Migration of the birds — journey to the eastward — flooded plains — native family — proceed south, but find no water — again turn eastward — sterile country — salt lagoon — distant hills to the east — return to the camp — intense heat — officers attacked by scurvy — journey to the west — no water — forced to return — illness of Mr. Poole — visited by a native — second journey to the eastward — story of the native — kites and crows — erect a pyramid on Mount Poole — preparations for a move — indications of rain — intense anxiety — heavy rain — Mr. Poole leaves with the home returning party — break up the depot — Mr. Poole’s sudden death — his funeral — progress westward — the Jerboa — establishment of second depot — native gluttony — distant mountains seen — reach Lake Torrens — examination of the country N.w. of it — return to the depot — visited by natives — preparations for departure again into the northwest interior.
The three last days of February were cool in comparison to the few preceding ones. The wind was from the south, and blew so heavily that I anticipated rough weather at the commencement of March. But that rough month set in with renewed heat, consequent on the wind returning to its old quarter the E.S.E. There were however some heavy clouds floating about, and from the closeness of the atmosphere I hoped that rain would have fallen, but all these favourable signs vanished, the thermometer ascending to more than 100 degrees.
When we first pitched our tents at the Depot the neighbourhood of it teemed with animal life. The parrots and paroquets flew up and down the creeks collecting their scattered thousands, and making the air resound with their cries. Pigeons congregated together; bitterns, cockatoos, and other birds; all collected round as preparatory to migrating. In attendance on these were a variety of the Accipitrine class, hawks of different kinds, making sad havoc amongst the smaller birds. About the period of my return from the north they all took their departure, and we were soon wholly deserted. We no longer heard the discordant shriek of the parrots, or the hoarse croaking note of the bittern. They all passed away simultaneously in a single day; the line of migration being directly to the N.W., from which quarter we had small flights of ducks and pelicans.
On the 5th of March I sent Mr. Browne to the S.W., to a small creek similar to that in the Rocky Glen and in the same range, in the hope that as we had seen fires in that direction he might fall in with the natives, but he was unsuccessful.
On the 6th I sent Flood to the eastward to see if he could recover the channel of the main creek on the other side of the plain on which Mr. Poole had lost it; he returned the following day, with information that at 25 miles from the Depot he had recovered it, and found more water than he could have supposed. The day of Flood’s return was exceedingly hot and close, and in the evening we had distant thunder, but no rain.
In consequence of his report, I now determined on a journey to the eastward to ascertain the character of the country between us and the Darling, and left the camp with this intention on the 12th instant. I should have started earlier than that day had not Mr. Poole’s illness prevented me, but as he rallied, I proceeded on my excursion, accompanied by Mr. Browne, Flood, and another of the men. We observed several puddles near our old camp on the main creek as we rode away, so that rain must have fallen there though not at the Depot. After passing the little conical hill of which I have already spoken, we traced the creek down until we saw plains of great extent before us, and as the creek trended to the south, skirting them on that side, we rode across them on a bearing of 322 degrees or N.W.1/2 N. They were 7 or 8 miles in breadth, and full 12 miles in length from east to west; their soil was rich and grassed in many places. At the extremity of the plains was a sand hill, close to which we again came on the creek, but without water, that which Flood had found being a little more to the eastward. Its channel at this place was deep, shaded, and moist, but very narrow. I was quite surprised when we came to the creek where Flood had been to find so much water; there was a serpentine sheet, of more than a quarter of a mile in length, which at first sight appeared to be as permanent as that at the Depot. The banks were high and composed of light rich alluvial soil, on which there were many new shrubs growing; the whole vegetation seemed to be more forward on this side of the hills than on that where the Depot was. Just as we halted we saw a small column of smoke rise up due south, and on looking in that direction observed some grassy plains spreading out like a boundless stubble, the grass being of the kind from which the natives collect seed for subsistence at this season of the year.
Early on the morning of the 14th March we again saw smoke in the same direction as before, but somewhat to the eastward, as if the grass or brush had been fired. In hopes that we should come upon some of the natives on the plains, through which the creek appeared to run, I determined on examining them before I proceeded to the eastward. We accordingly crossed its channel when we mounted our horses after breakfast, and rode at some little distance from it on a course of 80 degrees or nearly east, over flooded lands of somewhat sandy soil, covered with different kinds of grass, of which large heaps that had been thrashed out by the natives were piled up like hay cocks. At about two and a half miles we ascended a sandy rise of about fifty feet in elevation, whence we obtained bearings of the little conical hill at the western termination of the plain, and of the hill we had called the Black Hill. These bearings with our latitude made the distance we had travelled 33 miles. From the sand hill we overlooked plains of great extent to the N.E.; partly grassed and partly bare, but to the eastward there was low brush and a country similar to that we had traversed before the commencement of the sandy ridges. There were low sandy undulations to be seen; but of no great height. I now turned for the smoke on a bearing of 187 degrees, or nearly south, traversing a barren sandy level intermediate between the sand hill and the plains now upon our right, at length we entered upon the flooded ground, it was soft and yielding, and marked all over with the tracks of the natives; at 7 miles arrived at a large clump of gum-trees, and under them the channel of the creek which we had lost on the upper part of the plains was again visible. It was here very broad, but quite bare, except a belt of polygonum growing on either side, which had been set on fire, and was now in flames. We were fortunate enough soon after to find a long shallow sheet of water, in the bed of the creek, where we rested ourselves. It was singular enough that we should have pulled up close to the camp of some natives, all of whom had hidden themselves in the polygonum, except an old woman who was fast asleep, but who did not faint on seeing Mr. Browne close to her when she awoke. With this old lady we endeavoured to enter into conversation, and in order to allay her fears gave her five or six cockatoos we had shot, on which two other fair ones crept from behind the polygonum and advanced towards us. Finding that the men were out hunting, and only the women with the children were present, I determined to stop at this place until the following morning, we therefore unloaded the horses and allowed them to go and feed. A little before sunset, the two men returned to their families. They were much astonished at seeing us quietly seated before their huts, and approached us with some caution, but soon got reconciled to our presence. One of them had caught a talpero and a lizard, but the other had not killed any thing, so we gave him a dinner of mutton. The language of these people was a mixture between that of the river and hill tribes; but from what reason I am unable to say, although we understood their answers to general questions, we could not gather any lengthened information from them. I gave the elder native a blanket, and to the other a knife, with both of which they seemed highly delighted, and in return I suppose paid us the compliment of sending their wives to us as soon as it became dusk, but as we did not encourage their advances they left us after a short visit. The native who had killed the talpero, skinned it the moment he arrived in the camp, and, having first moistened them, stuffed the skin with the leaves of a plant of very astringent properties. All these natives were very poor, particularly the men, nor do I think that at this season of the year they can have much animal food of any kind to subsist on. Their principal food appeared to be seeds of various kinds, as of the box-tree, and grass seeds, which they pound into cakes and bake, together with different kinds of roots.
On the 15th we started at 7 a.m., and crossing at the head of the water, pursued a south course over extensive flooded plains, on which we again lost the channel of the creek, as, after winding round a little contiguous sand hill, it split into numberless branches; but although the plains hereabouts were well grassed, the soil was not so good as that on the plains above them. At six miles we ascended a sand hill, from which we could see to the extremity of the plain; but it had no apparent outlet excepting to the E.S.E. I therefore proceeded on that course for three miles, when we lost sight of all gum-trees, and found ourselves amongst scrub. Low bushes bounded the horizon all round, and hid the grassy plains from our view; but they were denser to the south and east than at any other point. Mount Lyell, the large hill south, bore 140 degrees to the east of north, distant between forty and fifty miles. A short time after we left the grassy flats we crossed the dry bed of a large lagoon, which had been seen by Mr. Poole on a bearing of 77 degrees from the Magnetic Hill. In the richer soil, a plant with round, striped fruit upon it, of very bitter taste, a species of cucumber, was growing. We next proceeded to the eastward, and surveying the country from higher ground, observed that the creek had no outlet from the plains, and that it could not but terminate on them.
As I had no object in a prolonged journey to the south, I turned back from this station, and retracing my steps to the water where we had left the natives, reached it at half-past six. All our friends were still there; we had, therefore, the pleasure of passing another afternoon with them, during which they were joined by two other natives, with their families, who had been driven in from the south, like ourselves, by the want of water. They assured us that all the water in that quarter had disappeared, “that the sun had taken it,” and that we should not find a drop to the eastward, where I told them I was going. All these men, excepting one, had been circumcised. The single exception had the left fore-tooth of his upper jaw extracted, and I therefore concluded that he belonged to a different tribe. I had hoped to have seen many more natives in this locality; but it struck me, from what I observed, that they were dispersed at the different water-holes, there being no one locality capable of supporting any number.
