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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 85


I do not propose to bore you with a dry list of names of coast and inland districts, names of tribes, etc., but to describe as well as I can some of the principal features of the country, the peculiarities of its inhabitants, and the possible future of the Protectorate.

There is but little that I can tell you of the work which has been done by the different exploring parties which have bean organized by this society, and by private enterprise, which you do not already know. Though a considerable amount of information has been gained by them, they have been on the whole disappointing. D'Albertis added considerably to the list of known birds and fishes, but he discovered no geoghaphical facts of any importance, and the rough map he made of the course of the Fly River has since been proved to be very incorrect. The collection, too, which he made was allowed to go out of the country, though his expenses had been defrayed almost entirely by New South Wales.

In his book he hardly mentions, if he does so at all, haying passed the mouth of the river ascended recently by Captain Everill. One of the members of his expedition told me some years ago that there was much discussion at the time as to which stream they should ascend. Most of them were in favour of going up the Strickland, but D'Albertis decided on the other stream. I think he must have exaggerated the number of miles he ascended, as he was not an accomplished navigator. I have found, myself, while, ascending rivers, that one is very apt to exaggerate the distance travelled. Perhaps the greatest results were obtained by an expedition of miners in 1877. Very little was said or known of them at the time, but they penetrated some forty miles into the interior from Port Moresby, in a north-easterly direction, till they were stopped by the enormous Owen Stanley Range. Forty miles sounds very little, but a great part of that distance was cut through the dense jungle at the rate of about a mile a day. Many of them died, and they returned disheartened to the coast, having failed in the principal object of their expedition, but having succeeded in holding friendly intercourse with some of the natives of the interior, and having ascertained that there was inland a splendidly watered, rich country.

The explorer from whom I anticipate the best results is Mr. Forbes. He is, as you know, partly supported by the Royal Geographical Society. He is a man as he has shown, of immense resource and pluck, and he is always cheerful under misfortune. He has a most comfortable camp now at a place called Sogere, situated about forty-five miles northeast of Port Moresby. It is about 1500 feet above the sen level, and is on one of the spurs of the Owen Stanley Range. From it he can explore in every direction. It was where I left the country within ten miles of the furthermost point reached. it is supposed that the natives from the north coast occasionally visit Sogere, and if this is the case the day must be near at hand when we can shake hands across the page 5 boundary with our neighbours the Germans. Mr. Forbes originally intended to be quite independent of the natives of the country, and accordingly he engaged the services of a number of Malays to accompany him and to act as carriers, but he soon found that they were a source of trouble to him as the inland natives refused to hold friendly intercourse with them. The principal reason assigned for this was that the Malays refused to eat the pork which was offered them on their arrival as a mark of high respect. He has now got rid of nearly all of them, and intends to carry on his work with the assistance of the natives of the country. It had been my intention to ask Mr, Forbes to accompany me in the expedition which was organised in November of last year for the purpose of ascending the Mai Cassa and Aird rivers, but the melancholy death of Sir Peter Scratchley necessitated a complete change of plans. These two rivers, more especially the Aird, we know very little of. Mr. Chester, at present police-magistrate at Cairns, and Mr. M'Farlane were the first to ascend the Mai Cassa. Mr. Chester has described it to me as a salt water creek and not a river. It is probably connected with the Fly by swamps. It has been ascended nearly a hundred miles, till the shallowness of the water prevented any further progress. On its banks many varieties of fine timber are to be found, and at the present moment some enterprising timber-getters are getting cedar there. The extensive swamps which extend from this part of the coast many miles into the interior make the country very unhealthy and very difficult to work in. On the other hand, the banks of the Mai Cassa are very thinly inhabited, and the white men have nothing to fear from depredations or attacks by natives. Of the Aird River I may say that we know absolutely nothing. For eight or nine months of the year the south-east trade is blowing, and the numerous sandbanks and bars, with heavy breakers on them, close this river even to whaleboats. But in the north-west season it is supposed to be possible to enter it. There can be no doubt that it is a river well worth the attempt, and my disappointment at having to give up all thought of it last year was very great. We have a few native accounts of it, and through them it would appear to be a very rapid clear river, magnificently timbered on the borders. We know, also, that the banks are densely populated with powerful and savage tribes.

Our knowledge of the country west of the Mai Cassa is very slight; in fact, with the exception of a few pearl shellers, it is unvisited by anyone.

The natives of this part of the coast are probably the true aboriginals of the country. They have little of the Malay type about them, while both east and west of them their neighbours grow fairer skinned and smaller in stature. Their language, too, differs greatly from those of the eastern and western tribes. Their nature is fierce and treacherous, and they are, on the whole, very awkward people to deal with.

Following the coast to the eastward from the great Papuan gulf, we find a succession of fine rivers, harbours, and roadsteads, which is unequalled, I should imagine, by any country in the world. Every few miles a river discharges its waters into the sea. Many of them would be called fine rivers in Australia.

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On the banks of these rivers, after passing the inevitable belt of mangroves, are plains densely covered with the tough cane grass which grows only on rich soil, With the exception of the country round about Port Moresby, the whole of the south coast appears to be entirely fertile, and at South Cape, where the Government have acquired a large tract of territory, the richness of vegetation cannot be surpassed.

It may be interesting to compare the country comprised within the limits of the British Protectorate with the German territory. While on the south harbours and rivers abound, on the north they are not nearly so plentiful. In fact, Finsch Haven, on the north, is the only good harbour they possess. The rivers are small and not very numerous. The mountain ranges which run parallel with the coast are so short a distance inland that it would be impossible for any very large river to exist. The country from Mitre Rock—the point of departure of our boundary line—to Astrolabe Bay, appears to be rocky barren soil, and it is evidently but thinly inhabited by natives. It changes in appearance very much, however, below Astrolabe and Humboldt bays. I visited that part of the coast some five years ago, and made short excursions inland at several points, and I was much struck with the magniflcence of the country and the friendly character of the natives. I had at that time just left the Admiralty and New Britain groups, where the natives are as savage as in the Pacific, and the contrast between them, and the Papuans of Astrolabe Bay was very great. In fact, the Russian explorer Maclay named the islands in Astrolabe Bay the " Archipelago of Contented Men." He lived with them for two years, and though they treated him rather badly : first, eventually they got on very well together. As not much is known of the natives of the northern coast it maybe interesting if I read an extract of a journal, kept at the time, of my impressions of them five years ago. I was at that time visiting all the various groups of islands south of the line. Commodore Wilson had kindly placed H.M.S. " Beagle," Captain Matusin, at my disposal. New Guinea at that time was inclosed in the Western Pacific district. We coasted from a spot about one hundred miles north-west of Astrolabe Bay, as far as Dampier Straits, when we were turned back by heavy southerly gales and adverse currents.