THE Settlement of Northern Australia has of late years been of such rapid growth as to furnish matter for a collection of narratives, which in the aggregate would make a large and interesting volume. Prominent amongst these stands that of the Settlement of Cape York, under the superintendence of Mr. Jardine, with which the gallant trip of his two sons overland must ever be associated. It was a journey which, but for the character and qualities of the Leader, might have terminated as disastrously as that of his unfortunate, but no less gallant predecessor, Kennedy. A brilliant achievement in exploration, in a colony where exploring has become common and almost devoid of interest, from the number of those yearly engaged in it, its very success has prevented its attracting that share of public attention to which its results very fully entitled it. Had it been attended with any signal disaster, involving loss of life, it would have been otherwise. Geographically, it has solved the question hitherto undecided of the course of the northern rivers emptying into the Gulf of Carpentaria, of which nothing was previously known but their outlets, taken from the charts of the Dutch Navigators. It has also made known, with tolerable definiteness, how much, or rather, how little, of the “York Peninsula” is adapted for pastoral occupation, whilst its success in taking the first stock overland, and forming a cattle station at Newcastle Bay, has insured to the Settlement at Somerset a necessary and welcome supply of fresh meat, and done away with its dependence for supplies on importations by sea of less nourishing salt provision.
Starting from the then farthest out-station of Northern Queensland with a small herd of cattle, these hardy young bushmen met with and successfully combated, almost every “accident by flood and field” that could well occur in an expedition. First, an arid waterless country forced them to follow down two streams at right angles with their course for upwards of 200 miles, causing a delay which betrayed them into the depths of the rainy season; then the loss of half their food and equipment by a fire, occasioned by the carelessness of some of the party; next the scarcity of grass and water, causing a further delay by losses of half their horses, which were only recovered to be again lost altogether — killed by eating a deadly poison plant; and finally, the setting in of the wet season, making the ground next to impassable, and so swelling the rivers, that when actually in sight, and within a week’s journey of their destination, they were turned off their course, and were more than six weeks in reaching it. Added to this, and running through the whole journey, was the incessant and determined, although unprovoked, hostility of the natives, which, but for the unceasing vigilance and prompt and daring action of the Brothers, might have eventually compassed the annihilation of the whole party. Had Leichhardt used the same vigilance and decision the life of poor Gilbert would not have been sacrificed, and in all probability we should not now deplore his own loss. But the black tribes which dogged the steps of each expedition, and amongst whom, probably, were the slayers of Kennedy and Gilbert, met at the hands of the Brothers the treatment they deserved. If the lessons were severe, they were in every case of the native’s own seeking, and were administered in fair and open combat, in which few of the white party were without having narrow escapes to record; but a providential good fortune seemed to attend them, for every member got through the journey without accident. An account has been furnished to the newspapers in the form of a journal by Mr. Richardson, the Surveyor appointed to accompany the expedition, but it is much too brief and epitomized to do justice to the subject, and omits altogether the detached and independent trips of the Brothers whilst exploring ahead to find the best country through which to take the herd; and, as the Brothers Jardine themselves would probably much rather repeat their journey than write a full account of it, it has devolved on the Editor to attempt to put before the public a compilation of their journals in such form as will give the narrative sufficient interest to carry with it the attention of the reader to the end. Although the matter is ample, this is no easy task for an unpracticed pen, for to the general reader, the usual monotonous details and entries of an explorer’s notes, which alone give them value to the geographer, cannot be hoped to excite interest or command attention. But the journey was full of incident, and the Brothers, although not scientific naturalists, were keen sportsmen, excelling in all exercises requiring strength and activity, who had acquired from their training in the bush that sharpening of the senses and faculty of observing, the peculiar result of a life in the wilds, which not only so well fitted them for the conduct of such an expedition, but also enabled them to note and describe with accuracy the various interesting objects in botany and zoology met with in the course of their journey. It is therefore hoped that there will be sufficient to interest each class of reader. Aided by Mr. Jardine, senior, a gentleman of large experience in both Botany and Natural History, the Editor has been enabled to supply the generic names of the birds and plants met with; which, in many cases, if not altogether new, are interesting as determining the range and habitat of the birds, and the zones of vegetation and trees; but it is to be regretted that there was no one in the party having sufficient knowledge of drawing to figure such objects, or to delineate some of the more striking scenes and incidents of the journey. As these can now only be supplied from the graphic descriptions given by the actors in them, the Editor, without drawing too much on his imagination, has, in the compilation of the journals, attempted in some cases to supplement what was wanted in the text, so as to give the narrative such color as would make it more readable than a mere journal, but in every case rendering the descriptions of the prominent incidents of the journey almost in the original words of the writers, merely adding as much as would save the text from abruptness. He has adhered to the diurnal form of narrative, for the sake of recording, for the benefit of future travellers, the numbers, marks, latitude, etc., of each camp, and endeavoured to compass by this composite method the value of a work of record with the interest of a narrative.
It is also to be regretted that so long a time should have been allowed to elapse between the end of the journey and the publication of these pages. The causes of the delay are — first, the indisposition on the part of the Brothers to “go into print,” their modesty leading them to imagine they had done nothing worth “writing about,” nor was it until the writer pressed them to allow him to compile and edit their journals that they consented to make them public; next, the want of leisure on the part of the compiler, whose official duties have prevented application to his task, save in detached and interrupted periods; and last, by the difficulty of making arrangements for publication at a distance.
If his labor secures to the young explorers the credit and praise which is the just and due reward of a gallant achievement, and adds a page of interest to the records of Australian Exploration, his aim will have been attained, and he will be fully rewarded.
The Hermitage, ‘Rockhampton, December’, 1866.
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