(Extract from the Remarks of H.M.S. North Star: Captain Sir E. Home, R.N.)
The North Star left Sydney on the morning of July the 6th 1844, the breeze moderate from south-west, and freshening at W.b.S., and was in the evening off Port Stephens. The directions for this port are accurately given by Capt. P. P. King. The land at the entrance is moderately high, and may be known by two small barren islands which lie off it; working in, the wind fell light and then calm. From the southern point or head a reef extends in a northerly direction two-thirds of the distance across. Being furnished with Capt. King's sailing directions, the different points were easily recognised.
Having passed about two miles above Nelson's Head, which is the most prominent head in the harbour on the port hand going in, the tide of ebb being down and the ship having scarcely steerage way, she took the ground, which was sand. The deepest water in the channel at that time was four fathoms, a kedge was laid out, and as the tide rose she was hauled into deep water, and having gone back into the proper anchorage just above Nelson's Head, anchored in little Salamander Bay in 8½ fathoms. It had been intended to have gone to the usual anchorage up the harbour near a small island, but as the passage, which could be seen through the shoal water, appeared to be very narrow, and having already touched the ground, I did not think it prudent to proceed farther up until I had seen Captain King. His recommendation was to remain where we were, and not to venture further. I had seen enough of this harbour to be of the same opinion, and further I should not recommend any vessel of more than 200 tons, or drawing more than 12 feet water to enter here. Wood is abundant, but water is found only in holes dug in the sand, and is brackish.
The North Star attempted to leave Port Stephens on the 10th, but a light breeze coming in, and soon falling calm off Nelson's Head, she again anchored ; and on the 11th left the port with a light air from N.N.E. In the evening it was cloudy with lightning all round the compass, and at midnight blew a gale from the north-west. At noon on the 12th, it moderated, but blew very fresh with squalls and rain : at 8 a.m. Balls Pyramid, the only island of Howe's Group which we saw, bore S.S.E.½ E. twenty miles. Sights were taken, the ship was steered south-east, and the patent log was put over : at noon the observed lat. was 31 ° 8 S., the longitude by chronometer 159 ° 32 E., and the distance run eastward since 8h. was twenty-two miles one fathom. Howe's Island then out of sight.
The northern island is high and barren, and appears to be double : at 1h. p.m. New Island, as it is called, was seen for an instant through the haze bearing E. ¾ S.
The fly of the patent log was found to have parted from the machine, which was for the future rendered useless. It would be very desirable that some simple contrivance were adopted so that the old line when worn might be cut away and a new one spliced in without difficulty. The weather continued squally with rain and strong breezes, until the evening of the following day, when it moderated : and the heavy sea, which had attended us since our departure from Port Stephens, gradually went down.
Norfolk Island was seen on the morning of the 16th. The winds having been more moderate, blowing from S.W. and W.S.W. since leaving Howe's Group, and the weather fine with occasional squalls and rain : the island bore E.N.E., and Philip Island E. ¾ S. Sights were got off the south-west side of the island. The ship then passed between Norfolk and Philip Islands for Cascade Bay ; a red ensign was hoisted at the settlement, a signal that boats could land ; when landing is dangerous or impracticable, a blue flag is hoisted. At noon the sun's meridian altitude was observed off the eastern side of the island : in the afternoon sights were again taken, the ship then being on the northern side of Cascade Bay. The latitude observed as 29° 2' S. ; long. 1?7 ° 51 E. ; the day gradually cleared and was very fine.
Norfolk Island rises by a gradual ascent to a considerable height. The ground rises near the northern extremity to its greatest elevation, which is called Mount Pitt, and cannot be called a mountain ; the rest of the island is of moderate height, a large portion of it is level : the soil extremely rich. Approaching the island, the appearances produced by the pines, for which it is celebrated, are very curious, some resembling columns and ancient ruins, some groups resembling churches, cathedrals, and various other forms ; the greater part of the island appears to be covered with them. The land which is cleared and cultivated is remarkably green, forming a strong contrast with Nepean Island, a small barren island, upon which nothing appears excepting the dead trunks of four or five old pines. This island is in front of the settlement, which is called Kingston; so named after a former governor, Captain Philip King, after whom Philip Island is also named.
