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The Schooner Caledonia. A TALE OF THE EARLY DAYS OF MORETON BAY.
[WRITTEN FOR THE QUEENSLANDER.] CHAPTER I.
By "KAI WAI QUASI."
With the exception of a topsail schooner, quietly riding at anchor on the west side of Mud Island, the visitor to Moreton Bay in the month of September, 1831, would have been
unable from a cursory survey to discover any Bign of the existence of the convict settlement close by on the Brisbane River. Each hill, headland, and wooded slope retained its pris tine features as on the bright May morning sixty years before when Captain Cook rounded the Island Cape, and surveyed from the topsail yard of the old Endeavour the expanse of water enclosed between the island and the mainland. A oloser examination of the western shores of the Bay might have brought to view the frames of the abandoned huts erected at Redoliffe ten years before, but these were the only tokens besides the schooner referred to of civilisation or settlement. The sohooner was the Caledonia, of Sydney, 120 tons burthen, commanded by Captain George Browning, a young Englishman, who had arrived in the colony some years before as second mate of a brig called the Lord Rodney. Browning, who was a thorough seaman, intelli gent, and of an intrepid character, had for some years past been employed as master of vessels trading between Sydney, New Zealand, and the South Sea Islands, but on the present voyage the Caledonia was ohartered to convey Govern ment stores from Sydney to the settlement at Moreton Bay. She had arrived some days before, and her orew were now busy discharging cargo into punts alongside, worked by gangs of convict labourers. These oonveyed the stores to a temporary depdt erected for their reception at the mouth of the river, at the place now known aB Uniacke Point, whence they were easily transferred to Eagle Farm, where a per manent depot had been established. The men finished discharging cargo on a Fri day afternoon, some punt loads of sand ballast were taken on board the following day, and arrangements were made for the vessel to sail on hex return voyage to Sydney on the Monday morning. Beyond Captain Browning's visit to the Commandant's (Captain Clunie's) oamp, at New Farm, there was no communication with the shore during Sunday, and no work done— much to the comfort of the orew who, after a hard week at the winch, were glad of a whole day with nothing to do but their own washing and patching. About 10 at night Captain Browning came on board in a Government boat, and, after making final arrangements with the mate as to the time of sailing, he went below to the cabin and shortly afterwards turned in for the night. At 2 in the morning or thereabouts he was aroused by the man on watch, who informed him that a boat full of men was approaching the ship. Although it was as yet too far off to be visible in the darkness they could distinctly hear the noise of the oars and the sound of voices.
Under the impression that it was the Com mandant's boat returning with some instruc tions or letters overlooked during the day, Captain Browning paid no further attention to the matter, but while conversing with the man he suddenly heard the boat strike heavily under the bows and then the noise of a rush of feet on deck. It ooourred to him that it was an unusual way for a Government boat to come alongside, and began hasty preparations for going on deok. Meanwhile the boarders, threatening to shoot any one who withstood them, compelled the orew of tho schooner as they emerged from the forecastle to take their places in the boat along side, whioh had been divested of both oars and sails, remarking that they would drift on shore quite soon enough to report the capture of the schooner, and at the same time stripping the' men of their clothing, and flinging them in place of it their own nankeen-coloured garb adorned with the broad arrow. When Captain Browning ascended the steps and was about to go on deck he found himself confronted by a number of convicts—Borne of whom he recognised as having been among those employed in discharging the vessel. The fellow who seemed to be the ringleader pre sented a pistol, saying as he did so: " Captain Browning, you are a prisoner. Re sistance is useless; your orew are drifting about in the bay. If you value your life get under way at once. This land breeze will soon freshen and oarry us round the Cape, and away from this hell upon earth." Captain Browning hesitated for some time before venturing a reply, but at last aware that, with only the mate and oook left to aid him, resistance was hopeless, he deoided for the time, though most reluctantly, to obey the orders of his captors. Some of these proved to be smart Beamen, and with their help the vessel was soon under way. The breeze was fresh from the south-west, and they passed round Comboyuro Point at noon that day, and, taking a departure from Cape Moreton at 4 p.m., they stood to the eastward aoross the bright blue waters of the coral sea.