The low and flooded track I have been describing must be dreadfully cold during the winter season, and the natives, who are wholly unprovided for inclemency of any kind, must suffer greatly from exposure; but at this time the temperature still continued very high, and the constant appearance of the deep purple tint opposite to the rising and setting sun seemed to indicate a continuance of it.
As our horses had had some long journeys for the last three days, we merely returned to our first bivouac on the creek, when we left the natives, with whom we parted on very good terms, and a promise on their part to come and see us. On the 17th started at quarter-past six for the eastward, with as much water as we could carry in the cart, as from the accounts of the natives we scarcely hoped to find any. For the first five miles we kept a course rather to the north of east, nearly E.N.E. indeed, to round some sand-hills we should otherwise have been obliged to cross. There were very extensive plains to our left, on which water must lie during winter; but their soil was not good, or the vegetation thick upon them. We could just see the points of the northern flat-topped ranges beyond them. At five miles we turned due east, and crossed several small plains, separated by sandy undulations, not high enough to be termed ridges; the country, both to the south and east, appearing to be extremely low. At about fifteen miles, just as we were ascending a sand hill, Mr. Browne caught sight of a native stealing through the brush, after whom he rode; but the black observing him, ran away. On this Mr. Browne called out to him, when he stopped; but the horse happening to neigh at the moment, the poor fellow took to his heels, and secreted himself so adroitly, that we could not find him. He must, indeed, have been terribly alarmed at the uncouth sound he heard.
A short time before our adventure with the native we had seen three pelicans coming from the north. They kept very low to the ground, and wheeled along in circles in a very remarkable manner, as if they had just risen from water; but at length they soared upwards, and flew straight for the lagoon where we had left the natives. With the exception of these three birds, no other was to be seen in those dreary regions. Both Mr. Browne and I, however, rode over a snake, but our horses fortunately escaped being bitten; this animal had seized a mouse, which it let go on being disturbed, and crept into a hole; it was very pretty, being of a bright yellow colour with brown specks. Arriving at the termination of the sand hills, we looked down upon an immense shallow basin, extending to the north and south-east further than the range of vision, which must, I should imagine, be wholly impassable during the rainy season. There was scarcely any vegetation, a proof, it struck me, that it retains water on its surface till the summer is so advanced that the sun’s rays are too powerful for any plants that may spring up, or that the heat bakes the soil so that nothing can force itself through. There was little, if any grass to be seen; but the mesembryanthemum reappeared upon it, with other salsolaceous plants. The former was of a new variety, with flowers on a long slender stalk, heaps of which had been gathered by the natives for the seed. Of the timber of these regions there was none; a few gum-trees near the creeks, with box-trees on the flats, and a few stunted acacia and hakea on the small hills, constituted almost the whole. Water boiled on this plain at 212 degrees; that is to say at our camp were we slept, about two miles advanced into it, but the plain extended about five miles further to the eastward. After crossing this on the following morning, we traversed a country which Mr. Browne informed me was very similar to that near Lake Torrens. It consisted of sand banks, or drifts, with large bare patches at intervals: the whole bearing testimony to the violence of the rains that must sometimes deluge it. We then traversed a succession of flats (I call them so because they did not deserve the name of plains) separated from each other by patches of red sand and clay, that were not more than a foot and a half above the surface of the flats. At nine miles the country became covered with low scrub, and we soon after passed the dry bed of a lagoon, about a mile in circumference, on which there was a coating of salt and gypsum resting on soft black mud. About a mile from this we passed a new tree, similar to one we had seen on the Cawndilla plain. From this point the land imperceptibly rose, until at length we found ourselves on some sandy elevations thickly covered with scrub of acacia, almost all dead, but there was a good deal of grass around them, and the spot might at another season, and if the trees had been in leaf, have looked pretty. We pushed through this scrub, the soil being a bright red sand for nine miles, when we suddenly found ourselves at the base of a small stony hill, of about fifty feet in height. From the summit we overlooked the region round about. To the eastward, as a medium point, it was covered with a dense scrub, that extended to the base of a range of hills, distant about 33 miles, the extremities of which bore 71 degrees and 152 degrees respectively from us. But although the country under them was covered with brush, the hills appeared to be clear and denuded of brushes of any kind. Our position here was about 138 miles from the Darling, and about 97 from the Depot. My object in this excursion had been to ascertain the characteristic of the country between us and the Darling, but I did not think it necessary to run any risks with my horses, by pushing on for the hills, as I could not have reached them until late the following day, when in the event of not finding water, their fate would have been sealed; for we could not have returned with them to the creek. They had already been two days without, if I except the little we had spared them from the casks. I had deemed it prudent to send Joseph and Lewis back to the creek for a fresh supply, with orders to return and meet at a certain point, and there to await our arrival, for without this supply I felt satisfied we should have great difficulty as it was in getting our animals back to the creek. We descended from the hill therefore to some green looking trees, of a foliage new to me, to rest for an hour before we turned back again. There were neither flowers or fruit on the trees, but from their leaf and habit, I took them to be a species of the Juglans. At sunset we mounted our horses and travelled to the edge of the acacia scrub to give our horses some of the grass, and halted in it for the night, but started early on the following morning to meet Joseph. We reached the appointed place, about 10, but not finding him there continued to journey onwards, and at five miles met him. We then stopped and gave the horses 12 gallons of water each, after which we tethered them out, but they were so restless that I determined to mount them, and pushing on reached the creek at half-past 1, a.m. The animals requiring rest I remained stationary the next day, and was myself glad to keep in the shade, not that the day was particularly hot, but because I began to feel the effects of constant exposure. Having expressed some opinion, however, that there might have been water to the north of us, in the direction whence the pelicans came, Mr. Browne volunteered to ride out, and accordingly with Flood left me about 10, but returned late in the afternoon without having found any. He ascertained that the creek I had sent Flood to trace when Mr. Stuart went to sketch in the ranges, terminated in the barren plain we had crossed, and such, the reader will observe, is the general termination of all the creeks of these singular and depressed regions.
We returned to the camp on the 21st, and from that period to the end of the month I remained stationary, employed in various ways. On the 24th and 29th we took different sets of lunars, which gave our longitude as before, nearly 141 degrees 29 minutes, the variation of the compass being 5 degrees 14 minutes East.
The month of April set in without any indication of a change in the weather. It appeared as if the flood gates of Heaven were closed upon us for ever. We now began to feel the effects of disappointment, and watched the sky with extreme anxiety, inso-much that the least cloud raised all our hopes. The men were employed in various ways to keep them in health. We planted seeds in the bed of the creek, but the sun burnt them to cinders the moment they appeared above the ground. On the evening of the 3rd there was distant thunder, and heavy clouds to the westward. I thought it might have been that some shower had approached sufficiently near for me to benefit by the surface water it would have left to push towards Lake Torrens, and therefore mounted my horse and rode away to the westward on the 4th, but returned on the night of the 7th in disappointment. Time rolled on fast, and still we were unable to stir. Mr. Piesse, who took great delight in strolling out with my gun, occasionally shot a new bird.
On the 4th the wind blew strong from the south; but although the air was cooled, no rain fell, nor indeed was there any likelihood of rain with the wind in that quarter. Still as this was the first decided shift from the points to which it had kept so steadily, we augured good from it. On the 7th a very bright meteor was seen to burst in the south-east quarter of the heavens; crossing the sky with a long train of light, and in exploding seemed to form numerous stars. Whether it was fancy or not we thought the temperature cooled down from this period. On this day also we had a change of moon, but neither produced a variation of wind or weather of any immediate benefit to us. On the 14th we tried to ascertain the dew point, but failed, as in previous instances. The thermometer in our underground room stood at 78 degrees of Farenheit, but we could not reduce the moist bulb below 49 degrees; nor was I surprised at this, considering we had not had rain for nearly four months, and that during our stay at the Depot we had never experienced a dew. The ground was thoroughly heated to the depth of three or four feet, and the tremendous heat that prevailed had parched vegetation and drawn moisture from everything. In an air so rarified, and an atmosphere so dry, it was hardly to be expected that any experiment upon it would be attended with its usual results, or that the particles of moisture so far separated, could be condensed by ordinary methods. The mean of the thermometer for the months of December, January, and February, had been 101 degrees, 104 degrees, and 101 degrees respectively in the shade. Under its effects every screw in our boxes had been drawn, and the horn handles of our instruments, as well as our combs, were split into fine laminae. The lead dropped out of our pencils, our signal rockets were entirely spoiled; our hair, as well as the wool on the sheep, ceased to grow, and our nails had become as brittle as glass. The flour lost more than eight per cent of its original weight, and the other provisions in a still greater proportion. The bran in which our bacon had been packed, was perfectly saturated, and weighed almost as heavy as the meat; we were obliged to bury our wax candles; a bottle of citric acid in Mr. Browne’s box became fluid, and escaping, burnt a quantity of his linen; and we found it difficult to write or draw, so rapidly did the fluid dry in our pens and brushes. It was happy for us, therefore, that a cooler season set in, otherwise I do not think that many of us could much longer have survived. But, although it might be said that the intense heat of the summer had passed, there still were intervals of most oppressive weather.
