Two expeditions into the interior of southern Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 5

Character of the country — Damage of provisions — Adroitness of the natives in catching fish — The skiff broken up — Stream from the North-East supposed to be the Darling — Change of country in descending the river — Intercourse with the natives — Prevalence of loathsome diseases among them — Apparent populousness of the country — Junction of several small streams — The Rufus, the Lindesay, &c. — Rainy and tempestuous weather — Curious appearance of the banks — Troublesomeness of the natives — Inhospitable and desolate aspect of the country — Condition of the men — Change in the geological character of the country — The river passes through a valley among hills.

Arrived once more at the junction of the two rivers, and unmolested in our occupations, we had leisure to examine it more closely. Not having as yet given a name to our first discovery, when we re-entered its capacious channel on this occasion, I laid it down as the Murray River, in compliment to the distinguished officer, Sir George Murray, who then presided over the colonial department, not only in compliance with the known wishes of his Excellency General Darling, but also in accordance with my own feelings as a soldier.

The new river, whether the Darling or an additional discovery, meets its more southern rival on a N. by E. course; the latter, running W.S.W. at the confluence, the angle formed by the two rivers, is, therefore, so small that both may he considered to preserve their proper course, and neither can be said to be tributary to the other. At their junction, the Murray spreads its waters over the broad and sandy shore, upon which our boat grounded, while its more impetuous neighbour flows through the deep but narrow channel it has worked out for itself, under the right bank. The strength of their currents must have been nearly equal, since there was as distinct a line between their respective waters, to a considerable distance below the junction, as if a thin board alone separated them. The one half the channel contained the turbid waters of the northern stream, the other still preserved their original transparency.

Inundated and Alluvial Country.

The banks of the Murray did not undergo any immediate change as we proceeded. We noticed that the country had, at some time, been subject to extensive inundation, and was, beyond doubt, of alluvial formation. We passed the mouths of several large creeks that came from the north and N.W., and the country in those directions seemed to be much intersected by water-courses; while to the south it was extremely low. Having descended several minor rapids, I greatly regretted that we had no barometer to ascertain the actual dip of the interior. I computed, however, that we were not more than from eighty to ninety feet above the level of the sea. We found the channel of the Murray much encumbered with timber, and noticed some banks of sand that were of unusual size, and equalled the largest accumulations of it on the sea shore, both in extent and solidity.

State of Provisions.

We would gladly have fired into the flights of wild fowl that winged their way over us, for we, about this time, began to feel the consequences of the disaster that befell us in the Morumbidgee. The fresh water having got mixed with the brine in the meat casks, the greater part of our salt provisions had got spoiled, so that we were obliged to be extremely economical in the expenditure of what remained, as we knew not to what straits we might be driven. It will naturally be asked why we did not procure fish? The answer is easy. The men had caught many in the Morumbidgee, and on our first navigation of the Murray, but whether it was that they had disagreed with them, or that their appetites were palled, or that they were too fatigued after the labour of the day to set the lines, they did not appear to care about them. The only fish we could take was the common cod or perch; and, without sauce or butter, it is insipid enough. We occasionally exchanged pieces of iron-hoop for two other kinds of fish, the one a bream, the other a barbel, with the natives, and the eagerness with which they met our advances to barter, is a strong proof of their natural disposition towards this first step in civilization.

Dexterity of Natives in Fishing.

As they threw off all reserve when accompanying us as ambassadors, we had frequent opportunities of observing their habits. The facility, for instance, with which they procured fish was really surprising. They would slip, feet foremost, into the water as they walked along the bank of the river, as if they had accidentally done so, but, in reality, to avoid the splash they would necessarily have made if they had plunged in head foremost. As surely as they then disappeared under the surface of the water, so surely would they re-appear with a fish writhing upon the point of their short spears. The very otter scarcely exceeds them in power over the finny race, and so true is the aim of these savages, even under water, that all the fish we procured from them were pierced either close behind the lateral fin, or in the very centre of the head, It is certain, from their indifference to them, that the natives seldom eat fish when they can get anything else. Indeed, they seemed more anxious to take the small turtle, which, sunning themselves on the trunks or logs of trees over the water, were, nevertheless, extremely on their guard. A gentle splash alone indicated to us that any thing had dropped into the water, but the quick eyes and ears of our guides immediately detected what had occasioned it, and they seldom failed to take the poor little animal that had so vainly trusted to its own watchfulness for security. It appeared that the natives did not, from choice, frequent the Murray; it was evident, therefore, that they had other and better means of subsistence away from it, and it struck me, at the time, that the river we had just passed watered a better country than any through which the Murray had been found to flow.

