward, and squally, did not weigh.

On the 30th weighed, it still blowing hard from the S.S.E. At 10.30 A.M. abreast of Cape Flattery; at sunset anchored under the lee of No. 1 Claremont Group.

May 1. — Weighed and stood to the northward; at sunset anchored under the lee of Sherrard’s Isles.

Wednesday, May 2. — In the night fresh breezes from N.E. with rain; at daylight weighed and made sail, the Harbinger in company; shaped a course to pass between Cape Direction and the low sandy island which lies off it; passed close to the latter; I observed the reef extending from the N.E. end further than laid down on the chart; after passing it, and giving Cape Direction a good berth, shaped a course for Restoration Island. At 9 A.M. dense masses of rain clouds to the east and north-east. The weather became thick and rainy, shortened sail to the topsails. At 10.30 A.M., the weather clearing a little, saw Restoration and Cape Weymouth; when close to the former we had heavy squalls with rain, which prevented our seeing the land; hove-to with the vessel’s head to the N.E.; shortly after the weather clearing a little so as to enable us to see the land, bore up and stood in for Weymouth Bay. The rain now descended in torrents, lowered topsails on the cap, feeling our way cautiously with the lead; finding the water shoaling, anchored in twelve fathoms; at 0.30 P.M., the weather clearing a little, saw Restoration, bearing S.S.E. ½ E., and a small island distant about a mile west.

At 3.30 P.M. fine, and finding we were a long distance out, weighed and ran in under the jib, the Harbinger following our example; as we approached the bottom of the bay the water shoaled gradually, and when the haze lifted Jackey pointed out the hill at the foot of which was the camp where Mr. Kennedy had left eight of the party, and from whence Carron and Goddard had been rescued. We stood into five fathoms, and at 5 P.M. anchored about 11 miles from the shore; the Harbinger brought up close to us. Made up my mind to visit the camp in the morning, and endeavour to find if there were any papers which might have been left and not destroyed. Midnight, moderate breeze, and passing showers.

Thursday, May 3. — During the night moderate breeze from the south with light showers. At five A.M., Captain Sampson came alongside, he wishing to join our party, and visit the camp. Having well manned and armed the large whaleboat, pulled on shore, and landed at the entrance of a small river, on a little sand patch, the place having been pointed out by Jackey; it was the only clear landing-place I saw. A dense mangrove swamp extended some distance beyond high water mark. We had no sooner landed than the rain fell in torrents, and continued for three hours, so much so that we could not load our guns.

It was about high water when we landed, and in the mangrove scrub through which we had to go, the water was nearly up to our waists. We had, therefore, no alternative but to remain patiently until the tide fell, and the rain ceased.

On searching the place where we landed, part of a blanket was found, marked B^O, a part of a tarpaulin, a piece of canvas, apparently a portion of a tent, and a small tin dish, with a name scratched on its back. These articles were evidently part of the pillage from the camp.

A little way up the creek we found three canoes, very rudely made, with outriggers on both sides. We searched and found some small pieces of iron, which we took, being also pillage from the exploring party. At ten A.M., less rain, got some of our pieces blown off with difficulty, they being drenched with rain.

Near the spot where we landed, I found the bones of a very extraordinary animal, or rather animals, for there were two, one much larger than the other. They appeared to have died on the spot, as the bones were all together. From the vertebra of the largest, it must have been as large as an ox. I took the sculls of both. I judged from their teeth that they were gramniverous; the molars were not unlike those of the horse. They had two very long incisors, one of which I found. [These bones were subsequently found, upon examination, to be those of the Dugong.]

At eleven A.M., having some of our guns in a state to be trusted, we landed our boats and pulled a short distance up the creek in order to avoid in some measure the crossing of the mangrove swamp. We started, Jackey taking the lead, leaving a party to look after the boats. We walked for a short distance in a mangrove swamp, and came out on an open spot where we found a native camp, which from appearances had been but recently abandoned, the ashes of the fires being still warm: we made a strict search, but found nothing; we proceeded, passed through a small belt of mangroves, and came on an open plain; here Jackey and Tommy being the leading men, saw five natives, about fifty yards from us, planted behind trees, each had a bundle of spears, they were evidently watching us, Jackey levelled his gun at the nearest, and off they ran and disappeared immediately; Jackey seemed very desirous to shoot them, but I told him not to fire, as I wished to speak to them.

