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

Chapter IX

The Starry HeavensSubstitute for CoffeeSawfishTwoStoried Gunyas of the NativesThe MitchellMurphy’s Pony PoisonedGreen TreeAntNew BeverageCrocodileAudacity of KitesNatives Not FriendlyThe Camp Attacked at Night by ThemMessrs. Roper and Calvert Wounded, and Mr. Gilbert Killed.

June 1. — Mr. Gilbert and Charley made an excursion down the river last night, to look for water, but, as they did not return in the morning, and as water had been found, after they left, about four miles lower down, we started to meet them. Observing a swarm of white cranes circling in the air, and taking their flight down the river, I concluded that we should meet with a good supply of water lower down, and, therefore, passed the nearest water-hole; but, the country and the bed of the river being exceedingly rocky, our progress was very slow. After proceeding about eight miles, we came to the junction of a river from the south-west with the Lynd; and encamped at some small pools of water in latitude 17 degrees 45 minutes 40 seconds: having travelled, during the last two stages, in a west-north-west direction.

June 2. — When we left our camp this morning, Mr. Gilbert and Charley returned from their ride; they had come on our tracks last night, but, surrounded as they were by rocky hills and gullies, had been compelled to encamp. We travelled about seven miles and a half, and crossed three good sized creeks, joining the Lynd from the north east. The river divided several times into anabranches, flowing round, and insulating rocky hills and ridges. It was much better supplied with water, and contained several large reedy lagoons. An elegant Acacia, about thirty or thirty-five feet high, grew on its small flats: it had large drooping glaucous bipinnate leaves, long broad pods, and oval seeds, half black, and half bright red.

June 3. — We continued our journey down the river, about seven or eight miles. The first three miles were very tolerable, over limited box-flats near the river. As we approached the ranges again, the supply of water increased; and we passed one large poel, in particular, with many ducks and spoonbills on it. But the ranges approached the banks of the river on both sides, and formed either precipitous walls, or flats so exceedingly rocky, that it was out of the question to follow it. We, therefore, ascended the hills and mountains, and with our foot-sore cattle passed over beds of sharp shingles of porphyry. We crept like snails over these rocky hills, and through their gullies filled with boulders and shingles, until I found it necessary to halt, and allow my poor beasts to recover. During the afternoon, I examined the country in advance, and found that the mountains extended five miles farther, and were as rocky as those we had already passed. But, after that, they receded from the river, and the country became comparatively level. To this place I brought forward my party on the 4th June, and again descended into the valley of the river, and encamped near a fine pool of water in its sandy bed, in latitude 17 degrees 34 minutes 17 seconds. Here, last night, I met a family of natives who had just commenced their supper; but, seeing us, they ran away and left their things, without even making an attempt to frighten us. Upon examining their camp, I found their koolimans, (vessels to keep water) full of bee bread, of which I partook, leaving for payment some spare nose rings of our bullocks. In their dillies I found the fleshy roots of a bean, which grows in a sandy soil, and has solitary yellow blossoms; the tuber of a vine, which has palmate leaves; a bitter potato, probably belonging to a water-plant; a fine specimen of rock-crystal; and a large cymbium (a sea shell), besides other trifles common to almost all the natives we had seen. Their koolimans were very large, almost like small boats, and were made of the inner layer of the bark of the stringy-bark tree. There was no animal food in the camp.

The whole extent of the mountainous country passed in our two last stages, was of porphyry, with crystals of quartz and felspar in a grey paste; on both sides of it, the rock was granite and pegmatite; and, at the north-west side of the gorge, I observed talc-schist in the bed of the river.

The vegetation of the forest, and along the river, did not vary; but, on the mountains, the silver-leaved Ironbark prevailed.

The general course of the Lynd, from my last latitude to that of the 4th June, was north-west.

Sleeping in the open air at night, with a bright sky studded with its stars above us, we were naturally led to observe more closely the hourly changes of the heavens; and my companions became curious to know the names of those brilliant constellations, with which nightly observation had now, perhaps for the first time, made them familiar. We had reached a latitude which allowed us not only to see the brightest stars of the southern, but, also of the northern hemisphere, and I shall never forget the intense pleasure I experienced, and that evinced by my companions, when I first called them, about 4 o’clock in the morning, to see Ursa Major. The starry heaven is one of those great features of nature, which enter unconsciously into the composition of our souls. The absence of the stars gives us painful longings, the nature of which we frequently do not understand, but which we call home sickness:— and their sudden re-appearance touches us like magic, and fills us with delight. Every new moon also was hailed with an almost superstitious devotion, and my Blackfellows vied with each other to discover its thin crescent, and would be almost angry with me when I strained my duller eyes in vain to catch a glimpse of its faint light in the brilliant sky which succeeds the setting of the sun. The questions: where were we at the last new moon? how far have we travelled since? and where shall we be at the next? — were invariably discussed amongst us; calculations were made as to the time that would be required to bring us to the end of our journey, and there was no lack of advice offered as to what should, and ought to be done.

At several of our last camps the cry of the goat suckers, and the hooting of owls, were heard the whole night; and immediately after sunset, the chirping of several kinds of crickets was generally heard, the sound of which was frequently so metallic, as to be mistaken for the tinkling of our bell. At Separation Creek, we first met with the ring-tailed opossum; and, on the table land, often heard its somewhat wailing cry.

