Narrative of the overland expedition of the, by F. and A. Jardine


A description of the settlement at Port Albany, Cape York, at the time of the arrival of the Brothers has been carefully drawn up in the shape of a report to the Colonial Secretary of Queensland by Mr. Jardine. It is so full and interesting that I cannot do better than publish it in extenso. It first appeared in the ‘Queensland Daily Guardian’ of 24th June, 1865. A letter from Mr. Jardine to Sir George Bowen, reporting the arrival of the sons, and epitomising the events of the journey, together with the report of Dr. Haran, R.N., Surgeon in charge of the detachment of Royal Marines, on the climate of Cape York, showing its great salubrity, are also added:—


Somerset, March 1st, 1865.

Sir, — My former reports to you having been, to a certain extent, necessarily taken up with matters of detail in reference to the formation of the new settlement of Somerset, and that object being now in such a state of completion as to enable me to say that it is fairly established, so far as the comfort and safety of the present residents are concerned, I now do myself the honor to lay before you the result of such general observations as I have been able to make on what may be termed general matters of interest.

2. The portion of the country to which my observations will particularly apply is that which, I think, may correctly be termed the “York Peninsula proper,” and comprises the land lying to the northward of a line drawn from the estuary of the Kennedy River, at the head of Newcastle Bay, to the opposite or north-west coast. The general course of the Kennedy River runs in this line, and from the head of the tideway to the north-west coast the breadth of land does not exceed six miles. The mouth of the river falling into the sea a short distance to the southward of Barn Island will be nearly met by the western extremity of this line.

3. The land on the neck thus formed presents singular features. There is no defined or visible water shed; a succession of low irregular ridges, divided by swampy flats, extends from coast to coast, and the sources of the streams running into either overlap in a most puzzling manner. The large ant-hills which are spread over the whole of this country may be taken as sure indicators of the nature of the soils; on the ridges a reddish sandy loam, intermixed with iron-stone gravel, prevails; on the flats a thin layer of decomposed vegetable matter overlays a white sand, bearing ‘Melaleuca’ and ‘Pandanus’, with a heavy undergrowth of a plant much resembling tall heath. Nearly every flat has its stream of clear water; the elegant “pitcher” plant grows abundantly on the margins. The timber is poor and stunted, chiefly bloodwood and ‘grevillea’; and the grass is coarse and wiry.

4. Leaving this neck of barren and uninteresting country, the land to the northward rises, and a distinct division or spine is formed, ending in Cape York. From it, on either side, spurs run down to the coast, frequently ending in abrupt precipices overhanging the sea; in other places gradually declining to the narrow belt of flat land which occasionally borders the shore. The formation is, I may say, entirely sandstone, overlaid in many places by a layer of lava-like ironstone. Porphyry occurs occasionally in large masses, split and standing erect in large columns, at a distance resembling basalt. The sandstone is of the coarsest quality, almost a conglomerate, and is soft and friable; exposure to the air might probably harden it if quarried, when it would be available for rough building. The ridges, with very few exceptions, are topped with large blocks of ferruginous sandstone, irregularly cast about, and are covered with a thick scrub, laced and woven together with a variety of vines and climbers, while the small valleys intervening bear a strong growth of tall grass, through which numerous creeping plants twine in all directions, some of them bearing beautiful flowers. Among them I may particularise two species of ‘Ipomea’, which I believe to be undescribed, and a vine-like plant, bearing clusters of fruit much resembling in appearance black Hambro Grapes, wholesome and pleasant to the taste. The scrubs are formed of an immense variety of trees and shrubs, far too numerous for me to name, were I able to do so. Some of them have fine foliage, and bear handsome flowers and agreeably tasted fruit, and would form most ornamental additions to our southern gardens and pleasure grounds. Several species of the numerous climbing plants produce a fine and strong fibre, from which the natives make their fishing lines. Some fine varieties of palm are found on the moister lands near the creeks, two especially elegant, a ‘Seaforthia’ and a ‘Caryota’. A wild banana, with small but good fruit, is also found in such localities. On the open grounds the bloodwood, Moreton Bay ash, and a strong growing acacia are the principal trees. Timber for building is scarce, and of very indifferent quality. The iron-bark and pine are unknown here.

