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

Chapter V

Difference of Soil As to MoisturePhillips’s MountainAllowance of Flour Reduced AgainHughs’s CreekTombstone CreekCharley and Brown Become UnrulyThe IsaacsNative WomenCoxen’s Peak and RangeGeological CharacterCharley Rebels Again and LeavesBrown Follows HimBoth Return PenitentVariations of the WeatherSkull of NativeFriendly Natives Visit the Camp.

Feb. 2. — Being much recovered, I took both Blackfellows with me, and again passed the defile east of Roper’s and Scott’s Peaks, and followed the watercourse rising from it to the northward. About two or three miles lower down, we found water in deep rocky basins in the bed of the creek. The rock was sandstone, fissured from south-west to north-east.

In passing the foot of the peaks, we found a species of Grewia (Dwarf Roorajong) covered with ripe fruit; the fruit is dry, but the stringy tissue which covers the seed, contains a slightly sweet and acidulous substance of a very agreeable taste. The fig-tree with a rough leaf, had plenty of fruit, but not yet ripe. Erythrina was both in blossom and in seed.

Sending Brown back to conduct our party to the water-holes we had found, and leaving the creek, which turned to the eastward, I continued my ride to the northward. I passed some gentle well-grassed slopes of narrow-leaved Ironbark and spotted gum; and also several basaltic ridges, which head out into small plains gently sloping to the east and north-east. They are formed of a rich black soil, and generally a shallow creek meanders through them: sandstone ridges formed their boundary lower down, where, at their foot, water-holes generally existed, either with a constant supply of water, or readily filled by thunder-showers. The basaltic ridges, as well as the plains, were covered with a fine crop of dry grass; but the sandstone ridges were frequently scrubby. The difference between the sandstone country and the basaltic plains and ridges, is very striking in respect to the quantity of water they contain: in the latter, rain is immediately absorbed by the cracked porous soil, which requires an immense quantity of moisture before it allows any drainage; whereas the sandstone forms steeper slopes, and does not absorb the rain so quickly, so that the water runs down the slopes, and collects in holes at the foot of the hills parallel to the creeks. Scrubs are frequent round the low rises of sandstone; and, where the country is level, and the soil loamy, the hollows are often filled with water by the thunder-storms. The moist character of this description of country is probably the cause of the vegetation being more dense than it is in the rich black soil of the plains; in which latter, the seeds of the grasses and herbs lie dormant, until the first rain falls, when they instantly germinate and cover the plain with their rapid and luxuriant growth, as if by enchantment; but which, from its nature, is incapable of maintaining the growth of scrubs and trees.

Feb. 3. — The dew was heavy through the night; and, in the morning, loose rainy clouds gathered from the east and north-east, which, however, disappeared about eleven o’clock. Charley went back to the camp, to bring it on, and I continued to reconnoitre to the north-west. After passing a sandstone ridge, I came to a creek, which went to the north-west, and which was supplied with water by the late thunder-showers. It was bounded on both sides by sandstone ridges, whose summits were covered with scrub and Acacia thickets; and by grassy slopes and flats bearing narrow-leaved Ironbark and Bastard-box. This would be a most beautiful country, if it contained a constant supply of water.

I observed on the ridges an Acacia, a small tree, from thirty to forty feet high, and from six to nine inches in diameter, and easily distinguished by its peculiar rough frizzled bark, similar to that of the Casuarina found at the ranges of the Robinson. It has a dark sweet-scented heartwood, like that of the Bricklow and the Myal and other Acacias, which I had previously met with. The creek turned to the north and north-east, into a plain, and joined a larger creek which came in from the right at about south-west. Near their junction, a very conspicuous peak was observed, with several small water-holes with water at its foot. I then returned to the spot to which Charley had been ordered to conduct the camp; but, as the party had not arrived, I feared that some accident might have happened, and therefore rode towards the water-holes from which Brown had gone back to the camp. I found the detention caused by the absence of the horses, which had strayed to the other side of the range.

Feb. 6. — Charley rode my horse after the missing ones, and returned with them about one o’clock to the camp; and then we proceeded about six miles due north, in the direction of a fine mountain of imposing character — which I called “Phillips’s Mountain,” after one of my companions — and encamped in sight of Calvert’s and Scott’s Peaks, the former of which bore S. 22 degrees W., and the latter S. 7 degrees E. Our latitude was 22 degrees 43 minutes.

Acacia farnesiana grew in low shrubs along the plains, stretching its flexible branches over the ground; Mimosa terminalis (the sensitive plant) was very plentiful, and more erect than usual; a species of Verbena, with grey pubescent leaf and stem, was also abundant. The night breeze had been exceedingly strong during the last four days. At the camp of the 4th of February my companions shot twenty-one pigeons (Geophaps scripta), and five cockatoos; a welcome addition to our scanty meals. For a considerable time previous, I had reduced our allowance of flour to three pounds; but now, considering that we were still so far to the eastward, it was, by general consent of my companions, again reduced to a pound and a-half per diem for the six, of which a damper mixed up with fat was made every day, as soon as we reached our encampment.