June 5. — We travelled, in a direct line, about nine miles west by north, down the river, although the distance along its banks was much greater; for it made a large bend at first to the northward, and afterwards, being turned by a fine conspicuous short range, to the westward. I named the Range after W. Kirchner, Esq., another of the supporters of my expedition. The river was here, in some places, fully half a mile broad, and formed channels covered with low shrubs, among which a myrtle was frequent. Between the ranges, the river became narrower: and, before it reached Kirchner’s Range, a large creek joined it from the eastward; and another from the southward, after it had passed the range. The flats increased on both side of the river, and were openly timbered with box and narrow-leaved Ironbark. The rock near our yesterday’s camp was talc-schist. Farther down sienite was observed, which contained so much hornblende as to change occasionally into hornblende rock, with scattered crystals of quartz. Granite and pegmatite were round some lagoons near the creek from the southward. The clustered fig tree of the Burdekin, became again more frequent; but Sarcocephalus was the characteristic tree of the river. The Acacia of Expedition Range and of the upper Lynd, grew to a comparatively large size in the open forest. We observed a cotton tree (Cochlospermum), covered with large yellow blossoms, though entirely leafless; and we could not help thinking how great an ornament this plant would be to the gardens of the colony.

As the water-holes became larger, water-fowl became more plentiful; and Brown succeeded in shooting several wood-ducks and a Malacorhyncus membranaceus. The bean of the Mackenzie was very abundant in the sandy bed of the river; we roasted and ate some of its fruit; it was, however, too heavy, and produced indigestion: Mr. Phillips pounded them, and they made an excellent substitute for coffee, which I preferred to our tea, which, at that time, was not very remarkable for its strength.

June 6. — We travelled about nine miles west by north to latitude 17 degrees 30 minutes 47 seconds. The first part of the stage was over an undulating country timbered with box and Ironbark; but the latter part was hilly and mountainous: the mountains were so rocky, where they entered the bed of the river, that we were obliged to leave its banks, and travel over a very difficult country.

On the small flats, the apple-gum grew with a few scattered Moreton Bay ash trees; on the bergues of the river we found the white cedar (Melia azedarach), Clerodendron; an asclepiadaceous shrub with large triangular seed-vessels; and, on the hills, the blood-wood and stringy-bark. The rock, as far as I examined it, was of porphyry of great hardness, and composing hills of an almost conical form.

June 7. — The same difficult country not only continued, but rather increased. Charley told me last night, on his return from a walk, that he had found sandstone. To-day we travelled over porphyries like those of the last stage: but, about four miles from the last camp, steep sandstone rocks with excavations appeared on our left, at some distance from the river, from which they were separated by porphyry; but, farther on, they approached the river on both sides, and formed steep slopes, which compelled us to travel along the bed of the river itself. Two large creeks joined the river from the southward, one of which was running, and also made the river run until the stream lost itself in the sandy bed. At the end of the stage, however, the stream re-appeared, and we were fairly on the fourth flowing river of the expedition: for the Condamine, although not constantly, was raised by rains, and showed the origin of its supply, by the muddy nature of its waters; the Dawson commenced running where we left it; and the Burdekin, with several of its tributaries, was running as far as we followed it. The waters of the Dawson, the Burdekin, and the Lynd, were very clear, and received their constant supply from springs.

We passed a camp of natives, who vere very much alarmed at the report of a gun, which Mr. Gilbert happened to fire when very near them; this he did in his anxiety to procure a pair of Geophaps plumifera, for his collection. These pretty little pigeons had been first observed by Brown in the course of our yesterday’s stage, who shot two of them, but they were too much mutilated to make good specimens. We frequently saw them afterwards, but never more than two, four, or six together, running with great rapidity and with elevated crest over the ground, and preferring the shady rocks along the sandy bed of the river. I tried several methods to render the potatoes, which we had found in the camps of the natives, eatable; but neither roasting nor boiling destroyed their sickening bitterness. At last, I pounded and washed them, and procured their starch, which was entirely tasteless, but thickened rapidly in hot water, like arrow-root; and was very agreeable to eat, wanting only the addition of sugar to make it delicious; at least so we fancied.

June 8. — We travelled about nine miles west-north-west. The country was in general open, with soft ground on the more extensive flats; although sandstone ranges approached the river in many places. Four good-sized creeks entered the river from the southward. The sandstone, or psammite, was composed of large grains of quartz mixed with clay of a whitish red or yellow colour; it frequently formed steep cliffs and craggy rugged little peaks.

The stringy-bark grew to a fine size on the hills, and would yield, together with Ironbark and the drooping tea-tree, the necessary timber for building. A new species of Melaleuca and also of Boronia were found, when entering upon the sandstone formation.

The wind for the last few days has been westerly; cumuli forming during the day, dissolved towards sunset; the days were very hot, the nights mild and dry. It was evident that we had descended considerably into the basin of the gulf.

