Source Documents
newspapers : rafts and canoes in australia, 1862 

Newspapers : Rafts and Canoes in Australia, 1862.

SMH Correspondents: Canoes in Australia
The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 1862, page 3.

1862 'CANOES IN AUSTRALIA.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 30 June, p. 3, viewed 20 September, 2013,

Awaiting clean-up.

The Sydney Morning Herald,
30 June 1862, page 3.


The following correspondence, bearing chiefly on the question whether the Australian aborigines are able to construct canoes, appeared in the London Athenown for the month of March last -

The Times of Wednesday, the 29th of January, in a review of the "Transactions of the Ethnological Society," refers to the various opinions of ethnologists with respect to the original unity of the human species, and the probability, or otherwise, of the different portions of the globe having been peopled by the migrations of a single race, and mentions that Mr Crawford holds "the supposition of a single race peopling all countries to be monstrous and contradictory to the fact that some of them to this day do not know how to use or construct a canoe."

At a recent meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, Mr Crawford stated that the Australians have no canoes, so that perhaps these may be the people alluded to as not knowing how to construct or use them I will not presume now to offer any theory upon the question as to the source from whence Australia was peopled, but perhaps you will kindly allow me space in your columns to say that at Rockingham Ray, on the north eastern coast ot Australia, the natives have very neatly-made canoes , and further on at a river opening in the mainland opposite the Frankland Islands (longitude 140 degrees E , latitude 17 12 S ), were not only catamarans, or rafts, but canoes made out of the solid tree, and having an outngger on one side , and it is somewhat remarkable that both the canoes and catamarans at this place resembled others we afterwards met with at the south-eastern part of New Guinea.
At Cape York (North Australia), we found
the natives had large canoes, with double outriggers and mat sails, with which they stood boldly out in a strong breeze with as much sail as our own boats would carry under the same circumstances indeed, the Australians generally, upon all parts of the coast that I have visited, show little fear of the water, and under the direction of white men make very good whalers.
In June, 1848, the natives near Cape
Grafton (latitude 16 11 b ) came out in their canoes and boarded the "Will o'-the-Wisp, a small sandal- wood trader, which they nearly captured.
There are
at least six varieties of canoes and rafts along the north-eastern shore of Australia alone, and these are different from others found on the coast in the southward and in other parts.

O. W. BlUJ-.llLY.
1, Lidlington-place, Oakley-square,
February, 1862.

Dublin, March 3, 1802.

Will you allow me to refer to the paragraph headed " Canoes in Australia," in your last number, for the purpose of stating exactly how the case stands ?
Western Australia, athough some large islands front the coast near the mouth of Swan River, at a distance of not more than three or four miles, no natives had ever landed on them till the arrival of the settlers.
They had not the remotest notion of a canoe nor any
kind of water conveyance whatever.
This is true also
so far as my inquiries sixteen or eighteen years ago enabled me to ascertain, for all the west and for all the south coast of Australia.
On the north-west
coast they used bundles of rushes tied together to assist them in swimming from one island to another.
In Botany Bay, Cook found them using strips of bark tied together at the ends, making a sort of di_, in which a man could stand.

In Rockingham Bay, when I visited it in H.M.S. Fly, we first saw bark canoes sewn together, and having thwarts, something like the canoes of the North American Indians.
North of this the cauoes
improved till we came to the large ones belonging to tie Papuan islanders of Torres Straits, with sails and outriggers.
West of the Gulf of Carpentaria, how
ever, these disappear at once and the natives had nothing at Fort Essington that could be called a canoe until they got some of the Malay sampans.
I believe,
therefore, that the Australians derived their canoes from the Papuan Blendern, and that Mr. Crawford is right as to their original destitution, although Mr, Brierly is also right as to existing facts.


P.S.Does any wood grow in Australia large enough and light enough to moke a canoe if merely hollowed out ?
I doubt it.
Neither is there any of
which a bow could be made.

March 11, 1802.

Mr. J. B. Jukes, in his letter on "Canoes in Australia," is wrong in his statement with respect to New South Wales.
In the Catalogue of the Natural and
Industrial Products of New South Wales for the Exhibition of 1862, is the following extract from a Lecture on the Aborigines of New South Wales, by ,$riwnrrl J. Hill, E'a. : -
"The canoes of  the
natives are of two kinds.
Those intended for a
mere temporary purpose to cross a river or lagoon, are formed from the bark of a gum-tree simply tied together at the ends, with a piece of stick to keep the sides from coming together.
When intended for fishing, or permanent use, much
more trouble is taken.
A large sheet of bark is taken
from the stringy-bark tree ; the outer side of the bark which is very rough and stringy, is carefully removed ; it is then slowly, and with very great attention, passed over a blazing fire until it has become thoroughly hot through, which makes it very pliable; the ends of the bark are then brought together and laced with a cord made from the same description of bark ; the gunwale is strengthened by a band of rushes, laced along the edge ; and two or three stretchers are placed, according to its length, to keep the canoe in shape.
A canoe of this kind is usually occupied by two
men- one at the stern, who propels it with a short paddle in either hand, and the other at the bow, armed with spears with which to strike the fish.
When crossing a river or lake, four or five persons
may be conveyed in one of them with safety.
employed in fishing, a flat stone is placed in the centre, on which a small fire is always kept burning, on which they can cook their fish when they catch them."

