Narrative of an expedition undertaken for the exploration of the country lying between Rockingham Bay and Cape York, by William Carron

Chapter 4

November 11. — We proceeded along the valley a short distance, with the view of forming our depot as near to Weymouth Bay as possible. We crossed the creek where it turned eastward, on a kind of bank, which intercepted its course, up to which, from the east, the tide came sometimes, so that on that side the creek the water was brackish, but very good water was obtainable on the other side the bank.

After we had camped, we killed our last sheep, and Mr. Kennedy proceeded to the top of a high hill to view the country over which he would have to pass. Shortly after his return to the camp several natives made their appearance, to whom we made a present of a tin plate and a few fish-hooks, which made them quite friendly. While they were looking at us, a great many brown hawks came hovering over the camp. Wall and Jackey shot fourteen or fifteen of them, in the presence of the natives, who retired to the edge of the scrub, and seemed very much surprised to see the hawks fall as soon as they heard the report of the guns. They went into the scrub at dark, but a good watch was kept all night; though the natives did not again make their appearance.

One of our dogs killed a young dog belonging to the natives during the night, which I afterwards ascertained was eaten by Dunn, Luff, Costigan, and Goddard.

November 12. — Sunday: prayers at eleven; Jackey and I went to the beach to see if we could find any salt, as our’s was getting very low, but we could not succeed in getting any.

November 13. — This morning everything was prepared for the departure of Mr. Kennedy and his party, and the last of our mutton was served out equally to each of the party.

Mr. Kennedy gave me written instructions how to act during our stay at Weymouth Bay, it being his intention to send for us by water, if possible, as he expected to meet H.M.S. Bramble at Port Albany. He calculated that he should be from ten to fifteen days before he reached that place, and directed me to keep a sharp look-out from the hill for a vessel; and should I see one, to hoist a flag on the hill. If the natives were friendly I was to put a ball beneath the flag, and above it should they be hostile. In the evening I was to fire three rockets, at intervals of about twenty minutes.

The party left at the depot under my charge were eight in number. The provisions consisted of two horses and twenty-eight pounds of flour, the former being very poor and weak.

Not knowing whether he could send for us by water or not, Mr. Kennedy directed me to make my provisions last at least six weeks, but that it was possible I might get relief fourteen days after his departure, and to keep a very sharp look-out after that time.

I packed up all the dried meat we had left (75 lbs.) and 18 lbs. of flour for Mr. Kennedy to take with him, and about one pound of tea was divided between the two parties. These, with their firearms, and a few necessaries of a light description, were all the party took with them. Mr. Kennedy requested me to register the height of the thermometer during my stay at the Bay. The whole of the party left at the camp were very weak, Luff being the weakest man that proceeded with the party to Cape York.

Before leaving Mr. Kennedy told me that he expected to meet with some difficulties for the first few days, from the nature of the country he had seen from the hill. I did not mention this to the rest of the party, for fear it might still further tend to depress their spirits, as three or four of them. even now seemed to despair of ever reaching our destination. I did all in my power to keep them in good heart, but they were saddened and depressed from long suffering.

We removed our camp back across the creek to the side of the high bare hill on which I was to hoist a flag, and from which I could look out for a vessel. It also afforded us a security from the natives, as we could see them at a greater distance. The latitude of this camp was 12° 35’ S.

And thus we settled down in the spot which was to be the burial place of so many of our party — which was fated to be the scene of so much intense suffering, and of such heart-sickening hope deferred. Wearied out by long endurance of trials that would have tried the courage and shaken the fortitude of the strongest, a sort of sluggish indifference prevailed, that prevented the development of those active energies which were so necessary to support us in our critical position. The duties of our camp were performed as if by habit, and knowing how utterly useless complaint must be, the men seldom repined aloud.

November 14. — We killed the smallest horse early this morning, and had all the meat cut up and on the stage to dry by nine o’clock. I made the blood, heart, liver, kidneys, and tripe last us three days, as they would not keep longer, and we mixed our allowance of flour with them We had no salt to season them with, as all our salt was required to put in the blood to. prevent it turning sour. The heat during this day was very great, the thermometer at noon in the shade standing at 110°. Douglas was very weak. The natives came this afternoon, but did not stay long.

November 16. — The natives this day brought us a few small pieces of fish, but it was old, and hardly eatable. I would not allow them to come near the camp, but made signs to them to sit down at a distance, and when they had done so I went to them and gave them a few fish hooks. Douglas died this morning, and we buried him at dusk when the natives were gone, and I read the funeral service over him.