June 9. — We travelled about ten miles north-west. Box-tree flats, of more or less extent, were intercepted by abrupt barren craggy hills composed of sandstone, which seemed to rest on layers of argillaceous rock. The latter was generally observed at the foot of the hills and in the bed of the river; it had in most places been worn by the action of water. The stringy-bark became even numerous on the flats, in consequence of the more sandy nature of the soil: but the hills were scrubby, and Mr. Gilbert reported that he had even seen the Bricklow. The grass of the Isaacs grew from twelve to fifteen feet high, in the hollows near the river, which was, as usual, fringed with Sarcocephalus; a species of Terminalia; the drooping tea-tree; and with an Acacia which perfumed the air with the fragrant odours of its flowers. We gathered some blossoms of the drooping tea-tree, which were full of honey, and, when soaked, imparted a very agreeable sweetness to the water. We frequently observed great quantities of washed blossoms of this tree in the deserted camps of the natives; showing that they were as fond of the honey in the blossoms of the tea-tree, as the natives of the east coast are of that of the several species of Banksia.

June 10. — We travelled about five miles north-north-west to latitude 17 degrees 9 minutes 17 seconds. The flats, the rugged hills, and the river, maintained the same character. Creeks, probably of no great extent, joined the Lynd from the south side of all the hills we passed both yesterday and to-day.

The weather was very fine, although exceedingly hot during the day; but the nights were mild, and without dew. An easterly and south-easterly wind blew during the whole day, moderated a little at sunset, and again freshened up after it; but the latter part of the night, and for an hour and a half after sunrise, was calm. I was induced to think that this wind originated from the current of cold air flowing from the table-land of the Burdekin down to the gulf, as the easterly winds west of New England do, and as the westerly winds of Sydney during July and August, which are supposed to be equally connected with the table-land of New England and of Bathurst. The westerly winds occurring at the upper Lynd, do not militate against such a supposition, as they might well belong to an upper current coming from the sea.

Two new fishes were caught; both were very small; the one malacopterygious, and resembling the pike, would remain at times motionless at the bottom, or dart at its prey; the other belonged to the perches, and had an oblong compressed body, and three dark stripes perpendicular to its length; this would hover through the water, and nibble at the bait. Silurus and Gristes were also caught.

Brown rendered himself very useful to us in shooting ducks, which were very numerous on the water-holes; and he succeeded several times in killing six, eight, or ten, at oneshot; particularly the Leptotarsis, Gould, (whistling duck) which habitually crowd close together on the water. Native companions were also numerous, but these birds and the black cockatoos were the most wary of any that we met. Whilst travelling with our bullocks through the high grass, we started daily a great number of wallabies; two of which were taken by Charley and John Murphy, assisted by our kangaroo dog. Brown, who had gone to the lower part of the long pool of water near our encampment, to get a shot at some sheldrakes (Tadorna Raja), returned in a great hurry, and told me that he had seen a very large and most curious fish dead, and at the water’s edge. Messrs. Gilbert and Calvert went to fetch it, and I was greatly surprised to find it a sawfish (Pristis), which I thought lived exclusively in salt water. It was between three and four feet in length, and only recently, perhaps a few days, dead. It had very probably come up the river during a flood, for the water-hole in which the creature had been detained, had no connection with the tiny stream, which hardly resisted the absorbing power of the sands. Another question was, what could have been the cause of its death? as the water seemed well tenanted with small fish. We supposed that it had pursued its prey into shallow water, and had leaped on the dry land, in its efforts to regain the deep water. Charley also found and brought me the large scales of the fish of the Mackenzie, and the head-bones of a large guard-fish.

June 11. — We travelled about eight miles due north. The bed of the river was very broad; and an almost uninterrupted flat, timbered with box and apple-gum, extended along its banks. We were delighted with the most exquisite fragrance of several species of Acacia in blossom.

June 12. — We travelled about nine miles N.N.W. to lat. 16 degrees 55 minutes. The flats were again interrupted by sandstone ranges. One large creek, and several smaller ones joined the river.

June 13. — We accomplished nine miles to-day in a N.N.W. direction. The country was partly rocky; the rock was a coarse conglomerate of broken pieces of quartz, either white or coloured with oxide of iron; it greatly resembled the rock of the Wybong hills on the upper Hunter, and was equally worn and excavated. The flats were limited, and timbered with apple-gum, box, and blood-wood, where the sand was mixed with a greater share of clay; and with stringy-bark on the sandy rocky soil; also with flooded-gum, in the densely grassed hollows along the river. The Severn tree, the Acacia of Expedition Range, and the little bread tree, were frequent along the banks of the river. A species of Stravadium attracted our attention by its loose racemes of crimson coloured flowers, and of large three or four ribbed monospermous fruit; it was a small tree, with bright green foliage, and was the almost constant companion of the permanent water-holes. As its foliage and the manner of its growth resemble the mangrove, we called it the Mangrove Myrtle.

Brown shot fifteen ducks, mostly Leptotarsis Eytoni, Gould.; and Charley a bustard (Otis Australasianus), which saved two messes of our meat.

The river was joined by a large creek from the south-west, and by several small ones; we passed a very fine lagoon, at scarcely three miles from our last camp.

