Cape Maria — Obliged to Leave a Portion of Our Collection of Natural History — Limmen Bight River — Habits of Water Birds — Native Fish Trap — The Four Archers — The Wickham — The Dog Dies — Immense Number of Ducks and Geese — The Roper — Three Horses Drowned — Obliged to Leave a Portion of My Botanical Collection — More Intercourse with Frienldy Natives, Circumcised — Hodgson’s Creek — The Wilton — Another Horse Drowned — Anxiety About Our Cattle — An Attack on the Camp Frustrated — Boils — Basalt Again — Injurious Effects of the Seeds of an Acacia.
Oct. 1. — The camp was moved forward to the river we had found on the 29th, about thirteen miles north by west from our camp at Sterculia Creek. About a mile from the river, we passed a large swampy lagoon, round which the natives had burned the grass. Several flocks of whistling ducks (Leptotarsis Eytoni, Gould) and many black Ibises were here. We heard the call of the “Glucking bird” every night during the last fortnight, particularly from about 2 to 5 o’clock a.m. I called this river the “Red Kangaroo River;” for, in approaching it, we first saw the Red Forester of Port Essington (Osphanter antilopinus, Gould). The longitude, according to my reckoning, was 136 degrees.
Oct. 2. — We travelled about eleven miles north by west, to lat. 15 degrees 25 minutes 18 seconds, over an undulating country, if possible even worse than that of the last two stages. Low sandy rises were covered with stringy-bark trees and saplings, and the depressions were either thickly beset with different species of Acacia, of Pultanaea, of the broad-stemmed Bossiaea, or formed shallow basins of red ironstone covered and surrounded with tea-tree scrub. On the higher elevations, the Cypress-pine thickets proved even worse than the scrub. We crossed only one sandy little creek, and came, at the end of the stage, to the head of a small Pandanus creek, which improved rapidly, and, a little way down, contained fine Nymphaea ponds. Charley went still farther down, and, in an old camp of the natives, found Cythereas and the head of a crocodile.
It was during this stage, and among the scrub and underwood of the sandy hills, that we first met with Grevillea pungens (R. Br.), a shrub from two to five feet high, with pale-green pinnatifid pungent leaves, and racemes of red flowers. Flagellaria indica, L. was very abundant near the creek; and our bullocks fed heartily upon it: particularly in this most wretched country, where the grass was scanty and hard.
Although the days were exceedingly hot, the air immediately before and after sunrise was most agreeable.
Oct. 3. — We travelled about six miles and a half north by west, over a country equally scrubby as that of the preceding stage. The saplings had been killed by a bush fire, and a hurricane, which must have swept over the country some years ago, had broken and uprooted the larger trees, which lay all to the west and north-west. Since then, saplings had sprung up, and, with the remains of the old trees, formed a most impervious scrubby thicket, through which we could move but very slowly. About a mile from our camp, we crossed a salt-water creek nine or ten yards broad. There was some vine brush, with plenty of Flagellarias, growing along its banks. A little farther, we crossed a freshwater creek, which was larger than the preceding. Both appeared to come from some conspicuous ranges, about six or eight miles to the westward. About five miles farther, we encamped on a sandy creek with fine pools of water.
Oct. 4. — We were obliged to remain here, as the horses, not finding sufficient food in the neighbourhood of the camp, had strayed so far through the scrub, that they were not found before 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when it was too late to proceed.
Oct. 5. — We continued our course north by west, through a similar wretched country, and, at the end of about six miles, came to some hills, on the north side of a broad sandy creek, from which we distinguished the white sands of the sea coast, and the white crest of breakers rolling towards the land. In the bed of the creek as well as on its banks, the back bones of cuttle-fish were numerous. Charley and John went down to the beach, and brought back several living salt-water shells. I proceeded up the creek in a south-west direction, and came, at about three miles, to some pools of good water, with a tolerable supply of young feed. The range we had seen yesterday, was still about eight or ten miles distant, tending from S.S.E. to N.N.W.; it was steep and naked, and was composed of a white rock which proved to be a baked sandstone, nearly resembling quartzite in its homogeneous texture.
Oct. 6. — One of our bullocks had become so weak that he was unable to carry his load; it was, therefore, put on one of our spare horses, which were still in excellent condition. I steered for one of the detached mountains at the northern end of the range, and travelled about twelve miles north-west, before we came to its foot. We had, however, to leave our bullock on the way, as the difficult nature of the country and diarrhoea together had completely exhausted him. Scrub and dense underwood continued over a rather undulating country to the foot of the range, which was itself covered with open forest. We passed through a gap between the last two hills of the range, and Charley and Brown, whom I had sent forward in different directions, and who had both been on the highest hill, stated that they had distinctly seen an island in the sea; which could be no other than that marked Cape Maria in Arrowsmith’s map. They had also seen a large river to the northward, coming from the west; and clearly distinguished large sandy plains extending along it as far as the eye could reach. At the west side of the range, we soon came to a small salt-water creek with small sandy and sometimes boggy Salicornia plains, surrounded with the scrubby salt-water tea-tree, which possessed an odour very much resembling that of a Blackfellow. We proceeded about six miles to the southward, when the country became more open, with an abundance of fine young feed for our horses and cattle. The water was slightly brackish, and, strange enough, it became more so the higher we went up the creek.
Whilst we were at our last camp, Charley met a long file of native women returning, with their dillies and baskets full of shell fish, to the range; near which, very probably, fresh water existed. We saw their numerous tracks, and a footpath leading to the river; and heard their cooees round our present camp, which may have interfered with one of their camping places. Our lat. was 15 degrees 14 minutes.