Philip Island is of considerable height, on the north and west side it is very rugged, having large fragments of detached rocks upon its surface. The soil is very red, and appears to be rich - a large portion is bare ; but where there is grass it is most beautifully green. There are but few trees upon the island ; they are much bent by the south-easterly winds. I saw only one Norfolk Island pine (Aurocaria excelsa) upon the west side of the island. The stratum of rock is slightly curved, and is close together, resembling the gills of a mushroom: the soil on the east side is more red than anything of the sort I ever saw before. The rocks, which appear to be extremely hard, are of the same colour, in some parts they are of a lightish brown, and everywhere very rugged : on this side there are a few pine-trees : a long low point runs off eastward. The south side I am informed is perpendicular.
The landing at Cascade Bay is not easy, and requires some management not to stave the boat, which must be backed in towards the rock on which you land. The cascade exists only in name, the stream of water is small, and spreads over the surface of the rock, giving it the appearance of a cascade when at a distance. There is no landing upon the island with any degree of safety, except here or at the settlement ; and when it is bad on one side of the island it is generally good on the other. The distance from one to the other is three miles. The view from Mount Pitt extends all over the island, which is most fertile and beautiful, the vegetation entirely tropical. Between Cascade Bay and the settlement there is a garden kept under the direction of the government, it is large and well conducted : pine-apples, strawberries, sugar-cane, and the usual European and tropical fruits grow together and succeed well. In the garden is the largest specimen of Aurocaria excelsa which is believed to exist upon the island. It is hollow for 16 feet above ground, yet is in good health ; the extreme height is 187 feet, the girth (at five feet from the ground) 51 feet, and at twenty feet above the ground it is 51 feet round.
This island formerly had vast numbers of orange-trees upon it. It being believed that the fruit furnished food upon which absconders could subsist, they were all destroyed in the year 1827, excepting a very few, which have since died : and although every means has been taken since that time to re-establish them, they will not succeed. There is at present only one tree upon the island, and that is in an unhealthy state. The number of convicts upon the island is 953, and there are two companies of the 99th regiment to guard them - 200 men. The jail is small ; the barracks for the prisoners are well built, and well kept ; but want draining. The buildings in the settlement are all very good. The latitude of the garden of the government-house in the settlement, as found by observation of the sun's meridian altitude by two observers in the artificial horizon was 29 ° 3' 6" S.; the variation of the compass 11 ° 18' E. ; the dip of the needle in the same place was found to be 54 ° 51'.
There is no safe anchorage off the island, moorings have been laid down for the government brig belonging to the colony of New South Wales, but they have been washed away : and she and other vessels have lost their anchors.
Upon the 19th of July a departure was taken from Norfolk Island, and as it was my intention to visit as many of the islands in the South Seas as I was able, regulations were made for a constant look out by day and night, beyond what was usually kept, and proper trustworthy persons selected for the purpose - the land-lead was kept constantly going. On the 26th of July, the ship was off Pylstart Island, and on the 29th, anchored at Tongataboo, between which day and making Norfolk Island the weather was fine and fresh, and moderate breezes from S.W., W., and N.W., W., W.S.W., S.W., N.W., and W., W.S.W., S.W.b.W., and S., W.S.W., and S.W., S., and on the 26th S.E. and E.b.S., going round on the day following to E.N.E. and N.E.; on the 28th to N.N.E., and N.b.W. ; and on the 29th, from N.N.E., and S.S.W. The barometer varied from 29.72 to 30.08 ; the thermometer between 78 ° and 6O°, and the surface water of the sea from 66 ° to 77 °, a long swell constantly from south-west. The tropic was crossed upon the 25th, in longitude 176 ° 30' east. Pylstarts Islands was observed at daylight on the morning of the 26th, bearing W. ½ N. eighteen or twenty miles ; we had not yet got the trade wind, nor were any birds seen.
Approaching the island from the east it has somewhat the appearance of a saddle, the north extreme bluff, the southern point slopes with a more gradual descent; off it there is a detached perpendicular white rock, which at a distance much resembles a ship. At a distance the outline of the island is irregular and rugged ; for some distance below the summit the ground is bare, below which the level ground appears to be well cultivated and regularly enclosed ; trees of considerable size fill the valleys. The island is bounded by a steep rocky precipice, the stratum horizontal and well defined ; the sea breaks high upon the shore which appears to be of boulders. The enclosures are square and nearly of an equal size, separated from each other by wide hedgerows of uncleared ground.
