Before narrating my own labours in opening out portions of the unknown interior of Australia, it will be well that I should give a succinct account of what others engaged in the same arduous enterprise around the shores and on the face of the great Southern Continent, have accomplished.
After the wondrous discoveries of Columbus had set the Old World into a state of excitement, the finding of new lands appears to have become the romance of that day, as the exploration by land of unknown regions has been that of our time; and in less than fifty years after the discovery of America navigators were searching every sea in hopes of emulating the deeds of that great explorer; but nearly a hundred years elapsed before it became known in Europe that a vast and misty land existed in the south, whose northern and western shores had been met in certain latitudes and longitudes, but whose general outline had not been traced, nor was it even then visited with anything like a systematic geographical object. The fact of the existence of such a land at the European antipodes no doubt set many ardent and adventurous spirits upon the search, but of their exploits and labours we know nothing.
The Dutch were the most eager in their attempts, although Torres, a Spaniard, was, so far as we know, the first to pass in a voyage from the West Coast of America to India, between the Indian or Malay Islands, and the great continent to the south, hence we have Torres Straits. The first authentic voyager, however, to our actual shores was Theodoric Hertoge, subsequently known as Dirk Hartog — bound from Holland to India. He arrived at the western coast between the years 1610 and 1616. An island on the west coast bears his name: there he left a tin plate nailed to a tree with the date of his visit and the name of his ship, the Endragt, marked upon it. Not very long after Theodoric Hertoge, and still to the western and north-western coasts, came Zeachern, Edels, Nuitz, De Witt, and Pelsart, who was wrecked upon Houtman's Albrolhos, or rocks named by Edels, in his ship the Leewin or Lion. Cape Leewin is called after this vessel. Pelsart left two convicts on the Australian coast in 1629. Carpenter was the next navigator, and all these adventurers have indelibly affixed their names to portions of the coast of the land they discovered. The next, and a greater than these, at least greater in his navigating successes, was Abel Janz Tasman, in 1642. Tasman was instructed to inquire from the native inhabitants for Pelsart's two convicts, and to bring them away with him, if they entreated him; but they were never heard of again. Tasman sailed round a great portion of the Australian coast, discovered what he named Van Diemen's land, now Tasmania, and New Zealand. He it was who called the whole, believing it to be one, New Holland, after the land of his birth. Next we have Dampier, an English buccaneer — though the name sounds very like Dutch; it was probably by chance only that he and his roving crew visited these shores. Then came Wilhelm Vlaming with three ships. God save the mark to call such things ships. How the men performed the feats they did, wandering over vast and unknown oceans, visiting unknown coasts with iron-bound shores, beset with sunken reefs, subsisting on food not fit for human beings, suffering from scurvy caused by salted diet and rotten biscuit, with a short allowance of water, in torrid zones, and liable to be attacked and killed by hostile natives, it is difficult for us to conceive. They suffered all the hardships it is possible to imagine upon the sea, and for what? for fame, for glory? That their names and achievements might be handed down to us; and this seems to have been their only reward; for there was no Geographical Society's medal in those days with its motto to spur them on.
Vlaming was the discoverer of the Swan River, upon which the seaport town of Fremantle and the picturesque city of Perth, in Western Australia, now stand. This river he discovered in 1697, and he was the first who saw Dirk Hartog's tin plate.
Dampier's report of the regions he had visited caused him to be sent out again in 1710 by the British Government, and upon his return, all previous doubts, if any existed, as to the reality of the existence of this continent, were dispelled, and the position of its western shores was well established. Dampier discovered a beautiful flower of the pea family known as the Clianthus Dampierii. In 1845 Captain Sturt found the same flower on his Central Australian expedition, and it is now generally known as Sturt's Desert Pea, but it is properly named in its botanical classification, after its original discoverer.
After Dampier's discoveries, something like sixty years elapsed before Cook appeared upon the scene, and it was not until his return to England that practical results seemed likely to accrue to any nation from the far-off land. I shall not recapitulate Cook's voyages; the first fitted out by the British Government was made in 1768, but Cook did not touch upon Australia's coast until two years later, when, voyaging northwards along the eastern coast, he anchored at a spot he called Botany Bay, from the brightness and abundance of the beautiful wild flowers he found growing there. Here two natives attempted to prevent his landing, although the boats were manned with forty men. The natives threw stones and spears at the invaders, but nobody was killed. At this remote and previously unvisited spot one of the crew named Forby Sutherland, who had died on board the Endeavour, was buried, his being the first white man's grave ever dug upon Australia's shore; at least the first authenticated one — for might not the remaining one of the two unfortunate convicts left by Pelsart have dug a grave for his companion who was the first to die, no man remaining to bury the survivor? Cook's route on this voyage was along the eastern coast from Cape Howe in south latitude 37° 30´ to Cape York in Torres Straits in latitude 10° 40´. He called the country New South Wales, from its fancied resemblance to that older land, and he took possession of the whole in the name of George III as England's territory.
Cook reported so favourably of the regions he had discovered that the British Government decided to establish a colony there; the spot finally selected was at Port Jackson, and the settlement was called Sydney in 1788. After Cook came the Frenchman Du Fresne and his unfortunate countryman, La Pérouse. Then Vancouver, Blyth, and the French General and Admiral, D'Entre-Casteaux, who went in search of the missing La Pérouse. In 1826, Captain Dillon, an English navigator, found the stranded remains of La Pérouse's ships at two of the Charlotte Islands group. We now come to another great English navigator, Matthew Flinders, who was the first to circumnavigate Australia; to him belongs the honour of having given to this great island continent the name it now bears. In 1798, Flinders and Bass, sailing in an open boat from Sydney, discovered that Australia and Van Diemen's Land were separate; the dividing straits between were then named after Bass. In 1802, during his second voyage in the Investigator, a vessel about the size of a modern ship's launch, Flinders had with him as a midshipman John Franklin, afterwards the celebrated Arctic navigator. On his return to England, Flinders, touching at the Isle of France, was made prisoner by the French governor and detained for nearly seven years, during which time a French navigator Nicolas Baudin, with whom came Pérron and Lacepède the naturalists, and whom Flinders had met at a part of the southern coast which he called Encounter Bay in reference to that meeting, claimed and reaped the honour and reward of a great portion of the unfortunate prisoner's work. Alas for human hopes and aspirations, this gallant sailor died before his merits could be acknowledged or rewarded, and I believe one or two of his sisters were, until very lately, living in the very poorest circumstances.
