TRIP TO ALTHORPE
[By W. Reddan.]
In company with a friend, who, like my self, w&s bent on having & "week's holiday, I started for Port Adelaide en route to Althorpe Island on the 10th inet. On arriving at the Fort I learnt that the only vessel sailing direct was the Crest of the - Wave, owned by Jones, Parry, &Co., from idiom I gladly accepted an invitation for self and friend to a berth free of charge. We sailed on the evening of same day, and drop ped anchor at ten o'clock next morning, after a ran of fifteen hours with a nice steady breeze from E.S.E. We had great difficulty in landing on account of the heavy swell coming in from the east, the boat which brought us ashore getting one of her planks stove in by coming in contact with the jetty. On the passage down the question, are you a good climber ? was put to me several times. When I stood on the jetty and looked up the cliffs nearly 300 feet high—in many places either overhanging or perpendicular—I could see the drift of the queiy. To reach the suminit of the island, there are four tracks open to the tourist's choice. The first is the tramway, on one side of which is a sort of ladder made by nailing pieces of batten on a beam and is something like 250 feet long, with a gradient of 45°. To ascend by this route requires both courage and practice, and I jwas not a little surprised to learn it was the only government road from the beach to the light house. Just fancy one of the lighthouse keepers having to go down to the jetty of a dark night along this ladder, or what is equally dangerous to pick bis steps as best he could down the face of the cliff; a false step, the treading on a piece of stone, aye, or a fit of giddiness, would precipitate him on the granite boulders beneath, when a few pounds, say £50, would make a safe path six feee wide down to the beach. If such an accident ever happened the Marine Board would be guilty of manslaughter through their negligence. If Althorpe Island were represented in the House of Assembly by such a man as our worthy member, Mr. Dix son, the lightkeepers would have a safe path to walk on and a windmill to haul up their stores, &c., instead of having to haul them up by a winch. The other paths are the horse track, stony track, and sand track.
We started for the first-named track, it having the best gradient. At every step or so there was something which arrested my atten ■ tion—here a granite boulder of many tons weight, there a vein of coal-black granite charred and burnt to a cinder, while on every side were to be seen evidences of the powerful petre scent influence to which everthing petrifactive on the island has been subjected. From every crevice and hollow rock streamers of mesembiyanthemums in full bloom, alternating with daises, climbers, &c., forming one great piece of rock-work garden from base to summit. I was surprised to find the top of the island covered with vegetation of a very rank growth, blue bush, ground-sill, thistles, and grass—enough to keep 600 sheep could only water be found—growing luxu riantly. I will not trouble your readers with a description of the lighthouse, suffice it to say that it iB about 75ft. high, situate on the centre of the island, kept in the best possible order. Its light can be seen 20 miles—two panes of red-stained glass being placed so as to cover a dangerous reef on either side of the island. While enjoying the hospitality of the head keeper and his good lady I forgot that I had left the city of Adelaide, instead of being on a little island 100 miles out at sea. A dinner fit for the Governor on a cloth aB white as enow, with a host and hostess evi dently enjoying the pleasure of making us comfortable as much as we enjoyed a good meal on terrafirma, with the sea breeze blow ing round us, and the kindly greetings of the few who are residents on the Island. The remainder of the first day was spent in visit ing some of the guano caves which had been worked, our chaperone being Mr. G-arlies, the foreman of the guano workers. I was very much struck with what I saw in these caves, the inspection of which and exploring for others occupied the most of our time on the island, the swell being too high to allow us to go fishing. As the Althorpe guano has been brought so much under the notice of the farmers of this district this year, nearly 200 tons having come to Freeling station alone, I may be pardoned for dwelling a little on a subject of such vital importance to farmers as the quality of this splendid manure, the probable supply available, and though last, but not least, the labor and risk of getting it out of the caves and putting it on board. When a cave is found, the first step taken by Mr. Garlies is to test its quality—first by trying for sand, and next by using chemicals to look for its most important elements—phosphates and ^ammonia. The mouths of most of the caves are rejected on account of the drift sand, which, however, does not reach far, some being quite free from sand on account of their position. Nearly all are close to the top of the cliff and under the limestone crust. Where the surface is hollow
the water percolates, forming stalactites, and from which the damp or wet guano has been obtained. These caves are passed over until summer, when it can be dried and sent away, but I am informed by scientific men that this guano has an advan tage in having as one of its component parts the stalagmite from the floor, which is the purest gypsum. Tho next point is to find a place near at hand where a boat can be brought as near under the cave as possible. In many parts of the coast little gulshways run inland several yards. Across this, gulshway a wire rope is stretched and made taut as near the mouth of the cave as possible, although in many places the men have to cany the bags on their backs along the cliff for long dis tances. On this wire is hung a dolly-guide (a piece of wood eighteen inches long, run ning on two little wheels or sheaves); under neath is a hook, to which a bag of guano is strung; to the end is fastened a rope, by which men let the bag slide down the wire rope until it arrives over the boat, into which it is dropped; the dolly-guide is then pulled up again, and another bag sent down. The greatest difficulty, however, is in getting the bags out of the caves. After the first visible parts have been cleared small openings are found on all sides, some so small that a man cannot orawl through until the gad and ham mer is brought into use. Once through another cave is found, and so on, some being high enough to allow a man to work upright,
others so low that the men must lie down and
throw it over their shoulders. Each bag when full is put on a little trolly about ten inches high and dragged out.
