Journal of an overland expedition in Australia,, by Ludwig Leichhardt

Chapter XV

Joy at Meeting Natives Speaking Some EnglishThey Are Very FriendlyAllamurrDiscernment of Native SincerityEast Alligator RiverClouds of Dust Mistaken for SmokeImpatience to Reach the End of the JourneyNatives Still More IntelligentNyuallBuffaloes; Source From Which They SprungNative Guides Engaged; But They Desert UsMount Morris BayRaffles BayLeave the Packhorse and Bullock BehindBill WhiteArrive at Port EssingtonVoyage to Sydney.

Dec. 1. — We travelled about eleven or twelve miles to the northward, for the greater part through forest land, large tracts of which were occupied solely by Livistona. A species of Acacia and stringy-bark saplings formed a thick underwood. The open lawns were adorned by various plants, amongst which we noticed a species of Drosera, with white and red blossoms? a Mitrasacme; a narrow-leaved Ruellia, the white primrose, the red prostrate malvaceous plant, a low shrubby Pleurandra, and an orchideous plant — one of the few representatives of this family in the Australian tropics; the most interesting, however, was a prostrate Grevillea, with oblong smooth leaves, and with thyrsi of fine scarlet flowers; which I consider to be Grevillea Goodii, R. Br.

We crossed two small creeks, and, at the end of three miles, we came to a Pandanus brook, the murmuring of whose waters over a rocky pebbly bed was heard by us at a considerable distance. A broad foot-path of the natives led along its banks. probably to large lagoons, of which it might be the outlet. The country became flatter, more densely wooded, and gently sloping to the northward, when we entered a tea-tree hollow, through which the mirage indicated the presence of an immense plain, which we all mistook for the Ocean. We crossed over it to a belt of trees, which I thought to be its northern boundary. The part of the plain next to the forest-land was composed of a loose black soil, with excellent grass; farther on it was a cold clay, either covered with a stiff, dry grass, apparently laid down by the rush of water, or forming flats bare of vegetation, which seemed to have been occasionally washed by the tide. Finding that the belt of trees was a thicket of mangroves along a salt-water creek, I returned to some shallow lagoons near the forest, the water of which was drinkable, though brackish and aluminous. To the westward of the plains, we saw no other limit than two very distant hills, which I took to be the two hills marked to the southward of the embouchure of the South Alligator River. To the eastward, we saw another narrow belt of trees; beyond which, however, the plain evidently continued. Numerous pillars of smoke were seen to the westward.

A fine north-west breeze set in at three o’clock in the afternoon, and refreshed us, as well as the cattle, which were suffering most severely from heat and fatigue.

Dec. 2. — Whilst we were waiting for our bullock, which had returned to the running brook, a fine native stepped out of the forest with the ease and grace of an Apollo, with a smiling countenance, and with the confidence of a man to whom the white face was perfectly familiar. He was unarmed, but a great number of his companions were keeping back to watch the reception he should meet with. We received him, of course, most cordially; and upon being joined by another good-looking little man, we heard him utter distinctly the words, “Commandant!” “come here!!” “very good!!!” “what’s your name?!!!!” If my readers have at all identified themselves with my feelings throughout this trying journey; if they have only imagined a tithe of the difficulties we have encountered, they will readily imagine the startling effect which these, as it were, magic words produced — we were electrified — our joy knew no limits, and I was ready to embrace the fellows, who, seeing the happiness with which they inspired us, joined, with a most merry grin, in the loud expression of our feelings. We gave them various presents, particularly leather belts, and received in return a great number of bunches of goose feathers, which the natives use to brush away the flies. They knew the white people of Victoria, and called them Balanda, which is nothing more than “Hollanders;” a name used by the Malays, from whom they received it. We had most fortunately a small collection of words, made by Mr. Gilbert when at Port Essington; so that we were enabled to ask for water (obert); for the road (allun); for Limbo cardja, which was the name of the Harbour. I wished very much to induce them to become our guides; and the two principal men, Eooanberry and Minorelli, promised to accompany us, but they afterwards changed their minds.

My first object was to find good water, and our sable friends guided us with the greatest care, pointing out to us the most shady road, to some wells surrounded with ferns, which were situated in some tea-tree hollows at the confines of the plains and the forest. These wells, however, were so small that our horses could not approach to drink, so that we had to go to another set of wells; where I was obliged to stop, as one of our horses refused to go any farther. This place was about four miles E.N.E. from our last camp. The wells were about six or eight feet deep, and dug through a sandy clay to a stiff bed of clay, on which the water collected. It would appear that the stiff clay of the plains had been covered by the sandy detritus of the ridges, from which the water slowly drained to the wells. It was evident, from the pains which the natives had taken in digging them, that the supply of fresh water was very precarious. In many instances, however, I observed that they had been induced to do so, simply by the want of surface water in the immediate neighbourhood of places where they obtained their principal supply of food. This was particularly the case near the sea-coast, where no surface water is found; whilst the various fish, and even vegetable productions, attract the natives, who will, in such a case, even contract the habit of going the longest possible time without water, or, at least, with very little, as is well shown in Mr. Eyre’s journey round the Australian Bight. We had to water our horses and the bullock with the stew pot; and had to hobble the latter, to prevent his straying, and attacking the natives.