Feb. 6. — I brought my camp forward about six miles farther to the north-by-east, to the water-holes I had found at the foot of the sandstone ridges; and, after having settled my camp, I went with my two Blackfellows in search of more water. About a mile and a-half north from the camp we came to an isolated peak, which I ascended, and from its summit enjoyed the finest view of the Peak Range I had yet seen. I attempted to sketch it in its whole extent, and gave to its most remarkable peaks separate names. A long flat-topped mountain I called “Lord’s Table Range,” after E. Lord, Esq., of Moreton Bay; and a sharp needle-like rock, which bore west-by-north, received the name of “Fletcher’s Awl,” after Mr. John Fletcher, whose kind contribution towards my expedition had not a little cheered me in my undertaking. Towards the east and north-east, a flat country extended, in which the smoke of several fires of the natives was seen, and, in the distance, several blue ranges were distinguished. To the northward, the country was very mountainous, and in the north-west, at a short distance, Phillips’s Mountain reared its head. Many shallow valleys, at present of an earth-brown colour, led down from the range. A large creek — which probably collects all the waters that we had passed on the east side of the range, and which I descended during my ride of the 3rd February — flows down a very conspicuous valley to the eastward. I named this creek after — Stephens, Esq., of Darling Downs; and the peak on which I stood after — Campbell, Esq., of the same district. Both these gentlemen had shown the greatest hospitality to me and to my party during our stay at the Downs, before starting on the expedition. The rock of Campbell’s Peak is domitic; at the top it is of a bluish colour and very hard, and contains very visible, though minute, crystals of felspar.

In a hollow between the two rocky protuberances on the west side of the hill, a noble fig-tree spread its rich dark-green shady foliage; and on the steep slopes Erythrina was frequent. I could not help contrasting the character of this place with the moist creeks and mountain brushes of the Bunya Bunya country near Moreton Bay, where I had been accustomed to observe the same plant. Proceeding to the N.N.E. we passed several creeks or watercourses, some fine open Ironbark slopes, and a sandstone range; and, following down a watercourse, came to a creek which seemed to originate in Phillips’s Mountain. This creek contained water; it flowed to the south-east and east, and very probably joined Stephens’s Creek. A rather stunted rusty gum grew plentifully on the sandstone ridges; pebbles of concretionary limestone were found in the creek, probably carried down from the basalt of Phillips’s Mountain; and a deposit of concretionary limestone was observed in the banks of a creek, whilst passing one of the black plains, on this side of the range. A profusion of Calcedony, and fine specimens of Agate, were observed in many places, along the basaltic ridges. My black companions loaded themselves with the pretty agates, which they had never seen before, and which they evidently considered to be very valuable; but, after a little time, the weight became inconvenient, and they kept only a few, to strike fire with.

Feb. 7. — Having sent Brown back to guide our party to this creek, which is about six miles N. N. E. from yesterday’s camping place, in latitude 22 degrees 32 minutes 27 seconds; I continued my ride with Charley to the north-west. We ascended a high sandstone range, and travelled for some miles along its flat summit. The country was very broken, but openly timbered, and occasionally of a most beautiful character; but frequently interrupted by patches of miserable scrub. Having in our progress brought Mount Phillips to bear south-west and south, we entered a fine open Bastard-box country, with slight undulations, and which seemed to extend to Peak Range. On the sandstone range I found Balfouria saligna R. Br., a shrub or small tree, with long linear-lanceolate leaves, and rather drooping branches, covered with very fragrant yellow blossoms; its seed-vessels varied from three to six inches in length, were terete, tapering to a point, and filled with silky seeds. The same little tree was subsequently observed, growing round the head of the gulf of Carpentaria, and also at Arnheim’s Land. Another shrub (Gardenia?), with opposite, oval, rather rough leaves, and large white or light yellow blossoms, like those of the Jasmine in shape and fragrance, had been observed once before, but was very common between this latitude and Port Essington; at which place a species of Guettarda, resembling it very much, but with larger flowers, grows along the beach.

The last two days the mornings were clear; during the afternoon of each day cirrhi formed, which settling down, became confluent, and united into a dark cloud which promised rain, but dispersed towards evening; and the sun set in a cloudless horizon: in the morning, a northerly breeze is generally stirring, which renders that part of the day more agreeable for travelling.

Feb. 8. — I returned last night to the creek, from which I had sent Brown back, and found my companions encamped on a very fine water-hole. This morning we travelled to the water-holes I had seen about seven miles in advance to the north-west, and about five or six miles due north from Phillips’s Mountain. After our mid-day meal, I set out again with the two Blackfellows, not only with a view to find water for the next stage, but to endeavour to make the table land again, and thence to pursue a more westerly course.

A great number of sandstone ranges, several of them very steep, and of considerable elevation, stretch parallel to each other from west to east, forming spurs from a higher mountain range to the westward, which is probably connected with Peak Range. It is composed of basalt, and partly covered with dense scrub, and in other parts openly timbered; where the scrub prevailed, the soil was shallow and rocky, but the soil of the open forest was deeper, and of the character of that of the plains. The deep gullies were all without water, but occasionally filled with patches of rich brush. Many creeks went down between the sandstone ranges: and they were generally bounded on both sides by fine well-grassed, narrow-leaved Ironbark slopes, and sweet herbage, on which numerous emus and kangaroos were feeding. In one of the glens among the ridges I observed a new gum-tree, with a leaf like that of the trembling poplar of Europe, and of a bright green colour, which rendered the appearance of the country exceedingly cheerful. It is a middle-sized tree, of irregular growth, with white bark; but the wood, not being free grained, was unfit for splitting. Lower down, water was found, without exception, in all the creeks, and was most abundant at the edge of the level country to the eastward, where the ridges disappear, by more or less gradual slopes. Travelling across these sandstone ranges, with their thick vegetation, and deep gullies and valleys, was exceedingly difficult. The bullocks upset their loads frequently in clambering up and down the rocky slopes, and our progress was consequently very slow. This induced me to give up the westerly course, and to look for a better-travelling country to the eastward; supposing, at the same time, that water would be found more abundant, as we approached the sea-coast.

