Indications of the Neighbourhood of the Sea — Natives Much More Numerous — The Sea; the Gulf of Carpentaria — The Staaten — A Native Intrudes Into the Camp — The Van Diemen — The Gilbert — Singular Native Huts — Caron River — Friendly Natives — The Yappar — Mr. Calvert Recovered — Mode of Encampment — Swarms of Flies — Abundance of Salt — Natives Friendly, and More Intelligent.
July 1. — We left the camp where Mr. Gilbert was killed, and travelled in all about fourteen miles south-west, to lat. 16 degrees 6 minutes. We passed an extensive box-tree flat, and, at four miles, reached a chain of water-holes; but, during the next ten miles, we did not meet the slightest indication of water. Box-tree flats of various sizes were separated by long tracts of undulating country, covered with broad-leaved tea-trees, Grevillea ceratophylla, and G. mimosoides, and with the new species of Grevillea, with broad lanceolate leaves. We had to skirt several impassable thickets and scrubs of tea-tree, in one of which Pandanus abounded. At last, just as the sun was setting, and we were preparing to encamp in the open forest without water, we came to a creek with fine water-holes covered with Villarsias. Charley shot a native companion; a Fabirou was seen crossing our camp. My wounded companions got on uncommonly well, notwithstanding the long stage, and I now had all reason to hope, that their wounds would not form any impediment to the progress of our journey.
July 2. — We travelled ten miles south-west over a country exactly like that of yesterday; and encamped at a shallow water-hole in a creek, which headed in a tea-tree thicket, a grove of Pandanus being on its north side, and a small box-flat to the southward. Though the country was then very dry, it is very probably impassable during the rainy season. The tea-tree thickets seemed liable to a general inundation, and many shallow water-holes and melon-holes were scattered everywhere about the flats. The flats and elevations of the surface were studded with turreted ant-hills, either forming single sharp cones from three to five feet high, and scarcely a foot broad at their base, or united into a row, or several rows touching each other, and forming piles of most remarkable appearance. The directions of the rows seemed to be the same over large tracts of country, and to depend upon the direction of the prevailing winds. I found Verticordia, a good sized tree, and a Melaleuca with clustered orange blossoms and smooth bark, which I mentioned as growing on the supposed Nassau.
July 3. — We followed the tea-tree creek about four miles lower down, and encamped near some fine rocky water-holes, in which I discovered a yellow Villarsia, resembling in its leaves Villarsia inundata, R. Br.
Our day’s journey was a short one in consequence of our having started so late. The delay was caused by Charley having captured an emu, a flock of which he met when fetching the horses. By holding branches before him, he was enabled to approach so close to them, that he shot one dead with a charge of dust shot. It was a welcome prize, and repaid us for the delay. To our wounded friends the delay itself was a welcome one.
The mussel-shells of these water-holes appeared to be narrower and comparatively longer than those we had previously seen. Pandanus was, as usual, very frequent; but a middle sized shady wide spreading tree, resembling the elm in the colour and form of its leaves, attracted our attention, and excited much interest. Its younger branches were rather drooping, its fruit was an oblong yellow plum, an inch long and half an inch in diameter, with a rather rough kernel. When ripe, the pericarp is very mealy and agreeable to eat, and would be wholesome, if it were not so extraordinarily astringent. We called this tree the “Nonda,” from its resemblance to a tree so called by the natives in the Moreton Bay district. I found the fruit in the dilli of the natives on the 21st June, and afterwards most abundantly in the stomach of the emu. The tree was very common in the belt of forest along the creek.
The wind, during the last two days, was southerly, south-westerly, and westerly, freshening up during the afternoon. The forenoon was very hot: the night clear, and rather cool towards morning. I observed many shooting stars during the two last nights.
July 4. — We travelled seven miles in a south-west direction, to lat. 16 degrees 15 minutes 11 seconds, over an entirely flat country, covered with a very open forest of box, of bloodwood, and of the stiff-leaved Melaleuca, with the arborescent Grevillea already mentioned, and with a species of Terminalia with winged fruit. In the more sandy tracts of bloodwood forest, grew the Nonda, the Pandanus, and the apple-gum. The shallow creek was surrounded by a scrub of various myrtaceous trees, particularly Melaleucas. The creek afterwards divided into water-holes, fringed with Stravadium, which, however, lower down gave way to dense belts of Polygonum. The water was evidently slightly brackish; the first actual sign of the vicinity of the sea. A young emu was killed with the assistance of Spring; and a sheldrake was shot by Brown. Native companions were very numerous, and were heard after sunset, all round our camp. The stomach of the emu was full of a small plant resembling chickweed, which grew round the water-holes.
The smoke of the natives’ fires was seen to the south and south-west.
July 5. — We travelled over full twenty miles of country, although the distance from camp to camp, in a straight line, did not exceed fourteen, in a south by west direction; the latitude of our new camp was 16 degrees 27 minutes 26 seconds. After passing several miles of tea-tree forest, intermixed with box, and alternating with belts of grassy forest land, with bloodwood and Nonda, we entered upon a series of plains increasing in size, and extending to the westward as far as the eye could reach, and separated from each other by narrow strips of forest; they were well-grassed, but the grasses were stiff. Tea-tree hollows extended along the outskirts of the plains. In one of them, we saw Salicornia for the first time, which led us to believe that the salt water was close at hand. Having crossed the plains, we came to broad sheets of sand, overgrown with low shrubby tea-trees, and a species of Hakea, which always grows in the vicinity of salt water. The sands were encrusted with salt, and here and there strewed with heaps of Cytherea shells. Beyond the sands, we saw a dense green line of mangrove trees extending along a salt water creek, which we headed, and in which Brown speared the first salt water mullet. We then came to a fine salt water river, whose banks were covered with an open well grassed forest; interrupted only by flat scrubby sandy creeks, into which the tide entered through narrow channels, and which are probably entirely inundated by the spring tides. Not finding any fresh water along the river I went up one of the creeks, and found fresh water-holes, not in its bed, but parallel to it, scarcely a mile from the river. When crossing the plains, the whole horizon appeared to be studded with smoke from the various fires of the natives; and when we approached the river, we noticed many well beaten footpaths of the natives, who are found generally in greater numbers and stronger tribes near the sea coast, where the supply of food is always more abundant and certain.