The natives were remarkably kind and attentive, and offered us the rind of the rose-coloured Eugenia apple, the cabbage of the Seaforthia palm, a fruit which I did not know, and the nut-like swelling of the rhizoma of either a grass or a sedge. The last had a sweet taste, was very mealy and nourishing, and the best article of the food of the natives we had yet tasted. They called it “Allamurr” (the natives of Port Essington, “Murnatt”), and were extremely fond of it. The plant grew in depressions of the plains, where the boys and young men were occupied the whole day in digging for it. The women went in search of other food; either to the sea-coast to collect shell-fish — and many were the broad paths which led across the plains from the forest land to the salt-water — or to the brushes to gather the fruits of the season, and the cabbage of the palms. The men armed with a wommala, and with a bundle of goose spears, made of a strong reed or bamboo (?), gave up their time to hunting. It seemed that they speared the geese only when flying; and would crouch down whenever they saw a flight of them approaching: the geese, however, knew their enemies so well, that they immediately turned upon seeing a native rise to put his spear into the throwing stick. Some of my companions asserted that they had seen them hit their object at the almost incredible distance of 200 yards: but, making all due allowance for the guess, I could not help thinking how formidable they would have been had they been enemies instead of friends. They remained with us the whole afternoon; all the tribe and many visitors, in all about seventy persons, squatting down with crossed legs in the narrow shades of the trunks of trees, and shifting their position as the sun advanced. Their wives were out in search of food; but many of their children were with them, which they duly introduced to us. They were fine, stout, well made men, with pleasing and intelligent countenances. One or two attempts were made to rob us of some trifles; but I was careful; and we avoided the unpleasant necessity of showing any discontent on that head. As it grew late, and they became hungry, they rose, and explained that they were under the necessity of leaving us, to go and satisfy their hunger; but that they would shortly return, and admire, and talk again. They went to the digging ground, about half a mile in the plain, where the boys were collecting Allamurr, and brought us a good supply of it; in return for which various presents were made to them. We became very fond of this little tuber: and I dare say the feast of Allamurr with Eooanberry’s and Minorelli’s tribe will long remain in the recollection of my companions. They brought us also a thin grey snake, about four feet long, which they put on the coals and roasted. It was poisonous, and was called “Yullo.” At nightfall, after filling their koolimans with water, there being none at their camp, they took their leave, and retired to their camping place on the opposite hill where a plentiful dinner awaited them. They were very urgent in inviting us to accompany them, and by way of inducement, most unequivocally offered us their sable partners. We had to take great care of our bullock, as the beast invariably charged the natives whenever he obtained a sight of them, and he would alone have prevented their attacking us; for the whole tribe were so much afraid of him, that, upon our calling out “the bullock,” they were immediately ready to bolt; with the exception of Eooanberry and Minorelli, who looked to us for protection. I had not, however, the slightest fear and apprehension of any treachery on the part of the natives; for my frequent intercourse with the natives of Australia had taught me to distinguish easily between the smooth tongue of deceit, with which they try to ensnare their victim, and the open expression of kind and friendly feelings, or those of confidence and respect. I remember several instances of the most cold-blooded smooth-tongued treachery, and of the most extraordinary gullibility of the natives; but I am sure that a careful observer is more than a match for these simple children of nature, and that he can easily read the bad intention in their unsteady, greedy, glistening eyes.

Dec. 3. — The natives visited us very early in the morning, with their wives and children, whom they introduced to us. There could not have been less than 200 of them present; they were all well made, active, generally well-looking, with an intelligent countenance: they had in fact all the characters of the coast blacks of a good country; but without their treacherous dispositions. I started in a north-east direction; and as we were accompanied by the natives, I led our bullock, by the noserope, behind my horse. After crossing a plain, we were stopped by a large sheet of salt-water, about three or four miles broad, at the opposite side of which a low range was visible; when Eooanberry explained that we had to go far to the south-east and south, before we could cross the river, and that we had to follow it down again at the other side. He expressed his great attachment to his wife and child, and obtained leave of us to return to his tribe, which had already retired before him. Seeing the necessity of heading the river, which I considered to be the East Alligator; the longitude of which was, where we first came to it, 132 degrees 40 minutes according to reckoning; I returned to the forest land, and travelled along its belt of Pandanus, to obtain a better ground for our cattle, and to avoid the scorching heat of the forenoon sun. Observing some singularly formed mountains rising abruptly out of the plains and many pillars of smoke behind them, I tried to get to them, but was again prevented by the broad salt water. We now steered for a distant smoke to the south-east by east, and had travelled fully seventeen miles on, or along extensive plains, when we perceived seven natives returning on a beaten foot-path, from the salt water to the forest. We cooeed — they ran! But when we had passed, and Charley stopped behind alone, they came up to him, and, having received some presents, they showed us some miserable wells between two tea-tree groves; after which they hastened home. Our cattle were tired and thirsty, but we could give them nothing to drink, except about six quarts of brackish water; which fell to the share of our bullock. The feed, however, was rich and young, and during the night a heavy dew was deposited, Many flocks of geese came flying low over the plains, which made us hope that water was not very distant. Whilst we were passing the head of a small Mangrove creek, four native dogs, started out of a shady hole; but we looked in vain for fresh water. The plains, which were very level, with a few melon-holes, were scattered all over with dead Limnaeas, which showed evidently, that fresh, or slightly brackish water, covered them occasionally, and for some length of time. Since we first entered upon the large plains of the Alligator Rivers, we had seen myriads of the small cockatoo (Cocatua sanguinea, Gould), which retired towards night, in long flights from the plains, to the shade of the drooping tea-trees near the shallow pools of water on which we encamped. We had also observed several retreats of flying-foxes in the most shady parts of the Pandanus groves, receiving frequently the first indication of them by the peculiar odour of the animal.

