Narrative of the overland expedition of the, by F. and A. Jardine


IN presenting the following pages to the Reader, it may not be out of place to take a retrospect of the progress of Australian Settlement generally, and particularly in the young northern colony of Queensland.

During the last six years the great question of the character of Central Australia, in the solution of which the lives of the unfortunate Leichhardt and his party have been sacrificed, has been set at rest by the memorable trip of Burke and Wills, and no less memorable, but more fortunate one of McDouall Stewart. The Search Expeditions of McKinlay, Howitt, Landsborough, and Walker, have made it still more familiar, their routes connecting the out-settlements of South Australia with those of the Gulf Shores and East Coast, and adding their quota of detail to the skeleton lines of Leichhardt, Gregory, and Burke and Wills; whilst private enterprise has, during that time, been busy in further filling in the spaces, and utilizing the knowledge gained by occupying the waste lands thus opened up.

It is questionable whether the amount of available country thus made known has not been dearly purchased, by the very large sums that have been expended, and the valuable lives that have been lost in its exploration; the arid and waterless wastes of the interior, which have now been proved equally subject to terrific droughts and devastating floods, make it improbable that the Settlements of the North Coast and the Southern Colonies can be connected by a continuous line of occupation for many years to come; the rich pastoral tracts of Arnheim’s Land, the Victoria River, the Gulf Coast, and Albert and Flinders Rivers, are thus the only localities likely to be made use of for the present; these, however, have been known since the first explorations of Leichhardt and Gregory; we are forced, therefore, to the conclusion that the results of the subsequent expeditions are not commensurate with their cost and sacrifices, and to consider whether further exploration may not be safely left to private enterprise.

Let us now glance at what has been done since 1860 in the way of occupation. South Australia has founded on the North Coast a Settlement at Adam Bay, on the Adelaide River, but its progress seems to have been marked from the onset by misfortune. The officer charged with its formation, in a short time managed to raise so strong a feeling of dissatisfaction and dislike amongst the settlers as to call for a Commission of Enquiry on his administration, which resulted in his removal. His successor seems, by latest accounts to have raised up no less dislike, the difference of his rule being likened by the papers to that of the fabled kings, Log and Stork. The site of the Settlement, Escape Cliffs, has been universally condemned; one charge against the first Resident being, that it was selected in opposition to the almost unanimous opinion of the colonists. The subject was referred for final report to John McKinley, the well-known Explorer, who, bearing out the general opinion, at once condemned it, and set out to explore the country in search for a better. In this he has not discovered any new locality, but has recommended Anson Bay, at the mouth of the Daly, a site previously visited, but rejected by the first Resident. Previous to his visit to Anson Bay, Mr. McKinlay started with a well-equipped party for an exploring trip, which was to last twelve months. At the end of five he returned, after one of the most miraculous escapes of himself and party from destruction on record, having only penetrated to the East Alligator River, about 80 miles from Adam Bay; here he became surrounded by floods, and only saved his own and the lives of his party (losing all else) by the desperate expedient of making a boat of the hides of their horses, in which they floated down the swollen river, and eventually reached the Settlement. It is not improbable that in some such a flood poor Leichhardt and his little band lost their lives, and all trace of their fate has been destroyed. These experiences have caused some doubt and despondency as to the future of the new Settlement, and the question is now being agitated in the South Australian Parliament as to the desirability or not of abandoning it.

Western Australia has formed the Settlements of Camden Harbor, and Nickol Bay. The latter (the country around which was explored by Mr. Francis Gregory, brother to the Surveyor-General of Queensland, in 1861), appears to have progressed favorably, the Grey, Gascoigne, Oakover and Lyons Rivers affording inducements to stockholders to occupy them, but the Settlement of Camden Harbor at the time of the visit of Mr. Stow in his boat-voyage from Adam Bay to Champion Bay, was being abandoned by the colonists, the country being unsuitable for stock, and it would appear from that gentleman’s account that the whole of the north-west coast of the continent, from its general character, offers but little inducement for settlement.1

1 Since this was written the settlement has been abandoned.

The explorations of Francis Gregory to the eastward from Nickol Bay, and of the Surveyor-General to the south from the Victoria River, were both arrested by wastes of drift-sand, whilst those from the western seaboard have not been extended further inland than to more than an average of 3° of longitude. It may reasonably be doubted, therefore, whether settlement will be much extended in that direction.