Break up the Skiff.

We encamped rather earlier than usual upon the left bank of the river, near a broad creek; for as the skiff had been a great drag upon us, I determined on breaking it up, since there was no probability that we should ever require the still, which alone remained in her. We, consequently, burnt the former, to secure her nails and iron work, and I set Clayton about cutting the copper of the latter into the shape of crescents, in order to present them to the natives. Some large huts were observed on the side of the creek, a little above the camp, the whole of which faced the N.E. This arrangement had previously been noticed by us, so that I was led to infer that the severest weather comes from the opposite quarter in this part of the interior. I had not the least idea, at the time, however, that we should, ere we reached the termination of our journey, experience the effects of the S.W. winds.

We must have fallen considerably during the day from the level of our morning’s position, for we passed down many reaches where the decline of country gave an increased velocity to the current of the river.

I had feared, not only in consequence of the unceremonious manner in which we had left them, but, because I had, in some measure, rejected the advances of their chiefs, that none of the natives would follow us, and I regretted the circumstance on account of my men, as well as the trouble we should necessarily have in conciliating the next tribe. We had not, however, been long encamped, when seven blacks joined us. I think they would have passed on if we had not called to them. As it was, they remained with us but for a short time. We treated them very kindly, but they were evidently under constraint, and were, no doubt, glad when they found we did not object to their departing.

New River Identified with the Darling.

I have stated, that I felt satisfied in my own mind, that the beautiful stream we had passed was no other than the river Darling of my former journey. The bare assertion, however, is not sufficient to satisfy the mind of the reader, upon a point of such importance, more especially when it is considered how remarkable a change the Darling must have undergone, if this were indeed a continuation of it. I am free to confess that it required an effort to convince myself, but after due consideration, I see no reason to alter the opinion I formed at a moment of peculiar embarrassment. Yet it by no means follows that I shall convince others, although I am myself convinced. The question is one of curious speculation, and the consideration of it will lead us to an interesting conjecture, as to the probable nature of the distant interior, between the two points. It will be remembered that I was obliged to relinquish my pursuit of the Darling, in east long. 144 degrees 48 minutes 30 seconds in lat. 30 degrees 17 minutes 30 seconds south. I place the junction of the Murray and the new river, in long. 140 degrees 56 minutes east, and in south lat. 34 degrees 3 minutes. I must remark, however, that the lunars I took on this last occasion, were not satisfactory, and that there is, probably, an error, though not a material one, in the calculation. Before I measure the distance between the above points, or make any remarks on the results of my own observations, I would impress the following facts upon the reader’s mind.

I found and left the Darling in a complete state of exhaustion. As a river it had ceased to flow; the only supply it received was from brine springs, which, without imparting a current, rendered its waters saline and useless, and lastly, the fish in it were different from those inhabiting the other known rivers of the interior. It is true, I did not procure a perfect specimen of one, but we satisfactorily ascertained that they were different, inasmuch as they had large and strong scales, whereas the fish in the western waters have smooth skins. On the other hand, the waters of the new river were sweet, although turbid; it had a rapid current in it; and its fish were of the ordinary kind. In the above particulars, therefore, they differed much as they could well differ. Yet there were some strong points of resemblance in the appearance of the rivers themselves, which were more evident to me than I can hope to make them to the reader. Both were shaded by trees of the same magnificent dimensions; and the same kind of huts were erected on the banks of each, inhabited by the same description, or race, of people, whose weapons, whose implements, and whose nets corresponded in most respects.