Many of the caves extend so far into the island that the proprietors intend having a light tramway made in short pieces, and laid after each other, to enable the men to work them at all. All the work in the caves is done by candlelight, and it often happens that the draught from other caves not then discovered blows the light-out. My first thought on visiting a veiy large cave I must tell, even at the risk of having my nationality discovered, was " What a splendid place for making potteen whiskey." Bill Mitchell would have emigrated to the Althorpes fifty years ago had he only dreamt for three nights in succession of a cave which I visited. He could have his fire on one side of the island and send the smoke out on the other. When the labor of getting guano is so great and risky it must be inferred that the cost is proportionate. From what I have seen I consider the cost on board at the island is equal to half its prise at Port Ade laide. The probable quantity of guano deposited in those caves it is impossible to say. Some seem to hav^ no ending, and one part of the island called the Saddle Jams seems to be one continuous chain of caves, some having deposits of up to six feet deep. The quality muBt necessarily be good, seeing that it is out of the reach of atmos pheric influence, and so keeping all its amonia intact. The process of depositing is going on day by day. It is extraordinary the number of penguins on this island, they are every where. I searched in vain for a petrified bird, or any fossil, save wood; of this there are traces in most places. I saw one stump of a tree whose trunk must have measured ten feet in diameter, but which had been burned to the surface in the terrible fire which has
left so many traces on the island. The stump forms part of the roof of a cave ; it, together with the soil it grew in, is turned into stone— the soil being a reddish yellow stone, the wood a dull grey.
On the 12th we made a tour around the
base of the island. Our guide called us aside to show us a curious monument, the inscrip tion on which I give. A piece of deal board 2i feet high by 1 foot wide, marking the resting place of an old whaler. The body is only about twenty inches deep in the sand. All that remains is the skeleton, but petrified into stone, forming one solid piece. This is the inscription in Roman letters—
Aged L8 ye Oct. 8, 1838.
A visit to this island would amply repay a geologist. Besting on a granite base it appears to date back to preadamite times. Its base stretching out into the sea on all sides, it seems to have been connected with the Peninsula at some time, while fully 250 feet of reddish yellow soft stone underlies a thick limestone crust, with evidences of a terrible fire destroy ing everything on its face; then an age of petrifaction; and, lastly, the appearance of animal and vegetable life, would form a chapter as useful as it would be interesting.
If ever during my voyage through life I shduld have to suffer shipwreck I hope it will be close to the jetty at the Althorpes, and that long before this happens the island will belong to some eleotoral district; that Messrs. Coles and Dixson will represent that district; and that they may bring pressure to bear on Captain Fergusson and the Marine Board, so that a poor shipwrecked person may find a decent path up the cliff, or that the keepers may not be afraid to risk their own necks in coming down to the beach to succour a ship wrecked mariner or tourist. I cannot cloBe this sketch without thanking the captain and crew of the Crest'for their kindness to me and
my friend in that hour of need when suffer ing from mal de mer, and to the keepers and workmen on the island for their genuine hospitality.