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September 1861

Report of Commander Norman, of H.M.C.S.S. Victoria, together with copy of his journal of the late expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria
Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer.
Victorian Parliamentary Papers No. 109. 1862.

Sunday, 1 September 1861.
Moderate trade, with squally weather from S.E. to E.S.E. Latitude 12° 3' S.; longitude 145° 24' E. Convoy astern. Hove to to speak him at 1.30. Told him I should run on until 4 p m., and then stand to the S.W. on a wind for twenty-four miles, then N.E. until daylight, when, if fine enough, I would run to make the land, and that I wished him to keep well to sea until I signalled "bear up." At 4 p.m. shortened sail to close reefed topsails and double reefed trysails—not for the strength of wind, but to keep convoy in sight, who was right astern and dropping. At 9 tacked to the N.E. At 10.20 convoy's position light seen to the north west in the squalls. Made signal to tack or wear, as squalls were increasing fast, and the weather otherwise looking very unsettled and suspicious. Stowed the fore trysail. Sympiesometer, 29.48 ; aneroid, 29.50.

Monday, 2 September 1861.
Strong gales from S.E. to S.S.E. Very heavy squalls during the whole twenty-four hours, with a very heavy sea on, and no sign of any change. Decided on not attempting to run for the entrance of Raine Island passage, as our convoy had not been seen since 10.20 p.m. last night ; and as I was fearful he would, should he see me, bear up, run also, and in the event of his not being able to make a safe anchorage before dark, it would place him in a very dangerous position by leading him on a lee shore with so heavy a sea on. Latitude 12° 12' S.; longitude 144°:.50', E. Sympiesometer 29.58 to 29.62; thermometer 70° to 75°.

Tuesday, 3 September 1861.
Continuing strong gales with' hard squalls as yesterday, wore ship to keep her in position ready for running in when weather broke up: Standing four hours to the N.E., and six to the S.8.W., with the topsails close reefed and double-reefed trysails, found by observation we crawl to windward. Latitude'12° S.; Longitude.145° 20' E. Glasses generally showing 20.62 to 29.60; thermometer 78° to 80°; but all inclined to fall, and lowest at 10 p.m. 29.50, and rising afterwards to 29.60.

Wednesday, 4 September 1861.
Gale continuing, with very heavy sea on, and ship laboring very- much throughout. Latitude 11° 49' S. ; longitude 145° 24' E. No sign whatever of our little consort. I hope she is safe inside, or the horses are in great danger of being most of them killed. Took in the slack of the lower rigging, this morning, as the foremast worked very much.

Thursday, 5 September 1861.
Gale more moderate, and looking like a change. Our dead reckoning puts us seventy-five miles off. At 9.45 a.m. bore up to run for the beacon. Latitude at noon 11° 31' S.; longitude 145° E. Steam and all sail set; going very fast; by patent log fourteen knots and a half. At 3.45 made out the beacon ; but as it was bearing S.W., took in all square sail to haul up four points. Passed in at 5 p.m., and anchored in eighteen fathoms, sandy bottom, on the Great Detached Reef at 6 15 p.m. Lay very quiet, with eighty-five fathoms of cable out, and a fresh gale throughout the night.

Note.--The course steered from noon showed a current of two knot an hour to the northward. No great change in the appearance of the weather, which was as dark squally as ever after 8 p.m., glasses showing from 29.60 to 29.50. Thermometer 78° to 81°.

Friday, 6 September 1861.
Fresh gales, with successive squails, lasting about half an hour each. After one of them, weighed at 10 a.m., and steered for the fairway in Blackwood's channel or track, towards the Ashmore Banks, anchoring under the westernmost, to leave a notice for Firefly, if he is still outside, to inform him. I have gone on ; but on trying, I found the boat could not effect a landing, it being so very rocky at low water. Boat returned. Lay very uneasy all night, rolling in a cross sea ; so although there was no change in the weather, I determined, upon moving as soon as I possibly could to a better anchorage.

