Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 12

Continued drought — terrific effect of hot wind — thermometer bursts — death of poor Bawley — find the stockade deserted — leave Fort Grey for the depot — difference of seasons — migration of birds — hot winds — embarrassing position — Mr. Browne starts for Flood’s creek — three bullocks shot — commencement of the retreat — arrival at Flood’s creek — state of vegetation — effects of scurvy — arrive at rocky glen — comparison of native tribes — halt at Carnapaga — arrival at Cawndilla — removal to the Darling — leave the Darling — state of the river — oppressive heat — visited by Nadbuck — arrival at Moorundi.

By half past eleven of the 9th November we had again got quietly settled, and I then found leisure to make such arrangements as might suggest themselves for our further retreat. To insure the safety of the animals as much as possible, I determined to leave all my spare provisions and weightier stores behind, and during the afternoon we were engaged making the loads as compact and as light as we could.

It was not, however, the fear of the water in Strzelecki’s Creck having dried up, that was at this moment the only cause of anxiety to me, for I thought it more than probable that Mr. Browne had been obliged to retreat from Fort Grey, in which case I should still have a journey before me to the old Depot of 170 miles or more, under privations, to the horses at least, of no ordinary character; and I had great doubts as to the practicability of our final retreat upon the Darling. The drought had now continued so long, and the heat been so severe, that I apprehended we might be obliged to remain another summer in these fearful solitudes. The weather was terrifically hot, and appeared to have set in unusually early.

Under such circumstances, and with so many causes to render my mind anxious, the reader will believe I did not sleep much. The men were as restless as myself, so that we commenced our journey before the sun had risen on the morning of the 10th of November, to give the horses time to take their journey leisurely. Slowly we retraced our steps, nor did I stop for a moment until we had got to within five miles of our destination, at which distance we saw a single native running after us, and taking it into my head that he might be a messenger from Mr. Browne, I pulled up to wait for him, but curiosity alone had induced him to come forward. When he got to within a hundred yards, he stopped and approached no nearer. This little delay made it after sunset before we reached the upper pool (not the one Mr. Browne and I had discovered), and were relieved from present anxiety by finding a thick puddle still remaining in it, so that I halted for the night. Slommy, Bawley, and the colt had hard work to keep up with the other horses, and it really grieved me to see them so reduced. My own horse was even now beginning to give way, but I had carried a great load upon him.

As we approached the water, three ducks flew up and went off down the creek southwards, so I was cheered all night by the hope that water still remained at the lower pool, and that we should be in time to benefit by it. On the 11th, therefore, early we pushed on, as I intended to stop and breakfast at that place before I started for the Depot. We had scarcely got there, however, when the wind, which had been blowing all the morning hot from the N.E., increased to a heavy gale, and I shall never forget its withering effect. I sought shelter behind a large gum-tree, but the blasts of heat were so terrific, that I wondered the very grass did not take fire. This really was nothing ideal: every thing, both animate and inanimate, gave way before it; the horses stood with their backs to the wind, and their noses to the ground, without the muscular strength to raise their heads; the birds were mute, and the leaves of the trees, under which we were sitting, fell like a snow shower around us. At noon I took a thermometer, graduated to 127 degrees, out of my box, and observed that the mercury was up to 125 degrees. Thinking that it had been unduly influenced, I put it in the fork of a tree close to me, sheltered alike from the wind and the sun. In this position I went to examine it about an hour afterwards, when I found that the mercury had risen to the top of the instrument, and that its further expansion had burst the bulb, a circumstance that I believe no traveller has ever before had to record. I cannot find language to convey to the reader’s mind an idea of the intense and oppressive nature of the heat that prevailed. We had reached our destination however before the worst of the hot wind set in; but all the water that now remained in the once broad and capacious pool to which I have had such frequent occasion to call the attention of the reader, was a shining patch of mud nearly in the centre. We were obliged to dig a trench for the water to filter into during the night, and by this means obtained a scanty supply for our horses and ourselves.