Cumuli formed very early in the morning, and increased during the day, sending down showers of rain all round the horizon. The sea breeze set in at 3 o’clock; and the weather cleared up at sunset, and during the first part of the night; but after 1 o’clock A. M. became cloudy again, with inclination to rain; heavy dew fell during the clear part of the night.

Dec. 4. — The natives returned very early to our camp. I went up to them and made them some presents; in return for which they offered me bunches of goose feathers, and the roasted leg of a goose, which they were pleased to see me eat with a voracious appetite. I asked for Allamurr, and they expressed themselves sorry in not having any left, and gave us to understand that they would supply us, if we would stay a day. Neither these natives nor the tribe of Eooanberry would touch our green hide or meat: they took it, but could not overcome their repugnance, and tried to drop it without being seen by us. Poor fellows! they did not know how gladly we should have received it back! They were the stoutest and fattest men we had met.

We travelled at first to the east, in the direction from which the geese had come last night, but, arriving at ridges covered with scrubby forest, we turned to the north-east, and continued in that direction about seven miles and a half, over iron-stone ridges, when we again entered upon the plains of the river. Mountains and columns of smoke were seen all along its northern banks; but we afterwards found that most of those supposed columns of smoke were dust raised by whirlwinds. We now followed the river until a vine brush approached close to its bank, into the cool shade of which our bullock rushed and lay down, refusing to go any farther; our packhorse and most of our riding horses were also equally tired. The bed of the river had become very narrow, and the water was not quite brine, which made me hope that we should soon come to fresh water. Charley, Brown, and John, had gone into the brush to a camp of flying-foxes, and returned with twelve, which we prepared for luncheon, which allowed our bullock time to recover. They gave an almost incredible account of the enormous numbers of flying-foxes, all clustering round the branches of low trees, which drooped by the weight so near to the ground that the animals could easily be killed with endgels. The Seaforthia palm raised its elegant crown far above the patches of vine brush which we passed at the river side of the ridges.

After a delay of two hours, we again started, and travelled in a due south direction towards some thick smoke rising between two steep and apparently isolated rocky hills: they were about four miles distant, and, when we arrived at their base, we enjoyed the pleasing sight of large lagoons, surrounded with mangrove myrtles (Stravadium), with Pandanus, and with a belt of reeds and Nelumbiums. Man, horse, and bullock, rushed most eagerly into the fine water, determined to make up for the privation and suffering of the three last days. The lagoons were crowded with geese, and, as the close vegetation allowed a near approach, Brown made good use of the few slugs that were still left, and shot ten of them, which allowed a goose to every man; a great treat to my hungry party.

Dec. 5. — I determined upon stopping for a day, to allow our cattle to recover. Every body was anxious to procure geese or flying-foxes; and, whilst three of my companions went to the flying-fox camp which we had visited yesterday, loaded with ironstone pebbles for shot, and full of the most sanguine expectations, Brown was busy at the lagoons, and even Mr. Roper stirred to try his good luck. The two met with a party of natives, who immediately retreated at sight of Mr. Roper; but during the afternoon they came to the other side of the lagoon opposite to our camp, and offered us some fish, a Silurus (Mao) and a tench (?) which they had speared in the lagoons. I made a sign for them to come over and to receive, as presents in exchange, some small pieces of iron, tin canisters, and leather belts; which they did; but they became exceedingly noisy, and one of them, an old rogue, tried to possess himself quietly and openly of every thing he saw, from my red blanket to the spade and stew-pot. I consequently sent Brown for a horse, whose appearance quickly sent them to the other side of the lagoon, where they remained until night-fall. Brown offered them half a goose, which, however, they refused; probably because it was not prepared by themselves, as they were very desirous of getting some of the geese which we had not yet cooked. Brown had shot nine geese, and our fox hunters returned with forty-four of the small species.

When the natives became hungry, they ate the lower part of the leaf-stalks of Nelumbium, after stripping off the external skin. They threw a great number of them over to us, and I could not help making a rather ridiculous comparison of our situation, and our hosts, with that of the English ambassador in China, who was treated also with Nelumbium by its rich Mandarins.

The natives seemed to speak a less melodious language, which might be ascribed to the mountainous character of their country. I collected the following names: Kobboyakka, Nobungop, Kanbinycx, Manguradja, Apirk (Apek), Yaganyin, Kolar, Kadgupa, Gnanga Gnanga. Ayir meant stone spear; Ekolpen, jagged fish-spear.

I made the latitude of these lagoons, by an observation of Castor, 12 degrees 23 minutes 19 seconds.

Dec. 6. — The natives visited us again this morning, and it was evident that they had not been with their gins. They invited us to come to their camp; but I wished to find a crossing place, and, after having tried in vain to pass at the foot of the rocky hills, we found a passage between the lagoons, and entered into a most beautiful valley, bounded on the west, east, and south by abrupt hills, ranges, and rocks rising abruptly out of an almost treeless plain clothed with the most luxuriant verdure, and diversified by large Nymphaea lagoons, and a belt of trees along the creek which meandered through it. The natives now became our guides, and pointed out to us a sound crossing place of the creek, which proved to be the head of the salt-water branch of the East Alligator River. We observed a great number of long conical fish and crab traps at the crossing place of the creek and in many of the tributary salt-water channels; they were made apparently of Flagellaria. Here I took leave of our guides: the leader of whom appeared to be “Apirk,” a young and slender, but an intelligent and most active man. We now travelled again to the northward, following the outline of the rocky ridges at the right side of the creek; and, having again entered upon the plains, we encamped at a very broad, shallow, sedgy, boggy lagoon, surrounded with Typhas, and crowded with ducks and geese, of which Brown shot four. It was about four miles east of our yesterday’s camp. Numerous flocks of the Harlequin pigeon (Peristera histrionica, Gould) came to drink at this lagoon; and innumerable geese alighted towards the evening on the plain, and fed on the young grass, moistened by the rain. The number of kites was in a fair proportion to that of the geese; and dozens of them were watching us from the neighbouring trees.

