Swarms of Cockatoos — Allowance of Flour Further Reduced — Native Family — The Mackenzie — Coal — Natives Speaking A Different Idiom — Mount Stewart — Brown and Myself Miss the Way Back to the Camp — Find Our Party Again, on the Fourth Day — Neuman’s Creek — Roper’s Peak — Calvert’s Peak — Gilbert’s Dome — Great Want of Water.
Jan. 1, 1845. — After a ride of about four miles down the creek, we came to a deep hole of good water, that had been filled by the late thunder-storms, the traces of which, however, had disappeared every where else. I found a red Passion flower, with three-lobed leaves, the lobes rounded: it was twining round the trunk of a gum tree, and rooted in a light sandy alluvial soil. A new species of Bauhinia, with large white blossoms, growing in small groves, or scattered in the scrub, particularly near the creeks, was conspicuous for its elegance, and was the greatest ornament of this part of the country. It is a tree about twenty-five feet high, with long drooping branches; the foliage is of a rich green colour, and affords a fine shade. A climbing Capparis, with broad lanceolate leaves, had also large white showy blossoms; and a fine specimen of this plant was seen growing in the fork of an old box tree, about twelve or fifteen feet from the ground; it was in fruit, but unfortunately was not yet ripe. There was also another species of the same genus, with yellow blossoms, in other respects very similar in appearance to the first. The white cedar was still abundant. When I returned to the camp, I found my companions busily engaged in straining the mud, which had remained in the water-hole after our horses and cattle had drunk and rolled in it. Messrs. Gilbert and Calvert had discovered a few quarts of water in the hollow stump of a tree; and Mr. Roper and Charley had driven the horses and cattle to another water-hole, about two miles off. Our latitude was 24 degrees 16 minutes 9 seconds.
Jan. 2. — I moved my camp to the water-hole, near which I had met with the natives, and halted at the outside of a Bauhinia grove. On visiting the spot where the blacks were encamped, it appeared that they had returned and carried away all their things, probably well contented that we had not taken more than the turkey’s egg. The mosquitoes were a little troublesome after sunset and in the early part of the night; but, after that time, it was too cold for them. The flies were a much greater nuisance; at times absolutely intolerable, from the pertinacity with which they clung to the corners of our eyes, to the lips, to the ears, and even to the sores on our fingers. The wind was generally from the eastward during the morning, with cumuli; but these disappeared in the afternoon.
Brown found a crab, (a species of Gecarcinus?) the carapace about an inch and a quarter long, and one and a half broad, the left claws much larger than the right, the antepenultimate joint having a strong tooth on the upper side; it is found in moist places and in the lagoons, and, when these are dried up, it retires under logs and large stones.
Mr. Gilbert saw a large grey wallabi, and a small one which he thought was new. Another species of Agama was found, differing from the former by its general grey colour, with black spots on the back.
Jan. 3. — The night was clear; a fine easterly wind prevailed during the morning, with cumuli, which disappeared towards noon, when the sky became cloudless. Thunder-storms generally follow a very sultry calm morning. We travelled about ten miles in a N.N.E. direction, and came to the farthest water-hole I had seen when out reconnoitring. We passed in our journey through a very scrubby country, opening occasionally into fine flats thinly timbered with true box, which was at that time in blossom. I noticed a small tree (Santalum oblongatum, R. Br.), very remarkable for having its branches sometimes slightly drooping, and at other times erect, with membranous glaucous elliptical leaves, from an inch to an inch and a half long, and three-quarters broad, with very indistinct nerves, and producing a small purple fruit, of very agreeable taste. I had seen this tree formerly at the Gwyder, and in the rosewood scrubs about Moreton Bay, and I also found it far up to the northward, in the moderately open Vitex and Bricklow scrubs.
Several small lizards (Tiliqua), probably only varieties of the same species, amused us with the quickness of their motions when hunting for insects on the sunny slopes near the water-holes, and on the bark of the fallen trees; some were striped, others spotted, and there were some of a simple brownish iridescent colour. Our latitude was 24 degrees 6 minutes 36 seconds.
Jan. 4. — Brown accompanied me on my usual errand, to find, if possible, a larger supply of water, on which we might fall back, if the creek did not soon change its character. The scrub came close to the banks of the creek, but was occasionally interrupted by basaltic ridges with open forest, stretching to the westward. These ridges were on all sides surrounded with scrub, which did not flourish where the basaltic formation prevailed. Broad but shallow channels, deepening from time to time into large water-holes, follow in a parallel direction the many windings of the creek, with which they have occasionally a small communication. They seem to be the receptacles of the water falling within the scrub during the rainy season: their banks are sometimes very high and broken, and the bed is of a stiff clay, like that of the scrub, and is scattered over with pebbles of quartz and conglomerate. Whilst these Melaleuca channels keep at a distance varying from one to three miles from the creek, winding between the slight elevations of a generally flat country — long shallow hollows and a series of lagoons exist near the creek, from which they are separated by a berg, and are bounded on the other side by a slight rise of the ground. The hollows are generally without trees, but are covered with a stiff stargrass; and they frequently spread out into melon flats, covered with true Box. It is difficult to travel along the creek, especially with pack bullocks, as the scrub frequently comes close up to its banks; but the hollows, during the dry season, are like roads. In the channels within the scrub I found a large supply of water, in holes surrounded by sedges and a broad-leaved Polygonum, amongst which grew a species of Abutilon; the neighbouring dry channel was one beautiful carpet of verdure. In the scrub I found a plant belonging to the Amaryllideae (Calostemma luteum?) with a cluster of fine yellow blossoms. Flights of ducks were on the water, and scores of little birds were fluttering through the grasses and sedges, or hopping over the moist mud in pursuit of worms and insects. The water-holes were about six miles from our camp. I continued my ride about four miles farther along the creek, where I found the scrub had retired, and was replaced by an open silver-leaved Ironbark forest, in which the rich green feed relieved our eyes from the monotonous grey of the scrub, and quickened the steps of our horses. Here also basaltic ridges approached the creek, and even entered into its bed; among them were several fine water-holes. In our return to the camp we found abundance of water in the lagoons near the river, corresponding to the water-holes within the scrub. This local occurrence of water depends either upon thunder-storms favouring some tracts more than others, or upon the country here being rather more hilly, which allows the rainwater to collect in deep holes at the foot of the slopes.