The first sight of the salt water of the gulf was hailed by all with feelings of indescribable pleasure, and by none more than by myself; although tinctured with regret at not having succeeded in bringing my whole party to the end of what I was sanguine enough to think the most difficult part of my journey. We had now discovered a line of communication by land between the eastern coast of Australia, and the gulf of Carpentaria: we had travelled along never failing, and, for the greater part, running waters: and over an excellent country, available, almost in its whole extent, for pastoral purposes. The length of time we had been in the wilderness, had evidently made the greater portion of my companions distrustful of my abilities to lead them through the journey; and, in their melancholy conversations, the desponding expression, “We shall never come to Port Essington,” was too often overheard by me to be pleasant. My readers will, therefore, readily understand why Brown’s joyous exclamation of “Salt Water!” was received by a loud hurrah from the whole party; and why all the pains, and fatigues, and privations we had endured, were, for the moment, forgotten, almost as completely as if we had arrived at the end of the journey.
July 6. — remained in camp the whole of this day, to rest the poor animals, which had been much fatigued by our last long stage. Charley shot a duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus); and he, Brown, and John Murphy, went to the salt water to angle. My expectations, however, of catching fish in the salt water, and of drying them, were sadly disappointed. The whole amount of their day’s work was, a small Silurus, one mullet, and some small guard-fish.
The weather continued fine, the forenoon usually very hot, but the air was cooled in the afternoon by a south-west breeze; the nights were clear and rather cold.
When I left Moreton Bay, I had taken a spare set of horse-shoes with me for every horse. They were shod at our leaving the Downs, but they soon lost their shoes; and, as our stages were short, and the ground soft, I did not think it necessary to shoe them again. In travelling along the Burdekin, however, and the upper Lynd, they became very foot-sore; but still there was a sufficient change of good country to allow them to recover; I had been frequently inclined to throw the spare shoes away, but they had as often been retained, under the impression that they might be useful, when we came to the gulf, to barter with the natives for food, particularly for fish. Finding, however, that the natives were hostile, and scarcely wishing to have any farther intercourse with them, I decided upon leaving the horse-shoes, and several other cumbersome articles behind; and they were consequently thrown, with two spare gun barrels, into the water-hole at which we were encamped. The natives will probably find them, when the holes dry up; and, if preserved, they will be a lasting testimonial of our visit.
July 7. — Charley told me that he had followed the river up to its termination. I consequently kept a little more to the left, in order to head it, and travelled two or three miles through a fine bloodwood and Nonda forest, the verdant appearance of which was much increased by the leguminous Ironbark, which grew here in great perfection. Two emus had just made their breakfast on some Nonda fruit when we started them, and Charley and Brown, assisted by Spring, succeeded in killing one of them.
We soon came to a salt-water river, with a broad sandy bed, perfectly free of vegetation, although its banks were fringed with drooping tea-trees. The tide being low, we were enabled to ford it. Whilst crossing it, a flock of black-winged pelicans stood gravely looking at us. The latitude of the ford, which was two miles and a half south from our last camp, would be 16 degrees 30 minutes, which corresponds with that of the Staaten, marked at the outline of the coast. A well grassed open forest extended along both sides of the river; and, at its left, large deep Nymphaea lagoons were parallel to it. South of the Staaten, we travelled over a forest country, similar to that of former stages, and which might be aptly distinguished by the name of Grevillea Forest; as Gr. mimosoides (R. Br.) is its characteristic feature; though a rather stunted stiff-leaved tea-tree was more numerous. Some slight rises were covered with thickets of the Acacia of Expedition Range. The last six or seven miles of our stage were over an immense box-flat. We passed many spots lately burnt by the natives, and saw the smoke of their fires in every direction. We encamped on a good sized creek, on which grew the articulate podded Acacia, the Mangrove Myrtle (Stravadium), and the drooping tea-tree. As soon as we had pitched our tents, we cut up the hind quarters of the emu into slices for drying; but we had to guard it by turns, whip in hand, from a host of square-tailed kites (Milvus isiurus).
John Murphy and Charley, whilst riding round the camp to ascertain if natives were in the neighbourhood, came on one of their camps occupied chiefly by women, and a few old men, who immediately ran off, but set the grass on fire as they went, to prevent the approach of the horsemen; and left behind them their waddies, spears, and a good supply of potatoes. At dusk, when Charley brought in the horses, two of which we tethered near the camp, the form of a native glided like a ghost into our camp, and walked directly up to the fire. John, who saw him first, called out, “a Blackfellow! look there! a Blackfellow!” and every gun was ready. But the stranger was unarmed, and evidently unconscious of his position; for, when he saw himself suddenly surrounded by the horses and ourselves, he nimbly climbed a tree to its very summit, where he stood between some dry branches like a strange phantom or a statue. We called to him, and made signs for him to descend, but he not only remained silent, but motionless, notwithstanding all the signs and noise we made. We then discharged a gun, but it had not the intended effect of inducing him to speak or stir. At last I desired Charley to ascend the neighbouring tree, to show him that we could easily get at him if necessary. This plan was more successful; for no sooner were Charley’s intentions perceived, than our friend gave the most evident proof of his being neither deaf nor dumb, by calling out most lustily. He pooh’d, he birrrred, he spat, and cooeed; in fact, he did everything to make the silent forest re-echo with the wild sounds of his alarm; our horses, which were standing under the tree, became frightened, and those which were loose ran away. We were much afraid that his cooees would bring the whole tribe to his assistance, and every one eagerly proffered his advice. Charley wished to shoot him, “or,” said he, “you will all be killed; I do not care for myself, but I care for your being killed and buried.” Others wished to remove from the spot, and so give him an opportunity of escaping. I was, of course, horrified at the idea of shooting a poor fellow, whose only crime, if so it might be called, was in having mistaken our fire for that of his own tribe: so I went to our own fire, which was at a short distance, where he could see me distinctly, and then made signs for him to descend and go away. He then began to be a little more quiet, and to talk; but soon hallooed again, and threw sticks at myself, at my companions, and at the horses. We now retired about eight yards, to allow him to escape, which we had not done before, because I feared he might imagine we were afraid of his incantations, for he sang most lamentable corrobories, and cried like a child; frequently exclaiming, “Mareka! Mareka!!” This word is probably identical with Marega; the name given by the Malays to the natives of the north coast, which is also called by them “Marega.” [Capt. King’s Intertropical Survey of Australia, vol. I. p. 135.] After continuing his lamentations for some time, but of which we took no notice, they gradually ceased; and, in a few minutes, a slight rustling noise was heard, and he was gone: doubtless delighted at having escaped from the hands of the pale-faced anthropophagi.