We found a new Eugenia, a tree of rather stunted growth, with broad opposite leaves, and fruit of the size of an apple, of a delicate rose-colour, and when ripe, a most delicious refreshment during a hot day. We had frequently met with this tree on sandstone ridges, and in sandy soils, but had never before found it in fruit. The day was distressingly hot, but we had several light showers during the afternoon.

Dec. 7. —”Apirk,” with seven other natives, visited us again in the morning, and it seemed that they had examined the camp we had last left. They gave us to understand that we could travel safely to the northward, without meeting any other creek. Apirk carried a little pointed stick, and a flat piece of wood with a small hole in it, for the purpose of obtaining fire. I directed my course to a distant mountain, due north from the camp, and travelled seven or eight miles over a large plain, which was composed of a rich dark soil, and clothed with a great variety of excellent grasses. We saw many columns of dust raised by whirlwinds; and again mistook them for the smoke of so many fires of the natives. But we soon observed that they moved in a certain direction, and that new columns rose as those already formed drew off; and when we came nearer, and passed between them, it seemed as if the giant spirits of the plain were holding a stately corrobori around us. They originated on a patch of ground divested of its vegetation by a late fire. There was a belt of forest to the northward, and the current of the sea-breeze coming up the valley of the river from N.N.W. seemed to eddy round the forest, and to whirl the unsheltered loose earth into the air.

Towards the river, now to the west of our course, peaks, razor-backed hills, and tents, similar to those we had observed when travelling at the west side of the river on the 3rd December (and probably the same), reappeared. To the east of the mountain, towards which we were travelling, several bluff mountains appeared, which probably bounded the valley of a river flowing to the northward, and disemboguing between the Liverpool and Mount Morris Bay. For the last five miles of the stage, our route lay through forest land; and we crossed two creeks going to the east, and then came to rocky sandstone hills, with horizontal stratification, at the foot of which we met with a rocky creek, in the bed of which, after following it for a few miles, we found water. The supply was small; but we enlarged it with the spade, and obtained a sufficient supply for the night. A thunder-storm formed to the northward, which drew off to the westward; but another to the north-east gave us a fine shower, and added to the contents of our water-hole. A well-beaten foot-path of the natives went down the creek to the south-east. My latitude, according to an observation of Castor, was 12 degrees 11 minutes.

We saw the Torres Strait pigeon; a Wallooroo and a red kangaroo (Osphranter Antilopinus, Gould). The old camps of the natives, which we passed in the forest, were strewed with the shells of goose eggs, which showed what an important article these birds formed in the culinary department of the natives; and, whilst their meat and eggs served them for food, their feathers afforded them a protection against the flies which swarmed round their bodies during the day.

The arborescent Vitex with ternate leaves, which I had first met with at the Flying–Fox Creek of the Roper, was also observed here.

At this time we were all sadly distressed with boils, and with a prickly heat; early lancing of the former saved much pain: the cuts and sores on the hands festered quickly; but this depended much more on the want of cleanliness than any thing else. A most dangerous enemy grew up amongst us in the irresistible impatience to come to the end of our journey; and I cannot help considering it a great blessing that we did not meet with natives who knew the settlement of Port Essington at an earlier part of our journey, or I am afraid we should have been exposed to the greatest misery, if not destruction, by an inconsiderate, thoughtless desire of pushing onward.

Dec. 8. — I went to the westward, to avoid the rocky ground, and if possible to come into the valley of the East Alligator River, if the country should not open and allow me a passage to the northward, which direction I took whenever the nature of the country permitted. After crossing the heads of several easterly creeks, we came upon a large foot-path of the natives, which I determined to follow. It was, in all probability, the same which went down the creek on which we had encamped last night: it descended through a narrow rocky gully, down which I found great difficulty in bringing the horses; and afterwards wound through a fine forest land, avoiding the rocky hills, and touching the heads of westerly creeks, which were well supplied with rocky basins of water. It then followed a creek down into swampy lagoons, which joined the broad irregular sandy bed of a river containing large pools and reaches of water, lined with Pandanus and drooping tea-trees. This river came from the eastward, and was probably the principal branch of the East Alligator River, which joined the salt-water branch we had crossed in latitude about 12 degrees 6 minutes. We met another foot-path at its northern bank, which led us between the river and ranges of rocky hills, over a country abounding with the scarlet Eugenia, of which we made a rich harvest. We encamped at a fine lagoon, occupied, as usual, with geese and ducks, and teeming with large fish, which were splashing about during the whole night. The situation of these lagoons was, by an observation of Castor, in lat. 12 degrees 6 minutes 2 seconds; and about nine miles north-west from our last camp.