We will now cast our eyes over the chart: and see if the position of the two rivers upon it, will at all bear out our conclusion that they are one and the same; and whether the line that would join them is the one that the Darling would naturally take, in reference to its previous course. — We shall find that the two points under discussion, bear almost N.E. and S.W. of each other respectively, the direct line in which the Darling had been ascertained to flow, as far as it had been found practicable to trace it. I have already remarked that the fracture of my barometer prevented my ascertaining the height of the bed of the Darling above the sea, during the first expedition. A similar accident caused me equal disappointment on the second; because one of the most important points upon which I was engaged was to ascertain the dip of the interior. I believe I stated, in its proper place, that I did not think the Darling could possibly be 200 feet above the sea, and as far as my observations bear me out, I should estimate the bed of the Murray, at its junction with the new river, to be within 100. It would appear that there is a distance of 300 miles between the Murray River at this place, and the Darling; a space amply sufficient for the intervention of a hilly country. No one could have been more attentive to the features of the interior than I was; nor could any one have dwelt upon their peculiarities with more earnest attention. It were hazardous to build up any new theory, however ingenious it may appear. The conclusions into which I have been led, are founded on actual observation of the country through which I passed, and extend not beyond my actual range of vision; unless my assuming that the decline of the interior to the south has been satisfactorily established, be considered premature. If not, the features of the country certainly justify my deductions; and it will be found that they were still more confirmed by subsequent observation. — That the Darling should have lost its current in its upper branches, is not surprising, when the level nature of the country into which it falls is taken into consideration; neither does it surprise me that it should be stationary in one place, and flowing in another; since, if, as in the present instance, there is a great extent of country between the two points, which may perhaps be of considerable elevation, the river may receive tributaries, whose waters will of course follow the general decline of the country. I take it to be so in the case before us; and am of opinion, that the lower branches of the Darling are not at all dependent on its sources for a current, or for a supply of water. I have somewhere observed that it appeared to me the depressed interior over which I had already travelled, was of comparatively recent formation. And, by whatever convulsion or change so extensive a tract became exposed, I cannot but infer, that the Darling is the main channel by which the last waters of the ocean were drained off. The bottom of the estuary, for it cannot be called a valley, being then left exposed, it consequently remains the natural and proper reservoir for the streams from the eastward, or those falling easterly from the westward, if any such remain to be discovered.

From the junction of the Morumbidgee to the junction of the new river, the Murray had held a W.N.W. course. From the last junction it changed its direction to the S.W., and increased considerably in size. The country to the south was certainly lower than that to the north; for, although both banks had features common to each other, the flooded spaces were much more extensive to our left than to our right.

Change of Country.

We started on the morning of the 24th, all the lighter from having got rid of the skiff, and certainly freer to act in case the natives should evince a hostile disposition towards us. As we proceeded down the river, the appearances around us more and more plainly indicated a change of country. Cypresses were observed in the distance, and the ground on which they stood was higher than that near the stream; as if it had again acquired its secondary banks. At length these heights approached the river so nearly as to form a part of its banks, and to separate one alluvial flat from another. Their summits were perfectly level; their soil was a red sandy loam; and their productions, for the most part, salsolae and misembrianthemum. From this it would appear that we had passed through a second region, that must at some time have been under water, and that still retained all the marks of a country partially subject to flood.

Introduced from Tribe to Tribe.

We had, as I have said, passed over this region, and were again hemmed in by those sandy and sterile tracts upon which the beasts of the field could obtain neither food nor water. We overtook the seven deputies some time after we started, but soon lost sight of them again, as they cut off the sweeps of the river, and shortened their journey as much as possible. At 2 p.m. we found them with a tribe of their countrymen, about eighty in number. We pulled in to the bank and remained with them for a short time, and I now determined to convince the blacks who had preceded us, that I had not been actuated by any other desire than that of showing to them that we were not to be intimidated by numbers, when I refused to make them any presents after their show of hostility. I now, therefore, gave them several implements, sundry pieces of iron hoop, and an ornamental badge of copper. When we left the tribe, we were regularly handed over to their care. The seven men who had introduced us, went back at the same time that we continued our journey, and two more belonging to the new tribe, went on a-head to prepare the the neighbouring tribe to receive us; nor did we see anything more of them during the day.

We encamped on the left bank of the river, amidst a polygonum scrub, in which we found a number of the crested pigeon. It was late before the tents were pitched: as Fraser seldom assisted in that operation, but strolled out with his gun after he had kindled a fire, so on this occasion he wandered from the camp in search of novelty, and on his return, informed me that there was a considerable ridge to the south of a plain upon which he had been.

