Two expeditions into the interior of southern Australia, by Charles Sturt

Appendix No. V.

Official Reports to the Colonial Government.

Government Order

Colonial Secretary’s Office, 23rd January, 1829.

His Excellency the Governor has been pleased to order, that the following communication, dated the 25th of December last, from Captain Sturt, of the 39th Regiment, who is employed in an exploring expedition into the interior of the country, be published for general information.

By his Excellency’s Command,
Alexander M’Leay.

Western Marshes, 25th December, 1828.

SIR — I do myself the honor to forward, for the Governor’s perusal, a copy of my journal up to the date of my arrival at Mount Harris. I should not have directed the messenger to return so soon, had I not subsequently advanced to Mount Foster, and surveyed the country from that eminence. I could distinctly see Arbuthnot’s Range to the eastward. From that point the horizon appeared to me unbroken, but the country to the northward and westward seemed to favour an attempt to penetrate into it. I did not observe any sheet of water, and the course of the Macquarie was lost in the woodlands below.

Mr. Hume ascended the hill at sun-rise, and thought he could see mountains to the north east, but at such a distance as to make it quite a matter of uncertainty. Agreeing, however, in the prudence of an immediate descent, we left our encampment on the morning of the 23rd, under Mount Foster, to which we had removed from Mount Harris, and pursued a north-north-west course to the spot on which we rest at present. We passed some fine meadow land near the river, and were obliged to keep wide of it in consequence of fissures in the ground. Traversing a large and blasted plain, on which the sun’s rays fell with intense heat, and on which there was but little vegetation, we skirted the first great morass, and made the river immediately beyond it. It is of very considerable extent, the channel of the river passing through it. We are encompassed on every side by high reeds, which exist in the woods as well as in the plains. Mr. Hume and myself rode forward yesterday through the second morass, and made the river on slightly elevated ground, at a distance of about five miles; the country beyond appeared to favour our object, and we, to-morrow, proceed with the party to the north-west. The river seems to bend to the north-east; but in this level country it is impossible to speak with certainty, or to give any decided opinion of the nature of it, beyond the flats on which we are travelling. The reeds to the north-east and northward extend over a circumference of fifty miles; but if Mr. Hume really saw mountains or rising ground in the former point, the apparent course of the Macquarie is at once accounted for. The country, however, seems to dip to the north, though generally speaking it is level, and I am inclined to think that the state of the atmosphere caused a deception in this appearance.

I regret to add, that the effects of the sun on the plain over which we passed on the 23rd produced a return of inflammation in the eyes of the men, I have named in my journals, and caused the same in the eyes of several others of my party. I halted, therefore, to expedite their recovery. They are doing well now, and we can proceed in the cool of the morning without any fear of their receiving injury by it. One of the men, who were to return to Wellington Valley, was attacked slightly with dysentery, but the medicines I gave him carried it off in the course of a day or two. I have taken every precaution with regard to the health of the men, in preparing them for the country into which they are going; and I have to request that you will inform the governor that the conduct of the whole party merits my approbation, and that I have no fault to find. The men from Sydney are not so sharp as those from Wellington Valley, but are equally well disposed. The animals, both horses and bullocks, are in good order, and I find the two soldiers of infinite service to me. The boat has received some damage from exposure to intense heat, but is otherwise uninjured. We still retain the carriage and have every prospect of dragging it on with us.

His Excellency, having been good enough to order a fresh supply of provisions to Wellington Valley, I have to beg they may be forwarded to Mount Harris, and that the person in charge thereof be instructed to remain at that station for one month. We shall, during the interval, have examined the country to the north-west; and, in case we are forced back, shall require a supply to enable us to proceed to the northward, in furtherance of the views I have already had the honor to submit for the Governor’s approval.

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient and humble Servant,
Charles Sturt,
Captain, 39th Regt.

The Honourable the Colonial Secretary

Government Order.

