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Aerial view of the southern end of Sweers Island, 2009
Wellesley Islands locator map
Wellesley Islands

Sweers Island is an island in the South Wellesley Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is within the Shire of Mornington.


Sweers Island is approximately 8 kilometres long. It is located 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) east of Bentinck Island (the largest island in the South Wellesley Islands) and 70 kilometres (43 mi) north from Burketown on the Queensland mainland.


Drawing of the Investigator tree on Sweers Island 1857f
Drawing of the Investigator tree on Sweers Island, 1857

Kayardild (also known as Kaiadilt and Gayadilta) is a language of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Kayardild language region includes the landscape within the local government boundaries of the Mornington Shire Council.

The island was named by explorer Matthew Flinders on 16 November 1802 after Salomon Sweers, a council member of the East India Company at Batavia who was one of those who instructed Abel Tasman to explore the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1644. Flinders was circumnavigating the Australian continent in the sloop HMS Investigator to map the coastline and establish if Australia was a single island or whether there were two or more islands (the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Australian Bight were suspected to be the entrances to straits between the islands).

Robert Towns established Burketown in 1865 as a base for his extensive holdings in the Gulf Country. Burketown's development was limited due to the extent of tropical diseases suffered by its inhabitants. When a ship "Margaret and Mary" arrived in Burketown from Sydney carrying a fever (possibly typhoid), the majority of those on board died at Burketown. In the belief that Burketown was inherently unhealthy, William Landsborough evacuated most of the survivors to Sweers Island for 18 months, with only a further two people dying. Towns and Co then traded wool, tallow, hides and skins between Sweers Island and Batavia in October 1868.

The Investigator Tree

Image of the Investigator tree on Sweers Island in 1871f
The Investigator Tree, 1871
Investigator tree at Queensland Museum (formerly at Sweers Island)f
Investigator tree at Queensland Museum (formerly at Sweers Island)

In 1841, the island was visited by John Lort Stokes, commander of the Beagle on an exploration of northern Australia. Stokes discovered a tree on the western part of the island with the word "Investigator" carved into it by Flinders on this 1802 visit, giving the tree the name "The Investigator Tree". Stokes also carved the name "Beagle" to the tree. Subsequent visitors to the island also carved names including from Augustus Charles Gregory's expedition in 1856 and William Landsborough's search for the Burke and Wills expedition in 1861. A cyclone on 5 March 1887 severely damaged the tree so part of the trunk was removed to the Queensland Museum in 1889.


Recreational activities on Sweers Island include fishing and watching wildlife. Sweetlip is the most common table fish caught off the island, while other fish species include: coral trout, red emperor, golden snapper, nannygai and parrot fish. In winter fish species including Spanish mackerel, grey mackerel, giant trevally, giant leatherskin, queenfish, northern bluefin tuna, and cobia can be caught. Accommodation, meals and boats are available at the Sweers Island Resort.


The island has a 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) all-weather gravel airstrip.

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