I had myself walked out to the S.E., and on ascending a few feet above the level of the camp, got into a scrub. I was walking quietly through it, when I heard a rustling noise, and looking in the direction whence it proceeded, I observed a small kangaroo approaching me. Having a stick in my hand, and being aware that I was in one of their paths, I stood still until the animal came close up to me, without apparently being aware of my presence. I then gave it a blow an the side of the head, and made it reel to one side, but the stick, being rotten, broke with the force of the blow, and thus disappointed me of a good meal.

During my absence from the camp, a flight of cockatoos, new to us, but similar to one that Mr. Hume shot on the Darling, passed over the tents, and I found M’Leay, with his usual anxiety, trying to get a shot at them. They had, he told me, descended to water, but they had chosen a spot so difficult of approach without discovery, that he had found it impossible to get within shot of them.

Ridge to the South-East.

There was a considerable rapid just below our position, which I examined before dark. Not seeing any danger, I requested M’Leay to proceed down it in the boat as soon as he had breakfasted, and to wait for me at the bottom of it. As I wished to ascertain the nature and height of the elevations which Fraser had magnified into something grand, Fraser and I proceeded to the centre of a large plain, stretching from the left bank of the river to the southward. It was bounded to the S.E. by a low scrub; to the S. a thickly wooded ridge appeared to break the level of the country. It extended from east to west for four or five miles, and then gradually declined. At its termination, the country seemed to dip, and a dense fog, as from an extensive sheet of water, enveloped the landscape. The plain was crowded with cockatoos, that were making their morning’s repast on the berries of the salsolae and rhagodia, with which it was covered.

Distant Ranges Seen.

M’Leay had got safely down the rapid, so that as soon as I joined him, we proceeded on our journey. We fell in with the tribe we had already seen, but increased in numbers, and we had hardly left them, when we found another tribe most anxiously awaiting our arrival. We stayed with the last for some time, and exhausted our vocabulary, and exerted our ingenuity to gain some information from them. I directed Hopkinson to pile up some clay, to enquire if we were near any hills, when two or three of the blacks caught the meaning, and pointed to the N.W. Mulholland climbed up a tree in consequence of this, and reported to me that he saw lofty ranges in the direction to which the blacks pointed; that there were two apparently, the one stretching to the N.E., the other to the N.W. He stated their distance to be about forty miles, and added that he thought he could observe other ranges, through the gap, which, according to the alignment of two sticks, that I placed according to Mulholland’s directions, bore S. 130 W.

We had landed upon the right bank of the river, and there was a large lagoon immediately behind us. The current in the river did not run so strong as it had been. Its banks were much lower, and were generally covered with reeds. The spaces subject to flood were broader than heretofore, and the country for more than twenty miles was extremely depressed. Our view from the highest ground near the camp was very confined, since we were apparently in a hollow, and were unable to obtain a second sight of the ranges we had noticed.

Pass Three Creeks.

Three creeks fell into the Murray hereabouts. One from the north, another from the N.E., and the third from the south. The two first were almost choked up with the trunks of trees, but the last had a clear channel. Our tents stood on ground high above the reach of flood. The soil was excellent, and the brushes behind us abounded with a new species of melaleuca.

The heat of the weather, at this time, was extremely oppressive, and the thermometer was seldom under 100 degrees of Fahr. at noon. The wind, too, we observed, seldom remained stationary for any length of time, but made its regular changes every twenty-four hours. In the morning, it invariably blew from the N.E., at noon it shifted to N.W., and as the sun set it flew round to the eastward of south. A few dense clouds passed over us occasionally, but no rain fell from them.

Diseases of the Natives.

