Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 2.10. From 20th April to 21st May, 1874.

Gibson and I depart for the west. His brother with Franklin. Desert oaks. Smoked horse. Ants innumerable. Turn two horses back. Kegs in a tree. No views. Instinct of horses. Sight a distant range. Gibson's horse dies. Give him the remaining one. The last ever seen of him. Alone in the desert. Carry a keg. Unconscious. Where is the relief party. A dying wallaby. Footfalls of a galloping horse. Reach the depot. Exhausted. Search for the lost. Gibson's Desert. Another smoke-house. Jimmy attacked at Fort McKellar. Another equine victim. Final retreat decided upon. Marks of floods. Peculiarity of the climate. Remarks on the region. Three natives visit us.

The Circus.

APRIL 20TH, 1874.

Gibson and I having got all the gear we required, took a week's supply of smoked horse, and four excellent horses, two to ride, and two to carry water, all in fine condition. I rode the Fair Maid of Perth, an excellent walker; I gave Gibson the big ambling horse, Badger, and we packed the big cob, a splendid bay horse and fine weight-carrier, with a pair of waterbags that contained twenty gallons at starting. The other horse was Darkie, a fine, strong, nuggetty-black horse, who carried two five-gallon kegs of water and our stock of smoked horse, rugs, etc. We reached the Circus, at twenty miles, early, and the horses had time to feed and fill themselves after being watered, though the grass was very poor.


While I went for the horses Gibson topped up the water-bags and kegs, and poured a quantity of water out of the hole on to a shallow place, so that if we turned any horses back, they could drink without precipitating themselves into the deep and slippery hole when they returned here. As we rode away, I remarked to Gibson that the day, was the anniversary of Burke and Wills's return to their depot at Cooper's Creek, and then recited to him, as he did not appear to know anything whatever about it, the hardships they endured, their desperate struggles for existence, and death there, and I casually remarked that Wills had a brother who also lost his life in the field of discovery. He had gone out with Sir John Franklin in 1845. Gibson then said, “Oh! I had a brother who died with Franklin at the North Pole, and my father had a deal of trouble to get his pay from government.” He seemed in a very jocular vein this morning, which was not often the case, for he was usually rather sulky, sometimes for days together, and he said, “How is it, that in all these exploring expeditions a lot of people go and die?” I said, “I don't know, Gibson, how it is, but there are many dangers in exploring, besides accidents and attacks from the natives, that may at any time cause the death of some of the people engaged in it; but I believe want of judgment, or knowledge, or courage in individuals, often brought about their deaths. Death, however, is a thing that must occur to every one sooner or later.” To this he replied, “Well, I shouldn't like to die in this part of the country, anyhow.” In this sentiment I quite agreed with him, and the subject dropped. At eleven miles we were not only clear of the range, but had crossed to the western side of Lake Christopher, and were fairly enclosed in the sandhills, which were of course covered with triodia. Numerous fine casuarinas grew in the hollows between them, and some stunted blood-wood-trees, (red gum,) ornamented the tops of some of the sandhills. At twenty-two miles, on a west course, we turned the horses out for an hour. It was very warm, there was no grass. The horses rested in the shade of a desert oak-tree, while we remained under another. These trees are very handsome, with round umbrageous tops, the leaves are round and fringe-like. We had a meal of smoked horse; and here I discovered that the bag with our supply of horseflesh in it held but a most inadequate supply for two of us for a week, there being scarcely sufficient for one. Gibson had packed it at starting, and I had not previously seen it. The afternoon was oppressively hot — at least it always seems so when one is away from water. We got over an additional eighteen miles, making a day's stage of forty.

The country was all sandhills. The Rawlinson Range completely disappeared from view, even from the tops of the highest sandhills, at thirty-five miles. The travelling, though heavy enough, had not been so frightful as I had anticipated, for the lines of sandhills mostly ran east and west, and by turning about a bit we got several hollows between them to travel in. Had we been going north or south, north-easterly or south-westerly, it would have been dreadfully severe. The triodia here reigns supreme, growing in enormous bunches and plots, and standing three and four feet high, while many of the long dry tops are as high as a man. This gives the country the appearance of dry grassy downs; and as it is dotted here and there with casuarina and blood-wood-trees, and small patches of desert shrubs, its general appearance is by no means displeasing to the eye, though frightful to the touch. No sign of the recent presence of natives was anywhere visible, nor had the triodia been burnt for probably many years. At night we got what we in this region may be excused for calling a grass flat, there being some bunches of a thin and wiry kind of grass, though white and dry as a chip. I never saw the horses eat more than a mouthful or two of it anywhere, but there was nothing else, and no water.


