Narrative of the overland expedition of the, by F. and A. Jardine

Chapter V.

First Start in Search of Settlement — Character of the Jardine — The Eliot — Return to Main Camp — Flooded State of River — Impromptu Raft — Crossing Horses — Uncertainty — Second Start in Search of Settlement — View of the Ocean — Reach South Shore of Newcastle Bay — Reach Mouth of True Escape — Unable to Cross — A Dainty Meal — Character of the Escape — Return to Main Camp — Horses Knocked-up — Another Horse Dead — Flour Exhausted — Wretched Condition of Horses — More Baggage Abandoned — Prospects — The Whole Party Again Move Forward — Another Horse Abandoned — Reach Head of Tide View of the Gulf — Barne Island — Return up the Jardine — Third Start in Search of Settlement — Wild Grape — Crossing Saddles — a Disappointment — Head the Escape River — Meet Friendly Natives — Natives Act as Pilots — Native Bread — Canoes — Corroboree — Native Drums — Arrival at Somerset — Mr. Jardine’s Marked-tree Line — Meeting with their Father — A Heroine.

‘January’ 30. — This morning, Mr. F. Jardine with his Brother and the Blackboy, Eulah, started to find the Settlement, leaving the rest of the party encamped with the cattle, in charge of Mr. Scrutton. They took with them a week’s ration of 25 lbs. of flour, and 12 lbs. meat (tea and sugar had long been things of the past), intending to follow the supposed river down to the head of the tide. It was accordingly followed for about 21 miles, but to their astonishment, instead of trending N.N.E., its general course was found to be North-west 1/2 West. This led them to the conclusion that it was a western water, and not as they had hitherto supposed, the Escape River. Of this they were now convinced, but to make certain, agreed to continue travelling down it for two days more, and with this intent camped on a creek coming in from the southward. The margin of the river is generally open and coarsely grassed, timbered with mahogany, bloodwood, and melaleuca, the points of scrubs and brushwood occasionally closing down to the stream. Its width varies from one to two-hundred yards, with a sandy bed, entirely free from fallen timber. Its banks are steep in many places, of white clay and coarse sandstone, and fringed with tall melaleuca, whose long drooping branches and leaves swept the rapid and deep stream. A straight course was impracticable, for as soon as attempted, and the river was out of sight, the party got entangled in thick brushes and tea-tree swamps, without a blade of grass. They were obliged, therefore, to follow the course of the river in all its windings. The only birds seen were scrub turkeys, and Torres Strait pigeons. The weather at starting was fine, but about 11 o’clock the rain commenced, and continued steadily the whole of the day. At night, on camping, a “bandicoot gunyah” was erected, and covered with the broad pliable paper bark of the melaleuca, which made a snug shelter for the night from the still pouring rain. Course generally N.W by W. Distance following the river, 21 miles.

‘January’ 31. — Crossing the creek immediately after leaving the camp, the party still continued to follow the windings of the river through similar country to that of yesterday, save that the ground was more boggy, the swamps, ana-branches, and small lagoons more numerous. On the latter some Coromandel geese were seen, of a species different from those found near Rockhampton. The heavy rain which had continued all last night had caused the river to rise several inches. At about ten miles the progress of the party was stopped by a large stream coming in from the South-east, about the same size as the McHenry. A tree was marked AJ at the junction which was very scrubby, and the new stream received the name of the Eliot. It was running strongly, and had to be traced up for two miles, before the party could cross in safety. This they fortunately accomplished without accident, although the water was up to their necks, as they waded across with their saddles and packs on their heads, giving them all they could do to stem the rapid current. They then proceeded on their way for 7 miles further, the last two of which were through thick brush, and camped on the bank of the main stream, now much augmented in size after receiving the waters of the Eliot. There was but little grass for the poor horses, but no choice, the country back from the river being all scrubs and swamps, covered with tea-tree, but barren of grass. The total distance travelled was 17 miles. The course generally West by South, clearly proving that they could not be on the Escape.

‘February’ 1. — The river was again followed for about seven miles further, but as the course still continued to trend West, and even south of West, the Brothers in disgust determined on re-tracing their steps, satisfied, if satisfaction can be predicated of such a disappointment, that they were on western waters, and that they had not yet reached the looked-for Escape River. At this point, therefore, they turned, intending to swim the river at the main camp, and make another exploration to find the Settlement from the North side, or right bank. By night-fall they reached their first night’s camp, where they found the “gunyah” very acceptable. They had now followed the supposed Escape 45 miles; deducting a third for its sinuosities, a distance of at least 30 miles in a straight line Westward had been travelled, and they were filled with surprise that so large and important a stream should have remained undiscovered. Its width at their turning-point was over two-hundred yards, the banks commencing to be very swampy, and it is described by Mr. A. Jardine, as the most compact river, with the exception of the Fitzroy, he had seen in the North. The rain continued as yesterday during the whole of the day, accompanied with cold winds. This, together with their disappointment, was sufficient to depress the spirits of most men. There is not, however, in the journals of either of the Brothers the slightest indication of despondency or complaint.