July 8. — This morning the whole tribe, well armed, watched us from a distance; but they allowed us quietly to load our bullocks, and depart, without offering us the least annoyance. Their companion will, no doubt, leave a dreadful account of the adventures of last night to his black posterity.
We travelled about twelve miles south by west to latitude 16 degrees 47 minutes; at first over an almost uninterrupted box-flat, full of melon-holes, and with many small holes in the ground, which caused our horses and cattle to stumble at almost every step. The dry melon-holes were covered with dead Paludinas, with shells of a large crab, and of the fresh water turtle. At about seven miles, we passed a strip of Blackwood forest, with many Nonda trees; and crossed a small creek. The latter part of the stage was again over a large box-flat, intersected by shallow grassy depressions, timbered with flooded-gum. We saw on the rising ground some open scrub, with scattered Bauhinias and Cochlospermums. Our encampment was at a creek on the south side of a slight rise, with Bauhinia trees, and near good water-holes. The creek, like all the others we had passed, flowed to the westward.
Near our camp we examined three holes, full six feet deep, and four feet in diameter, communicating with each other at their bottom. They were about three feet apart, and appeared to have been dug with sharp sticks. I have not the slightest idea for what purpose they were intended. They were most certainly not dug to obtain roots; and it seemed unlikely for wells; for the water, even in this unusually dry season, was very abundant.
The white ant-hills, which are built in rows, had, during this stage, a direction from north by west to south by east, and, as I have before mentioned a conjecture that the little builders would expose the narrowest side of their habitation to the weather side, the prevailing winds would be from the north.
July 9. — We travelled thirteen or fourteen miles south by west to latitude 17 degrees 0 minutes 13 seconds, at first crossing a box-flat, and after that a succession of greater or smaller plains, separated by a very open Grevillea forest. These plains were well grassed, or partly covered with a species of Euphorbia, which was eaten by our horses and cattle; and also with the long trailings of the native melon; the fruit of which tastes very tolerably, after the bitter skin has been removed; but when too ripe, the fruit is either insipid or nauseous. The bustard seems to feed almost exclusively on them, for the stomach of one, which Brown shot, was full of them.
The apple-gum, which we had missed for some time, again made its appearance, accompanied by another white gum, with long narrow leaves. As we approached the creek, at which we afterwards encamped, the vegetation became richer, and the melon-holes enlarged into dry water-holes, which were frequently shaded by the Acacia with articulate pods (Inga moniliformis). The two species of Terminalia, of the upper Lynd, were numerous; and a small green looking tree, which we found growing densely along the creek, had wood of a brown colour, which smelt like raspberry jam; and, upon burning it, the ashes produced a very strong lye, which I used in dressing the wounds of my companions. This tree was found in great abundance on all the rivers and creeks round the gulf, within the reach of salt water; and when crossing Arnheim Land, though less frequently.
Sandstone cropped out in the banks of the creek, and formed the reservoirs in its bed.
Last night, and the night before, we experienced a very cold wind from the southward.
The laughing Jackass (Dacelo cervina, Gould) of this part of the country, is of a different species from that of the eastern coast, is of a smaller size, and speaks a different language; but the noise is by no means so ridiculous as that of Dac. gigantea: he is heard before sunrise, and immediately after sunset, like his representative of the eastern coast. The latter was observed as far as the upper Lynd, where the new one made his appearance.
We crossed a bush fire, which had been lighted just before we came to the creek, but we did not see the incendiaries. In the morning of the 10th July, however, they had discovered our tracks, and followed them until they came in sight of the camp; but retired as soon as they saw us: and when they met Charley returning with the bullocks, they ran away. After half-an-hour’s travelling towards the south-west, we came to the Van Diemen, which is marked in Arrowsmith’s map in latitude 17 degrees. It was about seventy or eighty yards broad, with steep banks and a fine sandy bed, containing detached pools of water surrounded by Polygonum, and extremely boggy. My horse stuck in the mud, and it was with great difficulty that I extricated him.
As our meal bags were empty, and no sign of game appeared, I decided upon selecting a good open camping place, for the purpose of killing our last little steer. The country was a fine open grassy forest land, in which the apple-gum prevailed, and with many swampy grassy lagoons covered with white, blue, and pink Nymphaeas. The box tree grew in their immediate neighbourhood.