Our intercourse with the natives had now been constant. We had found the interior more populous than we had any reason to expect; yet as we advanced into it, the population appeared to increase. It was impossible for us to judge of the disposition of the natives during the short interviews we generally had with them, and our motions were so rapid that we did not give them time to form any concerted plan of attack, had they been inclined to attack us. They did not, however, show any disposition to hostility, but, considering all things, were quiet and orderly, nor did any instances of theft occur, or, at least, none fell under my notice. The most loathsome of diseases prevailed throughout the tribes, nor were the youngest infants exempt from them. Indeed, so young were some, whose condition was truly disgusting, that I cannot but suppose they must have been born in a state of disease; but I am uncertain whether it is fatal or not in its results, though, most probably it hurries many to a premature grave. How these diseases originated it is impossible to say. Certainly not from the colony, since the midland tribes alone were infected. Syphilis raged amongst them with fearful violence; many had lost their noses, and all the glandular parts were considerably affected. I distributed some Turner’s cerate to the women, but left Fraser to superintend its application. It could do no good, of course, but it convinced the natives we intended well towards them, and, on that account, it was politic to give it, setting aside any humane feeling.

Populous District.

The country through which we passed on the 28th, was extremely low, full of lagoons, and thickly inhabited. No change took place in the river, or in the nature and construction of its banks. We succeeded in getting a view of the hills we had noticed when with the last tribe, and found that they bore from us due north, N. 22 E., and S. 130 W. They looked bare and perpendicular, and appeared to be about twenty miles from us. I am very uncertain as to the character of these hills, but still think that they must have been some of the faces of the bold cliffs that we had frequently passed under. From the size and number of the huts, and from the great breadth of the foot-paths, we were still further led to conclude that we were passing through a very populous district. What the actual number of inhabitants was it is impossible to say, but we seldom communicated with fewer than 200 daily. They sent ambassadors forward regularly from one tribe to another, in order to prepare for our approach, a custom that not only saved us an infinity of time, but also great personal risk. Indeed, I doubt very much whether we should ever have pushed so far down the river, had we not been assisted by the natives themselves. I was particularly careful not to do anything that would alarm them, or to permit any liberty to be taken with their women. Our reserve in this respect seemed to excite their surprise, for they asked sundry questions, by signs and expressions, as to whether we had any women, and where they were. The whole tribe generally assembled to receive us, and all, without exception, were in a complete state of nudity, and really the loathsome condition and hideous countenances of the women would, I should imagine, have been a complete antidote to the sexual passion. It is to be observed, that the women are very inferior in appearance to the men. The latter are, generally speaking, a clean-limbed and powerful race, much stouter in the bust than below, but withal, active, and, in some respects, intelligent; but the women are poor, weak, and emaciated. This, perhaps, is owing to their poverty and paucity of food, and to the treatment they receive at the hands of the men; but the latter did not show any unkindness towards them in our presence.

Although I desired to avoid exciting their alarm, I still made a point of showing them the effects of a gunshot, by firing at a kite, or any other bird that happened to be near. My dexterity — for I did not trust Fraser, who would, ten to one, have missed his mark — was generally exerted, as I have said, against a kite or a crow; both of which birds generally accompanied the blacks from place to place to pick up the remnants of their meals. Yet, I was often surprised at the apparent indifference with which the natives not only saw the effect of the shot, but heard the report. I have purposely gone into the centre of a large assemblage and fired at a bird that has fallen upon their very heads, without causing a start or an exclamation, without exciting either their alarm or their curiosity.

Whence this callous feeling proceeded, whether from strength of nerve, or because they had been informed by our forerunners that we should show off before them, I know not, but I certainly expected a very different effect from that which my firing generally produced, although I occasionally succeeded in scattering them pretty well.

Junction of the Rufus.

About 11 a.m., we arrived at the junction of a small river with the Murray, at which a tribe, about 250 in number, had assembled to greet us. We landed, therefore, for the double purpose of distributing presents, and of examining the junction, which, coming from the north, of course, fell into the Murray upon its right bank. Its waters were so extremely muddy, and its current so rapid, that it must have been swollen by some late rains. Perhaps, it had its sources in the hills we had seen; be that as it may, it completely discoloured the waters of the Murray.

We made it a point never to distribute any presents among the natives until we had made them all sit, or stand, in a row. Sometimes this was a troublesome task, but we generally succeeded in gaining our point; with a little exertion of patience. M’Leay was a famous hand at ordering the ranks, and would, I am sure, have made a capital drill-sergeant, not less on account of his temper than of his perseverance. I called the little tributary I have noticed, the Rufus, in honour of my friend M’Leay’s red head, and I have no doubt, he will understand the feeling that induced me to give it such a name.

