Voyage Of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Vol. 2 (of 2)
by John MacGillivray
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Distribution of Aboriginal tribes of Cape York and Torres Strait. Mode of warfare illustrated. Their social condition. Treatment of the women. Prevalence of infanticide. Education of a child. Mode of scarifying the body. Initiation to manhood. Their canoes, weapons, and huts. Dress of the women. Food of the natives. Mode of fishing. Capture of the turtle and dugong described. Yams and mode of culture. Edible roots, fruits, etc. No recognised chieftainship. Laws regarding property in land. Belief in transmigration of souls. Their traditions. Diseases and modes of treatment. Burial Ceremonies.


Sail from Cape York. Mount Ernest described. Find Kalkalega tribe on Sue Island. Friendly reception at Darnley Island, and proceedings there. Bramble Cay and its turtle. Stay at Redscar Bay. Further description of the natives, their canoes, etc. Pass along the South-east coast of New Guinea. Call at Duchateau Islands. Passage to Sydney. Observations on Geology and Ethnology. Origin of the Australians considered.


Death of Captain Stanley. Sail for England. Arrive at the Bay of Islands. Kororareka. Falls of the Keri-Keri. Passage across the South Pacific. Oceanic birds. Stay at the Falkland Islands. Settlement of Stanley. Call at Berkeley Sound. Lassoing cattle. Resume our homeward voyage. Call at Horta in the Azores. The caldeira of Fayal. Arrive in England.


Narrative of Mr. W. Carron. Statement of Jackey-Jackey. Dr. Vallack's statement. Extracts from Mr. T.B. Simpson's Log.












NEW SHELLS. Tab. 2. Fig. 1. Helix brumeriensis. Fig. 2. Helix franklandiensis. Fig. 3. Helix inconspicua. Fig. 4. Helix iuloides. Fig. 5. Helix divisa. Fig. 6. Helix yulei. Fig. 7. Helix dunkiensis. Fig. 8. Helix louisiadensis. Fig. 9. Balea australis. Fig. 10. Pupina grandis.

NEW SHELLS. Tab. 3. Fig. 1. Helix macgillivrayi. Fig. 2. Pupina Thomsoni. Fig. 3. Helicina gouldiana. Fig. 4. Helicina stanleyi. Fig. 5. Helicina louisiadensis. Fig. 6. Ranella pulchra. Fig. 7. Scalaria jukesiana. Fig. 8. Macgillivrayia pelagica. Fig. 9. Cheletropis huxleyi.

NEW INSECTS. Tab. 4. Fig. 1, 2. Pachyrhynchus stanleyanus, White. Fig. 3, 4. Drusilla myloecha, Westwood. Fig. 5. Eusemia mariana, White.

NEW CRABS. Fig. 1. Ommatocarcinus macgillivrayi, White. Fig. 2. Porcellanella triloba, White.





Distribution of Aboriginal tribes of Cape York and Torres Strait. Mode of warfare illustrated. Their social condition. Treatment of the women. Prevalence of infanticide. Education of a child. Mode of scarifying the body. Initiation to manhood. Their canoes, weapons, and huts. Dress of the women. Food of the natives. Mode of fishing. Capture of the turtle and dugong described. Yams and mode of culture. Edible roots, fruits, etc. No recognised chieftainship. Laws regarding property in land. Belief in transmigration of souls. Their traditions. Diseases and modes of treatment. Burial Ceremonies.


There are at least five distinct tribes of natives inhabiting the neighbourhood of Cape York. The Gudang people possess the immediate vicinity of the Cape: the Yagulles* stretch along the coast to the southward and eastward beyond Escape River: the Katchialaigas and Induyamos (or Yarudolaigas as the latter are sometimes called) inhabit the country behind Cape York, but I am not acquainted with the precise localities: lastly, the Gomokudins are located on the South-West shores of Endeavour Strait, and extend a short distance down the Gulf of Carpentaria. These all belong to the Australian race as unquestionably as the aborigines of Western or South Australia, or the South-East coast of New South Wales; they exhibit precisely the same physical characteristics which have been elsewhere so often described as to render further repetition unnecessary.

(*Footnote. This is the tribe concerned in the murder of the unfortunate Kennedy. The circumstances were related by some of the Yagulles to an old woman at Cape York of the name of Baki, who, when questioned upon the subject through Giaom, partially corroborated the statement of Jackey-Jackey. She further stated that a few years ago a Yagulle woman and child had been shot by some white men in a small vessel near Albany Island, and that the tribe were anxious to revenge their death. Whether this was a story got up as a palliative for the murder, or not, I cannot say.)

On the other hand, the tribes inhabiting the islands of Torres Strait differ from those of the mainland in belonging (with the exception of the first) to the Papuan or frizzled-haired race. Besides, probably, a few others of which I cannot speak with certainty, these tribes are distributed in the following manner. The Kowraregas inhabit the Prince of Wales group: the Muralegas and Italegas divide between them Banks Island: the Badulegas possess Mulgrave Island, and the Gumulegas the islands between the last and New Guinea: the Kulkalegas have Mount Ernest and the Three Sisters: The Massilegas* reside on the York Isles and others adjacent: and the Miriam** tribe hold the north-easternmost islands of Torres Strait, including Murray and Darnley Islands.

(*Footnote. I do not know what name is given to the tribe or tribes inhabiting the space between the Miriam and the Kulkalaig. Dzum (a Darnley islander) told me of a tribe called Gamle inhabiting Owrid, Uta, Zogarid, Sirreb, Mekek, and Wurber; at all events the natives of Massid belong to a distinct tribe, judging from their language, and are known as the Massilegas by the Kowraregas. They occasionally (as in 1848) come down to Cape York on a visit to the Australians there, often extending their voyage far to the southward, visiting the various sandy islets in search of turtle and remaining away for a month or more.)

(**Footnote. Is so named from a place in Murray Island. The possessions of this tribe are Mer, Dowar, Wayer, Errub, Ugar, Zapker, and Edugor, all, except the two last, permanently inhabited.

The junction between the two races, or the Papuan from the north and the Australian from the south, is effected at Cape York by the Kowraregas, whom I believe to be a Papuanized colony of Australians, as will elsewhere be shown. In fact, one might hesitate whether to consider the Kowraregas* as Papuans or Australians, so complete is the fusion of the two races. Still the natives of the Prince of Wales Islands rank themselves with the islanders and exhibit a degree of conscious superiority over their neighbours on the mainland and with some show of reason; although themselves inferior to all the other islanders, they have at least made with them the great advance in civilisation of having learned to cultivate the ground, a process which is practised by none of the Australian aborigines.

(*Footnote. Dr. Latham informs me that the Kowrarega language is undeniably Australian, and has clearly shown such to be the case: and although the Miriam language does not show any obvious affinity with the continental Australian dialects, yet the number of words common to it and the Kowrarega, I find by comparison of my vocabularies to be very considerable, and possibly, were we at all acquainted with the grammar of the former, other and stronger affinities would appear.)


The Kowraregas speak of New Guinea under the name of Muggi (little) Dowdai, while to New Holland they apply the term of Kei (large) Dowdai. Their knowledge of the former island has been acquired indirectly through the medium of intervening tribes. The New Guinea people are said to live chiefly on pigs and sago; from them are obtained the cassowary feathers used in their dances, and stone-headed clubs. They trade with the Gumulegas, who exchange commodities with the Badulegas, from whom the Kowrarega people receive them. These last barter away to their northern neighbours spears, throwing-sticks, and mother-of-pearl shells for bows, arrows, bamboo pipes, and knives, and small shell ornaments called dibi-dibi. They have friendly relations with the other islanders of Torres Strait, but are at enmity with all the mainland tribes except the Gudang.


Occasionally hostilities, frequently caused by the most trivial circumstances, arise between two neighbouring tribes, when incursions are made into each other's territories, and reprisals follow. Although timely notice is usually given prior to an aggression being made by one tribe upon another, yet the most profound secrecy is afterwards practised by the invaders. As an illustration of their mode of warfare, in which treachery is considered meritorious in proportion to its success, and no prisoners are made, except occasionally, when a woman is carried off—consisting chiefly in a sudden and unexpected attack, a short encounter, the flight of one party and the triumphant rejoicings of the other on their return—I may state the following on the authority of Giaom.