About the beginning of March I had had occasion to speak to Mr. Browne as to certain indications of disease that were upon me. I had violent headaches, unusual pains in my joints, and a coppery taste in my mouth. These symptoms I attributed to having slept so frequently on the hard ground and in the beds of creeks, and it was only when my mouth became sore, and my gums spongy, that I felt it necessary to trouble Mr. Browne, who at once told me that I was labouring under an attack of scurvy, and I regretted to learn from him that both he and Mr. Poole were similarly affected, but they hoped I had hitherto escaped. Mr. Browne was the more surprised at my case, as I was very moderate in my diet, and had taken but little food likely to cause such a malady. Of we three Mr. Poole suffered most, and gradually declined in health. For myself I immediately took double precautions, and although I could not hope soon to shake off such a disease, especially under such unfavourable circumstances as those in which we were placed, I was yet thankful that I did not become worse. For Mr. Browne, as he did not complain, I had every hope that he too had succeeded in arresting the progress of this fearful distemper. It will naturally occur to the reader as singular, that the officers only should have been thus attacked; but the fact is, that they had been constantly absent from the camp, and had therefore been obliged to use bacon, whereas the men were living on fresh mutton; besides, the same men were seldom taken on a second journey, but were allowed time to recover from the exposure to which they had been subjected, but for the officers there was no respite.
On the 18th the wind, which had again settled in the S.E. changed to the N.E., and the sky became generally overcast. Heavy clouds hung over the Mount Serle chain, and I thought that rain would have fallen, but all these favourable indications vanished before sunset. At dawn of the morning of the 19th, dense masses of clouds were seen, and thunder heard to the west; and the wind shifting to that quater, we hoped that some of the clouds would have been blown over to us, but they kept their place for two days, and then gradually disappeared. These distant indications, however, were sufficient to rouse us to exertion, in the hope of escaping from the fearful captivity in which we had so long been held. I left the camp on the 21st with Mr. Browne and Flood, thinking that rain might have extended to the eastward from Mount Serle, sufficiently near to enable us to push into the N.W. interior, and as it appeared to me that a W. by N. course would take me abreast of Mount Hopeless, I ran upon it. At 16 miles I ascended a low range, but could not observe anything from it to the westward but scrub. Descending from this range we struck the head of a creek, and at six miles came on the last dregs of a pool of water, so thick that it was useless to us. We next crossed barren stony undulations and open plains, some of them apparently subject to floods; and halted at half-past six, after a journey of between thirty and forty miles without water, and with very little grass for our horses to eat. Although the course we kept, had taken us at times to a considerable distance from the creek, we again came on it before sunset, and consequently halted upon its banks; but in tracing it down on the following morning we lost its channel on an extensive plain, and therefore continued our journey to the westward. At seven miles we entered a dense scrub, and at fifteen ascended a sand hill, from which we expected to have had a more than usually extensive view, but it was limited to the next sand hill, nor was there the slightest prospect of a change of country being at hand. At four miles from this position we came upon a second creek seemingly from the N.E., whose appearance raised our hopes of obtaining water; but as its channel became sandy, and turned southwards, I left it, and once more running on our old course, pulled up at sunset under a bank of sand, without anything either for ourselves or our horses to drink. During the latter part of the evening we had observed a good deal of grass on the sand hills, nor was there any deficiency of it round our bivouac; but, notwithstanding that there was more than enough for the few horses we had, a herd of cattle would have discussed the whole in a night. It was evident from the state of the ground that no rain had fallen hereabouts, and I consequently began to doubt whether it had extended beyond the mountains. Comparing the appearance of the country we were in, with that through which Mr. Browne passed for 50 miles before he came upon Lake Torrens, and concluding that some such similar change would have taken place here if we had approached within any reasonable distance of that basin, I could not but apprehend that we were still a long way from it.
The horses having refused the water we had found in the creek, I could hardly expect they would drink it on their return, so that I calculated our distance from water at about 68 miles; and I foresaw that unless we should succeed in finding some early in the day following, it would be necessary for us to make for the Depot again. Close to where we stopped there was a large burrow of Talperos, an animal, as I have observed, similar to the rabbit in its habits, and one of which the natives are very fond, as food. The sandy ridges appeared to be full of them, and other animals, that must live for many months at a time without water. Whilst we were sitting in the dusk near our fire, two beautiful parrots attracted by it, I suppose, pitched close to us; but immediately took wing again, and flew away to the N.W. They, no doubt, thought that we were near water, but like ourselves were doomed to disappointment. During the evening also some plovers flew over us, and we heard some native dogs howling to the south-west. At daylight, therefore, we rode in that direction, with the hope of finding the element we now so much required. At three miles a large grassy flat opened out to view upon our right, similar to that at the termination of the Depot creek. It might have contained 1000 acres, but there was not at the first glance, a tree to be seen upon it This flat was bounded to the S.W. by a sand bank, lying at right angles to the sand ridges we had been crossing. The latter, therefore, ran down upon this bank in parallel, lines, some falling short of, and others striking it; so that, as the drainage was towards the embankment, the collected waters lodged against it. After crossing a portion of the plain we saw some box-trees in a hollow, towards which we rode, and then came upon a deep dry pond, in whose bottom the natives had dug several wells, and had evidently lingered near it as long as a drop of water remained. It was now clear that our further search for water would be useless. I therefore turned on a course of 12 degrees to the north of east for the muddy water we had passed two days before, and halted there about an hour after sunset, having journeyed 42 miles. We fell into our tracks going out about four miles before we halted, and were surprised to observe that a solitary native had been running them down. On riding a little further however, we noticed several tracks of different sizes, as if a family of natives had been crossing the country to the north-west. It is more than probable that their water having failed in the hills, they were on their way to some other place where they had a well.
Although we had ourselves been without water for two days, the mud in the creek was so thick that I could not swallow it, and was really astonished how Mr. Browne managed to drink a pint of it made into tea. It absolutely fell over the cup of the panakin like thick cream, and stuck to the horses’ noses like pipe-clay. They drank sparingly however, and took but little grass during the night. As we pursued our journey homewards on the following day, we passed several flights of dotterel making to the south, this being the first migration we had observed in that direction. These birds were in great numbers on the plains of Adelaide the year preceding, and had afforded good sport to my friend Torrens; we also observed a flight of pelicans, wheeling about close to the ground, as they had before done to the eastward, as well as a flight of the black-shouldered hawks hovering in the air. Our day’s ride had been very long and fatiguing, as the horses were tired, but we got relieved by our arrival at the camp a little before sunset on the 25th: and thus terminated another journey in disappointment. We regretted to find that Mr. Poole was seriously indisposed. His muscles were now attacked and he was suffering great pain, but, as the disease appeared inclined to make to the surface, Mr. Browne had some hopes of a favourable change. Both Mr. Browne and myself found that the sameness of our diet began to disagree with us, and were equally anxious for the reappearance of vegetation, in the hope that we should be able to collect sow-thistles or the tender shoots of the rhagodia as a change. We had, whilst it lasted, taken mint tea, in addition to the scanty supply of tea to which we were obliged to limit ourselves, but I do not think it was wholesome.
The moon entered her third quarter on the 27th, but brought no change; on the contrary she chased away the clouds as she rose, and moved through the heavens in unshrouded and dazzling brightness. Sometimes a dark mass of clouds would rise simultaneously with her, in the west, but as the queen of night advanced in her upward course they gradually diminished the velocity with which they at first came up; stopped, and fell back again, below the horizon. Not once, but fifty times have we watched these apparently contending forces, but whether I am right in attributing the cause I will not say.
At this time (the end of April) the weather was very fine, although the thermometer ranged high. The wind being steady at south accounted for the unusual height of the barometrical column, which rose to 30.600. On the night of the 20th we had a heavy dew, the first since our departure from the Darling. On the morning of the 28th it thundered, and a dense cloud passed over to the north, the wind was unsteady, and I hoped that the storm would have worked round, but it did not. At ten the wind sprung up from the south, the sky cleared and all our hopes were blighted.
