Wed 23rd Apr 1845 South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900) Trove

[To the Editors of the Register.]

Gentlemen. —If the accompanying paper is worth an insertion in your columns, it is quite at your service.

I am, Gentlemen, Yours, &c. N. R. F.

On the 12th April, 1845, the weather being remarkably fine, I resolved on making an excursion across the Gulf, having three objects in view—the first and grand one being to improve my health, which had latterly not been of the best; the second, to explore the Peninsula, which, though no more than a day's sail from the Port of Adelaide, may still be said to be a Terra Incognita; and the third, to obtain wattle gum. of which I had heard there were quantities.

I hired a whale-boat and two men—one, the owner of the boat, and the other a sailor; and in addition to this force, I enlisted two natives, who afterwards proved themselves to be of the greatest service, each respectively rejoicing in the classic names of " Tommy" and " Jacky"—and, laying in stores for a fortnight's voyage, and ammunition for an unlimited time, we weighed anchor in the evening, and reached the Light-ship about 10 pm, where we fastened our bark to one of the incidentals. Next morning at day break we hoisted a sail and set off for the opposite coast in a direction west of the Port. Towards evening the wind freshened, and we were forced to take to our oars. At a distance of fifteen miles from the shore, we could discern the smoke of native fires, which shot up in a thin blue line into the air like a rocket. The native fires seem to possess even a difference from the fires of civilized people; I don't know why, but one can at once tell a native's. This showed how remarkably quick their sight is when at such a distance, they could discern our little bark. Their fires were evidently intended for signals, as we could perceive one column of smoke rise after another along the cliffs. By the way, reasoning from this, it would appear that a party of natives would be the best persons to appoint to our signal-staff on West-terrace.

The appearance of the coast was pretty, being formed of cliffs about one hundred feet in height, changing in their hues from white to red. and were covered close to their edges with thick dark foliage. At last we reached it, much fatigued. Here the water was beautifully smooth and clear —so clear, indeed, that one hardly saw its surface in looking down. While my natives lighted a fire on shore, I had a delicious bathe. The usual quickness of the aborigines was soon exhibited by their discovering the foot-marks ot natives along the sand, which I would have passed many times without observing. They seemed much frightened while on shore, saying that "black fellows plenty spear them, and by and by would come down to where they saw our smoke." This seemed likely enough, so, after climb-up the cliff. and endeavouring to penetrate the scrub, in which I was unsuccessful, I returned to the boat, much to the delight of my black-guards, and directed the men to pull farther up the shore. We ran into a little bay, surmounted by high red cliffs, covered on the summits with dense scrub. I never, in any other part of the colony that I have visited, saw such scrub; massive it might be called, as you might almost walk along the surface of the foliage. tn this bay we cast anchor, or rather our sand-bag, out of reach of spear shot. Next day, I landed again, taking with me my guards "Tommy" and " Jackey", a pair of horse-pistols and a double-barrelled piece, and directed the men to pull across to a point of land distant about five miles higher up the gulf. We soon came on a path made by the natives of the Peninsula, which wound picturesquely along the edge of the cliffs. The interior was one mass of scrub—eternal scrub —as far as we could see, which probably was about three miles, the ground rising and falling in slight undulations. On our right the view was beautiful. The sea was perfectly smooth and bright, here and there only ruffled by the sudden plunge of some gulls as they skimmed along its surface, or by the oars of the boat, as it stole by. In the distance, the Mount Lofty range, and even the hills over which the Mount Barker road used to wind, were clearly perceptible; the horizon of the sea forming a line along their base which gave the appearance of the hills gradually sinking down into the water; or as if the sea had swallowed up the plains and Adelaide, and now threatened the moun-tains. The coast line did not form so straight a one in reality as it is made to look in Flinders's chart; but his was a general not a minute survey, and the limited portion of the ground which I saw, and over which I passed, proved how extremely accurate are his descriptions, even in the smallest particulars. About the middle of this bend or bight, over which we were passing. we came to another path leading up a dark, gloomy, suspicious-looking gully, which was overhung : with dwarf gum trees and a kind of wild vine, making the top impervious to the sun's rays. This new path also ran down to the beach ; and it was here we first clearly beheld the recent print of of a man's foot, which there was no mistaking. The others which we saw no one would have known were those of men from cows' but the natives them selves. Robinson Crusoe and the first foot-print which he saw with all its accompany-ing terrors, passed through my mind. I felt now I must be on the qui rive.