About sunset the wind shifted to the west, a cloud passed over us, and we had heavy thunder; but a few drops of rain only fell. They partially cooled the temperature, and the night was less oppressive than the day had been. We had now a journey of 86 miles before us: to its results I looked with great anxiety and doubt. I took every precaution to fortify the horses, and again reduced the loads, keeping barely a supply of flour for a day or two. Before dawn we were up, and drained the last drop of water, if so it could be called, out of the little trench we had made, and reserving a gallon for the first horse that should fall, divided the residue among them. Just as the morning was breaking, we left the creek, and travelled for 36 miles. I then halted until the moon should rise, and was glad to see that the horses stood it well. At seven we resumed the journey, and got on tolerably well until midnight, when poor Bawley, my favourite horse, fell; but we got him up again, and abandoning his saddle, proceeded onwards. At a mile, however, he again fell, when I stopped, and the water revived him. I now hoped he would struggle on, but in about an hour he again fell. I was exceedingly fond of this poor animal, and intended to have purchased him at the sale of the remnants of the expedition, as a present to my wife. We sat down and lit a fire by him, but he seemed fairly worn out. I then determined to ride on to the Depot, and if Mr. Browne should still be there, to send a dray with water to the relief of the men. I told them, therefore, to come slowly on, and with Mr. Stuart pushed for the camp. We reached the plain just as the sun was descending, without having dismounted from our horses for more than fifteen hours, and as we rode down the embankment into it, looked around for the cattle, but none were to be seen. We looked towards the little sandy mound on which the tents had stood, but no white object there met our eye; we rode slowly up to the stockade, and found it silent and deserted. I was quite sure that Mr. Browne had had urgent reasons for retiring. I had indeed anticipated the measure: I hardly hoped to find him at the Fort, and had given him instructions on the subject of his removal, yet a sickening feeling came over me when I saw that he was really gone; not on my own account, for, with the bitter feelings of disappointment with which I was returning home, I could calmly have laid my head on that desert, never to raise it again. The feeling was natural, and had no mixture whatever of reproach towards my excellent companion.

We dismounted and led our horses down to water before I went to the tree under which I had directed Mr. Browne to deposit a letter for me. A good deal of water still remained in the channel, but nevertheless a large pit had been dug in it as I had desired. I did not drink, nor did Mr. Stuart, the surface of the water was quite green, and the water itself was of a red colour, but I believe we were both thinking of any thing but ourselves at that moment. As soon as we had unsaddled the horses, we went to the tree and dug up the bottle into which, as agreed upon, Mr. Browne had put a letter; informing me that he had been most reluctantly obliged to retreat; the water at the Depot having turned putrid, and seriously disagreed with the men; he said that he should fall back on the old Depot along the same line on which we had advanced, and expressed his fears that the water in Strzelecki’s Creek would have dried, on the permanence of which he knew our safety depended. Under present circumstances the fate of poor Bawley, if not of more of our horses, was sealed. Mr. Stuart and I sat down by the stockade, and as night closed in lit a fire to guide Morgan and Mack on their approach to the plain. They came up about 2 p.m. having left Bawley on a little stony plain, and the Colt on the sand ridges nearer to us, and in the confusion and darkness had left all the provisions behind; it therefore became necessary to send for some, as we had not had anything for many hours. The horses Morgan and Mack had ridden were too knocked up for further work, but I sent the latter on my own horse with a leather bottle that had been left behind by the party, full of water for poor Bawley, if he should still find him alive. Mack returned late in the afternoon, having passed the Colt on his way to the Depot, towards which he dragged himself with difficulty, but Bawley was beyond recovery; he gave the poor animal the water, however, for he was a humane man, and then left him to die.

We had remained during the day under a scorching heat, but could hardly venture to drink the water of the creek without first purifying it by boiling, and as we had no vessel until Mack should come up we had to wait patiently for his arrival at 7 p.m. About 9 we had a damper baked, and broke our fast for the first time for more than two days.

While sitting under a tree in the forenoon Mr. Stuart had observed a crow pitch in the little garden we had made, but which never benefited us, since the sun burnt up every plant the moment it appeared above the ground. This bird scratched for a short time in one of the soft beds, and then flew away with something in his bill. On going to the spot Mr. Stuart scraped up a piece of bacon and some suet, which the dogs of course had buried. These choice morsels were washed and cooked, and Mr. Stuart brought me a small piece of bacon, certainly not larger than a dollar, which he assured me had been cut out of the centre and was perfectly clean. I had not tasted the bacon since February, nor did I now feel any desire to do so, but I ate it because I thought I really wanted it in the weak state in which I was.

Perhaps a physician would laugh at me for ascribing the pains I felt the next morning to so trifling a cause, but I was attacked with pains at the bottom of my heels and in my back. Although lying down I felt as if I was standing balanced on stones; these pains increased during the day, insomuch that I anticipated some more violent attack, and determined on getting to the old Depot as soon as possible; but as the horses had not had sufficient rest, I put off my journey to 5 p.m. on the following day, when I left Fort Grey with Mr. Stuart, directing Mack and Morgan to follow at the same hour on the following day, and promising that I would send a dray with water to meet them. I rode all that night until 3 p.m. of the 17th, when we reached the tents, which Mr. Browne had pitched about two miles below the spot we had formerly occupied. If I except two or three occasions on which I was obliged to dismount to rest my back for a few minutes we rode without stopping, and might truly be said to have been twenty hours on horseback.

Sincere I believe was the joy of Mr. Browne, and indeed of all hands, at seeing us return, for they had taken it for granted that our retreat would have been cut off. I too was gratified to find that Mr. Brown was better, and to learn that everything had gone on well. Davenport had recently been taken ill, but the other men had recovered on their removal from the cause of their malady.