He was the first of our party we had lost, and his death, the sad precursor of so many more, cast an additional gloom over us.

November 18. — The natives came and brought some of their gins (wives) with them. They would only allow one of us at a time to go near them. The women wore very neatly fringed girdles hanging loose about their loins, and shaded themselves with large fan-palm leaves. The girdles were made of the leaves of the CORDYLINE. Both men and women were very stout, strong, well-made people — some of the men standing six feet high. They brought us some fish, which they called “Mingii,” but it was such as they would not even eat themselves; also a kind of paste, made of different kinds of leaves and roots, mixed with the inside of the roasted mangrove seeds, all pounded up together, then heated over a fire in a large shell. This paste they call “Dakiaa.” Although we did not much like the taste of the paste, and it was very full of sand. we eat some of it as a vegetable.

November 19. — This morning about fifty or sixty natives, all strongly armed with spears, made their appearance, and by their gestures and manner it was quite evident they intended to attack us if opportunity offered. As we always kept our fire-arms in readiness, we stood out in a line, with our guns in our hands. I made signs to them to keep back, but they pretended not to understand us, holding up pieces of fish, crying out mingii, mingii, (fish, fish,) to induce us to come for them, but their designs upon us were too transparent for that. They kept us standing a good while, for I was anxious to refrain from firing on them if possible, and at length they left us without any actually hostile demonstration. Being Sunday, I read prayers today.

November 20. — Taylor died this morning, and we buried him in the evening, by the side of Douglas, and I read the funeral service over him.

November 21. — About sixty natives came to the camp this morning, well armed with spears, and pieces of fish, which they held up to us, to entice us to come to them. We took no notice, however, of their invitations, but preparing our fire-arms, we turned out.

They were now closing round us in all directions, many of them with their spears in their womeras, ready for throwing; pointing them to their own necks and sides, and showing us by their postures how we should writhe with pain when they struck us.

Then they would change their tactics and again endeavour to persuade us that they meant us no harm, but they would not lay down their spears. Some of them seemed inclined to go away, but others appeared determined to attack us. After keeping us standing about an hour, eleven spears were thrown at us. Three of my party then fired, slightly wounding one of them, when they all immediately ran away as fast as they could. Some of them, however, remained hovering in sight for some time after.

Three of the spears that were thrown fell short of us, the rest passing very close, but fortunately no one was hurt; the three spears which passed us were barbed with bone, and were very heavy.

Sunday, 26. — Carpenter died this morning; the poor fellow did not suffer acutely on the approach of death, but the animal energies were destroyed, and they withered away one after another, without pain or struggle. At eleven o’clock, being Sunday, I read prayers, and in the evening we buried our late companion, in the bed of the creek, and I read the funeral service over him. The natives came again this morning, leaving their spears at a distance, and brought us a few small fish; but remembering their former treachery, we took but little notice of them and showed them they could only expect kind treatment from us, so long as they themselves continued peaceable. During the last few days we shot a few pigeons and parrots; also a small blue crane.

November 27. — We killed another horse this morning, and had the meat all cut up and on the stage by nine o’clock, with all the appearance of a fine day to dry it. But about eleven o’clock a heavy thunder storm came on, and it rained all day. I kept a fire burning near the stage all night.

November 28. — We were very uneasy at the continued wet weather, as it threatened to destroy the scanty remains of our provision, the flesh already beginning to smell very bad.

November 29. — It was raining heavily all day, and our meat became almost putrid.

November 30. — This day a fresh breeze blew, and there was no rain; I cut up all the meat that would hold together into thin slices, but a great deal of it was quite rotten. The blood puddings, tripe, feet, and bones, lasted us till this day. I saved the hide of this horse for ourselves, the other I had fed our dogs on; Mr. Kennedy having requested me to keep them alive if possible, so that we had to spare a little from our scanty meals for them.

December 1. — The wind was blowing strong from the south-east this morning. On going up the hill in the afternoon I saw a schooner from the northward beating to the southward. I supposed her to be the Bramble, as it was about the time Mr. Kennedy had given me expectation of being relieved by water, and I afterwards found I was right in this supposition.

I naturally concluded she had come for us; and full of hope and joy I immediately hoisted a flag on a staff we had previously erected, on a part of the hill where it could be seen from any part of the bay. We placed a ball above the flag to put the crew on their guard against the natives. We then collected a quantity of wood, and at dusk lighted a fire, and kept it burning till about half-past seven or eight o’clock. I then fired off three rockets one after the other, at intervals of about twenty minutes. I also took a large pistol up the hill, and stood for some time firing it as quickly as I could load it, thinking they might perhaps see the flash of that, if they had not seen the rockets.