Mr. Hill speaks the language and knows the customs and habits of the aborigines thoroughly, and may, therefore, be considered an authority.
In 1834
I saw the natives using the large canoes outside both Jervis Bay and Twofold Bay, and the large fish which were brought in by them clearly proved to me that their canoes must have been very buoyant and strong.
Anyone acquainted with the strength and tenacity of
stringybark would not wonder that a primitive people without metal tools should use it for boats in preference to wood, which could only be hollowed out in a rude manner, and with immense labour.
the Murray, Murrumbidgee, and other interior rivers, the bark canoe was used ; and all who have seen much of the natives, especially on the coast, will admit that they are skilful men in a hnit.

What Mr. Brierly states about the canoes on the north-east coast I believe to be correct, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy from personal observation.
The north coast of Australia is regularly visited, I
believe, by the Malays for the purpose of trepang fishing.
If Mr. Jukes will be good enough to exa
mine the Australian timbers, and the descriptions of them in the catalogues of the Great Exhibition, he will find the doubts expressed in the P.S. of his letter fully answered.


8, Lidlington-place, Oakley-square, March 12,1862.

I cannot but feel flattered by the testimony of so
eminent an authority as Mr. Jukes to the truth of my observations about the canoes of Australia, and well remember the interest with which (on board H.M.S. Rattlesnake) we used to consult his valuable work upon that part of the world during our surveying cruises overmuch of the ground which he had visited, in H.M.S. Fly, before us ; but I think in the observations which he makes for the purpose of stating "exactly how the case stands" in the present instance, there are one or two points in which he does not define this quite clearly, and with your kind permission I will endeavour to show which these are.

Alter alluding to the canoes they saw at Rockingham Bay, Mr. Jukes observes, that " north of this the canoes improved till we came to the large ones belonging to the Papuan Islanders of Torres Straits."
The improvement in the canoes in Rock
ingham Bay northward here spoken of conveys correctly the state of the case so far ; but at Cape York we arrive- in the first instance, on the mainland- at important canoes, with double outriggers and sails belonging to the Australians ; while next to these, increasing in size and importance, are the canoes of the Kowraregîs, or natives of the Prince of Wales's Islands, who are friendly with the Gudang tribe at Cape York, and in constant communication with them.
The Kowrarogas are a true island tribe,
more Australian than Papuan, though in many respects superior to the Australians and it is the large canoes of these people, and not of Papuans, which we have on the Australian side of the Straits.
The Kowraregas in
termarry both with the Australians and with the more Papuan tribes of the islands nearer New Guinea, as the Kulcalsgas, Badnlegns, Italegas, and others: indeed, the islanders of the Straits generally appear to be more or less a mixed race, with a greater or less proportion of Australian or Papuan character as thei: tm aproach either side of the straits.
The Prince
William Islanders have no direct communication with New Guinea, but get ornaments, feathers, and »eopniii through the Badus and other tribes, who obtain them either from New Guinea, or from islands immediately upon its coast, and take back in return from the Kowraregas the shell of a large flat oyster, they call Marri, which is much valued by the people to the north for making breast ornaments.

After speaking of the canoes of Torres Straits, with sails and outriggers, Mr Jukes remarks, that " west of the Gulf of Carpentaria these disappear at once , and the natives at Port Essington had nothing that could be called a canoe until they got some of the Malay sampans. "
 I think Mr Jukes is right
as to the disappearance of the miling canoes west of the Gulf of Carpentaria, but the sketches of canoes taken by Mr Banes, the artist of Mr Gregory's expedition, and now to be seen in the chart-room of the Royal Geographical Society, show that the natives of the Goulburn Islands, upwards of 200 miles to the westward of Cape Arnhem, on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, have well made paddle canoes, capable of carrying at least three men in a rough sea.

At Post Essington we saw two kinds of wooden canoes- one brought over by the Malays, and another and smaller kind, which appeared to me to be native, but ot this I am not sure, as I do not find any note about it upon my sketches of them.
 Macgillivray says
("Voyage of H M S Rattlesnake," vol 1, p 140) that before they obtained canoes from the Malays, bark canoes were in general use among the natives here.

Speaking witn reference not only to the west, but also to alt the southern coast of Australia Mr Jukes says that the result of his enquiries, sixteen or eighteen years ago, enabled him to ascertain that the natives of these "parts of Australia had not the remotest idea of a canoe nor any kind of water conveyarce whatever."
When I visited Twofold Bay, in
the yacht Wanderer, soon after our arrival in Australia in that vessel, twenty years ago, we found the natives of that part had their canoes of bark, certainly, but still canoes in which they went out into the bay to catch fish by lines and spearing.
Twofold Bay is
upon the southern point of the Continent, in latitude 37 G 40 S.