The name of Flinders is, however, held in greater veneration than any of his predecessors or successors, for no part of the Australian coast was unvisited by him. Rivers, mountain ranges, parks, districts, counties, and electoral divisions, have all been named after him; and, indeed, I may say the same of Cook; but, his work being mostly confined to the eastern coast, the more western colonies are not so intimately connected with his name, although an Australian poet has called him the Columbus of our shore.
After Flinders and Baudin came another Frenchman, De Fréycinet, bound on a tour of discovery all over the world.
Australia's next navigator was Captain, subsequently Admiral, Philip Parker King, who carried out four separate voyages of discovery, mostly upon the northern coasts. At three places upon which King favourably reported, namely Camden Harbour on the north-west coast, Port Essington in Arnhem's Land, and Port Cockburn in Apsley Straits, between Melville and Bathurst Islands on the north coast, military and penal settlements were established, but from want of further emigration these were abandoned. King completed a great amount of marine surveying on these voyages, which occurred between the years 1813 and 1822.
Captain Wickham in the Beagle comes next; he discovered the Fitzroy River, which he found emptied itself into a gulf named King's Sound. In consequence of ill-health Captain Wickham, after but a short sojourn on these shores, resigned his command, and Lieutenant Lort Stokes, who had sailed with him in the Beagle round the rocky shores of Magellan's Straits and Tierra del Fuego, received the command from the Lords of the Admiralty. Captain Lort Stokes may be considered the last, but by no means the least, of the Australian navigators. On one occasion he was speared by natives of what he justly called Treachery Bay, near the mouth of the Victoria River in Northern Australia, discovered by him. His voyages occurred between the years 1839 and 1843. He discovered the mouths of most of the rivers that fall into the Gulf of Carpentaria, besides many harbours, bays, estuaries, and other geographical features upon the North Australian coasts.
The early navigators had to encounter much difficulty and many dangers in their task of making surveys from the rough achievements of the Dutch, down to the more finished work of Flinders, King and Stokes. It is to be remembered that they came neither for pleasure nor for rest, but to discover the gulfs, bays, peninsulas, mountains, rivers and harbours, as well as to make acquaintance with the native races, the soils, and animal and vegetable products of the great new land, so as to diffuse the knowledge so gained for the benefit of others who might come after them. In cockle-shells of little ships what dangers did they not encounter from shipwreck on the sunken edges of coral ledges of the new and shallow seas, how many were those who were never heard of again; how many a little exploring bark with its adventurous crew have been sunk in Australia's seas, while those poor wretches who might, in times gone by, have landed upon the inhospitable shore would certainly have been killed by the wild and savage hordes of hostile aborigines, from whom there could be no escape! With Stokes the list of those who have visited and benefited Australia by their labours from the sea must close; my only regret being that so poor a chronicler is giving an outline of their achievements. I now turn to another kind of exploration — and have to narrate deeds of even greater danger, though of a different kind, done upon Australia's face.
In giving a short account of those gallant men who have left everlasting names as explorers upon the terra firma and terra incognita of our Australian possession, I must begin with the earliest, and go back a hundred years to the arrival of Governor Phillip at Botany Bay, in 1788, with eleven ships, which have ever since been known as The First Fleet.; I am not called upon to narrate the history of the settlement, but will only say that the Governor showed sound judgment when he removed his fleet and all his men from Botany Bay to Port Jackson, and founded the village of Sydney, which has now become the huge capital city of New South Wales. A new region was thus opened out for British labour, trade, capital, and enterprise. From the earliest days of the settlement adventurous and enterprising men, among whom was the Governor himself, who was on one occasion speared by the natives, were found willing to venture their lives in the exploration of the country upon whose shores they had so lately landed. Wentworth, Blaxland, and Evans appear on the list as the very first explorers by land. The chief object they had in view was to surmount the difficulties which opposed their attempting to cross the Blue Mountains, and Evans was the first who accomplished this. The first efficient exploring expedition into the interior of New South Wales was conducted by John Oxley, the Surveyor-General of the colony, in 1817. His principal discovery was that some of the Australian streams ran inland, towards the interior, and he traced both the Macquarie and the Lachlan, named by him after Governor Lachlan Macquarie, until he supposed they ended in vast swamps or marshes, and thereby founded the theory that in the centre of Australia there existed a great inland sea. After Oxley came two explorers named respectively Hovell and Hume, who penetrated, in 1824, from the New South Wales settlements into what is now the colony of Victoria. They discovered the upper portions of the River Murray, which they crossed somewhere in the neighbourhood of the present town of Albury. The river was then called the Hume, but it was subsequently called the Murray by Captain Charles Sturt, who heads the list of Australia's heroes with the title of The Father of Australian Exploration.
In 1827 Sturt made one of the greatest discoveries of this century — or at least one of the most useful for his countrymen — that of the River Darling, the great western artery of the river system of New South Wales, and what is now South-western Queensland. In another expedition, in 1832, Sturt traced the Murrumbidgee River, discovered by Oxley, in boats into what he called the Murray. This river is the same found by Hovell and Hume, Sturt's name for it having been adopted. He entered the new stream, which was lined on either bank by troops of hostile natives, from whom he had many narrow escapes, and found it trended for several hundreds of miles in a west-north-west direction, confirming him in his idea of an inland sea; but at a certain point, which he called the great north-west bend, it suddenly turned south and forced its way to the sea at Encounter Bay, where Flinders met Baudin in 1803. Neither of these explorers appear to have discovered the river's mouth. On this occasion Sturt discovered the province or colony of South Australia, which in 1837 was proclaimed by the British Government, and in that colony Sturt afterwards made his home.
