History of Australia and Australian colonization [19 August 1840]

[Editor: An article published in The Sydney Herald, 19 August 1840.]

History of Australia and Australian colonization.

After the visit of Tasman to Van Diemen’s Land, Australian discovery for a long period was at a stand. “The attention of European nations had been attracted by the golden fables of South America, the sunny islands of the Carribean Sea, and the boundless extent of the coast, extending from Florida to the region of everlasting snows.” The Dutch, however, it would appear, must have frequently visited Australia, since, in 1665, the States General ordered that the western coast should be called New Holland. The celebrated English circumnavigator, Dampier, in 1668, came with his buccaneers to the north-west coast of Australia, for the purpose of careening his vessel, and procuring refreshments. Dampier describes the natives as a “naked black people, with curly hair, like that of the negroes, having a piece of a rind of a tree tied like a girdle about their waist, and a handful of long grass, or three or four green boughs full of leaves, thrust under their girdle to cover their nakedness.” He also says, “that the two front teeth of the upper jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young; neither have they any beards.” With respect to their arms, he says, “the men, at our first coming ashore, threatened us with their lances and swords, but were frightened by our firing one gun.”

In 1699, William and Mary commanded that an expedition should be fitted out to make discoveries on the coast of New Holland, and among the islands to the north of its shores. The command was entrusted to the experienced vetern, Dampier. On the 1st of August, 1699, he made the land near Dirk Hartog’s Road, and coasted from 27° 40’ south latitude, to 16° 9’. His quaint description of the natives will afford some amusement to our readers. “They are the same blinking creatures we saw before, here being also abundance of the same flesh-flies teasing them, and with the same black skins and hair frizzled, tall and thin as those were. One of them, a chief, was painted with a circle of white paste or pigment above his eyes, and a white streak down his nose from his forehead to the top of it; and his breast and some part of his arms were made white with the same paint.” Dampier saw no houses, and believed that the natives had none; “but there were several things like haystacks standing in the savannah, which, at a distance, we thought were houses, looking just like the Hottentots’ houses at the Cape of Good Hope, but we found them to be so many rocks.”

No further knowledge was acquired of the Australian continent from the time of Dampier to the first voyage of the celebrated Captain Cook in 1770. This great navigator was sent with Mr. Green the astronomer, and accompanied by Mr., afterwards Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander, to observe the transit of venus over the sun’s disk at Otaheite; and after accomplishing the object of his voyage, and making a survey of New Zealand, he continued his course westward, in order to explore the west side of what was then called Terra Australis Incognita. It would be altogether inconsistent with our design, and useless to our readers, were we to give even an abridged account of the discoveries of Captain Cook, from the southward of Botany Bay to Cape York. Flinders has justly stated concerning this memorable voyage that the general plan of the expedition did not permit Cook to examine minutely every part of the coast. Some portions of the shore were passed in the night, many openings were seen and left unexamined, and the islands and the reefs lying at a distance from the coast could be no more than indicated. Captain Cook reaped the harvest of the discovery; but the gleanings of the field remained to be gathered.

The subsequent voyages of the French Captain Marmion in 1772, of Captain Ferneaux in 1772, of Captain Cook in 1777, of Captain Bligh in 1788, and of the French Rear Admiral D’Entrecasteaux in 1792, only partially enlarged the knowledge already possessed of Van Diemen’s Land and Australia.

The first colonization of the Australasian continent in 1788, will constitute the principal subject of our next historical article. A few further details remain to be given relative to the more minute and extensive examination of its shores.

The cause of Australian discovery is deeply indebted to two gallant and enterprising young men, Flinders, a midshipman, and Bass, a surgeon, who came out with Governor Hunter. These intrepid young sailors fitted up a boat, only eight feet long, which they very appropriately termed the Tom Thumb, and in this frail and diminutive vessel they actually examined every inlet and cove, not only within, but twenty miles beyond the limits which had been reached by the officers of Government. Encouraged by success, and stimulated by the very difficulties which obstructed their undertaking, they again went to sea in 1796; but after examining a considerable extent of coast, they were compelled to return by their miserable equipment. In 1797, Bass, in a whale boat, with six men, performed an exploit which will ever occupy a prominent position in the annals of maritime daring and enterprise. In an open boat he traversed six hundred miles of an unknown sea, added three hundred miles of coast to our geographical knowledge, ascertained Van Diemen’s Land to be an island and not a part of Australia, and gave his name to the straits by which these countries are separated. The discovery was completed by Bass and Flinders in concert the following year; they entered the river Derwent, and gave such information as induced the establishment of a Colony in 1803. In 1801 a commission was signed at the Admiralty, appointing Flinders Lieutenant and commander of His Majesty’s sloop Investigator, and in this crazy, old, rotten, and in every respect ill adapted craft, he surveyed much of the western and southern coasts; he also entered and examined the great gulf of Carpentaria, following the indentations of the shore, and succeeded in accurately exploring about four hundred leagues of land.

The adventurous career of the brave and persevering Flinders was not yet completed. In 1804 he was wrecked in Torres Straits, in company with the Cato; while the commander of the Bridgewater, their companion, with almost unparalleled barbarity, sailed away and left them to perish. In this emergency the shipwrecked mariners acted with the cool resolution so characteristic of British seamen. They removed from the wrecks to a dry sand, sufficiently extensive to receive the men and the provisions; and having erected tents, and secured all the stores which could be obtained from the ships, Flinders left them in an open boat to traverse two hundred and fifty leagues of a tempestuous sea, to obtain help at Port Jackson. He accomplished this perilous feat, and returned with a ship and two schooners to the rescue of the endangered navigators. He afterwards sailed again in a small schooner on discovery to Torres Straits, but his vessel became so leaky as to threaten to founder; he was compelled to take refuge at the Mauritius, then in possession of the French, and there the Governor, with the base and barbarous spirit of vindictive and dishonourable cruelty which actuated so many of his countrymen during the revolutionary war, declared him a prisoner, treated him with severity, and actually detained him four years after an order had been issued by his government for his release.

The subsequent discoveries which had been made on the coasts and in the interior of Australia, will be narrated in our geographical descriptions of each of the colonial territories.

The Sydney Herald (Sydney, NSW), 19 August 1840, p. 1 of the supplement

Editor’s notes:
careen = to put a ship or boat on its side so as to clean, caulk, or repair the hull; to lean or sway to one side

Otaheite = an older name of Tahiti

[Editor: Corrected “Florinda” to “Florida”; “ascertained. Van” to “ascertained Van”; “ieutenant” to “Lieutenant”.]

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