The ants were so troublesome last night, I had to shift my bed several times. Gibson was not at all affected by them, and slept well. We were in our saddles immediately after daylight. I was in hopes that a few miles might bring about a change of country, and so it did, but not an advantageous one to us. At ten miles from camp the horizon became flatter, the sandhills fell off, and the undulations became covered with brown gravel, at first very fine. At fifty-five miles it became coarser, and at sixty miles it was evident the country was becoming firmer, if not actually stony. Here we turned the horses out, having come twenty miles. I found one of our large waterbags leaked more than I expected, and our supply of water was diminishing with distance. Here Gibson preferred to keep the big cob to ride, against my advice, instead of Badger, so, after giving Badger and Darkie a few pints of water each, Gibson drove them back on the tracks about a mile and let them go, to take their own time and find their own way back to the Circus. They both looked terribly hollow and fatigued, and went away very slowly. Sixty miles through such a country as this tells fearfully upon a horse. The poor brutes were very unwilling to leave us, as they knew we had some water, and they also knew what a fearful region they had before them to reach the Circus again.

We gave the two remaining horses all the water contained in the two large water-bags, except a quart or two for ourselves. This allowed them a pretty fair drink, though not a circumstance to what they would have swallowed. They fed a little, while we remained here. The day was warm enough. The two five-gallon kegs with water we hung in the branches of a tree, with the packsaddles, empty water-bags, etc. of the other two horses. Leaving the Kegs — I always called this place by that name — we travelled another twenty miles by night, the country being still covered with small stones and thickly clothed with the tall triodia. There were thin patches of mulga and mallee scrub occasionally. No view could be obtained to the west; all round us, north, south, east, and west, were alike, the undulations forming the horizons were not generally more than seven or eight miles distant from one another, and when we reached the rim or top of one, we obtained exactly the same view for the next seven or eight miles. The country still retained all the appearance of fine, open, dry, grassy downs, and the triodia tops waving in the heated breeze had all the semblance of good grass. The afternoon had been very oppressive, and the horses were greatly disinclined to exert themselves, though my mare went very well. It was late by the time we encamped, and the horses were much in want of water, especially the big cob, who kept coming up to the camp all night, and tried to get at our water-bags, pannikins, etc. The instinct of a horse when in the first stage of thirst in getting hold of any utensil that ever had water in it, is surprising and most annoying, but teaching us by most persuasive reasons how akin they are to human things. We had one small water-bag hung in a tree. I did not think of this just at the moment, when my mare came straight up to it and took it in her teeth, forcing out the cork and sending the water up, which we were both dying to drink, in a beautiful jet, which, descending to earth, was irrevocably lost. We now had only a pint or two left. Gibson was now very sorry he had exchanged Badger for the cob, as he found the cob very dull and heavy to get on; this was not usual, for he was generally a most willing animal, but he would only go at a jog while my mare was a fine walker. There had been a hot wind from the north all day. The following morning (23rd) there was a most strange dampness in the air, and I had a vague feeling, such as must have been felt by augurs, and seers of old, who trembled as they told, events to come; for this was the last day on which I ever saw Gibson. It was a lamentable day in the history of this expedition. The horizon to the west was hid in clouds. We left the camp even before daylight, and as we had camped on the top of a rim, we knew we had seven or eight miles to go before another view could be obtained. The next rim was at least ten miles from the camp, and there was some slight indications of a change.

First View of the Alfred and Marie Range.