Saturday 7 September 1861.
At 8 a.m. sent notice on shore ; boat got swamped in trying to return, by not watching for a favorable opportunity : she was afterwards bailed out and returned safe. Weighed and proceeded. for Pollard's Channel; weather as unsettled as ever, with squalls of rain. At 10 a.m. saw from the masthead a vessel apparently at anchor under north Sir Charles Hardy's island; hauled up to ascertain if it was our convoy, and, on nearing, found it was a barque foundered; and at the same time saw a wreck, which proved to be the Firefly on the reef at the weather side of the same island, also an ensign (union down) on the highest peak. Stood on and anchored between the two islands; down boats and proceeded to the wreck to examine the state she, was in, and to see if there was any possibility of getting her off. Found her on a coral bank, with a large hole cut, in her side, and with five feet water in her hold ; the horses all on shore, except three dead in her hold ; the decks were covered with, cases of spirits, wine, beer, and wreck; her masts, yards, cables, and anchors gone, in fact, a complete wreck ; and the crew on the island, very much the worse for having access to the liquor. Ordered an anchor to be laid out to hold her in the same position, and proceeded to the lee side of the island to land, where Captain Kirby and Mr Landsborough met me.

From the former I received the following report:

That, on Tuesday last, finding his ship could not hold her own to windward against the gale, he had run for and entered the Raine Island passage, under close reefed topsails and topmast staysail, which was split in doing so. That he brought his ship up between these islands, and let go both anchors, to which she rode for some hours; or until daylight next morning, when the cables parted one after another, and she drifted on to the reef where she now lay that as the ship could not be got off, being full of water, it was his intention to abandon her. That the barque lying foundered on the western side was the Lady Kinnaird, bound to India with horses.

Landsborough reported having twenty-five horses alive on the island, where fortunately there is plenty of good grass, and water in sufficient quantity for them at present. Returned on board, and decided upon using every means in my power to get the hull afloat, if it were possible, however much it might be damaged. There being one sad thing to contend against : the wreck having a large quantity of wines and spirits on board, they were loose all over the ship ; and while it was so I knew it would be impossible to do anything. The crew of the brig had through its abuse bid defiance to all authority the night before my arrival. On pointing out the evil to Captain Kirby, he agreed with me that unless it was destroyed nothing could be done; and as it was impossible to take it on board the Victoria, I came to the conclusion that the next day (with his consent) I would destroy all that was on board, as it only endangered the lives of every one and probably might lead to a complete failure of the expedition.

Sunday, 8 September 1861.
Sent first lieutenant, mate, and gunner, with the barge, cutter, and a party of thirty men, to lighten the wreck by every possible means, strongly urging their preventing the men from getting at the liquor. The boats had great difficulty in getting near the wreck, but succeeded at last. At noon, I proceeded on board, myself, and, as I had dreaded, found many of the crew drunk, Captain Kirby being on board also, I again spoke to him of the evil and danger to every one. He stated that he saw it, and expressed a wish that I would destroy all that was on board, for the benefit of whom it may hereafter concern. As there was no possibility of landing it; or keeping it in safety even if it were safe on shore above high-water mark, I set to work at once destroying all that could be got at; Captain Kirby and part of his crew (the carpenter and his mate) assisting in the destruction. Kept at work until dark, not getting on board till 7.45 p.m. The trade being very strong, a heavy surf broke round the wreck all day, making it very dangerous to pass to and from her, the boats. being swamped several times in doing so.

Monday, 9 September 1861.
The wind strong, and the sea too heavy to approach the wreck. Landed on the lee side with officers and twenty-eight men. Walked over, taking baskets and other necessary implements to continue the lightening of her. Set pumps to work, and found the water decrease in the hold. Worked on, throwing ballast and everything overboard, to lighten the wreck; but as the tides are taking off, I do not expect to get the hull afloat for a few days, but I wish by lightening to save her from knocking a hole in her bottom so as to float when she is off - or all labor and time will be lost. The crew of the brig have been feasting on the grog again, and rendered no assistance, except the carpenter and mate.

Tuesday, 10 September 1861.
The first lieutenant and twenty-four men started the first thing this morning, to continue the work of lightening wreck, while I moved ship to a proper position for heaving her off. Laid out the hawsers and stream cable with great difficulty, owing to the heavy sea and rocky nature of the bottom. Having both bower anchors down, with ninety and sixty-five fathoms of cable out in seven fathoms water, hove all taught before night, and buoyed up the hawsers off the rocks with the barge and cutter, sending the second lieu¬tenant to see it done properly; and the boats were seen to ride very easy and dry for some hours after. Moderate trade, with squalls, during the night. All returned on board at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, 11 September 1861.
At daylight the cutter safely at, her moorings, but the barge gone. Sent the first lieutenant to under-run the large hawser, to see if she was fast to it, but he found only a piece of the painter. So my noble and best boat is gone. No sign of anything belonging to her can be seen all round the island, nor from the top of the highest hill. Captain Kirby abandons the wreck by letter, and asks for passage for himself and crew, as distressed British subjects, to first port I arrive at: Tried to heave off wreck at high water, but did not move it. Recommended Landsborough to set his men to work cutting grass for hay, as they have nothing else to do.