5. The soil on these grounds is a reddish loam, more or less sandy, and thinly covered with a coarse ironstone gravel. Much of the ironstone has a strong magnetic property — so much so as to suspend a needle; and it was found a great inconvenience by Mr. Surveyor Wilson, from its action on the instruments. As the land descends, the soil becomes more sandy. Near the creek patches with a considerable mixture of vegetable loam are found, which would be suitable for the growth of vegetables, bananas, etc. The grass is generally long and coarse, and soon after the rainy season ceases becomes, under the influence of the strong south-east winds, withered and dry. Horses and cattle keep their condition fairly, but sheep do not thrive; the country is quite unsuited to them. Goats may be kept with advantage; and pigs find an abundant supply of food in the scrubs and swamps.

6. In the Zoology of the district, the careful researches of Mr. M’Gillivray — the naturalist attached to H.M.’s surveying ship Rattlesnake — have left little room for the discovery of many positive novelties. I have, however, been able to note many interesting facts in the economy and habits of the birds, especially such as relate to their migration. Several of the species found here are season visitors of New South Wales, and it is interesting to compare the times of their arrival and departure in this place with those in the southern colony.

7. The animals afford small variety. The dingo, or native dog, four species of the smaller kangaroos, and two other marsupials are found. One, an elegant little squirrel-like opossum, striped lengthways with black and white, I believe to be new.

8. The birds are more plentiful. My collection comprises more than one hundred species of land birds, many of them remarkable for beauty of plumage, and peculiarity of form, structure, and habit. Among them the most remarkable are the great black macaw, (’Microglossus Atterrimus’) the magnificent rifle bird, (’Ptiloris Magnifica’) and the rare and beautiful wood kingfisher, (’Tan Ts-ptera Sylvia’). The latter first made its appearance here on the 30th of November last. On the afternoon and night of the 28th and the 29th of that month there was a heavy storm of rain, with wind from the north-east, and the next morning the bush along the shore was ringing with the cries of the new arrivals. To my constant enquiries of the blacks for this bird, I was always told by them that when the wind and rain came from the north-west the birds would come, and their prediction was verified to the letter. They also say the birds come from “Dowdui” (New Guinea). I think this probable, as several of the birds described by the French naturalist, M. Lesson, as found by him in New Guinea have also appeared here for the breeding season. The ‘Megapodius Tumulus’ is also worthy of mention, on account of the surprising structure of its nest. The mound resembles, and is composed of the same materials as that of the brush turkey (’Talegulla’), but is very much larger in size. Some that I have measured are upwards of thirty (30) feet in diameter at the base, and rise at the natural angle to a height of fifteen (15) feet or more. It is wonderful how birds so comparatively diminutive can accumulate so large a pile. These birds live in pairs, and several pairs use the same mound. The eggs are deposited at a depth of from one to three feet; the heat at that depth is very great, more than the hand can bear for any length of time. I cannot say whether the young, when released from the mounds, are tended by the parents; they, however, return and roost in the mounds at night. The flesh of the ‘Megapodius’ is dark and flavorless, being a mass of hard muscle and sinew. birds, which may be called game, are not numerous. The brush turkey (’Talegalla’), the ‘Megapodius’, several species of pigeon, with a few ducks and quail, comprise the whole.

9. — Fish are in abundance, and in great varieties; some of them of strange form and singular brilliancy of coloring. The grey mullet, the bream — a fish much resembling in general appearance the English pike — and several others, are excellent eating.