From the recent heavy rain the plain was very nearly knee-deep with water, nearly the whole distance we travelled the water was over our ankles, making walking very fatiguing. After crossing the plain we came to a band of trees and bushes, among them I was surprised to find some very fine banana plants; I observed also a fine specimen of the red cedar, the only tree I had hitherto seen was the Melaleuca; here we crossed a small creek, and came on fine forest land. After proceeding some distance, Jackey pointed out the place where the party first camped, and where Mr. Kennedy left the eight men; they subsequently removed to the opposite side of the creek; near this place on a tree was carved in large letters “K. LXXX.,” which I suppose meant the eightieth station. On coming to the creek found it running too strong for us to ford it; went along by its side a short distance, and were fortunate to find a tree extending across it, upon which we got over; found the grass as high as our shoulders, crossed a small gully and ascended a slight acclivity, which brought us to the site of the camp; a bare spot of ground, indicated the exact locality; this spot was strewed with portions of books, all of a religious or scientific description; found no manuscripts; parts of harness-leather belts, pieces of cedar boxes in leather covers were also found; one or two tins for carrying water, a camp stool, and part of a table, and piece of a tent pole, the bones, sculls, and part of the feathers of birds, &c.; specimens of natural history, all destroyed. I observed the bones of a horse, and the scull of a dog; a piece of torn calico with a portion of a chart adhering to it was picked up; I thought I could make out the words “River Mitchell” on it.

I was some time before I could find the remains of Wall and Niblet, who were the last men that died, and had not been buried, the survivors being too weak. I placed myself at the camp, and looked about for the likeliest place to which a corpse would be taken under the circumstances. I went down into a small gully, about sixty yards from the camp; under some small bushes, in about two feet of water, I found their bones, two sculls and some of the larger bones, the smaller ones having most probably been washed away by the flood; the bones were all carefully collected and taken on board. From the position in which these bones were found, agreeing with the description given me by Mr. Carron, I feel confident they are the remains of Wall and Niblet.

I was rather surprised to find some cabbage-palm trees (Livistania) growing in the vicinity of the camp; the tops are very nutritious, and would be very desirable for men in a starving state, had they been aware of it. I picked up part of a key belonging to a chronometer. After having a good look round, we returned to the boats, all tired, from our drenching and wading through so much mud and water, and we unfortunately had no provisions of any kind, and had eaten nothing all day. When we pulled to the entrance of the river it was low water, and there was a bank dry outside of us for upwards of half a mile; we had no alternative but to wait until the tide flowed. At half past three P.M., got on board, hoisted the boat in, and prepared to start in the morning.

I found among the pieces of books, a portion of Leichhardt’s journey overland.

Friday, May 4. — At daylight, weighed, with a light breeze from the southward; steered to give Fair Cape a berth. I observed the entrance of a large river at the north end of Weymouth Bay. At half-past ten A.M., passed Piper’s Island, and steered for Young’s Island; could not make it out for some time, when we did see it, found it only a small reef above water, not worthy the name of an island; such a misnomer is likely to mislead; hauled up for the reef M. At noon, abreast of Huggerstone Island, steered to give Sir Everard Home’s Isles a berth; saw natives on Cape Grenville; hauled in for Sunday Island; the wind light from the eastward; passed Thorpe Point, and hauled in for Round Point. At five P.M., anchored in six fathoms, mud. Bearings at anchor, North Sand Hill, D, (conical hill), S. E. ½ E.; South Wind Hillock, (a. saddle hill), S. ¾ E.; the remarkable sand patch, S. W. ½ W.; Jackey’s Pudding-pan Hill, W. ¼ N. Got the whaleboat and crew ready to start at daylight for Shelbourne Bay.

On consulting Jackey about going to the camp where the three men were left, he said it was no use going there; the distance was great, and the country scrubby, and that he was sure if any of the men were alive, they would be on the seacoast. Dunn, one of the men, told him, if Costigan died, he should come down to the beach directly. I therefore considered all that we could do would be to thoroughly examine the coast with the whaleboat, close in shore, and the brig as near as she prudently could approach.

Captain Sampson, of the Harbinger, came on board to take leave; he having decided to part company in the morning. Midnight, light breeze and fine.