About the end of 1848, an old Kowrarega man went by himself in a small canoe to the neighbourhood of Cape Cornwall, while the men of the tribe were absent turtling at the eastern end of Endeavour Strait. He was watched by a party of Gomokudin blacks or Yigeiles, who, guided by his fire, surprised and speared him. Immediately returning to the mainland, the perpetrators of this savage deed made a great fire by way of exultation. Meanwhile the turtling party returned, and when it became known that the old man had been missing for several days, they were induced by his two sons to search for him, and found the body horribly mutilated, with many spears stuck into it to show who had been the murderers. This explained the fire, so another was lit in reply to the challenge, and at night a party of Kowraregas in six canoes, containing all the men and lads of the tribe, crossed over to the main. They came upon a small camp of Yigeiles who had not been at all concerned in the murder, and enticed one of them to come out of the thicket where he had concealed himself by the offer of a fillet of cassowary feathers for information regarding the real murderers. As soon as the man stepped out, he was shot down with an arrow, his head cut off, and pursuit made after the rest. Towards morning their second camping-place was discovered and surrounded, when three men, one woman, and a girl were butchered. The heads of the victims were cut off with the hupi, or bamboo knife, and secured by the sringi, or cane loop, both of which are carried slung on the back by the Torres Strait islanders and the New Guinea men of the adjacent shores, when on a marauding excursion;* these Papuans preserve the skulls of their enemies as trophies, while the Australian tribes merely mutilate the bodies of the slain, and leave them where they fall.

(*Footnote. See Jukes' Voyage of the Fly Volume 1 page 277.)


The Kowraregas returned to their island with much exultation, announcing their approach by great shouting and blowing on conchs. The heads were placed on an oven and partially cooked, when the eyes were scooped out and eaten with portions of flesh cut from the cheek;* only those, however, who had been present at the murder were allowed to partake of this; the morsel was supposed to make them more brave. A dance was then commenced, during which the heads were kicked along the ground, and the savage excitement of the dancers almost amounted to frenzy. The skulls were ultimately hung up on two cross sticks near the camp, and allowed to remain there undisturbed.

(*Footnote. The eyes and cheeks of the survivors from the wreck of a Charles Eaton (in August 1834) were eaten by their murderers—a party consisting of different tribes from the eastern part of Torres Strait. See Nautical Magazine 1837 page 799.)

In the beginning of 1849 a party of Badulegas who had spent two months on a friendly visit to the natives of Muralug treacherously killed an old Italega woman, married to one of their hosts. Two of her brothers from Banks Island were staying with her at the time, and one was killed, but the other managed to escape. The heads were carried off to Badu as trophies. This treacherous violation of the laws of hospitality was in revenge for some petty injury which one of the Badu men received from an Ita black several years before.


When a large fire is made by one tribe it is often intended as a signal of defiance to some neighbouring one—an invitation to fight—and may be continued daily for weeks before hostilities commence; it is answered by a similar one. Many other signals by smoke are in use: for example, the presence of an enemy upon the coast—a wish to communicate with another party at a distance—or the want of assistance—may be denoted by making a small fire, which, as soon as it has given out a little column of smoke, is suddenly extinguished by heaping sand upon it. If not answered immediately it is repeated; if still unanswered, a large fire is got up and allowed to burn until an answer is returned.


Polygamy is practised both on the mainland and throughout the islands of Torres Strait. Five is the greatest number of wives which I was credibly informed had been possessed by one man—but this was an extraordinary instance, one, two, or three, being the usual complement, leaving of course many men who are never provided with wives. The possession of several wives ensures to the husband a certain amount of influence in his tribe as the owner of so much valuable property, also from the nature and extent of his connections by marriage. In most cases females are betrothed in infancy, according to the will of the father, and without regard to disparity of age, thus the future husband may be and often is an old man with several wives. When the man thinks proper he takes his wife to live with him without any further ceremony, but before this she has probably had promiscuous intercourse with the young men, such, if conducted with a moderate degree of secrecy, not being considered as an offence, although if continued after marriage it would be visited by the husband (if powerful enough) upon both the offending parties with the severest punishment.

Occasionally there are instances of strong mutual attachment and courtship, when, if the damsel is not betrothed, a small present made to the father is sufficient to procure his consent; at the Prince of Wales Islands a knife or glass bottle are considered as a sufficient price for the hand of a lady fair, and are the articles mostly used for that purpose.

According to Giaom puberty in girls takes place from the tenth to the twelfth year, but few become mothers at a very early age. When parturition is about to take place the woman retires to a little distance in the bush, and is attended by an experienced matron. Delivery is usually very easy, and the mother is almost always able on the following day to attend to her usual occupations. The infant is laid upon a small soft mat which the mother has taken care to prepare beforehand, and which is used for no other purpose.


The life of a married woman among the Kowrarega and Gudang blacks is a hard one. She has to procure nearly all the food for herself and husband, except during the turtling season, and on other occasions when the men are astir. If she fails to return with a sufficiency of food, she is probably severely beaten—indeed the most savage acts of cruelty are often inflicted upon the women for the most trivial offence.


Considering the degraded position assigned by the Australian savages to their women, it is not surprising that the Prince of Wales Islanders should, by imitating their neighbours in this respect, afford a strong contrast to the inhabitants of Darnley and other islands of the North-East part of Torres Strait, who always appeared to me to treat their females with much consideration and kindness. Several instances of this kind of barbarity came under my own notice. Piaquai (before-mentioned) when spoken to about his wife whom he had killed a fortnight before in a fit of passion, seemed much amused at the idea of having got rid of her unborn child at the same time. One morning at Cape York, Paida did not keep his appointment with me as usual; on making inquiry, I found that he had been squabbling with one of his wives a few minutes before, about some trifle, and had speared her through the hip and groin. On expressing my disapproval of what he had done, adding that white men never acted in that manner, he turned it off by jocularly observing that although I had only one wife, HE had two, and could easily spare one of them. As a further proof of the low condition of the women, I may state that it is upon them that the only restrictions in eating particular sorts of food are imposed. Many kinds of fish, including some of the best, are forbidden on the pretence of their causing disease in women, although not injurious to the men. The hawksbill turtle and its eggs are forbidden to women suckling, and no female, until beyond child bearing, is permitted to eat of the Torres Strait pigeon.

Among other pieces of etiquette to be practised after marriage among both the Kowraregas and Gudangs, a man must carefully avoid speaking to or even mentioning the name of his mother-in-law, and his wife acts similarly with regard to her father-in-law. Thus the mother of a person called Nuki—which means water—is obliged to call water by another name; in like manner as the names of the dead are never mentioned without great reluctance so, after the death of a man named Us, or quartz, that stone had its name changed into nattam ure, or the thing which is a namesake, although the original will gradually return to common use.

The population of Muralug is kept always about the same numerical standard by the small number of births, and the occasional practice of infanticide. Few women rear more than three children, and besides, most of those born before marriage are doomed to be killed immediately after birth, unless the father—which is seldom the case—is desirous of saving the child—if not, he gives the order marama teio (throw it into the hole) and it is buried alive accordingly. Even of other infants some, especially females, are made away with in a similar manner when the mother is disinclined to support it.


An infant is named immediately after birth: and, on Muralug, these names for the last few years have been chosen by a very old man named Guigwi. Many of these names have a meaning attached to them: thus, two people are named respectively Wapada and Passei, signifying particular trees, one woman is called Kuki, or the rainy season, and her son Ras, or the driving cloud. Most people have several names, for instance, old Guigwi was also called Salgai, or the firesticks, and Mrs. Thomson was addressed as Kesagu, or Taomai, by her (adopted) relatives, but as Giaom by all others. Children are usually suckled for about two years, but are soon able, in a great measure, to procure their own food, especially shellfish, and when strong enough to use the stick employed in digging up roots, they are supposed to be able to shift for themselves.


A peculiar form of head, which both the Kowrarega and Gudang blacks consider as the beau ideal of beauty, is produced by artificial compression during infancy. Pressure is made by the mother with her hands—as I have seen practised on more than one occasion at Cape York—one being applied to the forehead and the other to the occiput, both of which are thereby flattened, while the skull is rendered proportionally broader and longer than it would naturally have been.*

(*Footnote. Precisely the same form of skull as that alluded to in volume 1: hence it is not unreasonable to suppose that the latter might have been artificially produced.)

When the child is about a fortnight old the perforation in the septum of the nose is made by drilling it with a sharp-pointed piece of tortoise-shell, but the raised artificial scars, regarded as personal ornaments by the Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, are not made until long afterwards. According to Giaom, who states that among the Kowraregas this scarification is purely voluntary, the patient is laid upon the ground and held there, while the incisions are made with a piece of glass by some old man famous for his skill in performing the operation. The chewed leaf of a certain plant (which, however, I could not identify) is introduced into the wound to prevent the edges from uniting, and a daub of wet clay is then placed over all, and kept there until the necessary effect has been produced. The principal scarifications among women at Cape York and Muralug are in the form of long lines across the hips. Among the men, however, there is considerable variety.