When I dismounted I had nearly fallen forward. Thinking that one of the kangaroo dogs in his greeting had pushed me between the legs, I turned round to give him a slap, but no dog was there, and I soon found out that what I had felt was nothing more than strong muscular action brought on by hard riding.

As I had promised I sent Jones with a dray load of water to meet Morgan and Mack, who came up on the 19th with the rest of the horses.

Mr. Browne informed me that the natives had frequently visited the camp during my absence. He had given them to understand that we were going over the hills again, on which they told him that if he did not make haste all the water would be gone. It now behoved us therefore to effect our retreat upon the Darling with all expedition. Our situation was very critical, for the effects of the drought were more visible now than before the July rain — no more indeed had since fallen, and the water in the Depot creek was so much reduced that we had good reason to fear that none remained anywhere else. On the 18th I sent Flood to a small creek, between us and the Pine forest, but he returned on the following day with information that it had long been dry. Thus then were my fears verified, and our retreat to the Darling apparently cut off. About this time too the very elements, against which we had so long been contending, seemed to unite their energies to render our stay in that dreadful region still more intolerable. The heat was greater than that of the previous summer; the thermometer ranging between 110 degrees and 123 degrees every day; the wind blowing heavily from N.E. to E.S.E. filled the air with impalpable red dust, giving the sun the most foreboding and lurid appearance as we looked upon him. The ground was so heated that our matches falling on it, ignited; and, having occasion to make a night signal, I found the whole of our rockets had been rendered useless, as on being lit they exploded at once without rising from the ground.

I had occasion — in the first volume of this work — to remark that I should at a future period have to make some observations on the state of the vegetation at this particular place; there being about a month or six weeks difference between the periods of the year when we first arrived at, and subsequently returned to it. When we first arrived on the 27th of January, 1845, the cereal grasses had ripened their seed, and the larger shrubs were fast maturing their fruit; the trees were full of birds, and the plains were covered with pigeons — having nests under every bush. At the close of November of the same year — that is to say six weeks earlier — not an herb had sprung from the ground, not a bud had swelled, and, where the season before the feathered tribes had swarmed in hundreds on the creek, scarcely a bird was now to be seen. Our cattle wandered about in search for food, and the silence of the grave reigned around us day and night.

Was it instinct that warned the feathered races to shun a region in which the ordinary course of nature had been arrested, and over which the wrath of the Omnipotent appeared to hang? Or was it that a more genial season in the country to which they migrate, rendered their desertion of it at the usual period unnecessary? Most sincerely do I hope that the latter was the case, and that a successful destiny will await the bold and ardent traveller10 who is now crossing those regions.

10. Dr. Leichhardt had started to cross the Continent some time before.

On the 20th I sent Flood down the creek to ascertain if water remained in it or the farther holes mentioned by the natives, thinking that in such a case we might work our way to the eastward; but on the 23rd he returned without having seen a drop of water from the moment he left us. The deep and narrow channel I had so frequently visited, and which I had hoped might still contain water, had long been dry, and thus was our retreat cut off in that quarter also. There was apparently no hope for us — its last spark had been extinguished by this last disappointment; but the idea of a detention in that horrid desert was worse than death itself.

On the morning of the 22nd the sky was cloudy and the sun obscure, and there was every appearance of rain. The wind was somewhat to the south of west, the clouds came up from the north, and at ten a few drops fell; but before noon the sky was clear, and a strong and hot wind was blowing from the west: the dust was flying in clouds around us, and the flies were insupportable.

At this time Mr. Stuart was taken ill with pains similar to my own, and Davenport had an attack of dysentery.

On the 23rd it blew a fierce gale and a hot wind from west by north, which rendered us still more uncomfortable: nothing indeed could be done without risk in such a temperature, and such a climate. The fearful position in which we were placed, caused me great uneasiness; the men began to sicken, and I felt assured that if we remained much longer, the most serious consequences might be apprehended.

On the 24th, Mr. Browne went with Flood to examine a stony creek about 16 miles to the south, and on our way homewards. We had little hope that he would find any water in it, but if he did, a plan had suggested itself, by which we trusted to effect our escape. It being impossible to stand the outer heat, the men were obliged to take whatever things wanted repair, to our underground room, and I was happy to learn from Mr. Stuart, who I sent up to superintend them, that the natives had not in the least disturbed Mr. Poole’s grave.

On the 25th Mr. Browne returned, and returned unsuccessful: he could find no water any where, and told me it was fearful to ride down the creeks and to witness their present state.