I, therefore, returned to the camp, and on the 10th February, I travelled about six miles N. N. E., over several ranges and creeks, and came to a creek well supplied with water. On the following day, the 11th February, I travelled down this creek, and reached a flat country of great extent, lightly timbered with Ironbark, Bastard-box, and Poplar-gum; but the water disappeared in the sandy bed of the creek, which had assumed a very winding course, and we had to encamp on a shallow pool left on the rocks, which, for a short distance, formed again the bed of the creek. Our latitude was 22 degrees 23 minutes, about thirteen miles E. N. E. from our camp of the 8th February.

Feb. 12. — We continued travelling along the creek, and halted at very fine water-holes, within some Bricklow scrub, which here made its appearance again. The stage did not exceed six miles east; but I did not venture to proceed farther until I had examined the country in advance, which did not look very promising. I named this creek “Hughs’s Creek,” after — Hughs, Esq., of Darling Downs.

The grass-tree grew very abundantly on the rocky sandstone ranges; and the Grevillea (G. ceratophylla, R. Br.?) with pinnatifid leaves, was not less common: on the upper part of Hughs’s Creek, we first met with the drooping tea-tree (Melaleuca Leucodendron?), which we found afterwards at every creek and river; it was generally the companion of water, and its drooping foliage afforded an agreeable shade, and was also very ornamental. The slopes towards the flat country were sandy and rotten; but there were some fine hollows, with rich green grass, which very probably formed lagoons during the wet season. The whole country was very similar to that of Zamia Creek: it had the same extensive flats, the same geological features, the same vegetation, the same direction of the creek to the east and north-east. Just before the creek left the hills, it was joined by another; and, at their junction, sandstone cropped out, which was divided by regular fissures into very large rectangular blocks. These fissures had been widened by the action of water, which made them resemble a range of large tombstones, the singular appearance of which induced me to call this, which joins Hughs’s Creek, “Tombstone Creek.” This formation was very remarkable, and occupied a very considerable space. The strata of the sandstone dip towards the east and north-east off Peak Range; but, in other localities, I observed a dip towards the range.

A circumstance now occurred, which, as it seemed to augur badly for the welfare of our expedition, gave me much concern and anxiety. My two blacks, the companions of my reconnoitring excursions, began to show evident signs of discontent, and to evince a spirit of disobedience which, if not checked, might prove fatal to our safety. During my recent reconnoitre, they both left me in a most intricate country, and took the provisions with them. They had become impatient from having been without water at night; and, in the morning, whilst I was following the ranges, they took the opportunity of diverging from the track, and descended into the gullies; so that I was reluctantly compelled to return to the camp. My companions were highly alarmed at the behaviour of the sable gentlemen, believing that they had concerted a plan to decamp, and leave us to our fate. I knew, however, the cowardly disposition of the Australian native too well; and felt quite sure that they would return after they had procured honey and opossums, in search of which they had deserted me. To impress their minds, therefore, with the conviction that we were independent of their services, the party started the next day as usual, and, on reaching a beautiful valley, three emus were seen on a green sunny slope, strutting about with their stately gait: Mr. Roper immediately laid the dog on, and gave chase. After a short time, the horse returned without its rider and saddle, and caused us a momentary alarm lest some accident had happened to our companion: shortly afterwards, however, we were made glad, by seeing him walking towards us, with a young emu thrown over his shoulder. He had leaped from his horse upon nearing the emus, had shot one in the head, and had taken a young one from the dog, which immediately pursued the third, an old one; but his horse escaped, which compelled him to return on foot, with the smallest of the birds. Messrs. Gilbert and Calvert went in search of the dog, and were fortunate enough to find him with the emu which he had killed. We were rejoiced at our success, and lost no time in preparing a repast of fried emu; and, whilst we were thus employed, the two Blackfellows, having filled their bellies and had their sulk out, made their appearance, both considerably alarmed as to the consequences of their ill-behaviour. Charley brought about a pint of honey as a peace-offering; and both were unusually obliging and attentive to my companions. At this time, I was suffering much pain from a severe kick from one of the bullocks, and felt unequal to inflict any punishment, and therefore allowed the matter to pass with an admonition only. But events subsequently proved that I was wrong, and that a decided and severe punishment would have saved me great trouble. I was, however, glad to find that their conduct met with the general indignation of my companions.

The Blackfellows told us, that they had caught a ring-tailed opossum, and had seen a black kangaroo with a white point at the end of the tail. Brown brought the fruit of a tree, which, according to his account, had the simple pinnate-leaf of the red cedar (Credela) with a dark purple-coloured fruit half an inch long, and one inch in diameter, with a thin astringent pericarp: the stony seed-vessel consisted of many carpels, which, if I remember rightly, were monosperme. It belongs probably to an Ebenaceous tree.

