Page images
PDF
EPUB

Secretary of State for the Colonies, with which it was forwarded, bearing date 1840:

"Gold - An auriferous sulphuret of iron, partly decomposed, yielding a very small quantity or proportion of gold, sufficient to attest its presence.'

Thus was lying for twelve years, entombed among the Parliamentary papers, that important discovery which was to effect such changes in the Australian colonies, until at length, in 1851, another Governor of New South Wales, taught by the prosperity of California, consented to make more publicly known Mr. Hargreave's fresh discoveries of gold. But to Count Strzelecki the first discovery on the spot was unquestionably due in 1839; which was corroborated by Sir Roderick Murchison's scientific precognition in 1845 and 1848.*

But the great continent still lies before us. Captain Sturt has brought us from Sydney westward to Adelaide, and at Adelaide we arrive at the extreme limits of eastern settlement - almost of Australian settlement, for the Swan River Colony, at the opposite, or western, corner of the continent, scarcely effected more than a landing, and, until these last few years, with difficulty maintained even that position. From Adelaide we shall have chiefly to follow the further progress of discovery; but as the Swan River Settlement influenced in some degree the direction which exploration took, we shall, while the people of Adelaide are planting their wheatfields and building their city, take a glance at the coast on which the Swan River settlers had landed. With the early history of this settlement we have little to do. Soon after Sturt's trip down the Murray, several English capitalists brought out a number of hired labourers to found a colony on the banks of the Swan River. All the elements of wealth were in abundance. The capitalists, in addition to labour, brought with them supplies of everything necessary for the farmer and the flockowner, and the land was most excellent. The Home Government, however, made one fatal error. It was too bountiful with its lands. To Mr. Peel, were given 500,000 acres ; to the Governor of the new settlement 100,000; similar grants were made to the other capitalists. Each had so much land he did not know what to do with it. For a trifle he parted with large portions of it. The imported labourers found they could be landowners instead of farm-servants. They all left their employers, and lived on their estates, doing nothing. The very seeds were not put

* See Count Strzelecki's supplement to his Physical Description,' published in 1856.

in the ground. The cattle were neglected, and died. The employer of 300 servants found himself without one. He had to make his own bed, cook his own meals, and behold his property going to ruin around him. The imported labourers fared no better.

When autumn came round, they had no harvest to reap. They came back to their masters, and insisted on the terms of their contract. Failing to obtain what they had eaten and destroyed, they insisted on hanging them. With difficulty the Governor and the capitalists escaped with their lives. A few ships took away most of the hired labourers to the colonies of New South Wales and Van Diernen's Land, where they found themselves much more comfortable as highly paid farm-servants tban as starving landowners.

There still remained, in Perth and at King George's Sound, around Cape Leeuwin, the nucleus of a settlement destined to expand into the Colony of Western Australia, though without any material increase of population. Of the immense North-West Coast, stretching thence to the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and, as a ship sails, some 3000 miles long, nothing was known, nor were the settlers around Swan River inclined to push occupation towards the north. The successes of Captain Sturt and Sir Thomas Mitchell in opening new lands had now attracted the attention of England towards Australia. The importance of connecting the North-West Coast of Australia by means of a settlement, nearer and under happier fortunes than the Swan River Settlement, was urged upon the Home Government. It was replied that no settlers would go to a coast of which nothing whatever, save the misfortunes of the Swan River settlers, was known. Sir George Grey, the present Governor of New Zealand, was then a captain of the 83rd Regiment in London. Seized with a spirit of adventure, he proposed to the Government to go and explore the North-West Coast of Australia. H.M.S. - Beagle' was then lying at Plymouth, preparing for a marine survey of the Australasian seas and gulfs, which was to extend over some years. Captain Grey's proposal was accepted, and a passage was offered for himself and his exploring party in the Beagle.' To him we chiefly owe the little we know of this coast. It is much to be regretted that his researches were interrupted by continued mishaps. But for these mishaps we should now possess a more complete knowledge of this portion of Australia — a portion apparently abounding in all that can conduce to successful colonisation, and the nearest of the whole continent to our Indian Empire, to China, and to the rich islands of the Indian Archi

pelago. Of Sir George Grey's progress along this coast we shall now offer a rapid sketch.

Captain Grey was to land in Hanover Bay, towards the north of the continent, and to explore the coast down towards the Swan River Settlement. His expedition accordingly reached Hanover Bay in 1838, and immediately found themselves in a most delightful tropical country. Everywhere--by the sparkling cascade of the Prince Regent's River, along the picturesque banks of the Glenelg, through deep alluvial meadows watered by countless rivulets — Captain Grey pauses to admire the beauty of the scenery:

• Those of the party,' he writes, 'who were not very tall, travelled, as they themselves expressed it, between two high green walls, over which they could not see; and those green walls were composed of rich green grass, which the ponies ate with avidity. On a subsequent occasion, when we re-visited this valley, we had to call to one another, in order to ascertain our relative positions, when only a few yards apart. And yet the vegetation was neither rank nor coarse, but as fine grass as I have ever seen.'

From Hanover Bay the expedition proceeded for seventy miles inland along the banks of the Glenelg, a river discovered. in the vicinity, the country still preserving its favourable appearance.