Thursday, 12 September 1861.
The work of lightening wreck, continued by the same officers and men until high water at 4 p.m., when all strength,: and steam at full power, was used to heave the wreck afloat, by windlass and capstan. At 5 p.m. she started, and was soon in deep water, and well secured for the night. On getting new hawsers in found them chafed and much injured by the rocks. Had the pumps attended to, and found the wreck to make between eight and nine inches per hour. Another tide would have injured her so as to render her useless for any purpose whatever. I may now be able keep her afloat long enough to take on the horses. Having got her so far, I will try very hard, and hope to succeed yet in doing some good with the remains of the wreck for the expedition, which I fear is ruined by the loss of time, as well as stores belonging to each party - Walker's and Landsborough's.

Friday, 13 September 1861.
Sent for as many stores as could be got off in time to proceed round by the ship. Weighed both anchors, and, with the wreck in tow, steamed round to the lee side of the island. Afterwards sent boats to shift the camp round. One party on board wreck clearing up and otherwise prepaying for her .being put in a, position to receive water, stores, &c. Had both pumps up, to clean and repair.

Saturday, 14 September 1861.
The first, lieutenant and thirty men on board the wreck, getting her ready for service, and taking, stock, of everything found in her - a work of some difficulty. From the marks of the packages being removed, it was found impossible to ascertain what they contained or to whom they belonged without .opening them, and most of them were very badly damaged.

Sunday, 15 September 1861.
As the crew and officers have been working very hard for more than a fortnight, I keep this as a day of rest, performing only the Divine Service of the day, notwithstanding my anxiety to get the wreck ready for proceeding on.

Monday, 16 September 1861.
At daylight a strong working party proceeded to continue the work of preparing wreck for the reception of horses. Sent Landsborough and party in cutter to fetch the horse from the South Island, which was landed here safely at 5 p.m. Engineers found a very bad spot in port boiler, which will take them four days to repair ; and it must be done before steam is again got up. Set them to work night and. day.

Tuesday, 17 September 1861
The first lieutenant and working party away, as before, ballasting brig. One of the best horses fell down a gully. Got a derrick up, and got him out, but he is apparently very much injured. Cutting hay on shore, and making same up.

Wednesday, 18 September 1861.
Completed ballasting brig. Building stalls, repairing boats, and binding up hay. Engineers doing the repairs.

Thursday, 19 September 1861.
Brought the hulk alongside, to fill up her tanks and to take the remainder of coals out, which being completed took her to her berth again. Engineers getting on with repairs, and condensing water.

Friday, 20 September 1861.
Commenced shipping the horses by swimming them off. Got them all safe on board, twenty-five in number, by 3 p.m.; afterwards shipping the hay, &c., belonging to them; also the shipwrecked seamen. To-morrow we shall complete the water for the horses, and have everything ready for starting at daylight on Sunday. The engineers having completed the repairs to the boiler, I moved ship further in shore, and placed Mr Handfield (Mate) in charge of the hulk, with written instructions to guide him.

Saturday, 21 September 1861.
This day employed in finishing necessary preparations on board the hulk, and filling up water on board her from our tanks; also condensing for ship's use, and removing all things from the shore ready for a fair start in the morning. Left two sheep on shore, which could not be caught.

Sunday, 22 September 1861.
At 6 a.m. left the anchorage, with the hulk in tow, and passed round the north side of Cockburn Reef, steaming steadily (about seven knots), and having a strong ebb tide against us did not reach Cairncross Island until 3 p.m. Anchored there for the night, and, to my great joy, found our barge lying on the weather side of the reef, very little the worse for having drifted the sixty miles by herself, and with everything complete in her. A most fortunate find for us, and showing how strong the flood must be to the ebb tide at this season of the year.