Colonial Secretary’s Office, 6th April, 1829.

His Excellency the Governor is pleased to direct that the following interesting Report which has been received from Captain Sturt, 39th Regiment, who has been employed for some months past, (as will be seen on reference to the Government Order, No. 4, published with Captain Sturt’s First Report in the Sydney Gazette, of the 24th of January last) in exploring the interior, be communicated for the information of the public.

It appears that the river Macquarie ceases to exist near the spot where the expedition under the late Mr. Oxley terminated, which, from the state of country at the time, being then flooded, could not be ascertained; and that another river of no inconsiderable magnitude, fed by salt springs, was discovered by Captain Sturt on the 2nd February last, about 100 miles to the westward of the Macquarie, running to the southward and westward.

By His Excellency’s Command,
Alexander M’Leay.

Mount Harris, 4th March, 1829.

SIR — I do myself the honor to acquaint you, for the information of His Excellency the Governor, that I returned to this eminence on Monday, the 23rd ult. having been driven from the interior, in consequence of the extreme drought which prevails there.

I am to state, in reference to my former communication, that agreeably to what I then reported, I moved, on the 26th December last, lower down the plains of the Macquarie, but encountered a barrier of reeds, formed by the marshes of that river, through which we in vain endeavoured to force our way. I was in consequence obliged to make the nearest part of the river to my left, and to take such measures as the nature of my situation required. Here, for the first time, I set the boat afloat, deeming it essential to trace the river, as I could not move upon its banks, and wishing also to ascertain where it again issued from the marshes, I requested Mr. Hume to proceed northerly, with a view to skirt them, and to descend westerly, wherever he saw an open space. He was fortunate enough to strike upon the channel about twelve miles north of our position, but was obstructed in his further progress by another marsh, in consequence of which he returned to the camp the next day; in the mean time, I had taken the boat, and proceeded down the Macquarie, my way being at first considerably obstructed by fallen timber: clearing this obstacle, however, I got into a deeper channel, with fine broad reaches, and a depth of from twelve to fifteen feet water. I had a short time previously cleared all woods and trees, and was now in the midst of reeds of great height. After proceeding onwards for about eight miles from the place whence I started, my course was suddenly and unexpectedly checked; I saw reeds before me, and expected I was about to turn an angle of the river, but I found that I had got to the end of the channel, and that the river itself had ceased to exist. Confounded at such a termination to a stream, whose appearance justified the expectation that it would have led me through the heart of the marsh to join Mr. Hume, I commenced a most minute examination of the place, and discovered two creeks, if they deserve the name, branching, the one to the north-west, and the other to the north-east; after tracing the former a short distance, I reached its termination, and in order to assure myself that such was the case, I walked round the head of it by pushing through the reeds; it being then too dark to continue where I was, I returned to a place on the river, at which I had rested during a shower, and slept there. In the morning I again went to the spot to examine the north-eastern branch, when I was equally disappointed. I then examined the space between the two creeks, opposite to the main channel of the river, and where the bank receives the force of the current. Here I saw water in the reeds, but it was scarcely ankle deep, and was running off to the north-west quicker than the waters of the river, which had almost an imperceptible motion, I was therefore at once convinced that it was not permanent, but had lodged there in the night, during which much rain had fallen. I next pushed my way through the reeds into the marsh, and at length clearly perceived that the waters which were perfectly sweet, after running several courses, flowed off to the north, towards which point there was an apparent declination or dip. Finding it impossible to proceed further, I regained the boat, and thence returned to the camp, under a conviction that I had reached the very spot, at which Mr. Oxley lost the channel of the river in 1818.

The next day I moved to the place where Mr. Hume had struck upon the channel of the river, but was again doubtful in what direction to proceed.