10. — Three species of turtle are plentiful during the season, that is, the period when they approach the shores to deposit their eggs, the green, the hawksbill, and another species, which grow to a much larger size than either of the above. The natives take large numbers of the former; indeed, from the month of November till February turtle forms their principal food. The green turtle are taken in the water by the blacks, who display great address in “turning” them; they are approached when asleep on the surface; the black slips gently from his canoe and disappears under water, and rising beneath the animal, by a sudden effort turns it on its back, and by a strong wrench to the fore flipper disables it from swimming. The fisherman is assisted by his companions in the canoe, and a line is secured to the turtle. This is hazardous sport, and deep wounds are frequently inflicted by the sharp edges of the shells, which in the female turtle are very sharp. A singular mode of taking the hawksbill turtle is followed by the natives here. This custom, though said to be known so long back as the time of the discovery of America by Columbus, is so strangely interesting that I will give a short account of it, as I have seen it practised. A species of sucking fish (’Remora’) is used. On the occasion to which I allude two of these were caught by the blacks in the small pools in a coral reef, care being taken ‘not to injure them’. They were laid in the bottom of the canoe, and covered over with wet sea weed — a strong fishing line having been previously fastened to the tail of each. Four men went in the canoe; one steering with a paddle in the stern, one paddling on either side, and one in the fore-part looking out for the turtle and attending to the fishing lines, while I sat on a sort of stage fixed midship supported by the outrigger poles. The day was very calm and warm, and the canoe was allowed to drift with the current, which runs very strong on these shores. a small turtle was seen, and the sucking fish was put into the water. At first it swam lazily about, apparently recovering the strength which it had lost by removal from its native element; but presently it swam slowly in the direction of the turtle till out of sight; in a very short time the line was rapidly carried out, there was a jerk, and the turtle was fast. The line was handled gently for two or three minutes, the steersman causing the canoe to follow the course of the turtle with great dexterity. It was soon exhausted and hauled up to the canoe. It was a small turtle, weighing a little under forty pounds (40 lbs.), but the sucking fish adhered so tenaciously to it as to raise it from the ground when held up by the tail, and this some time after being taken out of the water. A strong breeze coming on, the canoe had to seek the shore without any more sport. I have seen turtle weighing more than one hundred (100) pounds, which had been taken in the manner described. Though large numbers of the hawksbill turtles are taken by the Cape York natives, it is very difficult to procure the shell from them; they are either too lazy to save it, or if they do so, it is bartered to the Islanders of Torres’ Straits, who use it for making masks and other ornaments.

11. Although there is a considerable variety of reptiles, snakes do not appear to be very numerous. The common brown snake and death-adder are found; carpet snakes (a kind of ‘boa’), appear to be the most common, and grow to a large size. They have been very troublesome by killing our poultry at night. They seem to be bloodthirsty creatures, frequently killing much larger animals than they can possibly swallow, and are not satisfied with one victim at a time. One which was killed in my fowl-house had three half grown chickens compressed in its folds and held one in its jaws. A short time since I was roused in the middle of the night by the piteous cries of a young kangaroo dog, and on running out found it rolling on the ground in the coils of a large carpet snake. The dog was severely bitten in the loin, but in the morning was quite well, proving that the bite of this reptile is innocuous. This snake measured nearly twelve feet in length.

12. Crocodiles are found in numbers in the Kennedy River and a lagoon, which has communication with its estuary. They are also seen occasionally in the bays in Albany Passage.

13. Of the aborigines of Cape York I can say little more than has already been so often repeated in descriptions of the natives of other parts of the Australian continent. The only distinction that I can perceive, is that they appear to be in a lower state of degradation, mentally and physically, than any of the Australian aboriginal tribes which I have seen. Tall well-made men are occasionally seen; but these almost invariably show decided traces of a Papuan or new Guinea origin, being easily distinguished by the “thrum” like appearance of the hair, which is of a somewhat reddish tinge, occasioned no doubt by constant exposure to the sun and weather. The color of their skin is also much lighter, in some individuals approaching almost to a copper color. The true Australian aborigines are perfectly black, with generally woolly heads of hair; I have however, observed some with straight hair and features prominent, and of a strong Jewish cast. The body is marked on each shoulder with a shield-like device, and on each breast is generally a mark in shape of a heart, very neatly executed. The large cicatrices which appear on the bodies of the tribes of Southern Australia are not used here; nor is a front tooth taken out at the age of puberty. The ‘septum’ of the nose is pierced, and the crescent-shaped tooth, of the dugong is worn in it on state occasions; large holes are also made in the ears, and a piece of wood as large as a bottle cork, and whitened with pipe clay, is inserted in them. A practise of cutting the hair off very close is followed by both sexes, seemingly once a year, and wigs are made of the hair. These are decorated with feathers, and worn at the ‘corrobories’ or gatherings. The women hold, if possible, a more degraded position than that generally assigned to them among the Australian aborigines. They are indeed wretched creatures. The only covering worn by them is a narrow belt of twisted grass, with a fringe of strips of palm leaves in front. the men go entirely naked. The aborigines make no huts. In the wet weather a rude screen of leafy boughs, with palm leaves — if any happen to grow in the neighbourhood — is set up as a shelter.