We were now ninety miles from the Circus water, and 110 from Fort McKellar. The horizon to the west was still obstructed by another rise three or four miles away; but to the west-north-west I could see a line of low stony ridges, ten miles off. To the south was an isolated little hill, six or seven miles away. I determined to go to the ridges, when Gibson complained that his horse could never reach them, and suggested that the next rise to the west might reveal something better in front. The ridges were five miles away, and there were others still farther preventing a view. When we reached them we had come ninety-eight miles from the Circus. Here Gibson, who was always behind, called out and said his horse was going to die, or knock up, which are synonymous terms in this region. Now we had reached a point where at last a different view was presented to us, and I believed a change of country was at hand, for the whole western, down to the south-western, horizon was broken by lines of ranges, being most elevated at the south-western end. They were all notched and irregular, and I believed formed the eastern extreme of a more elevated and probably mountainous region to the west. The ground we now stood upon, and for a mile or two past, was almost a stony hill itself, and for the first time in all the distance we had come, we had reached a spot where water might run during rain, though we had not seen any place where it could lodge. Between us and the hilly horizon to the west the country seemed to fall into a kind of long valley, and it looked dark, and seemed to have timber in it, and here also the natives had formerly burnt the spinifex, but not recently. The hills to the west were twenty-five to thirty miles away, and it was with extreme regret I was compelled to relinquish a farther attempt to reach them. Oh, how ardently I longed for a camel! how ardently I gazed upon this scene! At this moment I would even my jewel eternal, have sold for power to span the gulf that lay between! But it could not be, situated as I was; compelled to retreat — of course with the intention of coming again with a larger supply of water — now the sooner I retreated the better. These far-off hills were named the Alfred and Marie Range, in honour of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. Gibson's horse having got so bad had placed us both in a great dilemma; indeed, ours was a most critical position. We turned back upon our tracks, when the cob refused to carry his rider any farther, and tried to lie down. We drove him another mile on foot, and down he fell to die. My mare, the Fair Maid of Perth, was only too willing to return; she had now to carry Gibson's saddle and things, and we went away walking and riding by turns of half an hour. The cob, no doubt, died where he fell; not a second thought could be bestowed on him.

When we got back to about thirty miles from the Kegs I was walking, and having concluded in my mind what course to pursue, I called to Gibson to halt till I walked up to him. We were both excessively thirsty, for walking had made us so, and we had scarcely a pint of water left between us. However, of what we had we each took a mouthful, which finished the supply, and I then said — for I couldn't speak before —“Look here, Gibson, you see we are in a most terrible fix with only one horse, therefore only one can ride, and one must remain behind. I shall remain: and now listen to me. If the mare does not get water soon she will die; therefore ride right on; get to the Kegs, if possible, to-night, and give her water. Now the cob is dead there'll be all the more for her; let her rest for an hour or two, and then get over a few more miles by morning, so that early to-morrow you will sight the Rawlinson, at twenty-five miles from the Kegs. Stick to the tracks, and never leave them. Leave as much water in one keg for me as you can afford after watering the mare and filling up your own bags, and, remember, I depend upon you to bring me relief. Rouse Mr. Tietkens, get fresh horses and more water-bags, and return as soon as you possibly can. I shall of course endeavour to get down the tracks also.”

The Last Ever Seen of Gibson

He then said if he had a compass he thought he could go better at night. I knew he didn't understand anything about compasses, as I had often tried to explain them to him. The one I had was a Gregory's Patent, of a totally different construction from ordinary instruments of the kind, and I was very loth to part with it, as it was the only one I had. However, he was so anxious for it that I gave it him, and he departed. I sent one final shout after him to stick to the tracks, to which he replied, “All right,” and the mare carried him out of sight almost immediately. That was the last ever seen of Gibson.

I walked slowly on, and the further I walked the more thirsty I became. I had thirty miles to go to reach the Kegs, which I could not reach until late to-morrow at the rate I was travelling, and I did not feel sure that I could keep on at that. The afternoon was very hot. I continued following the tracks until the moon went down, and then had to stop. The night was reasonably cool, but I was parched and choking for water. How I longed again for morning! I hoped Gibson had reached the Kegs, and that he and the mare were all right. I could not sleep for thirst, although towards morning it became almost cold. How I wished this planet would for once accelerate its movements and turn upon its axis in twelve instead of twenty-four hours, or rather that it would complete its revolution in six hours.


Alone in the Desert.