The concluding remark, in which Mr Jukes expresses his doubt as to whether any wood grows in Australia "large enough and light enough to make a canoe if merely hollowed out," will surprise many, besides myself, who have visited Australia I have before me a list of upwards of three hundred Australian trees, many of which, from their great size and other properties, must be adapted for making the largest canoes.
A considerable proportion of the large Aus
tralian trees, as the black butt (Eucalyptus medias), become very hollow when they attain their greatest size.
One of the most useful trees in Australia, the
cedar (Cedrela Australis), is very large and light, and is cut annually in great quantities at the Bellengen, Clarence, and other rivers, and floated down to the coast for shipment to Sydney.

Nearly all the Australian wooden canoes that I have seen had outriggers with floats of light wood attached , and these not only give great stability, but are calculated to support upon the surface of the water canoes made from wood which otherwise from their weight might not be adapted for the purpose.

A friend of mine in Sydney had a canoe made from one of the Austrian trees (the red gum, I believe), and this carried upwards of fifteen people easily, without any assistance from floats or outriggers.
When we were at Cape York, the natives pointed
out to me the trees of which they said they made their canoes, and Macgillivray (" Voyage of H M S Rattlesnake, ' vol ii p. 16,) gives the following account of their construction at that place -
A tree of sufficient sue, 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 remainin
g 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.
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 cable is made
of twisted climbers, often the Flaggelaria Indica, and a large stone serves for an anchor.

When I wrote the letter on this subject which you did me the honour to insert in your number of the 1st instant, I had not seen Mr Crawford s Paper "On Classification of the Races of Men," published in the last volume of the "Transactions of the Ethnological Society," and my observations then were in consequence of the statement, which I heard Mr Crawford make at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, and the views attributed to him in a notice of his paper in the Junes of the 20th of January last.

Upon reading Mr Jukes' letter, however, I thought that perhaps the paper itself might contain some reference to an "original destitution" of the Australian natives with respect to canoes in which Mr Jukes believes Mr Crawford to be right, but upon looking through it I can only find the most positive assertions (pp 355, 3G1) that the Australians "have no canoes to this day," and that "even now they cross their own rivers only on rude rafts."

Mr Crawford attacks evervthing opposed to his own views with so much impetuosity, that he seems scarcely to allow himself breathing-time to ascertain existing facts.
Had he done so he would not have
made these statements


Dublin, March 24, 1802

Will you allow me to state my opinion a little more deliberately than in my hastily-written note which appeared in your number of the 8th instant.
statements as to existing facts made by Sir D Cooper and Mr Brierly are, ot course, beyond all question.
I looked at the subject from an ethnological point of
view, and supposed that the question was, whether the Australians had anything of their own invention worthy of being called a canoe.
Before writing the
ethnological chapter in the "Voyage of H M S Fly" (published in 1847), I searched most, if not all of the early voyages and travels for information on this matter among others.
From this search, and
from my own observations and inquiries made during our voyage, I came to the conclusion that before they were visited by Europeans, the Australians had no canoes anywhere along the south, west and north west coasts from Cape Howe to Cape Leuwin, and thence to Melville Island or thereabouts.
On the east coast, at Twofold Bay, Botany Bay, and
the other places visited by Cook, Flinders, King, and others, as far north as Sandy Cape, the only canoes mentioned are, as I believe, the strips of bark tied together at the ends, with rough sticks to keep them open, which have been already described.
I was much
struck with the bark canoes about Rockingham Bay, as they resembled those I had previously seen among the Native Indians of Newfoundland, although greatly inferior to them.
The detailed description of
those canoes which I find m my own notes agrees precisely with that quoted by Sir D. Cooper from Mr Hill.
The fact mentioned by Sir D. Cooper, how
ever that he had seen similar canoes outside Jervis and Twotold Bays in the year 1834 is new to me, and would, had I been aware of it, have pro tanto modified my statements as to the canoes of New South Wales.
I still behove that the canoes made of hol
lowed trees found among the Australians of the north-east coast are either procured from the Papuan Mandera, or that at all events it was from these islanders that the Australians learnt how to make them. Macgillivray says, in the page quoted by Mr Brierly from the" "Voyage of the Rattlesnake," that they now use iron axes, which they must of course procure from "white men."
larger canoes among the Torres Straits Islanders themselves must, I think, have been procured from New Guinea, whence so many of their implements are derived, ornamented with cassowary and not with emu feathers.
The doubt expressed in the
P S of my note as to the possibility of getting trees in Australia large enough and light enough to make canoes if hollowed out, is certainly of too sweeping a character, for I had hardly posted the note before I recollected the beautiful pine trees which grow in such profusion about Whitsunday Passage and the neighbourhood, a part of the Australian coast much superior in aspect, and, I believe, in value, to any other portion of any side of it.
The statements of
Macgillivray and Mr. Brierly show clearly that I was wrong in this.
Still the generality of Australian trees
are ill adapted for such a purpose.
It was always
said in the Australian colonies that none of the native woods would float in water.
Whether that be true or
not, almost all the large trees of the greater part of Australia are at the same time heavy, hard and brittle, readily splitting into slabs or splinters, but not easily cut across the grain.
It is probably in
great measure the nature of their woods which has prevented the Australians from becoming as advanced m the arts of life as the Papuans, who have in New Guinea not only large canoes of solid timber, but powerful bows, and large well constructed houses built on the stumps of stout trees, all cut down to one uniform level by stone hatchets not very much superior to those used by the Australians.
I am not
speaking of what might bo done by Europeans with Australian woods, but solely endeavouring to learn the condition of the Australians before they came into contact with either Papuans, Malays, or Europeans.
My own impretation was, that their intercourse with
the former had not been of very much earlier date than that with either of the latter, and that it was from the Papuan Islanders of Torres Straits that the art of canoe making was making its way among the Australians when they were first visited by Europeans.
It appeared to me that this art had spread from Torrea
Straits, as from a centre, down the east coast to Twofold Bay and Cape Howe, and along the north coast not nearly to far in consequence of the great indtntation of the Gulf of Carpentaria with its barren and therefore uninviting shores.
I feel sure that we
were told at Port Essington that the natives had no wooden canoes before that coast was visited by the Malays. Can any one now give any certain information as to Port Phillip before it was colonised ?
the natives any canoes there ? and what kind of canoes were they ?