The wood-duck (Bernicla jubata) abounded on the larger water-holes which we passed; and the swamp-pheasant (Centropus Phasianus, Gould) was heard several times among the trees surrounding the grassy hollows.

The smoke of extensive bush-fires was observed under Lord’s Table Range, and along the western and south-western ranges. As we approached the place of our encampment of the 12th February, some Blackfellows were bathing in the water-hole, but fled as soon as we made our appearance.

The night of the 8th February was cloudy, with a little rain, which continued to the morning of the 9th, but cleared up at noon, and the weather became very hot. During the afternoon, thunder-storms passed to the north and north-west, and also to the east and east-south-east. On the 10th, thunder-storms again surrounded us on all sides, and from one, which broke over us in the night, a heavy shower fell. The night of the 11th was exceedingly cold; and the night breeze was observed to be less regular than formerly.

We were here very much troubled with a small black ant; infesting our provisions during the day and running over our persons, and biting us severely at night. A large yellow hornet with two black bands over the abdomen, was seen, humming about the water-holes. A crow was shot and roasted, and found to be exceedingly tender, which we considered to be a great discovery; and lost no opportunity of shooting as many as we could, in order to lessen the consumption of our dried meat. We again enjoyed some fine messes of Portulaca.

Feb. 12. — I went, accompanied by Mr. Roper and Charley, in a due north direction to reconnoitre the country. The flat continued for about eight miles, and then changed into slight undulations. Considerable tracts were covered with the Poplar-gum; and broad belts of Bricklow descended from the hills towards the east. In the scrub; Fusanus was observed in fruit, and the Stenochilus and the white Vitex in blossom; from the latter the native bee extracts a most delicious honey. A small tree, with stiff alternate leaves scarcely an inch long, was covered with red fruit of the form of an acorn, and about half an inch long, having a sweet pericarp with two compressed grain-like seeds, which had the horny albumen of the coffee, and were exceedingly bitter. The pigeons, crows, and cockatoos, fed upon them, we also ate a great number of them; but the edible portion of each seed was very small. It is a remarkable fact that trees, which we had found in full blossom or in fruit in October and November, were again observed to be in blossom and fruit in February.

We had to encamp at night without water; and although the clouds gathered in the afternoon of a very hot day, yet no thunder-storm came to our relief. The night breeze, which was in all probability the sea-breeze, set in about ten minutes to six.

Feb. 13. — The morning was very cloudy. I continued my course to the northward, and, coming to a watercourse, followed it down in the hopes of finding water: it led us to the broad deep channel of a river, but now entirely dry. The bed was very sandy, with reeds and an abundance of small Casuarinas. Large flooded-gums and Casuarinas grew at intervals along its banks, and fine openly timbered flats extended on both sides towards belts of scrub. The river came from the north and north-west, skirting some fine ranges, which were about three miles from its left bank. As the river promised to be one of some importance I called it the “Isaacs,” in acknowledgment of the kind support we received from F. Isaacs, Esq. of Darling Downs.

When we were approaching the river, the well-known sound of a tomahawk was heard, and, guided by the noise, we soon came in sight of three black women, two of whom were busily occupied in digging for roots, whilst the other, perched on the top of a high flooded-gum tree, was chopping out either an opossum or a bees’ nest. They no sooner perceived us than they began to scream most dreadfully, swinging their sticks, and beating the trees, as if we were wild beasts, which they wished to frighten away. We made every possible sign of peace, but in vain: the two root-diggers immediately ran off, and the lady in the tree refused to descend. When I asked for water, in the language of the natives of the country we had left —”Yarrai” “yarrai,” she pointed down the river, and answered “yarrai ya;” and we found afterwards that her information was correct. Upon reaching the tree we found an infant swaddled in layers of tea-tree bark, lying on the ground; and three or four large yams. A great number of natives, men, boys, and children, who had been attracted by the screams of their companions, now came running towards us; but on our putting our horses into a sharp canter, and riding towards them, they retired into the scrub. The yams proved to be the tubers of a vine with blue berries; both tubers and berries had the same pungent taste, but the former contained a watery juice, which was most welcome to our parched mouths. A similar tuber was found near Mount Stewart on the 18th January. We then proceeded down the river; but not succeeding in our search for water, returned to our camp, which was about fifteen miles distant. As soon as I arrived, I sent Mr. Gilbert and Brown down Hughs’s Creek, to examine the country near its junction.

Very thick clouds came from the westward, from which a few drops of rain fell: thunder-storms were forming to the north-east and also to the west, but none reached us: the night was very cloudy and warm: the scud flying from the north-east.

Feb. 14. — After sunrise the weather cleared up again. All hands were now employed in shooting crows; which, with some cockatoos, and a small scrub wallabi, gave us several good messes.