Immediately after our arrival, Brown went to shoot some geese, and met with two natives who were cooking some roots, but they withdrew in great haste as soon as they saw him. Soon afterwards, however, a great number of them came to the opposite side of the lagoon, and requested a parley. I went down to them with some presents, and a young man came over in a canoe to met me. I gave him a tin canister, and was agreeably surprised to find that the stock of English words increased considerably; that very few things we had were new to him, and that he himself had been at the settlement. His name was “Bilge.” He called me Commandant, and presented several old men to me under the same title. Several natives joined us, either using the canoe, or swimming across the lagoon, and, after having been duly introduced to me, I took four of them to the camp, where they examined everything with great intelligence, without expressing the least desire of possessing it. They were the most confiding, intelligent, inquisitive natives I had ever met before. Bilge himself took me by the hand and went to the different horses, and to the bullock and asked their names and who rode them. The natives had always been very curious to know the names of our horses, and repeated “Jim Crow,” “Flourbag,” “Caleb,” “Irongrey,” as well as they could, with the greatest merriment. Bilge frequently mentioned “Devil devil,” in referring to the bullock, and I think he alluded to the wild buffaloes, the tracks of which we soon afterwards saw. We asked him for “Allamurr;” and they expressed their readiness to bring it, as soon as the children and women, who both went under the denomination of Piccaninies, returned to the camp. The day being far advanced, and their camp a good way off, they left us, after inviting us to accompany them: but this I declined. About 10 o’clock at night, three lads came to us with Allamurr; but they were very near suffering for their kindness and confidence, as the alarm of “blackfellows” at night was a call to immediate and desperate defence. Suspecting, however, the true cause of this untimely visit, I walked up to them, and led them into the camp, where I divided their Allamurr between us; allowing them a place of honour on a tarpauling near me for the remainder of the night, with which attention they appeared highly pleased. The night was clear and dewy, but became cloudy with the setting of the moon.

Dec. 9. — The natives came to our camp at break of day, and Bilge introduced several old warriors of a different tribe, adding always the number of piccaninies that each of them had; they appeared very particular about the latter, and one of the gentlemen corrected Bilge very seriously when he mentioned only two instead of three. Bilge had promised to go with us to Balanda, but, having probably talked the matter over during the night, with his wife, he changed his intentions; but invited us in the most urgent manner, to stay a day at their camp. Although no place could be found more favourable for feed and water, and a day’s rest would have proved very beneficial to our cattle, yet our meat bags, on which we now solely depended, were so much reduced, that every day of travelling was of the greatest importance; as the natives told us that four days would bring us to the Peninsula, and two more to Balanda. We crossed the plain to the westward, in order to avoid the low rocks and rocky walls which bounded this fine country to the north and east. After about three miles, however, we turned to the northward, and travelled with ease through an open undulating forest, interrupted by some tea-tree hollows. Just before entering the forest, Brown observed the track of a buffalo on the rich grassy inlets between the rocks. After proceeding about five miles we crossed a chain of fine Nymphaea ponds; and, at five miles farther, we came upon a path of the natives, which we followed to the eastward, along a drooping tea-tree swamp, in the outlet of which we found good water. Our lat. was 11 degrees 56 minutes; about ten miles and a half north by east, from Bilge’s lagoon. Mitrasacme elata, and all the other little plants I have before mentioned, were growing in the stringy-bark forest. A flight of whistling ducks came at night, and alighted on the ground near our camp; but departed as soon as they saw us moving. Tracks of buffaloes were again observed by Charley. The night was clear and very dry.

Dec. 10. — We travelled about seven miles to the northward; but kept for the first three miles in a N.N.W. direction from our camp, when we came to a small plain, with a Mangrove creek going to the westward; scarcely two miles farther, we crossed a drooping tea-tree swamp, of which a Pandanus creek formed the outlet; and, two miles farther still, a large plain opened upon us, in which we saw a great number of natives occupied in burning the grass, and digging for roots. All the country intervening between the creeks and the plain was undulating stringy-bark forest. I left my companions in the shady belt of drooping tea-trees, and rode with Charley towards the natives, in order to obtain information. They were, however, only women and children, and they withdrew at my approach, although I had dismounted and left my horse far behind with Charley. They had, however, allowed me to come near enough to make them understand my incessant calls for “obeit,” water, adding occasionally “Balanda; very good; no good.” When they had disappeared in the forest, Charley came with the horse, and we reconnoitred along the boundaries of the plain to find water, but not succeeding, we returned; and, when opposite to the place where I had left my companions, I cooeed for them to come over to me. My cooee was answered by natives within the forest, and, shortly afterwards four men came running out of it, and approached us most familiarly. They spoke English tolerably, knew the pipe, tobacco, bread, rice, ponies, guns, &c.; and guided us to a fine lagoon, which I named after the leading man of their tribe, “Nyuall’s Lagoon.” Two of them promised to pilot us to Balanda and to “Rambal,” which meant houses. They were very confiding, and women and children entered for the first time freely into our camp.

They examined every thing, but made not the slightest attempt to rob us even of a trifle. When the women returned at night, they did not bring “Allamurr,” or, as it was here called, “Murnatt,” but plenty of “Imberbi,” the root of Convolvolus, which grow abundantly in the plain: they gave us a very seasonable supply of it, but would not taste our dried beef, which they turned, broke, smelled, and then with a feeling of pity and disgust returned to us. Nyuall gave an amusing account of our state: “You no bread, no flour, no rice, no backi — you no good! Balanda plenty bread, plenty flour, plenty rice, plenty backi! Balanda very good!”

He, Gnarrangan, and Carbaret, promised to go with us; and the first intended to take his wife with him. They imitated with surprising accuracy the noises of the various domesticated animals they had seen at the settlement; and it was amusing to hear the crowing of the cock, the cackling of the hens, the quacking of ducks, grunting of pigs, mewing of the cat, &c. evident proofs that these natives had been in Victoria.

A heavy thunder-storm passed over at 6 o’clock P. M. and the natives either crowded into my tent, or covered their backs with sheets of tea-tree bark, turning them to the storm, like a herd of horses or cattle surprised by a heavy shower in the middle of a plain. Imaru lay close to me during the night, and, in order to keep entire possession of my blanket, I had to allow him a tarpauling.