In the bed of the Van Diemen we saw some well constructed huts of the natives; they were made of branches arched over in the form of a bird-cage, and thatched with grass and the bark of the drooping tea-tree. The place where we encamped had been frequently used by the natives for the same purpose. Our attention was particularly attracted by a large heap of chaff, from which the natives appeared to have taken the seeds. This grass was, however, very different from the panicum, of the seeds of which the natives of the Gwyder River make a sort of bread; and which there forms the principal food of the little Betshiregah (Melopsittacus undulatus, Gould).
The night was calm, clear, and cold.
The kites became most daring and impudent. Yesterday, I cleaned the fat gizzard of a bustard to grill it on the embers, and the idea of the fat dainty bit made my mouth water. But alas! whilst holding it in my hand, a kite pounced down and carried it off, pursued by a dozen of his comrades, eager to seize the booty.
We killed our little steer in the afternoon of the 10th, and the next day we cut the meat into slices, and hung it out on a kangaroo net: the wind was high, the sun warm, and our meat dried most perfectly. Whilst we were in the midst of our work, some natives made their appearance. I held out a branch as a sign of peace, when they ventured up to hold a parley, though evidently with great suspicion. They were rather small, and the tall ones were slim and lightly built. They examined Brown’s hat, and expressed a great desire to keep it. In order to make them a present, I went to the tents to fetch some broken pieces of iron; and whilst I was away, Brown, wishing to surprise them, mounted his horse, and commenced trotting, which frightened them so much, that they ran away, and did not come again. One of them had a singular weapon, neatly made, and consisting of a long wooden handle, with a sharp piece of iron fixed in at the end, like a lancet. The iron most probably had been obtained from the Malays who annually visit the gulf for trepang. Some of their spears were barbed.
July 12. — The meat had dried so well, that I started this morning; having completed the operation of drying in rather more than a day. It was, of course, necessary to spread the meat out for several days, to prevent its becoming mildewed. This was done every day after arriving at our camping-place.
Our killing camp was about five miles south-west from the Van Diemen; and we travelled in the same direction about eight miles farther, through a most beautiful country, consisting of an open forest timbered with the box-tree, apple-gum, and white-gum; it was well grassed, and abundantly supplied with water. We crossed a small river with a course west by north; it had a broad sandy bed, numerous pools of water, and steep banks: the latter were covered with Sarcocephalus and drooping tea-trees. I called it the “Gilbert,” after my unfortunate companion. Five miles farther, we came to a fine creek, at which we encamped. Its water-holes were surrounded by the Nelumbiums of the Mackenzie, and by a fine yellow Ipomoea, with larger flowers than that described as growing at the Mitchell. We gathered a considerable quantity of Nelumbium seeds, which were very palatable, and, when roasted and pounded, made a most excellent substitute for coffee.
July 13. — Our horses had enjoyed the green feed round the lagoons near our killing camp, so much, that they returned to it during the night, and caused a delay until noon, when we resumed our journey. The first part of the stage was over fine well-watered forest land. We crossed two creeks, with good water-holes, in one of which was a fishing weir. The country to the south of the last creek changed to a succession of plains of various sizes, extending mostly to the westward, and very open undulations scattered over with rather stunted trees of Grevillea mimosoides, G. ceratophylla, Terminalia, Bauhinia, and Balfouria? an apocynaceous tree. And again we passed over box and apple-gum flats, which, by their rich verdure, refreshed the eye tired with the uniform yellow colour of the dry grass, in which the whole country was clothed. We saw the bush fires of the natives every where around us; and many large tracts which had been recently burnt. The sun was getting very low, and my patients were very tired, and yet no water was to be seen. Cumuli, which had been gradually collecting from one o’clock in the afternoon, cast their shadows over the forest, and deceived the eye into the belief that the desired creek was before us. At last, however, to our infinite satisfaction, we entered into a scrub, formed of low stunted irregularly branched tea-trees, where we found a shallow water-course, which gradually enlarged into deep holes, which were dry, with the exception of one which contained just a sufficient supply of muddy water to form a stepping-stone for the next stage. Our latitude was 17 degrees 19 minutes 36 seconds.
July 14. — We travelled about eleven miles S.S.W. to latitude 17 degrees 28 minutes 11 seconds, over an immense box-flat, interrupted only by some plains and by two tea-tree creeks; the tea-trees were stunted and scrubby like those of our last stage. At the second creek we passed an old camping place of the natives, where we observed a hedge of dry branches, and, parallel to it, and probably to the leeward, was a row of fire places. It seemed that the natives sat and lay between the fires and the row of branches. There were, besides, three huts of the form of a bee-hive, closely thatched with straw and tea-tree bark. Their only opening was so small, that a man could scarcely creep through it; they were four or five feet high, and from eight to ten feet in diameter. [A hut of this description, but of smaller dimensions, is described by Capt. King, at the North Goulburn Island. — King’s Voyage, vol. I. p. 72.] One of the huts was storied, like those I noticed on the banks of the Lynd. It would appear that the natives make use of these tents during the wet and cold season, but encamp in the open air in fine weather.
A brown wallabi and a bustard were shot, which enabled us to save some of our meat. We encamped at a fine long water-hole, in the bed of a scrubby creek.
July 15. — Mr. Roper’s illness increased so much that he could not even move his legs, and we were obliged to carry him from one place to another; I therefore, stopt here two days, to allow him to recover a little.
July 17. — We travelled about ten miles south 55 degrees west over an almost uninterrupted box and Melaleuca flat, free from melon-holes and grassy swamps, but full of holes, into which our horses and bullocks sank at every step, which sadly incommoded our wounded companions.
About two miles and a half from our camp, we came to the Caron River (Corners Inlet), which deserved rather the name of a large creek. Its sandy and occasionally rocky bed, was dry; but parallel lines of Nymphaea lagoons extended on both sides. The drooping tea-tree was, as usual, very beautiful. We skirted a tea-tree scrub, without a watercourse, about two miles and a half south of the “Caron,” and passed some undulations, with Grevillea forest. To the south-west of these undulations, we came to a chain of lagoons; from which several white cranes and a flight of the black Ibis rose. Brown shot one of the latter, which, when picked and cleaned for cooking, weighed three pounds and a half; it was very fat, and proved to be excellent eating. Cytherea shells were again found, which showed that the salt water was not very far off.