14. The arms used by these natives are few and simple. Four sorts of spears, made from the suckers of a very light wood tree with large pith, headed with hard wood and generally topped with bone so as to form a point or barb, are the most common. The end of the tail of a species of ray fish is sometimes used as a point. It is serrated and brittle, and on entering any object breaks short off. It is said to be poisonous, but I do not believe such to be the case, as one of the marines stationed here was speared in the shoulder with one of these spears, and no poisonous effect was produced. The point which broke short off, however, remained in the wound, and could not be extracted for many months. The spear most commonly in use, and the most effective, has merely a head of very hard wood, from a species of acacia, scraped to a very fine sharp point. These are the only spears which can be thrown with any precision to a distance — they are sent with considerable force. I extracted two from the thigh of one of my horses; the animal had another in the shoulder, which had entered to a depth of five and a half inches. All spears are thrown with the ‘wommera’, or throwing stick. A rudely made stone tomahawk is in use among the Cape York natives, but it is now nearly superseded by iron axes obtained from the Europeans. I have seen no other weapons among them; the boomerang and nulla-nulla (or club) are not known.

15. The greatest ingenuity which the natives display is in the construction and balancing of their canoes. These are formed from the trunk of the cotton tree (’Cochlospermum’) hollowed out. The wood is soft and spongy, and becomes very light when dry. The canoes are sometimes more than fifty feet in length, and are each capable of containing twelve or fifteen natives. The hull is balanced and steadied in the water by two outrigger poles, laid athwart, having a float of light wood fastened across them at each end — so that it is impossible for them to upset. A stage is formed on the canoe where the outriggers cross, on which is carried the fishing gear, and, invariably, also fire. The canoes are propelled by short paddles, or a sail of palm-leaf matting when the wind is fair. Considerable nicety is also shown in the making of fishing lines and hooks. The former are made from the fibres of a species of climber very neatly twisted. The fish-hooks are made of tortoise-shell, or nails procured from wreck timber. They are without barbs, and our fish-hooks are eagerly sought for in place of them.

16. The food of the natives consists chiefly of fish, and, in the season, turtle, with roots and fruits. These latter and shell-fish it is the business of the females to collect and prepare. They may, however, be truly said to be omnivorous, for nothing comes amiss to them, and the quantity they can consume is almost incredible. I have seen them luxuriating on the half putrid liver of a large shark cast up on the beach, the little black children scooping up the filthy oil, and discussing it with apparently the greatest gusto.