The characteristic mode of dressing the hair among the Torres Strait Islanders is to have it twisted up into long pipe-like ringlets, and wigs in imitation of this are also worn. Sometimes the head is shaved, leaving a transverse crest—a practice seldom seen among the men but not uncommon among women and children, from Darnley Island down to Cape York. At the last place and Muralug the hair is almost always kept short—still caprice and fashion have their sway, for at Cape York I have at times for a week together seen all the men and lads with the hair twisted into little strands well daubed over with red ochre and turtle fat.


The Torres Strait Islanders are distinguished by a large complicated oval scar, only slightly raised, and of neat construction. This, which I have been told has some connection with a turtle, occupies the right shoulder, and is occasionally repeated on the left. At Cape York, however, the cicatrices were so varied, that I could not connect any particular style with an individual tribe—at the same time something like uniformity was noticed among the Katchialaigas, nearly all of whom had, in addition to the horned breast-mark, two or three long transverse scars on the chest, which the other tribes did not possess. In the remaining people the variety of marking was such that it appeared fair to consider it as being regulated more by individual caprice than by any fixed custom. Many had a simple two-horned mark on each breast, and we sometimes saw among them a clumsy imitation of the elaborate shoulder mark of the islanders.


The custom of undergoing a certain mysterious ceremony prior to being admitted to the privileges of manhood, supposed to be an institution peculiar to the Australians, is found among the Kowraregas, but whether it extends throughout Torres Strait is uncertain. This initiation is not at Cape York and Muralug accompanied by the performance either of circumcision or the knocking out of a tooth, as in many parts of Australia. The boys, usually three or four in number, are chased about in the bush during the day by some of the men decked out with feathers and other ornaments, and at night retire to the men's camp, for, during the whole time of their novitiate—or about a month—they must on no account be seen by a woman; in fact, as Giaom informed me, a woman coming upon these kernele—as they are called—no matter how accidentally, would be immediately put to death. When all is over the lads return to their parents, decorated with a profusion of ornaments which are worn until they drop off, and wearing in front a small triangular piece of shell as a distinguishing mark.


The same kind of canoe which is found throughout Torres Strait has been seen to extend from Cape York along the eastern coast as far south as Fitzroy Island,* a distance of 500 miles. It essentially consists of a hollowed-out log, a central platform, and an outrigger on each side. The largest canoes which I have seen are those of the Murray and Darnley Islanders, occasionally as much as sixty feet long; those of the Australians are small, varying at Cape York between fifteen and thirty feet in length. Even the Kowraregas have much finer canoes than their neighbours on the mainland; one which I measured alongside the ship was forty-five feet long and three and a half in greatest width, and could carry with ease twenty-five people.

(*Footnote. At the latter place we found a small canoe with two outriggers concealed on shore among some bushes. The bark canoes of Rockingham Bay have already been described. About Whitsunday Passage the canoes, also of bark, are larger and of neater construction: one which I examined at the Cumberland Isles was made of three pieces of bark neatly sewn together; it was six feet long and two and a half feet wide, sharp at each end, with a wooden thwart near the stem and stern, and a cord amidships to keep the sides from stretching. In the creeks and bays of the now settled districts of New South Wales another kind of canoe was once in general use. At Broken Bay, in August 1847, a singular couple of aborigines whom I met upon a fishing excursion had a small canoe formed of a single sheet of bark tied up at each end; on the floor of this they were squatted, with the gunwale not more than six inches above the water's edge. Yet this frail bark contained a fire, numbers of spears, fishing lines and other gear. The woman was a character well known in Sydney—Old Gooseberry—said to be old enough to have remembered Cook's first visit to these shores.)


The construction of a canoe in the neighbourhood of Cape York is still looked upon as a great undertaking, although the labour has been much lessened by the introduction of iron axes, which have completely superseded those of stone formerly in use. A tree of sufficient size free from limbs—usually a species of Bombax (silk-cotton tree) or Erythrina—is selected in the scrub, cut down, hollowed out where it falls, and dragged to the beach by means of long climbers used as ropes. The remaining requisites are now added; two stout poles, fourteen to twenty feet in length, are laid across the gunwale, and secured there from six to ten feet apart, and the projecting ends are secured by lashing and wooden pegs to a long float of light wood on each side, pointed, and slightly turned up at the ends. A platform or stage of small sticks laid across occupies the centre of the canoe, extending on each side, several feet beyond the gunwale, and having on the outside a sort of double fence of upright sticks used for stowing away weapons and other gear. The paddles are five feet long, with a narrow rounded blade, and are very clumsily made. The cable is made of twisted climbers—often the Flagellaria indica—and a large stone serves for an anchor.

When desirous of making sail, the first process is to set up in the bow two poles as masts, and on the weather side a longer and stouter one is laid across the gunwale, and projects outwards and backwards as an outrigger. These are further supported by stays and guys, and, together with another long pole forked at the end, serve as a frame to support the pressure of the sails, which are usually two in number, made of matting of pandanus leaves, and average four and a half feet in width and twelve in height. The sails have a slender pole on each side to which the matting is secured by small pegs; when set, they are put up on end side by side, travelling along the backstay by means of a cane grommet. When blowing fresh it is usual to keep a man standing on the temporary outrigger to counteract by his weight the inclination of the canoe to leeward. From the whole sail being placed in the bow these canoes make much leeway, but when going free may attain a maximum speed of seven or eight knots an hour. Except in smooth water they are very wet, and the bailer (a melon shell) is in constant requisition.


The inhabitants of the mainland and Prince of Wales Islands use the spear and throwing-stick, but throughout the remainder of Torres Strait bows and arrows are the chief weapons. The bows, which are large and powerful, are made of split bamboo, and the arrows of a cane procured from New Guinea, afterwards headed with hard wood variously pointed and sometimes barbed. The Kowraregas obtain bows and arrows from their northern neighbours, and occasionally use them in warfare, but prefer the spears which are made by the blacks of the mainland. We saw three kinds of spear at Cape York; one is merely a sharpened stick used for striking fish, the two others, tipped and barbed with bone, are used in war. The principal spear (kalak or alka) measures about nine feet in length, two-thirds of which are made of she-oak or casuarina, hard and heavy, and the remaining third of a soft and very light wood; one end has a small hollow to receive the knob of the throwing-stick, and to the other the leg-bone of a kangaroo six inches long, sharpened at each end, is secured in such a manner as to furnish a sharp point to the spear and a long barb besides. Another spear, occasionally used in fighting, has three or four heads of wood each of which is tipped and barbed with a smaller bone than is used for the kalak.

The throwing-stick in use at Cape York extends down the North-East coast at least as far as Lizard Island; it differs from those in use in other parts of Australia in having the projecting knob for fitting into the end of the spear parallel with the plane of the stick and not at rightangles. It is made of casuarina wood, and is generally three feet in length, an inch and a quarter broad, and half an inch thick. At the end a double slip of melon shell, three and a half inches long, crossing diagonally, serves as a handle, and when used, the end rests against the palm of the right hand, the three last fingers grasp the stick, and the forefinger and thumb loosely retain the spear. With the aid of the powerful leverage of the throwing-stick a spear can be thrown to a distance varying according to its weight from 30 to 80 yards, and with considerable precision; still, if observed coming, it may easily be avoided.

The only other weapon which I have seen in Torres Strait is a peculiar kind of club procured from New Guinea, consisting of a quoit-like disk of hard stone (quartz, basalt, or serpentine) with a sharp edge, and a hole in the centre to receive one end of a long wooden handle.

The huts which the Kowraregas and Cape York people put up when the rains commence are usually dome-shaped, four to six feet high, constructed of an arched framework of flexible sticks, one end of each of which is stuck firmly in the ground, and over this sheets of tea-tree (Melaleuca) bark—and sometimes an additional thatch of grass—are placed until it is rendered perfectly watertight.


Not only at Cape York but throughout Torres Strait the males use no clothing or covering of any kind. At Cape York and the Prince of Wales Islands grown up females usually wear a covering in front, consisting of a tuft of long grass, or flag (Philydrum lanuginosum) or split pandanus leaves, either hanging loosely or passed between the legs and tied to another behind; over this a short petticoat of fine shreds of pandanus leaf, the ends worked into a waistband, is sometimes put on, especially by the young girls, and when about to engage in dancing. This petticoat, varying only in the materials from which it is made, is in general use among the females of all the Torres Strait tribes except the Kowrarega, and much labour is often expended upon its construction. The large mats used as sails, also for sleeping under in wet weather, are made by the women from the fallen leaves of the pandanus—the common basket from the rush-like leaves of Xerotes banksii ? —and the water basket from the sheath of the leaf of the Seaforthia palm.