Mr. Gilbert and Brown had, on their excursion, found a rushy lagoon on the left bank of the Isaacs, at a short half-mile from its junction with Hughs’s Creek. Here they encamped; and, about 10 o’clock at night, the loud voices of Blackfellows travelling down the river were heard; these also encamped at some small water-holes, not very distant from Mr. Gilbert, of whose presence they were not aware. Mr. Gilbert kept the horses tied up in case of any hostility; but was not molested. The blacks continued their loud conversations during the greater part of the night; and Mr. Gilbert departed very early in the morning without being seen by them. He continued to follow the river further down, and found that four large creeks joined it from the northward. Another creek also joined it from the southward; as subsequently observed by Mr. Roper. Beyond these creeks, several lagoons or swamps were seen covered with ducks, and several other aquatic birds, and, amongst them, the straw-coloured Ibis.

Feb. 15. — We travelled down to the above-mentioned lagoon, which was about ten miles east by north from our camp; its latitude, was by calculation, about 22 degrees 20 or 21; for several circumstances had prevented me from taking observations. As the river turned to the eastward, I determined to trace it up to its head; and set out with Mr. Gilbert and Brown to examine the country around the range which I had observed some days before and named “Coxen’s Peak and Range,” in honour of Mr. Coxen of Darling Downs. We passed the night at a small pool, but were not successful in discovering water in any of the numerous watercourses and creeks, which come down from Coxen’s Range, or out of the belt of scrub which intervened between the range and the river. A loose variegated clayey sandstone, with many irregular holes; cropped out in the beds of the creek. Coxen’s Peak and Range were found to be composed of horizontal strata of excellent sandstone, rising by steep terraces, on the western side, but sloping gently down to the east; its summit is covered with scrub, but its eastern slope with groves of grass-trees. The view from the top of Coxen’s Peak was very extensive: towards the south-west and west, Peak Range was seen extending from Scott’s and Roper’s Peaks to Fletcher’s Awl; and, beyond the last, other mountains were seen, several of which had flat tops. Mount Phillips seemed about thirty or forty miles distant; and a very indistinct blue hill was seen to the W.N.W. To the northward, ranges rose beyond ranges, and to the eastward, the country seemed to be flat, to a great extent, and bounded by distant mountains. To the southward, the eye wandered over an unbroken line of horizon, with the exception of one blue distant elevation: this immense flat was one uninterrupted mass of forest without the slightest break. Narrow bands of scrub approached the river from the westward, and separated tracts of fine open forest country, amongst which patches of the Poplar-gum forest were readily distinguished by the brightness of their verdure. A river seemed to come from the south-west; the Isaacs came from the north-west, and was joined by a large creek from the northward. There was no smoke, no sign of water, no sign of the neighbourhood of the sea coast; — but all was one immense sea of forest and scrub.

The great outlines of the geology of this interesting country were seen at one glance. Along the eastern edge of a basaltic table land, rose a series of domitic cones, stretching from south-east to north-west, parallel to the coast. The whole extent of country between the range and the coast, seemed to be of sandstone, either horizontally stratified, or dipping off the range; with the exception of some local disturbances, where basalt had broken through it. Those isolated ranges, such as Coxen’s Range — the abruptness of which seemed to indicate igneous origin — were entirely of sandstone. The various Porphyries, and Diorites, and Granitic, and Sienitic rocks, which characterize large districts along the eastern coast of Australia, were missing; not a pebble, except of sandstone, was found in the numerous creeks and watercourses. Pieces of silicified wood were frequent in the bed of the Isaacs.

The nature of the soil was easily distinguished by its vegetation: the Bastard box, and Poplar gum grew on a stiff clay; the narrow-leaved Ironbark, the Bloodwood, and the Moreton Bay ash on a lighter sandy soil, which was frequently rotten and undermined with numerous holes of the funnel ant. Noble trees of the flooded-gum grew along the banks of the creeks, and around the hollows, depending rather upon moisture, than upon the nature of the soil. Fine Casuarinas were occasionally met with along the creeks; and the forest oak (Casuarina torulosa), together with rusty-gum, were frequent on the sandy ridges.

One should have expected that the prevailing winds during the day, would have been from the south-east, corresponding to the south-east trade winds; but, throughout the whole journey from Moreton Bay to the Isaacs, I experienced, with but few exceptions, during the day, a cooling breeze from the north and north-east. The thunder-storms came principally from the south-west, west, and north-west; but generally showed an inclination to veer round to the northward.

From Coxen’s Range I returned to the river, and soon reached the place where I had met the Black-fellows. In passing out of the belt of scrub into the openly timbered grassy flat of the river, Brown descried a kangaroo sitting in the shade of a large Bastard-box tree; it seemed to be so oppressed by the heat of the noonday sun as to take little notice of us, so that Brown was enabled to approach sufficiently near to shoot it. It proved to be a fine doe, with a young one; we cooked the latter for our dinner, and I sent Brown to the camp with the dam, where my companions most joyfully received him; for all our dried meat was by this time consumed, and all they had for supper and breakfast, were a straw-coloured ibis, a duck, and a crow. As Mr. Gilbert and myself were following the course of the river, we saw numerous tracks of Blackfellows, of native dogs, of emus, and kangaroos, in its sandy bed; and, when within a short distance of the place where I had seen the black women, loud cries of cockatoos attracted our notice; and, on going in their direction, we came to a water-hole in the bed of the river, at its junction with a large oak tree creek coming from the northward. This water-hole is in latitude 22 degrees 11 minutes; the natives had fenced it round with branches to prevent the sand from filling it up, and had dug small wells near it, evidently to obtain a purer and cooler water, by filtration through the sand. Pigeons (Geophapsscripta, Gould.) had formed a beaten track to its edge; and, the next morning, whilst enjoying our breakfast under the shade of a gigantic flooded-gum tree, we were highly amused to see a flight of fifty or more partridge pigeons tripping along the sandy bed of the river, and descending to the water’s edge, and returning after quenching their thirst, quite unconscious of the dangerous proximity of hungry ornithophagi. The cockatoos, however, observed us, and seemed to dispute our occupation of their waters, by hovering above the tops of the highest trees, and making the air resound with their screams; whilst numerous crows, attracted by a neighbouring bush fire, watched us more familiarly, and the dollar bird passed with its arrow-like flight from shade to shade.