17. These remarks apply to the four tribes which inhabit the territory within the limits mentioned at the commencement of this report — viz., the peninsula to the northward of the Kennedy River. These four tribes are not distinguishable from each other in any distinct peculiarity that I can perceive. They keep each to their own territory, except on the occasion of a grand “corroborie,” when the whole assemble. They are at present on terms of peace nominally. Should a safe opportunity of cutting off a straggler offer, I have no doubt it would be taken advantage of. They are cowardly and treacherous in the extreme. The “Gudang” tribe, claiming the land from Cape York to Fly Point, at the entrance of Albany Pass, is small in numbers, having, I fancy, been seriously thinned by their neighbours, the “Kororegas,” from the Prince of Wales’ Island, in Torres’ Straits, who frequently come down upon them. Paida, Mr. M’Gillivray’s ‘kotaiga’ (friend), was not long since killed by them. The “Goomkoding” tribe, who live on the north-western shore, I have seen little of. They and the “Gudang” seem to hold most communication with the islanders of ‘Torres’ Straits, the intermixture of the races being evident. “Kororega” words are used by both these tribes, and the bow and arrow are sometimes seen among them, having been procured from the island. The “Yadaigan” tribe inhabit the south side of Newcastle Bay and the Kennedy River; the “Undooyamo,” the north side. These two tribes are more numerous than the two first-mentioned, and appear to be of a more independent race than the others, and gave us much trouble on our first settlement, by continual thefts and otherwise. The tract of country which they inhabit is nearly covered with the densest scrub and with swamp, into which they took refuge with their booty as soon as any depredation was committed, so as to render it next to impossible for us to pursue them. These four tribes together do not number in all more than 250 to 300 men.

18. All these people are much addicted to smoking. Tobacco is used by them in preference when it can be got. Before its introduction, or when it was not procurable from Europeans, the leaves of a large spreading tree, a species of ‘Eugenia’, was, and is still used. These leaves must possess some strong deleterious or narcotic property. I was for some time puzzled to assign a cause for so many of the natives being scarred by burns. Nearly every one shows some marks of burning, and some of them are crippled and disfigured by fire in a frightful manner. They smoke to such excess as to become quite insensible, and in that state they fall into their camp-fires, and receive the injuries mentioned. The pipe used is a singular instrument for the purpose. It is a hollow bamboo about 2 1/2 feet long, and as thick as a quart bottle; one of the smoking party fills this in turn with smoke from a funnel-shaped bowl, in which the tobacco is placed by blowing it through a hole at one end of the tube. When filled it is handed to some one who inhales and swallows as much of the smoke as he can, passing the pipe on to his neighbour. I have seen a smoker so much affected by one dose as to lie helpless for some minutes afterwards.

19. Thus much for the general appearance and habits of the Cape York natives. A very accurate vocabulary of their language has been published by Mr. M’Gillivary in his account of the voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake. Of their superstitions I am unable to speak with certainty. That they have no belief in the existence of a Supreme Being is, I think, positive. They are, like all the Australian tribes, averse to travelling about at night if dark; this, I believe, chiefly arises from the inconvenience and difficulty of moving about at such times, and not from any superstitious fear. They travel when there is moonlight. They are true observers of the weather, and before the approach of a change move their camps so as to obtain a sheltered position. They do not seem to give the slightest thought to cause or effect, and would, I believe eat and pass away their time in a sort of trance-like apathy. Nothing appears to create surprise in them, and nothing but hunger, or the sense of immediate danger, arouses them from their listlessness.

20. I am aware of the great interest taken by his Excellency the Governor and all the members of the Government of Queensland in the promotion of missionary enterprise. I much fear, however, that the mainland here will be found but a barren field for missionary labors. One great obstacle to successful work is the unsettled nature of the people. No inducement can keep them long in one place. Certainly a missionary station might be formed on one of the neighbouring islands — Albany or Mount Adolphus Island, for instance, where some of the young natives might be kept in training, according to the system used by Bishops Selwyn and Patterson for the instruction of the Melanesians.

21. With the Kororegas or Prince of Wales Islanders, who, from constant communication with the islands to the northward, have acquired a higher degree of intelligence than the pure Australians, I believe a successful experiment could be made. Missionary enterprise beyond the protection and influence of this new settlement at Somerset would, of course, at present be attended with considerable risk.

22. To the Banks and Mulgrave Islanders in Torres’ Straits, a similar remark will apply. Those people, however, seem to be of a more savage nature, although intelligent, and giving considerable attention to the cultivation of yams, bananas, etc. Both the good and bad features in their characters may, I believe, in a great measure be attributed to the strong influence exercised among them by a white man, called by the natives “Wini,” who has been living there for many years. This man, who is supposed to be an escaped convict from one of the former penal settlements in Australia, no doubt considers it politic to keep Europeans from visiting the island where he resides, “Badu”. The natives of Cape York hold him and the Banks Islanders generally in the greatest dread, giving me to understand that all strangers going to these islands are killed, and their heads cut off. The latter appears to be the custom of these and the neighbouring islands towards their slain enemies.