The food of these blacks varies with the season of the year, and the supply is irregular and often precarious. Shellfish and fish are alone obtainable all the year round—collecting the former is exclusively a female occupation, but fishing is chiefly practised by the men. Fish are either killed with a plain pointed spear, often merely a stick sharpened at the end, or are taken in deep water with the hook and line. Their hooks are made of a strip of tortoise-shell so much curved as to form three-fourths of a circle, but from their shape and the absence of a barb they cannot be so effective as those of European make: indeed these last were at Cape York preferred by the natives themselves. The line is neatly made from the tough fibres of the rattan, which are first scraped to the requisite degree of fineness with a sharp-edged Cyrena shell, then twisted and laid up in three strands.

Turtle forms an important article of food, and four different kinds are distinguished at Cape York and the Prince of Wales Islands. Three of these can be identified as the Green, the Hawksbill, and the Loggerhead species, and the fourth is a small one which I never saw. This last, I was informed by Giaom, is fished for in the following extraordinary manner.


A live sucking-fish (Echeneis remora) having previously been secured by a line passed round the tail, is thrown into the water in certain places known to be suitable for the purpose; the fish while swimming about makes fast by its sucker to any turtle of this small kind which it may chance to encounter, and both are hauled in together!

The green turtle is of such consequence to the natives that they have distinguished by a special name taken from the animal itself (sulangi from sulur) the season of the year when it is most plentiful; this, at Cape York, usually extends from about the middle of October until the end of November, but the limits are not constant. During the season they are to be seen floating about on the surface of the water, often in pairs, male and female together. A few are caught at night on the sandy beaches, but the greater number are captured in the water. The canoes engaged in turtling, besides going about in the day, are often sent out on calm moonlight nights. When a turtle is perceived, it is approached from behind as noiselessly as possible—when within reach, a man in the bow carrying the end of a small rope jumps out, and, getting upon the animal's back, with a hand on each shoulder, generally contrives to turn it before it has got far and secure it with the rope. This operation requires considerable strength and courage, in addition to the remarkable dexterity in diving and swimming possessed by all the blacks of the north-east coast and Torres Strait.


There are some favourite lookout stations for turtle where the tide runs strongly off a high rocky point. At many such places, distinguished by large cairns* of stones, bones of turtle, dugongs, etc., watch is kept during the season, and, when a turtle is perceived drifting past with the tide, the canoe is manned and sent in chase.

(*Footnote. One of these on Albany Rock is a pile of stones, five feet high and seven wide, mixed up with turtle and human bones, and, when I last saw it, it was covered with long trailing shoots of Flagellaria indica placed there by a turtling party to ensure success, as I was told, but how, was not explained. The human bones were the remains of a man killed there many years ago by a party of Kowraregas who took his head away with them. The mounds described and figured in Jukes' Voyage of the Fly (Volume 1 pages 137 and 138) and considered by us at the time to be graves, are merely the usual cairns at a lookout place for turtle.)

With their usual improvidence, the Australians, when they take a turtle, feast upon it until all has been consumed and the cravings of hunger induce them to look out for another; but the Torres Strait Islanders are accustomed to dry the flesh to supply them with food during their voyages. The meat is cut into thin slices, boiled in a melon shell, stuck upon skewers, and dried in the sun. Prepared in this manner it will keep for several weeks, but requires a second cooking before being used, on account of its hardness and toughness. The fat which rises to the surface during the boiling is skimmed off and kept in joints of bamboo and turtle bladders, being much prized as food; I have even seen the natives drink it off in its hot fluid state with as much gusto as ever alderman enjoyed his elaborately prepared turtle soup.


The hawksbill turtle (Caretta imbricata) that chiefly producing the tortoise-shell of commerce, resorts to the shores in the neighbourhood of Cape York later in the season than the green species, and is comparatively scarce. It is only taken at night when depositing its eggs in the sand, as the sharpness of the margin of its shell renders it dangerous to attempt to turn it in the water—indeed even the green turtle, with a comparatively rounded margin to the carapace, occasionally, in struggling to escape, inflicts deep cuts on the inner side of the leg of its captor, of which I myself have seen an instance. Of the tortoise-shell collected at Cape York and the Prince of Wales Islands a small portion is converted into fishhooks, the rest is bartered either to Europeans or to the Island blacks, who fashion it into various ornaments.


Another favourite article of food is the dugong (Halicore australis) of which a few are killed every year. Although it extends along the east coast of Australia from Moreton Bay to Cape York, it appears to be nowhere very common. About Cape York and Endeavour Strait, the dugong is most frequently seen during the rainy season, at which time it is said by the natives to bring forth its young. When one is observed feeding close inshore* chase is made after it in a canoe. One of the men standing up in the bow is provided with a peculiar instrument used solely for the capture of the animal in question. It consists of a slender peg of bone, four inches long, barbed all round, and loosely slipped into the heavy, rounded, and flattened head of a pole, fifteen to sixteen feet in length; a long rope an inch in thickness, made of the twisted stems of some creeping plant, is made fast to the peg at one end, while the other is secured to the canoe. When within distance, the bowman leaps out, strikes the dugong, and returns to the canoe with the shaft in his hand. On being struck, the animal dives, carrying out the line, but generally rises to the surface and dies in a few minutes, not requiring a second wound, a circumstance surprising in the case of a cetaceous animal, six or eight feet in length, and of proportionate bulk. The carcass is towed on shore and rolled up the beach, when preparations are made for a grand feast. The flesh is cut through to the ribs in thin strips, each with its share of skin and blubber, then the tail is removed and sliced with a sharp shell as we would a round of beef. The blubber is esteemed the most delicate part; but even the skin is eaten, although it requires much cooking in the oven.

(*Footnote. A slender, branchless, cylindrical, articulated seaweed, of a very pale green colour, was pointed out to me by a native as being the favourite food of the dugong.)


This oven is of simple construction—a number of stones, the size of the fist, are laid on the ground, and a fire is continued above them until they are sufficiently hot, the meat is then laid upon the bottom layer with some of the heated stones above it, a rim of tea-tree bark banked up with sand or earth is put up all round, with a quantity of bark, leaves, or grass on top, to retain the steam, and the process of baking goes on. This is the favourite mode of cooking turtle and dugong throughout Torres Strait, and on the east coast of the mainland I have seen similar fireplaces as far south as Sandy Cape.


A great variety of yam-like tubers are cultivated in Torres Strait. Although on Murray and Darnley and other thickly peopled and fertile islands a considerable extent of land in small patches has been brought under cultivation, at the Prince of Wales Islands the cleared spots are few in number, and of small extent—nor does the latter group naturally produce either the coconut or bamboo, or is the culture of the banana attempted. On the mainland again I never saw the slightest attempt at gardening.

The principal yam, or that known by the names of kutai and ketai, is the most important article of vegetable food, as it lasts nearly throughout the dry season. Forming a yam garden is a very simple operation. No fencing is required—the patch of ground is strewed with branches and wood, which when thoroughly dry are set on fire to clear the surface—the ground is loosely turned up with a sharpened stick, and the cut pieces of yam are planted at irregular intervals, each with a small pole for the plant to climb up. These operations are completed just before the commencement of the wet season, or in the month of October.

When the rains set in the biyu becomes the principal support of the Cape York and Muralug people. This is a grey slimy paste procured from a species of mangrove (Candelia ?) the sprouts of which, three or four inches long, are first made to undergo a process of baking and steaming—a large heap being laid upon heated stones, and covered over with bark, wet leaves, and sand—after which they are beaten between two stones, and the pulp is scraped out fit for use. It does not seem to be a favourite food, and is probably eaten from sheer necessity. Mixed up with the biyu to render it more palatable they sometimes add large quantities of a leguminous seed, the size of a chestnut, which has previously been soaked for a night in water, and the husk removed, or the tuber of a wild yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) cut into small pieces, and well steeped in water to remove its bitter taste.

Among the edible fruits of Cape York I may mention the leara, a species of Anacardium or cashew nut (the lurgala of Port Essington) which, after being well roasted to destroy its acridity has somewhat the taste of a filbert—the elari (a species of Wallrothia) the size of an apricot, soft and mealy, with a nearly insipid but slightly mawkish taste—wobar, the small, red, mealy fruit of Mimusops kaukii—and the apiga (a species of Eugenia) a red, apple-like fruit, the pericarp of which has a pleasantly acid taste. The fruit of two species of pandanus yields a sweet mucilage when sucked, and imparts it to water in which it has been soaked, after which it is broken up between two stones, and the kernels are extracted and eaten.