1862 'CANOES IN AUSTRALIA.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 30 June, p. 3, viewed 20 September, 2013,

The Sydney Morning Herald
6 March 1863, page 3.

Canoes in Austhalia.
-At recent meetings of the
Ethnological and Geological Societies, Mr. Crawfard, in support of a theory that the human race has sprung from many original races, stated that in Australia the natives have no canoes.
This would not
prove much, even if true; but the direct testimony of many Australian travellers and explorers is opposed to Mr. Crawford's statement.
One of these, Mr. O.
W. Brierley, thus writes in a letter to the " Athenreum :"-
"I will not presume now to offer any
theory upon tlie question as to the source frm whence Australia waa peopled, but perhaps you will kindly allow mo space in your columns to say that at Rockingham Bay, on the north-esstern coast of Australia, the natives have very neatly-made ciuoes ; and further on, at a river the mainland opposite the Frankland Islands (longitude 146- E., , latitude 17*12 S.), were not only catamarans or rafts,but canoes made out of the solid Irec, and having an outrigger on one side ; and it is somewhat remarkable that both the canoes and the catamarans at this place resembled otheis we alterwards met with at the south-eastern part of New Guinea.
At Cape York
(North Australia) we found the natives had large canoes, with double outriggers and mat sails, with which they stood boldly out in a strong breeze with as much sail as our own boats would carry under the same circumstances : indeed, the Australians generally upon all parts of the coast that I have visited, show little fear of the water, and under the direction of white men, make very good whalers.
In June, 1848,
the natives near Cape Grafton (latitude 16- 51-S.) came off in their canoes and boarded the Will-o'-the "Wisp, a small sandal-wood trader, which they nearly captured.
There are at least six varieties of canoes
and rafts along the north-easteni shore of Australia alone ; and these are different from others found on the coast to the southward and in other parts."

1863 'THE WATERFALL.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 6 March, p. 6, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News
5 June 1863, page 2.
The Tien Tsin's track to the Harding River.
Our extracts from Captain Jarman's Journal commence upon his closing in with the land, immediately after sighting the North West Cape, from whence to Tien Tsin Harbor he proved the general correctness of the surveys of Captains King and Stokes as laid down in the Admiralty charts, the only differences he notes being his observation of an apparent deep water passage through Ritchie's Reef, a greater depth of water between Delambre Isle and the main land.......
May 5.- At 7 a.m., weighed and stood for Cape Lambert, following the Mystery, in fine smooth water, throughout of much greater depth than indicated upon the Admiralty Sheet.
At noon Bezout N.W.
3 miles close in with the land immediately Southward of Cape Lambert, with bold shore to the southward of the eastern reef lying off the same ; coasting along under easy sail I saw from the royal yard a deep bay and tempting looking spot for landing, and the Mystery leading we rounded the north headland of the bay afterwards named the "Tien Tsin Harbor" by Mr. Hunt, and anchored in three fathoms at low water spring tide, about midway between Jarman Isle and Samson's Point.

May 7.- Shifted the ship to about half a mile from low water mark where she had 16 feet at least depth.
Three natives came to the ship, each upon a support awash in the water of some description of cork wood, much in shape and form like the centre piece of a catamaran, about 8 feet long by 9 inches in diameter, with a cross peg about l8 inches from the end which is grasped by the great toes when the affair becomes too lively, they paddle their craft with the palms of their hands which they use like a dog does his fore-paws when swimming.
After much persuasion I induced a fine strapping fellow to leave his perch in the water and come on deck, when I led him by the beard to the main hatch, when one of the bullocks happening to bellow and look up, he made a spring from my hand on to the ship's rail and into the water, and they subsequently appeared to have a most wholesome dread of us and the bullocks, for as soon as the latter made their appearance on shore every man disappeared and we never saw any of them again.

1863 'The "Tien Tsin's" track to the Harding River.', The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 - 1864), 5 June, p. 2, viewed 21 September, 2013,

Sydney, 20 June 1864 , page 5.

Wednesday and Thursday, in paddling "catamarans,"
or rafts, constructed of pieces of boards tied together with ropes, and on one or two occasions some of the juveniles fell off and got a good dunking, narrowly escaping being drowned.


1864 'THUR DAY, JUNE 16TH.', Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1875), 20 June, p. 5, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser
28 March1871, page 3.

