Local Identities

Louisa Clifton’s Diary

Disclaimer: Please be aware that this article contains terminology which describes people in ways that are unacceptable today. Its usage demonstrates the language (and thus, the thinking) of the time. It also contains references to Aboriginal people who have died. We apologise for any offence or distress that reading such material might cause.

The Bunbury Herald and Blackwood Express published an edited version of Louisa Clifton’s Diaries from the arrival of the Parkfield at Port Leschenault (Bunbury) to occupying their tent accommodation at Australind – a period of 20 days. The long delay was caused by the changed orders of the Western Australian Company in London to proceed to Port Grey (now Geraldton) and form a settlement there. Marshall Waller Clifton, Chief Commissioner of the Australind Settlement with Pearce Clifton (his son), Mr Ommanney (Government Surveyor, Bunbury) and a native for a guide rode on horseback to Perth to consult with Governor Hutt. The decision was made to remain at Australind.

Louisa Clifton was the eldest daughter of Marshall Waller Clifton and Elinor Bell who came to Western Australia with her family in the Parkfield in 1840. In 1842 she married George Eliot, the first Resident Magistrate of Bunbury, who arrived in Western Australia with James Stirling in the Parmelia in 1829.

On board the Parkfield March 17, 1941 [sic, 1841].

Under feeling of the most intense excitement I take up my pen to write the account of this day; we are laying to within sight of the Australian shore! How can I describe the emotions of this moment. My heart bounds with the deepest gratitude and my spirit responds in feelings of delight and joy. The wind has blown very hard all day, and under easy sail since last night at ten, we have been running at the rate of 9½ knots an hour. At noon to-day we were 115 miles from Cape Naturaliste and 96 miles from nearest land; at half-past five the soul reviving sound, ‘Land in sight’, rang from the mast head and thereupon every heart leapt for joy. I soon after went on deck and joined the party. There in the far horizon in the grey colouring of coming twilight loomed the faint outline of our adopted land. At a distance of thirty or forty miles it rose high (and) the moment my eyes rested on (this) ‘dim, discovered scene’ was one the remembrance of which the lightest life can never obliterate. None who have not known what it is to sigh, to long with sickening longing for land after a voyage of more than three months can fully understand with what ecstasy of feeling the first view and scent of land greets the weary senses. We are all in a state of excitement – softened excitement, I feel – for a review of striking favours we have experienced as we have tracked our solitary way across the pathless oceans cannot fail to create sentiments of solemn thankfulness and joy.

A native fire has been distinguished in the distance – and we are almost lying-to and standing off the land in the land till daylight dawns. The motion has been very distressful all day.

March 18, 1841.

By five o’clock in the morning all the party were stirring, and I got out of my berth to see the land which roes [sic] rather high, but lower than it appeared last evening, a few miles from us. Mamma went on the deck about seven and I followed; all the party were soon assembled. We were just going round Cape Naturaliste. The wind was extremely fresh and the sea buoyant. Mr. Plowes, Bob and I, attempted to take some outlines of the coast, but we passed too rapidly to succeed well. After breakfast a boat was soon descried coming off from the shore, and between 2 and 3 o’clock it reached us. It proved to be Captain Coffire [sic Coffin], an American settler, who acts as pilot to ships coming in. The moment, I felt, was an anxious one to hear of the surveyors. Papa enquired after them and heard of their safety. About six in the evening we found ourselves in Leschenault Bay within half a mile of the shore – the sea perfectly smooth, the temperature more warm and balmy than can be described. We were all struck by the pretty aspect of the country at the mouth of the inlet, and in parts along the shore. Masses of beautiful foliage grow down to the water’s edge, and in an opening of it we descried Mr. Eliot and Mr. Stirling’s little dwelling. I cannot easily cease to remember the first Australian sunset, nor the feeling with which I viewed its promising coasts – the native fires burning along the country, the smoke of which however, we only saw. Papa, Bob and two of the young men went on shore and found Mr. Austen then called on Mr. Eliot and Mr. Stirling (and) heard that Australind is beautifully laid out. Everything here promises prosperity, and all (are) excessively cut up at the change of site, which, as neither the ‘Stirling’ nor the ‘Henry’ have arrived was before unknown to them. The excitement of this evening may be imagined.

March 1841, 1841.

Papa with Pearce, George Smith and Charles Bedingfield [sic Bedingfeld] went up to Australind at 7 in the morning and returned about half-past seven. The evening was passed in hearing a glowing description of this lovely Australind and its vicinity, and there seemed to be regret on all sides that this was not to be our resting place. Mr. Stirling, Lieutenant Ivory, Mr. Eliot, Mr. -, Mr. Onslow called in the morning and expatiated on the advantages of this colony, (and) the impossibility of settling at Port Grey. They had all speculated on our arrival and there is a general gloom at the disappointment in their expectations, and Papa desires to go to Perth to-morrow to the Governor.

