FRENCH CIRCUMNAVIGATORS, I
After a fortunate voyage of forty days, the Uranie cast anchor at the entrance of the Bay of Sharks on the 12th September. A party was at once despatched to Dirk Hartog, in order to determine the latitude and longitude of Cape Levaillant, and to bring on board the corvette a certain metal plate which had been left there by the Dutch at a remote period, and had been seen by Freycinet in 1801. Whilst this party were away, the two alembics were set to work to distil sea-water, which was effected so successfully that as long as the vessel stayed there, no other water was drunk but that obtained by this process, and all on board were satisfied with it.
On landing, the party sent to Dirk Hartog, got a view of the natives, who were armed with javelins and clubs, but had not a vestige of clothing. They, however, refused to have any close communications with the white strangers, keeping themselves at a respectful distance, and not handling any of the presents offered them without a previous careful inspection.
Although the Bay of Sharks had been minutely explored at the time of the expedition under Baudin, there still remained a hydrographical gap to be filled up on the eastern side of Hamelin Bay. Accordingly Duperrey proceeded there to complete the survey of that part of the coast. At the same time Gaimard, the naturalist, not disposed to rest satisfied with the interviews which as yet he had been able to obtain with the natives of the country, whom the sound of the fire-arms had summarily dispersed, decided upon penetrating into the interior, to gain some information respecting their mode of life. His companion and himself lost their way, as also did Riche in 1792 upon Nuyt's Land, where for three days they underwent severe sufferings from thirst, not being able to find a single rivulet or spring in the country.
The Expedition were well pleased when the inhospitable shores of Endracht disappeared from view. They had a pleasant passage in lovely weather, and over an unruffled sea, to the island of Timor, where on the 9th October the Uranie cast anchor in the roadstead of Coupang, and the travellers met with a cordial reception from the Portuguese authorities. But they found that the prosperity which had made the colony an object of wonder and admiration to the French travellers who had visited it with Baudin, had passed away. The Rajah of Amanoubang, the district where the sandal-tree grows in such abundance, who was formerly a tributary prince, was carrying on war to gain independence. The hostilities which were proceeding were not only detrimental to the interests of the colony, but also made it very difficult for Freycinet to purchase the commodities of which he stood in need. Some of the staff set off to pay a visit to the Rajah Peters de Banacassi, whose residence was not more than three-quarters of a league from Coupang. Peters, then eighty years of age, must have been a remarkably fine man. He gave them an audience surrounded by his attendants, who treated him with profound respect, and among whom were conspicuous several warriors of gigantic stature. The dwelling that served for the royal palace was rudely constructed, yet the French travellers saw with lively surprise that articles of luxury were plentiful, and they observed also some muskets of good manufacture and great value.
Notwithstanding the excessive heat of the climate, the thermometer rising in the open air to 45°, and in the shade to 33°, and even to 35°, the commander and his officers carried on with unremitting zeal the observations and surveys which it was the object of the Expedition to make. A few fell victims to their own imprudence, for in defiance of the earnest warnings of Freycinet, some of the young officers and the seamen chose to sally forth in the middle of the day, and with the view of fortifying themselves against the injurious effects of their dangerous freak, drank and ate plentifully of cold water and sour fruits. The result was that in a short time five of the most imprudent were confined to their hammocks with dysentery. This necessitated a departure from Timor; so the Uranie weighed anchor and set sail on the 23rd October.
At first the corvette sailed rapidly along the north coast of Timor, for the purpose of making a survey, but when she had reached the narrowest part of the Channel of Ombay, she encountered such violent currents that—the winds being slight and contrary—it was only with great difficulty she was able to regain the course which she had lost during the calm. No less than nineteen days were wasted in this trying situation; though certain of the officers took advantage of the delay to land on the nearest point of the island of Ombay, where the coast had a very inviting appearance. They went on shore near a village called Bitouka, and advanced to meet a body of the natives, armed with shields and cuirasses made of buffalo-skin, and carrying bows, arrows, and daggers. Savages though they were, they had quite the air of warriors, and were not at all afraid of fire-arms; on the contrary, they argued that the loading of the gun caused loss of time, for while that operation was going on, they could fire off a great number of arrows.