EARL'S ENTERPRISE IN TROPICAL AUSTRALIA.
AT the extreme North of Australia, close upon the 10th degree of South latitude, is a peninsula connected with the mainland by an isthmus of about three miles broad. The circumference of this peninsula (which is called Cobourg) is about a hundred and twenty miles ; but the soil is only some four hundred thousand acres, the country being indented with ports and inlets ; among which Bowen's Strait, Raffle's Bay, Port Bremmer, and Port Essington, are conspicuous. This facility for ship- ping, and its proximity to the Indian Archipelago and China, pointed it out as the proper site of a settlement. Some attempts were made in 1824, but abandoned in favour of Swan River. In 1837 the French were understood to be preparing an expedition to settle at some Northern port in Australia : the British Government determined to forestall them ; and in 1838 an expedition sailed for Port Essington, considered the most favourable spot in the Cobourg Peninsula. They were not much too soon: for, a few months after their arrival, the French expedition appeared on the coast, having lost time by going round Cape Horn and calling at some of the Polynesian islands ; so the Frenchmen came to partake of a fete, instead of founding a kingdom.
To the Port Essington expedition Mr. Earl was appointed Linguist and Commissioner of Crown Lands (the last a sinecure, as the district has never been thrown open for settlement) ; and his Enterprise in Tro- pical Australia contains a narrative of the voyage from Sydney to Port Essington, a full account of the first formation of the settlement, a rapid sketch of its subsequent history to the present time, and some notes on voyages made by Mr. Earl to the Indian Archipelago in order to pro- cure stock for the post. A sketch of previous surveys introduces his original narrative ; this is followed by an exposition of the geogra- phical character, natural productions, and actual or probable capabilities of the Cobourg Peninsula; a survey of the existing Australian Colonies, some remarks on the systems upon which they were respectively founded, and various speculations touching the probable advantages and results of Tropical Australia as a field of enterprise for settlers and of profit for the nation, complete the matter of the work.
Its character is solid and agreeable, and in the original narrative fresh and new. Although no discoveries were made, the voyage lay along the shores of a primeval continent seldom described of late years; the sea, defended by the vast line of reefs, was calm as a lake, and studded with 80 many islands, that as they approached the termination of the voyage they anchored at night, and part of the crew were landed to amuse themselves. The account of the natives of the Southern part of the Indian Archipelago is interesting for its descriptions of a people but little known to us, and who seem a population ready to the hands of the settlers in Tropical Australia, (should the overland expeditions succeed, and it be found fit for settlement,) to furnish them with plenty of cheap labour, adapted to the climate, and ready to enter into trade with the new colony to a limited extent at least. The remarks on Tro- pita! Australia are conjectural and speculative ; because we really
know nothing at all of the country ; and the favourable experiments carried on at Port Essington cannot be held as conclusive, or even encouraging as to unknown places. Mr. Earl's speculations, however, are based upon a good deal of knowledge ; and the remarks on the different class of peoples who might immigrate as labourers into the Northern parts of Australia are both interesting and useful. But the most attractive part of the book is the narrative of the early proceedings of the settlement, when civilized man was reclaiming the wilderness • which carries one
back to the reclaiming in the " colony " of Robinson Crusoe. It
shows, too, the great advantage of a band of disciplined men, obedient to orders, acting as pioneers to a colony. See the effect of six months, when a presiding mind had the directing power, with sufficient resources, and the assistance of men who were neither harrassed by fear of want nor tempted into rash and questionable schemes of private advantage.
" By the end of May, all the preliminary arrangements in the settlements had been so far completed, that Sir Gordon Bremer felt himself at liberty to proceed
with the Alligator to Sydney, where it was anticipated that orders for opening Port Essington for colonization would be found awaiting her arrival. Govern- ment-house, officers' quarters, two store-houses, and a hospital, had been com- pleted, and the garrison were all housed in neat little thatched cottages. Several wells, affording an abundant supply of water, had been sunk in different places about the establishment; and a battery, armed with some of the Alligator's eighteen-pounders, had been formed upon the edge of the white cliff, commanding the entrance of the inner harbour, and giving the settlement quite a warlike ap- pearance. An excellent survey of the port, and of the coast to the Eastward, had been completed by 31r. lyers, assisted by Mr. Byron Drury, of the Al- ligator."