December 2. — Early this morning I was up, straining my eyes to catch a view of the bay, and at length saw the schooner standing in to the shore; and during the forenoon a boat was lowered. I now made quite certain they were coming for us, and thinking they might come up the creek in the boat for some distance, I hastened down the hill, and began to pack up a few things, determined to keep them waiting for our luggage to longer than I could help. I looked anxiously for them all the afternoon, wondering much at their delay in coming, until at last I went up the hill, just in time to see the schooner passing the bay. I cannot describe the feeling of despair and desolation which I in common with the rest of our party experienced as we gazed on the vessel as she fast faded from our view. On the very brink of starvation and death — death in the lone wilderness, peopled only with the savage denizens of the forest, who even then were thirsting for our blood — hope, sure and certain hope, had for one brief moment gladdened our hearts with the consoling assurance, that after our many many trials, and protracted sufferings, we were again about to find comfort and safety. The bright expectancy faded; and although we strove to persuade ourselves that the vessel was not the Bramble, our hearts sank within us in deep despondency.

December 4. — We yesterday finished our scanty remnant of flour; and our little store of meat, which we had been able to dry, could have but very little nourishment in it.

Goddard and I went to the beach and got a bag of shellfish, but found it very difficult to get back to the camp through the mangroves, we were in so weak a state.

December 7. — This day I took Mitchell with me to the beach, and procured another bag of shell-fish. During the last few days we shot a very small wallaby and three or four Torres’ Straits pigeons. These afforded us some relief, as our horse-flesh was so very bitter, that nothing but unendurable hunger could have induced us to eat it.

A number of small brown beetles were generated from it, which eat it, and we were also much annoyed by flies. We all suffered more or less from bad eyes.

December 9. — The natives visited us this morning, and brought with them a few pieces of turtles’ entrails and a few nondas. I gave them an old shirt and a knife, the latter of which was highly prized by them. They call turtle “mallii,” and the sun “youmboll.”

Goddard had a fit of ague today, followed by fever.

December 10. — We all of us had fits of ague this morning and we could none of us get up till afternoon, when, being Sunday, I read prayers.

December 11. — The natives came this morning, and brought us a little vegetable paste, and some pieces of turtle’s entrails, with some shark’s liver. The latter was fresh, but one could not eat it, as it all melted into a yellowish oil, when boiled for a few minutes. I gave them a few fish-hooks, but found it very difficult to get them to leave the camp.

December 13. — This morning Mitchell was found dead by the side of the creek, with his feet in the water. He must have gone down at night to get water, but too much exhausted to perform his task, had sat down and died there. None of us being strong enough to dig a grave for him, we sewed the body in a blanket, with a few stones to sink it, and then put it into the brackish water.

December 15. — The thermometer fell this morning and was broken. It was raining heavily all day, and two bags of my seeds, and several other little things, were washed out of the tent by the water which ran down the hill. We were all very ill and weak.

December 16. — It was raining this morning, and we remained in the tent. Hearing one of our dogs barking, however, I went out and saw several natives with pieces of fish and turtle, which when I had taken from them they left us.

The natives brought us some roasted nymphea roots, which they call Dillii. During the last few days we shot seven pigeons. Wall and Goddard used to go into the scrub and sit beneath a tree, to which they used to come for berries to feed their young, and watching their opportunity, shoot them.

December 21. — Our kangaroo dog being very weak, and unable to catch anything, we killed, and lived on him for two days. There was very little flesh on his bones, but our dried meat was so bad, that we very much enjoyed the remains of our old companion, and drank the water in which we boiled him.

December 24. — The natives took a tin case from Wall whilst he was talking to them, he not being able to resist them. My legs had swelled very much, and I was able to walk but a very short distance.

December 26. — The natives brought us a few pieces of fish and. turtle, but it was almost rotten; they also gave us a blue-tongued lizard, which I opened and took out eleven young ones, which we roasted and ate. There was nothing but scales on the old one, except in its tail.

We always equally divided whatever we got from the natives, be it what it might; but they brought us very little that was eatable. I could easily perceive that their pretended good feeling towards us was assumed for the sake of fulfilling their own designs upon us. Although they tried to make us believe they were doing all in their power to benefit us, their object was to obtain an opportunity of coming upon us by surprise and destroying us.