June 14. — We travelled nine miles north by west, to lat. 16 degrees 38 minutes. The box-tree flats were very extensive, and scattered over with small groves of the Acacia of Expedition Range. The narrow-leaved Ironbark had disappeared with the primitive rocks; the moment sandstone commenced, stringy-bark took its place. We passed some lagoons, crossed a good sized creek from the south-west, and saw a small lake in the distance. At the latter part of the stage the country became more undulating. The edges of the stiff shallows were densely covered with the sharp pointed structures of the white ants, about two or three feet high. They were quite as frequent at the upper part of the river, where I omitted to mention them. We saw a very interesting camping place of the natives, containing several two-storied gunyas, which were constructed in the following manner: four large forked sticks were rammed into the ground, supporting cross poles placed in their forks, over which bark was spread sufficiently strong and spacious for a man to lie upon; other sheets of stringy-bark were bent over the platform, and formed an arched roof, which would keep out any wet. At one side of these constructions, the remains of a large fire were observed, with many mussel-shells scattered about. All along the Lynd we had found the gunyas of the natives made of large sheets of stringy-bark, not however supported by forked poles, but bent, and both ends of the sheet stuck into the ground; Mr. Gilbert thought the two-storied gunyas were burial places; but we met with them so frequently afterwards, during our journey round the gulf, and it was frequently so evident that they had been recently inhabited, that no doubt remained of their being habitations of the living, and constructed to avoid sleeping on the ground during the wet season.

June 15. — We travelled about nine miles and a half down the river, over a country like that of yesterday, the tree vegetation was, however, more scanty, the forest still more open, the groves of Acacia larger. Brown returned with two sheldrakes (Tadorna Raja), four black ducks (Anas Novae Hollandiae), four teals (Querquedula castanea); and brought the good news that the Lynd joined a river coming from the south-east, with a rapid stream to the westward.

June 16. — We left the Lynd, along which we had journeyed from lat. 17 degrees 58 minutes to lat. 16 degrees 30 minutes, and travelled about twelve miles W.N.W., when we encamped at the west side of a very long lagoon Though I did not see the junction of the two rivers myself, Mr. Roper, Brown, and Charley, informed me, that the Lynd became very narrow, and its banks well confined, before joining the new river; which I took the liberty of naming after Sir Thomas Mitchell, the talented Surveyor–General of New South Wales; they also stated that the Lynd was well filled by a fine sheet of water. The bed of the Mitchell was very broad, sandy, and quite bare of vegetation; showing the more frequent recurrence of floods. A small stream meandered through the sheet of sand, and from time to time expanded into large water-holes: the river was also much more tortuous in its course than the Lynd, which for long distances generally kept the same course. The Mitchell came from the eastward, and took its course to the west-north-west. At the sudden bends of the river, the bergue was interrupted by gullies, and occasionally by deep creeks, which seemed, however, only to have a short course, and to be the outlets of the waters collecting on the flats and stiff plains at some distance from the river. The bergue was covered with fine bloodwood trees, stringy-bark and box. At a greater distance from the river, the trees became scanty and scattered, and, still farther, small plains extended, clothed but sparingly with a wiry grass. These plains were bounded by an open forest of the Acacia of Expedition Range. This little tree gave us a good supply of a light amber-coloured wholesome gum, which we sometimes ate in its natural state, or after it had been dissolved by boiling. Towards the end of the day’s stage, we came to several very fine lagoons; one of which was several miles long, and apparently parallel to the river: it was exceedingly deep, and covered with the broad leaves of Villarsia and Nymphaea, and well stocked with numerous large fish, which betrayed their presence by an incessant splashing during the early part of the night. John Murphy caught the small striped perch of the Lynd; and another small perch-like fish, with a broad anal fin, which had already excited our admiration at the Lynd, by the beauty of its colours, and by the singularity of its movements. Charley saw the Silurus and the guardfish, and caught several of the broad-scaled fish of the Mackenzie; one of which, a most beautiful specimen, has been preserved and sent to Mr. Gould.

When we left our last camp at the Lynd, John Murphy’s pony was missing. Charley went to look for it, and did not join us before we had arrived at our camp, after an unusually long and fatiguing stage. He brought us the melancholy news that he had found the poor beast on the sands of the Lynd, with its body blown up, and bleeding from the nostrils. It had either been bitten by a snake; or had eaten some noxious herb, which had fortunately been avoided by the other horses. Accidents of this kind were well calculated to impress us with the conviction of our dependence on Providence, which had hitherto been so kind and merciful.

As all our meat was consumed, I was compelled to stop, in order to kill one of our little steers. It proved to be very fat, and allowed us once more to indulge in our favourite dish of fried liver. Although we were most willing to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, and to revive our own ambitious feelings at the memory of the deeds of our illustrious heroes, we had nothing left but the saturated rags of our sugar bags; which, however, we had kept for the purpose, and which we now boiled up with our tea: our last flour was consumed three weeks ago; and the enjoyment of fat cake, therefore, was not to be thought of. Should any of my readers think these ideas and likings ridiculous and foolish, they may find plenty of analogous facts by entering the habitations of the poor, where I have not only witnessed, but enjoyed, similar treats of sugared tea and buttered bread.

In crossing one of the creeks we found a species of Acacia [Inga moniliformis, D. C. Prod. Vol. II. p. 440, where it is described as having been found at Timor.], with articulate pods and large brown seeds; it was a small tree with spreading branches, and a dark green shady foliage: it occurred afterwards on all the creeks and water-holes until we reached our destination.

It was at the lower part of the Lynd that we first saw the green-tree ant; which seemed to live in small societies in rude nests between the green leaves of shady trees. The passer by, when touching one of these nests, would be instantaneously covered with them, and would soon be aware of their presence by the painful bites they are able, and apparently most ready, to inflict.