Oct. 7. — John and Charley went back to fetch the bullock, and, in the mean time, I occupied myself in examining our packs, in order to dispense with such things as were least necessary; for, with an additional weight of 130 pounds of dried meat and hide, our pack bullocks were overloaded, and it was now imperative upon me to travel as lightly as possible. Thus I parted with my paper for drying plants, with my specimens of wood, with a small collection of rocks, made by Mr. Gilbert, and with all the duplicates of our zoological specimens. Necessity alone, which compelled me to take this step, reconciled me to the loss.
Our bullock came in during the afternoon, and was immediately killed, skinned, and quartered.
Oct. 8. — We cut the meat into slices, and put them out to dry.
Oct. 9. — I went with Brown to examine the country along the river, which I called “Limmen Bight River;” from its disemboguing into Limmen Bight. Charley had been at the upper part of the creek on which we were encamped, and found it running and fresh; which made me believe, that those pools of very brackish water we had previously seen, belonged to a different watercourse. I rode with Brown to the westward, over a succession of ironstone ridges covered with stringy-bark scrub. These ridges formed steep headlands into the broad flat valley of the river. Along the valley, bare sandy and boggy plains alternated with tea-tree thickets and mangrove swamps, in one of which our horses got deeply bogged. After five miles we came on a large piece of salt water, which, according to Brown, was a tributary creek of the river. It flowed between low banks fringed with tea-trees. We followed a foot-path of the natives, who seemed very numerous, which led towards another range west by south; and crossed several tea-tree creeks, Pandanus groves, and swamps full of a high blady grass. We observed some springs, with but little water however, though densely surrounded with ferns (Osmunda). After about seven miles, we were stopped by a fern swamp full of fine box-trees, with a thick jungle of high stiff grasses and ferns (Blechnum). A small running creek formed its outlet, and contained a chain of deep ponds covered with Nymphaeas, and surrounded with Typha (bull-rush), the youngest part of the leaves of which is very tolerable eating. Large swarms of ducks (Leptotarsis Eytoni, Gould), rose with their peculiar whistling noise, at our approach.
Oct. 10. — I moved my camp to the chain of lagoons, which we found yesterday; and our horses and cattle enjoyed the fine feed. The largest hill of the range to the westward, bore south-west from our camp. A species of Hibiscus with large pink flowers, but small insignificant leaves, and another small malvaceous shrub with white flowers grew round the camp.
Oct. 11. — Last night we saw long flights of geese (Anseranas melanoleuca, Gould) and swarms of ducks, passing our camp from west to east; which made us very naturally suppose that large lagoons of fresh water existed at the head of the fern swamp, of which our little Typha brook formed the outlet. Brown and Charley were very desirous of getting some of these geese, and concocted a plan either to induce me to follow the brook up, or to stop me altogether. Not knowing their intentions, I sent Brown after the cattle, and Charley to find a crossing place. They met, however, at those supposed lagoons, and amused themselves in shooting geese, and (after having probably enjoyed an off-hand dinner of roasted goose) they returned at 2 o’clock, complaining of course, that the cattle had strayed very far. Though I had been very much annoyed by waiting so long, I was pleased in finding that they had shot four geese. In order, however, to show my sable companions that their secret manoeuvres only tended to increase their own labour, I ordered the bullocks to be loaded immediately they arrived, and proceeded to get out of this intricate country as soon as possible. We travelled west by north, over a tolerable open country, leaving the salt-water plains to the right, and crossed several well beaten foot-paths, and a sort of play ground on which the natives seem to have danced and crawled about, as it bore the impressions of both hands and feet. After four miles, we came to a broad salt-water creek, the high banks of which were covered with numerous heaps of Cytherea shells, which had lived in the mud of the creek. We followed it up about a mile, when it ended in a hollow coming from the range. After passing this, our course was intercepted by another large creek, which compelled us to go to the south and even to south-east along the western side of the range which we had seen from Typha brook. We followed it up about two miles, and found some ponds of slightly brackish water, in which, however, Nymphaea grew, and several small freshwater fish lived; and near them the track of a crocodile was observed by Charley. Open country alternated with thick Acacia underwood along this creek, and its grass was still coarse and blady. Many gullies came down from the range; which was composed of baked sandstone, with not very distinct stratification, and irregularly broken blocks. At a lagoon which we passed in the commencement of the stage, Brown shot three more geese; thus disclosing to us the haunts of those numerous flights we had seen. We roasted four of our geese for dinner, and they formed by far the most delicious dish our expedition had offered: the others were stewed for the next breakfast; and they were equally good: though a whole night’s stewing might have robbed them of a little of their rich flavour.
We had frequently observed the flight of waterfowl, at the commencement of night, and a little before dawn. At Cycas Creek, Spoonbills, Ibises, and Whistling ducks came at night fall to the fresh water, and left it in the morning. The geese flew past at night from an open lagoon to the westward, to more confined ponds at the head of the fern swamp to the eastward. It would appear that they prefer a sheltered situation for the night, and large open sheets of water by day.
The nights were usually dewy, in consequence of the moist sea breeze, which blew almost the whole day from east and E. N. E., and set in frequently as early as 9 or 10 o’clock. The morning, from about 7 o’clock till the sea breeze set in, was exceedingly hot; but, before sunrise, it was most delightful; the myriads of flies which crowded round us during the day, and the mosquitoes which annoyed us after sunset, were then benumbed; and although the sun rose with the full intensity of its heat, it was not so inconvenient in the early morn as to induce us to look for shade. Not a breath was stirring; and the notes of the laughing jackass and some few small birds, alone showed that there were other beings enjoying the beauty of this august solitude.