March 20, 1841.

Papa, Pearce, Mr. Ommaney, and Mr. Austen left in the boat for Australind. They remained the night, and with a native start at daylight to-morrow on horse-back for Perth. They took a blanket each and provisions for the journey, which will occupy three days – it is an adventurous expedition. A heavy rain drove us down from the poop very early, and the weather looks threatening and windy – it is lightning vividly. How exquisite is the being at rest. I feel intuitively in high spirits. Gervase, Charles and Mr. Plowes remain at Australind to-night, others of the young men also remain on land. How exquisite is ‘the being at rest! [sic] Two of the natives, dressed up for the occasion (and) visited the ship this morning: they were both covered but I was more shocked than I can express at their appearance. I never witnessed so affecting a sight as this display of the degradation of humanity; they do not look like human beings – so thin, so hideous, so filthy; oiled and painted red faces and hair, and pieces of rush passed through their hair – and they danced and distressed us still more; in fact I feel distressed at the idea of living among such a people, so low, so degraded a race.

Sunday, March 21, 1841.

It blew too hard to enable the captain to read the service on deck, and we all, therefore separated. We feared a gale; for such it appeared to be from the north-west – the worst wind for this anchorage – and the captain was very anxious, but the wind changing and blowing off land seemed again like an especial favour towards us. As it is hot it seemed like a thunder storm, but heavy lightening was all we experienced of it.

March 22, 1841.

I rose earlier than usual expecting we should go early to Australind, but no boat would take us as the weather looked so cloudy, so that we determined to delay the expedition. Mr. Stirling, Mr. Eliot, Captain Coffire, Mr. Northey and Mr. Onslow dined here. Mr. Eliot amused us by his anecdotes of Indians, and all sadly disappointed at the removal to Port Grey.

March 23, 1841.

We breakfasted at 8 to start at 9 for Australind. Mr. Stirling did not arrive till 10 and there was some little difficulty in planning who and how to go. The captain and his wife, bob and his, had gone off previously to Captain Coffire’s, so we determined all to go in Mr. Eliot’s boat. Lucy and Rachel were too frightened, so our party consisted of Mr. Stirling, Mr. Eliot, Mr. Onslow, Mr. Northey, Mamma, Ellen, Mary, Miss Spencer and Carry. The weather was most lovely and a fair breeze carried us up quickly to the encampment. The scenery of the Estuary gratified us extremely; the banks on each sides beautifully wooded down to the water’s edge, with foliage of varied tints even at this time of the year. Mamma was charmed. On arriving at the tents we were most warmly received by Mrs. Austen, and were astonished at the comfort and neatness of her tent – fruit, wine, home-made bread and cakes were laid for us; and most refreshing and delicious we found that which we had so long desired to taste – good bread. The appearance of the camp struck us much; the tents distributed under large spreading trees, a hill covered with brush rising behind: I never saw a more picturesque scene. We all walked up to the top of the hill and explored the bush; the view of the inlet through the trees rewarded us for the toil in the sun, though such I did not find it, so delightful to walk after three months exactly of confinement to the ship. We left Australind at half-past three; the wind was contrary, and poor Mr. Stirling had to row the whole way down with the other men, Mr. Eliot steering. We arrived just as dinner was finished, thankful to get on board. For we found the sea rough and had a very disagreeable sail from the mouth of the inlet. We enjoyed our excursion excessively – Mamma so delighted she seems inclined to think that we must and shall remain.

March 25, 1841.

According to appointment, Mr. Eliot and Mr. Stirling came off to take us on shore about half-past ten. Nothing could induce Mamma to go ashore so we three – Ellen, Mary, and myself – were obliged to go under Mr. Gibson’s escort, for he accompanied us. We landed at Bunbury and walked to the giant’s causeway – a foundation at the point over which the sea was breaking, but it is not above six feet high so that there is nothing majestic or striking. Mr. Northey and Onslow accompanied us. We walked over the site for the town of Bunbury, a pretty situation for such a purpose. We then mounted the hills to the left of Mr. Eliot’s house and were charmed with the exquisite view of the estuary and the hills beyond; dips and dells beautifully studded with large and picturesque trees forming the landscape. At length we arrived at Government House, situated on the summit of one of these high, round knolls, commanding a lovely prospect, and though rude and rough in its construction, gave an idea of cheerfulness. A sofa, table, chairs and a small book case with books and writing materials in one corner was all the furniture. A chimney piece and fireplace for burning wood astonished us. The sides of the room white-wash; the roof of thatch and high, the ceiling not having been built. Mr. Northey showed me his collection of dried plants and gave me a specimen of each kind, and after resting for some time we again set out. We wandered through some sweet woods and were pleased with all we saw . . . We returned to Mr. Eliot’s and had some delicious bread and butter, which I did indeed enjoy, and then came off for dinner – all four gentlemen. The captain and his wife, Bob and his, had not returned from Australind.