Saturday, May 5. — During the night a light breeze off the land, S.W.

At daylight despatched the whaleboat, in charge of the second officer, with four seamen, Jackey, and his two companions, with particular orders to keep close to the beach, and to land occasionally, to examine all the native camping places and canoes; to make strict search for anything that might tend to point out the fate of the unfortunate men. At 6.30 A. m. weighed, with a light breeze from the southward, and steered to pass between the Bird and Macarthur Islands; at noon abreast of the latter; P.M., after passing Hannibal Isles, hauled in for the shore, for the purpose of picking up the whaleboat. At 5.30 P.M., having shoaled our water rather suddenly to 3½ fathoms, hard bottom, anchored about a mile off shore. Saw a canoe and a few natives on the beach. Bearings at anchor — Risk Point, S. ½ E.; the centre of the Hannibal Isles, S.E. by E. ½ E. At eight P.M. the boat returned. The second officer made the following Report:—

“I kept close along the beach all day, landed three times; first, near the creek where the Ariel’s boat landed, saw no indication there of Europeans. I landed again some distance further on, where I saw a native camp and a canoe. In the latter I found a leathern pistol holster, marked 34, which Jackey recognised as belonging to the party. Three natives were seen by Jackey, who, on perceiving the boat, ran into the bush.

“At the third place I landed I saw no indication of men. I was close to the beach all along, and occasionally fired a musket.”

Jackey appears confident that the men left have been killed by the blacks. He said he had hopes of finding Dunn, he being a man that knew “blackfellow” well. and used to go along “blackfellow.”

Midnight, light breeze off shore.

Sunday, May 6th, 1849. — At daylight sent the boat on shore, manned as before, with instructions to land at the place where I saw natives last night.

At 6.30 A.M., weighed and set the topsails to a light breeze from the southward, steered N. by E. ½ E., hauling out a little from the land.

At seven heard a rumbling noise, looked over the vessel’s side and saw we were in shoal water, the vessel gradually losing her way, but still continued forging ahead a little; lowered the boat and sounded round, found more water ahead, thirteen and fourteen feet; in shore, about half a cable’s length found five and six fathoms; to seaward, eleven and eleven and a half feet. Set the foresail: having a flowing tide the vessel went ahead and deepened our water; after going ahead about two or three ship’s lengths touched again slightly, and immediately after got into five and six fathoms. The sea being smooth at the time, and the after part of the keel being the only part of the vessel that touched, she cannot have received any material damage This shoal appeared to be of small extent, composed of sand and coral; it is not laid down in the chart, but is very dangerous, not being visible from the mast head. I went aloft after crossing it, and could perceive no indication of shoal water. The bearings I got when on the shoal were, the outer or larger Hannibal Island, S. E. ½ E., the inner one, only a solitary tree visible, S. by E. ½ E.

At eight saw two vessels in the offing coming from the southward, one a full-rigged ship, the other a barque; at eleven A.M. passed Cairncross Island, running under easy sail and keeping as near the shore as prudent to keep the boat in sight. I have given instructions to the officers in charge to make a signal if anything was discovered. At half-past three P.M. exchanged numbers with the Blenheim, from Sydney, bound to Calcutta with horses; the barque I suppose to be the Walter Morris; at half-past four hauled in for Fern Island; at five anchored under the lee in three fathoms, mud; bearings, the highest part of Fern Island S. by E., the entrance to Escape River, N.W. by W. ½ W., hoisted the recall for the boat; saw a small schooner at anchor about eight miles to the northward; the ship and barque anchored under X reef.

Report of the Officer in Charge of the Boat,

“I ran along close to the shore all day. I landed a little to the southward of Orfordness. I met about thirty natives on the beach, they came up to us without hesitation, and appeared very friendly; they shook hands with all of us, and brought us water. Jackey at first thought he recognised the native who escaped from the Ariel among them; he got a little excited, and wanted to shoot him, when he approached nearer he was satisfied he was not the same individual. At another place where I landed I found part of the lower mast of a vessel about 400 tons, and pieces of wreck; saw no natives or indication of them on the beach.”

Midnight, moderate breeze and fine.