The treachery of the aboriginal tribes of New Holland is proverbial; and I began to think that there was a possibility, though not much probability, of native ambushes, or dastardly attacks, from behind the bushes which all along skirted the shores. With regard to the possibility of a rough handling, " Tommy" and "Jackey" perfectly coincided with me. The prints were as fresh as if made only an hour or so before. Near the point to which the boat was making the country suddenly began to improve; and as I was thinking of calling the men to pull in to accompany me to see how far it extended, my attention was arrested by their hollowing out to me, at the same time rowing towards the shore as fast as they could. " Who's dead, and what's to pay? " thought I along with Sam Slick. We could as yet see nothing; but my darkies smelled if they could not see; and away they dashed, leaving me to pay the piper." I walked towards the boat, cocking my pistols at the same time, in case of accidents, for I now began to suspect something had startled the nerves of my brave crew, although I had reason to suspect, even then, that it did not require an I earthquake or shipwreck to disturb their fears. No sooner had I reached the water's edge, than a large body of natives rushed out from behind the other side of the point, which was concealed from my view by the trees, and commenced yelling and shouting in a most furious manner. I must acknowledge that this little scene rather discomposcd me, and I scrambled into the boat as I best could, pushing off as quick as possible into deep water. Most of the natives, whom I must for the future call savages, rushed into the sea waving their hands over their heads still yelling. I saw no weapons whatever, but most of them kept their hands over their heads, in one of which they way have concealed a waddy. They were perfectly naked, and were neither painted nor tatooed. The first opinions I had formed of the chivalry of my sailor companions were in this matter fully confirmed. Were I inclined to have exhibited a warlike disposition, I would rather, to say the truth, have vented my anger upon their heads, than upon those of the poor savages. Their shameful cowardice disgusted me; nor would they understand that the more they displayed it, the more would the boldness and confidence of the savages be increased. Finding that we were out ot their reach, the natives stopped—most of them up to their necks in water. I beckoned to one of them to advance, and, as he approached. I could not help admiring his fine portly figure, and, though deep in the water, his manly bearing, that might well be envied by many of our own colour; but my natives could not understand a, word he said ; he seemed much astonished at what he saw, and looked pleased on getting a piece of bread. I showed him a gun, but he did not appear to know its use. Even at his smiles my " gallant tars" seemed frightened. Notwithstanding what had passed, I now thought of landing among them; but the horrible paleness of my companions deterred me from making the attempt. Discretion evidently was with them the better part of valour. The number of natives collected on the shore I supposed to be about sixty, or perhaps more. The women did not appear at all.

After shaking hands with our new visitor, which seemed a very odd ceremony to him, we pushed away for another point about three miles off. It must be remarked that the coast here is formed of a series of indentations, or bends, miking a series of headlands, or points. On leaving, the enemy collected in a body, and appeared in that position until we lost sight of them —perhaps consulting on the internal resources, and the " ways and means" of defending the country.

After the scene had passed, I could not I help congratulating myself on what I may call my escape, in not having come right upon the natives at the other side of the point, as only a few hundred yards separated us; it is hard to say what might have been the consequence, had I fallen in with them suddenly : and it was as well, too, that I did not land amongst them, it being probable that they are as remarkable for treachery, as any other of the native tribes of New Holland. Deceit is one of the darkest traits in their character, nor is it probable that it can ever be eradicated in the present grown-up generation. In getting half way to this new point, I perceived one of the troop separate from his companions, and run after us along the beach ; and just as we got up, he ap-proached. Here I again landed alone, the poor fellows in the boat being so terrified at the site of their wild looking countrymen, that I saw it was useless to ask them to accompany me. The native on the beach was the same that I gave the bread to, and, therefore, I had the less hesitation in meeting him. Poor fellow ! he looked a perfect mixture of terror, doubt, and good humour. I again gave him bread, and made signs for water. He pointed at once in the direction, offering to accompany me; but as I did not want it badly, and did not like trusting myself in the bush with him, I declined. I also explained to him that I wanted gum; but he shook his head, as much as to say that I was in the wrong furrow" I returned to the boat, first having a delightful swim, which appeared to astonish him, as it was then blowing fresh and rather cold. On we pulled to another point, or rather to a bend, in the coast, marked by high red cliffs; and in passing along the beach we saw a large encampment in a good state of native architecture, compared wiih the wurleys of other tribes elsewhere. This showed us still in the land of the Philistines. In the aspect of the country about, there appeared but little improvement; but in the distance, about ten miles, it looked grassy, and more promising. We got to the cliffs, after very hard pulling, the native following us along the beach. Here we prepared for an attack upou our wallets, at which my courageous crew were first-rate hands ; but just as we commenced, our happiness was again broken by another fearful rush of those devilish looking fellows, from behind the rocks and bushes which skirted the base of the cliffs. Their numbers were about the same as the last we had seen. Their yellings were the same—rushing lowards us hand over head, and waving their spare one occasionally. It might be in friendship, but, to our civilized notions of etiquette and hospitality, was rather a strange mode of evincing their good-will. There was no occasion for me to give any orders—up went the sand-bag as if by magic, and tug went the oars. Fear has an astonishing effect on delicate nerves. I never before, or since, saw the crew pull so well or so actively. As we retreated, one fine-looking fellow, rather elderly, who, I supposed, was a chief, shouted out to the others to " Hold on the boat," in words sounding like man mando youco, which being interpreted by my sable esquires at the bottom of the boat, meant what I have said. If this was his intention, it was high time to be stirring; but fear may have dictated this translation to my interpreters. The words, for what I know, may have been friendly: however, off we went like the wind. The sail was hoisted, and before evening, were miles away, I imagined that they fancied we had kidnapped the two blacks in the boat, and wanted to do the same with them, and they were, therefore, determined to turn the tables on us. I never saw finer looking or more savage fellows. This was the last interview we had with any of them.

