Port Kennedy, 6 May 1893

The resident wanted to assist me in adding to my collection of bird bodies had proposed a journey to the Australian mainland for today, a day used for transporting coal to „Elisabeth“, and had graciously provided the government’s steam boat „Albatross“, a small yacht. Early in the morning the resident himself came to fetch us with this steam boat and we started the journey in the company of multiple gentlemen which would take us around Cap York to Somerset Bay. Three gentlemen participated as guests in the journey: a French missionary who had just arrived from New Guinea where he had gained exact information about the country and its people as his stories revealed. Then a captain of an English warship who used his extended holiday to catch butterflies in the north of the Australian continent and in New Guinea. Finally a botanist whose equipment did not reveal his peaceful goal as instead of the usual professional equipment such as a botanical box, shovel etc. he had only belted on revolver bullets and overall had the look of a true squatter.

The morning was beautiful but there was a stiff eastern wind blowing which threw around our somewhat aged „Albatross“ after we had passed the northern coast of Horn island and entered into the Flinders passage that we were by and by nearly all attacked by the mean evil of sea sickness. Furthermore we had the strong current against us so that the sea waves were short and caused a heavy pitch of the ship. After a drive of around four hours we finally entered into the Albany pass and set the anchor opposite the island of Albany in Somerset Bay.

The somewhat stormy journey and its regrettable consequences were compensated by two elements: the realization to now finally set foot onto the Australian mainland and the beautiful scenery of the land of the bay. On one side rises the island of Albany, on the other the mainland with its wooden hills one of which has a large building that is visible from afar and in its white color stands out very effectively from the green trees in the background and thus dominates the bay. Somerset Bay was originally intended to become what now is Port Kennedy, namely the harbor and coaling station for steam ships that pass the strait of Torres but the harbor of Somerset proved to be less well situated, too small and too shallow, so that Thursday island was selected.

We ascended the hill and entered the building we had already seen from the ship. Originally during the time when Somerset was intended to be the main harbor in the strait of Torres this building was to be the seat of the local government but now surrounded with wire fences serves a rich „leaseholder“ and his family as their accommodation. I call him here „leaseholder“ as we could not really determine who and what he actually was. Some called him a sportsman, others a squatter and stressed that he owned large cattle herds. The man himself we did not meet as he had preferred to spend the day out of the house despite his having been informed prior about our visit.

Grown curious about the person of the „leaseholder“ by this strange behavior we asked his two sons who the resident had presented to us already on board of the „Albatross“  and the wife of this strange man who received us most kindly in the house. She, named Jardine, in color and face a typical South Sea islander, only increased our curiosity by her declaration that she was the „niece of the King Malietoa of Samoa“. The two boys, however, told that their father had been at sea during many long years and owned many ships. Now he had quit going out to sea and now calls huge cattle herds his own.

This mention of his former trade and the wealth of the „leaseholder“, the circumstance that he had evaded our meeting, the connection to Samoa with his union to a chief’s daughter, finally many different conspicuous ship parts we noticed in his house, all this together could have been useful to create the impression that the „leaseholder“ had been once engaged in audacious pursuits between Samoa and the coral sea. Distant memories from Cooper and  Walter Scott, figures such as the „red swashbuckler“ or the „pirate“ came to my mind. An impression that was vividly refreshed after we returned from the hunt in the evening and saw the „leaseholder“ sail in a small cutter and maneuver swift as an arrow into the bay with great skill. The mythical cloud of his existence that surrounds so many others like him in Australia was never lifted and thus the romantic figure of the „leaseholder of Somerset“ looms all the stronger in my memory.

As leaders of the hunt to which we were now undertaking, that is as guides, the resident had appointed the two sons of the „leaseholder“. The youthful age of the two, one was twelve, the other not yet eight, did at first not offer me much confidence but during the hunt through the forest I changed my opinion as the two half-Samoans had expert knowledge as they apparently spent most of their days in the forest and bush.

As soon as we had told the boys that we wanted to hunt and shoot birds, they led us to the best spots, showed us tracks and scratching places of kangaroos, pointed out rare flowers and other plants — all like true children of the woods. The older already displayed a considerable drive, commanded and decided with assurance; the younger one was a true rascal who answered our question about which school he was attending with a certain pathos: „I used to go to school but now I have given it up.“ And he was still only eight years old!