Another Heavy Rainstorm-A very heavy rainstorm pissed over this district last Wednesday
Perhaps never before has the necessity of a bridge over the Paterson River been so severely felt as during the past and present year, for seven months out of the past twelve months the various cussing places bave been impassable, and many parties are now constructing small punts and catamarans,
to enable them to obtain communications with the opposite side of the river and the town.
hope these temporary constructions will not cause us to have to record such a fatal catastrophe as occurred a few years ago near Gostwyok, when crossing on one of their ill-constructed log arrangements, called catamarans, a man, his wife, and two children, met their death by drowning, by the capsizing of these frail and giddy rafts.

1871 'PATERSON.', The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893), 28 March, p. 3, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Argus
Melbourne, Friday 23 June 1871, page 3.

A Field for Exploration,
No. 111.      
At Brumer Island the natives were perfectly unarmed, and came boldly alongside with yams and cocoanuts on catamarans.
A comical salutation was found among them, which was used to signify friendly intentions.
 It was made by touching the nose with the forefinger and thumb of one band, and pinching the skin on each side of the navel with the other, calling out the word "muga suga " at the same time.

The women were tatooed with a beautiful
pattern like worked lace.
The expertness and
fearlessness of the natives in the water was remarked.

1871 'NEW GUINEA.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 23 June, p. 3, viewed 21 September, 2013,

Australian Town and Country Journal
NSW, Saturday 9 August 1873, page 16.


Recent Discoveries in New Guinea, during the Cruise of H.M S. Basilisk.
Photographic Artist of Hollerman's Exhibition.
The vessel next proceeded along the coast to tho
southward ; but some difficulty was experienced in avoiding the numerous reefs that lie to the south of Eedscar Head.
While at the Bay several natives came
on board, while many more moved round tho ship in canoes.
They were shy and destitute of clothing, save
a bit of matting fastenod round their loins.
average height of tho adult men seemed to be about five feet five inches.
They looked well-made and mus
cular, but were not so clean nor apparently so healthy as others of the aborigines with whom the crew of the Basilisk subsequently became acquainted.

Page 17

The second trip of the Basilisk was begun on the
20th March, 1873.
progress was made along the coast, and having mapped a portion of the mainland of New Guinea, the Basilisk was brought to anchor off the Isle of Testo, one of the Louisiade Group, on the 9th of April.

The natives came off in great numbers in their catamarans to meet their white visitors, bringing with them cocoa nuts, yams, and other vegetable products of a very excellent quality.
Page 18

As the ship passed along the coast the natives in
great numbers, came off from the shore in canoes, and tried to overtake the vessel while in motion, displaying bananas, &c, to induce her commander to stop but she was kept ou her course, and after making a run of about twentymiles, came into a beautiful biiy, which was named Discovery Harbour and which forms the subject of the accompanying engraving.

The ship remained at Discovery Harbour until the 30th April, and during their stay this beautiful spot was the scene of much animated traffic and agreeable intercourse with the natives. Trove

1873 'Recent Discoveries in New Guinea, during the Cruise of H.M S. Basilisk.', Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), 9 August, p. 16, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Brisbane Courier
Saturday 18 April 1874, page 5.

Queensland North-east Coast Expedition.

The Johnstone River lies in 17° 30' S. latitude and 140°6' E. longitude.
From its description
it must be the discharge of a most important district, inasmuch as, speaking of a moot point, as to whether the river they were entering was the Gladys of Captain Moresby or the Johnstone, the leader says, " Up to this point we were under the belief that we were entering Gladys River, especially as the entrance of both is in thc same latitude and longitude.

"This bora ground afforded evidence of the
large numbers of blacks in this locality, further borne out by the numerous catamarans or rafts, made of three logs of light timber or banana stems lashed together with strips of cane, and capable of carrying five or six people, which we saw moored along the river banks.
We saw
twenty between our junction camp and the bora ground, and remarked that they were all moored on the side next the camp- evidence of a curiosity on the part of their owners which might prove inconvenient to us in our daily explorations.

"All the catamarans were still on the camp side of the river, and more had joined them.

"Rounding the bend into Bora Camp reach, a numerous black mob occupied the bora ground.
They fled as we approached, and left several large
catamarans, on which they had come down the river, moored alongside the bank.
From the
combined circumstances, we were of opinion that they were collecting to attack us ; and the general impression was that the sooner they did so and discovered the full extent of their mistake the better for us and for future settlers on these rivers.


1874 'Queensland North-east Coast Expedition.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 18 April, p. 5, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Mercury
Hobart, Monday 6 July 1874 page 3.

[Written BY J. E. CALDER ]
It is said by Robinson, in one of his many reports on the condition of the blacks (January 24th, 1831), that none of the natives of the North or East Coasts

had the least idea of making or using a catamaran, like those dwelling on the South and West Coast districts had. Indeed, the configuration of the shores he is speaking of, which are not much broken into bays, gave them little occasion to trust them- selves afloat ; and as no Tasmanian native ever gave himself the smallest unnecessary trouble, these " machines," as Robinson contemptuously calls them, were never constructed by them ; so if the North or East Coast tribes desired to visit any of the bird rocks that were not within swimming distance, they had no means of doing so unless a friendly boatman were at hand, to cross and recross them. Thompson, when he had leisure, never refused them this service, thus enabling them in egging time to add largely to their food supplies.