Sturt's third and final expedition was from the colony of South Australia into Central Australia, in 1843-1845. This was the first truly Central Australian expedition that had yet been despatched, although in 1841 Edward Eyre had attempted the same arduous enterprise. Of this I shall write anon. On his third expedition Sturt discovered the Barrier, the Grey, and the Stokes ranges, and among numerous smaller watercourses he found and named Strezletki's, Cooper's, and Eyre's Creeks. The latter remained the furthest known inland water of Australia for many years after Sturt's return. Sturt was accompanied, as surveyor and draftsman, by John McDouall Stuart, whom I shall mention in his turn. So far as my opinion, formed in my wanderings over the greater portions of the country explored by Sturt, goes, his estimate of the regions he visited has scarcely been borne out according to the views of the present day.
Like Oxley, he was fully impressed with the notion that an inland sea did exist, and although he never met such a feature in his travels, he seems to have thought it must be only a little more remote than the parts he had reached. He was fully prepared to come upon an inland sea, for he carried a boat on a bullock waggon for hundreds of miles, and when he finally abandoned it he writes: “Here we left the boat which I had vainly hoped would have ploughed the waters of an inland sea.” Several years afterwards I discovered pieces of this boat, built of New Zealand pine, in the debris of a flood about twenty miles down the watercourse where it had been left. A great portion, if not all the country, explored by that expedition is now highly-prized pastoral land, and a gold field was discovered almost in sight of a depot formed by Sturt, at a spot where he was imprisoned at a water hole for six months without moving his camp. He described the whole region as a desert, and he seems to have been haunted by the notion that he had got into and was surrounded by a wilderness the like of which no human being had ever seen or heard of before. His whole narrative is a tale of suffering and woe, and he says on his map, being at the furthest point he attained in the interior, about forty-five miles from where he had encamped on the watercourse he called Eyre's Creek, now a watering place for stock on a Queensland cattle run: “Halted at sunset in a country such as I verily believe has no parallel upon the earth's surface, and one which was terrible in its aspect.” Sturt's views are only to be accounted for by the fact that what we now call excellent sheep and cattle country appeared to him like a desert, because his comparisons were made with the best alluvial lands he had left near the coast. Explorers as a rule, great ones more particularly, are not without rivals in so honourable a field as that of discovery, although not every one who undertakes the task is fitted either by nature or art to adorn the chosen part. Sturt was rivalled by no less celebrated an individual than Major, afterwards Sir Thomas, Mitchell, a soldier of the Peninsula War, and some professional jealousy appears to have existed between them.
Major Mitchell was then the Surveyor-General of the Colony, and he entirely traversed and made known the region he appropriately named Australia Felix, now the colony of Victoria. Mitchell, like Sturt, conducted three expeditions: the first in 1831-1832, when he traced the River Darling previously discovered by Sturt, for several hundred miles, until he found it trend directly to the locality at which Sturt, in his journey down the Murray, had seen and laid down its mouth or junction with the larger river. Far up the Darling, in latitude 30° 5´, Mitchell built a stockade and formed a depot, which he called Fort Bourke; near this spot the present town of Bourke is situated and now connected by rail with Sydney, the distance being about 560 miles. Mitchell's second journey, when he visited Australia Felix, was made in 1835, and his last expedition into tropical Australia was in 1845. On this expedition he discovered a large river running in a north-westerly direction, and as its channel was so large, and its general appearance so grand, he conjectured that it would prove to be the Victoria River of Captain Lort Stokes, and that it would run on in probably increasing size, or at least in undiminished magnificence, through the 1100 or 1200 miles of country that intervened between his own and Captain Stokes's position. He therefore called it the Victoria River. Gregory subsequently discovered that Mitchell's Victoria turned south, and was one and the same watercourse called Cooper's Creek by Sturt. The upper portion of this watercourse is now known by its native name of the Barcoo, the name Victoria being ignored. Mitchell always had surveyors with him, who chained as he went every yard of the thousands of miles he explored. He was knighted for his explorations, and lived to enjoy the honour; so indeed was Sturt, but in his case it was only a mockery, for he was totally blind and almost on his deathbed when the recognition of his numerous and valuable services was so tardily conferred upon him. (Dr. W.H. Browne, who accompanied Sturt to Central Australia in 1843-5 as surgeon and naturalist, is living in London; and another earlier companion of the Father of Australian Exploration, George McCleay, still survives.)
These two great travellers were followed by, or worked simultaneously, although in a totally different part of the continent, namely the north-west coast, with Sir George Grey in 1837-1839. His labours and escapes from death by spear-wounds, shipwreck, starvation, thirst, and fatigue, fill his volumes with incidents of the deepest interest. Edward Eyre, subsequently known as Governor Eyre, made an attempt to reach, in 1840-1841, Central Australia by a route north from the city of Adelaide; and as Sturt imagined himself surrounded by a desert, so Eyre thought he was hemmed in by a circular or horse-shoe-shaped salt depression, which he called Lake Torrens; because, wherever he tried to push northwards, north-westwards, eastwards, or north-eastwards, he invariably came upon the shores of one of these objectionable and impassable features. As we now know, there are several of them with spaces of traversable ground between, instead of the obstacle being one continuous circle by which he supposed he was surrounded. In consequence of his inability to overcome this obstruction, Eyre gave up the attempt to penetrate into Central Australia, but pushing westerly, round the head of Flinders' Spencer's Gulf, where now the inland seaport town of Port Augusta stands, he forced his way along the coast line from Port Lincoln to Fowler's Bay (Flinders), and thence along the perpendicular cliffs of the Great Australian Bight to Albany, at King George's Sound.