We were now aware that there could be no water nearer to us than 118 miles, i. e. at Flood’s Creek, and even there it was doubtful if water any longer remained. To have moved the party on the chance of finding it would have been madness: the weather was so foreboding, the heat so excessive, and the horses so weak, that I did not dare to trust them on such a journey, or to risk the life of any man in such an undertaking. I was myself laid up, a helpless being, for I had gradually sunk under the attack of scurvy which had so long hung upon me. The day after I arrived in camp I was unable to walk: in a day or two more, my muscles became rigid, my limbs contracted, and I was unable to stir; gradually also my skin blackened, the least movement put me to torture, and I was reduced to a state of perfect prostration. Thus stricken down, when my example and energies were so much required for the welfare and safety of others, I found the value of Mr. Browne’s services and counsel. He had already volunteered to go to Flood’s Creek to ascertain if water was still to be procured in it, but I had not felt justified in availing myself of his offer. My mind, however, dwelling on the critical posture of our affairs, and knowing and feeling as I did the value of time, and that the burning sun would lick up any shallow pool that might be left exposed, and that three or four days might determine our captivity or our release, I sent for Mr. Browne, to consult with him as to the best course to be adopted in the trying situation in which we were placed, and a plan at length occurred by which I hoped he might venture on the journey to Flood’s Creek without risk. This plan was to shoot one of the bullocks, and to fill his hide with water. We determined on sending this in a dray, a day in advance, to enable the bullock driver to get as far as possible on the road, we then arranged that Mr. Browne should take the light cart, with 36 gallons of water, and one horse only; that on reaching the dray, he should give his horse as much water as he would drink from the skin, leaving that in the cart untouched until he should arrive at the termination of his second day’s journey, when I proposed he should give his horse half the water, and leaving the rest until the period of his return, ride the remainder of the distance he had to go. I saw little risk in this plan, and we accordingly acted upon it immediately: the hide was prepared, and answered well, since it easily contained 150 gallons of water. Jones proceeded on the morning of the 27th, and on the 28th Mr. Browne left me on this anxious and to us important journey, accompanied by Flood. We calculated on his return on the eighth day, and the reader will judge how anxiously those days passed. On the day Mr. Browne left me, Jones returned, after having deposited the skin at the distance of 32 miles.

On the eighth day from his departure, every eye but my own was turned to the point at which they had seen him disappear. About 3 p.m., one of the men came to inform me that Mr. Browne was crossing the creek, the camp being on its left bank, and in a few minutes afterwards he entered my tent. “Well, Browne,” said I, “what news? Is it to be good or bad?” “There is still water in the creek,” said he, “but that is all I can say. What there is is as black as ink, and we must make haste, for in a week it will be gone.” Here then the door was still open — a way to escape still practicable, and thankful we both felt to that Power which had directed our steps back again ere it was finally closed upon us; but even now we had no time to lose: to have taken the cattle without any prospect of relief until they should arrive at Flood’s Creek, would have been to sacrifice almost the whole of them, and to reduce the expedition to a condition such as I did not desire. The necessary steps to be taken, in the event of Mr. Browne’s bringing back good tidings, had engaged my attention during his absence, and with his assistance, that on which I had determined was immediately put into execution. I directed three more bullocks to be shot, and their skins prepared; and calculated that by abandoning the boat and our heavier stores, we might carry a supply of water on the drays, sufficient for the use of the remaining animals on the way. Three bullocks were accordingly killed, and the skins stripped over them from the neck downwards, so that the opening might be as small as possible.

The boat was launched upon the creek, which I had vainly hoped would have ploughed the waters of a central sea. We abandoned our bacon and heavier stores, the drays were put into order, their wheels wedged up, their axles greased, and on the 6th of December, at 5 p.m., we commenced our retreat, having a distance of 270 miles to travel to the Darling, and under circumstances which made it extremely uncertain how we should terminate the journey, since we did not expect to find any water between Flood’s Creek and the Rocky Glen, or between the Rocky Glen and the Darling itself. The three or four days preceding our departure had been quite overpowering, neither did there seem to be a likelihood of any abatement of the heat when we left the Depot. At 5 a.m. of the morning of the 7th, having travelled all night, I halted to rest the men and animals. We had then the mortification to find one of the skins was defective, and let out the water at an hundred different pores. I directed the water that remained in the skin to be given to the stock rather than that it should be lost; but both horses and bullocks refused it. During the first part of the night it was very oppressive; but about an hour after midnight the wind shifted to the south, and it became cooler. We resumed our journey at 7, and did not again halt until half past 12 p.m. of the 8th, having then gained the Muddy Lagoon, at which the reader will recollect we stopped for a short time after breaking through the Pine forest about the same period the year before; but as there was nothing for the animals to eat, I took them across the creek and put them upon an acre or two of green feed along its banks. I observed that the further we advanced southwards, the more forward did vegetation appear; Mr. Browne made the same remark to me on his return from Flood’s Creek, where he found the grasses ripe, whereas at the Depot Creek the ground was still perfectly bare.