Jan. 5. — We moved down to the water-holes of the basaltic ridges, being about nine miles in a N.N.W. direction from our last camp.
At three o’clock a.m. clouds formed very rapidly over the whole sky — which had been clear during the previous part of the night — and threatened us with wet. In the morning some few drops fell, with slight casterly winds; it cleared up, however, about nine o’clock a.m. with a northerly breeze.
Marsilea grows everywhere on the flats; and a fine little pea plant with a solitary red blossom, was found amongst the basaltic rocks round the water-hole. We observed, growing along the creek, another species of Portulaca, with linear fleshy leaves, erect stem, and small yellow flowers; and a half-shrubby Malvaccous plant, with small clustered yellow blossoms: the latter is common at the outside of scrubs in the Moreton Bay district. We also remarked, within the scrub, a small tree, with bright-green foliage, and three-winged capsules slightly united at the base; and another small tree, with deep-green coloured leaves, and two-winged capsules united in all their length; the last is nearly allied to Dodonaea.
I never before saw nor heard so many cockatoos as I did at Comet Creek. Swarms of them preceded us for one or two miles, from tree to tree, making the air ring with their incessant screams, and then returning in long flights to their favourite haunts, from which we had disturbed them. We saw four kangaroos; and shot some bronze-winged pigeons; in the crop of one I found a small Helix with a long spire — a form I do not remember ever having seen before in the colony. A considerable number of small brown snakes were living in the water-hole; they were generally seen in the shallow water with their heads above the surface, but, at our approach, dived into the deepest part of the hole. Our daily allowance of flour was now reduced to three pounds. Our provisions disappear rapidly, and the wear and tear of our clothes and harness is very great; but, as our wants increase, our desires become more easily satisfied. The green hide furnishes ample means to preserve our shoes, by covering them with mocassins, and with materials for repairing the harness. The latitude of this camp was 23 degrees 59 minutes 6 seconds.
Jan. 6. — Leaving my companions at the camp well provided with both grass and water, I followed the creek, with Brown, in expectation of a long ride, as Messrs. Gilbert and Roper had been forward about nine miles in search of water, but without finding any. We very soon left the open country, and entered the vilest scrub we had ever before encountered. The parallel lines of lagoons disappeared, and the banks of the creek became very broken by gullies, so that the stiff soil of the neighbouring scrub, not being intercepted by lagoons, is washed by heavy rains into the bed of the creek, which was no longer sandy, but inclined to the formation of water-holes, the clay rendering it impervious to water. The Casuarina, which likes a light sandy soil, disappeared at the same time, and was succeeded by the narrow-leaved Melaleuca. The flooded-gum, however, kept its place, and frequently attained to a great size. About twelve miles from the camp, a small water-hole appeared in the bed of the creek. This was the first we had met with while travelling along its banks a distance of seventy miles; but, in proceeding about four miles farther, we passed a succession of fine water-holes well supplied with water; and others were found in the adjoining creeks. Afterwards, however, the water suddenly disappeared again; and for eight miles farther its bed was entirely dry, although fine grass was growing in it. We had every prospect of passing the night without water, as the sun was sinking fast; but we fortunately reached a small hole before dark, containing a little water, which we had to share with our horses, with a small brown snake, and with a large flight of bronze-winged pigeons; the latter, surprised at our presence, first alighted on the neighbouring trees to observe us, and then hurried down to take their evening draught.
Jan. 7. — I travelled farther down the river, and again came, after a ride of three miles, into a well-watered country, but still occupied by scrub; in which the Capparis, with its large white sweet-scented blossoms, was very frequent; but its sepals, petals, and stamens dropped off at the slightest touch. Its fruit was like a small apple covered with warts, and its pungent seeds were imbedded in a yellow pulp, not at all disagreeable to eat. At last the scrub ceased, and, over an open rise on the right side of Comet Creek, a range of blue mountains was discovered by my companion, promising a continuation of good country. At this time a fine water-hole was at hand, and invited us to stop and make our luncheon on dried beef and a pot of tea. Whilst I was preparing the tea, Brown went to shoot pigeons; and, whilst thus employed, he was surprised by the cooee of a Blackfellow; and, on looking round, he saw one on the opposite bank of the creek making signs to him, as if to ask in what direction we were going. Brown pointed down the creek; the black then gave him to understand that he was going upward to join his wife. We started about half-an-hour afterwards, and met with him, about two miles up the creek, with his wife, his daughter, and his son. He was a fine old man, but he, as well as his family, were excessively frightened; they left all their things at the fire, as if offering them to us, but readily accepted two pigeons, which had been shot by Brown. We asked them for water (yarrai) which, according to what we could understand from their signs, was plentiful lower down the creek. In returning homewards we cut off considerable angles of the creek, and passed through a much finer and more open country. On its left bank we passed a scrub creek containing magnificent lagoons. At my arrival in the camp, I was informed that natives had been close at hand, although none had showed themselves.
Jan. 8. — I moved my camp about eight miles to the northward, and halted at a fine water-hole in a scrub creek joining Comet Creek. A pretty little diver was amusing himself on the water. The country is very rich in game. Kangaroos and wallabies are very frequent; several brush turkeys were seen, and the partridge and bronze-winged pigeons are very plentiful. Our latitude was 23 degrees 51 minutes.