This journey of Eyre's was very remarkable in more ways than one; its most extraordinary incident being the statement that his horses travelled for seven days and nights without water. I have travelled with horses in almost every part of Australia, but I know that after three days and three nights without water horses would certainly knock up, die, or become utterly useless, and it would be impossible to make them continue travelling. Another remarkable incident of his march is strange enough. One night whilst Eyre was watching the horses, there being no water at the encampment, Baxter, his only white companion, was murdered by two little black boys belonging to South Australia, who had been with Eyre for some time previously. These little boys shot Baxter and robbed the camp of nearly all the food and ammunition it contained, and then, while Eyre was running up from the horses to where Baxter lay, decamped into the bush and were only seen the following morning, but never afterwards. One other and older boy, a native of Albany, whither Eyre was bound, now alone remained. Eyre and this boy (Wylie) now pushed on in a starving condition, living upon dead fish or anything they could find for several weeks, and never could have reached the Sound had they not, by almost a miracle, fallen in with a French whaling schooner when nearly 300 miles had yet to be traversed. The captain, who was an Englishman named Rossiter, treated them most handsomely; he took them on board for a month while their horses recruited on shore — for this was a watering place of Flinders — he then completely refitted them with every necessary before he would allow them to depart. Eyre in gratitude called the place Rossiter Bay, but it seems to have been prophetically christened previously by the ubiquitous Flinders, under the name of Lucky Bay. Nearly all the watering places visited by Eyre consisted of the drainage from great accumulations of pure white sand or hummocks, which were previously discovered by the Investigator; as Flinders himself might well have been called. The most peculiar of these features is the patch at what Flinders called the head of the Great Australian Bight; these sandhills rise to an elevation of several hundred feet, the prevailing southerly winds causing them to slope gradually from the south, while the northern face is precipitous. In moonlight I have seen these sandhills, a few miles away, shining like snowy mountains, being refracted to an unnatural altitude by the bright moonlight. Fortunate indeed it was for Eyre that such relief was afforded him; he was unable to penetrate at all into the interior, and he brought back no information of the character and nature of the country inland. I am the only traveller who has explored that part of the interior, but of this more hereafter.
About this time Strezletki and McMillan, both from New South Wales, explored the region now the easternmost part of the colony of Victoria, which Strezletki called Gipp's Land. These two explorers were rivals, and both, it seems, claimed to have been first in that field.
Next on the list of explorers comes Ludwig Leichhardt, a surgeon, a botanist, and an eager seeker after fame in the Australian field of discovery, and whose memory all must revere. He successfully conducted an expedition from Moreton Bay to the Port Essington of King — on the northern coast — by which he made known the geographical features of a great part of what is now Queensland, the capital being Brisbane at Moreton Bay. A settlement had been established at Port Essington by the Government of New South Wales, to which colony the whole territory then belonged. At this settlement, as being the only point of relief after eighteen months of travel, Leichhardt and his exhausted party arrived. The settlement was a military and penal one, but was ultimately abandoned. It is now a cattle station in the northern territory division of South Australia, and belongs to some gentlemen in Adelaide.
Of Leichhardt's sad fate in the interior of Australia no tidings have ever been heard. On this fatal journey, which occurred in 1848, he undertook the too gigantic task of crossing Australia from east to west, that is to say, from Moreton Bay to Swan River. Even at that period, however, the eastern interior was not all entirely unknown, as Mitchell's Victoria River or Barcoo, and the Cooper's and Eyre's Creeks of Sturt had already been discovered. The last-named watercourse lay nearly 1000 miles from the eastern coast, in latitude 25° south, and it is reasonable to suppose that to such a point Leichhardt would naturally direct his course — indeed in what was probably his last letter, addressed to a friend, he mentions this watercourse as a desirable point to make for upon his new attempt. But where his wanderings ended, and where the catastrophe that closed his own and his companions' lives occurred, no tongue can tell. After he finally left the furthest outlying settlements at the Mount Abundance station, he, like the lost Pleiad, was seen on earth no more. How could he have died and where? ah, where indeed? I who have wandered into and returned alive from the curious regions he attempted and died to explore, have unfortunately never come across a single record or any remains or traces of those long lost but unforgotten braves. Leichhardt originally started on his last sad venture with a party of eight, including one if not two native black boys. Owing, however, to some disagreement, the whole party returned to the starting point, but being reorganised it started again with the same number of members. There were about twenty head of bullocks broken in to carry pack-loads; this was an ordinary custom in those early days of Australian settlement. Leichhardt also had two horses and five or six mules: this outfit was mostly contributed by the settlers who gave, some flour, some bullocks, some money, firearms, gear, etc., and some gave sheep and goats; he had about a hundred of the latter. The packed bullocks were taken to supply the party with beef, in the meantime carrying the expedition stores. The bullocks' pack-saddles were huge, ungainly frames of wood fastened with iron-work, rings, etc.
Shortly after the expedition made a second start, two or three of the members again seceded, and returned to the settlements, while Leichhardt and his remaining band pushed farther and farther to the west.
Although the eastern half of the continent is now inhabited, though thinly, no traces of any kind, except two or three branded trees in the valley of the Cooper, have ever been found. My belief is that the only cause to be assigned for their destruction is summed up in the dread word “flood.” They were so far traced into the valley of the Cooper; this creek, which has a very lengthy course, ends in Lake Eyre, one of the salt depressions which baffled that explorer. A point on the southern shore is now known as Eyre's Lookout.
The Cooper is known in times of flood to reach a width of between forty and fifty miles, the whole valley being inundated. Floods may surround a traveller while not a drop of local rain may fall, and had the members of this expedition perished in any other way, some remains of iron pack-saddle frames, horns, bones, skulls, firearms, and other articles must have been found by the native inhabitants who occupied the region, and would long ago have been pointed out by the aborigines to the next comers who invaded their territories. The length of time that animals' bones might remain intact in the open air in Australia is exemplified by the fact that in 1870, John Forrest found the skull of a horse in one of Eyre's camps on the cliffs of the south coast thirty years after it was left there by Eyre. Forrest carried the skull to Adelaide. I argue, therefore, that if Leichhardt's animals and equipment had not been buried by a flood, some remains must have been since found, for it is impossible, if such things were above ground that they could escape the lynx-like glances of Australian aboriginals, whose wonderful visual powers are unsurpassed among mankind. Everybody and everything must have been swallowed in a cataclysm and buried deep and sure in the mud and slime of a flood.