23. The natives of the islands more to the northward and eastward are said to be of milder dispositions, especially the Darnley Islanders — of whom Captain Edwards, of Sydney, who had a “Bech-de-mer” fishing establishment there during the last year, speaks in high terms as being of friendly dispositions and displaying very considerable intelligence, living in comfortable huts and cultivating yams, bananas, coconuts, etc., in considerable quantities. Among these islanders I should think missionaries might establish themselves without great difficulty, and with a satisfactory result.

24. I think that the simple fact of a settlement of Europeans being established at Cape York will very much tend to curb the savage natures of the natives, not only of the mainland, but also of the islands, and any unfortunates who may be cast among them from shipwrecked vessels will, at all events, have their lives spared; and I believe that, should such an event take place, I should soon hear of it from the natives here. The communication between the islanders and the natives of the mainland is frequent, and the rapid manner in which news is carried from tribe to tribe to great distances is astonishing. I was informed of the approach of H.M.S. Salamander on her last visit two days before her arrival here. Intelligence is conveyed by means of fires made to throw smoke up in different forms, and by messengers who perform long and rapid journeys.

25. I should like much to send one or two of the Cape York natives to Brisbane to remain there a short time. I believe that the reports which they would bring back to their tribe of the wonders seen among the white men would tend more than any other means to promote friendly feelings towards us, and to fit their minds to receive favourable impressions.

26. From what I have previously said of the soil here, it will be seen that no large portion of it is suited for agriculture. Even were the land good, the peculiar climate, which may be considered dry for eight months in the year, would not permit satisfactory cultivation to any large extent. During the rainy months, from December to April, vegetables suitable to the temperature may be grown in abundance.

27. Of the agreeableness and salubrity of the climate of Somerset, I can not speak too favorably. The wet season commenced here last year (1864) with the month of December, and continued till the latter part of March. During that time the rain was intermittent, a day or two of heavy wet being succeeded by fine weather. The winds from the north west were light, and falling away to calm in the evening and night. During this season the highest range of my thermometer was 98° in the shade; but it very rarely exceeds 90°, as may be seen from Dr. Haran’s meteorological sheets. During the calms immediately succeeding wet the heat was disagreeable, and mosquitoes appeared, but not numerously. The nights were invariably cool. The weather for the remaining seasons of the year may be termed enjoyable. A fresh bracing breeze from the south east blows almost continually, the thermometer averaging during the day from 80 to 85°. This temperature, with the cool nights, (sufficiently so to render a blanket welcome) and delightful sea bathing, prevent any of the lassitude or enervating influence so common to tropical climates elsewhere from being felt at Somerset.

28. During the time of my residence here no serious indisposition has occurred among the European residents. Occasional slight attacks of illness generally traceable to some cause, has taken place, but as far as can be judged there is no ‘local malady’. There has been no symptom of fever or ague, which it was apprehended would be prevalent during the rainy season, as in other hot countries. Dr. Haran, R.N., (the naval surgeon in charge) reports very favorably of the salubrity of the climate. I have every reason to believe with Dr. Haran, that at no very distant period, when steam communication through Torres Straits shall have been establish, Somerset will be eagerly sought by invalids from the East as an excellent and accessible sanatorium.

29. At all events, there can be no doubt but that the new settlement will fulfil admirably the objects for which it was founded, ‘i.e.’, a port of call and harbor of refuge for trade in the dangerous navigation of Torres Straits, and a coal depot for steamers.

30. I almost fear that in the foregoing remarks it may be considered that on some subjects I have entered too much into details, while on others my notices have been too slight. I have endeavored, as much as possible, to confine myself to subjects of interest, and you may rely on my statements as the result of personal observation. Should there be any particular point on which the Government may require more specific information, I shall be most happy, if it be in my power, to afford it.