We continued our ride six miles higher up the river, without finding any water, with the exception of some wells made by the natives, and which were generally observed where watercourses or creeks joined the river. In these places, moisture was generally indicated by a dense patch of green reeds. The bush fire, which was raging along the left bank of the river on which we were encamped for the night, fanned by the sea breeze, which set in a little after six o’clock, approached very near to our tent, but died away with the breeze; and the temperature cooled down, although no dew was falling. The fire, which was smouldering here and there along the steep banks of the river, was quickened up again by the morning breeze.

We observed a great number of very large dead shells of Limnaea and Paludina, in the dry water-holes and melon-holes along the scrub; some of them not even bleached; but every thing seemed to indicate this to be a more than usually dry season.

In the morning we returned to the camp. As I had not discovered a more convenient spot for killing another bullock, I decided upon stopping at the rushy lagoon, until we had provided ourselves with a fresh stock of dried beef. Accordingly, on the 17th February, we killed Mr. Gilbert’s bullock, which turned out a fine heavy beast, and gave us a large supply of fat meat and suet. We had formerly been under the erroneous impression that fat meat would not dry and keep; and, consequently, had carefully separated the fat from the meat. Some chance pieces, however, had shown us, that it not only dried and kept well, but that it was much finer than the lean meat. We therefore cut up the fat in slices, like the lean; and it was found not only to remain sweet, but to improve with age. The only inconvenience we had experienced in this process, was a longer detention; and we had to remain four days, (to the 21st February) before the provision was fit for packing. On the 19th, immediately after breakfast, whilst we were busily employed in greasing our saddles and straps — a very necessary operation on a journey like ours, where every thing is exposed to the dust, and a scorching sun — Charley left the camp, and did not return before the afternoon. He had frequently acted thus of late; and it was one of the standing complaints against him, that he was opossum and honey hunting, whilst we were kept waiting for our horses and cattle. As I was determined not to suffer this, after his late misbehaviour, I reprimanded him, and told him that I would not allow him any food, should he again be guilty of such conduct. Upon this, he burst out into the most violent and abusive language, and threatened “to stop my jaw,” as he expressed himself. Finding it, therefore, necessary to exercise my authority, I approached him to show him out of the camp, when the fellow gave me a violent blow on the face, which severely injured me, displacing two of my lower teeth; upon which my companions interfered, and manifested a determination to support me, in case he should refuse to quit us; which I compelled him to do. When he was going away, Brown told him, in a very consoling manner, that he would come by and bye and sleep with him. I was, however, determined that no one within the camp should have any communication with him; and therefore told Brown, that he had either to stop with me entirely, or with Charley. He answered that he could not quarrel with him; that he would sleep with him, but return every morning; and, when I replied that, in such a case, he should never return, he said that he would stop altogether with Charley, and walked off. If I had punished these fellows for their late misconduct, I should have had no occasion for doing so now: but full of their own importance, they interpreted my forbearance, by fancying that I could not proceed without them.

Previous to this occurrence, Charley had, during my absence from the camp, had an interview with the natives, who made him several presents, among which were two fine calabashes which they had cleaned and used for carrying water; the larger one was pear-shaped, about a foot in length, and nine inches in diameter in the broadest part, and held about three pints. The natives patted his head, and hair, and clothing; but they retired immediately, when he afterwards returned to them, accompanied by Mr. Calvert on horseback.

We started, on the 21st February, from our killing camp, and travelled a long stage; the day was very hot, and the heat of the rotten ground was intense. Our little terrier, which had so well borne former fatigues, died; and our remaining kangaroo-dog was only saved by Mr. Calvert’s carrying him on his horse. It was a day well calculated to impress on the Blackfellows the difference between riding and walking, between finding a meal ready after a fatiguing journey, and looking out for food for themselves. Hearing Brown’s cooee as we were travelling along, Mr. Roper stopped behind until Brown came up to him, and expressed his desire to rejoin my party, as he had had quite enough of his banishment and bush life; and, before sunset, he arrived quite exhausted at our camping-place, and begged me to pardon him, which I did, under the former condition, that he was to have no farther communication with Charley, to which he most willingly assented.

Feb. 22. — On a ride with Mr. Gilbert up the river, we observed several large reedy holes in its bed, in which the Blackfellows had dug wells; they were still moist, and swarms of hornets were buzzing about them. About eight miles north-west from the junction of North Creek with the river, a large flight of cockatoos again invited us to some good water-holes extending along a scrubby rise. Large Bastard-box flats lie between North Creek and the river. About four miles from the camp, the country rises to the left of the river, and ranges and isolated hills are visible, which are probably surrounded by plains. Wherever I had an opportunity of examining the rocks, I found sandstone; flint pebbles and fossil-wood are in the scrub and on the melon-hole flats.