Oct. 12. — We proceeded three or four miles up the creek, and found a crossing at a fishing place of the natives; in an old camping place near this fishery, I saw a long funnel-shaped fish trap, made of the flexible stem of Flagellaria. Hence we travelled about north-west by west, towards a fine mountain range, which yesterday bore W. N. W. After six miles of undulating scrubby country, and broad-leaved tea-tree forest, we arrived at a creek with a fine pool of water, which, notwithstanding its Nymphaeas, Charas, and Typhas, was slightly brackish and bitter. Limnaea, and two species of Melania, were found in it; the one species, with a long sharp spire, had been found in a reedy brook, at the upper Burdekin. Limmen Bight river was not half a mile from our camp; and I now hoped that we should soon be out of the system of salt-water creeks joining it from the southward.
Our lat. was 15 degrees 13 minutes (?) and longitude, according to reckoning, 135 degrees 30 minutes. We had left the stiff grasses of the coast, and the pasture was fast improving. John Murphy shot the Torres Straits pigeon (Carpophaga luctuosa, Gould) which we had once before observed; but it was exceedingly shy and rare, and only seen in pairs.
Oct. 13. — We travelled about sixteen miles to the southward, to lat. 15 degrees 29 minutes 10 seconds, following the river, and heading several salt water creeks, which prolonged our journey very much. Stony hills and ranges frequently approached the river, and rendered our travelling difficult and fatiguing. They were composed of baked sandstone, and white and blue indurated clay, the strata of which dipped at a very small angle to the southward, and the strike from east to west. The flats between the ranges, and along the river and creeks, were openly timbered and well grassed; and, at the head of a salt-water creek, we found deep ponds of constant water covered with Nymphaeas, and surrounded with Typhas and drooping tea-trees. Towards the end of the stage, where the high rocky hills formed deep declivities into the river, we had to ascend them, and to travel along their summits. A good sized creek joined the river at their southern slopes, which, though salt below, contained some good pools of fresh water higher up. To the southward of this creek, there were four very remarkable flat-topped cones of sandstone, which appeared like a plateau cut into four detached masses. These I called the “Four Archers,” in honour of my excellent hosts Messrs. David, Charles, John, and Thomas Archer of Moreton Bay. From the eastern one, I enjoyed a fine view, and distinguished distant ranges broken by a gap to the southward, and detached long-stretched ridges to the westward.
I went with Charley to examine the river, in order to find a fording place, in which we succeeded at about four miles south-west from our camp, in lat. 15 degrees 30 minutes 31 seconds; where a stony bar crossed the salt water, leaving a small channel in which the tide formed a shallow stream. The bed of the river became very broad and sandy, covered with shrubs like those of the Lynd and most of the other rivers we had passed.
Oct. 14. — We crossed the river, and travelled about ten miles north-west, over a succession of stony ridges, separated by fine open tea-tree and box flats. Some fine shallow sandy watercourses, quite dry, went down to the north by east. At the end of the stage, the uniform colour of the country was interrupted by the green line of a river-bed, so pleasing and so refreshing to the eye, with the rich verdure of its drooping tea-trees and myrtles, interspersed with the silver leaves of Acacia neurocarpa and Grevillea chrysodendron. The river was formed by two broad sandy beds, separated by a high bergue, and was full 700 yards from bank to bank. It contained large detached water-pools fringed with Pandanus, which were very probably connected by a stream filtering through the sands, I called it the “Wickham,” in honour of Captain Wickham, R.N. of Moreton Bay, who had recently commanded a survey of the north-west coast of New Holland, in H.M.S. Beagle.
The red wallabi (Halmaturus agilis, Gould) was very numerous along the gullies of the river: and we started a flock of red foresters (Osphranter Antilopinus, Gould) out of a patch of scrub on the brow of a stony hill. Charley and Brown, accompanied by Spring, pursued them, and killed a fine young male. I had promised my companions that, whenever a kangaroo was caught again, it should be roasted whole, whatever its size might be. We had consequently a roasted Red Forester for supper, and we never rolled ourselves up in our blankets more satisfied with a repast.
Brown found a Eugenia, with large white blossoms and large coriaceous oblong lanceolate shining leaves; it was a tree of thirty or forty feet high, with a grey bark, and a good hard wood. It was growing at the upper part of the creek on which we were encamped last night. Its fruit was two inches in diameter, with longitudinal ribs, scarlet red, and very eatable when dropt from the tree, but when gathered on the tree, it had an aromatic pungency. This tree was very common along the well watered creeks of Arnheim’s Land; particularly along the South Alligator River, and at Raffles Bay. Brown brought from the same locality a Melastoma, which, according to him, was a shrub, three or four feet high.
Oct. 15. — We continued our journey in a north-west direction. The first five or six miles was over a succession of very lightly timbered box-flats, alternating with small plains. They were bounded by scrubs and ranges, which we crossed, and from the top of one obtained the view of a remarkable system of parallel ranges, all steep mountain walls of a white colour indicating the nature of their rock, and separated from each other by perfectly level flats covered with broad leaved tea-tree forest. At their foot a richer tree vegetation existed, principally composed of the leguminous Ironbark, Blood-wood, and Pandanus. The darker verdure of these trees, which we also observed at the foot of the most distant range, made us believe that a river was near it. After travelling about five miles over a flat, we crossed a broad sandy creek, which we did not follow, although beaten foot-paths of the natives led down it, as we firmly believed that a river was before us. At five miles farther, we came to the foot of the range, which rose suddenly from the level country, and, although a small watercourse existed in the tea-tree flat, our anticipated river proved to be like the Dutchman’s “Cape Fly-away.” In ascending the range, our poor bullocks suffered severely, and, when we reached the summit, they stood panting with their tongues hanging out of their mouths; I therefore halted a short time, to allow them to recover. The east slopes of all these ranges were steep, but to the north-west they were very gentle, and covered with stringy-bark forest. A long succession of similar ranges was seen to the north-west. A small watercourse brought us to a creek containing large but dry water-holes. Finding that it turned to the eastward, round the range we had just crossed, and that it almost disappeared in the scrubby tea-tree flats, we turned to the northward, passed several more ridges, and encamped long after sunset, near a dry but promising creek, without water. I immediately sent Mr. Calvert and Charley down the creek, in search of water, and they returned, towards midnight, with the welcome intelligence that they had found some fine pools.