About 3 a.m. we had a good deal of thunder and lightning, and at 7 the wind shifted a point or two to the eastward of south. Notwithstanding the quarter from which the wind blew, heavy clouds came up from the west, and about 11 we had a misty rain with heavy thunder and lightning. The rain was too slight to leave any puddles, but it moistened the dry grass, which the animals greedily devoured.

On leaving the creek we kept for about eight miles on our old track, but at that distance turned due south for two hills, the position of which Mr. Browne had ascertained on his recent journey, and by taking this judicious course avoided the Pine ridges altogether. We were, however, obliged to halt, as the moon set, in the midst of an open brush, but started again at day-break on the morning of the 9th.

Before we left the creek, near the Muddy Lagoon, all the horses and more than one half of the bullocks had drank plentifully of the water in the hides, in consequence of which they got on tolerably well. On resuming our journey we soon cleared the remainder of the scrub, and got into a more open sandy country, but the travelling on it was good; and at 20 minutes to two we halted within a mile of the hills towards which we had been moving, then about 26 miles from Flood’s Creek. Being in great pain I left Mr. Browne at half-past three p.m., and reached our destination at midnight. Two hours afterwards Mr. Browne came up with the rest of the party. So we completed our first stage without the loss of a single animal; but had it not been for the slight rain that fell on the morning of the 8th, and the subsequent change of temperature, none of our bullocks could have survived the journey thus far.

As it had occupied three nights and two days, it became necessary to give both men and animals a day of rest. I could not however be so indulgent to Mr. Browne or to Flood. The next place at which we hoped to find water, was at the Rocky Gully at the foot of the ranges, distant 49 miles, if water failed us there, neither had Mr. Browne or Flood any reasonable expectation that we should procure any until we gained the Darling itself, then distant 150 miles. Mr. Browne was himself suffering severely from attacks of scurvy, but he continued with unwearied zeal to supply my place. On the 11th, at one p.m., he left me for the hills, but before he started we arranged that he should return and meet me half way whether he succeeded in finding water or not, and in order to ensure this I proposed leaving the Creek on the 13th.

As Mr. Browne had informed me, we found the vegetation much more forward at this place than we had hitherto seen it, still many of the grasses were invisible, not having yet sprung up, but there was a solitary stool of wheat that had been accidentally dropped by us and had taken root, which had 13 fine heads upon it quite ripe. These Mr. Browne gathered, and, agreeably to my wishes, scattered the seed about in places where he thought it would be most likely to grow. There was also a single stool of oats but it was not so fine as the wheat.

On the 12th, at 2 p.m., Flood suddenly returned, bringing information that Mr. Browne had unexpectedly found water in the lower part of a little rocky creek in our way, distant 18 miles, and that he was gone on to the Rocky Gully. On receiving this intelligence I ordered the bullocks to be yoked up, and we started for the creek at which we had left the cart on our outward journey, at 7 p.m. It was blowing heavily at the time from the S.W. and large clouds passed over us, but the sky cleared as the wind fell at midnight. We reached our destination at 3 a.m. of the 13th. Here I remained until half-past six when we again started and gained the Horse-cart Creek at half-past twelve. Here, as at Flood’s Creek, we found a large plant of mustard and some barley in ear and ripe, where few of the native grasses had more than made their appearance out of the ground

Stopping to rest the animals for half an hour, I went myself to the little branch creek, on which the reader will recollect our cattle depended when we were last in this neighbourhood, and where I had arranged to meet Mr. Browne, who arrived there about half an hour before me. He had again been successful in finding a large supply of water in the Rocky Gully, and thought that rain must have fallen on the hills.

At 4 the teams again started, but I was too unwell to accompany them immediately. I had in truth lost the use of my limbs, and from the time of our leaving the Depot had been lifted in and out of the cart; constant jolting therefore had greatly fatigued me, and I found it necessary to stop here for a short time after the departure of the drays. At half-past six however, we followed and overtook the party about five miles from the gully, where we halted at 3 A M. of the 14th.

Mr. Browne had found a large party of natives at the water, who had been very kind to him, and many of them still remained when we came up. He had observed some of them eating a small acid berry, and had procured a quantity for me in the hope that they would do me good, and while we remained at this place he good-naturedly went into the hills and gathered me a large tureen full, and to the benefit I derived from these berries I attribute my more speedy recovery from the malady under which I was suffering. We were now 116 miles from the Darling, and although there was no longer any doubt of our eventually reaching it, the condition in which we should do so, depended on our finding water in the Coonbaralba pass, from which we were distant 49 miles. In the evening I sent Flood on ahead to look for water, with orders to return if he succeeded in his search. In consequence of the kindness of the natives to Mr. Browne I made them some presents and gave them a sheep, which they appeared to relish greatly. They were good-looking blacks and in good condition, speaking the language of the Darling natives.