So soon as it was light I was again upon the horse tracks, and reached the Kegs about the middle of the day. Gibson had been here, and watered the mare, and gone on. He had left me a little over two gallons of water in one keg, and it may be imagined how glad I was to get a drink. I could have drunk my whole supply in half an hour, but was compelled to economy, for I could not tell how many days would elapse before assistance could come: it could not be less than five, it might be many more. After quenching my thirst a little I felt ravenously hungry, and on searching among the bags, all the food I could find was eleven sticks of dirty, sandy, smoked horse, averaging about an ounce and a half each, at the bottom of a pack-bag. I was rather staggered to find that I had little more than a pound weight of meat to last me until assistance came. However, I was compelled to eat some at once, and devoured two sticks raw, as I had no water to spare to boil them in.

After this I sat in what shade the trees afforded, and reflected on the precariousness of my position. I was sixty miles from water, and eighty from food, my messenger could hardly return before six days, and I began to think it highly probable that I should be dead of hunger and thirst long before anybody could possibly arrive. I looked at the keg; it was an awkward thing to carry empty. There was nothing else to carry water in, as Gibson had taken all the smaller water-bags, and the large ones would require several gallons of water to soak the canvas before they began to tighten enough to hold water. The keg when empty, with its rings and straps, weighed fifteen pounds, and now it had twenty pounds of water in it. I could not carry it without a blanket for a pad for my shoulder, so that with my revolver and cartridge-pouch, knife, and one or two other small things on my belt, I staggered under a weight of about fifty pounds when I put the keg on my back. I only had fourteen matches.

After I had thoroughly digested all points of my situation, I concluded that if I did not help myself Providence wouldn't help me. I started, bent double by the keg, and could only travel so slowly that I thought it scarcely worth while to travel at all. I became so thirsty at each step I took, that I longed to drink up every drop of water I had in the keg, but it was the elixir of death I was burdened with, and to drink it was to die, so I restrained myself. By next morning I had only got about three miles away from the Kegs, and to do that I travelled mostly in the moonlight. The next few days I can only pass over as they seemed to pass with me, for I was quite unconscious half the time, and I only got over about five miles a day.

To people who cannot comprehend such a region it may seem absurd that a man could not travel faster than that. All I can say is, there may be men who could do so, but most men in the position I was in would simply have died of hunger and thirst, for by the third or fourth day — I couldn't tell which — my horse meat was all gone. I had to remain in what scanty shade I could find during the day, and I could only travel by night.

When I lay down in the shade in the morning I lost all consciousness, and when I recovered my senses I could not tell whether one day or two or three had passed. At one place I am sure I must have remained over forty-eight hours. At a certain place on the road — that is to say, on the horse tracks — at about fifteen miles from the Kegs — at twenty-five miles the Rawlinson could again be sighted — I saw that the tracks of the two loose horses we had turned back from there had left the main line of tracks, which ran east and west, and had turned about east-south-east, and the tracks of the Fair Maid of Perth, I was grieved to see, had gone on them also. I felt sure Gibson would soon find his error, and return to the main line. I was unable to investigate this any farther in my present position. I followed them about a mile, and then returned to the proper line, anxiously looking at every step to see if Gibson's horse tracks returned into them.

They never did, nor did the loose horse tracks either. Generally speaking, whenever I saw a shady desert oak-tree there was an enormous bulldog ants' nest under it, and I was prevented from sitting in its shade. On what I thought was the 27th I almost gave up the thought of walking any farther, for the exertion in this dreadful region, where the triodia was almost as high as myself, and as thick as it could grow, was quite overpowering, and being starved, I felt quite light-headed. After sitting down, on every occasion when I tried to get up again, my head would swim round, and I would fall down oblivious for some time. Being in a chronic state of burning thirst, my general plight was dreadful in the extreme. A bare and level sandy waste would have been Paradise to walk over compared to this. My arms, legs, thighs, both before and behind, were so punctured with spines, it was agony only to exist; the slightest movement and in went more spines, where they broke off in the clothes and flesh, causing the whole of the body that was punctured to gather into minute pustules, which were continually growing and bursting. My clothes, especially inside my trousers, were a perfect mass of prickly points.