Charley gave a characteristic description of this country, when he returned from a ride in search of game: “It is a miserable country! nothing to shoot at, nothing to look at, but box trees and anthills.” The box-forest was, however, very open and the grass was good; and the squatter would probably form a very different opinion of its merits. When we were preparing to start in the morning some natives came to look at us; but they kept within the scrub, and at a respectable distance.
July 18. — We travelled south-west by west, over a succession of plains, and of undulating Grevillea forest, which changed into tea-tree thickets, and stunted tea-tree scrubs, on a sandy soil with Salicornia, Binoe’s Trichinium, and several other salt plants. At about five miles from the camp, we came to salt-water inlets, densely surrounded by mangroves, and with sandy flats extending along their banks, encrusted with salt. Charley rode through the dry mangrove scrub, and came on a sandy beach with the broad Ocean before him. We had a long way to go to the east and S.S.E. to get out of the reach of the brackish water, and came at last to grassy swamps, with a good supply of fresh water. We encamped in lat. 17 degrees 41 minutes 52 seconds; about ten miles south by west from our last camp. Charley was remarkably lucky to-day, in catching an emu, and shooting six teals, a brown wallabi of the Mitchell, and a kangaroo with a broad nail at the end of its tail. Brown also shot a sheldrake and a Malacorhynchus membranaceus. During the time that we were travelling to the southward, we had a north-east wind during the forenoon, which in the afternoon veered round to the east and south. Such a change, in a locality like ours, was very remarkable; because, in the neighbourhood of the sea, it was natural to expect a sea breeze, instead of which, however, the breeze was off the land. The cause can only be attributed to a peculiar formation of the country south and south-east of the gulf.
July 19. — We travelled seven miles and a half due south, through a succession of stunted tea-tree thickets and tea-tree forests, in which the little bread-tree of the Lynd was common. We passed two creeks with rocky beds, the one with salt water, and the other fresh. The natives had been digging here, either for shells or roots. We came to a fine river with salt water about two hundred and fifty or three hundred yards broad, with low banks fringed with stunted mangroves. The well beaten foot-path and the numerous fire-places of the natives, proved how populous the country must be. In following a foot-path, we came to some large lagoons, but containing very little water; the natives had been digging in the dry parts, perhaps for the roots of Nymphaea. We encamped at one of them in lat. 17 degrees 49 minutes.
The country along the river was an open box-forest. Natives cooeed around us; and we saw a man and his gin, and farther on two others busily occupied in burning the grass. When Charley came to the lagoon he saw a black boy, who immediately retreated out of sight. Two straw-necked Ibises and seven ducks were shot. Mr. Roper had suffered much by the long rides of the last stages; but his health was improving, notwithstanding. The Nonda tree had disappeared north of the Van Diemen, and the emu here feeds on the fruit of the little Severn tree, which is so excessively bitter, as to impart its quality to the meat, and even to the gizzard and the very marrow.
As we approached the salt water, the various species of Eucalyptus, with the exception of the box, disappeared, and various species of tea-tree (Melaleuca) took their place; they grew even on the sands with incrustations of salt, and gave way only to the mangroves, which were bathed by the brine itself.
We now commenced collecting the gum of the broad-leaved Terminalia of the upper Lynd, and boiled it for Mr. Roper, who liked it very much.
We recognised one of the kites (Milvus isiurus), which had followed us from our last killing camp, down to the head of the gulf.
July 20. — This morning, the bullocks had strayed farther than usual, and, whilst we were waiting for them, some natives came to the rocks opposite our camp; and one of them beckoned me to come over to him. They had been observing our camp last night, for some time after the rising of the moon, and I had caused Brown to discharge his gun, in order to drive them away. They did not, however, trouble us then any farther, but encamped at a neighbouring lagoon; showing evidently that they expected no harm from us. When the bold fellow invited me to come over to him, I hesitated at first, as they might have disturbed us when loading our bullocks; but, as the animals did not appear, I took my reconnoitring bag with some iron nose rings, and made Brown follow me at some distance with the double barrelled gun, and went over to them. After much hesitation, four of them approached me. I made them presents, which gained their confidence, and they began to examine and admire my dress, my watch, &c. It was singular that the natives were always most struck with our hats. We made them understand where we came from and whither we were going, and it seemed that they understood us better than we could understand them. When the bullocks arrived, we returned to our camp, accompanied by the natives, who had lost all fear after the tokens of friendship they had received: and when we started, they joined our train and guided us on their foot-path (Yareka) along the salt water creek (Yappar.) They very much admired our horses and bullocks, and particularly our kangaroo dog. They expressed their admiration by a peculiar smacking or clacking with their tongue or lips. The fine river changed very soon into a salt water creek, coming from south by west. We passed some very beautiful rocky lagoons under the abrupt terminations of low sandstone hills, which were openly timbered at the top, but surrounded by thickets of the little Severn tree. The box-tree grew on the flats which separated the ridges from the creek, with the small bread-tree, the bloodwood and pandanus. As the Mangrove disappeared, the drooping tea-tree took its place. Several rocky bars crossed the “Yappar,” which seemed to be the name by which the natives called it; but only one was broad enough to allow us to cross safely with our horses and bullocks. Here our black friends took their leave of us; they seemed very desirous of showing us their whole country, and of introducing us to their tribe, which was probably very numerous. After crossing the creek in lat. 17 degrees 54 minutes or 55 minutes, and longit. 140 degrees 45 minutes approx., we travelled due west, and came at once into an undulating hilly country. The hills were composed of iron-sandstone; their summits were generally very openly timbered with apple-gum and a new white-barked tree; but their bases were covered with thickets of the little Severn tree. The intervening flats bore either a box-tree with a short trunk branching off immediately above the ground; or a middle-sized tea-tree, with a lanceolate leaf, or thickets of stunted tea-tree. We travelled full thirteen miles without water, or any decided water-course. We passed several dry water-holes shaded by the broad-leaved Terminalia; and saw many Acacias twenty-five and thirty feet in height, with a slender trunk, and an elegant drooping foliage: it very much resembled the Acacia of Expedition Range; but the drooping habit and more distant leaflets of its bipinnate leaves, showed at once their difference. We had travelled five hours and a half, and Mr. Roper rode up to me several times, to complain of his inability to go any farther. I encouraged him, however, and at sunset, we reached a creek, but it was dry; and, although we travelled until dark along its winding course, and saw many deep holes on its flats, and although fresh burnings showed that the natives had been there, yet no water was to be found, and we were obliged to encamp without it. We, therefore, hobbled and tethered all the horses, and watched the bullocks. Charley followed the creek for some distance in search of water, but returned without finding any.