Geological Examination.

Not many miles below the Rufus, we passed under a lofty cliff upon the same side with it. It is the first elevation of any consequence that occurs below the Darling, and not only on that account, but also on account of the numerous substances of which it is composed, and the singular formation that is near requires to be particularly noticed. [See Appendix.] The examination was a task of considerable danger, and both Fraser and myself had well nigh been buried under a mass of the cliff that became suddenly detached, and, breaking into thousands of pieces, went hissing and cracking into the river.

Thunder Storms.

The weather about this time was extremely oppressive and close. Thunder clouds darkened the sky, but no rain fell. The thermometer was seldom below 104 at noon, and its range was very trifling. The wind shifted several times during the twenty-four hours; but these changes had no effect on the thermometer. It was evident, however, as the sun set on the evening of the 26th, that the clouds from which thunder had for the last four or five days disturbed the silence of nature around us, would not long support their own weight. A little before midnight, it commenced raining, and both wind and rain continued to increase in violence until about seven in the morning of the 27th; when the weather moderated.

Two or three blacks had accompanied us from the last tribe, and had lain down near the fire. As the storm increased, however, they got up, and swimming across the river, left us to ourselves. This was a very unusual thing, nor can I satisfy myself as to their object, unless it was to get into shelter, for these people though they wander naked over the country, and are daily in the water, feel the cold and rain very acutely.

Observing the clouds collecting for so many days, I indulged hopes that we were near high lands, perhaps mountains; but from the loftiest spots we could see nothing but a level and dark horizon. Anxious to gain as correct a knowledge of the country as possible we had, in the course of the day, ascended a sandy ridge that was about a mile from the river. The view from the summit of this ridge promised to be more extensive than any we had of late been enabled to obtain; and as far as actual observation went, we were not disappointed, although in every other particular, the landscape was one of the most unpromising description. To the S. and S.E., the country might be said to stretch away in one unbroken plain, for it was so generally covered with wood that every inequality was hidden from our observation. To the S.W. the river line was marked out by a succession of red cliffs, similar to those we had already passed. To the north, the interior was evidently depressed; it was overgrown with a low scrub, and seemed to be barren in the extreme. The elevations upon which we stood were similar to the sand-hills near the coast, and had not a blade of grass upon them. Yet, notwithstanding the sterility of the soil, the large white amarillis which grew in such profusion on the alluvial plains of the Macquarie, was also abundant here. But it had lost its dazzling whiteness, and had assumed a sickly yellow colour and its very appearance indicated that it was not in a congenial soil.

Lindesay River.

We passed two very considerable junctions, the one coming from the S.E., the other from the north. Both had currents in them, but the former was running much stronger than the latter. It falls into the Murray, almost opposite to the elevations I have been describing, and, if a judgment can be hazarded from its appearance at its embouchure, it must, in its higher branches, be a stream of considerable magnitude. Under this impression, I have called it the Lindesay, as a tribute of respect to my commanding officer, Colonel Patrick Lindesay of the 39th regt. I place it in east long. 140 degrees 29 minutes, and in lat. 33 degrees 58 minutes south. Mr. Hume is of opinion that this is the most southerly of the rivers crossed by him and Mr. Hovel in 1823; but, as I have already remarked, I apprehend that all the rivers those gentlemen crossed, had united in one main stream above the junction of the Morumbidgee, and I think it much more probable that this is a new river, and that it rises to the westward of Port Phillips, rather than in the S.E. angle of the coast.

Natives Become Troublesome.