My great hope and consolation now was that I might soon meet the relief party. But where was the relief party? Echo could only answer — where? About the 29th I had emptied the keg, and was still over twenty miles from the Circus. Ah! who can imagine what twenty miles means in such a case? But in this April's ivory moonlight I plodded on, desolate indeed, but all undaunted, on this lone, unhallowed shore. At last I reached the Circus, just at the dawn of day. Oh, how I drank! how I reeled! how hungry I was! how thankful I was that I had so far at least escaped from the jaws of that howling wilderness, for I was once more upon the range, though still twenty miles from home.

There was no sign of the tracks, of any one having been here since I left it. The water was all but gone. The solitary eagle still was there. I wondered what could have become of Gibson; he certainly had never come here, and how could he reach the fort without doing so?

I was in such a miserable state of mind and body, that I refrained from more vexatious speculations as to what had delayed him: I stayed here, drinking and drinking, until about ten a.m., when I crawled away over the stones down from the water. I was very footsore, and could only go at a snail's pace. Just as I got clear of the bank of the creek, I heard a faint squeak, and looking about I saw, and immediately caught, a small dying wallaby, whose marsupial mother had evidently thrown it from her pouch. It only weighed about two ounces, and was scarcely furnished yet with fur. The instant I saw it, like an eagle I pounced upon it and ate it, living, raw, dying — fur, skin, bones, skull, and all. The delicious taste of that creature I shall never forget. I only wished I had its mother and father to serve in the same way. I had become so weak that by late at night, I had only accomplished eleven miles, and I lay down about five miles from the Gorge of Tarns, again choking for water. While lying down here, I thought I heard the sound of the foot-falls of a galloping horse going campwards, and vague ideas of Gibson on the Fair Maid — or she without him — entered my head. I stood up, and listened, but the sound had died away upon the midnight air. On the 1st of May, as I afterwards found, at one o'clock in the morning, I was walking again, and reached the Gorge of Tarns long before daylight, and could again indulge in as much water as I desired; but it was exhaustion I suffered from, and I could hardly move.

My reader may imagine with what intense feelings of relief I stepped over the little bridge across the water, staggered into the camp at daylight, and woke Mr. Tietkens, who stared at me as though I had been one, new risen from the dead. I asked him had he seen Gibson, and to give me some food. I was of course prepared to hear that Gibson had never reached the camp; indeed I could see but two people in their blankets the moment I entered the fort, and by that I knew he could not be there. None of the horses had come back, and it appeared that I was the only one of six living creatures — two men and four horses — that had returned, or were now ever likely to return, from that desert, for it was now, as I found, nine days since I last saw Gibson.

Mr. Tietkens told me he had been in a great state of anxiety during my absence, and had only returned an hour or two before from the Circus. This accounted for the sounds I heard. He said he had planted some smoked horsesticks, and marked a tree. This was a few hours after I had left it in the morning. He said he saw my foot-marks, but could not conclude that I could be on foot alone, and he thought the tracks must be older than they looked. Any how, we had missed meeting one another somewhere on the range. We were both equally horrified at Gibson's mischance. When we woke Jimmy up he was delighted to see me, but when told about Gibson, he said something about he knowed he worn't no good in the bush, but as long as I had returned, etc., etc. I told them both just what had occurred out there; how Gibson and I had parted company, and we could only conclude that he must be dead, or he would long before have returned. The mare certainly would have carried him to the Circus, and then he must have reached the depot; but it was evident that he had gone wrong, had lost himself, and must now be dead. I was too much exhausted and too prostrate to move from the camp to search for him to-day, but determined to start to-morrow. Mr. Tietkens got everything ready, while I remained in a state of semi-stupor. I was cramped with pains in all my joints, pains in the stomach, and violent headaches, the natural result of having a long-empty stomach suddenly filled. Gibson's loss and my struggles formed the topic of conversation for most of the day, and it naturally shed a gloom over our spirits. Here we were, isolated from civilisation, out of humanity's reach, hundreds of miles away from our fellow creatures, and one of our small party had gone from us. It was impossible for him to be still in existence in that fearful desert, as no man would or could stay there alive: he must be dead, or he would have returned as I did, only much sooner, for the mare he had, would carry him as far in a day as I could walk in a week in this country.