Monday, May 7, 1849. — In the night light winds S.S.E. and fine weather; at daylight the Blenheim and the barque proceeded to the northward; the schooner remaining at anchor, and from the fact of her doing so, I came to the conclusion it could be no other vessel than the Coquette; seeing her so far from her station, I imagined there was something wrong, or that she had heard the unfortunate termination of the expedition, and was preparing to leave; I determined to communicate with her before proceeding up Escape River; at half-past eight A.M., saw four natives on the beach.

At nine A.M., I left in the whaleboat for the schooner — the small boat employed watering. At half past eleven I boarded the Coquette; Captain Elliott had heard by the Sea Nymph, from Hobart Town, the fate of the expedition, and was about leaving for Sydney. She reported the ship Lord Auckland, from Hobart Town, with horses, having been aground on the X reef for several days; she subsequently got off, and had proceeded on her voyage, not having sustained any very material damage; she had lost four anchors, and the Coquette was going to try to pick them up.

At two P.M. the tide commenced ebbing, the schooner got under weigh and worked down towards the Freak. At half-past six P.M., the tide being down, the schooner anchored about one mile to the northward of us, when I returned on board.

Having explained to Captain Elliott my intention of proceeding up the Escape River in the morning, he volunteered to accompany me, and to supply two hands, which enabled me to man my two boats, thus making a most formidable party.

After sunset fresh breeze from the S.E., and cloudy.

Tuesday, May 8, 1849. — During the night blowing strong from the S.E., and squally with rain. At daylight made preparations for starting. I took the five-oared whaleboat, and the second officer, accompanied by Captain Elliott, went in the small boat, both well armed and manned.

At half-past six A.M. we left and ran before a strong breeze from the S.E., and stood in for the entrance of Escape River. At half-past seven hauled in round the south head (Point Shadwell) in crossing the bar, least water three fathoms, the tide being about first quarter spring flood.

After entering the river perceived a bay, with small sandy beaches, one of which Jackey pointed out as the place where Mr. Kennedy first met the hostile natives; from this place we observed some of them launching a canoe for the purpose of speaking us, but as we could not afford to lose either the time or the tide I deferred communicating with them until our return. After steering west about five or six miles, the river began gradually to wind to the northward, and afterwards S.S.E.; the river six or seven miles from the entrance was upwards of a mile in width, both banks were covered by a dense impenetrable mangrove swamp; after the river trended to the southward we had to lower our sail and pull; after pulling some four or five miles the river became gradually narrower. I observed several branches of it trending to the northward and westward; we remained on the southernmost branch, the principal one; as we proceeded on the left hand side of the river we came to a clear place free of mangroves, the only one we had seen; here we landed, and Jackey pointed it out as the place where Mr. Kennedy had come down on the morning of the day when he was killed; it was here Jackey advised him to abandon the horses and swim the river, about thirty yards wide. Jackey pointed out the tree where he made the horses fast whilst they went down to the river and searched in vain for oysters, they having had nothing to eat all that day.

We again proceeded, the river becoming gradually narrower as we advanced, and the water perfectly fresh. After going about two or three miles, the river became so narrow that our oars could not be used. We were compelled to haul the boats along, against a strong stream, by the overhanging branches of the trees, frequently coming across fallen trees, over which we had to launch our boats, running the risk of staving them; and again obliged to force them under others. A better spot could not have been selected by the natives for cutting us off, had they been so disposed — a narrow creek, and a dense scrub on either side. We still proceeded till the boats could get no further. We had traced the Escape River to its source — a small fresh water creek. As we advanced the belt of mangroves became thinner. We landed on a clear place, on the right of the creek. We went a short distance inland; saw an extensive plain, with numerous large ant-hills on it, which Jackey knew as the place he had crossed the day Mr. Kennedy was killed. Jackey went a short distance further to reconnoitre, and presently returned, having perfectly satisfied himself as to our locality.