The marsh, at the commencement of which we now found ourselves, being the third from Mount Foster, but the second great one, seemed to extend beyond us to the north for many miles, but varying in breadth. In the evening I went in the boat up the channel, and found it at first, deep and sullen, as that of the river above. It soon however, narrowed, and the weeds formed over its surface, so that I abandoned the boat and walked along a path up it. I had not gone far when the channel divided; two smaller channels came, the one from the southern, and the other from the western parts of the marsh into it. There was an evident declination where they were, and it was at their junction the river again rallied and formed. On my return to the camp, Mr. Hume and I went down the river, but found that about a mile it lost itself, and spread its waters ever the extensive marsh before it.

In this extremity, I knew not what movement to make, as Mr. Hume had been checked in his progress north. I therefore determined to ascertain the nature of the country to the eastward and to the westward, that I might move accordingly; I proposed to Mr. Hume, to take a week’s provisions, with two attendants, and go to the north-east, in order again to turn the marsh, but with the expectation that the angle formed by the junction of the Castlereagh with the Macquarie would arrest its progress, as the last was fast approaching the former.

I myself determined to cross the river, and to skirt the marshes on the left, and in case they turned off to the north east, as they appeared to do, it was my intention to pursue a N.W. course into the interior, to learn the nature of it. With these views I left the camp on the 31st of December, and did not return until the 5th of January. Having found early in my journey, from the change of soil and of timber, that I was leaving the neighbourhood of the Macquarie, I followed a N.W. course, from a more northerly one, and struck at once across the country, under an impression that Mr. Hume would have made the river again long before my return. I found, after travelling between twenty and thirty miles, the country began to rise; and at the end of my journey, I made a hill of considerable elevation, from the summit of which I had a view of other high lands; one to the S.W. being a very fine mountain. As I had not found any water excepting in two creeks, which I had left far behind me, and as I had got on a soil which appeared incapable of holding it, I made this the termination of my journey, having exceeded 100 miles in distance from the camp, on my return to which I found Mr. Hume still absent. When he joined, he stated to me, that not making the Castlereagh as soon as he expected, he had bent down westerly for the Macquarie, and that he ended his journey at some gentle hills he had made; so that it appeared we must either have crossed each other’s line of route, or that they were very near, and that want of length must alone have prevented them from crossing; but as such all assumption led to the conclusion that the Macquarie no longer existed, I determined to pursue a middle course round the swamps, to ascertain the point; as in case the river had ended, a westerly course was the one which my instructions directed me to pursue.

In the immediate neighbourhood of the marshes we were obliged to sink wells for water, and it was thus early that we began to feel the want of a regular supply.

Having made a creek about four miles from our position by cutting through the reeds where there was a narrow space, we pursued a westerly course over a plain, having every appearance of frequent inundation, and for four or five days held nearly the same direction; in the course of which we crossed both our tracks on the excursions we had made, which had intersected each other in a dense oak brush; thus renewing the few doubts, or rather the doubt we had as to the fate of the Macquarie, whose course we had been sent to trace. Indeed, had I not felt convinced that that river had ceased, I should not have moved westward without further examination, but we had passed through a very narrow part of the marshes, and round the greater part of them, and had not seen any hollow that could by any possible exaggeration be construed into or mistaken for the channel of a river.

It appears, then, that the Macquarie, flowing as it does for so many miles, through a bed, and not a declining country, and having little water in it, except in times of flood, loses its impetus long ere it reaches the formidable barrier that opposes its progress northwards; the soil in which the reeds grow being a stiff clay. Its waters consequently spread, until a slight declivity giving them fresh impulse, they form a channel again, but soon gaining a level, they lose their force and their motion together, and spread not only over the second great marsh, but over a vast extent of the surrounding country, the breadth of ground thus subject to inundation being more than twenty miles, and its length considerably greater; around this space there is a gentle rise which confines the waters, while small hollows in various directions lead them out of the marshes over the adjacent plains, on which they eventually subside. On my return from the interior, I examined those parts round which I had not been, with particular attention, partly in company with Mr. Hume, and this statement was confirmed by what we saw. Thus, at a distance of about twenty-five miles from Mount Foster to the N.N.W. the river Macquarie ceases to exist, in any shape as a river, and at a distance of between fifty and sixty, the marshes terminate, though the country subject to inundation from the river is of a very considerable extent, as shown by the withered bulrushes, wet reeds, and shells, that are scattered over its surface.