‘February’ 2. — The main camp was reached this morning early, and everything found safe and right, save in one particular, that deserves recording. In looking over the ration account, Mr. Jardine found a deficiency of 30 lbs. of flour, accruing in the interval of the four days of his absence. All denied any knowledge of it, and all were equally certain that the allowance had not been exceeded; “so” writes Frank Jardine, “where it is gone to, I am never likely to know,” and there the matter dropped. It is humiliating to think, that amongst white men banded together in exploring parties, where the success and safety of the enterprise are much dependent on the good conduct of each individual member, there should be found individuals so ignoble, as to appropriate an undue share of the common stock of food on which the health, and perhaps the life of each equally depends; and yet, sad to say, such instances are not singular. The well-proved charge against Gray of cooking flour for himself privately, for which he was chastised by poor Burke, is one instance. Gray’s excuse was that he was so ill, and his apologists point to the fact that he subsequently died. Either Burke or Wills would have died on the spot, rather than have taken an ounce more than their meanest companion, and yet it has been asked why this man has had no monument. Again, in the unfortunate expedition of poor Kennedy (not far from their present camp), the storekeeper of the party of the name of Niblett, was discovered to have largely pilfered from the stores for a considerable time previously. Who knows that, but for the deficiency his greed caused, more of that ill-fated party might have held out until the succour arrived, guided by the heroic black, Jacky, who risked his own life to save that of his master, and whose name is as worthy of being held up for honour as that of the white man’s for contempt.

‘February’ 3. — This day was spent by the Brothers with their black-boys in hunting for a good crossing place, or as they described it, “doing a little water dogging.” The river being two hundred yards wide, and running rapidly, made it a difficult matter, and after trying a number of places, it was found that as they were all alike, deep and wide, they might as well cross opposite the camp. This would not be without risk and danger, but the exigency of the party made it necessary. Their flour was nearly exhausted, and they had nothing else but the jerked meat of the beef they killed, and what they could catch in the bush, to depend on. In this last, however, as old hunters and bushmen, they were generally pretty successful, supplementing and eking out their ordinary rations very largely. The day previous their larder had been recruited by three iguanas’ eggs, a brush turkey (’Megapodius Tumulus’), and nine turkeys’ eggs. The rain came down as usual at intervals during the day, which, added to the almost incessant rain of the four previous days, brought the river down during the night, increasing its volume and current so much as to make it dangerous to attempt crossing.

‘February’ 4. — The river being too high to cross, the start for the Settlement was postponed, the fagged horses getting the benefit of the delay. A beast was killed in the evening. The weather clearing, Mr. Richardson was enabled to get correct observations for the latitude, having succeeded in putting his sextant into tolerable adjustment. The readings gave the latitude of camp 82 to be 11° 11′ 39″, or about 33 miles south from Cape York. Part of the day was employed in constructing a raft to float over the saddles, rations, etc. This was done by stretching a hide over a frame of wood, but not without some trouble, as it was found that the only wood light enough for the purpose, was dead nonda, and this being scarce, had to be searched for. Before evening, however, a raft was finished sufficiently light for the purpose.

‘February’ 5. — The river having sunk considerably during the night, the crossing was commenced this morning, despite the downpour of rain, which lasted all day without a break. The stream was one hundred and thirty yards wide, the banks fringed with scrub and vines, and the current still running rapidly. It required therefore strong and expert swimmers to get the horses across, the method being as follows:— One of the party went in first with a line made fast to the bit of the horse’s bridle, and another followed, holding on to his tail by way of rudder. Now as a horse can swim faster than a man, and is of course heavier in the water, the leader has no easy task even if the horse swim honestly for the opposite bank, but should he turn back or boggle at all, man and line are alike powerless; the use of the rudder therefore will be seen. When the leader reaches the opposite bank, he has to scramble up nimbly, or he may have the horse on him, and arrived there, be in readiness with the line to assist him should he get entangled in the saplings and vines which fringe the banks. It will be remembered that in crossing the Batavia on the 11th January, two horses were drowned, in spite of every care and precaution. Here, however, they were fortunate enough to cross their four horses without accident, Mr. Scrutton, old Eulah, and the black-boys doing good service, being all excellent swimmers. The saddles and rations were then floated over in the raft, also without accident, and the advanced party (the Brothers and Eulah) camped on the north side, leaving the remainder of the party and cattle in charge of Mr. Scrutton. Even now, Frank Jardine was uncertain as to what stream they were on, and still leaned to the belief that it was the Escape, his faith in the result of the observations, having been shaken by the accident to the sextant. They failed to assist him in his opinion, which was sorely puzzled by the river running westward. He considered it, therefore, absolutely necessary to find the Settlement before moving the cattle forward, his horses being so weak, as to make it useless to travel on in uncertainty. The necessity for reaching their journey’s end was becoming urgent, for their tea and sugar were exhausted, their flour nearly so, and some of the party were complaining of being unwell, and getting very weak.