Jan. 9. — In travelling down to the water-hole, where we had met the Blackfellow and his family, we kept a little too much to the westward, in hope of finding a more open country; instead, however, of an improvement, we encountered sandy hills covered with a dense low scrub and cypress-pine. The latter almost invariably grows on the slight sandstone elevations in a scrubby country. After surmounting many difficulties, we came upon a broad scrub creek, in the dry bed of which we travelled down to Comet Creek, which we followed, and at last reached our intended camping place. Our cattle and luggage had suffered severely, and we devoted the next day to sundry repairs. The weather was very hot: the night clear. Our latitude was 23 degrees 41 minutes 14 seconds.
Jan. 10. — To prevent unnecessary loss of time by my reconnoitring excursions, and to render them less fatiguing to myself, I arranged that both the blacks should go with me, in order that I might send one back from the first favourable camping place, to bring the party on, whilst I continued to explore the country with the other. Under this arrangement, therefore, I went forward, and, following the creek, it was found to sweep to the eastward, round a high plain of rich black soil, and covered with luxuriant vegetation. This plain is basaltic, but, in the valley of the creek, sandstone crops out below it. The slopes from the plain to the creek are steep, and torn by deep gullies, which made travelling very fatiguing. As the creek again turned to the west and north-west, the water-holes increased both in size and number, although the flats within the valley were limited and intersected by watercourses. I sent Charley back when we were about seven miles N.W. by N. from our camp, and proceeded with Brown down the creek, which, at about four miles farther, to my inexpressible delight, joined a river coming from the west and north-west, and flowing to the east and north-east. It was not, however, running, but formed a chain of small lakes, from two to three and even eight miles in length, and frequently from fifty to one hundred yards broad, offering to our view the finest succession of large sheets of water we had seen since leaving the Brisbane. Its course continued through a very deep and winding valley, bounded by high but generally level land. The gullies going down to the river were generally covered with a belt of thick scrub, as was also the high land nearest to it; but, farther off, the country appeared to be more open, plains alternating with open forest land, but yet, in places, much occupied by tracts of almost impervious scrub of various extent. We met frequent traces of the natives, who had recently gone down the river, having previously burned the grass, leaving very little for our horses and cattle. At 8 o’clock P.M. a fine strong northerly breeze came up the river, flowing along its broad open valley, and which I supposed to be the sea breeze. This supposition was somewhat confirmed by a similar breeze occurring at the same time on the following evening.
The plains are basaltic, and occasionally covered with pebbles of white and iron-coloured quartz and conglomerate, and are in the vicinity of slight elevations, which are probably composed of sandstone and conglomerate, and usually covered with low scrub and cypress-pine. Sandstone crops out in the gullies of the valley, in horizontal strata, some of which are hard and good for building, others like the blue clay beds of Newcastle, with the impressions of fern-leaves identical with those of that formation. At the junction of Comet Creek and the river, I found water-worn fragments of good coal, and large trunks of trees changed into ironstone. I called this river the “Mackenzie,” in honour of Sir Evan Mackenzie, Bart., as a small acknowledgment of my gratitude for the very great assistance which he rendered me in the preparations for my expedition. Farther down the river, the country became better watered, even at a distance from the river; some small creeks, winding down between scrubby sandstone hills, were full of water, and a chain of fine lagoons was crossed, covered with splendid blue Nymphaeas. Large coveys of partridge-pigeons rose from the burnt grass as we passed along, and ducks and pelicans were numerous on the stretches of water in the bed of the river. Heaps of fresh-water muscles lined the water-holes, which were teeming with fish, apparently of considerable size, as their splashing startled me several times during the night, and made me believe, for the moment, that a large tribe of natives were bathing.
A very stiff high grass became very general along the river. On the plains there were fields of native carrots, now dry; also of vervain and burr. The long-podded cassia was plentiful, and its young seeds tasted well, but considerably affected the bowels.
Cumuli passed from the north-east during the morning: the afternoon was clear, and the night bright.
When I returned to the camp on the 11th January, my companions told me, that upon their journey across the high plains they had observed a high range to the north-west.
Jan. 12. — I removed my camp down Comet Creek, and followed the Mackenzie for a few miles, as far as it was easy travelling along its bank. Comet Creek joins the Mackenzie in a very acute angle; the direction of the latter being east, and the course of the former, in its lower part, north-west. Our anglers caught several fine fishes and an eel, in the water-holes of the Mackenzie. The former belonged to the Siluridae, and had four fleshy appendages on the lower lip, and two on the upper; dorsal fin 1 spine 6 rays, and an adipose fin, pectoral 1 spine 8 rays; ventral 6 rays; anal 17 rays; caudal 17–18 rays; velvety teeth in the upper and lower jaws, and in the palatal bones. Head flat, belly broad; back of a greenish silver-colour; belly silvery white; length of the body 15–20 inches. It made a singular noise when taken out of the water.
We found here Unios of a fine pink and purple colour inside the valves, and a new species of Cyclas with longitudinal ribs. Small black ants, and little flies with wings crossing each other, annoy us very much, the one creeping all over our bodies and biting us severely, and the other falling into our soup and tea, and covering our meat; but the strong night-breeze protects us from the mosquitoes. A pretty lizard (Tiliqua) of small size, with yellowish spots on a brown ground, was caught, and seemed to be plentiful here about. The Acacia, with very long linear drooping leaves, that had been observed at the Dawson, re-appeared both on Comet Creek and the banks of the Mackenzie. Our latitude was 23 degrees 33 minutes 38 seconds.
Jan. 13. — We travelled about nine miles E.N.E. over the high land, and through open forest land, and several plains skirted on both sides by scrub. I observed a new species of Flindersia, a small tree about thirty feet high, with thin foliage and very regular branches, forming a spire. The latitude was 23 degrees 29 minutes.