It was late on the 15th before we ascended the ranges; but, as I had only a limited distance to go it was not of much consequence, more especially as I purposed halting at the little spring, in the upper part of the Rocky Gully, at which Morgan and I stopped on a former occasion, when Mr. Browne and Flood were looking for a place by which we could descend from the hills to the plains of the desert interior. Mr. Browne took the short cut up the gully with the sheep; but when I reached the glen he had not arrived, and as he did not make his appearance for some time I became anxious, and sent after him, but he had only been delayed by the difficulty of the road, along which he described the scenery as very bold and picturesque.

We had not up to this time experienced the same degree of heat that prevailed at the Depot. The temperature since the thunder on the 8th had been comparatively mild, and on ascending the hills we felt a sensible difference. I attributed it, however, to our elevated position, for we had on our way up the country experienced the nature of the climate of the Darling. We could not decidedly ascertain the fact from the natives, but as they were at this place in considerable numbers, both Mr. Browne and myself concluded that the river had not been flooded this year; neither had the season been the same as that of the former year, for it will be remembered that at the period the party crossed the ranges, a great deal of rain had fallen, in so much that the wheels of the drays sunk deep into the ground; but now they hardly left an impression, as they moved over it; and although more rain might have fallen on the hills than in the depressed region beyond them, it was clear that none had fallen for a considerable length of time in this neighbourhood.

Mr. Browne saw five or six rock Wallabies as he was coming up the glen, and said they were beautiful little animals. He remarked that they bounded up the bold cliffs near him with astonishing strength and activity; in some places there were basaltic columns, resting on granite, 200 and 300 feet high.

Flood returned at 4 a.m. having found water, though not of the best description, in the pass. His horse had, however, drank plentifully of it, so that I determined on pushing from that point to Cawndilla, hoping by good management to secure the cattle reaching it in safety.

Considering the distance we had to go we started late, but the bullocks had strayed down the creek, and it took some time to drive them over such rugged ground.

I preceded the party in the cart, leaving Mr. Browne in charge of the drays, and crossing the ranges descended into the pass two hours after sunset. We passed a brackish pool of water, and stopped at a small well, at which there were two native women. The party came up about two hours after midnight, the men and animals being greatly fatigued, so that it was absolutely necessary to remain stationary for a day. Our retreat had been a most harassing one, but it admitted of no hesitation. Though we had thus far, under the blessing of Providence, brought every thing in safety, and had now only one more effort to make, Cawndilla was still distant 69 miles, between which and our position there was not a drop of water.

One of the women we found here, came and slept at our fire, and managed to roll herself up in Mr. Browne’s blanket, who, waking from cold, found that his fair companion had uncovered him, and appropriated the blanket to her own use. The natives suffer exceedingly from cold, and are perfectly paralysed by it, for they are not provided with any covering, neither are their huts of a solidity or construction such as to protect them from its effects. About noon a large tribe joined us from the S.W. and we had a fine opportunity to form a judgment of them, when contrasted with the natives of the Desert from which we had come. Robust, active, and full of life, these hill natives were every way superior to the miserable half-starved beings we had left behind, if I except the natives of Cooper’s Creek. During the day they kept falling in upon us, and in the afternoon mustered more than one hundred strong, in men, women, and children. As they were very quiet and unobtrusive I gave them a couple of sheep, with which they were highly delighted, and in return, they overwhelmed our camp at night with their women.

I mentioned in a former part of this work, that Mr. Browne and I had succeeded in capturing a Dipus, when journeying to the N.W. We had subsequently taken another, and had kept them both for some time, but one died, and the other springing out of its box was killed by the dogs. From the habits of this animal I did not expect to succeed in taking it home, but I had every hope that some Jerboas, of which we had five, would outlive the journey, for they thrived well on the food we gave them. I was, however, quite provoked at this place to find that two of them had died from the carelessness of the men throwing the tarpauline over the box, and so smothering them. The survivors were all but dead when looked at, and I feared we should lose them also.

As the morning of the 19th dawned, and distant objects became visible, the plains of the Darling gradually spread out before us. We commenced our journey to Cawndilla at half-past 7, and travelled down the creek until 2 p.m., when we halted for two hours during the heat of the day at Carnapaga. At 4 we resumed our journey, and again stopped for an hour on the little sand hill at the lower part of the creek, to enable the men to take some refreshment. At quarter-past 8 we turned from the creek and travelled all night by the light of a lamp, and at daylight were 18 miles from Cawndilla. We had kept upon our former tracks, on which the cattle had moved rapidly along, but they now began to flag. Mr. Browne was in front of the party with Mr. Stuart, but he suddenly returned, and coming up to my cart gave me a letter he had found nailed up to a tree by Mr. Piesse. This letter was to inform me of his arrival on the banks of the Williorara on the 6th of the month, of his having been twice on the road in the hope of seeing us, and sent natives to procure intelligence of us, who returned in so exhausted a state, that he had given up all expectation of our being able to cross the hills. He stated that we should find a barrel of water a little further on, together with a letter from head quarters, but had retained all other letters until he should see me; nevertheless, he had the gratification to tell me that he had seen Mrs. Sturt the day before he left Adelaide, and that she was well. About a mile further on, we found the barrel of water, and relieved our suffering horses, and thus benefited by the prudent exertions of Mr. Piesse. Nothing, indeed, appeared to have escaped the anxious solicitude of that zealous officer to relieve our wants.