The New South Wales Government made praiseworthy efforts to rescue the missing traveller. About a year after Leichhardt visited Port Essington, the Government abandoned the settlement, and the prevailing opinion in the colony of New South Wales at that time was, that Leichhardt had not been able to reach Eyre's Creek, but had been forced up north, from his intended route, the inland-sea theory still prevailing, and that he had probably returned to the old settlement for relief. Therefore, when he had been absent two years, the Government despatched a schooner to the abandoned place. The master of the vessel saw several of the half-civilised natives, who well remembered Leichhardt's arrival there, but he had not returned. The natives promised the master to take the greatest care of him should he again appear, but it is needless to say he was seen no more. The Government were very solicitous about him, and when he had been absent four years, Mr. Hovendon Heley was sent away with an outfit of pack-horses and six or seven men, to endeavour to trace him. This expedition seems to have wandered about for several months, and discovered, as Mr. Heley states, two marked trees branded exactly alike, namely L over XVA, and each spot where these existed is minutely described. There was at each, a water-hole, upon the bank of which the camp was situated; at each camp a marked tree was found branded alike; at each, the frame of a tent was left standing; at each, some logs had been laid down to place the stores and keep them from damp. The two places as described appear so identical that it seems impossible to think otherwise than that Heley and his party arrived twice at the same place without knowing it. The tree or trees were found on a watercourse, or courses, near the head of the Warrego River, in Queensland. The above was all the information gained by this expedition. A subsequent search expedition was sent out in 1858, under Augustus Gregory; this I shall place in its chronological order. Kennedy, a companion of Sir Thomas Mitchell into Tropical Australia in 1845, next enters the field. He went to trace Mitchell's Victoria River or Barcoo, but finding it turned southwards and broke into many channels, he abandoned it, and on his return journey discovered the Warrego River, which may be termed the Murrumbidgee of Queensland. On a second expedition, in 1848, Kennedy started from Moreton Bay to penetrate and explore the country of the long peninsula, which runs up northward between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Pacific Ocean, and ends at Cape York, the northernmost point of Australia in Torres Straits. From this disastrous expedition he never returned. He was starved, ill, fatigued, hunted by remorseless aborigines for days, and finally speared to death by the natives of Cape York, when almost within sight of his goal, where a vessel was waiting to succour him and all his party. Only a black boy named Jacky Jacky was with him. After Kennedy's death Jacky buried all his papers in a hollow tree, and for a couple of days he eluded his pursuers, until, reaching the spot where his master had told him the vessel would be, he ran yelling down to the beach, followed by a crowd of murderous savages. By the luckiest chance a boat happened to be at the beach, and the officers and crew rescued the boy. The following day a party led by Jacky returned to where poor Kennedy lay, and they buried him. They obtained his books and maps from the tree where Jacky had hidden them. The narrative of this expedition is heart-rending. Of the whole number of the whites, namely seven, two only were rescued by the vessel at a place where Kennedy had formed a depot on the coast, and left four men.
With Captain Roe, a companion of King's, with whom he was speared and nearly killed by the natives of Goulburn Island, in 1820, and who afterwards became Surveyor-General of the colony of Western Australia, the list of Australia's early explorers may be said to close, although I should remark that Augustus Gregory was a West Australian explorer as early as the year 1846. Captain Roe conducted the most extensive inland exploration of Western Australia at that day, in 1848. No works of fiction can excel, or indeed equal, in romantic and heart-stirring interest the volumes, worthy to be written in letters of gold, which record the deeds and the sufferings of these noble toilers in the dim and distant field of discovery afforded by the Australasian continent and its vast islands. It would be well if those works were read by the present generation as eagerly as the imaginary tales of adventure which, while they appeal to no real sentiment, and convey no solid information, cannot compete for a moment with those sublime records of what has been dared, done, and suffered, at the call of duty, and for the sake of human interests by men who have really lived and died. I do not say that all works of fiction are entirely without interest to the human imagination, or that writers of some of these works are not clever, for in one sense they certainly are, and that is, in only writing of horrors that never occurred, without going through the preliminary agony of a practical realisation of the dangers they so graphically describe, and from which, perhaps, they might be the very first to flee, though their heroes are made to appear nothing less than demigods. Strange as it may appear, it seems because the tales of Australian travel and self-devotion are true, that they attract but little notice, for were the narratives of the explorers not true we might become the most renowned novelists the world has ever known. Again, Australian geography, as explained in the works of Australian exploration, might be called an unlearned study. Let me ask how many boys out of a hundred in Australia, or England either, have ever read Sturt or Mitchell, Eyre, Leichhardt, Grey, or Stuart. It is possible a few may have read Cook's voyages, because they appear more national, but who has read Flinders, King, or Stokes? Is it because these narratives are Australian and true that they are not worthy of attention?
Having well-nigh exhausted the list of the early explorers in Australia, it is necessary now to turn to a more modern school. I must admit that in the works of this second section, with a few exceptions, such stirring narratives as those of the older travellers cannot be found. Nevertheless, considerable interest must still attach to them, as they in reality carry on the burning torch which will not be consumed until by its light the whole of Australia stands revealed.
The modern explorers are of a different class, and perhaps of one not so high as their predecessors. By this remark I do not mean anything invidious, and if any of the moderns are correctly to be classed with the ancients, the Brothers Gregory must be spoken of next, as being the fittest to head a secondary list. Augustus Gregory was in the West Australian field of discovery in 1846. He was a great mechanical, as well as a geographical, discoverer, for to him we are indebted for our modern horses' pack-saddles in lieu of the dreadful old English sumpter horse furniture that went by that name; he also invented a new kind of compass known as Gregory's Patent, unequalled for steering on horseback, and through dense scrubs where an ordinary compass would be almost useless, while steering on camels in dense scrubs, on a given bearing, without a Gregory would be next to impossible; it would be far easier indeed, if not absolutely necessary, to walk and lead them, which has to be done in almost all camel countries.
