AUSTRALIA

Captain James Cook

Stuck on the Great Barrier Reef - Part 2

           

Early on the 24th, the carpenters began to repair the sheathing under the larboard bow, where we found two planks cut about half through; and in the meantime I sent a party of men, under the direction of Mr. Gore, in search of refreshments for the sick, this party returned about noon, with a few palm cabbages, and a bunch or two of wild plantain; the plantain were the smallest i had ever seen, and the pulp, though it was well tasted, was full of small stones. As I was walking this morning at a little distance from the ship, I saw, myself, one of the animals which had been so often described; it was of a light mouse color, and in size and shape very much resembling a greyhound; it had a long tail also, which it carried like a greyhound; and I should have taken it for a wild dog, if, instead of running, it had not leapt a hare or deer, its legs were said to be very slender, and the print of its foot to be like that of a goat; but where I saw it, the grass was so high that the legs were concealed, and the ground was too hard to receive the track. Mr. Banks also had an imperfect view of this animal, and was of the opinion that its species was hitherto unknown.

After the ship was hauled ashore, all the water that came into her of course went backwards; so that although she was dry forwards, she had nine feet water abaft; as in this part therefore her bottom could not be examined on the inside, I took the advantage of the tide being out this evening to get the master and two of the men to go under her, and examine her whole larboard side without. They found the sheathing gone about the floor heads abreast of the mainmast, and a part of a plank a little damaged, but all agreed that she had received no other material injury. The loss of her sheathing alone was a great misfortune, as the worm would now b let into her bottom, which might expose us to great inconvenience and danger; but as I knew no remedy for the mischief but heaving her down, which would be a work of immense labour and long time, if practicable at all in our present situation, I was obliged to be content. The carpenters, however, continued to work under he bottom in the evening till they wee prevented by the tide; the morning tide did not ebb out far enough to permit them to work at all, for we had only one tolerable high and low tide in four-and-twenty hours, as indeed we had experienced when we lay upon the rock. The position of the ship, which threw the water in her abaft, was very near depriving the world of all the knowledge which Mr. Banks had endured so much labour, and so many risks, to procure; for her had removed the curious collection of plants which he had made during the whole voyage, into the bread-room, which lies in the after-part of the ship, as a place of the greatest security; and nobody having thought of the danger to which laying her head so much higher than the stern would expose them, they were this day found under water. Most of them however were, by indefatigable care and attention, restored to a state of preservation, but some were entirely spoilt and destroyed.

The 25th was employed in filling water and overhauling the rigging, and at low water the carpenters finished the repairs under the larboard bow, and every other place which the tide would permit them to come at; some casks were then lashed under her bows to facilitate her floating; and at night, when it was high water, we endeavoured to heave her off, but without success, for some of the casks that were lashed to her gave way. The morning of the 26th was employed in getting more casks ready for the same purpose, and in the afternoon we lashed no fewer than eight-and-thirty under the ship's bottom, but to our great mortification these also proved ineffectual, and we found ourselves reduced to the necessity of waiting till the next spring-tide.

This day, some of our gentleman, who had made an excursion into the woods, brought home the leaves of a plant, which was thought to be the same that in the West Indies is called cocco; but upon trial, the roots proved too acrid to be eaten; the leaves however were little inferior to spinage. In the place where these plants wee gathered, grew plenty of the cabbage trees which have occasionally been mentioned before, a kind of wild plantain, the fruit of which was so full of stones a scarcely to be eatable; another fruit was also found about the size of a small golden pippen, but flatter, and of a deep purple color; when first gathered from the tree, it was very hard and disagreeable, but after being kept a few days became soft, and tasted very much like an indifferent damson.

The next morning we began to move some of the weight from the after-part of the ship forward, to ease her; in the meantime the armourer continued to work at the forge, the carpenter was busy in calking the ship, and the men employed in filling water and overhauling the rigging; in the forenoon I went myself in the pinnacle up the harbour, and made several hauls with the seine, but caught only between twenty and thirty fish, which were given to the sick and convalescent.