Having executed the first part of the instructions with which I had been honoured, I determined on pursuing a west, or north-west coarse into the interior, to ascertain the nature of it, in fulfilment of the second, but in doing this I was obliged to follow creeks, and even on their banks had to carry a supply of water, so uncertain was it that we should meet with any at the termination of our day’s journey, and that what we did find would be fit to drink. Our course led us over plains immediately bordering the lower lands of the Macquarie, alternating with swamp oak, acacia pendula, pine, box, eucalyptus, and many other trees of minor growth, the soil being inclined to a red loam, while the plains were generally covered with a black scrub, though in some places they had good grass upon them. We crossed two creeks before we made the hills Mr. Hume had ascended, and which he called New Year’s Range. Around these hills the country appeared better — they are gentle, picturesque elevations, and are for the most part, covered with verdure, and have, I fancy, a whinstone base, the rock of which they are composed being of various substances. I place New Year’s Range in lat. 30 degrees 21 minutes, long. 146 degrees 3 minutes 30 seconds. Our course next lying north-west along a creek, led us to within twenty miles of the hill that had terminated my excursion, and as I hoped that a more leisurely survey of the country from its summit would open something favourable to our view, I struck over for it, though eventually obliged to return. From it Mr. Hume and I rode to the S.W. mountain, a distance of about forty miles, without crossing a brook or a creek, our way leading through dense acacia brushes, and for the most part over a desert. We saw high lands from this mountain, which exceeds 1,300 feet in elevation, and is of sandstone formation, and thickly covered with stunted pine, in eight different points — the bearings of which are as follows:—

    Oxley'a Table Land, N. 4O E., distant 40 miles.
    Kengall Hill, due E. very distant.
    Conical Hill, S. 6O E.
    Highland, S.E. distance 30 miles.
    Highland, S. 30 E. distance 25 miles.
    Long Range, S. 16 E. distance 60 miles.
    Long Range, S. 72 W. distance 60 miles.
    Distant Range, S. 25 W. supposed.

It was in vain, however, that we looked for water. The country to the north-west, was low and unbroken, and alternated with wood and plain.

The country from New Year’s Range to the hill I had made, and which I called Oxley’s Table Land, had been very fair, with good soil in many places, but with a total want of water, except in the creeks, wherein the supply was both bad and uncertain; on our second day’s journey from the former, we came to the creek on which we were moving, where it had a coarse granite bottom. The country around it improved very much in appearance, and there was abundance of good grass on the surface of it, in spite of the drought. On the right of this creek, a large plain stretches parallel to it for many miles, varying in quality of soil. Near Oxley’s Table Land, we passed over open forest, the prevailing timber of which was box. I have placed Oxley’s Table Land in latitude 29 degrees 57 minutes 30 seconds, longitude 145 degrees 43 minutes 30 seconds.

