31st March 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
On the 31st were in much doubt whether they [Southern Keeling or Cocos Isd] lay eastward or to the west of us. There was most reason to induce me to steer eastward — indeed I was about to give orders to that effect just as the sun was setting, (no land being seen from the mast-head, though the horizon was clear) — when a number of gannets flew past the ship towards the west. We steered directly after them…

27th to 31st March 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
From the 27th to the 30th we had a severe gale of wind, when near the situation of those remote isles [Southern Keeling or Cocos Isd].

13th March 1836

King George's Sound
Our departure was delayed by strong winds & cloudy weather until this day. Since leaving England I do not think we have visited any one place so very dull & uninteresting as K. George's Sound. Farewell Australia, you are a rising infant & doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South; but you are too great & ambitious for affection, yet not great enough for respect; I leave your shores without sorrow or regret.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
We sailed, and advanced towards Cape Leuwin, but it was the 18th before our little ship was sufficiently far westward of that promontory to steer for my next object, the Keeling Islands.

As the Beagle sails across the Indian Ocean neither Darwin nor Fitzroy mad any entries in their Diary/Journal for two weeks. So we will leave them for a while. Do take this opportunity of re-reading some of Darwin's amazing adventures over the past 4 years... it's all here!

10th March 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
During our stay at this place we caught plenty of fish, of twenty different kinds, with a seine; yet with such an abundant supply close at hand, the settlers were living principally on salt provisions.

Before quitting King George Sound I must add my slight testimony to the skill and accuracy with which Flinders laid down and described those parts of New Holland and Van Die-men's Land that I have seen. His accounts also of wind, weather, climate, currents, and tides, are excellent; and there are other points of information in his large work, useful to many, but especially to seamen, which would be well worth separating from the technicalities among which they are almost lost in the present cumbersome volumes.

9th March 1836

King George's Sound
One day I accompanied Capt. FitzRoy to Bald head; this is the spot mentioned by so many navigators, where some have imagined they have seen Coral & other trees petrified in the position in which they grew. — According [to] our view of the case, the rocks have been formed by the wind heaping up Calcareous sand, which by the percolation of rain water has been consolidated & during this process enclosed trees, roots & land shells. — In time the wood would decay & as this took place, lime was washed into the cylindrical cavities & became hard like stalactites. — The weather is now again in parts wearing away these soft rocks & hence the harder casts of roots & branches stand out in exact imitation of a dead shrubbery. — The day was to me very interesting, as I had never before heard of such a case.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Most of the aborigines had rather good countenances, and well-formed heads, as compared with those about Sydney, or in Van Diemen's land. The lathy thinness of their persons, which seemed totally destitute of fat, and almost without flesh, is very remarkable. I have since seen some drawings of South African aborigines, executed under the critical eye of Doctor Andrew Smith, by the correct hand of Mr. Charles Bell, which are so like the natives who live near King George Sound in colour, as well as countenance, and extraordinary shape, that they might be taken for full-length portraits of the latter instead of Africans.

Many of these natives have features smaller and less marked than are usual among savages; but their foreheads are higher and more full: they are not tall, few exceeding five feet eight inches in height: and the women are wretched objects. Some of the men had pieces of bone stuck through the cartilage of the nose, which, I heard, was to prevent their being killed by another tribe, who were seeking to revenge the death of one of their own party. I was told also, that when any death occurs in one tribe, the first individual of another that is encountered is sacrificed by the bereaved party, if strong enough; but I suspect my informant confused revenge for manslaughter with the strange story—that for every death in one tribe, however caused, a life must be taken from another. Should it be true, however, the scarcity of aboriginal population would have an explanation in addition to those which various writers have given. These natives bury their dead in a short grave; the body being laid on its side, with the knees drawn up to the chin.

8th March 1836

King George's Sound
During the two first days after our arrival, there happened to be a large tribe called the White Coccatoo men, who come from a distance paying the town a visit. — Both these men & the K. George's Sound men were asked to hold a "Corrobery" or dancing party near one of the Residents houses. — They were tempted with the offer of some tubs of boiledt rice or sugar. As soon as it grew dark they lighted small fires & commenced their toilet, which consisted in painting themselves in spots & lines with a white colour. — As soon as all was ready, large fires were kept blazing, round which the women & children were collected as spectators. — The Cockatoo and King George's men formed two distinct parties & danced generally in answer to each other.