The sea appears clear of danger, and the island to be steep to ; when it bore west about two miles or less we had 95 fathoms sand and shells; when at that distance eleven canoes came off to the ship, each had four men or boys in them. The canoe bailers and paddles are the same in form as those of New Zealand. When they got near the ship they called in English that the ship sailed too fast, and desired that we should shorten sail and heave to. They were on board in an instant from all parts, they brought green bananas, cocoanuts, yams, sweet potatoes, papaw apples, sugar-canoes (sic), and kava root. The original legitimate dress appeared to be a cloth round the middle, but most of them had remnants of red frocks or cotton cloths which they seemed to desire most. Their hair was long and bushy as worn in Timor, and sometimes in New Zealand; two were stained about the neck and temples with blood, which appeared to have been newly shed, they gave as a reason for it that they were mourning for a friend that was dead ; by the quantity of blood wasted, their mourning must have been sincere and deep. Some wore things in their ears, pieces of tobacco-pipe, &c., and pieces of mother-of-pearl round their neck, but it was not good ; some were tattoed in patches, without design or meaning, some had round spots marked round their necks, resembling a necklace. Their loins also were tattoed in the same manner. In exchange for what they brought they asked for hoes, which were the first thing called for on coming on board, or long knives ; but they took fishhooks, pipes, tobacco, and old clothes very readily, and I think they made the best bargains.
The chief was pointed out ; he was a modest handsome man, six feet three inches : he was in want of a coat, and pretended to be very cold. Hearing that we were going to Tonga, asked if we were going to war, as war was expected there. They took a great fancy to the cutlasses with which the men had been exercising. I believe they wanted them for agricultural rather than warlike purposes. They counted the guns : appeared to be perfectly independent, strong, active and fit for war or work of any kind. Their canoes are made from a single tree, having a piece of timber of nearly the same length, projecting from the larboard side two feet, and parallel with the keel, supported by two upright pieces, one at each extremity ; they were extremely noisy. One of the canoes being upset, a great piece of work was made about it, but finding no attention paid to them she was soon righted and bailed out : the people going to dinner, they took a great fancy to the boiled pork and potatoes, the latter they preferred raw, that they might be enabled to plant them, showing us upon the deck how they intended to do it, cutting, them into pieces as is practised in England, in four months they said they would be fit for use. The number of inhabitants upon the island are about 150, as we were informed. Those on shore appeared to be all clothed. Having taken bearings of the remarkable points of land and rocks, and observed the sun's meridian altitude, stood round to the lee or north-east side of the island. The natives on board seeing us, as they thought, leaving the island, hastened to their canoes and cast off from the ship, following under sail. By the time we had distanced the canoes rather more than a mile, three natives, who were below, finding themselves left behind, jumped over-board and swam towards them.
The north side of the island appears to be perfectly barren and uncultivated, no water was seen falling from the rocks, nor did any place appear where a boat could conveniently land, or having landed, where they could walk ; all is a rough black rock, there is no appearance of sand. On the northern side there is a very remarkable white pyramidial rock ; it is high, and the apex sharp and very regularly formed : there are two others on the north-west extremity. No houses or huts were seen ; a large fire had been lighted on the north west extremety of the island, from which issued a vast quantity of smoke.