Throughout Australia and Torres Strait, the existence of chieftainship, either hereditary or acquired, has in no instance of which I am aware been clearly proved: yet in each community there are certain individuals who exercise an influence over the others which Europeans are apt to mistake for real authority. These so-called chiefs, are generally elderly men, who from prowess in war, force of character, or acknowledged sagacity, are allowed to take the lead in everything relating to the tribe. In Torres Strait such people are generally the owners of large canoes, and several wives; and in the northern islands, of groves of coconut-trees, yam grounds, and other wealth. Among the Kowraregas, there are, according to Giaom, three principal people, Manu, Piaquai, and Baki, all old men, but among the Gudangs, a young man of twenty-five of the name of Tumagugo appeared to have the greatest influence, and next to him Paida, not more than six or eight years older.


It seems curious to find at Cape York and the Prince of Wales Islands a recognised division and ownership of land, seeing that none of it by cultivation has been rendered fit for the permanent support of man. According to Giaom, there are laws regulating the ownership of every inch of ground on Muralug and the neighbouring possessions of the Kowraregas, and I am led to believe such is likewise the case at Cape York. Among these laws are the following: A person has a claim upon the ground where both himself and his parents were born, although situated in different localities. On the death of parents their land is divided among the children, when both sexes share alike, with this exception, that the youngest of the family receives the largest share. Marriage does not affect the permanency of the right of a woman to any landed property which may have come into her possession. Lastly, an old man occasionally so disposes of his property that a favourite child may obtain a larger proportion than he could afterwards claim as his inheritance.

Neither at Cape York, nor in any of the Islands of Torres Strait, so far as I am aware, do the aborigines appear to have formed an idea of the existence of a Supreme Being; the absence of this belief may appear questionable, but my informant, Giaom, spoke quite decidedly on this point, having frequently made it the subject of conversation with the Kowrarega blacks.


The singular belief in the transmigration of souls, which is general among the whole of the Australian tribes, so far as known, also extends to the islands of Torres Strait. The people holding it imagine that, immediately after death, they are changed into white people or Europeans, and as such pass the second and final period of their existence; nor is it any part of this creed that future rewards and punishments are awarded. It may readily be imagined that when ignorant and superstitious savage tribes, such as those under consideration, were first visited by Europeans, it was natural for them to look with wonder upon beings so strangely different from themselves, and so infinitely superior in the powers conferred by civilisation, and to associate so much that was wonderful with the idea of supernatural agency. At Darnley Island, the Prince of Wales Islands, and Cape York, the word used at each place to signify a white man, also means a ghost.* The Cape York people even went so far as to recognise in several of our officers and others in the ship, the ghosts of departed friends to whom they might have borne some fancied resemblance, and, in consequence, under the new names of Tamu, Tarka, etc. they were claimed as relations, and entitled to all the privileges of such.

(*Footnote. Frequently when the children were teasing Giaom, they would be gravely reproved by some elderly person telling them to leave her, as "poor thing! she is nothing, only a ghost!" (igur! uri longa, mata markai.))


Among many superstitions held by the Prince of Wales islanders, they are much afraid of shooting-stars, believing them to be ghosts which in breaking up produce young ones of their own kind. After sneezing, they make violent gestures with the hands and arms; if a joint cracks, they imagine that someone is speaking of them or wishing them well in the direction in which the arm is pointing.

The only tradition which I heard of occurs among the Kowraregas, and is worth mentioning for its singularity. The first man created was a great giant named Adi, who, while fishing off Hammond Island, was caught by the rising tide and drowned, Hammond Rock springing up immediately after to mark the spot. His wives, who were watching him at the time, resolved to drown themselves, and were changed into some dry rocks upon an adjacent reef named after them Ipile, or the wives.


According to Giaom ague is prevalent in Muralug during the rainy season, but is not much dreaded, as it is supposed to remove former complaints, such as the sores prevalent among children. At Cape York I have seen people affected with this complaint, but to what extent it occurs in that neighbourhood I cannot state. One day some people from the ship saw our friend Tumagugo under treatment for ague. He was laid upon the ground while several men in succession took his head between their knees and kneaded it with their hands. After this they placed him close to a fire and sprinkled water over him until a copious perspiration broke out, denoting the third and last stage of the attack. Boils on various parts of the body, even on the head, are prevalent, especially during the rainy season, when the food is of a poorer description than at other times. Children are most subject to them, and I have more than once seen them so covered with offensive sores as to be rendered most disgusting objects. In old people callosities frequently form on the hip and elbows, the effect, probably, of sleeping on the ground. Scarification of the affected part is a common mode of treating local inflammatory complaints. Ligatures are also used, as for example, one across the forehead to remove headache. A singular mode of treating various complaints consists in attaching one end of a string to the patient, while the other is held in the mouth of a second person, who scarifies his own gums at the same time until they bleed, which is supposed to indicate that the bad blood has passed from the sick to the sound person.


With regard to the curious burial ceremonies of the Kowraregas, I regret that I cannot be so explicit as might otherwise have been the case, as Giaom's information on this subject, and on this only, was not written down at the time. When the head of a family dies at Muralug, the body is laid out upon a framework of sticks raised a foot from the ground, and is there allowed to rot. A small hut is raised close by, and the nearest relative of the deceased lives there, supplied with food by his friends, until the head of the corpse becomes nearly detached by the process of putrefaction, when it is removed and handed over to the custody of the eldest wife. She carries it about with her in a bag during her widowhood, accompanying the party of the tribe to which she belongs from place to place. The body, or rather the headless skeleton, is then interred in a shallow grave over which a mound is raised ornamented by wooden posts at the corners painted red, with sometimes shells, and other decorations attached to them, precisely such a one as that figured in the Voyage of the Fly, volume 1 page 149. On the occasion of our visiting the grave in question (at Port Lihou, on Muralug) Giaom told me that we were closely watched by a party of natives who were greatly pleased that we did not attempt to deface the tomb; had we done so—and the temptation was great to some of us, for several fine nautilus shells were hanging up, and some good dugong skulls were lying upon the top—one or more of the party would probably have been speared.


Sail from Cape York. Mount Ernest described. Find Kalkalega tribe on Sue Island. Friendly reception at Darnley Island, and proceedings there. Bramble Cay and its turtle. Stay at Redscar Bay. Further description of the natives, their canoes, etc. Pass along the South-east coast of New Guinea. Call at Duchateau Islands. Passage to Sydney. Observations on Geology and Ethnology. Origin of the Australians considered.


December 3rd.

At length we have bade a final adieu to Cape York, after a stay of upwards of two months, which have passed away very pleasantly to such of us as were in the habit of making excursions in the bush, or who spent much of their time on shore. We are now on our way to Sydney, by way of Torres Strait, New Guinea and the Louisiade, chiefly for the purpose of running another set of meridian distances, the position of Cape York being now sufficiently well determined to serve as a secondary meridian, one of the starting points of the survey. The natives learned at daylight that we were to leave them in a few hours, so in order to make the most of their last opportunity of getting bisiker and choka, they hauled a large canoe across the dry sands after much trouble, and under the direction of Baki, who affected great grief at the prospect of parting with us, went off to the ship.


We sailed at 8 A.M. for Mount Ernest—at which place a round of theodolite angles was required—and in the afternoon anchored off its south-western side in nine fathoms, one mile off shore. A solitary native was seen at work upon a canoe near the beach, but when a boat approached the shore he withdrew. The canoe was about half finished, and close by was a small shed of bamboo thatched with grass. After crossing a small sandy plain covered with short grass growing in tufts, we met the native on the edge of a brush to which he had slowly retired in order to pick up his spears and throwing-stick, both of which were precisely similar to those of Cape York, from which place they had probably been procured. He was a quiet, sedate, good-natured old man, and although at first rather shy he soon laid aside his fears on receiving assurances in the Kowrarega language, which he understood, that markai poud Kulkalaig Nagir (the white men are friends of the Kulkalega tribe of Mount Ernest) backed by a present of some biscuit and a knife. On subsequent occasions, when accompanying us from place to place, the quiet listless apathy of the old fellow was a source of some amusement. He did what was told him, and exhibited little curiosity, and scarcely any surprise at the many wonderful things we showed him—such as shooting birds with a gun, and procuring a light from a lucifer match.