They had at many times seen the fatal effects of our fire-arms, and I believe that it was only the dread of these, that prevented them from falling upon us at once, and murdering us. They were a much finer race of men than the natives we had seen at Rockingham Bay, most of the men being from five feet ten to six feet high. The general characteristics of the race were different from those of the other aborigines I had ever seen, and I imagined that they might be an admixture of the Australian tribes and the Malays, or Murray Islanders. Some of them had large bushy whiskers, with no hair on their chins or upper lips, having the appearance of being regularly shaved.

It would be almost impossible for any class of men to excel these fellows, in the seeming and versatile cunning with which they strove to disguise their schemes of treachery.

In fine weather I always had our fire-arms standing out for them to see, and once or twice every night I fired off a pistol, to let them know we were on the look-out by night as well as by day.

December 28. — Niblett and Wall both died this morning; Niblett was quite dead when I got up, and Wall, though alive, was unable to speak; they were neither of them up the day previous. I had been talking with them both, endeavouring to encourage them to hope on, to the last, but sickness, privation, and fatigue had overcome them, and they abandoned themselves to a calm and listless despair. We had got two pigeons the day before, which in the evening were boiled and divided between us, as well as the water they were boiled in. Niblett had eaten his pigeon, and drank the water, but Wall had only drank the water and eaten part of his half pigeon. About eleven o’clock, about fifty natives, armed with spears, and many of them painted with a yellowish earth, made their appearance in the vicinity of our camp. There were natives of several strange tribes amongst them. They were well aware that neither Niblett nor Wall was able to resist them, if they did not know they were dead. They also knew that we were very weak, although I always endeavoured as much as possible to keep that fact from them. This morning when I made signs to them to lay down their spears they all paid no attention, with the exception of two, who had been in the habit of coming very frequently to the camp. These two came running up quite close to us, without their spears, and endeavoured to persuade one of us to go across a small dry creek, for a fish which another of the rascals was holding up to tempt us. They tried various methods to draw our attention from the rest, who were drawing their spears along the ground, with their feet, closing gradually round us, and running from tree to tree, to hide their spears behind them. Others lay on their backs on the long grass, and were working their way towards us, unnoticed, as they supposed.

Goddard and myself stood with our guns in readiness and our pistols by our sides for about two hours, when I fell from excessive weakness. When I got up we thought it best to send them away at once, or stand our chance of being speared in the attempt, both of us being unable to stand any longer. We presented our guns at the two by our side, making signs to them to send the others away, or we would shoot them immediately. This they did, and they ran off in all directions without a spear being thrown or a shot fired.

We had many times tried to catch fish in the creek during our stay at Weymouth Bay, with our fishing lines, but never could get as much as a bite at the bait.

As the evening came on, there came with it the painful task of removing the bodies of our unfortunate companions who had died in the morning. We had riot strength to make the smallest hole in the ground as a grave; but after great exertion we succeeded in removing the bodies to a small patch of phyllanthus scrub, about four feet high, and eighty yards from the tent. We then laid them side by side, and covered them with a few small branches. and this was all the burial we were enabled to give them.

December 29. — Goddard went into the scrub, and shot three pigeons. We ate one of them at night, and the others we reserved till next day. Our bowels were greatly relaxed, which was partly stayed by eating a few nondas, which we got occasionally.

The six weeks having expired, which Mr. Kennedy had led me to expect would be the longest period we should have to wait, I now began to fear the rainy season had set in, and filled the creeks to the northward, so that his party had been unable to cross them, or that some untoward accident had happened, which prevented us being relieved.

I did not quite despair, but I knew that we could not live long. Our shot was almost consumed, not having more than eight or ten charges left, and although we had plenty of ball, we were too weak to attempt to form any plan to make shot. Our sole remaining companion, the sheep dog, I intended to kill in a day or two, but he would not last long, as he was nothing but skin and bone.

December 30. — Early this morning we ate the two pigeons left yesterday, and boiled each a quart of tea, from the leaves we had left; but we had not had any fresh tea to put into the pot for some time. Goddard then went into the bush, to try to get another pigeon or two, and if the natives made their appearance, I was to fire a pistol to recall him to the camp. After he had been gone, I saw natives coming toward the camp, and I immediately fired a pistol; but before Goddard could come back they were into the camp, and handed me a piece of paper, very much dirtied and torn. I was sure, from the first, by their manner, that there was a vessel in the Bay. The paper was a note to me from Captain Dobson, of the schooner Ariel, but it was so dirtied and torn that I could only read part of it.