‘February’ 6. — The second start was made this morning, the Brothers intending to find either the Settlement or the mouth of the Escape. Their course for the first 15 miles was N.N.East, over barren white sandy country, covered with brushwood and scrub. At 7 miles a large deep running creek was crossed, running westward. Its south bank was so densely covered with vine scrub, that they had to walk and cut their way through it with their tomahawks. After crossing it, the country suddenly changed to thickly timbered sandy ridges, some being rocky, of coarse sandstone, the more elevated ones having belts of impenetrable scrub running along their crest. At 12 miles a fine sheet of water was passed, surrounded by sandy coarsely-grassed ridges. At 15 miles, from a line of high ridges forming a saddle-range, they had a view of the ocean, and could distinguish a few small islands out to sea. It might have been seen sooner but for the drizzling rain which fell with little intermission. The range was of red soil, timbered with bloodwood, and stringy-bark. Two miles further on the country improved still more, continuing from thence into their camp, 6 miles. The course was altered from the range to N. by E., and at 20 miles a white hill was reached, from which they looked down on the sea about half-a-mile distant beneath them. This was Newcastle Bay. Turning westward and skirting the coast, they travelled 3 miles further on, and camped on a palm creek, with very steep banks. Large flocks of the Torres Strait pigeons flew over in the evening. Distance travelled 23 miles.

‘February’ 7. — The good country traversed yesterday ceased at a creek half-a-mile from the camp, on crossing which the party had to cut their way as usual, after which the course skirting the coast lay over a villainous country, boggy swamps, brushwood and scrub. After travelling 7 or 8 miles their progress was arrested by a large stream three-quarters-of-a-mile in width, running rapidly from the W.N.W. Its banks were low and muddy, covered with a wide belt of dense mangroves, its muddy and swollen waters carrying down quantities of rubbish. This they correctly surmised to be the mouth of the veritable “Escape” but Frank Jardine was again in error in supposing it to be the same stream that they had left the cattle on. Seeing so large a stream he naturally reverted to the idea that it had turned on itself, and that their first exploration had stopped before reaching the turning point. His case was dispiriting in the extreme. The main camp was not more than 15 miles in latitude south of his present position. The Settlement, the long-wished end of their journey, could not be more than 20 to the North, yet his progress was arrested by a broad and rapid river, to head the supposed bend of which he had ineffectually travelled nearly 50 miles. His plan was now to follow the Escape up in hopes of being able to cross at the head of the tide, and so reach Somerset, but this, as will be seen, was more easily planned than executed. Following up the course of the river the way lay over a country which Alexander Jardine mentions in his notes as “too bad to describe,” pandanus swamps, vine scrubs, and small creeks swollen by the rains to a swimmable depth, succeeding one another along the whole stage. At the latter the horses had always to be unpacked and their saddles taken over on the heads of the party. Three hours were consumed in cutting their way through the last of the vine scrubs, when they camped on the outside, three of the horses being completely knocked up. The Brothers then walked to the river in hopes of finding a crossing place. This however, proved hopeless. A thick matted fringe of mangroves nearly three miles wide intervened between them and its bank, through which it was next to impossible to make any headway. Their supper to-night was augmented by a lucky “find” during the day of thirteen scrub turkeys’ eggs, which, though they would scarcely have been appreciated at an ordinary breakfast table, were very acceptable to tired and hungry travellers existing principally on jerked beef. Eating what yolk or white they contained, they plucked and roasted the chicks as a “bonne-bouche.” Fires had to be kept going day and night to drive away, and protect the poor miserable horses from the march and sand-flies by day, and mosquitoes by night. These were, in fact, the principal cause of the poverty and debility of the poor brutes, who could never get a moment’s rest to feed or sleep. Twenty-two miles were accomplished to-day, despite their difficulties.

‘February’ 8. — The journey was continued to-day up the Escape, the course of which was very crooked, but generally N.W. by N. The horses knocked up a few miles after starting. The party were therefore obliged to walk and drive them before them. The country traversed was similar to that of yesterday, so that they could not get more than a-mile-and-a-half an hour out of the poor jaded beasts. Three times they tried to make into the river bank, but without success, from the great width and the density of the belt of mangroves, and the soft mud. An old black’s camp was passed in which they found heaps of shells, turtle, and shark bones. In the evening they caught a quantity of whelks and cockles, which, with an iguana, and three turkeys’ eggs, made a good supper.

‘February’ 9. — The course of the river to-day was even more crooked than yesterday, the nature of the country continuing the same, save that the swampy ground was occasionally broken by ridges of bloodwood, and stringy-bark. From a tree on one of these they had a fine view of Newcastle Bay, and what was supposed to be Mount Adolphus Island, the latter about 25 miles away, and could trace the course of the river to where it debouched, by the stretch of mangroves. Here, therefore, they were within 20 miles of their destination, which they were tantalised by seeing, without being able to reach. With difficulty they drove their horses before them for 7 miles, when they turned out and camped, as well to hunt, as again to try and reach the river. In the first they were pretty successful, getting some turkeys’ eggs and shell-fish, but the last they were unable to do, mud and mangroves barring their way, whilst the salt water proved to them that they were still within the influence of the tide, and the stream was still between three and four hundred yards wide. Despairing of being able to find a crossing to which they could fetch the cattle, their horses being unable to cross the river, to continue the search for Somerset in advance, and their scanty provision of flour being nearly exhausted, Frank Jardine, reluctantly abandoning the idea of getting into the Settlement, determined to return to the cattle, and with them, head the supposed bend of the Escape. Disheartening as this was, there was nothing else to be done in the present state of the country. Distance travelled, 7 miles westerly.

