1839 - John Lort Stokes
First Visit to Darwin
The mouth of a considerable inlet came in sight at the head of a bay as we advanced towards it, steering South by East. This opening began to appear of consequence as we drew near, although the singularly gradual decrease in the soundings, on a sandy bottom materially diminished the probability of its being the mouth of a river. Still, when we anchored as near as we could approach, there remained a hope of its being so.
HOPE INLET. SHOAL BAY.
Early in the morning Mr. Forsyth and myself started to explore the opening. We soon discovered that it was nothing more than a shallow creek at low-water. The tide here rising twenty feet, gave it the important appearance it had yesterday evening. A tall clump of naked trees was conspicuous at the east entrance point, towering above the insipid mangrove shore. We gave it the name of Hope Inlet, to commemorate the feelings it excited on its first discovery. From the south point of Clarence Strait it is distant eleven miles, and the bay in which it lies, from the shallow-water at the head of it, was called Shoal Bay.
The boat being provisioned for four days, we pushed on to explore another opening above fifteen miles to the westward. The seabreeze setting in early, we did not reach it till after dark, when we landed for observations at a cliffy projection near the eastern entrance point: this we found to be composed of a kind of pipeclay, mixed with calcareous matter. We had some difficulty in landing, and then in scrambling up the cliffs by the light of a lantern. If any of the watchful natives happened at the time to be on the lookout, they must have stood fixed with astonishment at beholding such strange persons, who at such a time of night, with no ostensible object were visiting their shores.
EXPLORE A NEW OPENING.
Before the veil of darkness was quite removed, we could faintly distinguish the mouth of the opening; and the sight at daylight was most cheering. A wide bay appearing between two white cliffy heads, and stretching away within to a great distance, presented itself to our view. Far to the southward, between the heads, rose a small table-topped hill. As we pulled in towards the eastern entrance point, the river-like appearance began to wear off, more land making its appearance towards the head of the opening. On reaching this point Mr. Forsyth and myself climbed up the cliff, whilst the breakfast was cooking. From the summit we had a good view of the bay, and were delighted to find large openings in the south-east and south-west corners of it. The table hill before mentioned, stood on the point between them. To see the eastern part of it, however, it was necessary to cross to the opposite point, where some talc slate, pieces of which measured four inches in length, was found imbedded in quartz. The point was called in consequence, Talc Head.
The other rocks near it were of a fine-grained sandstone: a new feature in the geology of this part of the continent, which afforded us an appropriate opportunity of convincing an old shipmate and friend, that he still lived in our memory; and we accordingly named this sheet of water Port Darwin. A few small bamboos grew on this head; the other trees were chiefly white gums. I climbed to the top of one of them, and obtained thence a view of another opening in the eastern part of the harbour. It now being low-water, an extensive shoal was discovered, reaching from abreast of Talc Head to the point separating the South-East and South-West openings, an extent of nearly five miles. This somewhat diminished the value of our discovery, as it limited the capabilities of the bay as a harbour.
We now proceeded to explore the north-eastern and largest opening, distant six miles from our station. A large islet and a reef left the entrance only a mile wide. Expanding again, it formed two arms, one running south, the other East-South-East, between small groups of singular isolated haycock-shaped hills, about 250 feet high. Following the latter, being the largest, we found that it soon curved round, taking a southerly direction. A bank free from mangroves occurring in this bend, we availed ourselves of it, as the day was closing in, to secure some early stars for latitude and longitude. The intense pleasure afforded by traversing water that had never before been divided by any keel, in some measure compensated us for the annoyance from the mosquitoes and sandflies, that took the opportunity of assailing us while in the defenceless state of quiet necessary in making observations. Pushing out into the middle of the stream, and each wielding a beater, our tiny enemies were soon shaken off, and borne back to the shore by a refreshing North-West breeze.
We found it necessary to keep a sharp lookout here for the alligators, as they swarmed in dangerous numbers.
The scarcity of fish, and the shallowness of the water did not hold out much hope that the arm we were tracing would prove of great extent; still many speculations were hazarded on the termination of it. The temperature in the night was down to 78 degrees, and the dew sufficiently heavy to wet the boat's awning through.
Stokes, John Lort
Discoveries in Australia
Volume 2, London 1846