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,



Somerset, May 1, 1865.

Sir, — Since the date of my last report the most important intelligence which I have to communicate is the arrival of my sons, Frank and Alexander Jardine, with their overland party, all safe and well, after an extremely arduous and toilsome journey of five months, almost entirely over country which for the greater part may be termed barren, the distance travelled over being somewhat more than 900 miles.

2. The party, consisting of my two sons and four other Europeans (including Mr. Surveyor Richardson, attached to the expedition by the Government of Queensland), with four aborigines of the Rockhampton district, made their final start from Mr. J. G. McDonald’s station, Carpentaria Downs, in latitude 18 deg. 37 min 10 sec S., longitude 144 deg. 3 min 30 sec. E, (the farthest out-station on the supposed Lynd River), on the 11th of October, 1864, and reached this place on the 13th of March, ult. Rockhampton was the first point of departure, my second son leaving it, with the horses and men, on the 16th of May, 1864, making the journey for them about 1800 miles.

3. It would appear from the journals kept that a great portion of the country on the west coast of the York Peninsula, especially in the locality of the Mitchell River, is at times (I presume periodically) subject to inundation; the water, however, soon disappears from the flat and sandy land, and for the greater portion of the year, till the next rainy season, the country is destitute of water, and in other respects little better than an absolute desert.

4. It is a subject of great regret to myself, and in which I am sure you will share, that this long journey should be, so far as at present appears, productive of so poor a result to the public in developing new resources to the colony. However, a large and valuable addition to geographical information has certainly been gained; but at the same time few of the important discoveries in lands suitable for pastoral or agricultural occupation, or in minerals, etc., etc., and which might in so large a tract of country have reasonably been expected, have been made.

5. My sons have experienced a severe disappointment to their hopes and expectations in the nature of the country around, and within a reasonable distance of this place, as well as a heavy loss in prosecuting their undertaking. However at their ages, 23 and 21 respectively, the spirit is very buoyant, and they are again quite ready for another venture. Their journey, which, from the nature of the country traversed, has been one of unusual difficulty and hardship; and it is surprising to me that, hampered as they were with a herd of 250 cattle, for which providing food and water in a barren and unknown country is in itself no easy matter, they should have come through so successfully.

6. Next to the general barrenness of the country, the difficulties they had to encounter were — first, the destruction of a quantity of their supplies and gear, through the camp being carelessly permitted to catch fire during their absence in pioneering the route. Next, the determined hostility of the natives, who were almost continually on their track, annoying them on every favorable opportunity; on one occasion, the crossing of the “Mitchell,” opposing them so obstinately that a considerable number were shot before they would give way. Then the loss of two-thirds of their horses (all the best) from eating some poisonous plant, and which necessitated the last 300 miles of the journey being travelled on foot; and last, the flooded state of the country during the season of the rains. And I think it is not too much for me to say, that nothing but a thorough knowledge of their business, supported by determined energy, could have carried them through what must be considered one of the most arduous tasks in exploration on record.

7. I will not attempt in the small space of a letter to give you more full particulars of the journey and its incidents. Mr. Surveyor Richardson has, of course, his journal and maps of the route as directed by the government, and from these, with the information gained by my sons in their numerous “offsets” in search of the best courses to follow, which will be placed at the disposal of the Government, I believe a pretty accurate idea of the nature of the country on the west coast of the York Peninsula may be gathered.

8. My sons have at present formed their station near Point Vallack, on the north shore of Newcastle Bay, between two or three miles from the settlement of Somerset. They are on good terms with the natives, and their black servants fraternise with them, but are kept under strict rule. The natives of Cape York from the first have shown a friendly feeling towards them, having, on their first arrival, met them about twenty miles from the settlement, and shown them the nearest way to it, and they have since been very useful in carrying timber to build huts, stockyards, etc., etc; and I believe that for the future, if well treated, they will offer no annoyance to the present settlers. The establishment of a cattle station in the neighborhood is of great advantage to the settlement, serving as an outpost to secure its safety, and in opening up the country, besides affording a ready supply of fresh meat. Already my sons and their blacks have cut good passages through the scrub to the settlement, and also through the various belts of scrub dividing their station from open grounds; so that now a large extent of country can be ‘ridden’ over without obstruction.