I reached Cawndilla at 9 a.m. and stopped on the banks of the Williorara at the dregs of a water-hole, about six inches deep, it being all that remained in the creek, but I was too much fatigued to push on to the Darling, a further distance of seven miles, where Mr. Piesse then was. The drays came up a little after noon; the cattle almost frantic from the want of water. It was with difficulty the men unyoked them, and the moment they were loose they plunged headlong into the creek and drank greedily of the putrid water that remained.

Amongst the letters I now received was one from the Colonial Secretary, informing me, that supplies had been forwarded to the point I had specified, according to the request contained in my letter of July; that my further suggestions had been acted upon, and that the Governor had availed himself of Mr. Piesse’s services again, to send him in charge of the party: thus satisfied that he was on the Darling, I sent Mr. Browne and Mr. Stuart in advance, to apprise him of our approach.

On their arrival at his camp Mr. Piesse lost no time in repairing to me, and I shall not readily forget the unaffected joy he evinced at seeing me again. He had maintained a friendly intercourse with the natives, and had acquitted himself in a manner, as creditable to himself, as it had been beneficial to me.

Mr. Piesse was the bearer of numerous letters from my family and friends, and I was in some measure repaid for the past, by the good intelligence they conveyed: that my wife and children were well, and the colony was in the most flourishing condition — since, during my absence, that stupendous mine had been discovered, which has yielded such profit to the owners — and the pastoral pursuits of the colonists were in an equally flourishing condition. Mr. Browne, too, received equally glad tidings from his brother, who informed him of his intention to meet the party on its way homewards.

On the 21st I moved over to the Darling; and found a number of natives at the camp, and amongst them the old Boocolo of Williorara, who was highly delighted at our return.

Mr. Piesse had constructed a large and comfortable hut of boughs — which was much cooler than canvass. In this we made ourselves comfortable, and I hoped that the numerous and more generous supplies of eatables and drinkables than those to which we had been accustomed would conduce to our early restoration to health. I could not but fancy that the berries Mr. Browne had procured for me, and of which I had taken many, were beginning to work beneficially — although I was still unable to move. As I proposed remaining stationary until after Christmas Day, I deemed it advisable to despatch messengers with letters for the Governor, advising him of my safety, and to relieve the anxiety of my family and friends. Mr. Browne accordingly made an agreement with two natives, to take the letter-bag to the Anabranch of the Darling, and send it on to Lake Victoria by other natives, who were to be rewarded for their trouble. For this service our messengers were to receive two blankets and two tomahawks, and the bag being closed they started off with it. I had proposed to Mr. Browne to be himself the bearer of it, but he would not leave me, even now. In order, therefore, to encourage the messengers, I gave them in advance the tomahawks they were to have received on their return. Our tent was generally full of natives; some of them very fine young men, especially the two sons of the Boocolo. Topar made his appearance two or three days after our arrival, but Toonda was absent on the Murray: the former, however, having been detected in attempting a theft, I had him turned out of the tent and banished the camp. The old Boocolo came daily to see us, and as invariably laid down on the lower part of my mattrass.

On the 23rd I sent Mr. Stuart to verify his former bearings on Scrope’s Range, and Mr. Browne kindly superintended the chaining of the distance between a tree I had marked on the banks of the Darling and Sir Thomas Mitchell’s last camp. This tree was about a quarter of a mile below the junction of the Williorara, and had cut on it, (G. A. E., Dec. 24, 1843,) the distance between the two points was three miles and 20 chains.

The 25th being Christmas Day, I issued a double allowance to the men, and ordered that preparations should be made for pushing down the river on the following morning. About 2 p.m. we were surprised at the return of our two messengers, who insisted that they had taken the letter-bag to the point agreed upon, although it was an evident impossibility that they could have done so. I therefore evinced my displeasure and refused to give them the blankets — for which, nevertheless, they greatly importuned me. Mr. Browne, however, explained to the Boocolo why I refused, and charged the natives with having secreted it somewhere or other. On this there was a long consultation with the natives, which terminated in the Boocolo’s two sons separating from the others, and talking together for a long time in a corner of my hut; they then came forward and said, that my decision was perfectly just, for that the men had not been to the place agreed upon, but had left the bag of letters with a tribe on the Darling, and therefore, that they had been fully rewarded by the present of the tomahawks. This decided opinion settled the dispute at once, and the parties quietly acquiesced.