Queensland, more fortunate in the character of the country, has, on her part, successfully established six new settlements, to wit, Mackay, at the Pioneer River; Bowen, Port Denison; Townsville, Cleveland Bay; Cardwell, Rockingham Bay; Somerset, Cape York; and Burke Town, at the Albert River; and there can be little doubt but that the country of the Gulf shores and the northern territory of South Australia must be ‘stocked’, if not settled, from the same source. Already have our hardy pioneers driven their stock out as far as the Flinders, Albert, Leichhardt, and Nicholson Rivers, the Flinders and Cloncurry having been stocked along their length for some time past. On the South and West, the heads of the Warrego, the Nive, Barcoo, and Thompson have also been occupied, some of the stations being between four and five hundred miles from the seaboard, whilst the surveyors of the Roads Department have extended their surveys as far as the two last-named rivers, for the purpose of determining the best and shortest lines of communication. The Government, with wise liberality, has facilitated the access from the seaboard to the interior, by the expenditure of large sums in constructing and improving passes through the Coast Range on four different points, and by the construction of works on the worst portions of the roads, have largely reduced the difficulties of transport for the out-settlers. Bowen, a town which had no existence six years ago, has been connected with Brisbane by the telegraph wire, and ere another twelve months have elapsed the electric flash will have placed Melbourne, in Victoria, and Burke Town, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, “on speaking terms,” the country between the latter place and Cleveland Bay having been examined and determined on for a telegraph line by the experienced explorer Walker for that purpose.

Of the six new settlements that have been called into existence, two, Bowen and Townsville, have been incorporated, and are now, together with Mackay, straining in the race to secure the trade of the western interior. Cardwell has experienced a check, in consequence of an undue haste in the adoption of a line of road over its Coast Range, which is too difficult to be generally adopted, and will probably be abandoned for a better since discovered; but its noble harbour is too good, and the extent of back country it commands too extensive in area, for it not ultimately to take its place as an important port. Burke Town is but starting into existence, but already supplies the settlers of the Flinders and other Gulf rivers with which it has opened communication. Mr. William Landsborough, the well-known explorer, has been charged with the administration of its affairs, and a survey staff has been despatched to lay out the lands. Vessels now trade direct from Brisbane with some regularity, which services will, no doubt, soon be replaced by steamers.

But it is with Somerset, Cape York, that we have more especial concern. In the August of 1862, Sir George Bowen, Governor of Queensland, being on a voyage of inspection to the Northern Ports, in Her Majesty’s Steamer “Pioneer,” visited Port Albany, Cape York, and on his return, in a despatch to the Imperial Government, recommended it for the site of a Settlement, on account of its geographical importance, as harbor of refuge, coaling station, and entrepot for the trade of Torres Straits and the Islands of the North Pacific. The following year the formation of a Settlement was decided upon, the Home Government sending out a detachment of Marines to be stationed there, and assist in its establishment. The task of establishing the new Settlement was confided to Mr. Jardine, then Police Magistrate of Rockhampton, than whom, perhaps, no man could be found more fitted for its peculiar duties. An experienced official, a military man, keen sportsman, and old bushman, he possessed, in addition to an active and energetic temperament, every quality and experience necessary for meeting the varied and exceptional duties incident to such a position. It was whilst making the arrangements for the expedition by sea, which was to transport the staff, materiel, and stores of the Settlement, that Mr. Jardine, foreseeing the want of fresh provision, proposed to the Government to send his own sons, Frank and Alexander, overland with a herd of cattle to form a station from which it might be supplied. This was readily acceded to, the Government agreeing to supply the party with the services of a qualified surveyor, fully equipped, to act as Geographer, by noting and recording their course and the appearance of the country traversed, and also horses, arms, and accoutrements for four native blacks, or as they are commonly called in the colonies, Black-boys. Although the account of poor Kennedy’s journey from Rockingham Bay to Cape York, in which his own and half his party’s lives were sacrificed, was not very encouraging for the intended expedition, Mr. Jardine never for a moment doubted of its success, and looked forward to meeting his sons at Somerset as a matter of course. In the prime of youth and health (their ages were but 22 and 20), strong, active, and hardy, inured to the life and habits of the bush, with an instinct of locality, which has been alluded to as having “la Boussole dans la tete,” they were eminently fitted for the task, and eagerly undertook it when proposed. How well they carried it out, although, unfortunately, with so little benefit to themselves, is here recorded. Had poor Wills been associated with such companions there would have been a different tale to tell to that which lends so melancholy an interest to his name, and we should now have him amongst us to honor, instead of a monument to his memory, a monument, which in honoring the dead, rebukes the living.

The loss of three-fourths of their horses, and a fifth of their cattle, together with a large equipment, has made the enterprise of the Messrs. Jardine, speaking financially, little short of a failure, but at their age the mind is resilient, and not easily damped by misfortune. On their return to Brisbane the Government, with kind consideration, proposed to place such a sum on the Estimates of Parliament as would indemnify them, and at the same time mark its sense of the high merit and importance of their journey, but this, through their father, they respectfully declined, Frank Jardine giving as his reason, that as the expedition was a private enterprise and not a public undertaking, he did not consider himself entitled to any indemnity from the public. Opinions may be divided on such a conclusion, but in it we cannot but recognise a delicacy and nobility of sentiment as rare, unfortunately, as it is admirable. Yet, if they have thus voluntarily cut themselves off from the substantial rewards which have hitherto recompensed other explorers, they are still entitled to the high praise and commendation of all who admire spirit and determination of purpose, and cannot be insensible to their applause. And it is in recognition that such is their due, that the writer has undertaken to bring this narrative before the public.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56