July 21. — When Charley was riding after our hobbled horses, he came, at about two miles N. E., from our camp, to another watercourse, with well filled rocky water-holes. When he brought this welcome intelligence, we immediately loaded our bullocks, and moved to these water-holes; on which it appeared some natives had encamped very lately. The country around was broken and scrubby; but in general it was well-grassed, with a sound soil. Our latitude was 17 degrees 52 minutes 53 seconds.
The wind, during the last two days, was from the southward in the forenoon, and from the westward in the afternoon. The nights were calm and clear, but very cold.
Mr. Calvert had happily recovered so much as to be able to resume his duties; and, notwithstanding the fatigues of the last long stage, Mr. Roper had slightly improved.
July 22. — Last night was beautifully clear and calm, until midnight, when a cold south wind set in, which made us all shiver with cold. I had not felt it so much since the night of Mr. Gilbert’s death, nor since we left the upper Lynd and the table land of the Burdekin. The wind was equally strong in the morning from the south-east, and veered in the course of the day to the south and south-west.
We travelled about eight miles and a half W.N.W. to lat. 17 degrees 50 minutes 28 seconds, at first passing over a scrubby country, which changed into box flats when we approached the waterless creek, at which we encamped on the night of the 20th. To the westward of this creek, box flats alternated with tea-tree thickets; and opened at last into a large plain, which we crossed at its southern termination, where it was three miles broad; it appeared boundless to the northward. Plains of the same character had been dimly seen through the open forest to the northward, for some time before we came to the one we crossed. This was not covered with the stiff grass, nor the dry wind-grass of the plains north of the Staaten; but it bore a fine crop of tender grasses, which rendered them infinitely more valuable for the pasture of horses and cattle. At the west side of the plain, we found a chain of fine long lagoons, surrounded by Polygonum, and apparently well stocked with fish.
Charley and Brown caught an emu, with the assistance of the dog, which became every day more valuable to us.
Since Mr. Gilbert’s death, the arrangements of our camp have been changed. I now select an entirely open space, sufficiently distant from any scrub or thicket, even if we have to go a considerable distance for water. Our pack-saddles are piled in two parallel lines close together, facing that side from which a covered attack of the natives might be expected. We sleep behind this kind of bulwark, which of itself would have been a sufficient barrier against the spears of the natives. Tired as we generally are, we retire early to our couch; Charley usually takes the first watch, from half-past six to nine o’clock; Brown, Calvert, and Phillips follow in rotation; whilst I take that portion of the night most favourable for taking the altitude. John Murphy has his watch from five to six. We generally tethered three horses, and kept one bridled; and, with these arrangements, we slept as securely and soundly as ever; for I felt sure that we had nothing to fear, as long as our tinkling bell-horse, and perhaps a second horse, was moving near us. The natives considered our animals to be large dogs, and had frequently asked whether they would bite (which I affirmed, of course); so that they themselves furnished us with a protection, which otherwise I should not have thought of inventing.
July 23. — When Charley returned this morning with the horses, he told me, that a fine broad salt-water river was again before us. I kept, therefore, at once to the southward, and feared that I should have to go far in that direction before being able to ford it. After travelling about two miles, we came in sight of it. It was broad and deep, with low rocky banks. Salicornia grew along the small gullies into which the tide flowed; some struggling stunted mangroves were on the opposite side; and the plains along the right side of the river were occupied by a scanty vegetation, consisting of Phyllanthus shrubs, scattered box, and the raspberry-jam trees. We had travelled, however, more than a mile on its bank, when we came to a broad rocky barrier or dam extending across the river, over which a small stream of brackish water rippled, and, by means of this, we crossed without difficulty. I now steered again north-west by west, and passed at first some fine shady lagoons, and for the next six miles, over an immense plain, apparently unlimited to the north and north-east. At its west side we again found Polygonum lagoons, which were swarming with ducks, (particularly Malacorhynchus membranaceus), and teal (Querquedula). Box, raspberry-jam trees, and Acacia, (Inga moniliformis, D.C.) formed a shady grove round these lagoons, which continued towards the south-east. Their latitude was 17 degrees 49 minutes 35 seconds. Smoke was visible in every part of the horizon. Charley, Brown, and John, shot fourteen ducks, and increased this number towards evening to forty-six ducks, five recurvirostris, one small red-shank, and two spoon-bills: the latter were particularly fat, and, when ready for the spit, weighed better than three pounds; the black ducks weighed a pound and three-quarters. The Malacorhynchus was small, but in good condition, and the fat seemed to accumulate particularly in the skin of the neck.
The south wind, as usual, visited us again last night, and made it exceedingly cold. This intense cold is probably owing to the large plains, over which the wind passes. We were never so much troubled by swarms of flies, as during the last two days; it was impossible to get rid of them by any means.