The country (contrary to expectation) was not thrown open to settlers. Indeed, it has not sufficient extent of soil for an agricultural or pastoral colony; though most important as a military post and a commercial emporium, when settlement spreads (if it do spread) from Moreton Bay. The great advantage to settlers of arriving in a country already explored, with signs of civilization and protection greeting them, instead of landing upon a desert shore, must be obvious at a glance ; and strongly confirms the colonization views we inculcated nearly twelve years ago, before the foundation of South Australia.* The terra incognita of Tropical Australia—the two overland expedi- tions now on foot from South Australia and New South Wales, to explore the interior—the possibility of another Western Ind, cultivated not by imported Negroes but by immigration of free labourers, almost living at its door—the hope of competing with America in the supply of cotton, and some views and remarks of Mr. Earl on colonization, are all large subjects, which at another time might receive some attention, but we can now only find room for a few extracts.
AN UNPLEASANT NATIVE.
A circumstance occurred while this well was in progress that made a great sensation at the time. One of the men employed, while sleeping in a hammock suspended between two trees, was disturbed during the night by something drag- ging away the blanket that covered him; and on looking over the side of the hammock, he discovered, to his intense horror, that the intruder was a large alli- gator. His shouts alarmed the animal; which retreated in great haste into the sea. The man's story was not at first credited by those who came to his assist- ance; but in the morning, sure enough, the blanket was found on the beach half immersed in water, and the animal itself was shot a few nights afterwards, the ball striking the forehead above the eye, and splintering off a portion of the skull, thus exposing. the brain. He did not die, however, until after a violent struggle of many minutes, during which he lashed the sea around him into a foam.
A COLONIAL GARDEN.
As the settlements that have been formed from time to time upon the Northern coasts have never yet been thrown open to individual enterprise, the only criterion from which we can judge of the capabilities of the soil is that afforded by the portions of ground that have been brought into cultivation for the purpose of fur- nishing a supply of fruits and vegetables for the garrisons. These have been generally termed gardens; • but they must not be associated with gravel-walks, neat hedgerows, and beds carefully manured; since they consist of mere patches of waste land, with the smaller trees grubbed up by the roots, and the stumps of the larger ones left standing; unsightly objects, certainly, but land being abundant, the space they occupy becomes of little importance. A ring-fence, to keep out the cattle and pigs completes the preliminary arrangements; and the ground is then dug up, cleared of weeds, and planted.
COFFEE AND COTTON.
Coffee, some plants of which were brought from Dilli in Timor, was a decided failure; nor do I think it is likely to succeed. This plant is peculiarly adapted to volcanic soils, and it is only on these that it flourishes. Spices will probably succeed in the patches of jungle if planted under the shade of the forest-trees, as at Banda; but they have not been tried: nor has pepper, for which the soil and climate seem well adapted, been introduced; that is to say, the round pepper, for the Chili pepper was cultivated in every garden.
The cotton- plant appears to be better adapted to the soil and climate of the Cobourg Peninsula, and indeed of the Northern coasts of Australia generally, than any other description of produce. If the seed is sown at the proper season, the plants arrive at maturity soon after the cessation of the rains; and a period of dry weather ensues, during which the crop may be gathered without any liability to damage from moisture. And it is of all tropical products the best suited for a new settlement, since the land requires comparatively little preparation, while no ex- pensive machinery is necessary to render the cotton fit for the market: the planter, again, obtains a return even during the first year; and although this may not be sufficient to reimburse him for all the expenditure incurred, it still affords him a very considerable degree of encouragement. There are political reasons, too, for i whing that cotton should become the staple product of the Tropical parts of Australia, which must be evident to all those who are aware of the source from which our chief supply of this important article is at present derived, and how liable we are to have this supply cut off at a moment's notice.