June 19. — We travelled about eight miles N. 50 degrees W. lat. 16 degrees 22 minutes 16 seconds and again encamped at a very deep lagoon, covered near its edges with Villarsias, but without Nymphaeas. The soil of the flat round the lagoon, was very stiff and suitable for making bricks. The country along the Mitchell was an immense uninterrupted flat with a very clayey soil, on which the following plants were frequent: viz. Grevillea, Cerotaphylla, and Mimosoides, a Melaleuca with broad lanceolate leaves, Spathodea and a Balfouria, R. Br.

Whilst walking down by the lagoon, I found a great quantity of ripe Grewia seeds, and, on eating many of them, it struck me, that their slightly acidulous taste, if imparted to water, would make a very good drink; I therefore gathered as many as I could, and boiled them for about an hour; the beverage which they produced was at all events the best we had tasted on our expedition: and my companions were busy the whole afternoon in gathering and boiling the seeds.

Charley and Brown, who had gone to the river, returned at a late hour, when they told us that they had seen the tracks of a large animal on the sands of the river, which they judged to be about the size of a big dog, trailing a long tail like a snake. Charley said, that when Brown fired his gun, a deep noise like the bellowing of a bull was heard; which frightened both so much that they immediately decamped. This was the first time that we became aware of the existence of the crocodile in the waters of the gulf.

June 20. — We travelled about ten miles north-west, and avoided the gullies by keeping at a distance from the river. Plains covered with high dry grass alternated with an open forest; in which we observed Spathodea, Bauhinia, a Balfouria, groves of Cochlospermum gossypium, and several other trees, which I had seen in the scrubs of Comet River; among which was the arborescent Cassia with long pods. A Bauhinia, different from the two species I had previously seen, was covered with red blossoms, which, where the tree abounded, gave quite a purple hue to the country. The stringy-bark, the bloodwood, the apple-gum, the box, and the flooded-gum, grew along the bergue of the river.

We passed some fine lagoons at the latter end of the stage. The banks of the river were so steep, that the access to its water was difficult; its stream, deep and apparently slow, occupied about half the bed, which was perhaps one hundred and eighty, or two hundred yards broad. The soil was very sandy, and three deep channels parallel to the river were overgrown with high stiff grass. A pretty yellow Ipomoea formed dense festoons between the trees that fringed the waters. The unripe seeds of Cochlospermum, when crushed, gave a fine yellow colour, shaded into an orange hue.

Large flocks of Peristera histrionica (the Harlequin pigeon) were lying on the patches of burnt grass on the plains, they feed on the brown seeds of a grass, which annoyed us very much by getting into our stockings, trowsers, and blankets. The rose-breasted cockatoo, Mr. Gilbert’s Platycercus of Darling Downs, and the Betshiregah (Melopsittacus undulatus, Gould.) were very numerous, and it is probable that the plains round the gulf are their principal home, whence they migrate to the southward. The white and black cockatoos were also very numerous.

John Murphy caught four perches, one of which weighed two pounds. The purple ant of the east coast has disappeared, and a similar one with brick-coloured head and thorax, but by no means so voracious, has taken its place.

The flooded-gum and the bloodwood were in blossom: this usually takes place, at Moreton Bay, in November and December. This different state of vegetation to the northward and southward, may perhaps account for the periodical migration of several kinds of birds.

June 21. — A shower of rain fell, but cleared up at midnight. We travelled nine miles north-west to lat. 16 degrees 9 minutes 41 seconds, over a country very much like that of the two preceding stages, and past several fine lagoons, richly adorned by the large showy flowers of a white Nymphaea, the seed-vessels of which some families of natives were busily gathering: after having blossomed on the surface of the water, the seed-vessel grows larger and heavier, and sinks slowly to the bottom, where it rots until its seeds become free, and are either eaten by fishes and waterfowl, or form new plants. The natives had consequently to dive for the ripe seed-vessels; and we observed them constantly disappearing and reappearing on the surface of the water. They did not see us until we were close to them, when they hurried out of the water, snatched up some weapons and ran off, leaving their harvest of Nymphaea seeds behind. Brown had visited another lagoon, where he had seen an old man and two gins; the former endeavoured to frighten him by setting the grass on fire, but, when he saw that Brown still approached, he retired into the forest. We took a net full of seeds, and I left them a large piece of iron as payment. On returning to the camp, we boiled the seeds, after removing the capsule; but as some of the numerous partitions had remained, the water was rendered slightly bitter. This experiment having failed, the boiled seeds were then (Unclear:)tied with a little fat, which rendered them very palatable and remarkably satisfying. The best way of cooking them was that adopted by the natives, who roast the whole seed-vessel. I then made another trial to obtain the starch from the bitter potatoes, in which I succeeded; but the soup for eight people, made with the starch of sixteen potatoes, was rather thin.

We were encamped at a small creek, scarcely a mile from the river, from which John Murphy and Brown brought the leaves of the first palm trees we had seen on the waters of the gulf. They belonged to the genus Corypha; some of them were very thick and high.

The mornings and evenings were very beautiful, and are surpassed by no climate that I have ever lived in. It was delightful to watch the fading and changing tints of the western sky after sunset, and to contemplate, in the refreshing coolness of advancing night, the stars as they successively appeared, and entered on their nightly course. The state of our health showed how congenial the climate was to the human constitution; for, without the comforts which the civilized man thinks essentially necessary to life; without flour, without salt and miserably clothed, we were yet all in health; although at times suffering much from weakness and fatigue. At night we stretched ourselves on the ground, almost as naked as the natives, and though most of my companions still used their tents, it was amply proved afterwards that the want of this luxury was attended with no ill consequences.