Notwithstanding that we treated the natives who came to the creek with every kindness, none ever visited us, and I was the more surprised at this, because I could not but think that we were putting them to great inconvenience by our occupation of this spot. Towards the end of the month, it was so cold that we were glad to have fires close to our tents. Mr. Poole had gradually become worse and worse, and was now wholly confined to his bed, unable to stir, a melancholy affliction both to himself and us, rendering our detention in that gloomy region still more painful. My men generally were in good health, but almost all had bleeding at the nose; I was only too thankful that my own health did not give way, though I still felt the scurvy in a mitigated form, but Mr. Browne had more serious symptoms about him.
The 10th of May completed the ninth month of our absence from Adelaide, and still we were locked up without the hope of escape, whilst every day added fresh causes of anxiety to those I had already to bear up against. Mr. Poole became worse, all his skin along the muscles turned black, and large pieces of spongy flesh hung from the roof of his mouth, which was in such a state that he could hardly eat. Instead of looking with eagerness to the moment of our liberation, I now dreaded the consequent necessity of moving him about in so dreadful a condition. Mr. Browne attended him with a constancy and kindness that could not but raise him in my estimation, doing every thing which friendship or sympathy could suggest.
On the 11th about 3 p.m. I was roused by the dogs simultaneously springing up and rushing across the creek, but supposing they had seen a native dog, I did not rise; however, I soon knew by their continued barking that they had something at bay, and Mr. Piesse not long after came to inform me a solitary native was on the top of some rising ground in front of the camp. I sent him therefore with some of the men to call off the dogs, and to bring him down to the tents. The poor fellow had fought manfully with the dogs, and escaped injury, but had broken his waddy over one of them. He was an emaciated and elderly man, rather low in stature, and half dead with hunger and thirst; he drank copiously of the water that was offered to him, and then ate as much as would have served me for four and twenty dinners. The men made him up a screen of boughs close to the cart near the servants, and I gave him a blanket in which he rolled himself up and soon fell fast asleep. Whence this solitary stranger could have come from we could not divine. No other natives approached to look after him, nor did he shew anxiety for any absent companion. His composure and apparent self-possession were very remarkable, for he neither exhibited astonishment or curiosity at the novelties by which he was surrounded. His whole demeanour was that of a calm and courageous man, who finding himself placed in unusual jeopardy, had determined not to be betrayed into the slightest display of fear or timidity.
From the period of our return from the eastward, I had remained quiet in the camp, watching every change in the sky; I was indeed reluctant to absent myself for any indefinite period, in consequence of Mr. Poole’s precarious state of health. He had now used all the medicines we had brought out, and none therefore remained either for him or any one else who might subsequently be taken ill. As however he was better, on the 12th, I determined to make a second excursion to the eastward, to see if there were any more natives in the neighbourhood of the grassy plains than when I was last there. Wishing to get some samples of wood I took the light cart and Tampawang also, in the hope that he would be of use.
Although the water in the creek had sunk fearfully there was still a month’s supply remaining, but if it had been used by our stock it would then have been dry. Close to the spot where we had before stopped, there were two huts that had been recently erected. Before these two fires were burning, and some troughs of grass seed were close to them, but no native could we see, neither did any answer to our call. Mr. Browne, however, observing some recent tracks, ran them down, and discovered a native and his lubra who had concealed themselves in the hollow of a tree, from which they crept as soon as they saw they were discovered. The man, we had seen before, and the other proved to be the frail one who exhibited such indignation at our rejecting her addresses on a former occasion; being a talkative damsel, we were glad to renew our acquaintance with her. We learnt from them that the second hut belonged to an absent native who was out hunting, the father of a pretty little girl who now obeyed their signal and came forth. They said the water on the plain had dried up, and that the only water-holes remaining were to the west, viz. at our camp, and to the south, where they said there were two water-holes. As they had informed us, the absent native made his appearance at sunset, but his bag was very light, so we once more gave them all our mutton; he proved to be the man Mr. Browne chased on the sand hills, the strongest native we had seen; he wanted the front tooth, but was not circumcised.
In the evening we had a thunder storm, but could have counted the drops of rain that fell, notwithstanding the thunder was loud and the lightning vivid. We returned to the Depot on the 13th, and on crossing the plain Mr. Browne had well nigh captured a jerboa, which sprang from under my horse’s legs, but managed to elude him, and popped into a little hole before he could approach sufficiently near to strike at it. On reaching the tents we had the mortification to find Mr. Poole still worse, but I attributed his relapse in some measure to a depression of spirits. The old man who had come to the camp the day before we left it, was still there, and had apparently taken up his quarters between the cart and my tent. During our absence the men had shewn him all the wonders of the camp, and he in his turn had strongly excited their anticipations, by what he had told them.
He appeared to be quite aware of the use of the boat, intimating that it was turned upside down, and pointed to the N.W. as the quarter in which we should use her. He mistook the sheep net for a fishing net, and gave them to understand that there were fish in those waters so large that they would not get through the meshes. Being anxious to hear what he had to say I sent for him to my tent, and with Mr. Browne cross-questioned him.
It appeared quite clear to us that he was aware of the existence of large water somewhere or other to the northward and westward. He pointed from W.N.W. round to the eastward of north, and explained that large waves higher than his head broke on the shore. On my shewing him the fish figured in Sir Thomas Mitchell’s work he knew only the cod. Of the fish figured in Cuvier’s works he gave specific names to those he recognised, as the hippocampus, the turtle, and several sea fish, as the chetodon, but all the others he included under one generic name, that of “guia,” fish.
He put his hands very cautiously on the snakes, and withdrew them suddenly as if he expected they would bite him, and evinced great astonishment when he felt nothing but the soft paper. On being asked, he expressed his readiness to accompany us when there should be water, but said we should not have rain yet. I must confess this old native raised my hopes, and made me again anxious for the moment when we should resume our labours, but when that time was to come God only knew.
It had been to no purpose that we had traversed the country in search for water. None any longer remained on the parched surface of the stony desert, if I except what remained at the Depot, and the little in the creek to the eastward. There were indeed the ravages of floods and the vestiges of inundations to be seen in the neighbourhood of every creek we had traced, and upon every plain we had crossed, but the element that had left such marks of its fury was no where to be found.
From this period I gave up all hope of success in any future effort I might make to escape from our dreary prison. Day after day, and week after week passed over our heads, without any apparent likelihood of any change in the weather. The consequences of our detention weighed heavily on my mind, and depressed my spirits, for in looking over Mr. Piesse’s monthly return of provisions on hand, I found that unless some step was taken to enable me to keep the field, I should on the fall of rain be obliged to retreat. I had by severe exertion gained a most commanding position, the wide field of the interior lay like an open sea before me, and yet every sanguine hope I had ever indulged appeared as if about to be extinguished. The only plan for me to adopt was to send a portion of the men back to Adelaide. I found by calculation that if I divided the party, retaining nine in all, and sending the remainder home, I should secure the means of pushing my researches to the end of December, before which time I hoped, (however much it had pleased Providence to stay my progress hitherto,) to have performed my task, or penetrated the heartless desert before me, to such a distance as would leave no doubt as to the question I had been directed to solve.
The old man left us on the 17th with the promise of returning, and from the careful manner in which he concealed the different things that had been given to him I thought he would have done so, but we never saw him more, and I cannot but think that he perished from the want of water in endeavouring to return to his kindred.
I have repeatedly remarked that we had been deserted by all the feathered tribes. Not only was this the case, but we had witnessed a second migration of the later broods; after these were gone, there still remained with us about fifty of the common kites and as many crows: these birds continued with us for the offals of the sheep, and had become exceedingly tame; the kites in particular came flying from the trees when a whistle was sounded, to the great amusement of the men, who threw up pieces of meat for them to catch before they fell to the ground. When the old man first came to us, we fed him on mutton, but one of the men happening to shoot a crow, he shewed such a decided preference for it, that he afterwards lived almost exclusively upon them. He was, as I have stated, when he first came to us a thin and emaciated being, but at the expiration of a fortnight when he rose to depart, he threw off his blanket and exhibited a condition that astonished us all. He was absolutely fat, and yet his face did not at all indicate such a change. If he had been fed in the dark like capons, he could not have got into better condition. Mr. Browne was anxious to accompany him, but I thought that if his suspicions were aroused he would not return, and I therefore let him depart as he came. With him all our hopes vanished, for even the presence of that savage was soothing to us, and so long as he remained, we indulged in anticipations as to the future. From the time of his departure a gloomy silence pervaded the camp; we were, indeed, placed under the most trying circumstances; every thing combined to depress our spirits and exhaust our patience. We had gradually been deserted by every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air. We had witnessed migration after migration of the feathered tribes, to that point to which we were so anxious to push our way. Flights of cockatoos, of parrots, of pigeons, and of bitterns, birds also whose notes had cheered us in the wilderness, all had taken the same high road to a better and more hospitable region. The vegetable kingdom was at a stand, and there was nothing either to engage the attention or attract the eye. Our animals had laid the ground bare for miles around the camp, and never came towards it but to drink. The axe had made a broad gap in the line of gum-trees which ornamented the creek, and had destroyed its appearance. We had to witness the gradual and fearful diminution of the water, on the possession of which our lives depended; day after day we saw it sink lower and lower, dissipated alike by the sun and the winds. From its original depth of nine feet, it now scarcely measured two, and instead of extending from bank to bank it occupied only a narrow line in the centre of the channel. Had the drought continued for a month longer than it pleased the Almighty to terminate it, that creek would have been as dry as the desert on either side. Almost heart-broken, Mr. Browne and I seldom left our tents, save to visit our sick companion. Mr. Browne had for some time been suffering great pain in his limbs, but with a generous desire to save me further anxiety carefully concealed it from me; but it was his wont to go to some acacia trees in the bed of the creek to swing on their branches, as he told me to exercise his muscles, in the hope of relaxing their rigidity.