We separated into various parties of two gentlemen each and I entered the forest with Regner led by the older boy. The forest was similar in character as the one visited the day before on Horn island.  Only the vegetation in the forest of Somerset seemed to be richer, more luxurious in those parts where more humidity was present or small streams were flowing and at times reminded me of a tropical forest. There were tall beautiful trees, in between palm trees and fern-like herbs; even orchids and entwining lianas were not missing. l bagged specimens of various species of the Australian birds but I failed to see a cockatoo or parrots. The day was fairly hot, the Australian sun was sending down its burning rays upon us. Finally I came upon a larger stream with a name reminding me of home to my joy, Pola River, and contained very dark brown water rich in iron like that of our highmoor streams. Here the vegetations had to be called especially rich and the most beautiful butterflies among them many of an astonishing size were flying around.

Following the shore of the Pola River I met Wurmbrand and Clam the latter of which had had hunter’s luck and bagged the first kangaroo — a dwarf kangaroo of the species of jumping hares which still had a length of  175 m from the nose to the tail. The small guide of the two gentlemen had taken along two house dogs into the forest. These suddenly had barked whereas the prey passed Clam in full flight so that he could kill it with a bullet.

In the shadow of tall trees we paused for a moment which Ramberg used to take a few photographic images. Then we went back through the forest and multiple graves of the natives to Somerset where already Prónay and Bourguignon were waiting. The latter one had an accident which could have easily had the gravest of consequences. Bourguignon had namely, as his bullets had become wet during the rain the day before, used Prónay’s cartridges with white powder that proved too much for his rifle. After some shots the chamber burst and created an opening of at least 10 cm in length, whereas the piece of the barrel blown away had considerably wounded the shooter in the arm. Had Bourguignon had the rifle at a greater angle then a very critical wound would have been inevitable. He had returned to Somerset where the wife of the „leaseholder“ had expertly bound his wound.

Actually the „niece of the King of Samoa“ performed her duties as a house wife most graciously. She had given me orchids and lemons from her garden and permitted us to view the rooms of the house in which everything was in a picturesque disorder and neglected mess. Only a real arsenal of rifles and revolvers was an exception to this. These weapons were all in excellent condition but one could see that they had been often used. Asked about this, our hostess explained that the territory of Somerset had been very insecure a few years ago so that the inhabitants of the settlement had to be prepared at any moment for a raid by the natives and thus always have weapons within reach. Even the eight year-old rascal had two rifles in his own name; one of which was for killing birds the other for the fight against humans. Even guns were not absent in this well armed home as a pair of old ship cannons  were laying under the billiard table in one room, a second pair was situated on the covered veranda of the house.

Saying good-bye to the occupants of this strange home we ate a miserable snack at the sea shore before embarking and steered back to Thursday Island.

We now had the current working for us; the wind too had abated so that „Albatross“ moved fairly calmly and the journey was very agreeable in the cool evening. While we drove past the resident pointed out the spot to me where in the year 1862 on the order of Bowens, the governor of Queensland, the British flag had been hoisted for the first time in order to take possession of this territory in the name of the Queen.  The sailors had posted a fishing tow line despite the relatively fast drive. Suddenly it was asked to stop the machines, a large fish had been hooked and with united force the captain and his men drew a fish of over 1 m length on board. The fish’s look was similar to a tuna and is called here a king fish.

On board of „Elisabeth“ everybody was still occupied with loading the coal which was no small activity at Port Kennedy as this harbor strangely did not possess lighters for this task nor other practical tools. The commander thus was forced to move „Elisabeth“ close to the coal-carrying hulk in the middle of the harbor and transport the whole coal over the deck — a long-winded and very dirty task. Also the maneuvering to the aged and already rotten coaling ship was not easy in the swelling sea and the currents. As without the greatest precaution our iron colossus with its protruding towers might have all too easily penetrated the hull of the hulk without warning.

Links

  • Location: Thursday Island
  • ANNO – on  06.05.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Wiener Salonblatt and die Neue Freie Presse note the arrival of Franz Ferdinands at Thursday Island in good health.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing Goethe’s „Torquato Tasso“ and the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera “Die Hugenotten”.

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