We heard some subdued cooees, not very far from our camp, which I thought might originate from natives returning late from their excursions, and whose attention had been attracted by our fires. I discharged a gun to make them aware of our presence; after which we heard no more of them.

June 22. — We travelled about twelve miles N. W. 6 degrees W. to lat. 16 degrees 3 minutes 11 seconds, and encamped at a swamp or sedgy lagoon, without any apparent outlet; near which a great number of eagles, kites, and crows were feasting on the remains of a black Ibis. We passed a very long lagoon, and, in the latter part of our stage, the country had much improved, both in the increased extent of its forest land, and in the density and richness of its grass.

June. 23. — We travelled eight or nine miles in a W. N. W. direction to latitude 16 degrees 0 minutes 26 seconds, over many Bauhinia plains with the Bauhinias in full blossom. The stiff soil of these plains was here and there marked by very regular pentagonal, hexagonal, and heptagonal cracks, and, as these cracks retain the moisture of occasional rains better than the intervening space, they were fringed with young grass, which showed these mathematical figures very distinctly. We passed a great number of dry swamps or swampy water-holes; sometimes however containing a little water. They were surrounded by the Mangrove myrtle (Stravadium), which was mentioned as growing at the lower Lynd. The bottom of the dry swamps was covered with a couch grass, which, like all the other grasses, was partly withered.

Bustards were numerous, and the Harlequin pigeon was seen in large flocks. Wallabies abounded both in the high grass of the broken country near the river, and in the brush. Mr. Roper shot one, the hind quarters of which weighed 15 1/2 lbs.: it was of a light grey colour, and was like those we had seen at Separation Creek. Charley and Brown got seventeen ducks, on one of the sedgy lagoons.

I visited the bed of the river: its banks were covered with a rather open vine brush. Palm trees became numerous, and grew forty or fifty feet high, with a thick trunk swelling in the middle, and tapering upwards and downwards. Sarcocephalus, the clustered fig-tree, and the drooping tea-tree, were also present as usual. The bed of the river, an immense sheet of sand, was full a mile and a half broad, but the stream itself did not exceed thirty yards in width.

During the night we had again a few drops of rain.

June 24. — We continued our journey about nine miles west by north to latitude 15 degrees 59 minutes 30 seconds, over a rather broken country alternating with Bauhinia plains and a well-grassed forest. The banks of a large lagoon, on which several palm trees grew, were covered with heaps of mussel-shells. Swarms of sheldrakes were perching in the trees, and, as we approached, they rose with a loud noise, flying up and down the lagoon, and circling in the air around us. A chain of water-holes, fringed with Mangrove myrtle, changed, farther to the westward, into a creek, which had no connection with the river, but was probably one of the heads of the Nassau. We crossed it, and encamped on a water-hole covered with Nymphaeas, about a mile from the river, whose brushy banks would have prevented us from approaching it, had we wished to do so.

Though the easterly winds still prevailed, a slight north-west breeze was very distinctly felt, from about 11 o’clock a.m.

June 25. — We travelled about ten miles N.N.W. to latitude 15 degrees 51 minutes 26 seconds, but did not follow the river, which made large windings to the northward. It was very broad where Brown saw it last, and, by his account, the brush was almost entirely composed of palm trees. He saw a little boat with a fine Cymbium shell floating on the water. Our road led us over a well grassed forest land, and several creeks, which, although rising near the river, appeared to have no communication with it. Some plains of considerable size were between the river and our line of march; they were well grassed, but full of melon-holes, and rose slightly towards the river, forming a remarkable water-shed, perhaps, between the Nassau and the Mitchell. As we approached the river, we entered into a flat covered with stunted box, and intersected by numerous irregular water-courses. The box was succeeded by a Phyllanthus scrub, through which we pushed, and then came to a broad creek, filled with fine water, but not running, although high water-marks on the drooping tea-trees proved that it was occasionally flooded. We did not understand, nor could we ascertain, in what relation this singular country and the creek stood to the river, of which nothing was to be seen from the right bank of the creek.

The scrub, and the high grass along the creek, were swarming with white flanked wallabies, three of which Brown and Charley succeeded in shooting; and these, with a common grey kangaroo caught by Spring, and five ducks shot by Brown, provided our larder with a fine supply of game.

When I first came on the Lynd, I supposed that it flowed either independently to the head of the gulf, or that it was the tributary of a river which collected the waters of the York Peninsula, and carried them in a south-west or south-south-west course to the head of the gulf of Carpentaria. Such a course would have corresponded to that of the Burdekin at the eastern side, and the supposition was tolerably warranted by the peculiar conformation of the gulf. I expected, therefore, at every stage down the Lynd, at every bend to the westward, that it would keep that course. But, having passed the latitude of the head of the gulf, as well as those of the Van Diemen and the Staaten rivers, the Lynd still flowed to the north-west; and then, when it joined the Mitchell, I imagined that the new river would prove to be the Nassau; but, when it passed the latitude of that river, I conjectured that it would join the sea at the large embouchure in the old charts, in latitude 15 degrees 5 minutes — the “Water Plaets” of the Dutch navigators. To follow it farther, therefore, would have been merely to satisfy my curiosity, and an unpardonable waste of time. Besides, the number of my bullocks was decreasing, and prudence urged the necessity of proceeding, without any farther delay, towards the goal of my journey. I determined therefore to leave the Mitchell at this place, and to approach the sea-coast — so near at least, as not to risk an easy progress — and to pass round the bottom of the gulf.