Dec. 11. — We travelled about seven miles N.N.W. over an immense plain, with forest land and rising ground to the eastward, in which direction four prominent hills were seen, one of which had the abrupt peak form of Biroa in Moreton Bay. The plain appeared to be unbounded to the westward. When we approached the forest, several tracts of buffaloes were seen; and, upon the natives conducting us along a small creek which came into the plain from the N.N.E., we found a well beaten path and several places where these animals were accustomed to camp. We encamped at a good-sized water-hole in the bed of this creek, the water of which was covered with a green scum. As the dung and tracks of the buffaloes were fresh, Charley went to track them, whilst Brown tried to shoot some Ibises, which had been at the water and were now perched on a tree about 300 yards off. At the discharge of the gun a buffalo started out of a thicket, but did not seem inclined to go far; Brown returned, loaded his gun with ball, went after the buffalo and wounded him in the shoulder. When Charley came back to the camp, he, Brown and Mr. Roper pursued the buffalo on horseback, and after a long run, and some charges, succeeded in killing it. It was a young bull, about three years old, and in most excellent condition. This was a great, a most fortunate event for us; for our meat bags were almost empty, and, as we did not wish to kill Redmond, our good companion, we had the prospect of some days of starvation before us. We could now share freely with our black friends, and they had not the slightest objection to eat the fresh meat, after baking it in their usual manner. They called the buffalo “Anaborro;” and stated that the country before us was full of them. These buffaloes are the offspring of the stock which had either strayed from the settlement at Raffles Bay, or had been left behind when that establishment was broken up. They were originally introduced from the Malay islands. I was struck with the remarkable thickness of their skin, (almost an inch) and with the solidity of their bones, which contained little marrow; but that little was extremely savoury.

We had a heavy thunder-storm at 10 o’clock at night from the southward.

Dec. 12. — Part of the meat was cut up and dried, and part of it was roasted to take with us; a great part of it was given to the natives, who were baking and eating the whole day; and when they could eat no more meat, they went into the plains to collect “Imberbi” and Murnatt, to add the necessary quantum of vegetable matter to their diet. The sultry weather, however, caused a great part of the meat to become tainted and maggotty. Our friend Nyuall became ill, and complained of a violent headache, which he tried to cure by tying a string tightly round his head.

The black ibis, cocatua, kites, crows, and a small black and white species of heron, frequented our water-hole.

The night was extremely close, and, to find some relief, I took a bath; which gave me, however, a very annoying inflammation of the eyes.

Dec. 13. — At day break, an old man, whom Nyuall introduced to us as Commandant, came with his gin, and invited us to his camp, about two miles off. We went to it with the intention of continuing our journey, and found a great number of women and children collected in very spacious huts or sheds, probably with the intention of seeing us pass. They had a domestic dog, which seemed very ferocious. A little farther on, we came to a small creek, with good water-holes, and our guides wished us to stop; but, when I told them that we were desirous of reaching Balanda as soon as possible, and added to my promise of giving them a blanket and a tomahawk, that of a pint pot, Gnarrangan and Cabaret again volunteered, and pursuaded a third, of the name of Malarang, to join them. For some miles, we followed a beaten foot-path, which skirted the large plain, and then entered the forest, which was composed of rusty-gum, leguminous Ironbark, Cochlospermum gossypium, and a small apocynaceous tree (Balfouria, Br.); we crossed several salt-water creeks which went down to Van Diemen’s Gulf. The country near these creeks, was more undulating, the soil sandy and mixed with small ironstone pebbles; fine tea-tree flats with excellent grass, on which the buffaloes fed, were frequent. Along the plain, small clusters of brush protruded into it from the forest, or covered low mounts of sea shells, mixed with a black soil. Amongst these copses, the tracks of buffaloes were very numerous.

We travelled about ten miles north-west by north, and encamped at a small pool of water in a creek, in which the clayey ironstone cropped out. Its water was so impregnated with the astringent properties of the gum-trees, that Mr. Phillips boiled and drank it like tea. Before arriving at this creek, we had a thunder-storm, with heavy rain, from the northward. After pitching our tents, our guides went out, and returned with a small Iguana (Vergar), and with pods of the rose-coloured Sterculia, which they roasted on the coals. I succeeded in saving a great part of our meat by smoking it.

Our horses were greatly distressed by large horse-flies, and every now and then the poor brutes would come and stand in the smoke of our fires to rid themselves of their persevering tormentors. This want of rest during the night contributed very much to their increasing weakness; though most of them were severely galled besides, which was prevented only in two by the most careful attention, and daily washing of their backs. On this stage we again passed one of those oven-like huts of the natives, thatched with grass, which I have mentioned several times, and which Nyuall’s tribe called “Corambal.” At the place where we encamped, the ruins of a very large hut were still visible, which indicated that the natives had profited by their long intercourse with the Malays and Europeans, in the construction of their habitations.