For a minute or two I was almost senseless with the joy which the hope of our deliverance inspired. I made the natives a few presents, and gave them a note to Captain Dobson, which I made them easily understand I wanted them to take to that gentleman. I was in hopes they would then have gone, but I soon found they had other intentions. A great many natives were coming from all quarters well armed with spears. I had given a shirt to the one who had brought the note, and put it on him; but I saw him throw down the note and pull off the shirt, and picking up his spears lie joined the rest, who were preparing to attack us. We were expecting every moment to be attacked and murdered by these savages, our newly awakened hope already beginning to fail, when we saw Captain Dobson and Dr. Vallack, accompanied by Jackey and a man named Barrett, who had been wounded a few days before in the arm by a barbed spear, approaching towards us, across the creek. I and my companion, who was preserved with me, must ever be grateful for the prompt courage with which these persons, at the risk of their own lives, came to our assistance, through, the scrub and mangroves, a distance of about three miles, surrounded as they were all the way by a large number of armed natives.

I was reduced almost to a skeleton. The elbow bone of my right arm was through the skin, as also the bone of my right hip. My legs also were swollen to an enormous size. Goddard walked to the boat, but I could not do so without the assistance of Captain Dobson and Dr. Vallack, and I had to be carried altogether a part of the distance. The others, Jackey and Barrett, kept a look out for the blacks. We were unable to bring many things from the camp. The principal were, the fire-arms and one parcel of my seeds, which I had managed to keep dry, containing eighty-seven species. All my specimens were left behind, which I regretted very much: for, though much injured, they contained specimens of very beautiful trees, shrubs, and ORCHIDEAE. I could also only secure an abstract of my journal, except that portion of it from 13th November to 30th December, which I have in full. My original journal, with a botanical work which had been kindly lent me by a friend in Sydney for the expedition, was left behind. We got safely on board the Ariel; and after a very long passage, arrived in Sydney.

I am confident that no man could have done more for the safety of the party than was done by Mr. Kennedy, nor could any man have exerted himself more than he, in the most distressing circumstances of our perilous journey. He walked by far the greater part of the distance, giving his own horses for the use of the weak men, and the general service of the expedition. I never rode but two hours all through the journey, and that was on two successive days when we were in the vicinity of Cape Sidmouth, and I was suffering from bad feet.

The unfortunate death of our brave and generous leader, deeply and extensively as I know it to have been lamented, can have no more sincere mourner than myself.

The tale of his sufferings and those of his party has already been read and sympathised over by hundreds, and it would ill become me to add anything to the artless narrative of the faithful and truehearted Jackey, who having tended his last moments, and closed his eyes, was the first, perhaps the most disinterested, bewailer of his unhappy fate.

State of the Weather at Weymouth Bay, from 14th November to the 14th December, 1848.

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MONTH. |  THERMOMETER-SHADE.    |       WIND.       |   REMARKS.
       |  Sunrise. Noon. Sunset.| Morning.  Evening.|
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Nov. 14      82     110    84       N.E.     S.E.
   15        86      98    90       S.E.
   16        79      98    84       S.W.            Light shower in the
                                                    evening, with thunder
                                                    and lightning
   17        82      96    84       S.E.
   18        84      105   94       S.E.
   19        88      102   92       S.E.            Thunder and lightning.
   20        86      98    85       S.W.
   21        88      96    82       S.E.
   22        82      91    85       S.W.
   23        81      94    88       S.E.
   24        81      98    88       S.E.     S.W.            [the evening.
   25        79      98    86       S E.     W.     Heavy thunder-storm in
   26        81      96    86       S.W.            Ditto ditto morning.
   27        78      85    79       S.W.            Heavy rain from 11 A.M.
                                                    till 7 P.M.
   28        80      86    81       S.W.            Heavy rain all day.
   29        78      84    79       S.              Ditto ditto.
   30        88      90    90       W.       S.W.
Dec. 1.      85      95    83       S.E.            Strong breeze.
   2         84      95    83       S.E.            Ditto ditto.
   3         83      96    87       S.E.            Ditto ditto.
   4         82      100   88       S.E.            Ditto ditto.
   5         80      93    85       S.E.     W.     Strong gale at evening.
   6         80      97    84       S.E.
   7         84      102   90       S.E.     N.E.
   8         78      99    86       S.E.            Thunder at evening.
   9         82      107   86       N.       N.E.   Light wind.
   10        84      92    87       N.E.     S.E.
   11        89      98    89       S.E.            Heavy shower at 10 A.M.
   12        82      93    82       S.W.            Heavy rain all day.
   13        80      89    81       S.W.     S.E.
   14        80      91    82       S.W.
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