July 24. — We travelled about six miles north-west to latitude 17 degrees 48 minutes, and crossed several plains separated by belts of open forest, and came to a fine salt-water river; the banks were steep but not high, and stunted mangroves grew on the water’s edge: the raspberry-jam tree covered the approaches to the river. Salicornia and Binoe’s Trichinium grew round the dry ponds, and along the small water-courses, into which the tide flowed. We found a good crossing place at a fishery of the natives; who — to judge by the number of their tracks through the soft mud, and by the two large camps on both sides of the river, which were covered with fish-bones — must be very numerous. We continued our journey for about a mile and a half from the river, and came to some grassy fresh-water lagoons, although the Salicornias at first made me think they were brackish.
Shortly after starting this morning, we saw a brood of thirteen emus, on the plain which we were about to cross. John, Charley, and the dog pursued them, and killed the old one; which, however, severely wounded poor Spring in the neck. When we came up to them with the train, the twelve young ones had returned in search of their mother; upon which Brown gave chase with Spring, and killed two. This was the greatest sport we ever had had on our journey. Upon making our camp, we cut part of their meat into slices, and dried it on green hide ropes; the bones, heads, and necks were stewed: formerly, we threw the heads, gizzards, and feet away, but necessity had taught us economy; and, upon trial, the feet of young emus was found to be as good and tender as cow-heel. I collected some salt on the dry salt ponds, and added it to our stew; but my companions scarcely cared for it, and almost preferred the soup without it. The addition, however, rendered the soup far more savoury, at least to my palate.
July 25. — We travelled N. 60 degrees W. and, at two miles, reached a salt-water creek, which we crossed at a fishing place of the natives. Soon afterwards we came on other shallow half dry salt-water creeks, the dry parts of which were covered with thick incrustations of salt, some of which we collected. Our bullocks were very seriously bogged in crossing one of them. After passing this intricate meshwork of boggy channels, we entered upon an immense plain, with patches of forest appearing here and there in the distance. It was well grassed, but its sandy patches were covered with Salicornia. This plant abounded particularly where the plain sloped into the system of salt-water creeks; the approaches of which were scattered over with the raspberry-jam tree. A west-north-west and west course led me constantly to salt water; and we saw a large expanse of it in the distance, which Charley, to whose superior sight all deference was paid, considered to be the sea. I passed some low stunted forest, in which a small tree was observed, with stiff pinnate leaves and a round fruit of the size of a small apple, with a rough stone, and a very nauseous rind, at least in its unripe state. To the westward of this belt of forest, we crossed extensive marshes covered with tender, though dry grass, and surrounded by low Ironstone ridges, openly timbered with stunted silver-leaved Ironbark, several white gums, and Hakea lorea, R. Br. in full blossom. We had not seen the latter for a long time, although Grevillea mimosoides, with which it was generally associated, had been our constant companion.
Beyond the ridges, we came again on salt-water creeks, and saw sheets of sand, which looked like the sea from the distance. I turned to the south and even south-east; and, finding no water, we were compelled to encamp without it, after a very long and fatiguing stage. Whilst we were occupied in tethering and hobbling our horses, and eating our supper, Charley, whose watch it was, allowed the bullocks to stray in search of water, and the next morning he was so long absent whilst looking for them, that my exhausted companions became impatient; and I thought it advisable to send them back to our last camp with as many pack-horses as we could muster, myself remaining alone to guard the rest of our property. They found three of the bullocks on the plain, in the most wretched condition, and met Charley returning with four others, which had made an immense round along all the salt-water creeks. My companions, however, were fortunate enough to find a fresh water lagoon about three miles west of our last camp. John and Charley returned after moon-rise, with three pack-horses, and arrived at my camp at a quarter to seven in the morning. I had been in a state of the most anxious suspense about the fate of our bullocks, and was deeply thankful to the Almighty when I heard that they were all safe. I had suffered much from thirst, having been forty-eight hours without water, and which had been increased by a run of two miles after my horse, which attempted to follow the others; and also from a severe pain in the head, produced by the impatient brute’s jumping with its hobbled forefeet on my forehead, as I was lying asleep with the bridle in my hand; but, after drinking three quarts of cold tea which John had brought with him, I soon recovered, and assisted to load our horses with the remainder of our luggage, when we returned to join our companions. The weather was very hot during the day, but a cool breeze moved over the plains, and the night, as usual, was very cold.
Yesterday morning, John and Brown rode down to a hollow to look for water, whilst we were waiting for the bullocks. At their return, they stated that they had come to two salt-water creeks, all full of salt, of which they brought several lumps. I started immediately with Mr. Calvert and Brown, and, sure enough! I found the broad bed of a creek one mass of the purest and whitest salt. Lumps of it had crystallized round stems of grasses which the wind had blown into the water. A little higher up the creek, a large pool of water was full of these lumps, and in less than ten minutes we collected more than sufficient to supply us for the rest of the journey. Ship loads of pure salt could have been collected here in a very short time, requiring nothing but drying and housing, until it could be removed. Its appearance was quite new and wonderful to me, who had been so busily employed in scraping the incrustations full of mud from the dry beds of the creeks.
Yesterday, Brown shot a black-winged pelican; the pectoral muscles and the extremities of which proved good eating; but the inside and the fat were of a nauseously fishy taste. Charley shot a bustard, and John a black ibis. The smoke of the Black-fellows’ fires was seen to the southward. The fresh grass of recent burnings extended over all the plains, and even near our waterle encampment, where its bright verdure made us believe that we approached a fresh water swamp.
July 27. — I stopped at this camp to allow our cattle to recover from their fatigue; intending afterwards to proceed up the river until I came into the zone of fresh water, which we had left, and then to continue my course to the west and north-west. During our stay in this place, Mr. Calvert found a piece of pack canvass, rolled round some utensils of the natives.