Jan. 14. — After travelling about three miles in a north-easterly direction along the banks of the river — having, at about a mile from our camp, crossed a good-sized creek on its left bank — the river took a sudden bend to the westward, and a large creek coming from the northward, joined it almost at a right angle to its course. As we proceeded, we came suddenly upon two black women hurrying out of the water, but who, on reaching a distance in which they thought themselves safe, remained gazing at us as we slowly and peaceably passed by. In the bed of the river, which was here broad and sandy, a bean was gathered, bearing racemes of pink blossoms, and spreading its long slender stem over the ground, or twining it round shrubs and trees: its pods were from three to five inches long, and about half an inch broad, containing from four to six seeds, very similar to the horse-bean. This plant was afterwards found growing in the sandy beds, or along the bergs of almost all the broad rivers, and was always a welcome sight; for the seeds, after roasting and pounding them, afforded us a very agreeable substitute for coffee.
We passed some very high cliffs, which showed a fine geological section of horizontal layers of sandstone and coal-slate. There were also some layers of very good coal, but the greater part of those visible were of a slaty character. Nodules of Ironstone were very frequent in the sandstone.
After having fixed upon a place to pitch the tent, and after some refreshment, I started with my two black companions upon a reconnoitring excursion along the course of the river, which made several large bends, though its general direction was to the north-east. We passed over some very fine flats of Bastard-box, silver-leaved Ironbark, and white gum, with a few scattered Acacia-trees, remarkable for their drooping foliage, and mentioned under the date 22nd December. Farther on, we came again to scrub, which uniformly covered the edge of the high land towards the river. Here, within the scrub, on the side towards the open country we found many deserted camps of the natives, which, from their position, seemed to have been used for shelter from the weather, or as hiding-places from enemies: several places had evidently been used for corroborris, and also for fighting.
On a White-gum, which has long lanceolate green leaves, I found a species of Loranthus, with leaves resembling those of the silver-leaved Ironbark (Eucalyptus pulverulentus). Having reached a point down the river, in about lat. 23 degrees 18 minutes, from which some low ranges to the N.W. became visible, I returned to the camp. At the point where it turned, a dyke of basalt traverses the river. The country still maintained its favourable character, and the river contained fine sheets of water similar to those already described, on one of which a pelican floated undisturbed by our presence. Large heaps of muscle-shells, which have given food to successive generations of the natives, cover the steep sloping banks of the river, and indicate that this part of the country is very populous. The tracks of the natives were well beaten, and the fire-places in their camps numerous. The whole country had been on fire; smouldering logs, scattered in every direction, were often rekindled by the usual night breeze, and made us think that the Blackfellows were collecting in numbers around us — and more particularly on the opposite side of the river; added to which, the incessant splashing of numerous large fishes greatly contributed to augment our fears. As a matter of precaution, therefore, we tied our horses near our sleeping-place, and gathered the grass which grew along the edge of the water for them to eat; and it was not till daylight that our alarm vanished.
Jan. 15. — Having now ascertained, beyond a doubt, that the Mackenzie flowed to the north-east, I returned to the camp, resolved upon leaving it and renewing my course to the west-north-west and north-west; but, as it was extremely doubtful whether we should find water in travelling across the country without a leading watercourse, and as we had failed in procuring a sufficient quantity of game, I determined to take this favourable opportunity of killing a bullock before leaving the river.
Jan. 16. — On returning, we found our party encamped about four miles lower down the river than where I had left them. I then removed them to a more convenient spot about two miles still lower down (lat. 23 degrees 21 minutes 30 seconds). Just at the moment we were preparing to shoot the bullock, we heard the cooee of a native, and in a short time two men were seen approaching and apparently desirous of having a parley. Accordingly, I went up to them; the elder, a well made man, had his left front tooth out, whilst the younger had all his teeth perfect; he was of a muscular and powerful figure, but, like the generality of Australian aborigines, had rather slender bones; he had a splendid pair of moustachios, but his beard was thin. They spoke a language entirely different from that of the natives of Darling Downs, but “yarrai” still meant water. Charley, who conversed with them for some time, told me that they had informed him, as well as he could understand, that the Mackenzie flowed to the north-east. Brown found an empty seed-vessel of the Nelumbium, in their camp. At sunset we killed our bullock, and during the 17th and 18th occupied ourselves in cutting up the meat, drying it in the sun, frying the fat, preparing the hide, and greasing our harness. Charley, in riding after the horses, came to some fine lagoons, which were surrounded by a deep green belt of Nelumbiums. This plant grows, with a simple tap root, in the deep soft mud, bearing one large peltate leaf on a leaf stalk, about eight feet high, and from twelve to eighteen inches in diameter, the flower-stalk being of the same length or even longer, crowned with a pink flower resembling that of a Nymphaea, but much larger: its seed-vessel is a large cone, with perpendicular holes in its cellular tissue, containing seeds, about three quarters of an inch in length. We found the following shells in the river, viz.; two species of Melania, a Paludina, the lanceolate Limnaea, a cone-shaped Physa (?), a Cyclas with longitudinal ribs, and the Unio before described. Murphy shot an Ostioglossum, a Malacopterygious fish, about three feet long, with very large scales, each scale having a pink spot. We afterwards found this fish in the waters flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria; both on its eastern and western sides: and, according to the natives of Port Essington, to whom I showed the dried specimen, it is also found in the permanent water-holes of the Cobourg peninsula.
Jan. 18. — Leaving my party to complete the process of drying and packing the charqui, I started with my two black companions to examine the country to the north-west. After passing the gullies in the immediate neighbourhood of the river, we came to sandstone ridges covered with an almost impenetrable scrub; chiefly composed of stiff and prickly shrubs, many of them dead, with dry branches filling the intervals. As no grass grew on the poor soil, the bush-fires — those scavengers of the forest — are unable to enter and consume the dead wood, which formed the principal obstacle to our progress. Difficult, however, as it was to penetrate such thickets with pack-bullocks, I had no choice left, and therefore proceeded in the same direction. In a short time, we reached an open Bricklow scrub containing many dry water-holes, which, farther on, united into a watercourse. We passed a creek flowing to the eastward to join the Mackenzie, and continued our route through patches of Bricklow scrub, alternating with Bastard-box forest, and open Vitex scrub, in which the Moreton Bay ash was very plentiful. About eight miles from our camp, we came upon an open forest of narrow-leaved Ironbark (E. resinifera) and Bastard-box, covering gentle slopes, from which shallow well-grassed hollows descended to the westward. Coming again on scrub, and following it down in a westerly direction, we came to a dry creek; and found water in holes along the scrub. Considering this a favourable place for the camp, I sent Charley back, to guide my party through the scrub; whilst I proceeded with Brown to examine the creek upwards, to the north-west. After a ride of about five miles, during which several fine lagoons were seen, we reached a prominent hill of sandstone formation, surrounded by a most beautiful, open, silver-leaved Ironbark forest, changing occasionally into plains without a tree. I ascended the hill, and obtained a very extensive view from its summit. A range of peaks bore N. 57 degrees W.; another range, with undulating outline, was seen to the south-east; and another less prominent range bore N. 45 degrees W. The hill is in latitude 23 degrees 10 minutes, and bears the name of Mount Stewart, in compliment to Mr. Stewart, veterinary surgeon of Sydney, to whom I am indebted for great assistance and most valuable advice.