Dec. 14. — When we started, intending to follow the foot-path, our native guides remained behind; and, when I had proceeded two or three miles, my companions came up to me and stated, that the natives had left us, but that they had given them to understand that the foot-path would conduct us safely to Balanda. They had attempted to keep the large tomahawk, but had given it up when Brown asked them for it. I was very sorry at their having left us, as the cloudy sky had prevented me for several days from taking any latitude, and determining my position. We crossed a great number of small creeks, coming from the eastward, and draining the ridges of the neck of the Peninsula. Scattered Pandanus and drooping tea-trees grew on their banks as far as the fresh water extended; when they were succeeded by the salt-water tea-tree and the mangrove, covering and fringing their beds, which enlarged into stiff plains, without vegetation, or into mangrove swamps. The latter were composed of Aegiceras, Bruguiera, and Pemphis. The tracks of the buffaloes increased in number as we advanced, and formed broad paths, leading in various directions, and made me frequently mistake them for the foot-path of the natives, which I eventually lost. A course north 30 degrees west, brought us to easterly creeks, one of which I followed down, when Brown called out that he saw the sea. We, therefore, went to the sea-side, and found ourselves at the head of a large bay, with an island to the north-east, and with headlands stretching far into the ocean, which was open and boundless to the northward. It was Mount Morris Bay, with Valentia and Crocker’s islands; the latter, however, appeared to us to be a continuation of the main land. We now went to the north-west and westward, until we came again on westerly waters. The country in the centre of the neck of the Peninsula, was very hilly, and some of the ridges rose, perhaps, from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet above the level of the sea; one or two hills were still higher. They were all composed of a clayey ironstone, and clothed with patches of scrub, formed principally of Calythrix, and with a more open forest of Cypress pine, white-gum, tea-trees, bloodwood, Livistona palms, Pandanus, with shrubby Terminalias and Coniogetons. The grass was dry, but high and dense; and buffalo tracks spread in every direction, particularly down the creeks, both to the eastward and westward.

We followed a westerly creek in all its windings, in order to detect water in one of its rocky water-holes. The rock was shaly, of a greyish colour, like the clay shale of Newcastle above the layers of the coal, but more indurated. Patches of vine brush grew along the banks, and their verdure led me frequently to expect the presence of water. We met, however, only with salt-water, where the mangroves commenced, and had consequently to continue our journey. Here we again came on the foot-path of the natives, which skirted the mangrove swamps, and I followed it for about three miles farther, crossed several dry watercourses, and at last found some pools of rain water, in a small creek. I was fortunate enough to make my latitude by an observation of Regulus, 11 degrees 32 minutes 11 seconds.

Dec. 15. — I followed the foot-path of the natives, with the intention of continuing on it, until I came in sight of Mounts Bedwell and Roe. If I had done so, much trouble would have been saved. But, after we had travelled more than three hours, the country became very hilly and ridgy, and I supposed that we were close to those mountains, but were prevented, by the ridges, from seeing them. We went consequently to the northward, and after an hour’s riding over a hilly, but openly timbered country, came to an easterly creek, which we followed down, until we found an abundance of water. The upper part of this creek was very scrubby, and with but little grass. I imagined that we had arrived at the west side of Port Essington, and that the creek on which we encamped was probably the Warvi. To ascertain this, I rode down the creek with Charley: it became more open; limited flats of sandy alluvium were clothed with the refreshing verdure of young grass, and with groves of Banksias; its hollows were fringed with large drooping tea-trees. The creek itself was a succession of shady water-holes, out of which, at our approach dashed buffaloes, three and four at a time, shaking their muddy heads, as they scrambled up the steep banks, and galloped to the neighbouring thickets. The stiff sedges of the salt-water, and the salt-water tea-trees, made their appearance about three miles from our camp; and it is probable that the sea was scarcely half a mile farther. High hills rose to the northward, openly timbered, but at their base with patches of scrub, and very stony. Here we heard the distant cooees of natives, which we answered, going in their direction, until we came to a camp, in which we found an old lame man, “Baki Baki,” and a short sturdy fellow, “Rambo Rambo;” both of whom knew a great number of English words, and were quite familiar with the settlement, and knew the Commandant, Mr. Macarthur. They promised the guide us the next morning to Balanda, after having made many inquiries about our stock of provisions and of tobacco. I made my latitude 11 degrees 26 minutes 18 seconds, by an observation of Regulus; which, allowing a possible error of a few miles, confirmed me in my belief, that we were at the head of the harbour; particularly as Baki Baki had told me that he had come this very morning from the settlement.

Dec. 16. — When we arrived with our whole train at the camp of the natives, their behaviour was quite altered, and they now showed as little inclination to guide us to the settlement, as they had been eager last night to do so. I persuaded Baki Baki, however, to go, at least part of the way; and, when we saw that he became tired, we mounted him on one of the horses, and led it by the bridle. He pointed to the W.N.W. as the direction in which the settlement lay. We travelled about five miles over stony ironstone ridges, with extensive groves of Livistona palm covering their slopes. Here Baki Baki desired to dismount; and, telling us that it was a very good road to Balanda, took his leave and returned. Soon after we came to a large creek full of water, running to the eastward, which we followed up for a long distance, before we were able to cross. Our pack-horse became bogged, and as it was so weak that it would not even make an effort to extricate itself, and as I supposed that we were near the settlement, we took off its pack-saddle and load, and left it behind. We crossed two or three more watercourses; and continued the course pointed out by the native, until it became very late, and I found myself compelled to look for water; particularly as our bullock showed evident symptoms of becoming knocked up. I therefore followed the fall of the country to the north-east; and, in a short time, came to the sea-side. We compared our little map of the harbour of Port Essington with the configuration of the bay before us, but nothing would agree exactly, although it bore a general resemblance to Raffles Bay.