One day, when I was sitting with Mr. Poole, he suggested the erection of two stations, one on the Red Hill and the other on the Black Hill, as points for bearings when we should leave the Depot. The idea had suggested itself to me, but I had observed that we soon lost sight of the hills in going to the north-west; and that, therefore, for such a purpose, the works would be of little use, but to give the men occupation; and to keep them in health I employed them in erecting a pyramid of stones on the summit of the Red Hill. It is twenty-one feet at the base, and eighteen feet high, and bears 329 degrees from the camp, or 31 degrees to the west of north. I little thought when I was engaged in that work, that I was erecting Mr. Poole’s monument, but so it was, that rude structure looks over his lonely grave, and will stand for ages as a record of all we suffered in the dreary region to which we were so long confined.
The months of May and June, and the first and second weeks of July passed over our heads, yet there was no indication of a change of weather. It had been bitterly cold during parts of this period, the thermometer having descended to 24 degrees; thus making the difference between the extremes of summer heat and winter’s cold no less than 133 degrees.
About the middle of June I had the drays put into serviceable condition, the wheels wedged up, and every thing prepared for moving away.
Anxious to take every measure to prevent unnecessary delay, when the day of liberation should arrive, I had sent Mr. Stuart and Mr. Piesse, with a party of chainers, to measure along the line on which I intended to move when the Depot was broken up. I had determined, as I have elsewhere informed the reader, to penetrate to the westward, in the hope of finding Lake Torrens connected with some more extensive and more central body of water; and I thought it would be satisfactory to ascertain, as nearly as possible, the distance of that basin from the Darling, and in so doing to unite the eastern and western surveys. I had assumed Sir Thomas Mitchell’s position at Williorara as correct, and had taken the most careful bearings from that point to the Depot, and the position in which they fixed it differed but little from the result of the many lunars I took during my stay there. As I purpose giving the elements of all my calculations, those more qualified than myself to judge on these matters, will correct me if I have been in error; but, as the mean of my lunars was so close to the majority of the single lunars, I cannot think they are far from the truth. Be that as it may, I assumed my position at the Depot to be in lat. 29 degrees 40 minutes 14 seconds S. and in long. 141 degrees 29 minutes 41 seconds E., the variation being 5 degrees 14 minutes East. Allowing for the variation, I directed Mr. Stuart to run the chain line on a bearing of 55 degrees to the west of north, which I intended to cut a little to the west of the park-like and grassy plain at the termination of the creek I had traced in that direction. By supplying the party with water from the camp, I enabled them to prolong the line to 30 miles.
On the 15th of June I commenced my preparations for moving; not that I had any reason so to do, but because I could not bring myself to believe that the drought would continue much longer. The felloes and spokes of the wheels of the drays had shrunk to nothing, and it was with great difficulty that we wedged them up; but the boat, which had been so long exposed to an ardent sun, had, to appearance at least, been but little injured.
As it became necessary to point out the drays that were to go with the home returning party, I was obliged to break my intentions to Mr. Poole, who I also proposed sending in charge of them. He was much affected, but, seeing the necessity of the measure, said that he was ready to obey my orders in all things. I directed Mr. Piesse to weigh out and place apart the supplies that would be required for Mr. Poole and his men, and to pack the provisions we should retain in the most compact order. On examining our bacon we found that it had lost more than half its weight, and had now completely saturated the bran in which it had been packed. Our flour had lost more than 8 per cent., and the tea in a much greater proportion.
The most valuable part of our stock were the sheep, they had kept in excellent condition, and seldom weighed less than 55 lbs. or 65 lbs.; but their flesh was perfectly tasteless. Still they were a most valuable stock, and we had enough remaining to give the men a full allowance; for the parties employed on detached excursions, could only take a day or two’s supply with them, and in consequence a quantity of back rations, if I may so term them, were constantly accumulating.
Mr. Poole’s reduced state of health rendered it necessary that a dray should be prepared for his transport, and I requested Mr. Browne to superintend every possible arrangement for his comfort. A dray was accordingly lined with sheep skins, and had a flannel tilt, as the nights were exceedingly cold, and he could not be moved to a fire. I had also a swing cot made, with pullies to raise him up when he should feel disposed to change his position.
Whilst these necessary preparations were being forwarded, I was engaged writing my public despatches.
In my communication to the Governor of South Australia, I expressed a desire that a supply of provisions might be forwarded to Williorara by the end of December, about which period I hoped I should be on my return from the interior. I regretted exceedingly putting her Majesty’s Government to this additional cost, but I trust a sufficient excuse will have been found for me in the foregoing pages. I would rather that my bones had been left to bleach in that desert than have yielded an inch of the ground I had gained at so much expense and trouble.
The 27th of June completed the fifth month of our detention at the Depot, and the prospect of our removal appeared to be as distant as ever; there were, it is true, more clouds, but they passed over us without breaking. The month of July, however, opened with every indication of a change, the sky was generally overcast, and although we had been so often disappointed, I had a presentiment that the then appearances would not vanish without rain.
About this time Mr. Poole, whose health on the whole was improving, had a severe attack of inflammation, which Mr. Browne subdued with great difficulty. After this attack he became exceedingly restless, and expressed a desire to be moved from the tent in which he had so long been confined, to the underground room, but as that rude apartment was exceedingly cold at night, I thought it advisable to have a chimney built to it before he was taken there. It was not until the 12th that it was ready for him. As the men were carrying him across the camp towards the room he was destined to occupy for so short a time, I pointed out the pyramid to him, and it is somewhat singular, that the first drops of rain, on the continuance of which our deliverance depended, fell as the men were bearing him along.
Referring back to the early part of the month, I may observe that the indications of a breaking up of the drought, became every day more apparent.
It was now clear, indeed, that the sky was getting surcharged with moisture, and it is impossible for me to describe the intense anxiety that prevailed in the camp. On the morning of the 3rd the firmament was again cloudy, but the wind shifted at noon to west, and the sun set in a sky so clear that we could hardly believe it had been so lately overcast. On the following morning he rose bright and clear as he had set, and we had a day of surpassing fineness, like a spring day in England.
The night of the 6th was the coldest night we experienced at the Depot, when the thermometer descended to 24 degrees. On the 7th a south wind made the barometer rise to 30 degrees 180 minutes, and with it despair once more stared us in the face, for with the wind in that quarter there was no hope of rain. On the 8th it still blew heavily from the south, and the barometer rose to 30 degrees 200 minutes; but the evening was calm and frosty, and the sky without a cloud. I may be wearying my reader, by entering thus into the particulars of every change that took place in the weather at this, to us, intensely anxious period, but he must excuse me; my narrative may appear dull, and should not have been intruded on the notice of the public, had I not been influenced by a sense of duty to all concerned.
No one but those who were with me at that trying time and in that fearful solitude, can form an idea of our feelings. To continue then, on the morning of the 9th it again blew fresh from the south, the sky was cloudless even in the direction of Mount Serle, and all appearance of rain had passed away.
