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Cape Baskerville, Timor Sea coast of northern Western Australia

Cape Baskerville is a promontory on the western side of the Dampierland Peninsula in Western Australia, about 105 kilometres north of the present town of Broome. It forms a stubby headland on the northern side of the shallow, mangrove-fringed Carnot Bay. A small hill crowns the cape, rising to 47 metres above the coastal sand dunes and the low heaths and mudflats of the bayside littoral. The cape marks a distinct change in the alignment of the Dampierland coast from a northerly to a north-easterly direction. The landscape rises inland, with King Peaks, at 86 and 94 metres each, about nineteen kilometres inland behind Cape Baskerville in the foothills of the coastal range.

Section from topographical map showing the Cape and Carnot Bay, the mangrove flats and the inland heaths
'Carnot Bay' Topographical Map, 1:100 000 scale
[Royal Australian Survey Corps, 1971]

On the 23rd August 1821 the promontory was sighted by Captain Phillip Parker King RN on the Bathurst. King named the feature 'Cape Baskerville' after one of his midshipmen (a naval cadet) Perceval Baskerville(1), recording the event in his journal:

The next day we steered along the shore, and passed a sandy projection which was named Cape Baskerville, after one of the midshipmen on the Bathurst. To the southward of Cape Baskerville the coast trends in, and forms Carnot Bay; it then takes a southerly direction. It is here that Tasman landed in 'Hollandia Nova' [in 1626]

As no island was noticed by us in the position assigned to Captain Baudin's Carnot Island, the bay to the southward of Cape Baskerville has received that name. The smokes of fires have been noticed at intervals of every four or five miles along the shore, from which it may be inferred that this part of the coast is very populous. Captain Dampier saw forty Indians together, on one of the rocky islands to the eastward of Cape Léveque. [King, Vol. II: 93-94]

Section from map drawn by King, with first-ever inscription of 'Cape Baskerville'
General Chart of the North-west and West Coasts
[King, Vol. I: foldout chart facing p1, 1827]

Captain King wrote the following description of the Cape and its hinterland, or at least its littoral, in 1821:

The coast between CAPES LÉVEQUE and BORDA extending S. 40° W. nineteen miles, is low and rocky, and the country sandy and unproductive. Between Cape Borda and Point Emerriau is a bay ten miles deep, backed by very low sandy land; and five miles further is another bay, that appeared to be very shoal: thence the coast extends to the S.W. for twenty-three miles to CAPE BASKERVILLE; it is low and sandy, like that to the northward, but the interior is higher, with some appearance of vegetation.

Thirteen miles from the shore are the LACAPEDE ISLANDS; they are three in number, and surrounded by a reef nine miles long by five wide.

Between Capes Baskerville and Berthollet, is CARNOT BAY; it is six miles deep, and backed by low land. The bottom of the bay was not distinctly seen, but from the appearance of the land behind the beach, it is not improbable that there may be a rivulet falling into it.

At POINT COULUMB, in latitude 17° 21', where there is a range of dark red cliffs, the coast commences to present a more verdant and pleasing appearance than to the north.
[King, Vol. II, Appendix A 'Sailing Directions': 352-353]

Large section from map drawn by King, showing his explorations in the area of 'Cape Baskerville'
General Chart of the North-west and West Coasts
[King, Vol. I: foldout chart facing p1, 1827]

The presence of the local Aboriginal peoples, as noted by all of the maritime explorers since the 16th century, was later recognised by the colonial and State administrations when a mission was established at Beagle Bay, just north of Cape Baskerville in 1890, and in the early 20th century an Aboriginal Reserve was proclaimed that included Cape Baskerville within its borders. The Aboriginal name for Cape Baskerville and Carnot Bay is not yet known to the author.

Section from map showing Native Title claims, with Cape Baskerville circled in red - the pink area is an existing Aboriginal Reserve
Native Title Claims - Kimberley Region
[Department of Land Administration, 2000]

References and reading

  1. ltr, Nomenclature Advisory Committee, Dept of Lands & Surveys, Perth to author, 13 November 1973, ref. 2913/62 RS:SL.
  • King, Captain Philip P., Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia performed between the years 1818 and 1821, John Murray, London 1827: Vol. I and II.
  • Powell, A., "King, Phillip Parker (1791-1856)', in Carment, D., et al (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography: Volume One: to 1945, NTU Press, Darwin 1990: 168 -170.
  • Powell, A., 'Explorers-Surveyors of Australia's North Coast: P.P. King and the Men of 'Mermaid' & 'Bathurst'', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 65, Pt. 4., March 1980: 217-22.
  • The Times Handy Atlas, Third Edition, John Bartholemew & Son Ltd., Edinburgh & London 1941
  • 'Carnot, WA', Topographic Survey, 1:100 000, Sheet 3363 (Edition 1), Series R611, Royal Australian Survey Corps, Canberra 1971
  • 'Native Title Claims - Kimberley Region (As Filed in the Federal Court)', Land Claims Mapping Unit, Department of Land Administration, Perth 17/1/2000

Map of the Dampierland Peninsula published a little over 100 years after King's map above
[Times Atlas: 138-139]