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

Chapter VI.

Chose Site for Station — Native Method of Using Tobacco — Return for the Cattle — The Lakes — Reach the Camp — Another Horse Dead — The Whole Party Cross the Jardine — Raft Upset — Cargo Saved — Deserted by Guides — Final Start for Settlement — Another Horse Abandoned — Horses Knocked Up — Cattle Missing — Choppagynya — Reach Vallack Point — Conclusion.

On the afternoon of their arrival in Somerset, the Brothers, after a “slight” luncheon, in which Mr. Jardine’s preserved vegetables received very particular attention, manned the whale-boat belonging to the Settlement, and pulled over the Straits to Albany Island to get fresh horses. Two were got over, but night coming on, the crossing of the rest was deferred until the next day. The Strait is three-quarters-of-a-mile wide, which, with a current running upwards of five knots an hour, makes it an exhausting swim even for a strong horse. The next morning three more horses were crossed. The five expedition horses which these replaced were in a miserable condition. Three of them had given in on the preceding day, two miles from the township, and had to be left behind for the time. With the fresh horses the Brothers were enabled to take a look about them, and select a site for the formation of a cattle station. A convenient spot was chosen at Vallack Point, about three miles from Somerset, to which it now only remained for them to fetch up their companions and the cattle. Two days were spent in recruiting the horses, the explorers themselves, probably, enjoying the “dolce far niente” and change of diet. The black guides were not forgotten, and received their reward of biscuit and tobacco. The manner in which they use this latter is curious, and worthy of notice. Not satisfied with the ordinary “cutty” of the whites, they inhale it in volumes through a bamboo cane. The effect is a profound stupefaction, which appears to be their acme of enjoyment. On the morning of the 5th, taking with them their younger brother, John Jardine, and their two guides, Harricome and Monuwah, and the five fresh horses, in addition to their own, the Brothers started to return to the cattle party, who were anxiously awaiting their return on the banks of the flooded Jardine. The black pilots were made to understand where the camp was, and promised to take them by a good road. The first stage was to the Saltwater Creek, on which they had camped with the tribe, which they reached in about 17 miles, passing on the way, three fine lakes, Wetura, Baronto, and “Chappagynyah,” at two, four, and eight miles from Somerset. The road was a fair one for the cattle, keeping along the line marked by Mr. Jardine the preceding year as before mentioned, and only presented a few light belts of scrub to go through. They were likewise enabled to choose a better crossing of the Saltwater Creek, where the swamps join and form a defined channel. The last two miles were very boggy, even the fresh and well-conditioned horses getting stuck occasionally.

‘March’ 6. — The camp was reached in the evening of to-day, at the end of about 22 miles, but the black pilots were of very little use, as shortly after starting they fairly got out of their latitude, and were obliged to resign the lead to the Brothers, who hit the river a little before dark, nearly opposite the camp. They found it about the same height as when first crossed, but it had been considerably higher during their absence. It being too late to cross, the party camped on their own side, and Messrs. Harricome and Monuwah swam over to see the new strangers and get a supply of beef. They returned with nearly a shoulder of a good sized steer, which entirely disappeared before morning, the whole night being devoted to feeding. The quantity of meat that a hungry native can consume is something astounding, but in this case beat anything that any of the whole party had ever seen. The natural result was a semi-torpor and a perfectly visible distention.

‘March’ 7. — This morning the Brothers crossed over to the camp, when they had the satisfaction of finding, on counting the cattle, that a number were away, and when the horses were tried, two of them were found missing, besides one that had died during their absence, “Lady Scott.” They were immediately sent for, and the remainder of the party employed in preparing for the crossing, and killing a beast. A fresh raft was made with the hide capable of carrying 400 lbs. weight. The two Somerset blacks evinced a great deal of surprise at sight of the cattle, and expressed it by chirping and making various curious noises with their tongues and mouths. Accustomed chiefly to fish, herbs, and roots, the succulent beef had charms which outweighed surprise, and another night was spent in feasting on the “oddments” of the fresh killed beef.

‘March’ 8. — The missing cattle and horses were brought in with the exception of three, which prevented the party crossing to-day, although all was now in readiness. The river was still 200 yards wide, and running strongly, so that it was expedient to cross the whole together.

