We sailed at 8 A.M. for Mount Ernest—at which place a round of theodolite angles was required—and in the afternoon anchored off its south-western side in nine fathoms, one mile off shore. A solitary native was seen at work upon a canoe near the beach, but when a boat approached the shore he withdrew. The canoe was about half finished, and close by was a small shed of bamboo thatched with grass. After crossing a small sandy plain covered with short grass growing in tufts, we met the native on the edge of a brush to which he had slowly retired in order to pick up his spears and throwing-stick, both of which were precisely similar to those of Cape York, from which place they had probably been procured. He was a quiet, sedate, good-natured old man, and although at first rather shy he soon laid aside his fears on receiving assurances in the Kowrarega language, which he understood, that markai poud Kulkalaig Nagir (the white men are friends of the Kulkalega tribe of Mount Ernest) backed by a present of some biscuit and a knife. On subsequent occasions, when accompanying us from place to place, the quiet listless apathy of the old fellow was a source of some amusement. He did what was told him, and exhibited little curiosity, and scarcely any surprise at the many wonderful things we showed him—such as shooting birds with a gun, and procuring a light from a lucifer match.
Mount Ernest described.
On the following day I had an opportunity of examining the whole of the northern or inhabited side of the island. Mount Ernest is little more than a mile in greatest length, of a somewhat triangular shape, its eastern and larger portion hilly, rising gradually to an elevation of 751 feet, and its western part low and sandy. The rock is grey sienite, and from the striking similarity of aspect, it appeared to me pretty certain that Pole, Burke, and Banks Islands are of the same formation; they agree in exhibiting massive peaks, respectively 409, 490, and 1,246 feet in height.
Mount Ernest is the headquarters of the Kulkalega tribe of Torres Strait Islanders who are now absent on one of their periodical migrations, leaving in possession only the old man whom we met yesterday, and his family, among whom is a daughter of rather prepossessing appearance for a female of her race. The village consists of a single line of huts, which would furnish accommodation for, probably, 150 people. It is situated on the north-west, or leeward side of the island, immediately behind the beach, and in front of a belt of jungle. The huts are long and low, with an arched roof, and vary in length from ten to twenty feet, with an average height of five feet, and a width of six. They consist of a neat framework of strips of bamboo, thatched with long coarse grass. Each hut is usually situated in a small well-fenced enclosure, and opposite to it on the beach is the cooking place, consisting of a small shed, under which the fire is made. We saw indications of many turtle having lately been cooked here upon a framework of sticks over a small fire, precisely as is practised by the natives of New Guinea and the Louisiade Archipelago.