At Sea to Sydney, 9 May 1893

Using the water level of the coming tide we could finally leave the harbor of Thursday island at dawn having taken a pilot on board. Through the Prince of Wales passage, past Hammond and Goode Island, we turned towards the North-East only to turn South-East soon thereafter to drive along the north coast of Wednesday Island towards Cap York and the Albany passage. This time we passed very close to the wreck of the German three mast ship „Olga“ which had run aground on the Northwest Reef. Familiar territory it was which we saw again at Cap York.

When we passed Somerset, driving through the Albany passage, we sounded the steam whistle and waved furiously with the kerchiefs to greet our friend, the „niece of the King of Samoa“ but unfortunately she did not show up but through the spyglass we could see an older gentleman, probably the then hidden pater familias who hoisted the English flag. At Fly Point we saw mighty pillars, a full row of colossal termite mounds of a rusty light-red color.

From the strait of Torres there are two sea lanes to Sydney. The first is in the open sea in the great ocean, the other is in the western part of the coral sea along the coast between them and the great coral reef which is located parallel to the East coast of Australia from about Cap York to Sandy Cap, that is from the 10th to the 25th degree of southern latitude. This Barrier Reef constitutes by the way a 1200 km long wall that falls vertically down into the sea against the waves of the great ocean and fully closes off the about on average 30 km wide passage from the East wind so that the sea here is almost always calm. This natural canal offers shallow water criss-crossed by individual deep currents and countless coral rocks, rows of cliffs, sand banks and small islands that narrow the passage in many places to the utmost.

Also the sounding has not been completed everywhere and it is not totally reliable so that only a short time ago a steam boat struck a rock at a spot marked clear on the nautical chart and sank with the loss of numerous lives. Some cliffs and shallow waters are in fact with buoys and signs; nevertheless it requires constant tight attention and when it becomes dark the services of a pilot are indispensable as both on the nautical charts and the data contained in the sailing hand books about the currents are incomplete and the buoys and signs are made out of only poles with baskets or out of wooden pyramids with wooden frames that are invisible at night. The commander decided to take the route through the reefs, following the route used by many steam ships. I thanked him much for this decision as this route is much more beautiful due to the scenery and more interesting than the one on the open sea where we would have been swung around intensively by the very fresh South-Eastern monsoon and we would have had to use much steam to fight against the headwind and the high sea waves for the largest part of the journey.

Soon after having left the Albany passage behind us and having reached Newcastle Bay, the wind became much stronger without however the possibility to really develop itself so that the sea remained fairly calm. In the East storm clouds were rising that soon cleared away and did not bother us.

The Australian coal loaded in Thursday Island proved to be of bad quality so that the ship was clouded permanently in a thick smoke and staying on the afterdeck, our usual position, became impossible. Even into all the cabins the coal dust entered. In compensation the lowering of the temperature which could be felt rather markedly was an agreeable feature and we could finally again sleep comfortably in the cabins after a long time.

The drive alongside the Barrier Reef was highly interesting: on starboard the east coast of the Australian continent was always visible at a distance of only a few miles with its offshore islands, coral reefs and banks. The coast had mostly only naked rocks blackened by the salt water or light-colored sand dunes, sometimes also a green cover of low bushes. To pass through this labyrinth of banks, cliffs and islands without accident the course had to be changed very often. The coast of the mainland itself at first appeared rather plain and showed either bare, sparsely covered land or long stretches of white sand only that glittered in the sunshine like fields of snow. Later hills with richer vegetation of trees presented themselves.

Towards 1 o’clock in the afternoon we drove past the small islands of Hushy and Cairncross which during the autumn months provide residence for numerous flocks of doves. Later the islands of Halfway, Macarthur and Bird were passed. Then came into view the protruding Cape Grenville with the group of the Home islands and to the left the long-winded Cockburn reef.

We were busily occupied with cleaning and sorting the corals fished the day before that were stored in eight large kegs filled with fresh water. Now after removing all the mud and the many parasites stuck on them we could really assess exactly what a rich catch of beautiful and diversely formed curiosities we had made at the coral reef.

After 7 o’clock in the evening one of the few light houses in these straits came into view which is located at the northern end of the Ai reef opposite the Piper islands. Even though the night was starry, we could not distinguish the smaller islands and reefs and had to steer directly towards the light house, relying only on our course and sounding, changing course close to a dangerous reef and passing by the light house by a few hundred meters. As the buoys and signs were also no longer visible and we were coming into narrow passages, it was out of prudence to anchor at 9 o’clock between Forbes island and Fair Cap and the Kangaroo Shoals to await the daybreak.


  • Location: near Forbes Island
  • ANNO – on   09.05.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Don Carlos“ and the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera “Der Wildschütz”.

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