1st April 1836

South Keeling Islands

We arrived in view of the Southern Keeling or Cocos Isd. Our passage would have been a very good one, if during the last five days when close to our journey's end, the weather had not become thick & tempestuous. Much rain fell, & the heat & damp together were very oppressive: in the Poop cabin the thermometer however only stood at 81° or 82°. Keeling Isd is one of the low circular Coral reefs, on the greater part of which matter has accumulated & formed strips of dry land. Within the chain of Isds there is an extensive shallow lake or lagoon. The reef is broken on the Northern side & there lies the entrance to the anchorage. The general appearance of the land at a distance is precisely similar to what I have mentioned at the Low Isds of the Pacifick.

On entering the Lagoon the scene is very curious & rather pretty, its beauty is however solely derived from the brilliancy of the surrounding colors. The shoal, clear & still water of the lagoon, resting in its greater part on white sand, is when illuminated by a vertical sun of a most vivid green. This brilliant expanse, which is several miles wide, is on all sides divided either from the dark heaving water of the ocean by a line of breakers, or from the blue vault of Heaven by the strip of land, crowned at an equal height by the tops of the Cocoa nut trees. As in the sky here & there a white cloud affords a pleasing contrast, so in the lagoon dark bands of living Coral are seen through the emerald green water. — Looking at any one & especially a smaller Islet, it is impossible not to admire the great elegant manner in which the young & full grown Cocoa-nut trees, without destroying each others symmetry, mingle together into one wood: the beach of glittering white Calcareous sand, forms the border to these fairy spots.

When the ship was in the channel at the entrance, Mr Liesk, an English resident, came off in his boat. The history of the inhabitants of this place, is, in as few words as possible, as follows. About nine years ago a Mr Hare, a very worthless character, brought from the E. Indian Archipelago a number of Malay slaves which now including children amount to more than a hundred. Shortly afterwards Capt. Ross, who had before visited these Isds in his merchant ship, arrived from England bringing with him his family & goods for Settlement. — Along with him came Mr Liesk, who had been a Mate in the same ship. The Malay slaves soon ran away from the Isd on which Mr Hare was settled & joined Capt. Ross's party: Mr Hare upon this was ultimately obliged to leave these Islands. The Malays are now nominally in a state of freedom, & certainly so as far as respects their personal treatment; but in most other points they are considered as slaves. From the discontented state of the people, the repeated removals & perhaps from a little mismanagement, things are not very prosperous. The Island has no quadruped excepting pigs, & no vegetables in any quantity excepting Cocoa nuts. On this tree depends the prosperity of the Isld. — The only export is Cocoa nut oil. At this present time Capt. Ross has taken, in a small schooner which was built here, a cargo of this oil & that of the nuts to Singapore. He will bring back rice & goods for the Malays. — On the Cocoa nuts, the Pigs, which are loaded with fat, almost entirely subsist, as likewise do the poultry & ducks. Even a huge land-crab is furnished by nature with a curious instinct & form of legs to open & feed on the same fruit. There is no want of animal food at these Islands, for turtle & fish abound in the lagoon. — The situation of this Isld & its facilities for shipping must one day make it of some consequence, & then its natural advantages will be more fully developed. The ship came to an anchor in the evening, but on the following morning was warped nearer to Direction or Rat Isd.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Early next morning (after making but little way during a fine night) saw the Keelings right ahead, about sixteen miles distant.

A long but broken line of cocoa-palm trees, and a heavy surf breaking upon a low white beach, nowhere rising many feet above the foaming water, was all we could discern till within five miles of the larger Keeling, (there are two distinct groups) and then we made out a number of low islets, nowhere more than thirty feet above the sea, covered with palm-trees, and encircling a large shallow lagoon.

We picked our way into Port Refuge (the only harbour), passing cautiously between patches of coral rock, clearly visible to an eye at the mast-head, and anchored in a safe, though not the best berth. An Englishman (Mr. Leisk) came on board, and, guided by him, we moved into a small but secure cove close to Direction Island.

Many reasons had induced me to select this group of coral islets for such an examination as our time and means would admit of; and, as the tides were to be an object of especial attention in a spot so favourably situated for observing them, a tide-guage was immediately placed. Its construction was then new, and, being found to answer, I will describe it briefly. Two poles were fixed upright, one on shore (above high water mark, and sheltered from wind), the other in the sea beyond the surf at low water. A block was fastened to the top of each pole, and a piece of well-stretched log-line 'rove' through them. One end of the line was attached to a board that floated on the water; the other suspended a leaden weight, which traversed up and down the pole, on shore, as the float fell or rose with the tide. Simple as this contrivance was, and useful as we should have found it in many places where the surf or swell made it difficult to measure tides at night, without using a boat, I never thought of it till after we left King George Sound.

Syms Covington Journal

Anchored in the Basin, Keeling or Cocos Islands, after having a heavy breeze the last two or three days of our passage.

The Islands ARE all very low; the beaches appear to be the highest. AND the highest I should suppose not more than twelve to fifteen feet high; all coral, about forty in number, the largest not more than ten miles long. The islands are complete forests of cocoa nut trees; if not for THE trees, the land would be seen FROM but a very short distance. ONE can wade from one island to another when the tide is low, to nearly all except THE entrance to THE Basin, which Basin is formed by the islands being as placed to form a circle. The Basin IS about twelve miles across. ONE cannot go far in with A ship; we anchored in seven or eight fathom OF water; coral bottom with white sand, the water always being clear. Beautiful branches of coral can be seen from the ship's side, the fish constantly passing and repassing amongst the coral, has a most beautiful effect, etc.

An Englishman and HIS family, with about sixty or seventy Mulattos from the Cape of Good Hope, live on one of the islands.

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