Origin of the Expedition — Party Formed — Leave Sydney for Brisbane — Party Enlarged — Outfit and Stores.
On my return to Moreton Bay, from an exploratory journey in the country northward of that district, which had occupied me for two years, I found that the subject of an overland expedition to Port Essington on the North Coast of Australia, was occupying much attention, as well on the part of the public as on that of the Legislative Council, which had earnestly recommended the appropriation of a sum of money to the amount of 1000 pounds, for the equipment of an expedition under Sir Thomas Mitchell, to accomplish this highly interesting object. Some delay was, however, caused by the necessity of communicating with the Secretary of State for the Colonies; and in the mean time it was understood that Captain Sturt was preparing to start from Adelaide to proceed across the Continent. From the experience which I had gained during my two years’ journeyings, both in surmounting the difficulties of travelling through a broken mountainous country, and in enduring privations of every sort, “I was inspired with the desire of attempting it,” provided I could be assisted in the expense that would necessarily be incurred for the outfit, and could find a few companions who would be contented with animal food, and willingly and patiently submit to the privation of flour, tea, and sugar, and resign themselves to my guidance.
I had well considered this interesting subject in all its bearings, and had discussed it with many of my acquaintances at Brisbane and its neighbouring district; who were generally of opinion that it was practicable, under the plan I had marked out: but with others, particularly at Sydney, I had to contend against a strong but kindly meant opposition to my journey. Some, who took more than a common interest in my pursuits, regretted that I should leave so promising a field of research as that which offered itself within the limits of New South Wales, and in which they considered I had laboured with some success during the last two years. Others considered the undertaking exceedingly dangerous, and even the conception of it madness on my part; and the consequence of a blind enthusiasm, nourished either by a deep devotion to science, or by an unreasonable craving for fame: whilst others did not feel themselves justified in assisting a man who they considered was setting out with an intention of committing suicide. I was not, however, blind as to the difficulties of the journey which I was determined to undertake; on the contrary, and I hope my readers will believe me to be sincere, I thought they would be many and great — greater indeed than they eventually proved to be; but, during my recent excursions through the Squatting districts, I had so accustomed myself to a comparatively wild life, and had so closely observed the habits of the aborigines, that I felt assured that the only real difficulties which I could meet with would be of a local character. And I was satisfied that, by cautiously proceeding, and always reconnoitring in advance or on either side of our course, I should be able to conduct my party through a grassy and well watered route; and, if I were so fortunate as to effect this, I felt assured that the journey, once commenced, would be finished only by our arrival at Port Essington. Buoyed up by this feeling, and by confidence in myself, I prevailed against the solicitations and arguments of my friends, and commenced my preparations, which, so far as my own slender means and the contributions of kind friends allowed, were rather hurriedly completed by the 13th August, 1844.
As our movements were to be comparatively in light marching order, our preparations were confined more to such provisions and stores as were actually necessary, than to anything else. But I had frequently reason to regret that I was not better furnished with instruments, particularly Barometers, or a boiling water apparatus, to ascertain the elevation of the country and ranges we had to travel over. The only instruments which I carried, were a Sextant and Artificial Horizon, a Chronometer, a hand Kater’s Compass, a small Thermometer, and Arrowsmith’s Map of the Continent of New Holland.
In arranging the plan of my journey I had limited my party to six individuals; and although many young men volunteered their services, I was obliged to decline their offers, and confine myself to the stated number, as it was intimately connected with the principles and the means on which I started.
On leaving Sydney, my companions consisted of Mr. James Calvert; Mr. John Roper; John Murphy, a lad of about 16 years old: of William Phillips, a prisoner of the Crown; and of “Harry Brown,” an aboriginal of the Newcastle tribe: making with myself six individuals.
We left Sydney, on the night of the 13th August, for Moreton Bay, in the steamer “Sovereign,” Captain Cape; and I have much pleasure in recording and thankfully acknowledging the liberality and disinterested kindness of the Hunter’s River Steam Navigation Company, in allowing me a free passage for my party with our luggage and thirteen horses. The passage was unusually long, and, instead of arriving at Brisbane in three days, we were at sea a week, so that my horses suffered much for food and water, and became discouragingly poor. On arriving at Brisbane, we were received with the greatest kindness by my friends the “Squatters,” a class principally composed of young men of good education, gentlemanly habits, and high principles, and whose unbounded hospitality and friendly assistance I had previously experienced during my former travels through the district. These gentlemen and the inhabitants of Brisbane overloaded me with kind contributions, much of which, however, to avoid any unnecessary increase to my luggage, I found myself compelled to decline or leave behind; so that I had to forego the advantage of many useful and desirable articles, from their being too cumbersome for my limited means of carriage, and therefore interfering with the arrangements for my undertaking.
My means, however, had since my arrival been so much increased, that I was after much reluctance prevailed upon to make one change — to increase my party; and the following persons were added to the expedition:— Mr. Pemberton Hodgson, a resident of the district; Mr. Gilbert; Caleb, an American negro; and “Charley,” an aboriginal native of the Bathurst tribe. Mr. Hodgson was so desirous of accompanying me that, in consideration of former obligations, I could not refuse him, and, as he was fond of Botanical pursuits, I thought he might be useful. Of Mr. Gilbert I knew nothing; he was in the service of Mr. Gould, the talented Zoologist who has added so much to our knowledge of the Fauna of Australia, and expressed himself so anxious for an opportunity of making important observations as to the limits of the habitat of the Eastern Coast Birds, and also where those of the North Coast commence; as well as of discovering forms new to Science during the progress of the journey, that, from a desire to render all the service in my power to Natural History, I found myself obliged to yield to his solicitations, although for some time I was opposed to his wish. These gentlemen equipped themselves, and added four horses and two bullocks to those already provided.