The days had not lately been excessively hot, Mr. Tietkens said 96 to 98° had been the average, but to-day it was only 90°. This afternoon it was very cloudy, and threatened to rain. I was now, however, in hopes that none would fall. That evil spirit of this scene — Mount Destruction — frowned upon us, and now that Gibson was dead, exploration was ended; we had but to try to find his remains, and any little trifling shower that fell would make it all the more difficult to trace him, while a thorough downpour would obliterate the tracks of our lost companion, entirely from the surface of the sandy waste into which he had so unfortunately strayed. Before daylight on the 2nd we were awoke by the sprinkling of a light shower of rain, which was of not the slightest use; but it continued so long, making everything wet and clammy, that I felt sure we should have some trouble in following Gibson's tracks. The rain ceased about seven o'clock. Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy got all the things we required, and the horses. I was so weak I could do nothing. We took three pack-horses to carry water, and two riding-horses, Blackie and Diaway, to ride, with Widge, Fromby, and Hippy. Though Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy had not been attacked during my absence, the natives were always prowling about, and I did not like the idea of leaving Jimmy alone; but as he said he was willing to remain, we left him. I had to be literally put on to my horse Blackie, and we rode away. Not to worry my reader more than I can help, I may say we had to return to the Kegs, to get the bags left there, and some indispensable things; also Gibson's saddle, which he left nine or ten miles beyond the Kegs in a tree. Going all that distance to get these things, and returning to where Gibson's tracks branched off, we had to travel 115 miles, which made it the third night the horses had been out. We gave them some of the water we carried each night, and our supply was now nearly all gone. It was on the 6th May when we got back to where Gibson had left the right line. We fortunately had fine, cool weather. As long as Gibson remained upon the other horse-tracks, following them, though not very easy, was practicable enough; but the unfortunate man had left them, and gone away in a far more southerly direction, having the most difficult sandhills now to cross at right angles. He had burnt a patch of spinifex, where he left the other horse-tracks, and must have been under the delusion that they were running north, and that the main line of tracks must be on his right, instead of his left hand, and whether he made any mistake or not in steering by the compass, it is impossible to say, but instead of going east as he should, he actually went south, or very near it. In consequence of small reptiles, such as lizards, always scratching over all horse tracks in this region during the night, and also the slight rain we had the other morning, combined with wind, the shifting nature of the sandy soil, and the thick and bushy spinifex, we could make but poor headway in following the single track, and it was only by one of us walking while the other brought on the horses, that we could keep the track at all. Although we did not halt during the whole day, we had not been able to track him by night more than thirteen miles. Up to this point there was evidently no diminution of the powers of the animal he bestrode. We camped upon the tracks the fourth night without water, it being impossible to follow in the moonlight. We gave our horses all our remaining stock of water.

We began to see that our chance of finding the remains of our lost companion was very slight. I was sorry to think that the unfortunate man's last sensible moments must have been embittered by the thought that, as he had lost himself in the capacity of a messenger for my relief, I too must necessarily fall a victim to his mishap.

I called this terrible region that lies between the Rawlinson Range and the next permanent water that may eventually be found to the west, Gibson's Desert, after this first white victim to its horrors.