‘March’ 9. — The three missing cattle not having been found, the crossing operations were commenced at mid-day. The width and appearance of the river made it difficult to make the cattle face it, but they were all safely crossed after a little time, with the exception of one, which broke away, and could not be recovered. The pack-horses were then put over, which was easily accomplished, and it then only remained to cross the packs and baggage. The raft answered admirably, and everything was ferried over in safety, till the last cargo, when a little adventure occurred, which nearly cost the life of one of the party. Cowderoy, being unable to swim, had to be taken across holding on to the raft, and was, therefore, left to the last; all went well with him until within 30 yards of the bank, when, whether from trepidation, induced by visions of alligators (with which the river indeed abounds), or from an attempt to strike out independently, he “succeeded” in upsetting and sinking the raft, and was with some difficulty got to the shore “quitte pour la peur.” In truth it requires some nerve for a man who can’t swim to cross a wide and rapid river. Without a confiding trust in the means adopted for his transport, a catastrophe is not an unlikely result. The writer has known instances of persons crossing broad rivers supported by a spear held between two blacks, by holding on to a bullock’s tail, and even sitting on a horse’s back, but in every case the success of the attempt depends almost entirely on the coolness of the individual, and even with this essential, he has known some fatal cases, so that Cowderoy might congratulate himself on his safe transit. The packs, etc., which formed the last cargo, were recovered after some time, the distance from the shore being slight, and Cowderoy soon recovered his accustomed good humor. By four o’clock everything had been crossed in safety, save the four beasts before mentioned; but on camping for the night it was found that the guides had decamped, their unwonted high feeding, having, no doubt, induced an indisposition to work, a result not confined to blacks alone.

‘March’ 10. — This morning the “Cowal,” or watercourse, which had detained the Brothers on their first trip, had to be swum over, and here poor Ginger, one of the horses, got hopelessly bogged, and though got out and put on his legs with saplings, was too exhausted to go on,and had to be abandoned. The distance accomplished was 11 miles.

‘March’ 11. — The line marked by Mr. Jardine was followed to-day. A scrub occurred on a creek called Wommerah Creek, through which it took two hours to drive the cattle. Only 10 miles were made, and the camp was pitched at about 4 miles from the mouth of the creek where the corroboree was held. Three horses were knocked up during the day, which prevented their getting as far as intended.

‘March’ 12. — On counting the cattle it was found that 30 head had been dropped in coming through the scrub at Wommerah Creek. Two of the black-boys were sent after them, and the Brothers went out to find a crossing-place over Ranura Creek, (their last camp in Somerset.) Here they met the same tribe, (known as Wognie’s,) and bartered “bacca” and “bissika,” against “moro wappi,” or fish, with which the camp was plentifully supplied in the evening. The cattle were recovered all but five. The country is described as being composed of ridges of white and red sand, intersected by swamps of tea-tree, pandanus, and banksia, the crest of the ridges being generally surmounted by a patch of scrub. The timber, bloodwood, mahogany, stringy-bark, and nonda.

‘March’ 13. — A late start was made to-day, for some of the horses were away. The camp was formed on the banks of the lake before-mentioned, 8 miles from Somerset, Chappagynyah, which is described as teeming with crocodiles. The next day the party reached their final resting place, probably not without some exhilaration in feeling that their journey was over. They were met at Baronto, by Mr. Jardine, who had ridden out from Somerset for the purpose. The camp was established at Vallack Point, where the wearied horses and cattle at length found rest, whilst their drivers were able to indulge in the unwonted luxuries of regular feeding and uninterrupted sleep: luxuries which few but those who have experienced hunger and broken rest can fully appreciate. They had been on the road for 5 months, travelled over 1600 miles, the last 250 of which were, as we have seen, performed on foot, and by most of the party barefooted, whilst for the last four weeks their food had consisted chiefly of jerked veal, fish without salt, and the wild fruits and herbs they might find in the bush. In addition to the distance travelled over by the whole party, and over which the cattle were driven, the Brothers traversed more than 1200 miles in their exploratory trips ahead, looking for the lost horses, etc. Alexander Jardine’s journey down the Einasleih alone amounted to little less than 300. It may be imagined, therefore, that the return to the habits and fare of civilized life must have been an agreeable change.

After an interval employed by the Brothers in forming a station at Vallack Point, they returned with their father to Brisbane, in H.M.S. Salamander, leaving their younger brother, John, in charge of the newly-formed station, where the cattle were doing well. Mr. Richardson left in the same vessel, and on arriving in Brisbane immediately set to work to chart the route. Having every facility at hand in the office of the Surveyor-General, the error of the river Lynd was rectified, and a map compiled, shewing the route, from which that now presented to the reader has been reduced. A glance at it will shew that a large tract of unexplored country exists between the track of the Jardines and that of Kennedy, which affords ample scope for, and may possibly repay future explorations. Already stock is on the road to occupy country on the lower Einasleih, and it is not improbable that before long the rich valley of the Archer will add its share to the pastoral wealth of Queensland.

[Plate: SOMERSET CAPE YORK. Lithograph.]

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