Towards the north-east, the country appeared to be very level, with only one low ridge, apparently at a great distance. To the south, and also to the west, some long-stretched flat-topped hills were visible, several extending as far as the eye could reach. I continued my ride in the direction of the range of peaks to the north-west, over an undulating country of varied character, now extending in fine downs and plains, now covered with belts of thick Bricklow scrub, with occasional ridges of open silver-leaved Ironbark forest. Among the latter was a rather stunted gum-tree, with a black scaly butt; it was very frequent, and greatly resembled the Moreton Bay ash. The numerous watercourses which I crossed, were all dry; and, when the approach of night compelled us to select a camping place, which we did in a small grove of Bricklow, we should have been without water, had not a thunder-storm with light showers of rain, enabled us to collect about a quart of it to make some tea. The next morning we continued our examination, passing over a country of scrub, plain, and forest land; and made our breakfast, and watered our horses, at a small pool of water that was collected in a hole of a little creek, after the last night’s thunder-storm. About four miles from this spot, we again found permanent water, near the scrub; and, at three miles farther on, crossed a fine creek, with a reedy bed, along which lightly timbered flats extended; and, about six miles to the W. N. W., we found another creek, separated from the former by openly timbered ridges, and occasional patches of scrub. The flats along this creek and its tributaries were covered with the most luxuriant grass; but are without permanent water, although at present supplied by the late thunder-storms. Brown gave chase to an emu with several young ones, but did not succeed in capturing any of them.
We now commenced our return to the camp, and, being impatient to get on, put our horses into a canter; the consequence of which was that we lost our way, and were ignorant as to which side we had left the tracks. Thinking, however, that Mount Stewart would guide us, when we should come in sight of it, I kept a south-easterly course, which soon brought us into a thick Bricklow scrub. In passing the large flats of the last creek, which was here full of fine reedy water-holes, we observed a native; and Brown cooeed to him, and by a sign requested him to wait for us: but he was so frightened, by the sudden appearance of two men cantering towards him, that he took to his heels, and soon disappeared in the neighbouring scrub. We rode the whole day through a Bricklow thicket, which, in only three or four places, was interrupted by narrow strips of open country, along creeks on which fine flooded-gums were growing. The density of the scrub, which covered an almost entirely level country, prevented our seeing farther than a few yards before us, so that we passed our landmark, and, when night approached, and the country became more open, we found ourselves in a part of the country totally unknown to us. At the outside of the scrub, however, we were cheered by the sight of some large lagoons, on whose muddy banks there were numerous tracts of emus and kangaroos. In a recently deserted camp of the Aborigines, we found an eatable root, like the large tubers of Dahlia, which we greedily devoured, our appetite being wonderfully quickened by long abstinence and exercise. Brown fortunately shot two pigeons; and, whilst we were discussing our welcome repast, an emu, probably on its way to drink, approached the lagoon, but halted when it got sight of us, then walked slowly about, scrutinizing us with suspicious looks, and, when Brown attempted to get near it, trotted off to a short distance, and stopped again, and continued to play this tantalizing trick until we were tired; when, mounting our horses, we proceeded on our way. Supposing, from the direction of the waters, that we had left our former tracks to the left, I turned to the north-east to recover them; but it soon became very dark, and a tremendous thunder-storm came down upon us. We were then on a high box-tree ridge, in view of a thick scrub; we hobbled our horses, and covered ourselves with our blankets; but the storm was so violent, that we were thoroughly drenched. As no water-holes were near us, we caught the water that ran from our blankets; and, as we were unable to rekindle our fire, which had been extinguished by the rain, we stretched our blankets over some sticks to form a tent, and notwithstanding our wet and hungry condition, our heads sank wearily on the saddles — our usual bush pillow — and we slept soundly till morning dawned. We now succeeded in making a fire, so that we had a pot of tea and a pigeon between us. After this scanty breakfast, we continued our course to the north-east. Brown thought himself lost, got disheartened, grumbled and became exceedingly annoying to me; but I could not help feeling for him, as he complained of severe pain in his legs. We now entered extensive Ironbark flats, which probably belong to the valley of the Mackenzie. Giving our position every consideration, I determined upon returning to the mountains at which we had turned, and took a north-west course. The country was again most wretched, and at night we almost dropped from our saddles with fatigue. Another pigeon was divided between us, but our tea was gone. Oppressed by hunger, I swallowed the bones and the feet of the pigeon, to allay the cravings of my stomach. A sleeping lizard with a blunt tail and knobby scales, fell into our hands, and was of course roasted and greedily eaten. Brown now complained of increased pain in his feet, and lost all courage. “We are lost, we are lost,” was all he could say. All my words and assurances, all my telling him that we might be starved for a day or two, but that we should most certainly find our party again, could not do more than appease his anxiety for a few moments. The next morning, the 21st, we proceeded, but kept a little more to the westward, and crossed a fine openly timbered country; but all the creeks went either to the east or to the north. At last, after a ride of about four miles, Brown recognized the place where we had breakfasted on the 19th, when all his gloom and anxiety disappeared at once. I then returned on my south-east course, and arrived at the camp about one o’clock in the afternoon; my long absence having caused the greatest anxiety amongst my companions. I shall have to mention several other instances of the wonderful quickness and accuracy with which Brown as well as Charley were able to recognize localities which they had previously seen. The impressions on their retina seem to be naturally more intense than on that of the European; and their recollections are remarkably exact, even to the most minute details. Trees peculiarly formed or grouped, broken branches, slight clevations of the ground — in fact, a hundred things, which we should remark only when paying great attention to a place — seem to form a kind of Daguerreotype impression on their minds, every part of which is readily recollected.
