Port Usborne named after him.
His musket ball
King's sound, Western Australia.
Usborne point is peak of Usborne Island.
is a compilation from various sources, describing the severe wound sustained by Alexander,
his partial recovery and return to England. Alexander was promoted from
Lieutenant to Ship's
Master under Captain J.C.Wickham.
On the morning of January 16th 1836 the Beagle anchored in Roebuck Bay. Stokes climbed the masthead hoping to glimpse broken country, which might indicate a large river but saw nothing but flat level land dotted with anthills stretching away eastwards out of sight. The heat was intense with little variation between night and day. Under the awnings on board the heat rose to 90ºF and 110ºF in the boats. Usborne, resting ashore in a patch of shade taking angles, found it delightfully cool at 93ºF. Many of the Beagle’s crew began to suffer violent headaches, lassitude and disorders of the stomach.
On the morning of January 19th two boats set out under the command of Usborne and Helpman. They had provisions for five days and carried muskets. The prudent Helpman, anticipating an encounter with hostile natives armed himself with a brace of pistols.
The search for a large river or inlet was unrewarding. The shores along which they rowed were fringed with mangroves and large flats of sandy mud, broken only occasionally by a shallow salt-water creek. The first encounter with Aboriginies was amicable enough but as the boat shoved off, one of them hurled a vicious stone after it. Usborne replied by firing his pistol into the air and they fled.
Shortly afterwards, crossing the sand flats, they were stranded by the receding tide. A lone Aboriginie walked towards the boat, snatched the baler and made off with it. Usborne could not let this pass. Lack of a baler could lead to loss of life. He could have stopped the thief with a musket ball. Determined to test for himself whether Europeans could outrun Aboriginies, Usborne sent several of his “nimble young men” in persuit and was satisfied that they did indeed gain on the thief who dropped the baler on the sand and escaped.
With the rising tide the boats were once more afloat. They anchored near the beach to continue surveying. Before long they were accosted by six blacks, shouting and gesticulating wildly. When they had waded out up to their necks in water close to the boat Usborne decided to teach them a lesson The boat was maneuvered quickly between them and the shore. Perhaps it was this sudden movement, which caused terror among them. They trembled violently, could only utter a few incoherent sounds and point to the shore.
At dusk on January 20th Usborne sighted broken ground which might have indicated a river’s mouth but on closer inspection the following morning this proved only a small salt-water inlet. Before finally admitting defeat they climbed a nearby hill, which gave views over Roebuck Bay. This confirmed their earlier impression. There was no river.
Satisfied that their work was ended, Usborne decided to return to the ship, fifteen miles away hoping to be back on board by nightfall. But what promised to be an easy journey was to become an ordeal for Usborne and a nightmare for his companions. Leading the party downhill, he suddenly heard the report of a musket, felt a heavy blow on his back, and found himself lying on the ground weltering in blood and in the most excruciating pain.
It appeared that a twig had caught the trigger and fired off the musket which Mr Helpman was carrying and that the ball had entered his right side, a short distance from the spine, midway between the lower rib and hip-bone and exited in line with his navel. It carried with it a portion of leather pistol belt and particles of clothing. Usborne, still conscious, requested Helpman, that, should he not survive the incident, to see that everything of his should be delivered to his sister Anne. Three of the boat’s crew who were with the party carried the bleeding body on their shoulders down the sand-hills. The boats were at the edge of a mud flat extending quarter of a mile from the shore. However, up to their knees in mud, the crew succeed in carrying him safely to the boat.
As Usborne went down, some twenty natives rushed from their hiding places, as though they wanted to take part in an approaching affray: however, the sight of the two boats in the distance, which they had full in view, deterred them from any aggression.
The accident occurred at 10 am. After rowing some
fifteen miles it was near six o’clock before he was
on board and under the charge of Mr. Bynoe (ship's surgeon). Those on board were shocked
| to see their
companion lifted, apparently
lifeless, into the vessel he had so recently quitted full of health.
Mr. Bynoe immediately attended their wounded
messmate and assured them that the best results might be reasonably
Thus disastrously ended the examination of Roebuck Bay, in which reports of former navigators had indicated the imminent discovery of some great water communication with the interior of this vast continent. A most thorough and careful search had clearly demonstrated that the hoped-for river must be sought elsewhere.
January 23rd was a long exhausting hot day at the mast-head for Stokes. Under normal circumstances, he would have shared the duties with Usborne. As soon as the ship had anchored for the night he went below to see how his friend, still seriously ill, had borne the heat and pain of the day.
On February 13th a violent gale struck suddenly, pinning the Beagle on the lee shore, 200 yards from the rocks. With three anchors straining out ahead the ship laboured all day, pitching and rolling. Helpman, who could no longer bear to watch, went below and having agreed with Usborne that they could do nothing to alter their critical situation, settled down to read to him for several hours.
After another expedition Stokes returned to the ship on the morning of March 3rd and found all well on board, with the exception of poor Mr. Usborne, whom he was delighted to see so far recovered.
Mr. Usborne, anxious to be actively employed, was so much better by March 21st that he persuaded the surgeon, reluctantly, to allow him to return to the duties of the survey. He was accordingly dispatched to look for a berth for the ship further to the north-west. Mr. Usborne discovered good anchorage in the cove that had been spotted from the hill, which, in commemoration of his providential recovery, was called after him Port Usborne.
When Stokes reached the ship on the morning of March 29th, entering Port Usborne by a narrow rocky channel, on its north-west shore, he noticed on the precipitous sides of this passage several Rock Kangaroo. They found that Mr. Usborne had returned three days before. From his account of the islands he had visited, they appear to have the same sterile character as most of those they had seen. In other respects, his trip was void of interest, beyond that of surveying. During the absence of the boats, tidal and magnetic observations had been made, some specimens in Natural History had been collected, and all that could in any way add to the interest of the expedition, had been as well attended to.
Thus closed, at Port Usborne, the exploration of King's Sound, the result of which filled up the gap long existing in the charts of the north-west coast of Australia, and which had, for years, been the theme of much ingenious geographical speculation. The result of their labours had been on the whole satisfactory. The river Fitzroy, although not of the magnitude hoped for, was still an undoubtedly valuable acquisition to the stock of geographical knowledge, and offered a way of access into the interior having been surveyed to the extent of 90 miles. Subsequent explorers might find more. In many minor, yet important matters, much had been done, and much seen, to more than compensate for the disappointments and annoyances inseparable from the pursuits of the adventurer.
The morning of March 30th was unusually stormy, dark clouds rested upon the adjacent high land, while others no less portentous hurried past on the wings of the tempest. Soon after breakfast, they bade adieu to the wild scenery of Port Usborne.
When the Beagle reached Sydney in May of the following year, Mr Usborne was compelled to return home because of the dreadful wound he had received. He had been one of the most competent, experienced and popular officers on board, and his loss to Stokes, in particular, was both professional and personal. They had worked together for nine years and more than any other he had shared with Stokes the labours of constructing the charts on board.
On May 19th Beagle's officers gave a farewell dinner ashore. Helpman whose musket ball had been responsible for Usborne's departure found it an emotional moment. "Poor Jimmy left us. I felt more inclined to pipe my eye than I have often done. I really liked him and and very sincerely regretted his loss. We manned the rigging and gave him three cheers. Hearty ones!"
Mr. Usborne took the charts back to England.