How many people get to live their dreams? I am..........!

This is my story from the time when Capt'n John and I first decided to sail around the big block, to circumnavigate this great land of ours, AUSTRALIA.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A Lady in the Wilderness – Sheep Island, Camden Harbour, Kimberley

red sky in the morning
Sunday 23rd June 2013
A Lady in the Wilderness – Sheep Island, Camden Harbour, Kimberley
I had woken up very early, before 0400 to go to the loo as I had become cold during the wee hours. MrJ had been feeling the freshness of the early morning too and we were fighting over the bed covers. Not literally fighting just figurative speaking. I don’t think we have ever had a real ding dong fight just a few grumbly words now and again. Too late we were both wide awake and the full moon was shinning its light right through our cabin’s top hatch. It was time to make a move, time to get underway. 0430 we were leaving Hanover Bay after pulling the anchor up in the semidarkness.
Our efforts did not go unrewarded. As we were entering Camden Harbour MrJ and I were greeted with a fantastic red sunrise. Strong winds coming! (So they say)
AR sailed into Camden Harbour with both sails up we were flying down the passage between the mainland and Augustus Islands and then into the notorious Roger’s Strait at the southern end of Augustus Island. The Australian Pilot Guide describes this as a treacherous passage
sunrise in Port George IV
Augustus Island

This area of the Kimberley’s is very scenic with lush green high hill with red rock cliffs against blue, blue sky dotted with white cloud and a green sea that weaved around a dimpled shoreline, dimpled with many inlets and bays and dotted with small islands and outcrops of rock. I was very impressed with the sheer rock faces, white beaches and the many Boab trees. All looked so beautiful by I did know how dangerous these beautiful waters could be if we were too lax in our concentration of the passage. Outcrops of rock and small islands meant that there were many shallow areas to be watchful of, only some of the reef areas where marked on the charts and then there were all the whirlpools swirling AR through the strong currents. Accompanied by the big tides a boat could easily come to grief in these waters!
on passage I spent some time printing out some chartlets of the area

Camden Harbour is located in the south east corner of the much larger Brecknock Harbour, south of Augustus Island. It is where the first white settlement was attempted in the Kimberley’s in the mid to late 1860’s.

Some History Story on the Camden Harbour Settlement
Three men are credited with the energy and forethought to spark the first attempt at European settlement in the western Kimberley at Camden Harbour. The W.A. Governor, John William Hampton, contributed men and money to a settlement scheme promoted by a slick Melbourne agent, William Harvey, based on glowing reports of Explorer George Grey. About 70 potential settlers, principally from the mining and pastoral areas around Ballarat and Bendigo, bought shares in the Camden Harbour Association and were assembled in Melbourne in late 1864. The settlers were about to sail to W.A. in ships, the "Stag", the "Helvetia" and the "Calliance". After 3 weeks of sailing across the Great Australian Bight and up the W.A. coast, the "Calliance" struck hard on a reef near Adele Island. Unloading ballast, water and stockfeed lightened the ship. She drifted free and continued on to anchor in Camden Harbour on Xmas Day 1864. That evening one of the settlers died of sun stroke and was buried on Sheep Island. The "Stag" and "Helvetia" had arrived 12 days earlier, and some of the settlers already had their doubts about the viability of the venture.
paperwork found in a capsule on Sheep Island
While being brought close in to Camden Head for careening, the "Calliance" was caught in a violent wet season storm and washed onto the rocks. As the tide dropped, the ship broke up on the rocks. Today, the "Calliance" wreck site is marked by a pile of black basalt stones and a number of white fire bricks near low water mark at Camden Head. A lesser known reminder of the wreck is a lone boab tree on the eastern shoreline of Camden Harbour inscribed with "JAN 1865 - SHIP - CALLIANCE". The W.A. Government sent a magistrate, a surgeon, policemen and surveyors to the settlement on the "Tien Tsin" from Perth in February 1865. When they arrived the scene was one of utter chaos and misery. Such was the plight of settlers in the harsh Kimberley stormy wet season that many left on the "Stag" and the "Tien Tsin" with the skipper and crew of the ill-fated "Calliance".