June 26. — We travelled, accordingly, about seven miles almost due west, the latitude of our new camp being 15 degrees 52 minutes 38 seconds. On our way we passed some very fine long water-holes; some of which were surrounded with reeds, and others covered with the white species of Nymphaea; groves of Pandanus spiralis occupied their banks. Some fine plains, full of melon-holes, but well grassed, separated from each other by belts of forest-land, in which the Pandanus was also very frequent, were crossed during the day.

June 27. — We travelled eight miles W.S.W. over a succession of plains separated by belts of forest, consisting of bloodwood, box, apple-gum, and rusty-gum. Some plains were scattered over with Bauhinias. The holes along the plains are probably filled with water during the rainy season; dead shells of Paludina were extremely numerous, and we found even the shield of a turtle in one of them. At the end of the stage, we skirted some dense scrub, and encamped at one of the lagoons parallel to a dry creek, which must belong to the Nassau, as its latitude was 15 degrees 55 minutes 8 seconds. The lagoon was covered with small white Nymphaeas, Damasoniums, and yellow Utricularias; and on its banks were heaps of mussel-shells. The smoke of natives’ fires were seen on the plains, in every direction; but we saw no natives. Brown approached very near to a flock of Harlequin pigeons, and shot twenty-two of them. A young grey kangaroo was also taken.

The kites were so bold that one of them snatched the skinned specimen of a new species of honey-sucker out of Mr. Gilbert’s tin case; and, when we were eating our meals, they perched around us on the branches of overhanging trees, and pounced down even upon our plates, although held in our hands, to rob us of our dinners; — not quite so bad, perhaps, as the Harpies in the Aeneid, but sufficiently so to be a very great nuisance to us.

Yesterday and to-day we experienced a cold dry southerly wind, which lasted till about 11 o’clock A. M., when it veered to the south-west, but at night returned again, and rendered the air very cold, and dry, which was very evident from the total absence of dew. The forenoon was very clear; cumuli and cirrho-cumuli gathered during the afternoon. The sky of the sunset was beautifully coloured. After sunset, the clouds cleared off, but, as the night advanced, gradually collected again.

A circumstance occurred to-day which gave me much concern, as it showed that the natives of this part were not so amicably disposed towards us as those we had hitherto met:— whilst Charley and Brown were in search of game in the vicinity of our camp, they observed a native sneaking up to our bullocks, evidently with the intention of driving them towards a party of his black companions, who with poised spears were waiting to receive them. Upon detecting this manoeuvre, Charley and his companion hurried forward to prevent their being driven away, when the native gave the alarm, and all took to their heels, with the exception of a lame fellow, who endeavoured to persuade his friends to stand fight. Charley, however, fired his gun, which had the intended effect of frightening them; for they deserted their camp, which was three hundred yards from ours, in a great hurry, leaving, among other articles, a small net full of potatoes, which Charley afterwards picked up. The gins had previously retired; a proof that mischief was intended.

June 28. — We crossed the creek, near which we had encamped, and travelled about nine miles wost, over most beautifully varied country of plains, of forest land, and chains of lagoons. We crossed a large creek or river, which I believed to be the main branch of the Nassau. It was well supplied with water-holes, but there was no stream. Loose clayey sandstone cropped out in its bed, and also in the gullies which joined it. A small myrtle tree with smooth bark, and a leafless tree resembling the Casuarina, grew plentifully on its banks. We saw smoke rising-in every direction, which showed how thickly the country was inhabited. Near the lagoons we frequently noticed bare spots of a circular form, about twelve or fifteen feet in diameter, round each of which was a belt of ten, twelve, or more fire places, separated from each other by only a few feet. It seems that the natives usually sit within the circle of fires; but it is difficult to know whether it belonged to a family, or whether each fire had an independent proprietor. Along the Lynd and Mitchell, the natives made their fires generally in heaps of stones, which served as ovens for cooking their victuals. Bones of kangaroos and wallabies, and heaps of mussel-shells, were commonly seen in their camps; but fish bones were very rarely observed. It was very different, however, when we travelled round the head, and along the western side, of the gulf; for fish seemed there to form the principal food of the natives.