On the 28th, Mr. Banks went with some of the seamen up the country, to show them the plant which in the West Indies is called Indian kale, and which served us for greens. Tupia had much meliorated the root of the coccos, by giving them a long dressing in his country oven, but they were so small that we did not think them an object for the ship. In their walk they found one tree which had been notched for the convenience of climbing it, in the same manner with those we had seen in botany Bay; they saw also many nests of white ants, which resemble those of the East Indies, the most pernicious insects in the world. The nests were of a pyramidcal figure, from a few inches to six feet high, and very much resembled the stones of England which are said to be monuments of the Druids. Mr. Gore, who was also this day four or five miles up the country, reported that he had seen the footsteps of men, and tracked animals of three or four different sorts, but had not been fortunate enough to see either man or beast.

At two o'clock in the morning of the 29th, I observed, in conjunction with Mr. Green, an emersion of Jupiter's first satellite, the time here was 2', 18', 53', which gave the longitude of this place 214 degrees 42' 30"W.; its latitude is 15 degrees 26' S. At break of day, i sent the boat out again with the seine, and in the afternoon it returned with as much fish as enabled me to give every man a pound and a half. One of my midshipmen, an American, who was this day abroad with his gun, reported that he had seen a wolf, exactly like those which he had been used to seeing in his own country, and that he had shot at it, but did not kill it. (This was probably a "dingo" or native dog, the Wariagul of the aborigines, (Canis Australiasia, Dem.) as no species of the wolf is found throughout the country. The dingo is remarkable for its extreme tenacity of life, some singular instances of which are related by Mr. Bennett, in his "Wanderings in New South Wales"; which may account for the bad success of the American marksman.)

The next morning, encouraged by the success of the day before, I sent the boat again to haul the seine, and another party to gather greens; I sent also some of the young gentlemen to take a plan of the harbour, and went myself upon a hill, which lies over the south point, to take a view of the sea. At this time it was low water, and I saw, with great concern, innumerable sandbanks and shoals lying all along the coast in every direction. The innermost lay about three or four miles from the shore, the outermost extended as far as i could see with my glass, and many of them did but just rise above water. There was some appearance of a passage to the northward, and I had no hope of getting clear but in that direction, for, as the wind blows constantly from the S.W., it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to return back to the southward.

Mr. Gore reported, that he had this day seen two animals like dogs, of a straw colour, that they ran like a hare, and were about the same size. In the afternoon, the people returned from hauling the seine, with still better success than before, for i was now able to distribute two pounds and a half to each man; the greens that had been gathered I ordered to be boiled among that pease, and they made an excellent mess, which, with two copious supplies of fish, afforded us unspeakable refreshment. The next day, July the 1st, being Sunday, everybody had liberty to go ashore, except one from each mess, who were again sent out with the seine. The seine was again equally successful, and the people went up the country gave an account of having seen several animals, though one of them was to be caught. They saw a fire also about a mile up the river, and Mr. Gore, the second lieutenant, picked up the husk of a cocoa-nut, which had been cast upon the beach, and was full of barnacles; this probably might come from some island to windward, perhaps from the Terra del Espirito Santo of Quiros, as we were now in the latitude where it is said to lie. (Captain King remarks upon this passage: "From the prevailing winds, it would appear more likely to have drifted from New Caledonia, which island was at the time unknown to cook; the fresh appearance of the cocoa-nut seen by us (at Cape Cleveland) renders, however, even this conclusion doubtful. Captain Flinders also found one as far to the south as Shoalwater Bay".) This day the thermometer in the shade rose to 87, which was higher than it had been on any day since we came upon the coast. 

Early the next morning, I sent the master in the pinnacle out of the harbour, to sound about the shoals in the offing, and look for channel to the northward; at this time we had a breeze from the land, which continued till about nine o'clock, and was the first we had since our coming into the river. At low water we lashed some empty casks under the ship's bows, having some hope that, as the tides were rising, she would float the next high water. We still continued to fish with great success, and at high water we again attempted to heave the ship off, but our utmost efforts were still ineffectual.