I had been absent during the latter part of the stage, and most unfortunately our kangaroo dog had been left behind, whereby this most valuable animal was lost. He had been the means of our obtaining so much, and indeed the greatest part of our game, that his loss was severely felt by us.
Our lat. was 15 degrees 10 minutes.
Oct. 16. — We travelled down to the water, about four miles north-east along the creek, which was covered with Cypress pine thickets, and tea-tree scrub. Mr. Calvert and Charley returned on our tracks to endeavour to recover our poor dog. They found him almost dead — stretched out in the deep cattle track, which he seemed not to have quitted, even to find a shady place. They brought him to the camp; and I put his whole body, with the exception of his head, under water, and bled him; he lived six hours longer, when he began to bark, as if raving, and to move his legs slightly, as dogs do when dreaming. It seemed that he died of inflammation of the brain. If we become naturally fond of animals which share with us the comforts of life, and become the cheerful companions of our leisure hours, our attachment becomes still greater when they not only share in our sufferings, but aid greatly to alleviate them. The little world of animated beings, with which we moved on, was constantly before our eyes; and each individual the constant object of our attention. We became so familiar with every one of them, that the slightest change in their walk, or in their looks was readily observed; and the state of their health anxiously interpreted. Every bullock, every horse, had its peculiar character, its well defined individuality, which formed the frequent topic of our conversation, in which we all most willingly joined, because every one was equally interested. My readers will, therefore, easily understand my deep distress when I saw myself, on recent occasions, compelled to kill two of our favourite bullocks long before their time; and when our poor dog died, which we all had fondly hoped to bring to the end of our journey. Brown had, either by accident, or influenced by an unconscious feeling of melancholy, fallen into the habit of almost constantly whistling and humming the soldier’s death march, which had such a singularly depressing effect on my feelings, that I was frequently constrained to request him to change his tune.
Oct. 17. — We travelled about eighteen miles N. N. W. over an undulating country, in which Cypress-pine thickets alternated with scrubby stringy-bark forest, and some tea-tree flats. After seven miles, we crossed a large dry creek, which went to the eastward; and, eight miles further, we entered upon a fine box-flat, with hills to the north and north-west. We followed a very promising Pandanus creek, in which the presence of Typha (flag, or bulrush) and a new species of Sesbania indicated the recent presence of water. Mr. Roper having ascended one of the hills, and seen a green valley with a rich vegetation about three miles to the northward, we in consequence left the creek, which turned to the eastward; and, after passing several miles of most wretched scrub, came into an open country, with scattered groves of trees. As the sun was setting, I resolved upon encamping in an open plain, although without water, except what we carried in our large stew-pot. Charley, who had been sent forward, had not yet joined us; I, therefore, ordered two guns to be fired, to let him know where we were; he immediately answered us from a short distance, where he lighted up a cheerful fire. After some time, during which misfortune and carelessness had played us the trick of upsetting our waterpot, Charley arrived with the welcome news that he had found some water-holes in a small creek; we therefore, at moonrise, again saddled our tired animals, and repaired thither.
The day had been exceedingly hot; but the passing shadows of cumuli which formed in the afternoon, occasionally afforded us a delightful relief. The sea breeze was strong, particularly towards evening; but the dense scrub and forest kept it from us during the day.
Oct. 18. — I stopped at the water-holes, to allow our cattle to recover. It was a lovely place. The country around us was very open, and agreeably diversified by small clusters of the raspberry-jam tree. Salicornia and Binoe’s Trichinium indicated the neighbourhood of salt water; but the grass was good and mostly young. The creek was shaded by drooping tea-trees and the broad-leaved Terminalia, which also grew scattered over the flats. The water-hole on which we were encamped was about four feet deep, and contained a great number of guard-fish, which, in the morning, kept incessantly springing from the water. A small broad fish with sharp belly, and a long ray behind the dorsal fin, was also caught. It was highly amusing to watch the swarms of little finches, of doves, and Ptilotis, which came during the heat of the day to drink from our water hole. Grallina australis, Crows, Kites, Bronze-winged and Harlequin pigeons, (Peristera histrionica, Gould), the Rose cockatoo (Cocatua Eos), the Betshiregah (Melopsittacus undulatus), and Trichoglossus versicolor, Gould, were also visitors to the water-hole, or were seen on the plains. The day was oppressively hot; and neither the drooping tea-trees, nor our blankets, of which we had made a shade, afforded us much relief Clouds gathered, however, in the afternoon, and we had a few drops of rain in the course of the night and following morning. Charley and John had gone out on horseback to obtain some emus, with which the country seemed to abound; they returned, however, at night, without any emus, but brought in about twenty-two whistling and black ducks, one goose and several waders, which they had obtained at a lagoon which was several miles in length, and varied from 50 to 300 yards in breadth, covered with Nymphaeas, and fringed with a dense vegetation; it was surrounded by fine pasture. Never, as they described, had they seen so many ducks and geese together; when they rose, their numbers darkened the air, and their noise was deafening. They had observed a wooden post, cut with an iron tomahawk, rammed in the ground and propped with several large stones; which seemed to be the work either of white men or Malays.