In 1854 Austin made a lengthened journey to the east and northwards, from the old settled places of Western Australia, and in 1856 Augustus Gregory conducted the North Australian Expedition, fitted out under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society of London. Landing at Stokes's Treachery Bay, Gregory and his brother Frank explored Stokes's Victoria River to its sources, and found another watercourse, whose waters, running inland, somewhat revived the old theory of the inland sea. Upon tracing this river, which he named Sturt's Creek, after the father of Australian exploration, it was found to exhaust itself in a circular basin, which was named Termination Lake. Retracing the creek to where the depot was situated, the party travelled across a stretch of unknown country for some two hundred miles, and striking Leichhardt's Port Essington track on Leichhardt's Roper River, his route was followed too closely for hundreds of miles until civilisation was reached. My friend Baron von Mueller accompanied this expedition as botanist, naturalist, surgeon and physician.
Soon after his return from his northern expedition, Gregory was despatched in 1858 by the Government of New South Wales to search again for the lost explorer Leichhardt, who had then been missing ten years. This expedition resulted in little or nothing, as far as its main object was concerned, one or two trees, marked L, on the Barcoo and lower end of the Thompson, was all it discovered; but, geographically, it settled the question of the course of the Barcoo, or Mitchell's Victoria, which Gregory followed past Kennedy's farthest point, and traced until he found it identical with Sturt's Cooper's Creek. He described it as being of enormous width in times of flood, and two of Sturt's horses, abandoned since 1845, were seen but left uncaptured. Sturt's Strezletki Creek in South Australian territory was then followed. This peculiar watercourse branches out from the Cooper and runs in a south-south-west direction. It brought Gregory safely to the northern settlements of South Australia. The fruitless search for it, however, was one of the main causes of the death of Burke and Wills in 1861. This was Gregory's final attempt; he accepted the position of Surveyor-General of Queensland, and his labours as an explorer terminated. His journals are characterised by a brevity that is not the soul of wit, he appearing to grudge to others the information he had obtained at the expense of great endurance, hardihood, knowledge, and judgment. Gregory was probably the closest observer of all the explorers, except Mitchell, and an advanced geologist.
In 1858 a new aspirant for geographical honours appeared on the field in the person of John McDouall Stuart, of South Australia, who, as before mentioned, had formerly been a member of Captain Sturt's Central Australian expedition in 1843-5 as draftsman and surveyor. Stuart's object was to cross the continent, almost in its greatest width, from south to north; and this he eventually accomplished. After three attempts he finally reached the north coast in 1862, his rival Burke having been the first to do so. Stuart might have been first, but he seems to have under-valued his rival, and wasted time in returning and refitting when he might have performed the feat in two if not one journey; for he discovered a well-watered country the whole way, and his route is now mainly the South Australian Transcontinental Telegraph Line, though it must be remembered that Stuart had something like fifteen hundred miles of unknown country in front of him to explore, while Burke and Wills had scarcely six. Stuart also conducted some minor explorations before he undertook his greater one. He and McKinlay were South Australia's heroes, and are still venerated there accordingly. He died in England not long after the completion of his last expedition.
We now come to probably the most melancholy episode in the long history of Australian exploration, relating to the fate of Burke and Wills. The people and Government of the colony of Victoria determined to despatch an expedition to explore Central Australia, from Sturt's Eyre's Creek to the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria at the mouth of the Albert River of Stokes's, a distance in a straight line of not more than six hundred miles; and as everything that Victoria undertakes must always be on the grandest scale, so was this. One colonist gave £1000; £4000 more was subscribed, and then the Government took the matter in hand to fit out the Victorian Exploring Expedition. Camels were specially imported from India, and everything was done to ensure success; when I say everything, I mean all but the principal thing — the leader was the wrong man. He knew nothing of bush life or bushmanship, navigation, or any art of travel. Robert O'Hara Burke was brave, no doubt, but so hopelessly ignorant of what he was undertaking, that it would have been the greatest wonder if he had returned alive to civilisation. He was accompanied by a young man named Wills as surveyor and observer; he alone kept a diary, and from his own statements therein he was frequently more than a hundred miles out of his reckoning. That, however, did not cause his or Burke's death; what really did so was bad management. The money this expedition cost, variously estimated at from £40,000 to £60,000, was almost thrown away, for the map of the route of the expedition was incorrect and unreliable, and Wills's journal of no geographical value, except that it showed they had no difficulty with regard to water. The expedition was, however, successful in so far that Burke crossed Australia from south to north before Stuart, and was the first traveller who had done so. Burke and Wills both died upon Cooper's Creek after their return from Carpentaria upon the field of their renown. Charles Gray, one of the party, died, or was killed, a day or two before returning thither, and John King, the sole survivor, was rescued by Alfred Howitt. Burke's and Stuart's lines of travel, though both pushing from south to north, were separated by a distance of over 400 miles in longitude. These travellers, or heroes I suppose I ought to call them, were neither explorers nor bushmen, but they were brave and undaunted, and they died in the cause they had undertaken.