1874 'PALEOLOGICAL SKETCH OF TASMANIA.', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 6 July, p. 3, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 14 October 1874, page 2.

[By Our Own Reporter]

At length there wai some stir in the distance, and canoes, with outriggers, bearing natives, and boats carrying Fijians and some few Europeans began to show themselves, all making eagerly for the ship.
 The first outrigger canoe that came over to us wat declared by Colonel B. (a veteran military officer on board) to bear a strong resemblance to the catamaran of Ceylon, and intense was the curiosity of all as the dark-skinned Fijian visitors thus brought along-side, most of whom only wore the sulu, or waist-cloth, and some of them having also the salu, or white tappa turban on the head.

1874 'THB FIJIAN GROUP VISITED.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 14 October, p. 2, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Queenslander
Brisbane, Saturday 3 April 1875, page 7.

The Sketcher.
The Torres Straits Route.

In the Straits several ships of European rig were seen, and one unmistakable Chinese junk, with everything, from the sails to the painted eyes near the bows, to the hats of the sailors, intensely Chinese.
Rather a sensational object was passed in the night- a catamaran, or fishing canoe, waterlogged, and with nobody aboard.
In the morning there was a numerous fleet of catamarans in sight; these boats sail with an outrigger on each side to prevent upsetting.

1875 'The Sketcher.', The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939), 3 April, p. 7, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Brisbane Courier
Saturday 2 October 1875, page 5.

By the courtesy of Lieutenant Connor, R.N, we are enabled to furnish the following particulars of his recent Northern exploration cruise.
He left Brisbane by the Northern steamer in February last, for Townsville, at which place he remained for some time to complete a survey of the different sites proposed for the jetty and breakwater at that place.
Having finished this work, Lieutenant Connor proceeded to Cape York ; but not finding there the Government cutter, which was to have met him at Somerset, he took the Lizzie Jardine, and made surveys with a view of determining, the best site on Thursday Island for tho Harbor of Refuge, sounding all round Normanby Sound and its approaches.
He next went down aud examined the Gulf of Carpentaria, between Parker aud Bayly Points.
Finding no harbor there after examining the whole of the coast of the Gulf as far as the Queensland boundary, he returned to Brisbane.
At Sweer's Island, Lieutenant Connor had a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which prevented him from carrying out his intention of surveying tlie mouth of the Norman River.
While at Parker Point two rafts or catamarans came alongside, each carrying one man.
They were fine-looking men, and appeared desirous of friendly inter-course, not manifesting the slightest fear.
The timber in the neighborhood was too small to permit of the construction of canoes.
The rafts were of the most extraordinary description ever seen by the Lieutenant  ; they were about nine feet in length, and in shape resembled an elongated V, the seat being situated about one-third of the length from the broad end, composed of a lot of grass.
The occupant of the catamaran sits with his lower parts quite immersed in water, while he paddles himself about.
The natives of the islands immediately facing Swear's Island, use the same description of raft, constructed of larger timber.

1875 'Telegraphic.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 2 October, p. 5, viewed 21 September, 2013,

Note: Sweer's Island is in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria.

South Australian Register
Adelaide, Friday 12 May 1876 page 5.

Fiji to the Sandwich Islands.
Honolulu., April 1.

When last I wrote we, the passengers by the Colima from Sydney, were contemplating with eager delight the reef-bound harbour of N'Goloa. in the Island of Kandavu, Province of Fiji, and looking forward with unlimited satisfaction to the prospect of speedy deliverance from the steamer in which we had spent ten weary days.
Irrespective of these the water was alive with native boats, closely resembling the catamarans, so familiar to voyagers by the P. & O. steamers.
They are nothing more than a rude raft, the platform being supported on one side by a canoe hollowed out of the trunk of a tree, and on the other by a bare log of wood.
The rafts vary in size from a light skull capable of supporting only two or three persons to a capacious craft large enough to carry a small tribe.
Long experience has made the islanders amazingly expert in handling these vessels.
A small sail attached to a rude mast and a couple of paddles constitute the only propelling power they condescend to use.
Most of the canoes betray a remarkable weakness for taking in water, and if they are of any size two natives are invariably told off to do the baiing out. Under ordinary circumstances, it matters little to the boatmen whether their frail barks sink or swim, for they evidently feel at least as comfortable in the water as on board.

1876 'ADELAIDE TO PHILADELPHIA.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 12 May, p. 5, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Inquirer & Commercial News
Perth, Wednesday 6 June 1877, Supplement, page 2.

Boston, 6th January.

"Then I'll come home and form a General Whale Navigation Company in Nantucket, New Bedford, and New York, and we will take the contracts for carrying with whales all the ocean mails at the rate of sixty miles an hour.

More than this, we will tow in and out of every bay and harbour in the world all the ships, barques, brigs, brigautines, schooners, sloops, flotboats, rafts, and catamarans with whales.
By the means of young whales we will easily do all this, and much more, and by the means of old ones we will give light and heat to all mankind, and thus send all steamship companies that burn coal, all coal companies,and all gas companies, to one eternal smash."