Oct. 19. — We travelled about four miles north 30 degrees west, over plains and an open undulating box and raspberry jam tree country, to the lagoon which my companions had discovered. They had not exaggerated their account, neither of the beauty of the country, nor of the size of the lagoon, nor of the exuberance of animal life on it. It was indeed quite a novel spectacle to us to see such myriads of ducks and geese rise and fly up and down the lagoon, as we travelled along. Casuarinas, drooping tea-trees, the mangrove myrtle (Stravadium) and raspberry-jam trees, grew either on the flats, or formed open groves along the banks; and Polygonums covered the water’s edge. When we came to the end of the lagoon, which was bounded on the left by a stony rise of flaggy Psammite, I observed a green belt of trees scarcely 300 yards to the northward; and on riding towards it, I found myself on the banks of a large fresh water river from 500 to 800 yards broad, with not very high banks, densely covered with salt water Hibiscus (Paritium), with a small rubiaceous tree (Pavetta?), which filled the air with the jasmine-like fragrance of its blossoms; with Flagellaria, water Pandanus, and a leguminous climber with bunches of large green blossoms (Mucuna? — D.C. Pr.). The water was slightly muddy, as if a fresh had come down the river; and the tide rose full three feet. It was the river Mr. Roper had seen two days before, and I named it after him, as I had promised to do. The country along its left bank was well-grassed and openly timbered with box; hills were on the opposite side. Its course was from north-west to south-east; but this seemed to be rather local. Natives seemed to be numerous; for their foot-path along the lagoon was well beaten; we passed several of their fisheries, and observed long fishtraps made of Flagellaria (rattan). All the cuts on various trees were made with an iron tomahawk. Natives, crows, and kites were always the indications of a good country. Charley, Brown, and John, who had been left at the lagoon to shoot waterfowl, returned with twenty ducks for luncheon, and went out again during the afternoon to procure more for dinner and breakfast. They succeeded in shooting thirty-one ducks and two geese; so that we had fifty-one ducks and two geese for the three meals; and they were all eaten, with the exception of a few bony remains, which some of the party carried to the next camp. If we had had a hundred ducks, they would have been eaten quite as readily, if such an extravagant feast had been permitted.
Oct. 20. — We travelled about ten miles N. 60 degrees W. up the river; and I was fortunate enough to determine my latitude by an observation of Alpheratz, which cloudy nights had prevented me from obtaining since the 15th October: it was 14 degrees 47 minutes; my longitude, according to reckoning, was 135 degrees 10 minutes. The river continued equally broad, with a fine open box-tree country on its right, whilst a range of hills with several bluff breaks extended along the left side, interrupted occasionally by some openings of small creeks, and, in one place, by the valley of a small river, which Brown saw joining it from the northward.
We followed a broad foot-path of the natives, which cut the angles of the river, and passed along several large lagoons at the foot of some low sandstone ridges, that occasionally approached the river, which was joined by some brushy creeks, one of which was of a considerable size. The box-trees were of stunted growth, but the raspberry-jam trees were still abundant and larger than usual. The grass was plentiful, but old and dry. The lagoons were covered with ducks, geese, and pelicans; and native companions were strutting about on the patches of fresh burnt grass. Brown pursued two emus, and caught one of them. Wallabies were numerous; two bustards, and even a crocodile were seen. A small lizard or newt was observed on the mud between high and low water marks. The green ant of the Lynd inhabited the shady trees of the brushy banks; and, in the forest, brick coloured and black ants were numerous and troublesome.
A strong easterly wind was blowing during the day, and no cumuli formed.
Camps of the natives were frequent, and fresh burnings and fresh mussel-shells showed that they had been lately at the lagoons. But, on the river, the camps were older and not so numerous, and no burnings had lately taken place.
Oct. 21. — After waiting a very long time for our horses, Charley came and brought the dismal tidings that three of the most vigorous of them were drowned, at the junction of the creek with the river. Although the banks of the Roper were steep and muddy, the large creek we had passed was scarcely two miles distant, and offered an easy approach to the water on a rocky bed. It remained, therefore, inexplicable to us how the accident could have happened.
This disastrous event staggered me, and for a moment I turned almost giddy; but there was no help. Unable to increase the load of my bullocks, I was obliged to leave that part of my botanical collection which had been carried by one of the horses. The fruit of many a day’s work was consigned to the fire; and tears were in my eyes when I saw one of the most interesting results of my expedition vanish into smoke. Mr. Gilbert’s small collection of plants, which I had carefully retained hitherto, shared the same fate. But they were of less value, as they were mostly in a bad state of preservation, from being too much crowded. My collection had the great advantage of being almost complete in blossoms, fruit, and seed, which I was enabled to ensure in consequence of the long duration of our expedition, and of the comparative uniformity of the Australian Flora.
I left the unfortunate place, and travelled about six miles up the river, which kept a W. N. W. course. Open box-flats were bounded by ridges two or three miles from the river. At the opposite side, ranges were seen with some rocky bluff hills. Charley shot a bustard.
Oct. 22. — We travelled about seven miles to the westward, when we came to a broad creek, which compelled us to go five miles to the southward in order to cross it. The country was still a succession of box-flats along the river, with rocky barren ranges in the distance; the latter, however, approached so near the creek, that we found it difficult to pass along. About two miles and a-half from our last camp, we had to cross a running Casuarina brook, which, though very small, was so boggy, that two of our horses were again in great danger of being lost.
Last night we heard the calls of natives at the opposite side of the river. As soon as they saw us, they crossed the river, and came pretty close to us: the discharge of our guns, however, kept them at a distance. Several of our party, during their watches saw them moving with fire sticks on the other side of the river. In the morning, three of them came boldly up; so I went to them with some presents, and they became very friendly indeed. Presents were exchanged; and they invited us in the most pressing manner to accompany them to their camp; and were evidently disappointed in finding that we could not swim. I gave them horse-nails, and they asked me to bend them into fish-hooks. They had doubtless seen or heard of white people before; but of our horses and bullocks they were much afraid, and asked me whether they could bite: they accompanied me, however, pretty near to the camp; but kept their arms round my waist, to be sure of not being bitten. As we proceeded on our journey, they followed us for a long distance, and offered Charley and Brown a gin, if we would go to their camp. They were circumcised, and two front teeth had been knocked out; they had horizontal scars on their chests.