The next day at noon, the master returned, and reported, that he had found a passage out to sea between the shoals and described its situation. The shoals, he said, consisted of coral rocks, many of which were dry at low water, and upon one of which he had been ashore. He found here some cockles of so enormous a size, that one of them was more than two men could eat, and a great variety of other shell-fish, of which he brought us a plentiful supply; in the evening, he had also landed in a bay about three leagues to the northward of our station, where he disturbed some of the natives who were at supper; they all fled with the greatest precipitation at his approach, leaving some fresh sea eggs, and a fire ready kindled behind them, but thee was neither house nor hovel near the place. We observed, that although the shoals that lie just within sight of the coast abound with shell-fish, which may be easily caught at low water, yet we saw no such shells about the fireplaces on shore. This day an alligator was seen to swim about the ship for some time, and at high water we made another effort to float her, which happily succeeded, we found however that by lying so long with her head aground and her stern afloat she had sprung a plank between decks, abreast of the main chains, so that it was become necessary to lay her ashore again. 

The next morning was employed to trimming her upon an even keel, and in the afternoon, having warped her over, and waited for high water, we laid her ashore on the sandbank on the south side of the river, for the damage she had received already from the great descent of the ground made me afraid to lay her broadside to the shore in the same place from which we had just floated her. I was now very desirous to make another trial to come at her bottom, where the sheathing had been rubbed off, but although she had scarcely four feet water under her when the tide was out, yet that part was not dry.

On the 5th, I got one of the carpenter's crew, a man in whom I could confide, to go down again to the ship's bottom, and examine the place. He reported, that three streaks of the sheathing about eight feet long, were wanting, and that the main plank had been a little rubbed; this account perfectly agreed with the report of the master, and others, who had been under her bottom before; I had the comfort however to find the carpenter of opinion that this would be of little consequence, and therefore the other damage being repaired, she was again floated as high-water, and moored alongside the beach, where the stores had been deposited, we then went to work to take the stores on board, and put her in a condition for the sea. This day, Mr. Banks crossed to the other side of the harbour, where, as he walked along a sandy beach, he found innumerable fruits, and many of them such as no plants which he had discovered in this country produced; among others were some cocoa-nuts, which Tupia said had been opened by some kind of crab, which from his description we judged to be the same that the Dutch call Bears Knabbe, and which we had not seen in these seas. All the vegetable substances which he found in this place wee encrusted with marine productions, and covered with barnacles, a sure sign that they must have come far by sea, and, as the trade-wind blows right upon the shore, probably from Terra del Espirito Santo, which has been mentioned already. 