On the 10th, to give a change to the current of my thoughts, and for exercise, I walked down the Depot creek with Mr. Browne, and turning northwards up the main branch when we reached the junction of the two creeks, we continued our ramble for two or three miles. I know not why it was, that, on this occasion more than any other, we should have contemplated the scene around us, unless it was that the peculiar tranquillity of the moment made a greater impression on our minds. Perhaps the death-like silence of the scene at that moment led us to reflect, whilst gazing on the ravages made by the floods, how fearfully that silence must sometimes be broken by the roar of waters and of winds. Here, as in other places, we observed the trunks of trees swept down from the hills, lodged high in the branches of the trees in the neighbourhood of the creek, and large accumulations of rubbish lying at their butts, whilst the line of inundation extended so far into the plains that the country must on such occasions have the appearance of an inland sea. The winds on the other hand had stripped the bark from the trees to windward (a little to the south of west), as if it had been shaved off with an instrument, but during our stay at the Depot we had not experienced any unusual visitation, as a flood really would have been; for any torrent, such as that which it was evident sometimes swells the creek, would have swept us from our ground, since the marks of inundation reached more than a mile beyond our encampment, and the trunk of a large gum-tree was jambed between the branches of one overhanging the creek near us at an altitude exceeding the height of our tents.
On the 11th the wind shifted to the east, the whole sky becoming suddenly overcast, and on the morning of the 12th it was still at east, but at noon veered round to the north, when a gentle rain set in, so gentle that it more resembled a mist, but this continued all the evening and during the night. It ceased however at 10 a.m. of the 13th, when the wind shifted a little to the westward of north. At noon rain again commenced, and fell steadily throughout the night, but although the ground began to feel the effects of it, sufficient had not fallen to enable us to move. Yet, how thankful was I for this change, and how earnestly did I pray that the Almighty would still farther extend his mercy to us, when I laid my head on my pillow. All night it poured down without any intermission, and as morning dawned the ripple of waters in a little gully close to our tents, was a sweeter and more soothing sound than the softest melody I ever heard. On going down to the creek in the morning I found that it had risen five inches, and the ground was now so completely saturated that I no longer doubted the moment of our liberation had arrived.
I had made every necessary preparation for Mr. Poole’s departure on the 13th, and as the rain ceased on the morning of the 14th the home returning party mustered to leave us. Mr. Poole felt much when I went to tell him that the dray in which he was to be conveyed, was ready for his reception. I did all that I could to render his mind easy on every point, and allowed him to select the most quiet and steady bullocks for the dray he was to occupy; together with the most careful driver in the party. I also consented to his taking Joseph, who was the best man I had, to attend personally upon him, and Mr. Browne put up for his use all the little comforts we could spare. I cheered him with the hope of returning to meet us after we should have terminated our labours, and assured him that I considered his services on the duty I was about to send him as valuable and important as if he continued with me. He was lifted on his stretcher into the dray, and appeared gratified at the manner in which it had been arranged. I was glad to see that his feelings did not give way at this painful moment; on my ascending the dray, however, to bid him adieu, he wept bitterly, but expressed his hope that we should succeed in our enterprise.
As I knew his mind would be agitated, and that his greatest trial would be on the first day, I requested Mr. Browne to accompany him, and to return to me on the following day. On Mr. Poole’s departure I prepared for our own removal, and sent Flood after the horses, but having an abundance of water everywhere, they had wandered, and he returned with them too late for me to move. He said, that in crossing the rocky range he heard a roaring noise, and that on going to the glen he saw the waters pouring down, foaming and eddying amongst the rocks, adding that he was sure the floods would be down upon us ere long. An evident proof that however light the rain appeared to be, an immense quantity must have fallen, and I could not but hope and believe that it had been general.
Before we left the Depot Flood’s prediction was confirmed, and the channel which, if the drought had continued a few days longer, would have been perfectly waterless, was thus suddenly filled up to the brim; no stronger instance of the force of waters in these regions can be adduced than this, no better illustration of the character of the creeks can be given. The head of the Depot creek was not more than eight miles from us, its course to its junction with the main creek was not ten, yet it was a watercourse that without being aware of its commencement or termination might have been laid down by the traveller as a river. Such however is the uncertain nature of the rivers of those parts of the continent of Australia over which I have wandered. I would not trust the largest farther than the range of vision; they are deceptive all of them, the offsprings of heavy rains, and dependent entirely on local circumstances for their appearance and existence.
Having taken all our circumstances into consideration, our heart-breaking detention, the uncertainty that involved our future proceedings, and the ceaseless anxiety of mind to which we should be subjected, recollecting also that Mr. Browne had joined me for a limited period only, and that a protracted journey might injure his future prospects, I felt that it was incumbent on me to give him the option of returning with Mr. Poole if he felt disposed to do so, but he would not desert me, and declined all my suggestions.
On the morning of the 16th I struck the tents, which had stood for six months less eleven days, and turned my back on the Depot in grateful thankfulness for our release from a spot where my feelings and patience had been so severely tried. When we commenced our journey, we found that our progress would be slow, for the ground was dreadfully heavy, and the bullocks, so long unaccustomed to draught, shrunk from their task. One of the drays stuck in the little gully behind our camp, and we were yet endeavouring to get it out, when Mr. Browne returned from his attendance on Mr. Poole, and I was glad to find that he had left him in tolerable spirits, and with every hope of his gradual improvement.
As we crossed the creek, between the Depot and the glen, we found that the waters, as Flood predicted, had descended so far, and waded through them to the other side. We then rode to the glen, to see how it looked under such a change, and remained some time watching the current as it swept along.
On our return to the party I found that it would be impossible to make a lengthened journey; for, having parted with two drays, we had necessarily been obliged to increase the loads on the others, so that they sank deep into the ground. I therefore halted, after having gone about four miles only.
About seven o’clock p.m. we were surprised by the sudden return of Joseph, from the home returning party; but, still more so at the melancholy nature of the information he had to communicate. Mr. Poole, he said, had breathed his last at three o’clock. This sad event necessarily put a stop to my movements, and obliged me to consider what arrangements I should now have to make.
It appeared, from Joseph’s account, that Mr. Poole had not shewn any previous indications of approaching dissolution. About a quarter before three he had risen to take some medicine, but suddenly observed to Joseph that he thought he was dying, and falling on his back, expired without a struggle.
Early on the morning of this day, and before we ourselves started, I had sent Mr. Stuart and Mr. Piesse in advance with the chainers, to carry on the chaining. On the morning of the 17th, before I mounted my horse to accompany Mr. Browne to examine the remains of our unfortunate companion, which I determined to inter at the Depot, I sent a man to recall them.
The suddenness of Mr. Poole’s death surprised both Mr. Browne and myself; but the singular fairness of his countenance left no doubt on his mind but that internal haemorrhage had been the immediate cause of that event.
On the 17th the whole party, which had so lately separated, once more assembled at the Depot. We buried Mr. Poole under a Grevillia that stood close to our underground room; his initials, and the year, are cut in it above the grave, “J. P. 1845,” and he now sleeps in the desert.
The sad event I have recorded, obliged me most reluctantly to put Mr. Piesse in charge of the home returning party, for I had had every reason to be satisfied with him, and I witnessed his departure with regret. A more trustworthy, or a more anxious officer could not have been attached to such a service as that in which he was employed.
The funeral of Mr. Poole was a fitting close to our residence at the Depot. At the conclusion of that ceremony the party again separated, and I returned to my tent, to prepare for moving on the morrow.
At 9 a.m. accordingly of the 18th we pushed on to the N.W. The ground had become much harder, but the travelling was still heavy. At three miles we passed a small creek, about seven miles from the Depot, at which I intended to have halted on leaving that place. We passed over stony plains, or low, sandy, and swampy ground, since the valleys near the hills opened out as we receded from them. On the 19th I kept the chained line, but in consequence of the heavy state of the ground we did not get on more than 8 1/2 miles. The character of the country was that of open sandy plains, the sand being based upon a stiff, tenacious clay, impervious to water. With the exception of a few salsolae and atriplex, the plains were exceedingly bare, and had innumerable patches of water over them, not more than two or three inches deep. At intervals pure sand hills occurred, on which there were a few stunted casuarina and mimosae, but a good deal of grass and thousands of young plants already springing up. As the ground was still very soft, I should not have moved on the 20th, but was anxious to push on. Early in the day, and at less than 18 miles from the hills, we encountered the sandy ridges, and found the pull over them much worse than over the flats. The wheels of the drays sank deep into the ground, and in straining to get them clear we broke seven yokes. Two flights of swans, and a small flight of ducks, passed over our heads at dusk, coming from the W.N.W. The brushes were full of the Calodera, but being very wild we could not procure a specimen.