Gibson, having had my horse, rode away in my saddle with my field glasses attached; but everything was gone — man and horse alike swallowed in this remorseless desert. The weather was cool at night, even cold, for which I was most thankful, or we could not have remained so long away from water. We consulted together, and could only agree that unless we came across Gibson's remains by mid-day, we must of necessity retreat, otherwise it would be at the loss of fresh lives, human and equine, for as he was mounted on so excellent an animal as the Fair Maid, on account of whose excellence I had chosen her to ride, it seemed quite evident that this noble creature had carried him only too well, and had been literally ridden to death, having carried her rider too far from water ever to return, even if he had known where it lay. What actual distance she had carried him, of course it was impossible to say; going so persistently in the wrong direction, he was simply hastening on to perish. I felt more at ease walking along the track than riding. We could only go slowly, mile after mile, rising sand-ridge after sand-ridge, until twelve o'clock, not having been able to trace him more than seven or eight miles since morning. We could not reach the Circus by night, for we were nearly fifty miles from it, and in all probability we should get no water there when we returned. We had to abandon any further attempt. The mare had carried him God knows where, and we had to desist from our melancholy and unsuccessful search. Ah! who can tell his place of rest, far in the mulga's shade? or where his drooping courser, bending low, all feebly foaming fell? I may here remark, that when we relinquished the search, Gibson's tracks were going in the direction of, though not straight to, the dry ridges that Jimmy and I visited in February. These were now in sight, and no doubt Gibson imagined they were the Rawlinson Range, and he probably ended his life amongst them. It was impossible for us to go there now; I had difficulty enough to get away from them when I purposely visited them. We now made a straight line for the western end of the Rawlinson, and continued travelling until nearly morning, and did not stop till the edge of Lake Christopher was reached. This was the fifth night from water, and the horses were only just able to crawl, and we camped about ten miles from the Circus, we hoped to get water for them there. During our night march, before reaching the lake — that is, owing to the horses we were driving running along them, away from our line — we crossed and saw the tracks of the two loose horses, Badger and Darkie; they were making too southerly ever to reach the Rawlinson. Where these two unfortunate brutes wandered to and died can never be known, for it would cost the lives of men simply to ascertain.

On reaching the Circus next morning, the 8th, there was only mud and slime, and we had to go so slowly on, until we reached the Gorge of Tarns very late, reaching the depot still later. I was almost more exhausted now than when I walked into it last. Jimmy was all right with the little dog, and heartily glad at our return, as he thought it was the end of our troubles. Jimmy was but young, and to be left alone in such a lonely spot, with the constant dread of hostile attacks from the natives, would not be pleasant for any one. Our stock of poor old Terrible Billy was all but gone, and it was necessary to kill another horse. Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy had partially erected another smoke-house, and to-morrow we must work at it again. The affairs of the dead must give place to those of the living. I could not endure the thought of leaving Gibson's last resting-place unknown, although Bunyan says, “Wail not for the dead, for they have now become the companions of the immortals.” As I have said, my mind could not rest easy without making another attempt to discover Gibson; but now that the Circus water was gone, it would be useless to go from here without some other water between, for where we left his tracks was seventy miles away, and by the time we could get back to them it would be time to return. In the early part of the day we got sticks and logs, and erected a portion of the smoke-house, while Jimmy got the horses. I then determined to go with Mr. Tietkens to where he and Gibson had found a rock-hole, which they said was unapproachable. I was determined to see whether it could be used, so we delayed killing another horse until our return, and in consequence we had to draw upon our small stock of flour. In the afternoon we took five more horses, intending to load them with water at the hole if possible; but I found it utterly useless. I called the most western hill of this range Mount Forrest, and the most western watercourse Forrest's Creek.

Jimmy at Fort Mckellar.

When we arrived again at the fort, on Monday, I knew something had happened, for Jimmy was most profuse in his delight at seeing us again. It appeared that while we were preparing to start on Saturday, a whole army of natives were hidden behind the rocks, immediately above the camp, waiting and watching until we departed, and no sooner were we well out of sight and sound, than they began an attack upon poor Jim. According to him, it was only by the continued use of rifle bullets, of which, fortunately, I had a good supply — and, goodness knows, the ground in and around the fort was strewn with enough discharged cartridges — that he could keep them at bay at all. If he had killed ten per cent, for all the cartridges he fired away, I should think he would have destroyed the whole tribe; but he appeared to have been too flurried to have hit many of them. They threw several spears and great quantities of stones down from the rocks; it was fortunate he had a palisade to get inside of. Towards night he seems to have driven them off, and he and the little dog watched all night. It must indeed have been something terrible that would keep Jimmy awake all night. Before daylight on Sunday the natives came to attack him again; he had probably improved in his aim by his previous day's practice, for at length he was able to drive them away screeching and yelling, the wounded being carried in the arms of the others. One fellow, Jimmy said, came rushing up to give him his quietus, and began dancing about the camp and pulling over all the things, when Jimmy suddenly caught up a shot gun loaded with heavy long-shot cartridges, of which I had about a dozen left for defence, and before the fellow could get away, he received the full charge in his body. Jimmy said he bounded up in the air, held up his arms, shrieked, and screamed, but finally ran off with all the others, and they had not troubled him since. I gave the lad great praise for his action. He had had a most fortunate escape from most probably a cruel death, if indeed these animals would not have actually eaten him.