My courageous crew, now out of all danger — if ever there was any at all — wished me to fire among them; but as I wanted to court their friendship, instead of alarming them, besides it being perfectly useless, unless in actual self-defence, I would not think of it. We made towards a distant patch of grassy looking country, about fifteen miles distant, and as the breeze was brisk, soon reached it. I landed, taking with me my trusty body-guard, T. and J., and proposed to the "gallant tars" that they also would accompany me ; but the boat, they said, would not be safe left alone —might run on shore, and one could not manage without the other; but if I particularly desired it, they would come. Better to be without such servants, so I left them, ordering them to pull along shore as I proceeded on the hills. Here there were remains of native fires. The shore was fringed with some pretty shrubs, inter spersed with pines, and the slopes (which can nearly be called hills) were covered good grass —here and there dotted with she-oak trees, and occasionally divided by clumps of trees, which were arranged so regularly, and one could uot help thinking that they had been so disposed by the hand of art, and not that of nature. Indeed, the whole looked the very beau ideal of a nobleman's demesne deserted. After walking about four miles, we returned to our bark, and pulling a little further up, slopped for the night. The next morning bore a very threatening aspect; all around was covered with a dense fog, such as I never saw on the plains of Adelaide; and were it not for a little compass, we must have remainad where we were. I pulled up the coast some five or six miles, and again went ashore, and here commenced that horrible swamp that extends, I believe, all round to the Port. On getting through the mangroves—the first I had seen on this side—and through the swamp at the back of them, we came to fine grassy slopes, similar in general features to the last, but better land. We heard cockatoos—soon returned to the boat, as by reason of the density of the fog, would see very little beyond us. Next pulled (all pulling this day) across the gulf; and, just as we got half way, the clouds, or mist, suddenly cleared off, like the rising of a curtain in a theatre, revealing to view the whole of the top of the gulf, which we were much nearer than I had expected, and beautiful it looked! It formed a bay of an immense semicircle in shape, bordered all round by bright green mangroves, and behind rose the grassy slopes, parts of which I had before seen, all terminating in Mount Arden, which seemed to guard the calm and solitary waters beneath. Though at this period of the year every thing and place was dried up and yellow, yet after the mists had cleared away, the whole scene looked fresh and charming. —

The water is pretty deep on the western side of the bay, but on this side shallow. I landed on the eastern coast, about six miles below the highest point of the bay, but had a dreadful swamp to cross, and on reaching the high land was disappointed in not seeing any appearance of sheep-stations nor sheep, for the feed here was generally good. We saw marks of kangaroo, emu, and turkies ; and from this ground could discern the long and extensive Gawler swamps, which may be termed the Pontine marshes of South Australia, without any of the interest which invests them, but with most of the annoyances. Discovered the wreck of a boat among the mangroves as we returned. The water here is clear, or clearer than crystal, and I rolled into it as usual. Remained here another night. Next day, at daylight, commenced our voyage towards Adelaide, pulling, not through the sea, but apparently over an immense sheet of polished steel. We soon came to that extraordinary and extensive tract of sand which extends nearly down to the Port running out some six or seven miles and only covered with a few inches of water. A northerly breeze sprung up—here cool and exhilerating; but on shore, called a red hot wind. Our little craft rushed or rather flew through the water, shivering under her canvass, and reminding one of he rapidity of the sword fish after his prey. Nor did we slacken rein until we reached Torrens Island, where I again for I the last time indulged myself in another long swim ; and after a slight glance at, that place, ran up to the Port and were soon along side the Falco, American brig.

P.S. We did not discover any water in York's Peninsula, but having seen the re-mains of native fires, one may reasonably imagine that there is some.