Chapteb 11. Leaving the sohooner and her new-foand orew to pursue their track aoross the Paoifio to lands unknown, we will now return to the settlement and briefly review the events imme diately preceding their summary and unezpeoted departure. At the date of the opening of our story the notorious Captain Logan, Commandant of the settlement, had been dead some months, and speculation was yet rife as to the identity of his murderers. Circumstances oonneoted with the crime seemed to point to the aborigines as its perpetrators; rumour, however, asserted that white men were the principal actors in the tragedy. Logan's successor, Captain Clunie, although a strict disoiplinarian, bad no desire to emulate the methods of his predecessor, who had a genius for cruelty. On the arrival of the Caledonia in the Bay a gang of thirty oonviots, under escort of a Cor poral Gardiner and ten soldiers, were sent to Uniaoke Point, at the mouth of the river, where a temporary oamp had been formed, and where, with the aid of a oouple of rudely oonstruoted punts, the whole of the stores were duly landed, preparatory to a final removal to the permanent depdt then in course of ereotion at New Farm, some miles up the river. Among the convicts thus employed were three men, named respectively Young, Cheet ham, and Delaney, who, rendered desperate by ill-treatment, bad some time previous to the murder of Captain Logan made good their esoape to the bush, preferring to risk their lives amongst the blaoks rather than submit any longer to the miseries they were forced to undergo, and to the cruelties inflioted by their own countrymen. After enduring a precarious existence for more than a year, some days after the arrival of Captain Clunie they returned to the commissariat at New Farm in a half famished condition and gave themselves up. After a partial recovery, Captain Clunie, viewing their return as an earnest of good behaviour for the future, gave orders to knook off the irons in whiob they were confined, and learning also that both Young and Cheetham had served in the navy he direoted that they were thenoeforth to be employed solely in the boats and punts on the river. The discharge of the Caledonia's cargo, as already mentioned, having been completed on the Friday, Oardiner with his gang succeeded on the following day in removing two punt loads to New Farm, where, on discharging the bales and oases, it was discovered that a oon- Biderable quantity of ammunition and several muskets which had been unpacked for conveni ence had mysteriously disappeared from the punt. The soldiers declared that they had oarried the missing articles on board with their own hands, and suspicion at once fell on the convict boatmen. Young, who for himself and his companions now appealed to the corporal with protestations of innocence, implored him to refrain from further action or inquiry until their return to Uniaoke Point, where in his opinion the things still remained. As for himself, he averred, all the muskets in the settlement would not tempt him to repeat his experience of bush life, and he was morally certain that none of his companions had any snoh fatal step in contemplation. Corporal Gardiner felt oertain he had observed some of the muskets while in transit from the shore to the punt, and was far from satisfied with Young's assurances; nevertheless he granted the request. On Sunday, arriving at Uniaoke Point shortly after dark, when rounding a sandspit extending from the point towards the middle of tho channel, both punt and boat grounded heavily. Owing to the strong ebb tide the pant, notwithstanding their united and apparently most strenuous efforts, remained hard and fast, so, carrying out an anchor ahead, they left her until the making of the flood tide and prooeeded to the camp. After supper the corporal, ordering the convicts up in single file, began a cross-exami nation respecting the mysterious disappearance of the muskets and ammunition. Each man in turn, however, declared his innocence, and
openly disavowed the slightest knowledge of either unpacking or carrying the things to the boat, a duty which, they unanimously protested, must have been carried out by the guard, who, unintentionally laying the articles down in the rank underbrush on the shore, were now un able to determino the exact locality, whioh would, however, be discovered by daylight, At 9 p.m. the tido was at half-flood, and the corporal ordered Young, with the usual gang of boatmen, to pull oil to the sandbank and tow the punt to her moorings opposite the depot. When starting the orew with the boat to pall along shore, Young, with Cheetham, walked in the 3ame direction along the beaoh, where, owing to the darkness of the night, their progress was rendered both tedious and difiioult. On reaching the spot whore the boat was to receive them, Young, addressing his companion in excited but suppressed tones, said: " Now or never, Bill 1 luck has thrown this chance unexpectedly in our way, and to save our necks we must embrace it. I always mis trusted that fellow Delaney about tho Logan business, and you remember his remarks after the deed was done. Now he is at New Farm with the new boss he will wriggle himself into favour, make a clean breast of the whole affair, turn king's evidence, and we shall be scragged. So there's no time to lose, Bill. Break the glad tidings to our chums in the boat, then, with our plant of shooting irons and ammunition, the schooner is ours 1" On the boat touching the strand Cheetham instantly sprang on board, where for some minutes he addressed the oooupants in subdued and earnest tones. When he had done some of them jumped on shore, and noiselessly led by Young disappeared in the darkness, and after a brief interval as noiselessly returned laden with muskets and ammunition, and, plaoing them carefully in the boat, pushed off at once. Hearing the noise of oars from the Commandant's boat returning from the Cale donia they lay quietly alongside the punt, and as soon as all was still they proceeded direotly aoroßß the river to avoid being heard when pass ing the camp, and finding that, notwithstanding the flood tide, the land breeze was freshen ing, they hoisted sail and noiselessly glided out of the river into the Bay. On sighting the Caledonia's anchor light some of the muskets were loaded, and one was handed to each man. Both Young and Cheetham, however, impressed upon them that as they outnumbered the sailors two to one there would be no occasion to use the weapons except in great emergency, As they were discussing the method of boarding, the steersman, keeping the riding-light steadily in view, was unaware how olose he was to the sohooner, and the convicts were about to lower the sail and take to the oars when the boat bumped against the schooner's bows. There was now no time for further parleying; musket in hand they scrambled over the bulwarks, overpowered the orew, and took possession of the vessel as already related.