A great number of flying-foxes (Pteropus) were in the river brush, and Brown shot three of them.
The days were cloudless and very hot; the east wind was strong during the afternoon; the nights very cool and pleasant, but without dew.
Oct. 23. — This morning, our sable friends came again to our camp; they made their approach known by a slight whistling. We invited them to come nearer, and many new faces were introduced to us. Of three young people, one was called “Gnangball,” the other “Odall,” and a boy “Nmamball.” These three names were given to many others, and probably distinguished three different tribes or families. We gave them sheets of paper on which the figures of kangaroos, emus, and fish were drawn. When we were loading our bullocks, a whole mob came up with great noise; and one of them danced and jumped about with incessant vociferations, flourishing his wommerah, crowned with a tuft of opossum’s hair, like a Drum-major; I put a broken girth round his waist, which seemed to tranquillize him wonderfully. In drinking water out of my pot, I offered it to my friend; but he hesitated to follow my example, until he applied to an elderly, bearded, serious-looking man, who sipped of it, and then my friend ventured to taste its contents. When we started on our journey they followed us with many remarks for a very long way, until we came again to the river; when their appetites probably compelled them to return to their camp; but not before inviting us to accompany them thither, and giving us to understand that they had plenty to eat. On leaving us, they pointed down the river, and repeated the word “Aroma!” “Aroma!”
About three miles to the westward of our camp, the water ceased, and the creek formed a dry sandy bed, covered with Casuarinas; it was joined by two Pandanus creeks with steep deep channels, and well provided with water-holes. I had to go down the creek four miles, in order to avoid some steep rocky ranges; but we turned afterwards to the northward, and travelled, over an open well-grassed country, to the river: it was, however, full of melon-holes and very stony. Ranges and high rocky ridges were seen in every direction. From one of them a pillar of smoke was rising, like a signal fire. The extensive burnings, and the number of our sable visitors, showed that the country was well inhabited. About four or five miles from the last creek — which I shall call “Hodgson’s Creek,” in honour of Pemberton Hodgson, Esq. — the river divided into two almost equal branches, one coming from the northward, and the other from north-west by west. I named the river from the northward the “Wilton,” after the Rev. Mr. Wilton of Newcastle, who kindly favoured my expedition. Its latitude was about 14 degrees 45 minutes.
About three miles above the junction of the Wilton with the Roper, we again encamped on the steep banks of the latter, at a spot which I thought would allow our horses and cattle to approach in safety. One unfortunate animal, however, slipped into the water, and every effort to get him out was made in vain. Its constant attempts to scramble up the boggy banks only tired it, and as night advanced, we had to wait until the tide rose again. I watched by him the whole night, and at high water we succeeded in getting him out of the water; but he began to plunge again, and unfortunately broke the tether which had kept his forequarters up, and fell back into the river. At last I found a tolerable landing place about fifty yards higher up; but, as I was swimming with him up to it, and trying to lead him clear of the stumps of trees, he became entangled in the tether rope by which I guided him, rolled over, and was immediately drowned. This reduced our number of horses to nine. When the other horses were brought to the camp, another rushed into the water, but I swam with him at once to the good landing place, and we succeeded in saving him.
I. started late on the 24th Oct. and travelled over a country similar to that of our late stages. About a mile up the river, a ledge of rocks crossed the bed, over which a considerable stream formed a small fall and rapids; above this was a fine sheet of water, overhung with shady tea-trees, Casuarinas, and Pandanus, which made this crossing place extremely lovely. My grief at having lost an excellent horse which I had ridden for the greatest part of the journey, was increased by now knowing that one mile more travelling would have saved him to me. The northern banks of the river were at first open: but they soon became bounded either by isolated, or chains of, rocky hills. These hills separated the valley of the river from an open well grassed, but extremely stony back country; from which creeks carried the water down to the river, through gaps and openings between the hills. To the northward of this back country, other ranges ran parallel to those along the river, from northwest by west to south-east by east, and shorter ranges joined them occasionally. The whole country was composed of sandstone and indurated clay, with very distinct stratification. The layers of clay were white, grey, or slate-coloured; with many shining leaflets of mica.
The days were very hot; the east-breeze very strong during the afternoon, and particularly towards sunset; the nights were warm, clear, and without dew.
Some sheldrakes and wallabies were seen, and a bustard was shot by Charley: large fish were splashing in the water. I gathered the large vine-bean, with green blossoms, which had thick pods containing from one to five seeds. Its hard covering, by roasting, became very brittle; and I pounded the cotyledons, and boiled them for several hours. This softened them, and made a sort of porridge, which, at all events, was very satisfying. Judging by the appearance of large stones which were frequently found, in the camps of the natives, still covered with the mealy particles of some seed which had been pounded upon them, it would seem that the natives used the same bean; but I could not ascertain how they were able to soften them. It did not make good coffee; and, when boiled in an iron pot, the water became very dark. Our latitude was 14 degrees 44 seconds.
Oct. 25. — We travelled about seven miles northwest to lat. 14 degrees 39 minutes, following the river in its various windings over more than twelve miles. The country was well grassed, and openly timbered with white gum, box, and leguminous Ironbark; but occasionally broken by deep gullies, which were fringed with the articulate-podded Acacia (Inga moniliformis), and the broad-leaved Terminalia. Several ranges with rocky slopes approached or bounded the river; and three remarkable bluff hills, two on its right, and one on its left side, formed characteristic landmarks. Their summits were surrounded by perpendicular precipices, from the foot of which steep rocky, but uniform slopes went down to the level country. Thick high reeds covered the approaches of the river, and the lower parts of the gullies; and noble Casuarinas rivalled the drooping tea-tree in beauty. Grevillea pungens (R. Br.) was observed on the hills; it is, therefore, not particular to the coast scrub. A species of native tobacco, with smaller blossoms than that of the Hunter, and with its radical leaves spreading close over the ground, was growing on the open spaces round the water-holes. The river was well supplied with long reaches of water connected by a small stream.