A narrow belt of brush covered the approaches to the water; but the scarlet Eugenia grew on the sandy flats towards the hilly forest; where we also found a new tree, a species of Anacardium, which the natives called “Lugula;” it bore a red succulent fruit, formed by the enlargement of the stalk, with a greyish one-seeded nut outside, like Exocarpus. The fruit was extremely refreshing; the envelope, however, contained such an acrid juice that it ate into and discoloured my skin, and raised blisters wherever it touched it: these blisters were not only followed by a simple excoriation, but by a deep and painful ulceration. In the forest, we met with some few small Seaforthia palms, the young shoots of which we obtained with great difficulty, not then knowing how easily the natives strip them of the surrounding leaves and leafstalks. I followed a a well beaten foot-path of the natives to the northward, crossed a creek, in the mangrove swamp of which another horse was bogged, which we extricated after great exertion; and, after two or three miles, came to a large fresh-water swamp (Marair) on which we encamped. The sun had long set, and our cattle, as well as ourselves, were miserably tired. We were here visited by a tribe of natives, who were well acquainted with the settlement; they were all friendly, and willing to assist us; and many of them spoke very tolerable English. One of them, apparently the chief of the tribe, though a hunchback, named “Bill White,” promised to guide us to the settlement. He gave us to understand that we had come too far to the northward, and that we had to go to the south-west, in order to head Port Essington, and to follow its west coast, in order to arrive at Victoria. We were, in fact, at Raffles Bay. The natives knew every body in Victoria, and did not cease to give us all the news; to which we most willingly listened. They fetched water for us from a great distance, and gave us some Murnatt, which was extremely welcome. Perceiving the state of exhaustion and depression in which we were, they tried to cheer us with their corrobori songs, which they accompanied on the Eboro, a long tube of bamboo, by means of which they variously modulated their voices. I may mention that we experienced a heavy thunder-storm during the afternoon.

Dec. 17. — We started, with a willing guide, for the goal of our journey, and travelled to the south-west over a hilly country, covered with groves of the Livistona palm, which, as we proceeded became mixed with Seaforthia (the real cabbage-palm). A fine large creek, containing a chain of large water-holes went to the north-east, and disembogued probably into Bremer’s Bay. We followed it for three or four miles towards its head; and, when crossing it, we had a very heavy thunder-storm; at the earliest hour we had ever witnessed one. The Seaforthia palm because very abundant, and at last the forest was formed entirely of it, with trees of every size. Our guide showed us how we could easily obtain the young shoots, by splitting the leaves and leafstalks; and we enjoyed a fine meal of the cabbage. Our bullock refused to go any farther, and, as I then knew that the settlement was not very distant, I unloaded him, and covered his packsaddle and load with tarpaulings, and left him to recruit for a few days; when I intended to send for him. As we approached the harbour, the cabbage palm became rarer, and entirely disappeared at the head of it. We crossed several creeks running into the harbour, until we arrived at the Matunna, a dry creek, at which the foot-path from Pitchenelumbo (Van Diomen’s Gulf) touched the harbour, and on which we should have come last night. We followed it now, crossed the Warvi, the Wainunmema, and the Vollir — all which enlarged into shallow lagoons or swamps, before they were lost between the mangrove thickets. At the banks of the Vollir, some constant springs exist, which induced Sir Gordon Bremer to choose that place for a settlement, and on which Victoria at present stands. All these creeks were separated from each other by a hilly forest land; but small fertile flats of sandy alluvium, clothed with young grass, and bordered by Banksias, extended along their banks. The forest was principally composed of stringy-bark, the leguminous Ironbark, Melaleuca-gum, with underwood of Acacias, Coniogeton, Pachynemas, Pultenaeas? and Careya? A tree very much resembling the real Ironbark (Eucalyptus resinifera) was observed at the Warvi; but I expect it will be found entirely different. The stringy-bark and the drooping tea-tree were the only useful timber near the settlement. The Cypress-pine (Callitris) could, however, be obtained without any great difficulty from Mount Morris Bay, or Van Diemen’s Gulf. On the Vollir, we came on a cart road which wound round the foot of a high hill; and, having passed the garden, with its fine Cocoa-nut palms, the white houses, and a row of snug thatched cottages burst suddenly upon us; the house of the Commandant being to the right and separate from the rest. We were most kindly received by Captain Macarthur, the Commandant of Port Essington, and by the other officers, who, with the greatest kindness and attention, supplied us with every thing we wanted. I was deeply affected in finding myself again in civilized society, and could scarcely speak, the words growing big with tears and emotion; and, even now, when considering with what small means the Almighty had enabled me to perform such a long journey, my heart thrills in grateful acknowledgement of his infinite kindness.

After a month’s stay at Port Essington, the schooner Heroine, Captain Mackenzie, arrived from Bally, on her voyage to Sydney, via Torres Strait and the Inner Barrier, a route only once before attempted with success. We embarked in this vessel, and arrived safely in Sydney, on the 29th of March. To the generous attentions of Captain Mackenzie our party owe much; and, at his hospitable table, we soon forgot the privations of our late journey. At Sydney, a reception awaited us, the warmth and kindness of which, it is out of my power to describe. All classes pressed forward to testify their joy at our reappearance, which, we found, had been long despaired of, and to offer their aid in supplying our wants. A public subscription was set on foot, which, in a very few weeks, by the liberal contributions which flowed in from all parts of the Colony, amounted to upwards of Fifteen Hundred pounds; and in the Legislative Council, a motion was brought forward, which, by the unanimous vote of that House, and the ready concurrence of His Excellency, Sir George Gipps, the Governor, devoted a Thousand Pounds out of the Public Revenue to our use. In the Appendix to this volume, will be found the very handsome letter, in which the Hon. Mr. E. Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary, conveyed to me this resolution of the Government; and an account of the proceedings taken at the School of Arts, on the 21st September, when His Honor, The Speaker, Dr. C. Nicholson, presented me with that portion of the public subscription, which the Committee of the Subscribers had awarded. In laying these documents before the Public, I will leave it to be supposed how vain would be any attempt of mine to express my gratitude to that generous people to whom I have inscribed this humble narrative.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38