9. I have little else of importance to communicate. The affairs of this settlement have gone on slowly but steadily. The several works left unfinished are, under the charge of the acting foreman, Private Bosworth, Royal Marines, (and of whom I can speak most highly for his attention and work), completed, with the exception of the Custom House, which is well advanced.

10. The natives are on good terms with us, and work for us in various ways, being duly paid in food, tobacco, etc.

11. On the 23rd ultimo there was a slight shock of an earthquake felt distinctly by myself and other persons here. It occurred in the afternoon, about two o’clock, was accompanied by a rumbling sound, but lasted little more than a minute. The health of the royal Marines, and all other residents at the settlement, continues to be very good, as will be seen from the report of the surgeon Dr. Haran, R.N.

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,

To the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, Brisbane.


Somerset, May 22, 1865.


It affords me much pleasure to have again to forward to your Excellency a most favourable report of the climate of this settlement, and of the uninterrupted good health of our small community, military and civil. the dreaded summer season, with its calms, light winds and heavy rains, has passed off without causing a single case of sickness, attributable to noxious exhalations, which prevail at that season in most tropical climates, but which, in my opinion, cannot exist here, owing to the preventive causes enumerated in my letter of the 13th January last; neither have we experienced that oppressiveness of the atmosphere which its saturated condition at that season through the sun’s direct influence in favoring evaporation in the surrounding seas would lead one to expect. Some slight oppressiveness was felt immediately before the rains, but speedily disappeared on their occurrence. I can only account for this valuable immunity by attributing it to some peculiarity of climate, in all probability to the same causes which counteract the evolution of noxious exhalations; for we did experience calms and very light winds, and the hygrometer during the greater part of the time indicated a very large amount of moisture in the atmosphere.

2. The meteorological sheets forwarded by this opportunity, contain full particulars regarding the winds, temperature, etc., for the last four months, and having been prepared from a series of observations, conducted with care and regularly registered, they cannot fail, amongst other important objects bearing on general climatology, to afford convincing proof that, as a climate, even during the summer season, that of Somerset, although in close proximity to the equator, possesses many advantages not attainable in higher latitudes, and is, in my opinion, from its mildness and equable character, especially suited for such as may have the misfortune to be predisposed to, or suffering from, pulmonary consumption.

3. The S.E. Trade ceased as a continuous wind in these seas on the 24th December last. Calms, light winds, from all points of the compass, but chiefly from the points between North and West to South, or against the sun’s course, and heavy rains, with electric phenomena of a comparatively mild character, succeeded and persisted until the 11th of March; when the sun’s more direct influence having been diverted from its course, and in a manner dissipated by the great heat and evaporation, again resumed its ascendancy, and has continued since without interruption.

4. On the 25th of January two of the Marines were seized with a severe headache and other suspicious symptoms while working in the sun during a calm; and I consider it my duty at once to recommend such alteration in the working hours as would protect the men from sun-exposure during its period of greatest heat. These alternations were adopted, and continued in force until the 22nd of March, when the former working hours were resumed, as no danger was apprehended from solar heat at any time of the day during the prevalence of the S.E. Trade wind.

5. One well-marked case of scurvy became developed at the end of January; and a few of several cases of cutaneous eruption under treatment at the time closely resembled the symptoms characteristic of that disease. the only anti-scorbutic dietary available, viz. — preserved meats and potatoes, compressed vegetables and lemon juice, was issued at once, and continued on the salt-meat days for three weeks, when all the indications of scurvy having disappeared, the usual dietary was resumed. Since then the entire adult community have enjoyed very good health.

I am, etc.,

T. J. HARAN, Surgeon, R.N.

His Excellency, Governor Sir G.F. Bowen, G.C.M.G.

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