On the following day I had an opportunity of examining the whole of the northern or inhabited side of the island. Mount Ernest is little more than a mile in greatest length, of a somewhat triangular shape, its eastern and larger portion hilly, rising gradually to an elevation of 751 feet, and its western part low and sandy. The rock is grey sienite, and from the striking similarity of aspect, it appeared to me pretty certain that Pole, Burke, and Banks Islands are of the same formation; they agree in exhibiting massive peaks, respectively 409, 490, and 1,246 feet in height.

Mount Ernest is the headquarters of the Kulkalega tribe of Torres Strait Islanders who are now absent on one of their periodical migrations, leaving in possession only the old man whom we met yesterday, and his family, among whom is a daughter of rather prepossessing appearance for a female of her race. The village consists of a single line of huts, which would furnish accommodation for, probably, 150 people. It is situated on the north-west, or leeward side of the island, immediately behind the beach, and in front of a belt of jungle. The huts are long and low, with an arched roof, and vary in length from ten to twenty feet, with an average height of five feet, and a width of six. They consist of a neat framework of strips of bamboo, thatched with long coarse grass. Each hut is usually situated in a small well-fenced enclosure, and opposite to it on the beach is the cooking place, consisting of a small shed, under which the fire is made. We saw indications of many turtle having lately been cooked here upon a framework of sticks over a small fire, precisely as is practised by the natives of New Guinea and the Louisiade Archipelago.


The strip of forest behind the village is traversed in every direction by well beaten paths, chiefly leading to the back part of the island, where, on the slope of a hill in good soil, we found many patches of rude cultivation. The chief plant is a broad-leaved species of yam, trained upon tall poles kept in position by cross bamboos, forming a framework divided into little squares, each of which contains a plant. A species of Calladium with an esculent root is also much cultivated; it is planted in regular rows with the earth heaped up in ridges, as in a potato or turnip field at home. I noticed some small plots of ground prepared with more than usual care for the growth of what Giaom told me was a herb used as tobacco; the young plants were protected from the sun with pieces of matting.


Not far from the village, under the shade of an aged mimusops tree on the outskirts of the wood, we observed a cleared oval space where ten human skulls—of former members of the tribe, as we were informed—were arranged upon a plank raised on stones a foot or so from the ground. The skulls were mostly old and weather-worn, and some of them had pandanus seeds stuck in the orbits by way of eyes. In front was a large smooth stone painted red and black, and partially embedded in the earth, and beside it were some painted human leg and arm bones, shells and other ornaments. Behind, some thirty or forty skulls of turtle were arranged on the ground in several rows forming a triangle.


In a beautiful opening among the trees behind the village we saw an extraordinary screen—named wows—the purpose of which, so far as we could understand, had some connection with the memory of the dead. It extended fifty-six feet in length, with a slight outward curvature, and measured five feet and a half in height. It was formed of a row of poles stuck in the ground, crossed in front by three horizontal strips of bamboo, and covered with cross latticework. The bars of the screen were daubed over with red paint, and hung with rows of spider-shells also painted red. Some poles projecting above the others two to four feet had painted jaws of the dugong and large conch shells (Fusus proboscidiferus) fixed to the top, and numerous other dugong bones and shells were scattered along the front. On the ground along the foot of the screen was a row of stones painted with black and red in imitation of grotesque faces, and to several of these the old man who acted as cicerone attached the names of persons who were dead. In some the painting was comparatively recent, and the stones appeared to have been placed there singly at different periods to commemorate the death of the heads of families of the tribe. We saw another of these curious funeral screens—like the first one it was situated in a little glade in the forest, but unlike it the front was covered or thatched with coconut leaves, and it had a small door-like opening in the centre.

The natives must have left the island either on account of its being now the turtling season, or else from the want of water. A small deep well behind the village, apparently the only one in the place, was almost entirely dried up. From the old man I procured the names of some of the neighbouring islands, and also a few other Kulkalega words which are so similar to those of the Kowrarega language as to corroborate Giaom's assertion that both have many words in common. By way of illustration I may give a few examples. Thus muto, small bird; kudulug, dove; geinow, pigeon; kakur, egg; burda, grass; waraba, coconut; moda, enclosure round the huts.

At one place I saw indications of an upheaval of the northern side of the island in a bed of coral conglomerate six feet thick, with its raised wall-like edge towards the hill as if tilted up, and the remainder sloping down towards the sea. A similar appearance on a small scale exists on most of the coral islands which I have visited, but I had not before seen these sloping beds above the influence of the salt water, or at least beyond reach of the spray, still less supporting luxuriant vegetation, consisting in the present instance of a large extent of jungle, with trees often of great size, and a dense growth of underwood.


Among the natural productions of the island I may first allude to the large thickets of bamboo scattered along the base of the hill as the first new feature in the vegetation, and secondly, to the small Eucalypti growing between the hill and the brushes, as this is the most northerly limit of that Australian genus known to me. Among the trees of the brushes I may mention the Anacardium, or cashew nut, with large red acrid fruit, Mimusops kaukii, often attaining a great size, and a species of Bombax, or silk-cotton tree, from the trunk of one of which the canoe we saw upon the beach was being constructed.

Of birds the Australian quail, Torres Strait pigeon, and brown dove were plentiful, and afforded good sport to the shooters; Pitta strepitans (a handsome thrush-like bird of gaudy colours—red, green, blue and black) was heard calling in every brush and thicket. Several large lizards were seen; one of these, about four feet in length, perched upon the fence of one of the deserted huts, at first took so little notice of my approach that I refrained from shooting it, thinking it had been tamed. The colour of this lizard (Monitor gouldii) is a dull bluish green, spotted and variegated with yellow. It is much esteemed as food, and the skin is used for covering the warup or New Guinea drum.


December 7th.

In the morning a canoe, with seven men in it, came off to the ship from Sue Island, near which we were at anchor. At first they approached cautiously, holding up pieces of tortoise-shell, and making a great noise, shouting out, "kaisu (tortoise-shell) kapo-bue—kapo-buai—poud—poud," etc., besides other words which were unintelligible, pointing at the same time to the island (which they called Waraber) as if inviting us to land.


These blacks belonged to the Kulkalega or Kulkalaig tribe, as was ascertained by Giaom, who was well-known to some of them, and understood enough of their language to keep up a conversation. Nearly the whole tribe, she was informed, are now upon Sue Island, although their headquarters are, as mentioned before, at Mount Ernest. The men in the canoe differed in no material respect from the natives of the Prince of Wales Islands on one hand, and those of Darnley Island on the other. Many had the characteristic faint oval scar on one shoulder, some wore the hair in moderately long pipe-like ringlets, while others had it cut close. All were perfectly naked, and the only ornaments worn were the large round pearl-shell on the breast. The canoe was rather singular in form, with greater beam than I had ever seen in one, nor did the sides tumble home as usual; the bow was sharp, but the stern square, as if effected by cutting a very large canoe in halves, and filling up the open end. We saw several bamboo bows and bundles of arrows, stowed away under the platform; these the natives would not part with, but a large quantity of very fine tortoise-shell was obtained, chiefly in exchange for leaf tobacco, which they know by the name of sugub.

When the tide slackened we got underweigh, and the natives returned to their island. Sue, although the largest of the Three Sisters, is not more than the third of a mile in length. Like all the islands of the eastern side of Torres Strait, with the exception of the Darnley and Murray Islands, this is of the coral sand formation, low and thickly wooded. Some coconut-trees grow at the west end of the island, where there is a native village which we approached close enough to have a good view of it with the spy-glass. It consisted of several long huts, thatched with grass, which apparently are not much used during the daytime, as we saw no one entering or coming out of them. Many of the people, both men and women, ran down to the beach, waving green branches to induce us to land; others were sitting down under temporary sheds made by stretching large mats—the sails of their canoes—over a framework of sticks. The inside of one large enclosure was concealed by a fence six feet high, and an adjacent shed, under which some cooking was going on, was completely covered with some recent shells of turtle, apparently about thirty in number. Three very large canoes were hauled up on the beach, protected from the sun by matting, and two smaller ones were kept afloat. There appeared to be about 60 people upon the island, from which, and other circumstances, I do not suppose the Kulkalega tribe to consist of more than 100 souls. The women whom we saw wore loose petticoats of leaves reaching to below the knees.

The ship worked up through the channel between Bet and Sue Islands, and anchored for the night off the eastern extreme of the reef running out from the former. Four large canoes coming from the northward passed over the reef at high-water, going towards Sue Island.