I rejoined my party at the creek which comes from Mount Stewart. The natives had approached Mr. Gilbert when out shooting, with a singular, but apparently friendly, noise: “Ach! Ach! Ach!” They had heard the cooce of my blackfellow Charley, and thought Mr. Gilbert wanted them; but, as he was alone, he thought it prudent to retire to the camp.
The thunder-storm, which we experienced on the night of the 19th, had completely changed the aspect of the country round Mount Stewart. All the melon-holes of the scrub, all the ponds along the creeks, all the water-holes in the beds of the creeks, were full of water; the creek at which we encamped, was running; the grass looked fresh and green; the ground, previously rotten, was now boggy, and rendered travelling rather difficult; but we were always at home, for we found water and grass everywhere.
The days from the 17th to the 23rd were exceedingly hot, but, during the early morning and the evening, the air was delightfully cool. Light casterly and northerly winds stirred during the day. Cumuli passed from the same quarters; and generally gathered during the afternoon, and became very heavy. The thunder-storms veered round from the west by the north to the eastward. The nights of the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd were bright and cold, with heavy dew. On the morning of the 23rd we had misty, loose, confluent clouds, travelling slowly from the north-east, with some drops of rain. I was now convinced that the rainy season had set in near the sea coast; for the clouds which came from that direction, had evidently been charged with rain; but, in passing over a large tract of dry country, they were exhausted of their moisture, and the north-easterly winds were too weak to carry them quickly so far inland.
The whole country I had travelled over, is composed of sandstone, with probably occasional outbreaks of igneous rocks, as indicated by the rich black soil. The plains and creeks abound in fossil wood, changed into iron-ore and silica. The soil is generally good, but some of the sandy flats are rotten: and the ridges are covered with pebbles.
The trees, with the exception of the flooded-gum, are of stunted habit; and scrub is here developed ad infinitum. A Grevillea (G. ceratophylla R.Br.?) with pinnatifid leaves, a small tree from fifteen to twenty feet high, and about four inches in diameter; a Melaleuca about the same size, with stiff lanceolate leaves, about two inches long and half an inch broad, and slightly foliaceous bark; and an Acacia with glaucous bipinnate leaves, of the section of the brush Acacias of Moreton Bay — grew on the sandy soil along the ridges; and a handsome Convolvulus with pink flowers adorned the rich plain south-east of Mount Stewart. I examined the wood of all the arborescent Proteaceae which I met with, and observed in all of them, with the exception of Persoonia, the great development of the medullary rays, as it exists in several species of Casuarina.
On the 23rd, 24th, and 25th January, the party moved over the country which I had reconnoitred, to a place about twenty-five miles north-west from Mount Stewart’s Creek, and about thirty-four miles from the Mackenzie. In the vicinities of several of the camps, Charley found many nests of the native bee, full of the sweetest and most aromatic honey we had ever tasted. The wild Marjoram, which grows abundantly here, and imparts its fragrance even to the air, seemed to be the principal source from which the bee obtained its honey. We collected a considerable quantity of the marjoram, and added it to our tea, with the double intention, of improving its flavour, and of saving our stock; we also used it frequently as a condiment in our soup.
To the westward of our camp of the 25th January, was a large hill, which I called “West Hill;” and, to the north and north-east, several ridges confined the large valley of our creek and its tributaries. From a sandstone peak to the north-east, which I descended with Mr. Roper, I again saw the range of peaks which I had first observed from Mount Stewart in a W.N.W. direction; and the country to the north and north-east was evidently very mountainous: the valleys descending in a northerly direction. We rode along the ridges on a W.N.W. and west course, and came into the valley of another creek, which we crossed; and, passing several other ridges, which appear to be connected with West Hill, descended to a fine creek, in which we found a reedy water-hole of considerable size. The character of all these creeks is the same. Extensive flats of rotten ground, but beautifully clothed with tufts of grass, openly timbered with Moreton Bay ash and flooded-gum, ascend into gentle grassy slopes of silver-leaved Ironbark and bloodwood, and then rise into sandstone ridges with Acacia thickets and shrubby plants peculiar to the sandstone formation. An Acacia with very large falcate, glaucous phyllodia, and the Euphorbiaceous Severn-tree, were very plentiful; and Crinum grew in thousands on the sandy flats. After a very hot day, the night was bright and dewy: a light breeze was felt at 8 o’clock, which cooled the air.