Finding it impracticable to move westward from the hill I again descended on the creek, whose general course was to the north-west, in which direction we at length struck upon a river whose appearance raised our most sanguine expectations. It flowed round an angle from the north-east to the north-west, and extended in longitude five reaches as far as we could see. At that place it was about sixty yards broad, with banks of from thirty to forty feet high, and it had numerous wild fowl and many pelicans on its bosom, and seemed to be full of fish, while the paths of the natives on both sides, like well-trodden roads, showed how numerous they were about it. On tasting its waters, however, we found them perfectly salt, and useless to us, and as our animals had been without water the night before, this circumstance distressed us much; our first day’s journey led us past between sixty and seventy huts in one place, and on our second we fell in with a numerous tribe of natives, having previously seen some between two creeks before we made New-Year’s Range. At some places the water proved less salt than at others; our animals drank of it sparingly: we found two small fresh-water holes, which served us as we passed. After tracing the river for a considerable distance, we came on brine springs in the bed of it, the banks having been encrusted with salt from the first; and as the difficulty of getting fresh water was so great, I here foresaw an end to our wanderings. And as I was resolved not to involve my party in greater distress, I halted it, on overtaking the animals, and the next morning turned back to the nearest fresh-water, at a distance of eighteen miles from us. Unwilling, however, to give up our pursuit, Mr. Hume and I started with two men on horseback, to trace the river as far as we could, and to ascertain what course it took; in the hopes also that we should fall on some creek, or get a more certain supply of drinkable water. We went a distance to which the bullocks could not have been brought, and then got on a red sandy soil, which at once destroyed our hopes; and on tasting the river water we found it salter than ever, our supply being diminished to two pints. Our animals being weak and purged, and having proceeded at least forty miles from the camp, I thought it best to yield to circumstances, and to return, though I trust I shall be believed when I add, it was with extreme reluctance I did so; and had I followed the wishes of my party, should still have continued onwards. Making a part of the river where we had slept, we stayed to refresh, and in consequence of the heat of the weather were obliged to drink the water in it, which made us sick. While here, a tribe of blacks came to us and behaved remarkably well. At night we slept on a plain without water, and the next day we regained the camp, which had been visited by the natives during our absence.

We found the river held a south-west course, and appeared to be making for the central space between a high land, which I called Dunlop’s Range, at Mr. Hume’s request, and a lofty range to the westward. It still continued its important appearance, having gained in breadth and in the height of its banks, while there were hundreds of pelicans and wild-fowl on it. Flowing through a level country with such a channel, it may be presumed that this river ultimately assumes either a greater character, or that it adds considerably to the importance of some other stream. It had a clay bottom, generally speaking, in many places semi-indurated and fast forming into sandstone, while there was crystallized sulphate of lime running in veins through the soil which composed the bank.

This river differs from most in the colony, in having a belt of barren land of from a quarter of a mile to two miles in breadth in its immediate neighbourhood, and which is subject to overflow. This belt runs to the inland plains, where a small elevation checks the further progress of the flood. There is magnificent blue gum on both sides the river, but the right bank is evidently the most fertile, and I am mistaken greatly if there is not a beautiful country north of it.

Of the country over which we have passed, it is impossible for me to have formed a correct opinion under its present melancholy circumstances. It has borne the appearance of barrenness, where in even moderate rain, it might have shown very differently, though no doubt we passed over much of both good and bad land; our animals on the whole, have thrived on the food they have had, which would argue favourably for the herbage. Generally speaking, I fear the timber is bad — the rough-gum may be used for knees, and such purposes, and we may have seen wood for the wheelwright and cabinet-maker, specimens of which I have procured, but none for general or household purposes.

The creeks we have traced are different in character from those in the settled districts, inasmuch as that, like the river, they have a belt of barren land near then and but little grass — they have all of them been numerously frequented by the natives, as appeared from the number of muscle-shells on their banks, but now having scarcely any water in them, the fish having either been taken, or are dead, and the tribes gone elsewhere for food, while the badness of the river water has introduced a cutaneous disease among the natives of that district, which is fast carrying them off. Our intercourse with these people was incessant from the time we first met them, and on all occasions they behaved remarkably well, nor could we have seen less than than two hundred and fifty of them.