Next day we passed Coconut Island on our right, and Dove Island on our left, and anchored near Arden Island, where we landed on the following morning before daylight with a seining party. The place is scarcely more than a quarter of a mile in length, low and sandy, covered with tall bushes and a few clumps of trees (Pisonia grandis). We saw traces—but none very recent—of visits paid by the natives, indicated by remains of fires, turtle bones, a large pit dug as a well, and two old graves. As usual a coral reef extends from the shore, without leaving a clear spot of sufficient size to admit of the seine being hauled. Species of Cissus and two or three Capparidae constituted the bulk of the vegetation, and rendered the low scrub almost impervious in many places. A number of Torres Strait pigeons, chiefly young birds, and some stone-plovers and other waders, were shot, and one rare bird was obtained for the collection, a male of Pachycephala melanura. Soon after our return we got underweigh, passed on our right Rennel, Marsden, and Keat Islands, and anchored three miles to the northward of the last of these.


December 10th.

While getting underweigh, a canoe with a party of natives from Stephens Island came off to us in a very confident manner, and at once called out for a rope (laga) with which they made fast to the ship. Among them were two of the natives of Darnley Island, one of whom, Dzum, soon recognised me as an old acquaintance, under the name of Dzoka, by which I had formerly been known on shore during the Fly's visits. They had a few coconuts, and a little tortoise-shell for barter, and were very urgent that the ship should go to Campbell Island on her way to Darnley, promising us abundance of water, coconuts, yams, and tortoise-shell, of the first of which at least they could have had none to spare. In the evening they left us, after spending the greater part of the day on board, with their canoe towing astern. I found the native names of at least three of the islands to differ from those given in the Admiralty's chart of Torres Strait from the Fly's survey. Thus Nepean Island is Edugor, not Oogar—Stephens Island is Ugar and not Attagor—and Campbell Island is Zapker (nearly as Lewis makes it) and not Jarmuth. These names were obtained under circumstances which obviated the possibility of mistake. Dzum also gave much information regarding other matters, and enabled me to fix the limits of the tribe to which he belonged, a matter which had frequently puzzled me before. In the afternoon the Bramble—as told to us by the natives—appeared in sight, but we could not reach Darnley Island, so anchored after dark in forty-five fathoms, mud, seven miles to the northward of it.

December 11th.

A light air from the North-West carried us up to the anchorage in Treacherous Bay about noon. A canoe from the village of Kiriam came off to us, and lay under our stern bartering tortoise-shell for knives, axes, and tobacco, and when we shoved off in the first cutter to communicate with the shore, one of the natives, on being asked to accompany us, jumped into the water without a moment's hesitation, and swam to the boat. We landed at Kiriam, and were received by a crowd of people on the rocks and in the water.


My old friend Siwai, with whom I had gone through the ceremony of exchanging names nearly five years ago, showed much joy at seeing me again, and made many enquiries regarding Jukes and others then in the Fly. But these five years have sadly altered him—he now presents the appearance of a feeble emaciated man prematurely old, with a short cough and low voice—his back is bowed down, and even with the aid of a stick he can scarcely totter along. He is now the man in most authority in the island, his rival Mamus having been killed in New Guinea in company with several other Darnley Islanders whose names were mentioned to me; they had been on a visit to a friendly tribe, one of whose quarrels they espoused, and only a few returned to Errub to tell the tale. The natives wished us to stay at Kiriam, but as the principal object of the ship's coming to the island was to procure water, we were anxious to know whether it could be obtained in sufficient quantity at Bikar, where the Fly and Bramble had watered before. As Siwai told us that there was none at Bikar, but plenty at Mogor—his own village—we pulled along to the latter place, accompanied by himself and three of his sons. In passing along the south-west side of the island, we were struck with the superior richness of vegetation and apparent fertility, compared with what we had seen in New Guinea and the Louisiade Archipelago during the previous part of the cruise. Some portions reminded one of English park scenery—gently sloping, undulating, grassy hills, with scattered clumps and lines of trees.


On landing at the village, which consists of two or three houses only, we were taken a quarter of a mile—by a path leading along a small valley through a grove of coconut-trees, bananas, and various cultivated plants (among which I observed the Mango in full bearing) to a pool of water in the dried-up bed of a small rivulet. But the quantity of water was not enough for our purpose, even had it been situated in a place more easy of access. Some magnificent Sago palms overhung the water with their large spreading fronds; these we were told had been brought from Dowde or New Guinea, many years ago. Siwai and his sons, at their own urgent request, were allowed a passage with us to the ship, and remained all night there, sleeping among the folds of a sail upon the poop.

December 12th.

In the morning a party landed at Bikar (abreast of the ship) to look for water, but the pool which on several occasions supplied the Fly, Bramble, and Prince George, was now dry. At this season too, during the prevalence of North-West winds, landing is difficult on account of the surf, and we had much trouble in keeping our guns dry while up to the waist in water. In the afternoon both cutters were sent to Mogor to procure vegetables for the ship's company by barter with the natives, and I accompanied the party, but, contrary to expectation, no one was allowed to land, the person in authority having seen something on shore to alarm him, the nature of which continued to us a mystery. The second cutter laid off, and the first remained in water about knee-deep, surrounded by a crowd of unarmed natives. The scene was at that time very animated—groups of men, women, and children, were to be seen staggering under a load of coconuts, wading out to the boats, scrambling to be first served, and shouting out to attract attention to their wares, which in addition included some tortoise-shell, a few yams, bananas and mangos. Siwai was present in the boat, and by exercising his authority in our behalf, matters went on more smoothly than otherwise might have been the case. A large supply of coconuts and a few vegetables having been obtained for axes, knives, calico, and red cloth, we returned to the ship.


December 13th.

Three boats were sent to Kiriam to procure more coconuts. There being no prohibition of landing, I remained onshore during the bartering, sitting in a shady place among a group of women and children, and employed in procuring materials for a vocabulary. Most of them remembered me of old, and in consequence fancied they had a claim upon my tobacco, the stock of which was quickly exhausted.


The huts of Darnley Island—together with the inhabitants—have been so fully described in the voyage of the Fly, that it is unnecessary for me to enter upon the subject. The natives always objected to show to us the inside of their huts, many of which we knew were used as dead houses—but Mr. Huxley today was fortunate enough to induce one of them to allow him to enter his house, and make a sketch of the interior, but not until he had given him an axe as an admission fee. These huts resemble a great beehive in shape—a central pole projects beyond the roof, and to this is connected a framework of bamboo, thatched with grass, leaving a single small low entrance to serve as door and window.


Several human skulls were brought down for sale, also a little shrivelled mummy of a child. Some of the former had the skin quite perfect, the nose artificially restored in clay mixed with a resinous substance, and the orbits occupied by a diamond-shaped piece of mother-of-pearl, with a black central mark. Towards the end of the bartering the natives had become very noisy, and even insolent, and everything seemed to indicate that some at least of them were dissatisfied, and inclined to resent some injury or cause of offence, for which purpose apparently they had their bows and arrows ready, and their gauntlets upon the left forearm. Some of them desired me to get into the boat and be off, intended as I understood for a friendly caution, while Dzum came up with an air of profound mystery, wishing me to come with him (now that I was alone) to a neighbouring hut to see a barit which he had brought over for me from Stephens Island. This name is applied to the opossums of the genus Cuscus which the Torres Strait Islanders occasionally procure from New Guinea. However it was time for me to be off, so I contented myself with promising a large reward for the animal if taken off to the ship. The produce of our barter on this and previous occasions amounted to 467 coconuts, 388 pounds of yams* (then very scarce) and 159 pounds of bananas.

(*Footnote. Not less than nine different kinds of yams and yam-like tubers—including the sweet-potato—are cultivated in Torres Strait, and are specially distinguished by name.)


While at dinner news was brought that Dzum was under the stern in a canoe, shouting out loudly for Dzoka, and, on going up I found that he had brought off the barit, which, after a great deal of trouble, I struck a bargain for, and obtained. It was a very fine specimen of Cuscus maculatus, quite tame, and kept in a large cage of split bamboo. Dzum seemed very unwilling to part with the animal, and repeatedly enjoined me to take great care of it and feed it well, which to please him I promised to do, although I valued it merely for its skin, and was resolved to kill it for that purpose at my first convenience. He had also brought a basketful of yams of an inferior quality, as sea stock for the barit during the voyage, and promised more on the following morning.


December 16th.