Here, however, all further progress was abandoned. Soon after landing, Captain Grey, with two of his men on an excursion in the neighbourhood of the bay, came upon some natives. One of the men, betraying his terror at their unusual appearance, and seeking safety in flight, encouraged some of them to cast their spears, from which Captain Grey received a severe and dangerous wound. Fatigue and want of proper remedies had now brought on more threatening symptoms, and with the advice of his companions, he abandoned further advance. On his return to Hanover Bay he was received on board the • Beagle,' luckily then off the coast, and sailed thence to the Mauritius in order to recruit his health.

In the following year he again started with an exploring party consisting of thirteen men. By the advice of the settlers at Swan River, where he put in before proceeding to the north of the coast, he departed from his original intention of exploring downwards from Hanover Bay to Swan River, and determined to land at Shark Bay, about 600 miles to the north of Swan River, and to explore the coast district thence upwards to Hanover Bay. At Shark Bay, however, a violent tempest put an end to further exploration at its very starting point. The sea rose, and washed away the whole depôt of stores. Two leaky whaleboats, and a little flour and salt-provisions, were alone left, and with these Captain Grey and his men made a hasty retreat for Perth. About half-way from Perth, the two boats were so shattered by the surf as to be found useless, and the retreating party took to the land. Here they would have all miserably perished, but for the superior strength and endurance of the commander. They lay down, and declared themselves unable to proceed any further. Leaving them on the sea-shore, at a native well, Captain Grey pushed on for Perth, and reached the out-settlements. Horsemen were immediately despatched with food, and arrived in time for the relief of all the party, save one.

From King George's Sound, Captain Grey took ship to Adelaide, to meet the regular Australian passenger vessels, on his return to England. And to him the people of Adelaide now eagerly applied for information of the North-West Coast. Indeed, nothing could be more indistinct than the knowledge which the settlers around Adelaide possessed of the immense wilderness lying to the north and west of them. The very coast-line of the whole continent was most uncertain. Since the days of Captain Cook, scarcely a white foot had crossed it; and the Dutch previously had contented themselves by naming a few of its most conspicuous headlands. Owing to his mishaps and forced marches, Captain Grey could give them little information of the North-West Coast. Hanover Bay, diametrically opposite to them, at the other extremity of the continent, was of little avail for immediate occupation, but King George's Sound, at the extremity of their own coast, the South Coast, contained fine pasture lands, and but few settlers to make use of them. But of their own coast the settlers of Adelaide knew probably less than of the other two, the East Coast and the North-West Coast. Mr. Bass had, indeed, several years before, drifted through the strait which now bears his name in an open whaleboat, and made the discovery that Van Diemen's Land was an island. Captain Flinders, his companion in the whaleboat, had, at a later period, followed up this discovery by coasting along the whole of the south mainland and sketching its singular shore from the deck of his ship; but the impetuous current which, coming up from the South Pole, sweeps through the Great Australian Bight, and an uninterrupted wall of precipitous cliffs, some 500 or 600 feet high, into which this current was eating, deterred him from endangering his vessel by a too near approach. Such was the scanty information which the people of Adelaide had now to guide them in seeking an extension of settlement towards the west.

It might, indeed, at first sight, be supposed that the unexpected acquisition of such important territories as Australia Felix and South Australia would, for some considerable time, satisfy the eastern colonists. But the old craving for land had soon grown as strong as ever. In truth, it had scarcely abated. Australia Felix was surrounded by New South Wales, by South Australia, and by the sea. Its tenants of the Crown,' as they chose to be called — or squatters,' as they soon came to be called — were permitted to take up runs,' or sheep and cattle stations, as large as English counties. In a wonderfully short time, Australia Felix was occupied from the Murray to the sea. South Australia was little more than a geographical expression. Its parliamentary boundaries, on the north and west, exist only on paper. To the present day, none but the foot of the explorer has ever crossed their meridians. The land in the neighbourhood of Adelaide was such as Captain Sturt had described it-rich in pastures, and needing but the care of the husbandman to give forth its corn and wine; but the traveller to the north of Adelaide soon found himself in a wilderness. The early settlers on Port Jackson never sought more eagerly to escape beyond the Blue Mountains than did the inhabitants of the Adelaide district now seek to know what lay beyond the desert which encompassed them. Within a few short

years,

the city of Adelaide had grown with amazing rapidity; the whole of the surrounding district was already overflowing with flocks and herds; but the settler wbo endeavoured to push to the north or west could nowhere discover either water or grass. The efforts of its new government were unremitting ; settlers were most ready to contribute to the expenses of exploring expeditions; and various were the plans discussed. Already Adelaide had its Press, its lecture hall, and reading rooms. A file of Adelaide newspapers for 1839, the year in which Captain Grey called at Adelaide, will be found very much occupied by letters on exploration, 'papers' read, and reports of discussions on the subject. The distance to King George's Sound was certainly immense, the coast line anything but inviting; but might it not be worth while to ascertain, by practical experiment, the possibility of driving sheep overland thither? Would not such an experiment most certainly lead to the discovery of good intermediate districts? Then, to the north of Adelaide, there was that mysterious Lake Torrens. Might not a better country commence with its northern shores, if they could be reached?

In 1840, these discussions were brought to a practical issue. After much debate, the attempt to form a junction with the

VOL. CXVI. NO. CCXXXV.

с

« PreviousContinue »