When it became certain in Melbourne that some mishap must have occurred to these adventurers, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland each sent out relief parties. South Australia sent John McKinlay, who found Gray's grave, and afterwards made a long exploration to Carpentaria, where, not finding any vessel as he expected, he had an arduous struggle to reach a Queensland cattle station near Port Dennison on the eastern coast. Queensland sent Landsborough by sea to Carpentaria, where he was landed and left to live or die as he might, though of course he had a proper equipment of horses, men, and gear. He followed up the Flinders River of Stokes, had a fine country to traverse; got on to the head of the Warrego, and finally on to the Darling River in New South Wales. He came across no traces whatever of Burke. Victoria sent a relief expedition under Walker, with several Queensland black troopers. Walker, crossing the lower Barcoo, found a tree of Leichhardt's marked L, being the most westerly known. Walker arrived at Carpentaria without seeing any traces of the missing Burke and Wills; but at the mouth of the Albert River met the master of the vessel that had conveyed Landsborough; the master had seen or heard nothing of Burke. Another expedition fitted out by Victoria, and called the Victorian Contingent Relief Expedition, was placed under the command of Alfred Howitt in 1861. At this time a friend of mine, named Conn, and I were out exploring for pastoral runs, and were in retreat upon the Darling, when we met Howitt going out. When farther north I repeatedly urged my companion to visit the Cooper, from which we were then only eighty or ninety miles away, in vain. I urged how we might succour some, if not all, of the wanderers. Had we done so we should have found and rescued King, and we might have been in time to save Burke and Wills also; but Conn would not agree to go. It is true we were nearly starved as it was, and might have been entirely starved had we gone there, but by good fortune we met and shot a stray bullock that had wandered from the Darling, and this happy chance saved our lives. I may here remark that poor Conn and two other exploring comrades of those days, named Curlewis and McCulloch, were all subsequently, not only killed but partly eaten by the wild natives of Australia — Conn in a place near Cooktown on the Queensland coast, and Curlewis and McCulloch on the Paroo River in New South Wales in 1862. When we were together we had many very narrow escapes from death, and I have had several similar experiences since those days. Howitt on his arrival at Cooper's Creek was informed by the natives that a white man was alive with them, and thus John King, the sole survivor, was rescued.
Between 1860-65 several short expeditions were carried on in Western Australia by Frank Gregory, Lefroy, Robinson, and Hunt; while upon the eastern side of Australia, the Brothers Jardine successfully explored and took a mob of cattle through the region that proved so fatal to Kennedy and his companions in 1848. The Jardines traversed a route more westerly than Kennedy's along the eastern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria to Cape York.
In 1865, Duncan McIntyre, while on the Flinders River of Stokes and near the Gulf of Carpentaria, into which it flows, was shown by a white shepherd at an out sheep station, a tree on which the letter L was cut. This no doubt was one of Landsborough's marks, or if it was really carved by Leichhardt, it was done upon his journey to Port Essington in 1844, when he crossed and encamped upon the Flinders. Mcintyre reported by telegraph to Melbourne that he had found traces of Leichhardt, whereupon Baron von Mueller and a committee of ladies in Melbourne raised a fund of nearly £4000, and an expedition called “The Ladies' Leichhardt Search Expedition,” whose noble object was to trace and find some records or mementoes, if not the persons, and discover the last resting-place of the unfortunate traveller and his companions, was placed under McIntyre's command. About sixty horses and sixteen camels were obtained for this attempt. The less said about this splendid but ill-starred effort the better. Indignation is a mild term to apply to our feelings towards the man who caused the ruin of so generous an undertaking. Everything that its promoters could do to ensure its success they did, and it deserved a better fate, for a brilliant issue might have been obtained, if not by the discovery of the lost explorers, at least by a geographical result, as the whole of the western half of Australia lay unexplored before it. The work, trouble, anxiety, and expense that Baron von Mueller went through to start this expedition none but the initiated can ever know. It was ruined before it even entered the field of its labours, for, like Burke's and Wills's expedition, it was unfortunately placed under the command of the wrong man. The collapse of the expedition occurred in this wise. A certain doctor was appointed surgeon and second in command, the party consisting of about ten men, including two Afghans with the camels, and one young black boy. Their encampment was now at a water-hole in the Paroo, where Curlewis and McCulloch had been killed, in New South Wales. The previous year McIntyre had visited a water-hole in the Cooper some seventy-four or seventy-five miles from his camp on the Paroo, and now ordered the whole of his heavily-laden beasts and all the men to start for the distant spot. The few appliances they had for carrying water soon became emptied. About the middle of the third day, upon arrival at the wished-for relief, to their horror and surprise they found the water-hole was dry — by no means an unusual thing in Australian travel. The horses were already nearly dead; McIntyre, without attempting to search either up or down the channel of the watercourse, immediately ordered a retreat to the last water in the Paroo. After proceeding a few miles he left the horses and white men, seven in number, and went on ahead with the camels, the Afghans and the black boy, saying he would return with water for the others as soon as he could. His brother was one of the party left behind. Almost as soon as McIntyre's back was turned, the doctor said to the men something to the effect that they were abandoned to die of thirst, there not being a drop of water remaining, and that he knew in which packs the medical brandy was stowed, certain bags being marked to indicate them. He then added, “Boys, we must help ourselves! the Leichhardt Search Expedition is a failure; follow me, and I'll get you something to drink.” Taking a knife, he ripped open the marked bags while still on the choking horses' backs, and extracted the only six bottles there were. One white man named Barnes, to whom all honour, refused to touch the brandy, the others poured the boiling alcohol down their parched and burning throats, and a wild scene of frenzy, as described by Barnes, ensued. In the meanwhile the unfortunate packhorses wandered away, loaded as they were, and died in thirst and agony, weighed down by their unremoved packs, none of which were ever recovered. Thus all the food supply and nearly all the carrying power of the expedition was lost; the only wonder was that none of these wretches actually died at the spot, although I heard some of them died soon after. The return of McIntyre and the camels loaded with water saved their lives at the time; but what was his chagrin and surprise to find the party just where he had left them, nearly dead, most of them delirious, with all the horses gone, when he had expected to meet them so much nearer the Paroo. In consequence of the state these men or animals were in, they had to be carried on the camels, and it was impossible to go in search of the horses; thus all was lost. This event crushed the expedition. Mcintyre obtained a few more horses, pushed across to the Flinders again, became attacked with fever, and died. Thus the “Ladies' Leichhardt Search Expedition” entirely fell through. The camels were subsequently claimed by McIntyre's brother for the cost of grazing them, he having been carried by them to Carpentaria, where he selected an excellent pastoral property, became rich, and died. It was the same doctor that got into trouble with the Queensland Government concerning the kidnapping of some islanders in the South Seas, and narrowly escaped severe, if not capital punishment.