I had, as stated, been obliged to turn Topar out of my tent, and expel him the camp for theft, but at the same time Mr. Browne explained to the natives why I did so, and told them that I should in like manner expel any other who so transgressed, and they appeared fully to concur in the justice of my conduct. There is no doubt indeed but that they punish each other for similar offences, although perhaps the moral turpitude of the action is not understood by them.

The Darling at this time had ceased to flow, and formed a chain of ponds. The Williorara was quite dry from one end to the other, as were the lagoons and creeks in the neighbourhood. The natives having cleared the river of the fish that had been brought down by the floods, now subsisted for the most part on herbs and roots of various kinds, and on the caterpillar of the gum-tree moth, which they procured out of the ground with their switches, having a hook at the end. I do not think they could procure animal food in the then state of the country, there being no ducks or kangaroos in the neighbourhood, in any great quantity at all events.

I thus early began to feel the benefit of a change of diet in the diminished rigidity of my limbs, and therefore entertained great hopes that I should yet be able to ride into Adelaide. The men too generally began to recover from their fatigues, but both Mr. Browne and Mr. Stuart continued to complain of shooting pains in their limbs. The party and the animals however being sufficiently recruited to enable us to resume our progress homewards, we broke up our camp at the junction of the Williorara on the 26th of the month as I had proposed, under more favourable circumstances than we could have expected, the weather being beautifully fine and the temperature pleasant. When I was carried out of my tent to the cart, I was surprised to see the verdure of that very ground against the barrenness of which I had had to declaim the preceding year; I mean the flats of the Williorara, now covered with grass, and looking the very reverse of what they had done before; so hazardous is it to give an opinion of such a country from a partial glimpse of it. The incipient vegetation must have been brought forth by flood or heavy rains.

We passed two tribes of natives, with whom we staid for a short time as the old Boocolo was with us. Amongst these natives we did not notice the same disproportion in the sexes as in the interior, but not only amongst these tribes but with those of Williorara and Cawndilla, we observed that many had lost an eye by inflammation from the attacks of flies. I was really surprised that any of them could see, for most assuredly it is impossible to conceive anything more tormenting than those brutes are in every part of the interior.

On the 27th we passed two of our old encampments, and halted after a journey of 16 miles in the close vicinity of a tribe of natives, about fifty in number, the majority of whom were boys as mischievous as monkeys, and as great thieves too, but we reduced them to some kind of order by a little patience. The Darling had less water than in the previous year before the flood, but its flats were covered with grass, of which hundreds of tons might have been cut, so that our cattle speedily began to improve in condition.

About this time the weather was exceedingly oppressive, and heavy thunder-clouds hung about, but no rain fell.

Our journey on the 28th was comparatively short. We passed the location of another tribe during the day, and recovered our letter-bag, which had been left by our messengers with a native belonging to it. Here the old Boocolo left us and returned to Williorara.

The last days of 1845 and the few first of 1846 were exceedingly oppressive, and the heat was almost as great as in the interior itself.

On the 5th of January we crossed over from the Darling to its ancient channel, and on the 6th Mr. Browne left for Adelaide. On the 8th I reached Lake Victoria, where I learnt that our old friend Nadbuck had been speared by a native, whose jealousy he had excited, but that his wound was not mortal. He was somewhere on the Rufus, which I did not approach, but made a signal fire in the hope that he would have seen it, and, had they not been spoiled, I should have thrown up a rocket at night. However Nadbuck heard of our return, and made a successful effort to get to us, and tears chased each other down the old man’s cheeks when he saw us again. Assuredly these poor people of the desert have the most kindly feelings; for not only was his reception of us such as I have described, but the natives one and all exhibited the utmost joy at our safety, and cheered us on every part of the river.

It blew very heavily on the night of the 10th, but moderated towards the morning, and the day turned out cooler than usual. The lagoons of the Murray were full of fish and wild fowl, and my distribution of all the hooks and lines I had brought back enabled my sable friends to capture an abundance of the former without going into the water, and they very soon appreciated the value of such instruments.

On the 13th I left Mr. Piesse in charge of the party, and pushed on to Moorundi, and arrived at the settlement, into which I was escorted by the natives raising loud shouts, on the 15th. Here my kind friends made me as comfortable as they could. Mr. Eyre had gone to England on leave of absence, and Mr. Nation was filling his appointment as Resident.

On the 17th I mounted my horse for the first time since I had been taken ill in November, and had scarcely left Moorundi when I met my good friends Mr. Charles Campbell and Mr. A. Hardy in a carriage to convey me to Adelaide. I reached my home at midnight on the 19th of January, and, on crossing its threshold, raised my wife from the floor on which she had fallen, and heard the carriage of my considerate friends roll rapidly away.

Mr. Eyre's house at Moorundi

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/sturt/charles/s93n/chapter12.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:31