Perhaps, of all the difficulties I afterwards encountered, none were of so much real annoyance as those we experienced at first starting from Brisbane. Much rain had fallen, which filled the creeks and set them running, and made the road so boggy and soft as to render them almost impassable. It took us the whole day to transport our party, cattle, and provisions over the river, and the operation was not concluded before sunset; but, as it was a fine moonlight night, I determined to start, however short my first stage might be. Fortunately, my friends had lent me a bullock dray to convey a portion of our stores as far as Darling Downs; but, having purchased a light spring cart, it was also loaded; and, flattering myself that we should proceed comfortably and rapidly, I gave orders to march. After much continued difficulty in urging and assisting our horses to drag the cart through the boggy road, we arrived, at about one o’clock in the morning, at Cowper’s Plains, about ten miles from Brisbane.
I now found my cart an impediment to our movements; but, as it had been an expensive article, I did not despair of its becoming more useful after passing the boggy country. A few days afterwards, however, an accident settled the question; the horses ran away with it, and thereby the shaft was broken, and the spring injured, so that I was compelled to leave it; which I then did most cheerfully, as it is always easier to man to yield to necessity, than to adopt an apparently inconvenient measure by his own free will. The load was removed to pack-horses, and we proceeded with comparative ease to Mr. Campbell’s station, enjoying the hospitality of the settlers as we passed on, and carrying with us their best wishes.
I was fortunate in exchanging my broken cart for three good travelling bullocks, and afterwards purchased five draft-bullocks, which we commenced to break in for the pack-saddle; for I had by this time satisfied myself that we could not depend upon the horses for carrying our load. Neither my companions nor myself knew much about bullocks, and it was a long time before we were reconciled to the dangerous vicinity of their horns. By means, however, of iron nose-rings with ropes attached, we obtained a tolerable command over their movements; and, at last, by dint of habit, soon became familiar with, and even got attached to, our blunt and often refractory Compagnons De Voyage.
By a present from Messieurs Campbell and Stephens of four young steers and one old bullock, and of a fat bullock from Mr. Isaacs, our stock of cattle consisted now of 16 head: of horses we had 17: and our party consisted of ten individuals. Of provisions — we had 1200 lbs. of flour: 200 lbs. of sugar: 80 lbs. of tea: 20 lbs. of gelatine: and other articles of less consideration, but adding much to our comfort during the first few weeks of our journey. Of ammunition — we had about 30 pounds of powder, and 8 bags of shot of different sizes, chiefly of No. 4 and No. 6. Every one, at my desire, had provided himself with two pair of strong trowsers, three strong shirts, and two pair of shoes; and I may further remark that some of us were provided with Ponchos, made of light strong calico, saturated with oil, which proved very useful to us by keeping out the wet, and made us independent of the weather; so that we were well provided for seven months, which I was sanguine enough to think would be a sufficient time for our journey. The result proved that our calculations, as to the provisions, were very nearly correct; for even our flour, much of which was destroyed by accident, lasted to the end of May, the eighth month of our journey; but, as to the time it occupied, we were very much deceived.
Our riding-saddles and pack-saddles were made of good materials, but they were not fitted to the horses’ backs, which caused a constant inconvenience, and which would not have happened, had my means allowed me to go to a greater expense. So long as we had spare horses, to allow those with sore backs to recover, we did not suffer by it: but when we were compelled to ride the same horses without intermission, it exposed us to great misery and even danger, as well as the risk of losing our provisions and stores. Our pack-saddles had consequently to be altered to the dimensions of the bullocks; and, having to use the new ones for breaking in, they were much injured, even before we left Mr. Campbell’s to commence our journey. The statements of what a bullock was able to carry were very contradictory; but in putting 250 lbs. upon them the animals were overloaded; and my experience has since shown me that they cannot, continually day after day, carry more than 150 lbs. for any distance. The difficulties which we met with for the first three weeks, were indeed very trying:— the loading of bullocks and horses took generally two hours; and the slightest accident, or the cargo getting loose during the day’s journey, frequently caused the bullocks to upset their loads and break the straps, and gave us great trouble even in catching them again:— at night, too, if we gave them the slightest chance, they would invariably stray back to the previous camp; and we had frequently to wait until noon before Charley and Brown, who generally performed the office of herdsman in turns, recovered the ramblers. The consequences were that we could proceed only very slowly, and that, for several months, we had to keep a careful watch upon them throughout the night. The horses, with some few exceptions, caused us less trouble at the commencement of our journey than afterwards, when our hobbles were worn out and lost, and, with the exception of one or two which in turns were tethered in the neighbourhood of the camp in order to prevent the others from straying, they were necessarily allowed to feed at large. It may readily be imagined that my anxiety to secure our horses was very great, because the loss of them would have put an immediate stop to my undertaking. — But I hasten to enter on the narrative of our journey.
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