Jan. 26. — I removed my camp to the reedy water-hole of yesterday, about five miles in the direction of west or west by north from our last encampment. Here I planted the last peach-stones, with which Mr. Newman, the present superintendent of the Botanic Garden in Hobart Town, had kindly provided me. It is, however, to be feared that the fires, which annually over-run the whole country, and particularly here, where the grass is rich and deep even to the water’s edge, will not allow them to grow. To the creek on which we were encamped I gave the name of “Newman’s Creek,” in honour of Mr. Newman. It flows in a south-east and southerly course, and unites probably with West Hill Creek, on which we were encamped the day before, and with the large creek which we crossed on the 25th; both of which probably belong to the system of the Mackenzie. Mr. Calvert and Charley accompanied me in an excursion to the W.N.W., but, having crossed some ridges and coming to scrub, we took a direction to the northward. Fine Bastard-box flats and Ironbark slopes occupy the upper part of Newman’s Creek. On the ridges, we observed Persoonia with long falcate leaves; the grass-tree (Xanthorrhaea); the rusty gum, and the Melaleuca of Mount Stewart. Having ascended the sandstone ridge at the head of Newman’s Creek, we found ourselves on a table land out of which rose the peaks for which we were steering, and from which we were separated by fine downs, plains, and a lightly timbered country, with belts of narrow-leaved Ironbark growing on a sandy soil. On one of the plains quartzite cropped out; and silex and fossil wood lay scattered over the rich black soil: the latter broke readily, like asbestos, into the finest filaments, much resembling the fossil wood of Van Diemen’s Land. It is difficult to describe the impressions which the range of noble peaks, rising suddenly out of a comparatively level country, made upon us. We had travelled so much in a monotonous forest land, with only now and then a glimpse of distant ranges through the occasional clearings in the dismal scrub, that any change was cheering. Here an entirely open country — covered with grass, and apparently unbounded to the westward; now ascending, first, in fine ranges, and forming a succession of almost isolated, gigantic, conical, and dome-topped mountains, which seemed to rest with a flat unbroken base on the plain below — was spread before our delighted eyes. The sudden alteration of the scene, therefore, inspired us with feelings that I cannot attempt to describe. Proceeding onwards we passed some water-holes; but, farther on, the water failed, except here and there in a few pools, in the creeks coming from the range, that had been filled by the last thunder-showers. These pools were generally lined with patches of a narrow-leaved tea tree; and were full of basaltic pebbles.
The breeze set in full and strong, as usual, at a quarter past eight o’clock; the night was bright and cool, and the following morning inexpressibly beautiful.
We enjoyed a dish of cockatoos for supper: the place abounds with them.
Jan. 27. — Charley went back to bring forward our party, whilst I proceeded with Mr. Calvert to reconnoitre the plains under the peaks, feeling confident of finding water at their foot. We passed over plains and lightly-timbered basaltic ridges, between which shallow creeks came down from the range, but we only found water in one or two holes. The plains in the neighbourhood of our intended camp were richly grassed; and a species of Hypoxis and the native Borage (Trichodesma zeylanica, R. Br.) adorned them with their bright yellow and blue blossoms. Farther on, however, the grass had been burnt, and was not yet recovered. As the day advanced, and the black soil became heated by the almost vertical sun, the heat from above and from below became almost insupportable.
Three peaks of this range were particularly striking; two of them seemed to be connected by a lower ridge, in a direction from S.E. to N.W. The south-eastern I called “Roper’s Peak,” after my companion, who afterwards ascended it with Murphy and Brown, and the north-western, “Scott’s Peak,” after Helenus Scott, Esq., of Glendon, Hunter’s River, who had kindly assisted me in my expedition. In a W. by S. direction from these, and distant four or five miles, is another peak, to which I gave the name of “Macarthur’s Peak,” after Mr. William Macarthur, of Cambden. All these peaks are composed of Domite; and Roper’s and Scott’s Peaks are surrounded by a sandstone formation, covered with a dense low scrub.
I passed between Roper’s Peak and Macarthur’s Peak, to the northward, and came in sight of another very remarkable cone, which I afterwards called Calvert’s Peak, after my fellow-traveller, in consequence of his having suffered severely in its neighbourhood, as I shall soon have to mention.
I traced a creek at the east side of Macarthur’s Peak to its head, and went down another on its west side to a large plain, which seemed to be limited to the westward by openly-timbered ridges. As we advanced into the plain, a most remarkable and interesting view of a great number of peaks and domes opened to the N.N.W. and N.W. There seemed no end of apparently isolated conical mountains, which, as they resemble very much the chain of extinct volcanos in Auvergne, might easily be mistaken for such; but, after changing the aspect a little, they assumed the appearance of immense tents, with very short ridge-poles. To the most remarkable of them, which had the appearance of an immense cupola, I gave the name of Gilbert’s Dome, after my companion. Far to the N.N.W. a blue peak was seen rising behind a long range of mountains, and from the latter a valley seemed to descend to the W.N.W. A round hill, of a reddish colour, to the south or south-west of Macarthur’s Peak, was called Mount Lowe, after R. Lowe, Esq. of Sydney. The general direction of these mountains seems to be from N. 60 degrees W. to S. 60 degrees E., and, if we compare them with the line of the coast in the neighbourhood of Broadsound and Shoalwater bay, bearing due east, it will be found that they are parallel to its direction. All the creeks which we examined, and which fell to the south-west, were entirely dry. On the ridges which bounded the plain to the westward, I met with Acacia pendula; and I may here remark that this appears to be the most northern limit of its habitat. Here also, in an old camp of the natives, we found a heap of muscle-shells, which were probably taken from some very deep and shady holes in the creek, but which were now without the slightest indication of moisture. Water failing us on the western slopes, I crossed to the east side, under the idea and hope that the north and north-east sides of the range, from being more exposed to the sea winds, would be better provided with water; and, passing to the left of Calvert’s Peak, over low basaltic ridges, I came to a creek with a shallow bed, winding between basaltic ridges to the north-east. These ridges were lightly timbered, and covered with an abundance of dry grass: dark-green patches of scrub raised our hopes from time to time, and quickened our pace; but in vain, for no water was to be found. Fatigued and exhausted by thirst, both rider and horse wished for an early halt. We stopped, therefore, and hobbled our horses; and, when I had spread my saddle, my head sank between its flaps, and I slept soundly until the cool night-air, and the brilliant moonlight, awoke me. I found my poor companion, Mr. Calvert, suffering severely from thirst, more so indeed than I did; but I was unfortunately labouring under a most painful diarrhoea, which of itself exhausted my strength. In the morning, to add to our distress, our horses were not to be found, and Mr. Calvert had a walk of four hours to get them: the poor brutes had rambled away in search of water, but found none. The scream of a cockatoo made me wish to continue our ride down the creek; but my companion was so completely exhausted that I resolved upon returning to the camp, but by a different route, passing to the east side of Scott’s and Roper’s Peaks. We found sandstone ridges to the very foot of the peaks. Although we passed many localities where water might have been expected, and travelled where three different rocks, domite, sandstone, and basalt, came in contact, and where springs are so frequently found, yet not a drop of water could we find. In travelling over the hot plains our horses began to fail us; neither whip nor spur could accelerate their snail-like pace; they seemed to expect that every little shade of the scattered trees would prove a halting-place; and it was not without the greatest difficulty that we could induce them to pass on. It was indeed distressingly hot: with open mouths we tried to catch occasional puffs of a cooler air; our lips and tongue got parched, our voice became hoarse, and our speech unintelligible. Both of us, but particularly my poor companion, were in the most deplorable state. In order to ease my horse, I tried to walk; but, after a few paces. I found it impossible; I was too much exhausted. At this distressing moment, however, we crossed the tracks of horses and bullocks, and then we knew we were near the camp, the sight of which, a short time afterwards, was most welcome to us.