The chainers had no difficulty in keeping pace with us, and on the 26th we found ourselves in lat. 29 degrees 6 minutes, having then chained 61 miles on a bearing of 55 degrees to the west of north, as originally determined upon. Finding that I had thus passed to the south-west of the grassy plain, I halted, and rode with Flood to the eastward; when at seven miles we descended into it, and finding that there was an abundance of water in the creek (the channel we had before noticed), I returned to Mr. Browne; but as it was late in the afternoon when we regained the tents, we did not move that evening, and the succeeding day being Sunday we also remained stationary. We had halted close to one of those clear patches on which the rain water lodges, but it had dried up, and there was only a little for our use in a small gutter not far distant. Whilst we were here encamped a little jerboa was chased by the dogs into a hole close to the drays; which, with four others, we succeeded in capturing, by digging for them. This beautiful little animal burrows in the ground like a mouse, but their habitations have several passages, leading straight, like the radii of a circle, to a common centre, to which a shaft is sunk from above, so that there is a complete circulation of air along the whole. We fed our little captives on oats, on which they thrived, and became exceedingly tame. They generally huddled together in a corner of their box, but, when darting from one side to the other, they hopped on their hind legs, which, like the kangaroo, were much longer than the fore, and held the tail perfectly straight and horizontal. At this date they were a novelty to us, but we subsequently saw great numbers of them, and ascertained that the natives frequented the sandy ridges in order to procure them for food. Those we succeeded in capturing were, I am sorry to say, lost from neglect.
On Monday I conducted the whole party to the new depot, which for the present I shall call the Park, but as I was very unwilling that any more time should be lost in pushing to the west, I instructed Mr. Stuart to change the direction of the chained line to 75 degrees to the west of south, direct upon Mount Hopeless, and to continue it until I should overtake him. In this operation Mr. Browne kindly volunteered to assist Mr. Stuart, as the loss of Mr. Piesse had so reduced my strength.
By the 30th I had arranged the camp in its new position, and felt myself at liberty to follow after the chainers. Before I left, however, I directed a stockyard to be made, in which to herd the cattle at night, and instructed Davenport to prepare some ground for a garden, with a view to planting it out with vegetables — pumpkins and melons. I left the camp with Flood, at 10 a.m. on the above day, judging that Mr. Browne was then about 42 miles a-head of me, and stopped for the night in a little sheltered valley between two sand hills, after a ride of 28 miles. The country continued unchanged. Valleys or flats, more or less covered with water, alternated with sandy ridges, on some of which there was no scarcity of grass.
We had not ridden far on the following morning when a partial change was perceptible in the aspect of the country. The flats became broader and the sand hills lower, but this change was temporary. We gradually rose somewhat from the general level, and crossed several sand hills, higher than any we had seen. These sand hills had very precipitous sides and broken summits, and being of a bright red colour, they looked in the distance like long lines of dead brick walls, being perfectly bare, or sparingly covered with spinifex at the base. They succeeded each other so rapidly, that it was like crossing the tops of houses in some street; but they were much steeper to the eastward than to the westward, and successive gales appeared to have lowered them, and in some measure to have filled up the intervening flats with the sand from their summits.
The basis of the country was sandstone, on which clay rested in a thin layer, and on this clay the sandy ridges reposed.
We overtook Mr. Browne about half an hour before sunset, and all halted together, when the men had completed their tenth mile.
On the 1st of August we did not find the country so heavy or so wet as it had been. It was indeed so open and denuded of every thing like a tree or bush, that we had some difficulty in finding wood to boil our tea. In the afternoon when we halted the men had chained 46 miles on the new bearing, but as yet we could not see any range or hill to the westward.
About two hours before we halted Mr. Browne and I surprised some natives on the top of a sand hill, two of them saw us approaching and ran away, the third could not make his escape before we were upon him, but he was dreadfully alarmed. In order to allay his fears Mr. Browne dismounted and walked up to him, whilst I kept back. On this the poor fellow began to dance, and to call out most vehemently, but finding that all he could do was to no purpose he sat down and began to cry. We managed however to pacify him, so much that he mustered courage to follow us, with his two companions, to our halting place. These wanderers of the desert had their bags full of jerboas which they had captured on the hills. They could not indeed have had less than from 150 to 200 of these beautiful little animals, so numerous are they on the sand hills, but it would appear that the natives can only go in pursuit of them after a fall of rain, such as that we had experienced. There being then water, the country, at other times impenetrable, is then temporarily thrown open to them, and they traverse it in quest of the jerboa and other quadrupeds. Our friends cooked all they had in hot sand, and devoured them entire, fur, skin, entrails and all, only breaking away the under jaw and nipping off the tail with their teeth.
They absolutely managed before sunset to finish their whole stock, and then took their departure, having, I suppose, gratified both their appetite and their curiosity. They were all three circumcised and spoke a different language from that of the hill natives, and came, they told us, from the west.
As we advanced the country became extremely barren, and surface water was very scarce, and the open ground, entirely denuded of timber, wore the most desolate appearance. If we had hitherto been in a region destitute of inhabitants it seemed as if we were now getting into a more populous district. About noon of the 2nd, as Mr. Browne and I were riding in front of the chainers, we heard a shout to our right, and on looking in that direction saw a party of natives assembled on a sand hill, to the number of fourteen. As we advanced towards them they retreated, but at length made a stand as if to await our approach. They were armed with spears, and on Mr. Browne dismounting to walk towards them, formed themselves into a circle, in the centre of which were two old men, round whom they danced. Thinking that Mr. Browne might run some risk if he went near, I called him back, and as I really had not time for ceremonies, we rejoined the chainers, beng satisfied also that if the natives felt disposed to communicate with us, they would do so of their own accord; nor was I mistaken in this, for, judging, I suppose, from our leaving them that we did not meditate any hostility, seven of their number followed us, and as Mr. Browne was at that time in advance, I gave my horse to one of the men and again went towards them, but it was with great difficulty that I got them to a parley, after which they sat down and allowed me to approach, though from the surprise they exhibited I imagine they had never seen a white man before. They spoke a language different from any I had heard, had lost two of the front teeth of the upper jaw, and had large scars on the breast. I could not gather any information from them, or satisfactorily ascertain from what quarter they came; staying with them for a short time therefore, and giving them a couple of knives I left them, and after following abreast of us, for a mile or two, they also turned to the north, and disappeared.
The night of the 2nd August was exceedingly cold, with the wind from the N.E. (an unusual quarter from which to have a low temperature) and there was a thick hoar frost on the morning of the 3rd. Why the winds should have been so cold blowing from that quarter, whence our hottest winds also came, it is difficult to say; but at this season of the year, and in this line, they were invariably so.
Near the flat on which we stopped on the evening of the 2nd there was a hill considerably elevated above the others; which, after unsaddling and letting out the horses, Mr. Browne and I were induced to ascend. From it we saw a line of high and broken ranges to the S.S.W. but they were very distant. At three and a half miles from this point we crossed a salt water creek, having pools in it of great depth, but so clear that we could see to the bottom; and wherever our feet sank in the mud, salt water immediately oozed up. There were some box-trees growing near this creek, which came from the north, and fell towards the ranges. At half a mile further we crossed a small fresh water creek, and intermediate between the two was a lagoon of about a mile in length, but not more than three inches in depth. This lagoon, if it might so be called, from its size only, had been filled by the recent rains; but was so thick and muddy, from being continually ruffled by the winds, that it was unfit for use. The banks of the fresh water creek were crowded with water-hens, similar to those which visited Adelaide in such countless numbers the year before I proceeded into the interior (1843). They were running about like so many fowls; but, on being alarmed, took flight and went south.
The fresh water creek (across which it was an easy jump) joined the salt water creek a little below where we struck it, and was the first creek of the kind we had seen since we left the Depot, in a distance of more than 100 miles, and up to this point we had entirely subsisted on the surface water left by the rains. The country we now passed through was of a salsolaceous character, like a low barren sea coast. The sand hills were lower and broader than they had been, and their sides were cut by deep fissures made by heavy torrents. From a hill, about a mile from our halting place on this day, we again saw the ranges, which had been sighted the day before. South of us, and distant about a mile, there was a large dry lagoon, white with salt, and another of a similar kind to the west of it.