‘February’ 10. — Turning their backs on the mangroves and swamps of the Escape River, the little party faced for the camp, steering S.S.E. The first four miles was through boggy, swampy country, through which they walked, driving their horses before them. The remainder was over the usual iron-bark and bloodwood ridges, fairly grassed with coarse grasses, intersected with swamps and belts of scrub, through one of which they were three hours in forcing their way two miles. After 11 miles of this kind of travelling they camped, the horses completely knocked up, the men in not much better condition, having had to drag the horses out of bogs several times, besides cutting through the hanging vines of the scrubs. Distance 12 miles.

‘February’ 11. — The main camp was reached to-day, after another fatiguing journey of 11 or 12 miles, the first 6 miles similar to that of yesterday, the remainder through heath and brushwood. It was sundown before they reached the river, which they found much swollen. A heavy thunder-shower of two hours’ duration, put up all the creeks bank high, one of which, at about two miles from the river, they had to swim across. Having struck it immediately opposite the camp, they left their jaded horses with their saddles on the north side, and swam across themselves to the party. During their absence another of the horses, “Pussey,” had died from exhaustion.

‘February’ 12. — The meat at the camp being all consumed, it became necessary to halt for a couple of days, in order to kill and jerk a beast. The flour too was now exhausted, save 10 lbs., which was judiciously put by and reserved for an emergency. The day was spent in crossing back the four horses, with saddles and swags. The cattle were counted and some found missing; the Black-boys were therefore sent in search of them. A beast was killed, cut up, and jerked, a tedious task, from the absence of the sun. Although there were only a few light showers towards evening, the air was damp; the meat, therefore, had to be smoked under a covering.

‘February’ 13. — The lost cattle were found to-day, the jerking of the meat finished, and preparations for a final start on the morrow completed. The unfortunate horses were in such wretched condition, that it was found necessary to lighten the loads to the Settlement. Four pack-saddles, two police saddles, and the two belonging to the Brothers were therefore abandoned, with the remainder of the odds and ends. The prospect before them was not very bright. With no provision save jerked meat, and with knocked-up horses, they were starting on a journey of at least 100 miles, when their destination was not more than 30 miles away from them. they hoped to head the bend of the river they were on (having reverted to the opinion that it was the Escape), without knowing how far beyond the lowest point of their first exploration this turning-point might be, or what obstructions might be a-head of them. On the other hand, the whole of the party were without sickness, and they had plenty of cattle to eat.

‘February’ 14. — A final start was made this morning from camp 82, of dreary memory, after a good deal of trouble in packing, choosing and rejecting what was too heavy or useless, and the other delays attendant on the breaking up of an established camp. The river was followed for 11 miles with the usual amount of bogging and difficulty, in crossing the small trench-like creeks already mentioned. In one of these they were compelled to abandon another horse (Tabinga). The poor brute fell in trying to cross, and when pulled out and set on his legs was too weak to stand. He had to be left, therefore, saddle and all. Another (Pussy) having died at the last camp, their number was now reduced to thirteen. Their loads were reduced to the slightest possible, and consisted merely of the jerked meat, the ammunition, and swags of the party. Distance 11 miles. (Camp LXXXIII.)

‘February’ 15. — A gloomy morning with light showers, 10 miles were accomplished to-day. Three hours were consumed in crossing one of the boggy gullies. Every horse had to be unpacked, and half of them had to be pulled across with ropes. The pack of another horse (Lady Scott) had to be abandoned. She was too weak to carry even the empty saddle. The camp was pitched in the angle formed by the large creek running into the river just below the gunyah camp of their first trip, mentioned January 30th. (Camp LXXXIV.)

‘February’ 16. — The Eliot was reached to-day 8 miles from the camp. It had fallen considerably, but was still too high to allow of crossing without taking off the packs. It was about thirty yards wide, and running clear, about five feet deep, where the party crossed. The camp was pitched on the main stream two miles further, making a total of 10 miles for the day’s journey. (Camp LXXXV. Nonda.)