1877 'Sketcher.', The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 - 1901), 6 June, p. 2 Supplement: Supplement to the Inquirer., viewed 21 September, 2013,

Australian Town and Country Journal
NSW, Saturday 16 March 1878, page 18

New Guinea.

Sailing Westward Captain Stanley passed the Duehateauaud the Duperry Islands; the Lejeune Ushant, Teste, and Lebrun Islands of D'Urville and sighted the high land of New Guinea.
The Brummer Islands appeared fertile and beautiful, with the broken ridges of New Guinea in the back ground.
These broken ridges have turned out to be a number of lofty islands divided from the mainland by navigable straits.
The natives made use of both catamarans and canoes, the former consisting of planks, or logs, lashed together ; the latter of trees hollowed out, bulging at the sides, with a long outrigger supporting a framework.
The common salutation in this part consists of touching the nose with the finger and thumb, and then pinching the skin on. both sides of the navel.
The first part of the performance is the custom of Polynesia, the second of the Torres Straits and these natives, uniting these two extremes, have adopted both.

1878 'New Guinea.', Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), 16 March, p. 18, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Record and Emerald Hill and Sandridge Advertiser
Victoria, Friday 5 April 1878, page 3.

With the present I forward you a copy of tho Spirit of the Times of 24th Novr., a New York paper devoted to out-door sports, aud containing an illustration and description of n new style of pleasure boat called a catamaran, from its hiving a slight resomblance to the catamarans of Madras.
Its performances in all sorts of weather, if correctly described, are very surprising, and I suppoaod that the account given would interest you aud other. members of the club, some of whom may be inclined to try the experiment of building a catamaran for the Lagoon.
Yours truly, (signed) CONOLLY LEETCH.

1878 'AQUATICS.', The Record and Emerald Hill and Sandridge Advertiser (Vic. : 1872 - 1881), 5 April, p. 3, viewed 21 September, 2013,

The Sydney Morning Herald 
Monday 22 September 1879, page 6.

; while the Royal Society
of Tasmania furnishes some ethnological exhibits, consisting of skulls of male and female aborigines, and casts of faces, stone implements, waddies, baskets, and a model of a catamaran.

1879 'TASMANIA.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 22 September, p. 6, viewed 21 September, 2013,

Morning Bulletin
Rockhampton, Wednesday 8 July 1903, page 5.

[By Telegraph]


Mr. Hedley, the Conchologist of the Australian Museum, Sydney, recently accompanied Dr. Roth, Northern Protector of Aborigines, on a visit to the Gulf country.
While there they explored Morning
ton Island, one of the Wellesley group at thc southern extremity of the Gulf, Mr. Hedley arrived in Brisbane yesterday.

In the course of an interview to-day he said, "I accepted the invitation of Dr. Roth to accompany him on his annual trip through the Gulf of Carpentaria with pleasure.
From a scientific point of view the
chief matter of interest resulting from the cruise is the proof that the Gulf is more nearly associated in its fauna to the Indian Ocean than the Pacific.
I was
much interested in discovering several typical Indian Ocean ferns in the Gulf, which have not previously been found so far north.
On the other hand many chara
ctistic forms of the Barrier Reef were conspicuously absent.
We visited several
islands in the Gulf, and at Mornington Island we landed.
From what could be dis
covered no white man had over been there since Matthew Flinders discovered it.
It appeals the islanders have been separa
ted from the blacks on the mainland for generations, and they are far behind the mainlanders in their civilisation.
Islanders do not make primitive huts as others do, but simply gather together grass at night time and lie out in the open to the leeward of the heaps.
The mainlanders
make beautiful little baskets in which to carry things while the islanders wrap their possessions in the bark of trees.
The main
landers can make canoes, but the islanders only fasten together a couple of logs with lighter wood in between and make them like rafts with one end pointed and the other end fairly wide.
On the bottom of these rafts they
place heaps of grass to make them more comfortable.
In Mornington we found
quite a fleet of rafts.
We noticed thc
islanders do not seem lo have the wonderful gum cement which the natives of the mainland use for fastening things together.
Apparently these natives either
drifted backward or they represent the lower class of blacks from which the mainlanders advanced.
The island, which is
forty miles long by ten miles wide, carries a large population.
In one deserted camp
wc counted twenty camp fires.
each fire there would probably be at least two persons.
Although the natives were
armed with spears they made no hostile display.
Whenever we came across them
in the bush they ran away.
What struck
me most was the stolidity of the natives.
They seemed to take us as a matter of
The islanders do not wear a shred
of clothing.
They are very lightly built,
but very strong nnd healthy compared with the natives to be found about the towns.

1903 'VISIT TO GULF OF CARPENTARIA.', Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954), 8 July, p. 5, viewed 23 September, 2013,

Launceston, Tasmania, Saturday 19 October 1935, Special Saturday Section, page 1.

Men Who Dared the Southern Ocean in Boats of Bark

Sheer from a stormy sea the cliffs of Tasman Island rise black against the sky.
To this islet far better than Norfolk Island applies the saying that it is fit to be the home only of eagles and of angels.