In the morning, we had a pleasant westerly breeze, which veered to the north-west and northward; the regular sea breeze set in from the northeast in the afternoon; the night was hot and sultry; but the weather during the day was cooler than that we experienced for the last week.
The red wallabies were very numerous, particularly in the kind of jungle along the river. Sheldrakes and Ibises abounded at the water-holes. Charley shot two wallabies.
Oct. 26. — We enjoyed most gratefully our two wallabies, which were stewed, and to which I had added some green hide to render the broth more substantial. This hide was almost five months old, and had served as a case to my botanical collection, which, unfortunately, I had been compelled to leave behind. It required, however, a little longer stewing than a fresh hide, and was rather tasteless.
We accomplished about eight miles in a straight line to the westward, but went over a much greater extent of ground; as I mistook a large though dry creek from the northward for the river, and followed it about four miles; when, finding my mistake, I crossed about four or five miles of rich treeless plains, and reached the river again at the foot of a long high range to the westward. Other ranges appeared to the eastward and northward. As we approached the river, we passed some sandstone hills covered with a dense scrub exactly like that of the sea coast south of Limmen Bight. It was principally composed of several species of Acacia of Grevillea chrysodendron (R. Br.), and of the Bossiaea with broad stem. All along the outside of the scrub, we observed old camps of the natives; several of whom were seen crossing the plains.
The bed of the river became excessively wild: the Pandanus channel was still full of water, and running; but the dry bed was full of rocky water-holes or chains of them, composed of, and scattered over with blocks of sandstone; and overgrown with most magnificent Casuarinas, with tea-trees and flooded-gum (or its representative).
Large camps of the natives were full of the shells of lately roasted mussels (Unios), the posterior part of which appeared to be much broader, and more sinuated, than those we had hitherto seen. John and Charley found the head of an alligator; and the former caught the broad-scaled fish of the Mackenzie (Osteoglossum), which weighed four pounds. The mosquitoes, and a little black ant, were very annoying during the warm but slightly dewy night.
As we were slowly winding our way among the loose rocks, Brown’s horse got knocked up, and we were compelled to encamp. After the disasters which had lately befallen us, I became more alive to the chances to which we were exposed, even more so than after Mr. Gilbert’s death; up to which time we had travelled more than a thousand miles, without any great misfortune. At the commencement of our journey, the cooee of my companions, who were driving the bullocks and horses after me, had generally called me back to assist in re-loading one of our restive beasts, or to mend a broken packsaddle, and to look for the scattered straps. This was certainly very disagreeable and fatiguing; but it was rather in consequence of an exuberance of animal spirits, and did not interfere with the hope of a prosperous progress: but, since leaving the Seven Emu River, these calls invariably acquainted me with the failing strength of our poor brutes; and knowing only too well the state of exhaustion in which they were, I was almost constantly expecting to be reminded of it, as I was riding along, which rendered me extremely nervous and restless. The death of our spare horses did not allow us any more to relieve the others by alternate rests, and we became soon aware of their increasing weakness. This was considerably aggravated by the necessity under which we were of keeping two horses tethered near the camp, not only to facilitate the finding of the others in the morning, but to form a defence against a possible attack of the natives.
Oct. 27. — We travelled about seven miles up the river, to lat. 14 degrees 40 minutes in a W.S.W. course: and to long. 134 degrees 16 minutes, according to my reckoning. The range still continued along the right bank of the river; and, at length, when it ceased, another range commenced at the left bank. Here the aspect of the country changed very agreeably. Fine, well grassed plains of moderate size extended along the river, and between its numerous anabranches: for the river divided into several Pandanus channels, either running or with chains of water-holes. These plains were bounded by a range trending east and west, about two or three miles from the left bank of the river. Smoke was seen beyond it. Mr. Roper met and spoke with three natives, who did not appear to be afraid of him. Another of our horses became knocked up, and compelled us to encamp very early in the day, and, as they were all much exhausted, I allowed them to feed at large, without taking the usual precaution of keeping two tethered, in the event of being surprised by the natives. That this was intentionally taken advantage of seemed probable; for, after night-fall, at the commencement of Charley’s watch, four natives sneaked up to the camp, and were preparing to throw their spears, when they were seen by Charley, who immediately gave the alarm. We got up instantly, but they had disappeared, and no one but Charley saw anything of them. I should have been inclined to consider it a hoax, had I not heard their distant cooees as late as 9 o’clock, when I silenced them by the discharge of a gun.
Oct. 28. — We travelled ten miles in a north-west direction, to lat. 14 degrees 33 minutes. When we had followed the green belt of the river near four miles, Charley, who had been sent to shoot some ducks, returned, and reported that we were near the head of the river; and that he had discovered water bubbling out of the ground at the foot of a slight rise. We now followed the direction of some smoke which rose behind a large mountain; passing on our way, over an undulating country clothed with a forest of the broad-leaved tea-tree; and a scrubby flat with large melon-holes fringed with raspberry-jam trees; and through a gap between two high ranges, in which there was a small dry creek that turned to the north-east. From a large Polygonum water-hole which had recently become dry, a swarm of whistling ducks rose, probably scared by our approach. Two bustards were also seen. About three miles farther, we came to a good-sized creek, up which we proceeded until we found a small pool of water, which, after some digging, gave us a good supply. Charley had found a fine pool about four miles higher up.
At this time, I was suffering from a great irritability of the skin, and was covered all over with a prickly heat; the slightest pressure or rubbing produced inflammation and boils, particularly about the knees: and Mr. Phillips suffered in the same way, at the arm and elbow. Mr. Gilbert had been subject to these boils when we were travelling at Peak Range, and along the Isaacs; but, since that time until now, none of the party had been inconvenienced by them.