‘February’ 17. — The lowest camp of the Brothers on their first trip was passed to-day at about 6 miles. The total distance they estimated they had travelled down the river on that occasion was 40 to 45 miles, as it will be remembered that they went 6 or 7 miles beyond this camp on the 1st of February. The true distance to the turning point by Mr. Richardson’s reckoning, was estimated at 35 miles, which is probably correct. Mr. Richardson in his journal of to-day’s date says, “they told me they had travelled 20 miles North and 30 miles West.” A glance at sheet No. 14 will shew this to have been an error; and in a foot-note at February 2nd, he states, “I afterwards found that these distances were incorrect. The true distances West and North respectively from the 82nd camp to the point in our track where the Leader turned back, are about 24 miles W. and 7 N.” Now, considering the tortuous course of the river, the nature of the country, the weather, and obstacles of the creeks, 6 miles is not a great error in westing. Mr. Richardson’s own reckoning, generally, despite his advantage over the Brothers, in having nothing to do but follow the cattle, was not more to be depended upon, whilst the results of his observations by the sextant were not so much so, as he naively informs us he did not think he error in Latitude was more than 15 miles! It appears evident therefore that the dead reckoning of the explorers was of equal, if not greater value, as far as the journey was concerned, than the surveyor’s, the chief result and use of whose presence in the party is, that we have been furnished with a very excellent and interesting map of the route; but it by no means assisted the Leader in the piloting of the Expedition, or resolved his doubts when at fault, either at this point or on leaving the Einasleih in search of the Lynd. The party camped at the end of about two miles on the right bank of a broad deep creek running in from S.W., when after turning out, some of them went fishing, but only one small cat-fish was caught.

‘February’ 18. — A slight rain fell during last night, but cleared off before morning. The creek was crossed at about a mile from the camp, cattle, horses, and men having to swim. The former took it like water-dogs, and the latter had as usual to carry their saddles, packs, and “traps” over on their heads. After ten miles of travelling over poorly-grassed stringy-bark ridges, the country resumed its old character of swamp, brushwood, and low scrubby banks, flooded for four or five feet, the overflow filling swamps running parallel, and about two or three hundred yards distant from the river. This was followed during the day’s march, and they were elated with the hope that they had at length reached the much wished for bend, the course being slightly to the eastward of north. It was Mr. Jardine’s intention to have again halted the party when they reached this point, and once more pushed forward in search of Somerset, but they were out of meat, and the party had started without breakfast, there being nothing to eat. He therefore camped at the end of 10 miles to kill a beast. there were a good many delays during the march, chiefly to pull the exhausted horses out of the constantly recurring bogs. Poor “Lady Scott” especially was with great difficulty got into camp. Distance 10 miles, N. 1/2 E. (Camp LXXXVII. Bloodwood)

‘February’ 19. — To-day was chiefly devoted to rest, and the cutting up, jerking, and smoking of the beef by the whites, the black-boys, after the manner of their race, dividing it pretty equally between sleeping and stuffing. The meat curing was as usual a slow process, there being no salt, and a gunyah having to be made to smoke it in. The river was here first observed to have a rise and fall in it of about six inches. Its width was about a quarter of a mile.

The latitude of this camp (87) is 11° 11′ 13″ The latitude of camp (82) is 10° 58′ 2″ The Northing therefore equals 13′ 11"

‘February’ 20. — It commenced to rain at two o’clock this morning, and continued heavily as the party started. The river again turned to the Westward, to their great disappointment. The course was continued along it for 9 miles, when they were brought to a stand-still by a deep creek with boggy banks, twenty yards wide, flowing from the South. It was evidently affected by the tide, as the water was slightly brackish and the edge fringed by a species of mangrove. A crossing-place was looked for without success, and the camp was finally pitched, as the rain was pouring heavily. (Camp LXXXVIII.)

‘February’ 21. — This morning the Brothers, taking old Eulah with them, swam across the creek, alligators notwithstanding, and walked to the top of a high stringy-bark ridge on the south side. Selecting the highest tree he could find (a bloodwood) Alexander Jardine ascended it with Eulah, and from its top branches got a view that finally dispelled the doubts as to their position, and the identity of the stream they had traced down. Before him, at about 3 miles distant lay the mouth of the river, about 2 miles wide. Its course could without difficulty be traced from where they were till it debouched into the Gulf waters opposite a small island, which was easily recognized as Barn Island, whilst to the North, Endeavour Straits, and Prince of Wales Island could be distinctly seen. It was now perfectly plain that the river they had followed was not the Escape. They had therefore, been deceived a second time. It received the very appropriate name of Deception, but has since, by the direction of his Excellency Sir George Bowen, been charted, and is now known by the name of the Jardine. Descending from his perch, after half-an-hour spent in taking bearings by the compass to the different points of interest, Mr. Jardine joined his brother, who at once determined to return to camp 87, it being impossible to cross where they were. Re-crossing the creek, they rejoined the party, reaching the camp at sun-set, under a heavy downpour of rain.

‘February’ 22. — Although it was raining heavily with every appearance of a continuance, the party started to return up the river in excellent spirits. The Brothers were now certain that they should have no difficulty in finding the Settlement on their next trip. They were, however, very much puzzled as to where such a large stream as the Escape was found to be, should rise. They now re-traced their steps, and camped close to their last camp LXXXVII. Six miles.

‘February’ 23. — To-day was spent in killing and jerking a beast, and preparing for the Leader’s third start in search of the Settlement. The rain poured down heavily, causing the river to rise very fast. Another raft similar to that made at camp 83, had to be constructed, a work of some time, for the only wood fit for making the frame was dry nonda, which was scarce. The rain too, very much impeded the drying of the beef, for which, as usual, a bark gunyah had to be erected. Everything, however, was got well forward for the important business of crossing the next morning.