The dancing consisted in the whole set running either sideways or in Indian file into an open space & stamping the ground as they marched all together & with great force. — Their heavy footsteps were accompanied by a kind of grunt, & by beating their clubs & weapons, & various other gesticulations, such as extending their arms & wriggling their bodies. It was a most rude barbarous scene, & to our ideas without any sort of meaning; but we observed that the women & children watched the whole proceeding with the greatest pleasure. — Perhaps these dances originally represented some scenes such as wars & victories; there was one called the Emu dance in which each man extended his arm in a bent manner, so as to imitate the movement of the neck of one of those birds. In another dance, one man took off all the motions of a Kangaroo grazing in the woods, whilst a second crawled up & pretended to spear him. — When both tribes mingled in one dance, the ground trembled with the heaviness of their steps & the air resounded with their wild crys. — Every one appeared in high spirits; & the group of nearly naked figures viewed by the light of the blazing fires, all moving in hideous harmony, formed a perfect representation of a festival amongst the lowest barbarians. — In T. del Fuego we have beheld many curious scenes in savage life, but I think never one where the natives were in such high spirits & so perfectly at their ease. — After the dancing was over, the whole party formed a great circle on the ground & the boiled rice & sugar was distributed to the delight of all.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
We had a good opportunity of seeing several of the aborigines; for not only were there unusual numbers of neighbouring natives then about the settlement, but a strange tribe, called 'Cocotu,' had lately arrived from a distance, and as the residents wished to conciliate them, a 'corobbery' was proposed, and Mr. Darwin ensured the compliance of all the savages by providing an immense mess of boiled rice, with sugar, for their entertainment.

About two hours after dark the affair began. Nearly all the settlers, and their visitors, had assembled on a level place just outside the village, while the native men belonging to both tribes were painting, or rather daubing and spotting their soot-coloured bodies with a white pigment, as they clustered round blazing fires. When all was ready—the fires burning brightly—the gloom at a little distance intense, by contrast, and the spectators collected together—a heavy tramp shook the ground, and a hundred prancing demon-like figures emerged from the darkness, brandishing their weapons, stamping together in exact accordance, and making hoarse guttural sounds at each exertion. It was a fiendish sight, almost too disagreeable to be interesting. What pains savage man takes—in all parts of the world where he is found—to degrade his nature; that beautiful combination which is capable of so much intelligence and noble exertion when civilized and educated. While watching the vagaries of these performers, I could not but think of our imprudence in putting ourselves so completely into their power: about thirty unarmed men being intermixed with a hundred armed natives. The dancers were all men; a short kangaroo-skin cloak was thrown about their hips, and white feathers were stuck round their heads: many were not painted, but those who were had similar figures on their breasts; some a cross, others something like a heart. Many had spears, and all had the 'throwing-stick'; and a kind of hatchet, in a girdle round the waist. Much of the dancing was monotonous enough, after the first appearance, reminding me of persons working in a treadmill; but their imitation of snakes, and kangaroos, in a kind of hunting dance, was exceedingly good and interesting.

The whole exhibition lasted more than an hour, during most of which time upwards of a hundred savages were exerting themselves in jumping and stamping as if their lives depended on their energetic movements. There was a boy who appeared to be idiotic, or afflicted with a kind of fit; but the man who was holding him seemed to be quite unconcerned about his convulsive efforts, saying, "by and bye he would be a doctor" (as I was told by a resident who understood the language), which reminded me of what Falkner says of the Patagonians. After the corobbery the natives collected round the house where the feast was preparing; and it will not be easy to forget the screams of delight that burst from old and young as they looked in at the door and saw the tub in which their rice was smoking. Before the food was distributed they were told to sit down, which they immediately did, in a circle round the house. They separated, of their own accord, into families, each little party lighting a small fire before them. Their behaviour, and patience, were very remarkable and pleasing. One family had a native dog, which in size, colour, and shape, was like a fox, excepting that the nose was not quite so sharp, nor the tail so bushy.

7th March 1836

King George's Sound
The settlement consist of from 30–40 small white washed cottages, which are scattered on the side of a bank & along a white sea beach. — There are a very few small gardens; with these exceptions all the land remains in the state of Nature & hence the town has an uncomfortable appearance. — At the distance of a mile over the hill, Sir R. Spencer has a small & nice farm, & which is the only cultivated ground in the district. The inhabitants live on salted meat & of course have no fresh meat or vegetables to sell; they do not even take the trouble to catch the fish with which the bay abounds: indeed I cannot make out what they are or intend doing. — I understand & believe it is true, that thirty miles inland there is excellent land for all purposes; this is already granted into allotments & will soon be under cultivation. The settlement of King George's Sound will ultimately be the Sea port of this inland district.

Certainly I have formed a very low opinion of the place; it must however be remembered that only from two to three years have elapsed since its effectual colonization, & for this great allowances must be made. Whether, however, it will ever be able to compete with the Colonies which possess the cheap labor of convicts, time alone will show. — They possess here some advantages, the climate is very pleasant, & more rain falls than in the Eastern colonies. I judge of this from the fact that all the broad flat bottomed valleys which are covered over with the rush-like grasses & brushwood, are in winter so swampy as scarcely to be passable.