Oct. 29. — We travelled about twelve miles N.N.W., and followed the creek about four miles, to allow our cattle and horses to drink freely at the water-hole discovered by Charley the day before. We passed some plains, and through a broad-leaved tea-tree forest, and then skirted a thick scrub, which covered the approaches of a range. After seven miles travelling, we came to an immense flat lightly timbered with box and broad-leaved tea-tree, and surrounded on every side, except the S.S.E., by high ranges, protruding like headlands into the plain. Upon passing them afterwards, I found them to form undulating chains of baked sandstone hills.
We crossed several small watercourses going to the north-east and east, and came to a considerable creek, near which basalt cropped out. This was the first igneous rock of more recent date, that we had met with since leaving Separation Creek, and the upper Lynd. Even my Blackfellows recognized at once the rock of Darling Downs; and we hailed it as the harbinger of western waters. The whole country up the creek had been lately burned, which induced me to follow it towards its head, in hope of finding the place where the natives had procured water. The bed was filled with basaltic boulders, as were also its dry holes, from one of which the Grallina australis rose, and for the first time deceived our expectations. In a wider part of the valley, I observed wells of the natives dug in the creek, which we enlarged in the hope of their yielding a sufficient supply of water; but in this we were mistaken, as barely enough was obtained to quench our own thirst. Charley, however, in a search up the creek, and after a long ramble, found a small pond and a spring in a narrow mountain gorge, to which he had been guided by a beaten track of Wallurus. Our horses and bullocks, which were crowding impatiently round the little hole we had dug, were immediately harnessed, and we proceeded about three miles in a north direction to the head of a rocky valley, where our cattle were enabled at least to drink, but all the grass had been consumed by a late bush fire.
The Acacia of Expedition Range was plentiful in the large flat and at the wells of the natives, and formed a fine tree: its seeds, however, were shed, and had been roasted by the late bush fire. Mr. Phillips (who was always desirous of discovering substitutes for coffee, and to whom we owed the use of the river-bean of the Mackenzie) collected these seeds, and pounded and boiled them, and gave me the fluid to taste, which I found so peculiarly bitter that I cautioned him against drinking it; his natural desire, however, for warm beverage, which had been increased by a whole day’s travelling, induced him to swallow about a pint of it, which made him very sick, and produced violent vomiting and purging during the whole afternoon and night. The little I had tasted acted on me as a lenient purgative, but Mr. Calvert, who had taken rather more than I did, felt very sick. The gum of this Acacia was slightly acid, and very harmless.
Oct. 30. — We travelled about four miles to the N.W. and N.N.W. along the summit of rocky ranges, when a large valley bounded by high ranges to the north and north-west, burst upon us. We descended into it by a steep and rocky basaltic slope, and followed a creek which held a very tortuous course to the south-west; we had travelled along it about seven miles, when Charley was attracted by a green belt of trees, and by the late burnings of the natives, and discovered a running rivulet, coming from the N.N.W. It was fringed with Pandanus, Acacia (Inga monilifornis) and with an arborescent Vitex, with ternate leaves. The flats were well grassed, and lightly timbered with box and white-gum. On the flat summit of the sandstone ranges, we observed the Melaleuca gum, the rusty gum, the mountain Acacia, and Persoonia falcata, (R. Br.) The basaltic rock was apparently confined to the upper part of the valley, where it had broken through the sandstone, which composed all the ranges round our camp, the latitude of which I observed to be 14 degrees 23 minutes 55 seconds. At our last camp, I observed a Platycercus, of the size of the Moreton Bay Rosella, with blackfront, yellow shoulders, and sea-green body; the female had not the showy colours of the male, and the young ones were more speckled on the back. I believe it to be the Platycercus Brownii, Gould. a black and white Ptilotis, the only stuffed specimen of which was taken by a kite almost out of Mr. Gilbert’s hand, was very frequent at the wells of the natives.
During the night, a great number of flying-foxes came to revel in the honey of the blossoms of the gum trees. Charley shot three, and we made a late but welcome supper of them. They were not so fat as those we had eaten before, and tasted a little strong; but, in messes made at night, it was always difficult to find out the cause of any particular taste, as Master Brown wished to get as quickly as possible over his work, and was not over particular in cleaning them. Platycercus versicolor (the Port Essington Parrakeet) visited, in large flocks, the blossoms of the gum trees, and was quite as noisy through the day, as the flying-fox was during the night.
Oct. 31. — When we were going to start, Brown’s old horse was absent, and after much searching, the poor brute was found lying at the opposite side of the creek, with its back down the slope, and unable to move. We succeeded in turning him, and helping him to rise, but he was so weak, as to be scarcely able to stand: indeed all our cattle were tired and foot-sore, in consequence of several days travelling over rocky ranges, and required rest. I therefore determined on remaining here a day, as no place could be better suited for their recovery. The grass was young and various, the water delightfully cool, and the scattered trees were large and shady. Numerous birds frequented the water; a species of Ptilotis, with its cheerful and pleasing note, entertained us at daybreak, as the Leatherhead with its constantly changing call and whistling did during the day. Dacelo cervina, Gould, (the small laughing Jackass) was not heard so frequently nor so regularly as its representative of the east coast. I found a species of fern (Taeniopsis) along the creek, and a species of Mimosa about three feet high had been observed on the plains and the flats of the Roper. Charley and Brown went to shoot flying-foxes, and returned at luncheon with twelve; during the afternoon, they went again and brought in thirty more; having left about fifty hanging, wounded, on the trees. They had been at a large swamp and a pond, connected with the creek, in which Charley declared that he had seen a strange animal “with two horns,” and which had deterred him from going into the water. As Brown, on the following day, saw a crocodile in the same pond, Charley’s imagination had very probably added two horns to his wonderful animal.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11