We sat down to a dinner so scanty and so bad that were all made really uncomfortable and did not conceal our indignation. The gentlemen were very agreeable and did not go off till after tea. Their attention and kindness to us was most gentlemanlike and considerate. I am destined to collect seeds of flowers. Mr. Eliot gave me 62 packets of native seeds collected by some famous botanist – a valuable present. I really enjoyed the excursion and felt quite at home with our new made friends though I did not quite like going alone.

March 26, 1841.

Mr. Eliot and Stirling having insisted on again coming off to take us for a walk, we could not resist the temptation of another agreeable excursion. Again Mamma would not leave the ship, so again we were obliged to go sans chaperone. Mr. Gibson was of our party, which was the same as the day before. The weather was still more lovely than yesterday, and I cannot forget the exquisite beauty of the colouring. We gently sailed up to the landing place, walked to Scott’s farm, then to Captain Coffire’s where we rested a few minutes and then wandered on along the banks of the picturesque Preston into the bush. We sat down by the edge while the gentlemen gathered the tea-tree bark and then made calabashes from which we drank as the water poured out from the bottom. Having had a charming scramble we returned to Captain Coffire’s, where we found a delicious cold dinner laid out; he himself piloting a ship and could not be there to entertain us, but which Mr. Eliot did most kindly, Bob having brought out the key of the cellar in the first visit to the cottage. Dr. Carpenter and E. Bedingfield [sic Bedingfeld] made their appearance, but did not dine with us. We had a cheerful, pleasant repast. I wished dear Prissy could have seen us and been with us – we three dining alone in an American settler’s cottage with four comparatively strange friends. We returned by water, took Dr. Carpenter at the point, and had a most disagreeable sail out and getting on board owing to the cross quick sea that was running.

March 27, 1841.

Many of our young men went ashore in the morning to join Mr. Stirling in a kangaroo hunt. Mr. Eliot, however, true to his appointment, came off about 11, and Mamma, Christina, Ellen, Mary and myself went off. We arrived at the creek, walked to his house, but the heat was too intense to walk out, so we made Mr. Eliot give us some work (pocket handkerchiefs) to hem. Mary and I attempted to sketch the lovely view from the verandah. We enjoyed the repose of the day, and had a delicious bread and butter luncheon. Mamma then mounted Mr. Eliot’s horse, and rode down to the point, whence, with Mr. Eliot, Mr. Onslow remain behind, we went off an hour after time. Mr. Eliot would not come in, which was fortunate inasmuch as dinner was over, and one was so soon prepared unnecessarily for us. An exquisite walk on deck after tea; the night most lovely. The hunting party arrived in detachments all the evening. Mr. Onslow and Mr. Stirling have just left us, having brought the fruits of their labour in the shape of a small kangaroo as a present for Mamma. He looks like one of the huntsmen in Der Freeschutz in his scarlet vest. The fatigue of all is unbounded; the heat was so intense and they have walked 30 miles. Bob out all day cutting grass for our cows.

March 28, 1841.

Speculations all day about Papa’s return: About five a sail came in sight from the north which proved to be a cutter. We, of course, immediately concluded that it was government vessel conveying Mr. Hutt and Papa hitherto. Soon after, Bob, with Mr. Spence and many of the young men, sailed off to meet her, and sunset came on; a glorious one it was, the sky painted with every tint and hue of the most radiant rainbow. Dark followed. A boat was heard alongside, and in a moment Papa, Pearce and Mr. Ommaney stepped on board. Our desire to remain here instead of going on to Port Grey had become irresistible. After the first feelings of joy at the same termination of their hazardous expedition had subsided, our anxiety to know the result of it became intense.

All assembled in the cuddy and tried to read in their countenances the decision. In half an hour our hopes were crowned by hearing that the Governor so entirely disapproved of the settlement being made on the inhospitable, barren, unknown coast of Port Grey, that Papa had taken upon himself the responsibility of remaining here. I cannot describe the joy I and all in common felt. Two hours passed quickly in hearing of the adventures of the travellers, and the intercourse with the Governor, etc. This place offers a home we never could have felt in an uncivilized, uninhabited territory. Bob returned safely at two in the morning, having received despatchers from the ‘Champion’, and rowed four and a half hours and almost failed in finding the ‘Parkfield.’

March 29, 1841.