July 28. — We travelled about ten miles south by east; but were soon compelled by the salt-water creeks to leave the river, which seemed to come from south-south-east. We crossed several mangrove creeks, one of which contained a weir formed by many rows of dry sticks. These creeks were too boggy to be forded in any part where the tide reached, and we had to follow them up for several miles, until their beds divided into lagoons. Here the drooping tea-tree re-appeared, which I considered to indicate the presence of fresh water, at least for a part of the year. I found them, however, at times, on salt-water rivers, not on the level of the salt water, but high on the banks within the reach of the freshes during the rainy season. In turning again towards the river, we crossed a large plain, from which pillars of smoke were seen rising above the green belt of raspberry-jam trees which covered the approaches to the river. After passing some forest of Moreton Bay ash, bloodwood, clustered box, Acacia (Inga moniliformis), and a few Bauhinias, we came to another salt-water creek, with a sandy bed and deposits of fine salt. Very narrow flats extended along both sides of the creek, and rose by water-torn slopes into large treeless plains. The slopes were, as usual, covered with raspberry-jam trees. I saw smoke to the south-ward, and, on proceeding towards it, we came to a fine lagoon of fresh water in the bed of the creek.
July 29. — We travelled about five miles and a half south-south-east up the creek, and encamped in latitude 18 degrees 2 minutes. The character of the country was the same. When about two miles from our last camp, we came upon a tribe of natives fishing in a water-hole, near which a considerable quantity of large and small fish was heaped. The men made a tremendous noise, which frightened our bullocks, and hastened to the place where their gins were. The latter, among whom was a remarkably tall one, decamped at our approach. A fine shell of Dolium was in their camp, which we passed through. After we had passed by, the natives followed us; upon which I returned towards them, and hung a nose ring on the branch of a small tree. This sign of friendly disposition on my side, emboldened them to approach me and demand a parley. I, therefore, dismounted, and, accompanied by Charley, divided some empty tin canisters among them, with which they seemed highly satisfied. They were altogether fine men. Three or four old men with grey beards were amongst them; and they introduced a young handsome lad to me, with a net on his head and a quill through his nose, calling him “Yappar.” He was probably a youth of the Yappar tribe who had been sent forward as a messenger to inform them of our having passed that country. Seeing my watch, they pointed to the sun; and appeared to be well acquainted with the use of my gun.
Further up the creek, we again saw some storied gunyas of the natives.
July 30. — We travelled about ten miles west by south, over an immense plain, with here and there a solitary tree, or a small patch of forest. It was full of melon-holes, and much resembled the plains of the Condamine. Salicornia and Binoe’s Trichinium were wanting. At the west side of the plain, a green belt of forest stretched from north to south. Before we entered into it, and into the valley of the creek, along which it extended, we passed some open forest of stunted silver-leaved Ironbark. On the slopes of the plains we met, as usual, the raspberry-jam tree thickets, and on the flats and hollows along the creek, the clustered box; whilst, on the banks of the creek, grew the broad-leaved Terminalia and Acacia (Inga moniliformis). Following the creek up about half a mile, we found a fine rocky water-hole. The rock was a clayey Ironstone.
When entering upon the plain in the morning, we saw two emus on a patch of burnt grass. Brown and Charley gave chase to them; but Brown’s horse stumbled and threw him, and unfortunately broke the stock of the double barrelled fowling piece, and bent the barrels. Spring took hold of the emu, which dragged him to the lagoon we had left, pursued by Charley on foot. The emu plunged into the water, and, having given Spring and Charley a good ducking, made its escape, notwithstanding its lacerated thigh. Three harlequin pigeons, and six rose-breasted cockatoos (Cocatua Eos, Gould.), were shot on the plains.
The weather was delightful; a fine breeze from the east cooled the air.
July 31. — We made about ten miles due west, the latitude of our camp being 18 degrees 6 minutes 42 seconds. After passing some Ironstone ridges, covered with stunted silver-leaved Ironbark, we entered upon a large plain, from which we saw some low ranges to the south, and smoke to the W. 20 degrees S. I followed this course about seven miles; but the smoke was still very distant, and, perceiving a belt of forest to the westward, I took that direction, passed the head of a small creek which went to the southward, crossed some box forest and Ironbark ridges, and came into an open country, with alternating plains and ridges, which, even at the present season, was very pretty, and must, when clothed in the garments of Spring, be very beautiful. The creek which we had met at the east side of the forest, had swept round the ridges, and was now again before us, pursuing a north-west course. A fine plain extended along it, on which I observed Acacia Farnesiana of Darling Downs, the grass of the Isaacs, and several grasses of the Suttor. The holes of the creek were shaded by large Terminalias, and by a white gum, with slightly drooping foliage of a pleasing green colour. We followed the creek down, and soon came again to Ironstone ridges.
I had sent Charley forward to look for water, and, when he joined us again, he told me that there was a water-hole, but that natives, for the greater part gins, were encamped on it. I could not help taking possession of it, as there were none besides, to our knowledge; and our bullocks and horses were fatigued by a long stage. I, therefore, rode up to it alone; the gins had decamped, but a little urchin remained, who was probably asleep when his mother went. He cried bitterly, as he made his way through the high grass, probably in search for his mother. Thinking it prudent to tie an iron ring to his neck, that his parents might see we were peaceably inclined, I caught the little fellow, who threw his stick at me, and defended himself most manfully when I laid hold of him. Having dismissed him with an angry slap on his fat little posteriors, he walked away crying, but keeping hold of the iron ring: his mother came down from the ridge to meet him, laughing loud, and cheering with jokes.
I observed ironstone pebbles, and large pieces of a fine grained flaggy sandstone on the first plains we crossed; the sandstone was excellent to sharpen our knives.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52