‘February’ 24. — The horses, saddles, and rations were all crossed in safety to-day, though not without difficulty. In swimming the horses particular care had to be taken, for there was only one small spot on the other side at which they could be landed. As explained on the 5th, on the occasion of the second start, it requires a strong swift swimmer to lead a horse across a stream, and in this the white men, or at least, three of them, were much superior to the black-boys, who, although all good swimmers, were much more efficient in the service of the raft. This only illustrates the rule that most white men can beat the aboriginal in swimming fast, whilst the latter has superior endurance; but there is no doubt, that under the same conditions of education and practice, the civilized white man is superior to the savage in any physical function or exercise. The rain poured down consistently during the whole of the day, and a cold cutting wind drove the swimming party at intervals to the fires, where, whilst toasting the outward, they solaced the inner man with a decoction of Scrutton’s, by courtesy called, soup, being an ‘olla podrida’, or more properly “bouillon,” of the bones, gristle, head, and oddments of the lately-killed beast. This was always a stock repast after each kill-day, and there is but little doubt but that its “osmazome” contributed not a little, to the good health and heart of the party. Almost every exploring party on short commons, records some favourite cookery, some dish that their souls loved. In McKinlay’s journey, the dish most in vogue was a kind of “amorphous” black-pudding, made of the carefully-saved blood of the bullock, horse, or sheep, as the case might be, boiled with some fat, and seasoned with a little condiment, which being of light carriage, can always be saved for such high occasions. In the present instance, the fat was always devoted to the greasing of the saddles, pack-straps, etc., during the latter part of the journey, when clothing was at a premium; of the explorers themselves, “more aboriginum,” who found that the protection it afforded them against cold, wet, and mosquitoes, far outweighed any slight redolence, which, after all, could only be offensive to anyone not equally anointed. At night the Brothers camped on the north side of the Deception, or Jardine, leaving the party again to await their report and return, the cattle being in charge of Scrutton.

‘February’ 25. — There was an early start this morning, but the little party did not make much headway that day, for after two miles of boggy brushwood country their progress was suddenly arrested by a sea of water, the overflow of a large creek, the outline of which could be traced by a fringe of dark green foliaged trees. Some fruitless attempts were made to cross it at different points. At the narrowest part they could find, on running it down at a spot where the channel was hemmed in by ridges on either side, it was still half-a-mile wide, and running very strongly in the actual channel. They therefore had to resign themselves to wait patiently till the flood went down, apparently not a near prospect, for the rain still continued to drizzle unceasingly. After hunting about for some time they were fortunate enough to find a good dry camp when turning out, they disposed themselves to await the subsidence of the water, with what patience they might. The next two days were spent in hunting for the pot, and exploring for a good crossing place. In the former they met with no success, all they were able to find being a kind of wild grape, about the size of a small marble. They are black and sweet, and as Alexander Jardine describes, “very good to eat, but they take all the skin off the tongue and lips!” On the evening of the second day they had the pleasure of seeing that the creek was slowly going down, giving promise that they might be able to cross it on the morrow.

‘February’ 28. — This morning they had the satisfaction of seeing that the creek had fallen sufficiently to enable them to cross, but not without swimming. At the spot they chose for going over the stream was about fifteen yards wide, but the current very rapid. The horses were crossed in the usual manner, swimming with their saddles on their backs, but the rations, etc., were passed over by a different method, one which did credit to the projector. A kind of flying suspension bridge was improvised, by which they were slung to the other side, in a manner proving that necessity is the mother of invention. By attaching one end of their light tent-line to the branches of an over-hanging tree on the hither side, and the other end to a butt on the opposite bank, the “swag” slid down by its own gravity, and was safely crossed. Their ‘impedimenta’ were thus safely transported to the opposite bank, the whole process occupying about an hour. They were well re-paid for their long patience, for immediately on attaining the other side, the country changed into good sound well-grassed stringy-bark ridges, which continued throughout the whole stage, with the exception of a few broad tea-tree gullies. They encamped at about 10 miles. Poor old Eulah experienced to-day, what he felt was a cruel disappointment. Just before getting into camp he espied what he supposed to be a fresh turkey’s nest (the ‘Talegalla Lathami’); jumping off his horse, he eagerly commenced rooting it up, expecting to be rewarded by a fine haul of eggs. These, as is the habit of that bird, were deposited in a large mound formed of sticks, earth, and leaves. His disappointment and disgust were equal, and his language forcible and deep, on finding that he had been anticipated — the big mound was the abode of emptiness. The mystery was cleared up on going on a little way, when they found a black’s camp about two days old, where the egg-chips shewed that the occupants had enjoyed Eulah’s anticipated feed, the piccaninnies probably amusing themselves afterwards by filling up the nest to its original appearance. In the evening, whilst Alexander Jardine, was preparing the frugal supper (they generally ate their jerked meet raw, but on this occasion he was cooking it for a change), the Leader and Eulah walked to the top of a small sandy conical hill, about half-a-mile distant, when climbing the highest tree, they could find, they were rewarded by a fine view of Newcastle Bay, on the south-east of the bight, on which they were now camped. They had also the great satisfaction of finding that they had at last headed the Escape River.