Monday, 23 September 1861.
At daylight proceeded under sail, with the hulk in tow, owing to some defect in the engine, the air-pump rod striking heavily. Upon examination found one of the bearings broken, which being replaced by a spare one, we steamed on at 10 a.m., passing Mount Adolphus at noon, Good Island at 4 p.m., and anchoring at Booby Island at 4 p.m., all safe, with the hulk astern, and the horses by report "all well" Proceeded to the post-office, and brought off the report-book and the memorandums; but, as it was dark, I could not see to take stock of the provisions, and therefore decided to do so in the morning. Returned on board, and upon examination of the report-book, found the annexed list of ships which had passed through the straits. [ Vide Appendix.]

Tuesday, 24 September 1861.
At daylight proceeded on shore, and found the following provisions remaining: six casks of water; biscuit, ten tins; beef, four casks; pork, three casks; one pound tea (bad); sugar, none; brandy, one bottle; in addition to which, I left two pounds tea, twelve pounds sugar, two pounds tobacco, two bottles brandy, two bottles rum, one quire paper, one box vestas, and one bottle ink ; returning on board at 7.30 a.m. Weighed, and proceeded immediately towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. At noon the latitude was 10° 55' S., with light winds and calms to sunset, and S.E. after 8 p.m.

Wednesday, 25 September 1861.
Light S.S.E. airs to noon, with very clear weather, sounding every hour, going six knots. Distance run, 141 miles. I find the brig tows very heavy head to wind, which is increasing, and sea getting up very fast. A stiff breeze, with heavy short sea on, from 4 p.m. At 7.50 p.m. strong breeze,. with a very nasty cross sea on. Hulk laboring heavily, rolled her jury foremast over the side.

Thursday, 26 September 1861.
At 2.30 a.m. had to stop the engines to tighten up the connecting rod. Proceeded again at 4 a.m., but very slowly, in consequence of the, heavy sea on ; lying from S.W. by S. to S. by W. to noon, when the latitude was 14° 34' S., longitude 139° 46' E., having made nearly a south-west course since yesterday. Thermometer, 77°. Soundings taken every hour, and the hand-lead kept going during the night as a precautionary measure, being in water unexplored or traversed before. The wind dying away fast to a calm after sunset, steamed direct for Bountiful Island; steering S.S.E. 1/2S. The loss of provisions by the wreck induces me to stop here on my way up, to get some turtle for Landsborough's party, to jerk as a substitute; also to save expenditure of salt meat to the crew.

Friday, 27 September 1861.
Light easterly winds, drawing to N.E. after 8 a.m. All sail set, and, being smooth water, going six knots. At 9.45 a.m. made the white cliffs of Mornington Island. At 2 p.m. anchored in seven fathoms off Bountiful Island (Mount Flinders bearing N.W.), for the purpose of collecting turtle, and, as it was too late to reach Investigator Roads, I must have anchored outside. Proceeded on shore to the top of Mount Flinders (a very insignificant mount to name after the great navigator, but the highest on the island), which is all sand, or rotten sandstone, covered with a rank wiry grass, very thick and dry. Had eight turtle on board by 5 p.m., and twelve more turned up on shore, so very numerous are they. Left the barge and cutter in charge of the first and second lieutenants, to remain on shore turning during the night. Set fire to the grass, which illuminated the whole island, to assist them in seeing the turtle, as the moon does not rise till 1 a.m.

Saturday, 28 September 1861.
Commenced at daylight bringing off the turtle, and kept at it all day; but as the distance to pull to the N.W. side was great, and by far the greater number was turned there, it took all day to get on board ninety-six turtle, although every boat was employed in the work, even the dingy with her two at a time, and the gig with three.

Sunday, 29 September 1861.
At 6 a.m. sent on shore for the remainder of the turtle (sixteen in number), and left at 9 a.m. for Investigator Roads with the hulk in tow, having on deck one hundred and eighteen turtle ; the total number caught being one hundred and twenty-six. At 3.30 rounded Locust Rock ; at 4 p.m. anchored in Investigator Roads in five fathoms. Found the brig Gratia, and schooner Native Lass lying here waiting; both captains came on board on anchoring. The winds for the last three days have been N.E. during the day, and southerly at night. The soundings, coming up on a direct course from Bountiful Island, were nine to seven fathoms, due east of the Locust Rock. At a mile and a half to two miles off, various discolored patches were rounded or passed, but no perceptible difference in the depths of soundings were found,- the water being of a very light color generally, makes the navigation rather exciting. The changes in the color of the water this day has all the appearance of sand shoals, or dangers of some kind, but nothing dangerous to navigation was met with on our way up the gulf, every precaution being taken by a good mast-head look-out in the day - the deep sea-lead used every hour throughout - also, the hand-lead kept going during the night. Steering a direct course for Bountiful Island, I was driven more westerly by a gale from the S.E., and crossed Lieutenant Chimmo's downward track in 15° S. The depths found I have noted on the chart, they being generally very uniform, deepening from the eastern shore to thirty-eight fathoms towards the middle of the gulf, with generally mud or sandy bottom ; some few casts of rocky or hard bottom were found near latitude 12° 25' S., longitude 141° E., with some eighteen to twenty-four fathoms, and for thirty-five miles in a S.S.W. course.