At night, on my return, I had to pass Charley’s camp, which was about a hundred yards from ours. He called after me, and, when I stopped, he came up to me, and began to plead his cause and beg my pardon; he excused his sulkiness and his bad behaviour by his temperament and some misunderstanding; and tried to look most miserable and wretched, in order to excite my compassion. My companions had seen him sitting alone under his tree, during almost the whole day, beating his bommerangs which he had received from the natives. I pitied him, and, after some consultation with my companions, allowed him to rejoin us; but upon the condition that he should give up his tomahawk, to which he most joyfully consented, and promised for the future to do every thing I should require. His spirit was evidently broken, and I should probably never have had to complain of him again, had no other agent acted upon him.

Feb. 23. — I moved on to the water-holes, which I had found the day before, and encamped in the shade of a Fusanus. The latitude was observed to be 22 degrees 6 minutes 53 seconds.

Feb. 24. — Mr. Gilbert and Brown accompanied me this morning upon an excursion. At about a mile and a-half from the camp, a large creek, apparently from the southward, joined the river, and water was found in a scrub creek four miles from the camp, also in wells made by the natives in the bed of the river; and, at about eight miles from the camp, we came upon some fine water-holes along the scrub. Here the birds were very numerous and various; large flights of the blue-mountain and crimson-winged parrots were seen; Mr. Gilbert observed the female of the Regent-bird, and several other interesting birds, which made him regret to leave this spot so favourable to his pursuit. He returned, however, to bring forward our camp to the place, whilst I continued my ride, accompanied by Brown. Several creeks joined the river, but water was nowhere to be found. The high grass was old and dry, or else so entirely burnt as not to leave the slightest sign of vegetation. For several miles the whole forest was singed by a fire which had swept through it; and the whole country looked hopelessly wretched. Brown had taken the precaution to fill Charley’s large calabash with water, so that we were enabled to make a refreshing cup of tea in the most scorching heat of the day. Towards sunset we heard, to our great joy, the noisy jabbering of natives, which promised the neighbourhood of water. I dismounted and cooeed; they answered; but when they saw me, they took such of their things as they could and crossed to the opposite side of the river in great hurry and confusion. When Brown, who had stopped behind, came up to me, I took the calabash and put it to my mouth, and asked for “yarrai, yarrai.” They answered, but their intended information was lost to me; and they were unwilling to approach us. Their camp was in the bed of the river amongst some small Casuarinas. Their numerous tracks, however, soon led me to two wells, surrounded by high reeds, where we quenched our thirst. My horse was very much frightened by the great number of hornets buzzing about the water. After filling our calabash, we returned to the camp of the natives, and examined the things which they had left behind; we found a shield, four calabashes, of which I took two, leaving in their place a bright penny, for payment; there were also, a small water-tight basket containing acacia-gum; some unravelled fibrous bark, used for straining honey; a fire-stick, neatly tied up in tea-tree bark; a kangaroo net; and two tomahawks, one of stone, and a smaller one of iron, made apparently of the head of a hammer: a proof that they had had some communication with the sea-coast. The natives had disappeared. The thunder was pealing above us, and a rush of wind surprised us before we were half-a-mile from the camp, and we had barely time to throw our blanket over some sticks and creep under it, when the rain came down in torrents. The storm came from the west; another was visible in the east; and lightning seemed to be everywhere. When the rain ceased, we contrived to make a fire and boil a pot of tea, and warmed up a mess of gelatine-soup. At eight o’clock the moon rose, and, as the weather had cleared, I decided upon returning to the camp, in order to hasten over this dreary country while the rain-water lasted. The frogs were most lustily croaking in the water-holes which I had passed, a few hours before, perfectly dry and never were their hoarse voices more pleasing to me. But the thunder-storm had been so very partial, that scarcely a drop had fallen at a distance of three miles. This is another instance of the singularly partial distribution of water, which I had before noticed at Comet Creek. We arrived at the camp about one o’clock a.m.; and, in the morning of the 25th February, I led my party to the water-holes, which a kind Providence seemed to have filled for the purpose of helping us over that thirsty and dreary land. Our bullocks suffered severely from the heat; our fat-meat melted; our fat-bags poured out their contents; and every thing seemed to dissolve under the influence of a powerful sun.

The weather in this region may be thus described: at sunrise some clouds collect in the east, but clear off during the first hours of the morning, with northerly, north-easterly, and easterly breezes; between ten and three o’clock the most scorching heat prevails, interrupted only by occasional puffs of cool air; about two o’clock P.M. heavy clouds form in all directions, increase in volume, unite in dark masses in the east and west, and, about five o’clock in the afternoon, the thunder-storm bursts; the gust of wind is very violent, and the rain sometimes slight, and at other times tremendous, but of short duration; and at nine o’clock the whole sky is clear again.

In the hollows along the Isaacs, we found a new species of grass from six to eight feet high, forming large tufts, in appearance like the oat-grass (Anthistiria) of the Liverpool Plains and Darling Downs; it has very long brown twisted beards, but is easily distinguished from Anthistiria by its simple ear; its young stem is very sweet, and much relished both by horses and cattle.