We finished the smoke-house this afternoon, and, having secured the new victim we were going to slay, tied him up all night. This time it was Tommy. I had brought him originally from Victoria, and he had been out on my first expedition. He was now very old and very poor, two coincidences that can only be thoroughly comprehended by the antiquated of the human race; and for my part I would rather be killed and eaten by savages, than experience such calamities at an advanced period of life. Tommy did not promise much oil. I shot him early, and we got him into the smoke-house with the exception of such portions as we kept fresh, by the afternoon. We had to boil every bone in his body to get sufficient oil to fry steaks with, and the only way to get one's teeth through the latter was to pound them well before cooking. I wish I had a sausage machine. The thermometer to-day only 78°. Had Gibson not been lost I should certainly have pushed out west again and again. To say I was sorry to abandon such a work in such a region, though true, may seem absurd, but it must be remembered I was pitted, or had pitted myself, against Nature, and a second time I was conquered. The expedition had failed in its attempt to reach the west, but still it had done something. It would at all events leave a record. Our stores and clothes were gone, we had nothing but horseflesh to eat, and it is scarcely to be wondered at if neither Mr. Tietkens nor Jimmy could receive my intimation of my intention to retreat otherwise than with pleasure, though both were anxious, as I was, that our efforts should be successful. In our present circumstances, however, nothing more could be done. In vain the strong will and the endeavour, which for ever wrestled with the tides of fate.

We set to work to shoe some of the horses. When Tommy is smoked we shall depart. He proved to have more flesh on his bones than I anticipated, and he may last us for a month. The next few days got hot and sultry, and rain again threatened. If we could only get a good fall, out to the west we would go again without a further thought; for if heavy rain fell we would surely find some receptacle at the Alfred and Marie Range to help us on? But no, the rain would not come. Every drop in this singular region seems meted and counted out, yet there are the marks of heavy floods on all the watercourses. The question of when did the floods occur, which caused these marks, and when, oh when, will such phenomena occur again, is always recurring to me. The climate of this region too seems most extraordinary; for both last night and the night before we could all lie on our blankets without requiring a rag to cover us, while a month ago it was so cold at night that we actually wanted fires. I never knew the nights so warm in May in any other parts I have visited, and I cannot determine whether this is a peculiarity of the region, or whether the present is an unusual season throughout this half of the continent. With the exception of a few showers which fell in January, not a drop of rain to leave water has fallen since I left the telegraph line.

I cannot leave this singular spot without a few remarks on its peculiarities and appearance, for its waters are undoubtedly permanent, and may be useful to future travellers. In the first place Fort McKellar bears 12° east of south from the highest ridge of Mount Destruction, in the Carnarvon Range; that mountain, however, is partially hidden by the intervening low hills where Mr. Tietkens's riding-horse Bluey died. In consequence I called it Bluey's Range. This depot is amongst a heavy clump of fine eucalypts, which are only thick for about a quarter of a mile. From beneath this clump a fine strong spring of the purest water flows, and just opposite our fort is a little basin with a stony bottom, which we had to bridge over to reach the western bank. The grazing capabilities of the country are very poor, and the horses only existed here since leaving the pass. On the 20th it was a month since Gibson and I departed for the west. This morning three natives came up near the camp, but as they or their tribe had so lately attacked it, I had no very loving feelings for them, although we had a peaceable interview. The only information I could glean from them was that their word for travelling, or going, or coming, was “Peterman”. They pointed to Mount Destruction, and intimated that they were aware that we had “Petermaned” there, that we had “Petermaned” both from the east and to the west. Everything with them was “Peterman”. It is singular how identical the word is in sound with the name of the late Dr. Petermann, the geographer. In looking over Gibson's few effects, Mr. Tietkens and I found, in an old pocketbook, a drinking song and a certificate of his marriage: he had never told us anything about this.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14