The next morning, Mr. Banks, with Lieutenant Gore, and there men, set out in a small boat up the river, with a view to spend two or three days in an excursion, to examine the country, and kill some of the animals which had been so often seen at a distance. On the 7th, I sent the master again out to sound about the shoals, the account which he had brought me of the channel being by no means satisfactory; and we spent the remainder of his day and the morning of the next, in fishing, and other necessary occupations. About four o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Banks and his party returned, and gave us an account of their expedition. Having proceeded about three leagues among swamps and mangroves, they went up into the country, which they found to differ but little from what they had seen before, they pursued their course therefore up the river, which at length was contracted into a narrow channel, and was bounded, not by swamps and mangroves, but by steep banks, that were covered with trees of a most beautiful verdure, among thick was that which in the West Indies is called Mohoe, or the bark-tree, the Hibiscus niliaceus; the land within was in general low, and had a thick covering of long grass; the soil seemed to be such as promised great fertility, to any who should plant and improve it. In the course of the day, Tupia saw an animal, which, by his description, Mr. Banks judged to be a wolf; they also saw three other animals, but could neither catch nor kill one of them, and a kind of bat, as large as a partridge, but this also eluded all their diligence and skill. At night, they took up their lodging close to the banks of the river, and made a fire, but the mosquitoes swarmed about them in such numbers, that their quarters were almost untenable; they followed them into the smoke, and almost into the fire, which, hot as the climate was, they could better endure than the stings of these insects, which were an intolerable torment. The fire, the flies, and the want of a better bed than the ground, rendered the night extremely uncomfortable, so that they passed it, not in sleep, but in restless wishes for the return of day. With the first dawn they set out in search of game, and in a walk of many miles they saw four animals of the same kind, two of which Mr. Banks's greyhound fairly chased, but they threw him out at a great distance, by leaping over the long thick grass, which prevented his running; this animal was observed, not to run upon four legs, but to bound or hop forward on two, like the Jerhoa, or Mus Jaculus. About noon, they returned to the boat, and again proceeded up the river, which was soon contracted into a fresh-water brook, where, however, the tide rose to a considerable height; as evening approached, it became low-water, and it was then so shallow that they were obliged to get out of the boat and drag her along, till they could find a place at length offered, and while they were getting the things out of the boat, they observed a smoke at the distance of about a furlong as they did not doubt but that some of the natives, with whom they had so long and earnestly desired to become personally acquainted, were about the fire, three of the party went immediately towards it, hoping that so small a number would not put them to flight; when they came up to the place, however, they found it deserted, and therefore they conjectured, that before they had discovered the Indians, the Indians had discovered them. They found the fire still burning in the hollow of an old tree that was become touchwood, and several branches of trees newly broken down, with which children appeared to have been playing; they observed also many footsteps upon the sand, below high-water mark, which wee certain indications that the Indians had been recently upon the spot. Several houses were found at a little distance, and some ovens dug in the ground, in the same manner as those of Otaheite, in which victuals appeared to have been dressed since the morning, and scattered about them lay some shells of a kind of clam, and some fragments of roots, the refuse of the meal. After regretting their disappointment, the repaired to their quarters, which was a broad sandbank, under the shelter of a bush. The beds were plantain leaves, which they spread upon the sand, and which whereas soft as a mattress; their cloaks served them for bedclothes, and some bunches of grass for pillows; with these accommodations they hoped to pass a better night than the last, especially as, to their great comfort, not a mosquito was to be seen. here then they lay down, and such is the force of habit, they resigned themselves to sleep, without once reflecting upon the probability and danger of being found by the Indians in that situation. If this appears strange, let us for a moment reflect, that every danger and every calamity, after a time, becomes familiar, and loses its effect upon the mind. If it were possible that a man should first be made acquainted with his mortality, or even with the inevitable debility and infirmities of old age, when his understanding had arrived at its full strength, and life was endeared by the enjoyments of youth, and vigour, and health, with what an agony of terror and distress would the intelligence be received! Yet, being gradually acquainted with these mournful truths, by insensible degrees, we scarce know when, they lose all their force, and we think no more of the approach of old age and death, than these wanderers of an unknown desert did of a less obvious and certain evil - the approach of the native savages, at a time when they must have fallen an easy prey to their malice or their fears. And it is remarkable that the greater part of those who have been condemned to suffer a violent death, have slept the night immediately preceding their execution, though there is perhaps no instance of a person accused of a capital crime having slept the first night of his confinement. Thus is the evil of life in some degree a remedy for itself, and though every man at twenty deprecates fourscore, almost every man is as tenacious of life as fourscore as at twenty; and if he does not suffer under any painful disorder, loses as little of the comforts that remain by reflecting that he is upon the pleasures of his better days, when his dissolution, though certain, was supposed to e at a distance.

Our travelers having slept, without once awakening till the morning, examined the river, and finding the tide favoured their return, and the country promised nothing worthy of a farther search, they re-embarked in their boat, and made the best of their way to the ship.

Back to Captain James Cook - Stuck on the Great Barrier Reef - Part 1

A SHORT HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA - PART 2

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