After making a hasty meal we proceeded, leaving four hands in charge of the boats; we walked some distance across a swamp, still following the course of the creek. In the swamp I saw a great many of the Nepenthes distillatoria, or pitcher plants; they were not exactly of the same description I have seen on the Pellew Islands, and other places; nearly all of them wanted the graceful turn in the stem, for which those elegant plants are so justly celebrated. We traced the creek for nearly a mile, looking out for a crossing place, when Jackey pointed out on the other side the creek the place he had secreted the saddle-bags. At length we came to a tree which had fallen and formed a kind of bridge, over which we passed with difficulty, and returned to the place where Jackey raid the saddle-bags were planted. Jackey then showed us the place where “horse tumble down creek” after being speared. Some horse-dung was found on the top of the bank close to this place, which confirmed Jackey’s statement; he then took us a few yards into the scrub to look for the saddle-bags, and told us to look about for a broken twig, growing over a thick bush; the place was found, but the saddle bags were gone; on searching under the bush among the leaves, the horizon glass of a sextant was found, a strong proof that Jackey had found the right place.

Jackey then took us through a dense scrub for some distance, when we came on open swampy ground about half a mile wide; on the opposite side there was more scrub, close to which there were three large ant hills; Jackey took us to the centre one, five yards from which poor Kennedy fell, against this ant-hill Jackey placed him when he went after the saddle bags. Jackey told us to look about for broken spears; some pieces were found; he then took us to a place about sixty yards from the ant-hill, where he put Mr. Kennedy, who then told him not to carry him far. About a quarter of a mile from this place, towards the creek, Jackey pointed out a clear space of ground, near an angle of a very small running stream of fresh water, close to three young pandanus trees, as the place where the unfortunate gentleman died. Jackey had taken him here to wash his wounds and stop the blood. It was here, when poor Kennedy found he was dying, that he gave Jackey instructions about the papers, when Jackey said, “Why do you talk so: you are not going to leave me?”

Jackey then led the way to a dense tea-tree scrub, distant about three or four hundred yards, where he had carried the body and buried it. When we came to the edge of the scrub, Jackey was at a loss where to enter, as he said when he was carrying the corpse he did not look behind — all the objects in front being nearly alike he did not get a good mark. Into the midst of this scrub we went, divided ourselves and searched in every direction, but could not find the place: Jackey had not made the spot too conspicuous, fearing the blacks might find it, he had only bent down two twigs across each other; the scrub was not very extensive but exceedingly thick.

Jackey led the way to a creek, and pointed out the place where he had crossed. Jackey said “I threw him down one fellow compass somewhere here.” It was immediately found, it was one of Kater’s prismatic compasses, the name “Chislett, London,” engraved on the back. Jackey then went to a place where he “plant him sextant,” but the flood had been over the place and washed it away. When returning I found the trough for an artificial horizon washed upon the banks of the creek, this had been left with the sextant. Jackey crossed the creek, and found a small wooden bottle of quicksilver in the same place he had left it.

We returned to the scrub where Mr. Kennedy was buried, when we came to it I placed the party (eleven in number) five yards asunder, and traversed it this way in all directions, but without success. I then took Jackey to the plain where the poor gentleman died, and told him to go towards the scrub in the same manner he did when he was carrying the corpse, and not to look back, which he did, telling me the manner in which he carried it, and where he shifted it from one shoulder to the other. In this manner he entered the scrub, and I have no doubt he took us very near the exact place where the body was buried; we sounded the ground all round with our ramrods, but without success. After taking another good look we reluctantly gave up the search, as the night was rapidly approaching, and returned to the boats.

My opinion is, that the remains of the unfortunate gentleman have not been exhumed; if they had, we should have seen some indication of them; the natives would not have taken the trouble to fill the grave, or take away the bones. The soil where he was buried was of a light sandy nature, and the small mound Jackey rose over the grave had been washed down by the heavy rains. The only clue that gave rise to the supposition that the natives had found the body, was the fact that part of Mr. K.‘s trowsers were found in the canoe taken by the schooner Ariel. Jackey said there were other trowsers in the saddlebag, exactly like those he had on at the time of his death. The saddlebags, there is not the slightest doubt, have been found by the natives. Poor Jackey was very quiet, but felt, and felt deeply, during the day. When pointing out the spot where Mr. K. died, I saw tears in his eyes, and no one could be more indefatigable in searching for the remains. His feelings against the natives were bitter, and had any of them made their appearance at the time, I could hardly have prevented him from shooting them.

When we got back to the boats, we immediately proceeded down the creek, being anxious to get clear of the intricate navigation before dark. We succeeded in getting into the open river with difficulty, the numerous snags and branches of trees in the creek, together with the strong current, required great precaution to prevent our boats being stove.