‘March’ 1. — “A nasty wet morning.” The trio started early, thinking it quite possible that they might “pull up” something or other belonging to the Settlement before night, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. They had had so many disappointments that they felt that to hazard a guess even, was a mistake. After travelling over a great deal of low scrub and brushwood, which, however, was better than boggy ground (”to be without one or the other,” says Alexander Jardine “would have been too much to expect”) during a heavy shower of rain, about three o’clock, whilst riding over some low sandy ridges they suddenly came on to a number of blacks, camped on the outside of a thick scrub, at a point where it abutted on a small creek. The travellers immediately unslung their carbines, very dubious however as to whether they would go off (for they were all damp,) and prepared for the customary “set-to.” As hitherto, in all these encounters, they had always without any show of hostility on their part, been at once attacked, they were surprised to find the blacks, who were very numerous, bolt into the scrub, with the exception of three who stood their ground, and holding up their empty hands shewed that they were unarmed, dancing and shouting vociferously. Eulah was the first to detect what they said, and reining up called out “hold on, you hearim, that one bin yabber English.” the brothers halted and listened. Sure enough they distinctly heard the savages shouting excitedly “Alico, Franco, Dzoco, Johnnie, Toby, tobacco, and other English words. It was now evident that they had met with friendly natives, who were acquainted with the Settlement, so they went forward and spoke to them. The blacks still continued to shout their shibboleth, pointing to Somerset, which they called “Kaieeby.” After taking a rough inventory of the camp, without, however, finding anything that could have come from the Settlement, they started two of the most intelligent in front of them, making them understand by signs, that they wanted to be guided by the shortest route to Cape York. This they had no difficulty in doing, for they were by far the most intelligent blacks they had met with. The whole party now started forward, the sable guides piloting them over the best ground. In about 7 miles they arrived at a shallow salt-water creek, that empties itself into a northern inlet of Newcastle Bay. Here they met with a large body of unarmed blacks, who after making a great many signs, came up and presented them with some spears and wommerahs, which they had concealed in the mangroves, possibly as an earnest of peace. They also brought them a villainous compound, in some dilly-bags, a mixture of mangrove-roots and berries, pounded up into a pulp, of a yellowish color. Although it was very disagreeable to the taste, the travellers eat of it in token of confidence in their hosts, or rather to make them believe that they trusted them, for they were too well acquainted with the aboriginal nature to trust them in reality, and kept a wary though unobserved watch. The tide being in, and it being very late when the salt-water creek was reached, the Brothers determined to camp with their newly-made friends at their main camp, and accordingly followed them for about two miles, when they again hit the salt creek. Here three large canoes were moored to the mangroves, the largest was about 28 feet long, and 30 inches wide, cut out of the solid butt of some large tree, and very neatly finished. The tent was pitched, but not made much use of, for after dark the travellers left it and camped separately, each keeping vigilant watch all night. The natives spent it very differently, and, whether in honor of the whites, or in anticipation of picking their bones (it might have been either) they held high corroboree till about midnight, keeping up a fearful din, in which two large drums formed a prominent part. The name of this kind of drum is “Waropa” or “Burra Burra,” and it is procured in barter or war from the Islanders of Torres Straits, who frequently visit the continent. It is neatly made of a solid piece of wood scooped out, in shape like an elongated dice box. One end is covered with the skin of a snake or iguana, the other being left open. When this instrument is played upon by a muscular and excited “nigger,” a music results which seems to please him in proportion to its intensity; keeping time with these, and aiding with their voices, they kept up their wild dance varying the chant with the peculiar b-r-r-r-r-r-r-oo, of the Australian savage (a sound made by “blubbering” his thick lips over his closed teeth,) and giving to their outstretched knees the nervous tremor peculiar to the corroboree. But a corroboree, like the ball of civilized life must have an end, and at length the tired dancers sought their several lairs, leaving the whites to watch the watery moon and lurid stars, and listen to the dull plashing of the tide through the mangroves, whilst waiting for daylight.