this emotional note to Mary was also in the sealed capsule
Sheep Island - One lady, Mary Jane Pascoe, was brave enough to remain with the hardy settlers. However, she became a victim of the harsh outback when she died on 4 June 1865 while giving birth to her child. The headstone and grave is clearly visible today beside the large boab tree on the south-eastern tip of Sheep Is.
The Association Camp was established by the settlers on the western side of a small fresh water stream at the head of Camden Harbour. Access to this area through the mangrove thicket is difficult, even at high water and very little trace remains of the camp today.
MrJ reseals the captule
The Government Camp was established outside the confines of Camden Harbour on the rocky slopes of the mainland directly east of Sheep Island. An access track was cleared through the rocks and mangroves to allow stores and building materials to be brought ashore. This track is still clearly visible today and allows visitors to land by dinghy on a small rocky beach at low tide and walk up the hill to the Government Camp. The track through the rocks leads up to a stone wall which now holds a collection of crockery shards and nails and other small metal objects for tourists to ponder. Further inland can be found the ruins of stone buildings and what appear to be the remnants of animal holding yards at the Government Camp. There seems no doubt that the Government surveyor chose the best site for a camp; on a hill with cooling sea breezes and with a view out over Sheep Island and beyond to Brecknock Harbour, Green and Augustus Islands. The settlers struggled on for six months under intimidation by aborigines and lack of fresh water during the dry season. By October 1865, all of the sheep had died; the remaining few settlers, together with the government party and what few animals and possessions that could be carried away, abandoned the camps and returned south on the brig "Kestrel". (Parts of this story were pieced together from a number of sources: Kimberley Cruising, There Were Three Ships by Christopher Richards, Kimberley - Dreaming to Diamonds by Hugh Edwards, A Guide to the Kimberley Coast by Len Zell.)
Sheep Island
MrJ and I headed down towards the bottom of Camden Harbour to anchor off the southern side of Sheep Island (15’29.615S – 124’36.881E), another deep anchorage, 12.5mt HW. Sheep Island was the site of the first burial of a white woman (Mary Pascoe) in the Kimberley. Mary and John’s daughter was the first child to have been born in the settlement.
I was not all that interested in trying to find whatever was left of either of the old settlements but I was very keen to go ashore on Sheep Island, to pay my respect and prayers to a young woman who had suffered a lot of hardship and had died as a consequence of those hardships and heartache. A woman who left behind not only her loving husband John but also a husband who had to raise their only daughter on his own in that harsh environment, a baby girl who was to follow her mother in death just two months later. It saddened me!

MrJ and I found that Sheep Island was another high rocky outcrop like most of the other islands nestled in Camden Sound. It had plenty of lush vegetation to cover all those rocks, rows of mangrove trees around the shoreline and a small brilliant white beach on the SE side which feel steeply into the sea. Out from the beach and surround the island was all reef area that would be uncovered or partial uncovered at a low tide. MrJ and I took the tinny ashore while the tide was high giving us access to the top of the beach area. The reason behind the beach looking so brilliantly white was that instead of being a soft sandy beach this one was made up of small shells, shell grit and coral pieces all reflecting the bright sunlight.

I stood on the gritty beach with my sandals off and let the grit prickle my feet. To walk around would hurt your feet so the sandals went on. I looked up from the beach and there it was a big old Boab tree majestically standing right where the vegetation meets the beach. I wonder how long that old tree has been standing in its silence, holding all the secrets of the island.

MrJ and I wander over to the Boab and find the headstone that marks Mary Pascoe’s grave. The grave has been encircled with stones and is nicely protected from the weather behind the Boab tree. The headstone has an inscription that had been almost but worn away, the trunk of the old tree held an inscription that was also well worn. Adorning Mary’s grave were many shells, pieces of coral and other things that people had laid. I coiled some vinery together to make a wreath which I placed on the grave in a moment of silent prayer.
MrJ and I discover some information that tells us that there are others buried on Sheep Island, all not too far from Mary’s grave; all buried under the mounds of rock and were covered so well with the thick vegetation that I was not able to find them. What an extremely hard life these early settler must have endured!
day ends for us but time stands still for those souls left on Sheep Island

1 comment:

  1. My Great Great Grandfather and Grandmother ,John and Marjory nolen from clunes were involved in this venture.I found this out in TROVE.This all I know.regards Peter J Broughan in Drouin