A few yards above the place pointed out by Jackey in the morning, where Mr. Kennedy came down to the river for the purpose of crossing, we found the water very shallow, not ankle deep, right across, and had they waited until low water might have crossed without difficulty; as we pulled down the river we found numerous shoals, our boat constantly grounding. in fact Escape River is not a river, but an estuary, terminating in swamps.

At eleven we arrived at the entrance of the river, where I camped for the night, on a sandy beach not far from Point Shadwell, having determined to examine the native camp at daybreak. Set a watch, but made no fire, as I wanted to take the natives by surprise.

Midnight, blowing hard from S.E., and squally, felt anxious for the vessel, the anchorage not being good.

Wednesday, May 9th, 1849. — Blowing very hard all night from S. E; passed a miserable night — the mosquitoes devouring us.

At break of day launched our boats and pulled towards the camp where we had seen natives the day before. Some of the party went along the beach. On arriving at the camp found it had very recently been abandoned; one of Jackey’s companions saw one native, who ran into the bush and was seen no more.

I went with Jackey some distance into the bush, he showed me the place where a native threw a spear at him the day before Mr. Kennedy’s death; Jackey fired, but missed him.

I forgot to mention that the master of the Coquette had seen a native at Port Albany, who had, apparently, been wounded in the face with large shot, and as he answered the exact description given by Jackey, there is little doubt that he was the same individual mentioned in his statement as shot by him.

We searched the camp, found a small piece of red cloth, which Jackey recognised as part of the lining of Mr. K.‘s cloak, also a piece of painted canvas; a canoe on the beach we destroyed. Finding nothing more could be done, we pulled out of the river, and got on board about ten A.M., after a very hard pull against both a head wind and tide.

Found the brig riding very uneasy in consequence of the heavy sea, and as Jackey said the other papers, called by him the small ones, and which I conceive to be the most important, as he was particularly instructed to take them to the Governor, were secreted at the head of another river, about eight miles further to the northward, and finding the vessel could not ride any longer here with safety, I determined, when the tide eased, to weigh and seek some more secure anchorage.

At half-past twelve P.M. weighed, the Coquette in company, and stood to the northward. At half-past four hard squalls and heavy rain; rounded the Tree Island Reef and anchored in five fathoms about one and a-half miles from the north end of Albany Island.

I do not intend going into Port Albany, as the tides run very strong there; outside is quite as safe at this season. In the evening went on shore on Albany Island. Saw four or five natives, who knew Captain Elliott; they were very anxious to get biscuit and tobacco.. They seem to be the same class of men as those at Port Essington, but the language is, I think, different.

Towards midnight, blowing hard from S.E., with heavy squalls and rain.

Thursday, May 10. — All night blowing hard, and squally. At daylight same weather; no chance of the boat getting to the southward today. At ten went on shore, for the purpose of selecting a spot to inter the remains of Messrs. Wall and Niblet. Saw the horse left by the Ariel; he seemed in good condition, but rather shy; no chance, I fear, of catching him. Took some corn and meal in a bucket for him.

At three P.M., the weather rather more moderate. Both vessels got under weigh, and worked close in shore. At 4.30 anchored in three-quarters fathom, mud: Tree Island N.E. by E. half E.; Pile Island W. half S.; north extreme of Albany Island S. by E. half E.; within a short half mile of the shore.

Got all ready for a start in the morning, should the weather be moderate. Should the weather continue bad, I proposed to Jackey to try the overland route. He said the distance was too great, and the country very bad to travel through; that it would take several days.

Friday, May 11th, 1849. — All night fresh breeze and squally, at daylight rather more moderate, at half-past six despatched the whale boat, fully manned and armed and provisioned for two days, and Jackey and his two companions. I gave charge of the boat to Macnate, my chief officer. I did not think there was any necessity to go myself as Jackey said they were not likely to fall in with any natives. Captain Elliot volunteered his services and accompanied the party.

Employed watering ship, found water very abundant all over Albany Island.

Saturday, May 12th, 1849. — Fresh breeze all night and fine.

At half-past one P.M. the whaleboat returned, having got the papers, &c., secreted by Jackey in a hollow tree. A rat or some animal had pulled them out of the tree, and they were saturated with water, and I fear nearly destroyed; they consisted of a roll of charts and some memorandum books. The charts with care may be deciphered.