The second grand advantage is the good disposition of the aboriginal blacks; it is not easy to imagine a more truly good natured & good humoured expression than their faces show: Moreover they are quite willing to work & to make themselves very useful; in this respect they are very different from those in the other Australian colonies. — In their habits, manners, instruments & general appearance they resemble the natives of New S. Wales. — Like them, they are very remarkable by the extreme slightness of their limbs, especially their legs; yet without, as it would appear, muscles to move their legs, they will carry a burthen for a longer time than most white men. — Their faces are very ugly, the beard is curly & not at all deficient, the skin of the whole body is very hairy & their persons most abominably filthy. Although true Savages, it is impossible not to feel an inclination to like such quiet good-natured men.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Next day, however, we found that appearances were worse than the reality; for behind a hill, which separates the harbour from the sound, a thick wood was discovered, where there were many trees of considerable size; and in the midst of this wood I found Sir Richard Spencer's house, much resembling a small but comfortable farm-house in England. This sort of isolated residence has a charm for some minds; but the loss of society, the numerous privations, and the vastly retrograde step necessarily taken in civilized existence by emigrating to perfectly new countries, are I think stronger objections to the plan than usually occur to persons who have not seen its consequences in actual operation.

At this time there were about thirty houses, or cottages, in the neighbourhood of the sound and harbour; some had small gardens; but, generally speaking, there was no appearance of agriculture, excepting immediately around Sir Richard's house, where a few fields had been cleared and cultivated in the midst of the wood.

There is an extraordinary degree of local magnetic attraction about this place. We could not ascertain the amount of variation with any degree of accuracy until our compasses were placed upon a sandy beach of considerable extent, near the sea. Wherever there was stone (a kind of granite) near the instruments, they were so much affected as to vary many degrees from the truth, and quite irregularly: those on board were not influenced, at least not more than a degree. We were also perplexed by the irregular and peculiar tides; but as they are mentioned elsewhere, I will refrain from farther remark on them here.

6th March 1836

King George's Sound (Western Australia)
In the evening came to an anchor in the mouth of the inner harbor of King Georges Sound. Our passage has been a tolerable one; & what is surprising, we had not a single encounter with a gale of wind. — Yet to me, from the long Westerly swell, the time has passed with no little misery. We staid there eight days & I do not remember since leaving England having passed a more dull, uninteresting time. The country viewed from an eminence, appears a woody plain, with here & there rounded & partly bare hills of granite. — One day I went out with a party in hopes of seeing a Kangaroo hunt, & so walked over a good many miles of country. — Every where we found the soil sandy & very poor; it either supported a coarse vegetation of thin low brushwood & wiry grass, or a forest of stunted trees. — The scenery resembled the elevated sandstone platform of the Blue Mountains: the Casuarina (a tree which somewhat resembles a Scotch fir) is however in greater proportion as the eucalyptus is rather less. In the open parts there are great numbers of the grass-tree, a plant which in appearance has some affinity with the palm, but instead of the crown of noble leaves, it can boast merely of a tuft of coarse grass. The general bright green color of the brushwood & other plants viewed from a distance seems to bespeak fertility; a single walk will however quite dispel such an illusion; & if he thinks like me, he wilI never wish to walk again in so uninviting a country.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
We made the land off King George Sound on the 6th of March; and a few hours afterwards moored in the principal anchorage, called Princess Royal Harbour; a wide but shallow place, with a very narrow entrance. The country round King George Sound has a dull, uniform aspect; there are no mountains or rivers; few trees are visible; white, sandy patches; scrubby bushes; bare masses of granite; and a slightly undulating outline meet and disappoint the eye of a stranger.

A few straggling houses, ill-placed in an exposed, cheerless situation, were seen by us as we entered the harbour; and had inclination been our guide, instead of duty, I certainly should have felt much disposed to 'put the helm up,' and make all sail away from such an uninviting place.

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored in King George Sound; three islands ARE in the mouth of the entrance, with a flat on each side, which makes it narrow. The settlement is small AND very scattered. This colony belongs to New South Wales; Sir Richard Spencer IS the present Governor. The country at large IS sterile and very sandy, yet a few potatoes, pumpkins, etc. grown; salt provisions are used here, except when the kangaroo and wolwar can be caught, the latter very small. Kangaroo flesh sold at eight pence per pound. Great numbers of Indians here and the most miserable and meagre set of beings I have yet seen. No tattooing among natives, but gashes with sharp stones, knives etc., which they inflict on themselves, (on their breasts), said to be done out of bravado, to see which can stand the most pain without crying out.