Feb. 26. — I set out reconnoitring with Mr. Gilbert and Charley. We found that the effects of the thunder-storm of the 24th extended very little to the north and north-west, having passed over from west to east. From time to time we crossed low ridges covered with scrub, and cut through by deep gullies, stretching towards the river, which became narrower and very tortuous in its course; its line of flooded-gum trees, however, became more dense. Within the reedy bed of the river, not quite five miles from the camp, we found wells of the natives, not a foot deep, but amply supplied with water, and, at four miles farther, we came to a water-hole, in a small creek, which had been supplied by the late rains; we also passed several fine scrub creeks, but they were dry. About ten miles from the wells another deep scrub creek was found, on the right hand of the river, full of water. Its bed was overgrown with reeds, and full of pebbles of concretions of limestone, and curious trunks of fossil trees, and on its banks a loose sandstone cropped out. Here we found the skull of a native, the first time that we had seen the remains of a human body during our journey. Near the scrub, and probably in old camping places of the natives, we frequently saw the bones of kangaroos and emus. I mention this fact in reference to the observations of American travellers, who very rarely met with bones in the wilderness; and to remark, that the climate of Australia is so very dry as to prevent decomposition, and that rapacious animals are few in number — the native dog probably finding a sufficiency of living food.

On the 25th there were thunder-storms, but they did not reach us. The night was cloudy, and we had some few drops of rain in the morning of the 26th, but the weather cleared up about ten o’clock; cumuli formed in the afternoon, and towards night thunder-storms were observed both in the east and west. I found a shrubby prickly Goodenia, about four or five feet high, growing on the borders of the scrub.

Feb. 27. — Mr. Gilbert, whom I had sent back from the wells of the natives to bring on the camp, had been prevented from doing so, and I had consequently to return the whole distance. The interruption was caused by our bullocks having gone back several miles, probably in search of better water, for we found them generally very nice in this particular.

The natives had, in my absence, visited my companions, and behaved very quietly, making them presents of emu feathers, bommerangs, and waddies. Mr. Phillips gave them a medal of the coronation of her Majesty Queen Victoria, which they seemed to prize very highly. They were fine, stout, well made people, and most of them young; but a few old women, with white circles painted on their faces, kept in the back ground. They were much struck with the white skins of my companions, and repeatedly patted them in admiration. Their replies to inquiries respecting water were not understood; but they seemed very anxious to induce us to go down the river.

We started at noon to Skull Creek, which, in a straight line, was fourteen miles distant, in a north by east direction. Loose cumuli floated in the hazy atmosphere during the whole forenoon, but rose in the afternoon, and occasionally sheltered us from the scorching sun. At four o’clock two thunder-storms formed as usual in the east and west, and, eventually rising above us, poured down a heavy shower of rain, which drenched us to the skin, and refreshed us and our horses and bullocks, which were panting with heat and thirst. Our stores were well covered with greasy tarpaulings, and took no harm.

Feb. 28. — Successive thunder-storms, with which this spot seemed more favoured than the country we had recently passed, had rendered the vegetation very luxuriant. The rotten sandy ground absorbed the rain rapidly, and the young grass looked very fresh. The scrub receded a little more from the river, and an open country extended along its banks. The scene was, therefore, most cheerful and welcome. Mr. Gilbert and Charley, who had made an excursion up the river in search of water, returned with the agreeable information that a beautiful country was before us: they had also seen a camp of natives, but without having had any intercourse with them.

Feb. 29. — It was cloudy in the morning, and became more so during the day, with easterly and north-easterly winds. As soon as our capricious horses were found, which had wandered more than eight miles through a dense Bricklow scrub, in search of food and water, we started and travelled about ten miles in a north-east direction, leaving the windings of the river to the left. The character of the country continued the same; the same Ironbark forest, with here and there some remarkably pretty spots; and the same Bastard-box flats, with belts of scrub, approaching the river. At about nine miles from Skull Creek, which I supposed to be in latitude 21 degrees 42 minutes, the Isaacs breaks through a long range of sandstone hills; beyond which the country opens into plains with detached patches of scrub, and downs, with “devil-devil” land and its peculiar vegetation, and into very open forest. The river divides into two branches, one coming from the eastward, and the other from the northward. It rained hard during our journey, and, by the time we reached the water-hole which Mr. Gilbert had found, we were wet to the skin.

In consequence of the additional fatigues of the day, I allowed some pieces of fat to be fried with our meat. Scarcely a fortnight ago, some of my companions had looked with disgust on the fat of our stews, and had jerked it contemptuously out of their plates; now, however, every one of us thought the addition of fat a peculiar favour, and no one hesitated to drink the liquid fat, after having finished his meat. This relish continued to increase as our bullocks became poorer; and we became as eager to examine the condition of a slaughtered beast, as the natives, whose practice in that respect we had formerly ridiculed

As I had made a set of lunar observations at Skull camp, which I wished to calculate, I sent Mr. Roper up the north branch of the Isaacs to look for water; and, on his return, he imparted the agreeable intelligence, that he had found fine holes of water at about nine or ten miles distant, and that the country was still more open, and abounded with game, particularly emus.

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