These changes in the character of the country convinced me that we should soon arrive at some more important one. On the 4th we advanced as usual on a bearing of 75 degrees to the west of south, having then chained 65 miles upon it. At about three miles we observed a sand hill in front of us, beyond which no land was to be seen, as if the country dipped, and there was a great hollow. On arriving at this sand hill our further progress westward was checked by the intervention of an immense shallow and sandy basin, upon which we looked down from the place where we stood. The hills we had seen the day before were still visible through a good telescope, but we could only distinguish their outlines; in addition to them, however, there was a nearer flattopped range, more to the northward and westward of the main range, which latter still bore S.S.W., and appeared to belong to a high and broken chain of mountains. The sandy basin was from ten to twelve miles broad, but destitute of water opposite to us, although there were, both to the southward and northward, sheets of water as blue as indigo and as salt as brine. These detached sheets were fringed round with samphire bushes with which the basin was also speckled over. There was a gradual descent of about a mile and a half, to the margin of the basin, the intervening ground being covered with low scrub. My first object was, to ascertain if we could cross this feature, which extended southwards beyond the range of vision, but turned to the westward in a northerly direction, in the shape in which Mr. Eyre has laid Lake Torrens down. For this purpose Mr. Browne and I descended into it. The bed was composed of sand and clay, the latter lying in large masses, and deeply grooved by torrents of rain. There was not any great quantity of salt to be seen, but it was collected at the bottom of gutters, and, no doubt, was more or less mixed with the soil. At about four miles we were obliged to dismount; and, tying our horses so as to secure them, walked on for another mile, when we found the ground too soft for our weight and were obliged to return; and, as it was now late, we commenced a search for water, and having found a small supply in a little hollow, at a short distance from the flag, we went to it and encamped. The length of the chain line to the flag staff was 70 3/4 miles, which with the 61 we had measured from the Depot, made 131 3/4 miles in all; the direct distance, therefore, from the Depot to the flag staff, was about 115 miles, on a bearing of 9 1/2 degrees to the North of West or W. 3/4 N.
My object in the journey I had thus undertaken, was not so much to measure the distance between the two places, as to ascertain if the country to the north-west of Lake Torrens, on the borders of which I presumed I had arrived, was practicable or not, and whether it was connected with any more central body of water. It behoved me to ascertain these two points with as little delay as possible, for the surface water was fast drying up, and we were in danger of having our retreat cut off. Whether the country was practicable or not, in the direction I was anxious to take, it was clear that I could not have penetrated as far as I then was, with the heavy drays, with any prudence.
To be more satisfied, however, as to the nature of the country to the westward, I rode towards the N.E. angle of the Sandy Basin, on the morning of the 4th, sending Mr. Stuart southwards, to examine it in that direction; but, neither of these journeys proving satisfactory, I determined on fixing the position of the hills in reference to our chained line, and then return to the Depot, to prepare for a more extensive exploration of the N.W. interior. I found the country perfectly impracticable to the N.W., and that it was impossible to ascertain the real character of this Sandy Basin. On the other side of it the country appeared to be wooded; beyond the wood there was a sudden fall; and, as far as I could judge, this singular feature must have been connected with Spencer’s Gulf, before the passage that evidently existed once between them, was filled up.
On the 5th I ran a base line from the end of the chained line to the north-west, on a bearing of 317 degrees, to the only prominent sand hill in that direction, distant from the staff 5 1/2 miles, from the extremities of which the ranges bore as follow:—
BEARINGS FROM THE FLAG STAFF AT THE TERMINATION OF THE CHAINED LINE.
|To a bluff point in the main range||198.00|
|To the north point of the south range||188.40|
|To the north point||182.50|
|To the highest point in south range||187.00|
|To the flat-topped hills||231.00|
|To the north-west point of the lake||283.00|
|To the south point||158.00|
BEARINGS FROM THE NORTH-WEST EXTREMITY.
|To the bluff||194.30|
|To the north point of south range||184.00|
|To the south||183.00|
|To the flat-topped hills||176.30|
|To the north-west extremity of lake||275.00|
The angles given by these bearings were necessarily very acute, but that could not be avoided. With the bearings, however, from a point in our chain line, 16 miles to the rear, they gave the distance of the more distant ranges as 65 miles, that of the nearer ones as 33.
Our latitude, by altitudes of Vega and Altair, on the night of the 5th of August, was 29 degrees 14 minutes 39 seconds, and 29 degrees 15 minutes 14 seconds; by our bearings, therefore, the flat-topped hills were in lat. 29 degrees 33 minutes, and the bluff, in the centre of the distant chain, where there appeared to be a break in it, in 30 degrees 10 minutes, and in long. 139 degrees 12 minutes.
Presuming our Depot to have been in lat. 29 degrees 40 minutes 10 seconds, and in long. 141 degrees 30 minutes E., and allowing 52 1/2 miles to a degree, our long. by measurement was 139 degrees 20 minutes E. I had ascertained the boiling point of water at our camp, about 100 feet above the level of the basin to be 212 75/100; which made our position there considerably below the level of the sea: but in using the instrument on the following morning in the bed of the basin itself, I unfortunately broke it. As, however, the result of the observation at our bivouac gave so unusual a depression, and as, if it was correct, Lake Torrens must be very considerably below the level of the sea, I can only state that the barometer had been compared with one in Adelaide by Capt. Frome, and that, allowing for its error, its boiling point on a level with the sea had been found by him to be 212 25/100.
On the 6th I left the neighbourhood of this place, and stopped at 16 miles to verify our former bearings. The country appeared more desolate on our return to the camp than when we were advancing. Almost all the surface water had dried up, or now consisted of stagnant mud only, so that we were obliged to push on for the Park, at which we arrived on the 8th. On the 10th we completed the year, it being the anniversary of our departure from Adelaide.
I found that every thing had gone on regularly in the camp during my absence, and that the cattle and sheep had been duly attended to. Davenport had also dug and planned out a fine garden, which he had planted with seeds, but none had as yet made their appearance above the ground.
The day after our return to the camp we were visited by two natives, who were attracted towards us by the sound of the axe. They were crossing the plain, and were still at a considerable distance when they observed Davenport pointing a telescope, on which they stopped, but on my sending a man to meet them, came readily forward. We were in hopes that we should see our old friend in the person of one of them, but were disappointed; nor would they confirm any of his intelligence, neither could they recognise any of the fish in the different plates I had shewn him. In truth, we could get nothing out of these stupid fellows; but, as we gave them plenty to eat, they proposed bringing some other natives to taste our mutton, on the following day; and, leaving us, returned, as they said, with their father and brother, the latter a fine young lad. But neither from the old man could we gather any information, as to the nature of the country before us. These people were circumcised, like many others we had seen, but were in no way disfigured by the loss of their teeth or cuts. I can say as little for their cleanliness as for their information, since they melted the fat we gave them in troughs, and drank it as if it had been so much oil, emptying what remained on their heads, rubbing the grease into their hair, and over their bodies.
I felt satisfied on mature reflection that if the country continued to any distance either to the northward or westward, such as we had found it on our recent journey, it would be highly imprudent to venture into it with the whole party. Setting aside the almost utter impossibility of pulling the drays over the heavy sand ridges by which our route would be intersected, little or no surface water now remained. The ground was becoming as dry and parched as it had been before the fall of rain. I determined therefore before I again struck the tents to examine the country to the north-west, and not incautiously to hazard the safety of the party by leading it into a region from which I might find it difficult to retreat. As soon therefore as I had run up the charts, I prepared for this journey. Our position at the new Depot was in latitude 29 degrees 6 minutes 30 seconds, and in longitude 141 degrees 5 minutes 8 seconds, it therefore appeared to me if I ran on a bearing of 45 degrees to the west of north, I should gain the 138th meridian about the centre of the continent, and at the same time cross into the Tropics at the desired point, and I felt certain that if there were any mountain chains or ranges of hills to the westward of me connected with the north-east angle of the continent I should be sure to discover them.
In preparing for this important journey, on which it was evident the success of the expedition would depend, I took more than ordinary precautions. I purposed giving the charge of the camp to Mr. Stuart. — I had established it on a small sandy rise, whereon we found five or six native huts. This spot was at the northern extremity of the Park, but a little advanced into it. Immediately in front of the tents there was a broad sheet of water shaded by gum-trees, and the low land between this and the sand hills was also chequered with them. The position was in every way eligible. The open grassy field or plain stood full in view, and the men could see the cattle browsing on it, but I directed Mr. Stuart never to permit them to be without one of the men as a guard, and to have them secured nightly in the stockyard. In order to provide for the further security of the camp, I marked out the lines, for the erection of a stockade, wherein I directed Mr. Stuart to pitch one of the bell tents. In this tent I instructed him to deposit the arms and ammunition, and to consider it as the rallying point in the event of any attack by the natives, in which case I told him his first step would be to secure the sheep. I desired that the stockade might be commenced as soon as I left, and that it should be built of palisades 4 1/2 feet above the ground, and arranged close together. In such a fortification I considered that the men would be perfectly safe, and as the stockyard was in a short range of the carbines I felt the cattle would be sufficiently protected.
I selected Flood, Lewis, and Joseph to accompany me, and took 15 weeks provisions. This supply required all the horses but one, for although they had so long a rest at the old Depot they were far from being strong, since for the last three months they had lived on salsolaceous herbs, or on the shoots of shrubs, so that although apparently in good condition they had no work in them. My last instructions to Morgan were to prepare and paint the boat in the event of her being required.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13