A second set of sights were taken on the northern side of the island with sketches and bearings, and we stood on towards Tongataboo, the weather extremely cool and clear. The highest peak of this island is about 700 feet. In a north and south direction the island is about one mile in length, and east and west about three-quarters of a mile. It slopes from south-west to north-east, the south-west end being the highest. The mean longitude was by sights over the sea, horizon about 176 ° 1' 47" E., the latitude 23 ° 33' 50" S., and the variation 9 ° 30' E. The course for Tongataboo was N.b.E. ½ E., the weather fine, rather hazy, and very little swell : the variation by amplitude at sunset was 9 ° 5' E. At night the ship was put under easy sail, and her way through the water reduced to four knots per hour. At 10h. 46m. on the following morning, 27th, the land was observed northeast showing like two hummocks ; these were the Honga and Hapaa Islands ; the latitude at noon was 20 ° 49' S., the longitude by chronometer 175 ° 57' E. We tacked and stood for the land. At sunset it bore north-east twenty miles, and at half-past nine in the evening the land of Tongataboo was seen upon the weather bow, the wind N.E.b.E., a moderate breeze and very fine. This land the officer of the watch and my self had been looking at for some time before it was reported by the lookout man, it was so low and regular as to be scarcely perceptible ; it was moonlight. Between the land and the ship there appeared to be a long sand bank or sandy beach, breakers were presently after seen rising very high, and we tacked half an hour before the time at first intended, and at daylight on the 28th, were to windward of the point we last night tacked from. We stood along the land E.N.E., the land generally low, with one hill upon it. It was at a considerable distance. Several islands between us and the island of Tonga, that to which we were the nearest at 9 a.m., was called Attata ; it is the largest, and north-westernmost of them : the islands are low and covered with cocoa-nut trees and palms ; the sea breaks heavily upon them, and a line of breakers almost uninterrupted extends along the whole line of coast. Within this barrier a barque was seen at anchor, and we endeavoured to weather the eastern extremity of the line and bear up round it to the anchorage. A small schooner was seen ahead, we believed that she was coming to pilot us ; we made the pilot signal, and stood towards her, but she altered her course : towards evening the master came on board, he was a stranger to the place, and was looking for a passage through the reef : by attending to this vessel the day was lost, the night was fine with little wind N. by W. At 10, tacked and stood along the land, and when she had gone five miles hove to.
At daylight, 29th, no land was to be seen, but the schooner was near: as soon as the light was good we stood in and made the land and the line of breakers. Standing in for the opening seen yesterday a canoe was observed coming out, tacked and hove to for her ; she was soon alongside and two natives came on board over the traffrail their favorite way. The canoe then left the ship and stood in to the opening we had intended to enter by, they took charge of the ship ; and one of them who was named Henry, and was son to the king of the island, went to the fore-yard, and from thence conned the ship. The course steered for the opening was W.b.S. the passage formerly proposed to be taken is only fit for boats, which when we altered course as above, then bore south. Passing along the line of breakers at a distance of about half a mile, and leaving the small island of Mallenoah on the larboard hand, and Attata on the starboard hand, the passage is between them, keeping on the side nearest the latter island at a distance of about a quarter of a mile from the reef which extends from it in a north-easterly direction, the course S.b.W. ½ W. The depth of water varying from 5 to 9 fathoms. Having passed within the outer reef, the passage leads between two patches of coral which are covered at high-water, inside which anchor about two miles east of the village of Neckalofa in 12 fathoms.
On the 30th, the day after full moon, it was high-water at 2h. 40m. p.m., the strength of tide per hour 4 fathoms ; the general strength was 2 fathoms : the tide rises from four to eight feet. The North Star remained at this anchorage until the 6th of August, at which time the winds were moderate and often light from N.W., S.S.W., N.E., S.S.W., and N., S.W., S.E., S., E., S.b.W., N.E., S.E., S.S.W., once it blew strong (August 3rd) with heavy rain. The barometer ranged from 29.85 to 30.13, and the thermometer between 68 ° and 83 ° . It was not until the 28th that it was necessary to change the clothing from blue to white, and it has been generally remarked that the temperature within the tropic of Cancer is lower than in that of Capricorn in parallel seasons.
The latitude as found on shore by meridian altitudes of sun and stars, north and south, was 21 ° 8' 27" S., the variation 10 ° 43' E., and the dip of the needle by four sets of observations 39 ° 30'. No birds had been seen since leaving Pylstarts Island, and these only close to the rocks, not flying from the island. There is no water to be obtained at Tongataboo. The springs maybe said to be upon the tops of the trees, that which is used for drinking being the produce of the cocoa-nut, it is so scarce that rain-water is saved in cloths spread out to receive it when it falls, or a cocoa-nut tree which does not stand erect has frequently a groove cut in the upper sides of the trunk, to conduct the rain-water into a small hollow, which is cut in the tree near its base. Wood is plentiful, the purser got a large quantity for an old jacket ; money is not used. The most valuable articles for barter are quart bottles, white calico, and old clothes ; the supplies to be got consist of pigs and yams. A good pig weighing 70lbs. is to be had for eight or nine wine bottles, or an old shirt and a pair of old duck trousers ; a good fowl is to be had for a bottle ; one bottle also was the price of about 20lbs. of yams; Muscovy ducks were three times the price of fowls.
SG & SGTL Vol 7, p 48.
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