Mr. Macnate’s Statement.

“May 11. — At eight A.M. we rounded Fly Point, set sail and steered S. by W., the boat going about five knots, just laying along the shore.

“At ten A.M. crossed a bank with only nine feet water on it, passed a reef about three miles from Fly Point, and half a mile from the shore; from former shoal had three and four fathoms to the entrance of the river.

“At half-past eleven A.M. entered the mouth of a river, near the centre of Newcastle Bay; here we lost sight of Albany Island, making the distance from it about fourteen miles; the entrance of this river is about one mile and a half wide; on the northern half of the entrance the water is deep, three fathoms; on the southern side there is a sand bank, nearly dry at low water.

“From the entrance we went S.S.W. five miles, when the river narrowed to about the third of a mile, we had from six to two and a half fathoms all the way in. From here we went into the branch of the river that ran about south, the main river going west. The entrance to the branch is about two cables’ lengths wide, we went in a southerly direction about six miles, when the river narrowed to forty feet; here we landed at half-past three P.M., leaving two hands in charge of the boat, walked about two and a half miles, where Jackey found the papers, they had been pulled out of the hollow trunk where he had placed them, they were much damaged, being saturated with water. We then went half a mile to where Jackey had camped, to look for a pair of compasses he had left; could not find them, but found a note book that Jackey had been drawing sketches in; from here we went to another camp to look for the compasses, but did not find them.

“At half-past five came back to the boat and camped for the night, none of us could sleep on account of the mosquitoes and flies, &c.

“At six A.M. started down the river; at eight calm, got into the main river, had breakfast.

“At half-past eight, a light breeze from the eastward. At.eleven passed within half a mile of two native canoes with seven men in each, stood towards them, they immediately paddled away. At one rounded Fly Point, and at half-past one got alongside the brig.”

P.M., Fresh breeze from S.E. and clear weather.

Sunday, May 13, 1849. — Fresh breeze from S.E. and fine all day. At eight A.M. both vessels hoisted the ensign half mast. At three P.M. having put the remains of Messrs. Wall and Niblet in a coffin, left the ship in the two boats with nearly all the ship’s crew cleaned, and pulled to the southern end of Albany Island, landed and went up to the highest hill on that part of the island, and on the top, a clear open place, we dug a grave and interred the remains of the unfortunate individuals Thomas Wall and Charles Niblet, read the funeral service over them; about ten or twelve of the natives were present, and we fully explained to them what we were doing, they conducted themselves with propriety when the funeral service was being read.

Poor Jackey was much affected, and could not refrain from tears.

The spot I selected is the most conspicuous on the island, and would be an excellent site to erect a monument to the memory of the unfortunate men who perished on the late ill-fated expedition.

At each end of the grave I placed two large bushes, and on the top were placed several large stones.

I got the following bearings on the spot, viz.:-

The A rock just open with the side of a hill; the northward of Albany Island bearing S. 147° W.; the North Brother N. 58° E.; Fly Point (main land) S. 1° E.; Tree Island, just visible over the top of the hill, S. 146° W. A bottle was placed over the grave, with a paper in it, stating who was interred, with the date, &c.

At sunset returned on board.

Monday, May 14. — Fresh breeze, from S.E., and fine. Employed transhipping stores, sheep, &c., from the Coquette. I purpose to sail tomorrow morning, for Booby Island.

I cannot close my extracts without mentioning the exemplary conduct of Jackey Jackey. Since he came on board I have always found him quiet, obliging, and very respectful; when on shore he was very attentive, nothing could abstract him from his object; the sagacity and knowledge he displayed in travelling the trackless wilderness was astonishing; when he found the places he went in search of he was never flushed with success, but invariably maintained his quiet, unobtrusive behaviour; he was much concerned at not being able to find the remains of his late unfortunate master, to whom he was sincerely attached; his two companions also conducted themselves well, and were very useful on shore.

May 14. — P.M., sent a party on shore to endeavour to catch the horse, caught him after a long chase, tethered to a tree for the night.

May 15. — Got the horse safely on board; blowing with heavy rain; cannot weigh today.

(Signed) T. B. SIMPSON, Master of the Freak.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52