‘March’ 2. — At daylight the party started forward, accompanied by a strong detachment of “black guards,” who were much disgusted when the greater number of them were dismissed before they had proceeded far, no doubt wishing and expecting to share in the “bacca” or “bissiker,” which would reward the pilots. Mr. Jardine selected the three they had first met as guides, who turned out capital fellows. They explained that to go straight they would have “mouro pia” much scrub, and therefore led the way along the beach, carefully shewing the horsemen the hardest places on the sands. In rounding one of the rocky headlands, Eulah’s horse fell with him, causing the greatest amusement and merriment to the body-guard. To be laughed at by Myalls was nearly too much for Eulah’s equanimity, and could he have had his own way he would probably have resented the insult. As it was, his ire could only find vent in deeply muttered objurgations and abuse. At about noon the party sighted the Settlement, and involuntarily pulled up to gaze at the scattered and insignificant buildings they had so long and ardently desired to see and struggled to reach, hardly realizing that the goal was at last attained; when they again moved forward the guides set up an admonitory yell, which had the effect of bringing Mr. Jardine and their brother John to the door. For a considerable time before the arrival of the overland party, Mr. Jardine had not been without some uneasiness for the success and safety of the expedition. The time for their probable arrival had long elapsed. A report had reached him by the “Salamander” from Rockingham Bay, that the party were on the Lynd, unable to move forward for want of water, and that their provision was exhausted, and finally the wet season had set in. To facilitate their endeavours in finding the Settlement (a work of more than ordinary difficulty, arising from the intricacy of the rivers and scrubby nature of the country, at the apex of the Cape York peninsula,) Mr. Jardine had cut a marked tree line for 30 miles in a south-westerly direction, meeting a similarly marked line running east and west from the head of the Kennedy to the west or Gulf Coast, a distance of about 10 miles. On the latter and on either side of the longitudinal line, trees were marked at intervals, with instructions for their course, so that the party hitting the east and west line would be guided to the junction of the first one leading into the Settlement. The east and west line, it has been seen they overran, the rapid tropical growth of the scrub having so far obliterated it as to make it difficult to notice, or find, even if sought for. Yet through any depression that might naturally be induced by the delay, whatever his fears might have been for the success of the expedition, he felt none for the safety of his sons, well knowing and relying on their dauntless pluck, energy, and fitness for the work. His parting injunction to them had been, that whatever might betide, ‘they should keep together’. He knew that he would not be disobeyed, and felt firm in the faith that, should the party by misfortune be reduced to their own two selves, with only their tomahawks in their hands, they would make their way to him. Thus, firmly reliant on the qualities of his boys, he waited with patience, and his faith was well rewarded. On the morning of the 2nd of March, Mr. Jardine being employed in some matters about the house, during an “evendown” pour of rain, was disturbed by a loud shouting, and looking out saw a number of blacks running up to the place. Imagining that the Settlement was about to receive another attack, (for the little community had already had to repulse more than one,) he seized his gun, always in readiness for an “alerte” and rushed out. Instead, however, of the expected enemy, he had the pleasure of seeing his long-looked-for sons, surrounded and escorted by their sable guides. For a long time previous, the natives who visited the Settlement had been made to understand that Mr. Jardine expected his sons with horses and cattle, and had been familiarized with their names, “Franco” “Alico” as also with others such as “Somerset,” “Cape York,” “Salamander,” and “Toby,” (Mr. Jardine’s well-known retriever) the intention being that these should act as pass words when they met the party, a wise precaution, which, as it has been seen, probably prevented a collision. Thus, on nearing the Settlement the blacks set up the shouts that had alarmed him, screaming out his name Joko, Franco, Alicko, and such was the eagerness of each to prove that he (smiting himself on the breast) was “Kotaiga” or friend, pointing at the same time to the Brothers, as a witness of their truth, that it was with some difficulty that the Father could reach his sons to greet and welcome them. But for the horses they bestrode, even a father’s eye might have failed to distinguish them from the blacks by whom they were surrounded. Six months of exposure to all weathers had tanned their skins, and so reduced their wardrobe, as to make their appearance primitive in the extreme, their heads being covered with a cap of emu feathers, and their feet cased in green hide mocassins. The rest of their costume was ‘a l’ecossaise,’ their pantaloons being reduced to the waist-bands and pockets, the legs having for a long time been matters of remembrance only. However, they were hearty and well, in high spirits, and in good case. During the hubbub caused by the tumultuous demonstrativeness of the natives, an amusing episode occurred, which is worthy of record. The attendant of Mrs. McClintock, a fine strapping girl from the Emerald Isle, whose good humour and light-heartedness in the discomforts of a new Settlement had earned her the name of cheerful Ellen, hearing the tumult outside, and seeing Mr. Jardine rush out gun in hand, imagined also that they were about to have another attack. Seizing her mistress in her arms, with more kindness than ceremony, she bore her away to her own room, where, having deposited her burden, she turned the key on her, saying, “that was no place for her whilst fighting was going on.” Nor was it until she was well assured that there had been a false alarm that the kind-hearted wench released her mistress from durance.

It must be left to the imagination of the reader to realize the swelling feelings of joy and pride with which the Father grasped the hands of his gallant sons. After a separation of more than ten months, his boys had found their way to him at the extremity of the Australian Continent, by a journey of over 1600 miles, whose difficulties, hardships, dangers, and escapes, have seldom been parallelled, and never been surpassed in the whole annals of exploration. Had they, like poor Leichhardt, Kennedy, or Burke and Wills, perished in the attempt, they would have been honored as heroes, and a tablet or monument would been handed down their names to posterity. As it was, thanks to a kind Providence, they were living heroes, who had sturdily accomplished their work, and brought their companions through without hurt or casualty. The modesty which is ever the attribute of true merit, will probably cause their cheeks to tinge in finding their exploits thus eulogized, but assuredly it is no exaggeration of praise to say, that they have won for themselves a lasting and honorable name in the records of Australian Exploration.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/jardine/frank/j3n/chapter5.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 12:16