Chaptkr 111. The tide was now more than half-flood, and Corporal Gardiner knew that the punt must long since have floated. He therefore despatched two Boldiers along the beach to ascertain, if possible, the cause of the unusual delay. The messengers, however, on arriving opposite the sandbank, so that they were near enough to dis tinguish the dark outline of the punt, could. neither hear nor see any traco of the boat or its occupants; and reoeiving no response to their repeated cooeys they retraced their steps to the oamp. During their absence it began to dawn upon the oorporal that something was wrong; but having no boat available to give immediate pursuit he despatched three soldiers with as many convicts to procure one at Eagle Farm. He also, unaware of the return of the Com mandant's boat from the sohooner, placed some men on the lookout to arrest her attention. With the flrst streak of day the corporal dis covered that the Caledonia no longer rode at anobor off Mud Island, and at sunrise the guard from the temporary lookout perch re ported her as a small white speck rapidly sinking under the land of Moreton Island. Early in the afternoon the soldiers returned with the news that they had met Captain Clunie at Eagle Farm, and reported the dis appearance of the boat and crew, whereupon he had sent at once to Kangaroo Point for a fine new ten-oared whaleboat, whioh was now on its way down the river under the command of Lieutenant Foote, with a well-armed esoort. Having to pull against a flood tide it was after dark when the boat reached Uniaoke Point, where Lieutenant Foote arranged with Gardiner for an exchange of some of his craw for as many of the experienced boatmen under his charge. Getting away at midnight they found themselves at daylight close under that portion of Moreton Island now known as Tangaluma. When they discussed the matter before leaving Eagle' Farm the idea of the deserters attempt ing to seize the sohooner as a means of escape occurred neither to the Commandant nor Mr. Foote. Both took it for granted that the first halting-place would be Moreton Island, whence after a brief rest an attempt would perhaps be made to intercept some vessel bound North. Failing this they would most likely try to reach one of the groups of the Pacific. Holding this view they coasted along the western shore of Moreton Island, arriving at sundown within a short distance of Comboyuro Point without observing the slightest evidence of either men or boat having touched the shore. Hauling the boat up for the night, while the men were getting the camp in readiness, Mr. Foote walked round the point to a place where the land trends away towards Cape Moreton, where, asoending a sand hummock, and looking to the north-east, he distinctly observed in the rapidly deolining light a topsail schooner stand ing to the eastward, which he knew must be the Caledonia. Then, for the first time, it oocurred to him that the men might possibly have captured the schooner. As to whether Captain Brown ing and his crew had connived at their escape, the suspioion arose only to be as quickly dis pelled, as Browning, being in the enjoyment of professional preferment from tho colonial Government, was not likely to risk his reputa tion by allowing his vessel to become a medium
of escape for convicts. Lieutenant Foote bad therefore no alternative but to believe that the deserters had seized the ship, and in all proba bility murdered the crew. With this conviction he returned to the camp, where, partaking of a meagre supper and ordering the necessary watohing arrangements to be carried out, he lay down to rest for the night. The sun was well up the following morning when the lieutenant was aroused by one of tho soldiers and informed that something resemb ling a boat was in sight to the westward, and with the aid of his telescope ho recognised the boat as the one of which they were in search. Upon a closer survey he was surprised to observe that with a fresh breeze that would enable the boat under sail to stem the strong tide now running into the Bay neither sail nor oars were used, and the boat wa3 simply drift ing about under no control and without any sign of life on board. After a hurried breakfast tho search party launched their boat, and pulled in the direction of the dereliot. Speculation meanwhile ran high as to the fate of the deserters, one of tho BoldiorB venturing the opinion that in all proba bility they had all been shot in attempting to seize the Bohooner. Conjeoture, however, was soon dispelled by the appearance above the gunwale of the drifting boat of the figure of a man who, apparently, had some difficulty in attaining an erect position. Two other men aftorwardn appeared, and the three began to wave their arms in a despairing manner. The pursuers were now near enough to be able to make out the convict garb, and Mr. Foote began to indulge in mental con gratulations, and to enjoy a visionary promo tion, bestowed as the reward of his success in capturing the runaways. When steering the boat alongside he recognised, with no small degree of ohagrin, instead of the convicts, the unfortunate sailors, who, rendered helpless by hunger and exposure, were inclined to view their timely deliveranoe from a horrible death as nothing lese thau providential. After some nourishment, inoluding a nip of the historical " regulation rum," had been administered to the famishing and thirsty men, the story of the capture of the Caledonia was soon told, when Lieutenant Foote, removing the sailors to his own boat, and taking the other in tow, returned to Uniacke Point. [to be continued.]