I passed an excited night. How my spirits did sink within me when, at 8 this morning I heard Papa and Captain Whiteside in the corridor in conversation, the latter expressing his opinion as to the safety of the anchorage, and Papa’s reply that he should proceed thither in accordance with his instructions. After breakfast a thorough consultation held with the captain and all – charts examined, Mr. Hutt’s letter read – and then it was decided with almost universal consent that Papa would take upon himself greater responsibility by going than remaining, and that we are to remain here. Papa has suffered sadly in the difficult position in which he has been placed by Captain Grey’s abominable misrepresentation.

April 2, 1841.

Major Irwin, Mr. Eliot and Mr. Northey dined here. Mr. Eliot’s two little native boys came off in the evening; they were brought into the cuddy, and though rather frightened at the large, motley company, behaved extremely well. Quanga hung round Mr. Eliot with a sweet confiding manner and then read the English alphabet clearly and boldly. Christina sang; they looked astonished beyond measure and listened most attentively, but said little; it appeared too much for them.

April 3, 1841.

We have been sitting on deck watching the fires on shore near Sheriton’s store: The scene has been most beautiful; worthy of the pencil of a Claude Loraine – the moon and sky dazzlingly bright, the sea glistening and perfectly smooth the outline of the shore dark and clear, the lurid flash and curling grey of vermillion and yellow of the fires throwing a bright redness over the scene, investing it with a wildness congenial to the spot and exciting to the imagination. The ‘Helen’ left this port this morning; the colonial steamer yesterday.

Tent, Australind, April 5, 1841.

I must make an attempt before I lie down in the bush for the first time to give you some description of the picturesque romantic scenes in which we are now engaged. We have just made our beds on the ground, arranged our tent for the night, and with the moon shining brightly through the canvas overhead, solemn stillness reigning around except where broken by the merry laugh of the grasshoppers and now and then the breaking of a wave upon the distant shore, you may fancy Mary and myself kneeling at a table we have rigged up in the centre of our abode, alternately writing and talking over this strange page in our history. Papa with a party of young men came hither this morning and left Mary and me to follow with a boat load of goods; and later in the day Mr. Eliot and Mr. Stirling went on board the ‘Parkfield’ just as we were going and insisted upon taking us up in their boat, a proposition agreed rather than commit ourselves to the care of Dr. Carpenter. We sailed almost all the way up this beautiful estuary under a sky of surpassing beauty – the heat intense and scarcely a breath of wind. On arrival we found our tent erected and two or three others scattered about on the slope of a steep acclivity a few hundred yards from the waterside, commanding a lovely view surrounded by beautiful trees, but in a state of charming confusion – the sand ankle deep almost and the only floor. Our kind friends, Mr. Eliot and Mr. Stirling insisted upon getting everything to rights. We all went to work under a scorching sun to cut rushes for the carpet, turned everything out, then spread them, arranged this table with a nice English cover giving an air of comfort to the apartment, put up hooks, in fact, in the course of an hour or two we found ourselves in order. Mrs. Austen then kindly came from her settlement with a loaf of bread and cold meat – a most acceptable present after the labour of the day. An immense fire of branches was soon lighted on the level ground a little distance below our tent, water boiled, tea made, and having fortunately got open our plate chest containing knives and forks, tea cups, etc. we sat down to a welcome repast, and with more comfort than we could have imagined possible. I wish you could have seen the interior of our new abode – some sitting on the ground, others on our mattresses rolled up, I making tea upon a gun case seated on a hassock in the midst. By degrees all the young men collected in this centre of comfort and sociability. I forgot to describe in due order a scene which amused us vastly. While we were engaged within we found the Government resident, the magistrate of the district (Mr. Eliot) and Mr. Gibson hard at work without kneading dough to make a damper, in other words, unleavened bread, which has since been baked in wood ashes and promises to do justice to the skill of the manufacturers. I cannot describe half of the amusing and curious incidents of the day, nor convey to your mind an adequate idea of the picturesque appearance of ambush encampment in such a climate and with such scenery on all sides. The nights are extremely cold, and we are beginning to feel very chilly, and the ground underneath strikes damp and cold. I find myself involuntarily providing against the motion of the sea, although we have been entirely at rest for the last fortnight. The delight of feeling still, relieved of the burden of preparation against pitching and rolling and a thousand other charms in being on terra firma again, compensates most fully for the personal exertions which will be required for some months to come; and then the indescribable blessing of not going to Port Grey! I feel a sensation of home in this place: civilization is partly known. There are only three or four settlers but there is the truest hospitality and kindness, and instead of being out of the reach of any human being we have at once met with a hearty welcome and with a ready assistance and co-operation.

Source: The Bunbury Herald and Blackwood Express, 26 March, 2 & 13 April 1928. Prepared by Mrs E Chase. (Read before the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, 7 May 1927).