Tasman Island is indeed accessible to birds alone, except at one point of the northern side.
There a ledge of rock offers a precarious landing, though even this is often swept by the great rollers
of the Southern Ocean as they crash and boil around the islet.
(Writes Thomas Dunbabin, in "Walkabout")

FROM this ledge a goat, or a surer footed climber, may climb to the top of the cliffs up a ridge not quite so steep as the side of a house.
And so one comes to the few acres of nearly level land on the top of the island, 800 feet above the sea.

Half a mile of deep water, a channel through which small sailing craft sometimes venture when the wind is steady, parts Tasman Island from the great cliffs that line Cape Pillar, the extreme south-eastern point of Tasmania.
Right in under the Pillar Cliffs and just opposite the northern point of the island are ledges of rock on which the seals sun themselves in fine weather.
When a sea comes up, these, too, are swept by the waves, no man may reach these ledges from above, for the cliffs are perpendicular- and far too high to be climbed, though they are low compared with the mighty cliffs a mile away on the. eastern side of the Pillar, where they rise to 1100 feet, the tallest sea cliffs in the Commonwealth.
All shipping bound to and from the Derwent and the port of Hobart from the east coast of Australia or from Bass Strait, must round Tasman Island.
And so, with infinite pains and toil, a lighthouse has been built on the summit.
A crane for hoisting goods ashore has been placed above the ledge, and a haulage line up the steep ridge takes them to the light house and the cottages on the summit.

Where Black Men Climbed

Tasman Island lies right off the extreme end of Cape Pillar.
On the one side the cliff-lined shore stretches northward without a break to the Inlet of Fortesque Bay, opening between black rocks eight miles away.
To the north-westward an equally un broken line of cliffs runs away to Stewart Bay, at the head of which lies Port Arthur.
Here it is nearly, ten miles before you reach a break in the cliffs, where the shore can be reached at the head of a little bay.
Here, at least, one would say, is an island that never felt the tread of man till the white man came, with his superior boats and his seafarine skill.
Yet, when the lighthouse was built, a skeleton was found on the summit of the island as mute testimony that some Tasmanian aboriginal had climb ed the cliffs before the white man ever thought of planting a light on Tasman Island.
It may be that he died and left his bones there before that day, 293 years ago, when the two ships commanded by that dark, fierce Frieslander, Abel Janszoon Tasman, rounded Tasman Island first of all European ships to coast the shores of Tasmania, and passed on to anchor near the fantastic cloven dome of Green Island, 30 miles to the north ward.
Writers have pictured the Tasmanian aborigines as lacking even the elementary art of navigation.
All that they could do, it has been asserted, was to float on rafts across a narrow, sheltered channel.
The skeleton and the worked stones of Tasman Island are mute witnesses against such a belief.
To reach Tasman, Island the natives had to come out of either Fortescue Bay or Stewart Bay, and to navigate for eight to ten miles over one of the stormiest seas in the world.
There are, of course, days when the sea is comparatively smooth, even round the stormy corner.
But, even on the calmest days, there is always a swell, and the surf breaks high on the rocks round Tasman and under the Pillar. It has been suggested that the natives left their canoes on the flat rocks under the pillar and swam across to Tasman Island.
If so, they were good and daring swimmers.
Besides, this only shifts the difficulty.
As it was quite impossible for them to carry their canoes down the cliffs of the Pillar, even if they had dragged them out through the scurb and over the rough country which leads the few hardy bushmen who have made the trip out to the headland to speak of the "Purge of the Pillar," they must still have reached this point by the voyage from Fortescue or Stewart Bay.

Bold and Daring Seamen

The truth is, of course, that the Tasmanians of the coast had good canoes and were, within their limits, bold and daring seamen. Their canoes, it is true, were made of bark, but they were workmanlike craft.
Peron, the French scientist, who visited Tasmania in 1802, not only described the canoes, but gave a drawing of one from the east coast, which was quite a neat little craft.
Amasa Delano, the American sealer, who was on the Tasmanian coast in 1804, does indeed speak of the canoes as ill-made, but asserts that they had outriggers.
If he is right, they were ahead of the canoes of almost all the natives of the mainland of Australia.

It is known that the natives always carried fire on their canoes, having a little hearth of clay for the purpose.
To-day the aborigines of Tasmania sail the seas no more in their bark canoes.
Never again, while the world endures, will they put out from Fortescue Bay to coast the frowning cliffs of the Pillar or to land on the ledge of Tasman Island.

Yet still to-day their descendants of mixed blood sail from Western Port and Port Phillip on the crayfish ketches to work round the storm beaten, tide-swept rocks and reefs of Bass Strait, drawing from the depths the food that crowns the revelry of the city dweller, who hardly knows whether a crayfish has scales or not.
These men, too, show the skill and daring of their ancestors who dared the Southern Ocean with but a sheet of Ibark between them and death.

1935 'CLIFFS OF TASMAN ISLE.', Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), 19 October, p. 1 Edition: DAILY, Section: SPECIAL SATURDAY SECTION, viewed 21 October, 2013,

 SMH Correspondents: Canoes in Australia
The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 1862, page 3.

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Geoff Cater (2013) : SMH Correspondents : Canoes in Australia, 1862.