Our return is to be attributable to the want of water alone, and it is impossible for me to describe the effects of the drought on animal as well as vegetable nature. The natives are wandering in the desert, and it is melancholy to reflect on the necessity which obliges them to drink the stinking and loathsome water they do — birds sit gasping in the trees and are quite thin — the wild dog prowls about in the day-time unable to avoid us, and is as lean as he can be in a living state, while minor vegetation is dead, and the very trees are drooping. I have noticed all these things in my Journal I shall have the honour of submitting through you, for the Governor’s perusal and information, on my return. Finally, I fear our expedition will not pave the way to any ultimate benefit; although it has been the means by which two very doubtful questions — the course of the Macquarie, and the nature of the interior, have been solved; for it is beyond doubt, that the interior for 250 miles beyond its former known limits to the W.N.W., so far from being a shoal sea, has been ascertained not only to have considerable elevations upon it, but is in itself a table land to all intents and purposes, and has scarcely water on its surface to support its inhabitants.

I beg you will inform His Excellency the Governor, that I have on all occasions received the most ready and valuable assistance from Mr, Hume. His intimate acquaintance with the manners and customs of the natives, enabled him to enter into intercourse with them, and chiefly contributed to the peaceable manner in which we have journeyed, while his previous experience put it in his power to be of real use to me. I cannot but say he has done an essential service to future travellers, and to the colony at large, by his conduct on all occasions since he has been with me; nor should I be doing him justice, if I did not avail myself of the first opportunity of laying my sentiments before the Governor, through you. I am happy to add that every individual of the party deserves my warmest approbation, and that they have, one and all, borne their distresses, trifling certainly, but still unusual, with cheerfulness, and that they have at all times been attentive to their duty, and obedient to their orders. The whole are in good health, and are eager again to start.

I have the honor to be,
Sir
Your most obedient and most humble servant,
Charles Sturt,
Capt. 39th Regt.

The Honorable the Colonial Secretary.

Mount Harris, 5th March, 1829.

SIR — It having appeared to me, that after discovering such a river as the one I have described in my letter of yesterday, His Excellency the Governor would approve of my endeavouring to regain it. There being a probability that it ultimately joins the Southern Waters, I thought of turning my steps to the southward and westward; and with a view to learn the nature of the country, I despatched Mr. Hume in that direction on Saturday last. He returned in three days, after having gone above forty miles from the river, and states, that he crossed two creeks, the one about twenty-five miles, the other about thirty-two distance, evidently the heads of the creeks we passed westward of the marshes of the Macquarie. He adds, that, to the second creek the land was excellent, but that on crossing it, he got onto red soil, on which he travelled some miles further, until he saw a range of high land, bearing from him S.W.. by W., when, knowing from the nature of the country around him, and from the experience of our late journey, that he could not hope to find a regular supply of water in advance, and that in the present dry state of the low lands, a movement such as I had contemplated would be impracticable, he returned home. I do myself the honour, therefore, to report to you, for His Excellency’s information, that I shall proceed on Saturday next in a N.E. direction towards the Castlereagh, intending to trace that river down, and afterwards to penetrate as far to the northward and westward as possible; it being my wish to get into the country north of the more distant river, where I have expectations that there is an extensive and valuable track of country, but that in failure of the above, I shall examine the low country behind our N.W. boundaries, if I can find a sufficiency of water to enable me to do so.

I am to inform you that in this neighbourhood the Macquarie has ceased to flow, and that it is now a chain of shallow ponds. The water is fast diminishing in it, and unless rain descends in a few weeks it will be perfectly dry.

I am also to report, that the natives attempted the camp with the supplies before my arrival at Mount Harris, but that on the soldier with the party firing a shot, after they had thrown a stone and other of the weapons, they fled. It was in consequence of their fires, which I saw at a distance of forty miles, and which they never make on so extensive a scale, except as signals when they want to collect, and are inclined to be mischievous, that I made forced marches up, and I am led to believe my arrival was very opportune. The natives have visited us since, and I do not think they will now attempt to molest either party when we separate.

I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your most obedient and most humble servant,
Charles Sturt,
Capt. 39th Regt.

The Hon. the Colonial Secretary.

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