I now find our voyage from Melbourne has occupied us twenty-four days under weigh, and thirty-one at anchor - fourteen at Brisbane, fifteen at Sir Charles Hardy's Island, and two at other anchorages in the straits.

Had Captain Kirby, on my asking him at Brisbane, consented to go the inner passage, we might, with no accident, have saved time, but as I agreed with him I did not urge him to do so, from knowing, as the voyage proved, we could reach the Barrier in about eight days, and, with the ordinary weather, here in seven more. The heavy gale with which we were overtaken off the Barrier is, I trust, most unusual for its strength or length, as very few sailing ships could hold their own against the heavy sea and current to keep clear of danger. My finding the Firefly a complete wreck, and getting her off, required great exertion and labor on the part of both officers and crew; who were exposed to several dangers by swimming in the surf doing their duty; but the willingness with which they performed their task (looked upon as hopeless), and the exertions since made to assist me in getting the horses on, is worthy of all praise, and I freely here record my thanks to them.

As the horses are in good health, I hope to enable Landsborough to start in time to reach Central Mount Stuart and return before I am compelled to leave for want of provisions.

My having to ration twenty-four shipwrecked seamen necessitates economy of dry stores, bread and flour; I have therefore reduced the ration of each, and promised the new payment for short allowance. By this reduction being made at once, I gain twenty-two days on the stock of each.

None of the stores belonging to the wreck being saved, and many belonging to Walker and Landsborough parties damaged or lost in the wreck, it is necessary that a reduction should be at once made of the dry stores named. The turtle will supplement the salt provisions to any extent that may be found necessary.

Monday, 30 September 1861.
Last night ordered the first lieutenant to prepare for proceeding as far up the Albert River as the difficulties of its navigation would admit of, with the barge fully manned, armed, and provisioned for seven days, in order to ascertain if any information can be obtained of parties having been there, and to leave a notice of our movements if' they were not seen or heard of; also to make a rough survey of the bar and river, to see if' it is possible to take the hulk for enough in to land the horses safely. The barge started at 4 30 this day, Landsborough and two natives going in her to search for water at the best landing place they can find, that the horses may have a chance of picking up quickly when on shore. Examined the two wells of Stokes and Flinders, and found both dry. Found the old tree with their ships' names cut on it, looking quite healthy. No natives have seen on Sweer's. Island, but some were seen yesterday on Bentinck Island. Proceeded on shore with the two masters of Gratia and Native Lass to select a place for their cargoes. Half our crew on shore cutting timber to make a turtle pond, and collecting stones for the same purpose.


Summary of Passages and Detentions.
Voyage from 5 August to 29 September 1861, from Melbourne to Sweer's Island (Gulf of Carpentaria).

DateFrom. To.
Detention
Under Weigh
 
Days
Hours
Days
Hours
From 5 August, 9am
to 10 August noon.
Passage from Melbourne to Brisbane
...
...
5
4
From 10 August, noon
to 24 August, 2pm.
Detention at Brisbane
14
2
...
...
From 24 August, 2pm.
to 7 Sept, 10am.
Passage from Melbourne to Sir Charles Hardy Island
...
...
13
20
From 7 Sept, 10am.
to 22 Sept, 6am.
Detention at Sir Charles Hardy Island
14
20
...
...
From 22 Sept, 6am.
To 23 Sept, 6pm.
Passage from Sir Charles Hardy Island
To Booby Island
...
...
1
2
From 23 Sept, 6pm.
To 24 Sept, 8am.
Detention at Booby Island
...
14
...
...
From 24 Sept, 8am.
To 27 Sept, 2pm.
Passage to Bountiful Island
...
...
3
6
From 27th Sept, 2pm.Detention at Bountiful Island
1
18
...
...
 Passage to Sweer's Island
...
...
...
8
Total
31
6
24
2

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