Two days ago we left Darnley Island for Bramble Cay, distant about thirty miles North-East, but owing to calms and light winds had to anchor twice. A strong North-West breeze which came on last night, and caused us to drag the stream anchor, at length brought us up to our destination, near which we anchored in 25 fathoms, sand, the island bearing North-West 1/2 West distant a mile and a quarter. In the afternoon I landed for an hour, passing many turtles on the water both going and returning. As usual the islet was covered with seabirds, only two species, however, of which were breeding. The Brown Booby (Sula fusca) and a large tern (Thalasseus pelecanoides) existed in about equal numbers; the latter, in one great colony, had laid their solitary large speckled eggs in a slight excavation in the sand, the former were scattered all over the island, and had regular nests of weed, containing either two eggs, or a single young bird covered with white down. Well does the booby deserve its name. The grotesque and stupid look of the old bird standing by its eggs or young—irresolute whether to defend them or not, and staring with an intensely droll expression at the intruders—is very amusing; at length on being too closely approached, it generally disgorges the contents of its stomach—consisting at this time of very fine flying-fish—and after some half shuffling, half flying movements, manages to get on wing and be off. As the tern's eggs were within a short time of being hatched we broke all we saw in order to ensure some newly-laid ones in a day or two.


We remained at this anchorage for the two following days, during which time the weather was generally gloomy and unsettled, with occasional heavy rain. As numerous recent tracks of turtles upon the sandy beach indicated that the season had not yet ended, parties were sent on shore to watch for them after dark, and although only one was taken on the first night, yet on the following not less than eighteen were secured and brought off: fifteen of them were of the green, and three of the hawksbill kind. The last, I believe, is undescribed: it is certainly not the one (Caretta imbricata) producing the greater part of the tortoise-shell of commerce, and which is not rare in Torres Strait, distinguished by having the posterior angle of each dorsal plate projecting, so as to give a serrated appearance to the margin of the carapace which, in the present species is quite smooth. The green turtle averaged 350 pounds each, and the hawksbills about 250 pounds. Although a strong prejudice existed against the hawksbill as an article of food, we all found reason to change our minds, and pronounce it to be at least equal to the other. The newly-hatched turtles (all hawksbills) were running about in every direction, and among their numerous enemies, I was surprised to see a burrowing crab (Ocypoda cursor) which runs with great swiftness along the sandy beaches. These crabs even carried off a plover which I had shot, not allowing more than ten minutes to elapse before one of them had it safely (as it thought) stowed away in its burrow.

The golden plover was plentiful on the island during our visit, and one afternoon I killed fifteen in about an hour. Two days after the terns' eggs had been broken we found a small colony of laying birds, and picked up some dozens of eggs; and had we remained a few days longer, doubtless a very great number might have been procured. The weed which in the Fly we used to call spinach (a species of Boerhaavia, apparently B. diffusa) being abundant here, was at my suggestion collected in large quantity for the use of the ship's company as a vegetable, but it did not seem to be generally liked.

December 21st.

Two days ago we left Bramble Cay for Cape Possession in New Guinea, with a fine breeze from the North-West, and next morning at daylight saw the land about the Cape on the weather-beam. The wind, however, died away in the afternoon, but this morning a light north-westerly breeze sprang up, before which we bore up and were brought in the afternoon to an anchorage in 11 fathoms, mud, half a mile to leeward of the Pariwara Islands.


Meanwhile Lieutenant Yule, upon our destination being changed, was ordered by signal to proceed to Cape Direction and survey the intermediate space between that and Redscar Bay, in order to connect his former continuation of the Fly's work with ours, and thus complete the coastline of the whole of the south-east part of New Guinea.

We remained at this anchorage for upwards of a week, during which a rate for the chronometers was obtained, and the Bramble returned.


The weather during our stay was very variable and unsettled; rain fell on several occasions. The wind was usually from the westward, varying between North-West and South-West, and on one occasion during the night we had a sudden and very violent squall from the westward, which for a time was thought to be the beginning of a hurricane, but the gale moderated very gradually next day. When the wind during the day was light and from seaward, a land breeze generally came off at night, occasionally with rain. The cause of this last seems to be the influence exerted upon the winds here by Mount Owen Stanley and the ranges connected with it, from which the clouds accumulated during the prevalence of the seabreeze, are reflected after its subsidence. The low and well wooded district between the mountains and the sea receives the passing influence of these clouds surcharged with moisture, and the climate there and in all the low maritime districts of the south-east part of New Guinea backed by high land, is probably always a moist one, little affected by the prevalence of either the North-West or South-East monsoon. The observations made during our last visit to determine the height of Mount Owen Stanley and not considered very satisfactory, were repeated under more favourable conditions, but with nearly the same result. This mountain, the highest of the range of the same name, is somewhat flat-topped (as viewed from our anchorage) about six miles in length, and the mean of five observations from different stations gave 13,205 feet as the height of the highest part above the level of the sea.


On the largest Pariwara Island, although abundance of rain had fallen lately, there was no water left in any pool or hole in the rock. Nor although the soil, from the additional moisture, looked darker and richer than during my former visit in September, was there any perceptible improvement in the vegetation. A few fork-tailed red-fronted swallows (Hirundo neoxena) were hawking about, and a large yellow and black butterfly (Papilio epius, common in collections from India and China) was abundant. Many Torres Strait pigeons were observed from the ship to resort nightly to the second largest of the group, which is covered with trees and seems quite inaccessible from the steepness of its low cliffs. On several successive evenings about sunset, and until it became too dark to distinguish them, immense numbers of frigate-birds were observed flying over Redscar Head, and going out to the North-North-East. This being a gregarious bird only when associated at a breeding place, and there being no known sandbank or islet in the direction which they were pursuing, rendered their object a subject for much conjecture.


We were occasionally visited by parties of natives, chiefly coming from the northward, probably from some of the large rivermouths known to exist there. Although in bringing their women and children off to see the ship they indicated little suspicion or fear, yet on one occasion only could we induce any of the men to come on board, and the two who did so would not be persuaded to go below, and made their stay very short. As I had better opportunities of making observations upon these natives than during our former visit, some additional information regarding them may be given here. The inhabitants of Redscar Bay, judging from what was seen alongside the ship, are rather smaller in stature than those seen at Dufaure and Brumer Islands and the Louisiade, but perhaps more frequently show handsome features and good expression. Neither were there any men exceeding the rest in height by even three inches, as had often been the case in other places. They are usually of a very light copper colour, but one man was of a very pale yellow and much resembled a Chinaman in hue; although it may at first appear strange, yet this pale-skinned individual by his very colour excited feelings of disgust in the minds of some of us, such as would be created by the sight of a person whose body was covered with a loathsome eruption and who still publicly exposed it. And why should not our pale faces be regarded by these savages in a similar light? Some had perfect Malayan features, but none seen on this occasion appeared to practice betel-chewing—a remarkable circumstance, since the men who on our former visit came off to the ship, then only about fifteen miles to the north-west, had their teeth discoloured.


None of the natives had any hair upon the face; various ways of dressing that of the head were practised, the most singular of which has already been described in Volume 1. The hair was usually of its natural dark colour at the base, with the remainder dyed reddish brown and frizzled out into a mop with long-toothed combs of wood or tortoise-shell. One child had the head so shaved as to leave a long tuft on the forehead, and another on the back of the head—precisely in the same manner as is sometimes practised in Java. Nor must I omit noticing a singular appendage formerly alluded to—analogous to the pigtail once in vogue—worn by many of these people; it is formed of human hair wrapped round with twine, and ends in one or more bunches of shells, dogs' teeth, and tails of pigs—the longest one which I saw measured twenty-one inches in length. Among numerous ornaments the most common is a large round concave portion of melon shell, sometimes beautifully inlaid with filagree work of tortoise-shell, worn on the breast. Fillets of cassowary feathers, fur of the spotted bare-tailed opossum, or woven stuff studded with shells, were often seen.

Painting the face or body does not seem to be practised here, but the men are usually tattooed on the breast, cheeks, forehead, and arms, also occasionally on other places. Their tattooing, however, is much fainter and less profuse than among the women, every visible part of whose skin is generally marked with a great variety of patterns, the most usual style among them consisting in series of double parallel or converging lines an inch or more apart, the intervals being occupied by small figures, or irregular lines, with detached rectilinear figures fancifully filled up.


The women wear a petticoat of shreds of pandanus leaf, plaited above into a waistband and below reaching nearly to the knee.

They brought off little with them for barter besides bows and arrows, and as before appeared perfectly ignorant of the use of iron. A few coconuts, plantains, and mangos were obtained from them, but they had no yams. Nearly every canoe which came alongside contained several large baked earthen pots of good construction, some with wide, others with narrow mouths, and a third sort shaped like a saucer. Besides bows and arrows, we saw many spears, mostly of small size and usually finely jagged or barbed towards the end, but of very inferior workmanship, also some shields, one of which may be described.* It measures 33 inches in length by 14 in width, and in shape resembles a fiddle, being rounded at the ends and slightly contracted in the middle; it is made of wood, three-fourths of an inch thick, neatly covered with fine cane matting, fitting very tightly.

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