Jan. 29. — Finding that one of the water-holes of the camp had dried up, and that the other was very muddy, we returned to larger water-holes two miles to the south-east. After having done this, I sent Mr. Gilbert and Charley down the creek, to ascertain its course, and to see whether it would be practicable to skirt the highland of peak range to the westward.
Last night thunder-storms were gathering to the south-west, but they did not come up to us. The night breeze is very strong and regular, and sets in invariably between a quarter and half-past eight o’clock; last night it was quite a gale, which I considered to be the indication of a change in the weather, and of rain.
John Murphy brought the flower of a yellow Hibiscus from Roper’s Peak: it is certainly a new species.
Jan. 30. — Last night clouds gathered into a thunder-storm to the south-west, but it passed by with very little rain: heavy clouds hung round us, in every direction, but it seemed as if even their passage over the parched plains exhausted their moisture. In the east and south-east a heavy thunder cloud, with incessant lightning, was seen, but so distant that we could not hear the thunder. In the morning, loose clouds spread over the whole sky: this was the first cloudy day we had experienced for the last three weeks. Nature looks quite refreshed; the grass is so green, and the modest blue Ruellia so plentiful; whole fields of Crinum are in full blossom; and the Ironbark and flooded-gum with a denser and richer foliage than usual, afford us a most agreeable shade. I wish I could sufficiently describe the loveliness of the morning just before and after sunrise: the air so clear, so transparent; the sky slightly tinged with roseate hues, all nature so fresh, so calm, so cool. If water were plentiful, the downs of Peak Range would be inferior to no country in the world. Mr. Calvert collected a great number of Limnaea in the water-holes: its shell is more compact than those we have before seen, and has a slight yellow line, marking probably the opening at a younger age. Several insects of the genera Mantis and Truxalis were taken, but did not appear different from those we had previously collected.
Jan. 31. — We had a thunder-storm from the west, and thunder clouds in all quarters; but, as usual, very little rain. Mr. Gilbert returned from his exploratory ride, and stated that the plains extended far to the westward, and that they rose in that direction, forming a succession of terraces; and that another fine range of peaks, even more imposing than those of our Peak Range, reared their heads to the westward of the plains, converging towards the latter*; that all the creeks went down to the south and south-west; but that he found no water, except one fine lagoon about fifteen miles to the south-west, which was covered with ducks. He had observed the sign of an anchor, or broad-arrow, cut into a tree with a stone tomahawk, and which he supposed had been done, either by a shipwrecked sailor, or by a runaway convict from Moreton Bay, when it was a penal settlement: the neighbouring trees were variously marked by Blackfellows.
* Captain P. P. King, who surveyed this part of the coast, informs me that the coast hills as seen from the sea, are generally of peaked form, particularly the remarkable elevation of Mount Funnel, at the back of Broad Sound — which is apparently not connected with the neighbouring ranges — and also that of Double Mount, which is visible from a distance of 60 miles. The Cumberland Islands also, which front the coast in the same vicinity, are of peaked shape, and one, Mount Dryander, on the west side of Whitsunday Passage, is a very high peak. In the Appendix to Captain King’s Voyage, Dr. Fitton describes the islands, from the specimens which were submitted for his inspection, to be of primitive formation; and notices the following rocks: Compact felspar of a flesh-red hue, enclosing a few small crystals of reddish felspar and of quartz; Coane porphyritic conglomerate of a reddish hue; Serpentine; Slaty clay — which forms the general character of the Percy Islands. Repulse Island produced a compact felspar — a compound of quartz, mica, and felspar, having the appearance of decomposed granite. (King’s Voyage, Appendix, p. 607.) Captain King also describes this portion of the coast to be more than usually fertile in appearance; and Captain Blackwood, of Her Majesty’s Ship Fly, saw much of this part, and corroborates Captain King’s opinion as to its fertility. It is hereabouts that the Araucaria Cunninghamiana grows in such abundance.
Being too weak to travel, I sent Mr. Roper and Brown to the northward and to the north-east, to examine the country.
By my lunar observations, I made our longitude 148 degrees 19 minutes; our latitude was 22 degrees 57 minutes; so that our distance from Keppel Bay was 175 miles, and from Broad Sound 100. The Mackenzie probably disembogues into Keppel Bay, and if so, it will form the inlet to a fine country; for I suppose that all the creeks going down to the south and south-west, either fall into the Mackenzie itself, or join one of its tributaries.
Mr. Gilbert found the skull of a large kangaroo, the nasal cavity of which appeared unusually spacious. He brought home a new Malurus, and a Rallus: he also shot another species of Rallus on the water-hole near our encampment; he also brought in a true Caprimulgus.
On Mr. Roper’s return, he informed me that he had met with a creek at the other side of the hills to the east of us; that the hills were covered with dense scrub, teeming with wallabis; and that the creek went to the north-east, several other creeks joining it; that, lower down, it was lined with Casuarinas, and that about seven miles from the hills, he found fine water-holes.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11