At the end of our stage, we came to a chain of shallow lagoons, which were slightly connected by a hollow. Many of them were dry; and fearing that, if we proceeded much farther, we should not find water, I encamped on one of them, containing a shallow pool; it was surrounded by a narrow belt of small tea trees, with stiff broad lanceolate leaves. As the water occupied only the lower part of this basin, I deposited our luggage in the upper part. Mr. Roper and Mr. Calvert made their tent within the belt of trees, with its opening towards the packs; whilst Mr. Gilbert and Murphy constructed theirs amongst the little trees, with its entrance from the camp. Mr. Phillips’s was, as usual, far from the others, and at the opposite side of the water. Our fire place was made outside of the trees, on the banks. Brown had shot six Leptotarsis Eytoni, (whistling ducks) and four teals, which gave us a good dinner; during which, the principal topic of conversation was our probable distance from the sea coast, as it was here that we first found broken sea shells, of the genus Cytherea. After dinner, Messrs. Roper and Calvert retired to their tent, and Mr. Gilbert, John, and Brown, were platting palm leaves to make a hat, and I stood musing near their fire place, looking at their work, and occasionally joining in their conversation. Mr. Gilbert was congratulating himself upon having succeeded in learning to plat; and, when he had nearly completed a yard, he retired with John to their tent. This was about 7 o’clock; and I stretched myself upon the ground as usual, at a little distance from the fire, and fell into a dose, from which I was suddenly roused by a loud noise, and a call for help from Calvert and Roper. Natives had suddenly attacked us. They had doubtless watched our movements during the afternoon, and marked the position of the different tents; and, as soon as it was dark, sneaked upon us, and threw a shower of spears at the tents of Calvert, Roper, and Gilbert, and a few at that of Phillips, and also one or two towards the fire. Charley and Brown called for caps, which I hastened to find, and, as soon as they were provided, they discharged their guns into the crowd of the natives, who instantly fled, leaving Roper and Calvert pierced with several spears, and severely beaten by their waddies. Several of these spears were barbed, and could not be extracted without difficulty. I had to force one through the arm of Roper, to break off the barb; and to cut another out of the groin of Mr. Calvert. John Murphy had succeeded in getting out of the tent, and concealing himself behind a tree, whence he fired at the natives, and severely wounded one of them, before Brown had discharged his gun. Not seeing Mr. Gilbert, I asked for him, when Charley told me that our unfortunate companion was no more! He had come out of his tent with his gun, shot, and powder, and handed them to him, when he instantly dropped down dead. Upon receiving this afflicting intelligence, I hastened to the spot, and found Charley’s account too true. He was lying on the ground at a little distance from our fire, and, upon examining him, I soon found, to my sorrow, that every sign of life had disappeared. The body was, however, still warm, and I opened the veins of both arms, as well as the temporal artery, but in vain; the stream of life had stopped, and he was numbered with the dead.

As soon as we recovered from the panic into which we were thrown by this fatal event, every precaution was taken to prevent another surprise; we watched through the night, and extinguished our fires to conceal our individual position from the natives.

A strong wind blew from the southward, which made the night air distressingly cold; it seemed as if the wind blew through our bodies. Under all the circumstances that had happened, we passed an anxious night, in a state of most painful suspense as to the fate of our still surviving companions. Mr. Roper had received two or three spear wounds in the scalp of his head; one spear had passed through his left arm, another into his cheek below the jugal bone, and penetrated the orbit, and injured the optic nerve, and another in his loins, besides a heavy blow on the shoulder. Mr. Calvert had received several severe blows from a waddi; one on the nose which had crushed the nasal bones; one on the elbow, and another on the back of his hand; besides which, a barbed spear had entered his groin; and another into his knee. As may be readily imagined, both suffered great pain, and were scarcely able to move. The spear that terminated poor Gilbert’s existence, had entered the chest, between the clavicle and the neck; but made so small a wound, that, for some time, I was unable to detect it. From the direction of the wound, he had probably received the spear when stooping to leave his tent.

The dawning of the next morning, the 29th, was gladly welcomed, and I proceeded to examine and dress the wounds of my companions, more carefully than I had been able to do in the darkness of the night.

Very early in the morning we heard the cooees of the natiyes, who seemed wailing, as if one of their number was either killed or severely wounded: for we found stains of blood on their tracks. They disappeared, however, very soon, for, on reconnoitring about the place, I saw nothing of them. I interred the body of our ill-fated companion in the afternoon, and read the funeral service of the English Church over him. A large fire was afterwards made over the grave, to prevent the natives from detecting and disinterring the body. Our cattle and horses fortunately had not been molested.

The cold wind from the southward continued the whole day; at night it fell calm, and continued so until the morning of the 30th June, when a strong easterly wind set in, which afterwards veered round to the north and north-west.

Calvert and Roper recovered wonderfully, considering the severe injuries they had received; and the wounds, which I feared as being the most dangerous, promised with care and patience to do well. As it was hazardous to remain long at the place, for the natives might return in greater numbers, and repeat their attack, as well on ourselves as the cattle, I determined to proceed, or at least to try if my wounded companions could endure to be removed on horseback. In a case like this, where the lives of the whole party were concerned, it was out of the question to attend only to the individual feelings and wishes of the patients; I felt for their position to the fullest extent that it was possible for one to feel towards his fellow creatures so situated; but I had equal claims on my attention. I had to look exclusively to the state of their wounds, and to the consequences of the daily journey on their constitutions; to judge if we could proceed or ought to stop; and I had reason to expect, or at least was sanguine enough to hope, that although the temporary feelings of acute pain might make them discontented with my arrangements, sober reflection at the end of our journey would induce them to do me justice.

The constant attention which they required, and the increased work which fell to the share of our reduced number, had scarcely allowed me time to reflect upon the melancholy accident which had befallen us, and the ill-timed death of our unfortunate companion. All our energies were roused, we found ourselves in danger, and, as was absolutely necessary, we strained every nerve to extricate ourselves from it: but I was well aware, that the more coolly we went to work, the better we should succeed.

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