In 1866, Mr. Cowle conducted an expedition from Roebourne, near Nicol Bay, on the West Coast, for four or five hundred miles to the Fitzroy River, discovered by Wickham, at the bottom of King's Sound.
In 1869, a report having spread in Western Australia of the massacre of some white people by the natives somewhere to the eastwards of Champion Bay, on the west coast, the rumour was supposed to relate to Leichhardt and his party; and upon the representations of Baron von Mueller to the West Australian Government, a young surveyor named John Forrest was despatched to investigate the truth of the story. This expedition penetrated some distance to the eastwards, but could discover no traces of the lost, or indeed anything appertaining to any travellers whatever.
In 1869-70, John Forrest, accompanied by his brother Alexander, was again equipped by the West Australian Government for an exploration eastwards, with the object of endeavouring to reach the South Australian settlements by a new route inland. Forrest, however, followed Eyre's track of 1840-1, along the shores of the Great Australian Bight, and may be said to have made no exploration at all, as he did not on any occasion penetrate inland more than about thirty miles from the coast. At an old encampment Forrest found the skull of one of Eyre's horses, which had been lying there for thirty years. This trophy he brought with him to Adelaide.
The following year, Alexander Forrest conducted an expedition to the eastwards, from the West Australian settlements; but only succeeded in pushing a few miles beyond Hunt and Lefroy's furthest point in 1864.
What I have written above is an outline of the history of discovery and exploration in Australia when I first took the field in the year 1872; and though it may not perhaps be called, as Tennyson says, one of the fairy tales of science, still it is certainly one of the long results of time. I have conducted five public expeditions and several private ones. The latter will not be recorded in these volumes, not because there were no incidents of interest, but because they were conducted, in connection with other persons, for entirely pastoral objects. Experiences of hunger, thirst, and attacks by hostile natives during those undertakings relieved them of any monotony they might otherwise display. It is, however, to my public expeditions that I shall now confine my narrative.
The wild charm and exciting desire that induce an individual to undertake the arduous tasks that lie before an explorer, and the pleasure and delight of visiting new and totally unknown places, are only whetted by his first attempt, especially when he is constrained to admit that his first attempt had not resulted in his carrying out its objects.
My first and second expeditions were conducted entirely with horses; in all my after journeys I had the services of camels, those wonderful ships of the desert, without whose aid the travels and adventures which are subsequently recorded could not possibly have been achieved, nor should I now be alive, as Byron says, to write so poor a tale, this lowly lay of mine. In my first and second expeditions, the object I had in view was to push across the continent, from different starting points, upon the South Australian Transcontinental Telegraph Line, to the settled districts of Western Australia. My first expedition was fitted out entirely by Baron von Mueller, my brother-in-law, Mr. G.D. Gill, and myself. I was joined in this enterprise by a young gentleman, named Samuel Carmichael, whom I met in Melbourne, and who also contributed his share towards the undertaking. The furthest point reached on this journey was about 300 miles from my starting point. On my return, upon reaching the Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station, in latitude 25° 55´ and longitude 135° I met Colonel Warburton and his son, whom I had known before. These gentlemen informed me, to my great astonishment, they were about to undertake an exploring expedition to Western Australia, for two well-known capitalists of South Australia, namely the Honourable Sir Thomas Elder and Captain Hughes. I was also informed that a South Australian Government expedition, for the same purpose, was just in advance of them, under the command of Mr. William C. Gosse. This information took me greatly by surprise, though perhaps an explorer should not admit such a feeling. I had just returned from an attempt of the same kind, beaten and disappointed. I felt if ever I took the field again, against two such formidable rivals as were now about to attempt what I had failed in, both being supplied with camels by Sir Thomas Elder, my chances of competing with them would be small indeed, as I could only command horses, and was not then known to Sir Thomas Elder, the only gentleman in Australia who possessed camels.
The fact of two expeditions starting away simultaneously, almost as soon as I had turned my back upon civilisation, showed me at once that my attempt, I being regarded as a Victorian, had roused the people and Government of South Australia to the importance of the question which I was the first to endeavour to solve — namely, the exploration of the unknown interior, and the possibility of discovering an overland route for stock through Central Australia, to the settlements upon the western coast. This, I may remark, had been the dream of all Australian explorers from the time of Eyre and Leichhardt down to my own time. It also showed that South Australia had no desire to be beaten again (Burke and Stuart.), and in her own territories, by “worthless Melbourne's pulling child;” (hence the two new expeditions arose. Immediately upon my return being made known by telegram to my friend Baron von Mueller, he set to work, and with unwearied exertion soon obtained a new fund from several wealthy gentlemen in the rival colony of Victoria. In consideration of the information I had afforded by my late effort, the Government of South Australia supplemented this fund by the munificent subsidy of £250, provided I expended the money in fresh explorations, and supplied to the Government, at the termination of my journey, a copy of the map and journal of my expedition. My poverty, and not my will, consented to accept so mean a gift. As a new, though limited fund was now placed at my disposal, I had no inclination to decline a fresh attempt, and thus my second expedition was undertaken; and such despatch was used by Baron Mueller and myself, that I was again in the field, with horses only, not many weeks later than my rivals.
On this journey I was accompanied and seconded by Mr. William Henry Tietkens. We had both been scholars at Christ's Hospital in London, though many years apart. Of the toils and adventures of my second expedition the readers of my book must form their own opinion; and although I was again unsuccessful in carrying out my object, and the expedition ended in the death of one member, and in misfortune and starvation to the others, still I have been told by a few partial friends that it was really a splendid failure. On that expedition I explored a line of nearly 700 miles of previously unknown country, in a straight line from my starting point.
During my first and second expeditions I had been fortunate in the discovery of large areas of mountain country, permanently watered and beautifully grassed, and, as spaces of enormous extent still remained to be explored, I decided to continue in the field, provided I could secure the use of camels. These volumes will contain the narratives of my public explorations. In the preface to this work I have given an outline of the physical and colonial divisions of Australia, so that my reader may eventually follow me, albeit in imagination only, to the starting points of my journeys, and into the field of my labours also.
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