We found the blacks who had deserted us with a tribe at the junction, but it was weak in point of numbers; as were also two other tribes or hordes to whom we were introduced in rapid succession. Taken collectively, they could not have amounted to 230 men, women, and children. The last of these hordes was exceedingly troublesome, and I really thought we should have been obliged to quarrel with them. Whether it was that we were getting impatient, or that our tempers were soured, I know not, but even M’Leay, whose partiality towards the natives was excessive at the commencement of our journey, now became weary of such constant communication as we had kept up with them. Their sameness of appearance, the disgusting diseases that raged among them, their abominable filth, the manner in which they pulled us about, and the impossibility of making them understand us, or of obtaining any information from them — for if we could have succeeded in this point, we should have gladly borne every inconvenience — all combined to estrange us from these people and to make their presence disagreeable. Yet there was an absolute necessity to keep up the chain of communication, to ensure our own safety, setting aside every other consideration; but as I had been fortunate in my intercourse with the natives during the first expedition, so I hoped the present journey would terminate without the occurrence of any fatal collision between us. The natives, it is true, were generally quiet; but they crowded round us frequently without any regard to our remonstrances, laying hold of the boat to prevent our going away, and I sometimes thought that had any of them been sufficiently bold to set the example, many of the tribes would have attempted our capture. Indeed, in several instances, we were obliged to resort to blows ere we could disengage ourselves from the crowds around us, and whenever this occurred, it called forth the most sullen and ferocious scowl — such, probably, as would be the forerunner of hostility, and would preclude every hope of mercy at their hands. With each new tribe we were, in some measure, obliged to submit to an examination, and to be pulled about, and fingered all over. They generally measured our hands and feet with their own, counted our fingers, felt our faces, and besmeared our shirts all over with grease and dirt. This was no very agreeable ceremony, and a repetition of it was quite revolting, more especially when we had to meet the grins or frowns of the many with firmness and composure.

Tempestuous Weather.

The weather had been tempestuous and rainy, for three or four successive days: on the 28th it cleared up a little. Under any circumstances, however, we could not have delayed our journey. We had not proceeded very far when it again commenced to rain and to blow heavily from the N.W. The river trended to the South. We passed down several rapids, and observed the marks of recent flood on the trees, to the height of seven feet. The alluvial flats did not appear to have been covered, or to be subject to overflow. The timber upon them was not of a kind that is found on flooded lands, but wherever reeds prevailed the flooded or blue gum stretched its long white branches over them. The country to the westward was low and bushy.

Singular Formation of the Banks.

The left bank of the Murray was extremely lofty, and occasionally rose to 100 feet perpendicularly from the water. It is really difficult to describe the appearance of the banks at this place; so singular were they in character, and so varied in form. Here they had the most beautiful columnar regularity, with capitals somewhat resembling the Corinthian order in configuration; there they showed like falls of muddy water that had suddenly been petrified; and in another place they resembled the time-worn battlements of a feudal castle. It will naturally be asked, of what could these cliffs have been composed to assume so many different forms? and what could have operated to produce such unusual appearances? The truth is, they were composed almost wholly of clay and sand. Wherever the latter had accumulated, or predominated, the gradual working of water had washed it away, and left the more compact body, in some places, so delicately hollowed out, that it seemed rather the work of art than of nature. This singular formation rested on a coarse grit, that showed itself in slabs.

From the frequent occurrence of rapids I should imagine that we had fallen considerably, but there was no visible decline of country. The river swept along, in broad and noble reaches, at the base of the cliffs. Vast accumulations of sand were in its bed, a satisfactory proof of the sandy character of the distant interior, if other proof were wanting.

We did not see so many natives on the 28th as we had been in the habit of seeing; perhaps in consequence of the boisterous weather. A small tribe of about sixty had collected to receive us, but we passed on without taking any notice of them, Nevertheless they deputed two of their men to follow us, who overtook us just as we stopped for the purpose of pitching our tents before the clouds should burst, that just then bore the most threatening appearance. The blacks seemed to be perfectly aware what kind of a night we should have, and busied themselves preparing a hut and making a large fire.

The evening proved extremely dark, and towards midnight it blew and rained fiercely. Towards morning the wind moderated, and the rain ceased. Still, the sky was overcast, and the clouds were passing rapidly over us. The wind had, however, changed some points, and from the N.W. had veered round to the S.S.W.; and the day eventually turned out cool and pleasant.

Large Tribe of Natives — Their Indifference to Fire-Arms.

We fell in with a large tribe of natives, amounting in all to 270. They were extremely quiet, and kept away from the boat; in consequence of which I distributed a great many presents among them. This tribe was almost the only one that evinced any eagerness to see us. The lame had managed to hobble along, and the blind were equally anxious to touch us. There were two or three old men stretched upon the bank, from whom the last sigh seemed about to depart; yet these poor creatures evinced an anxiety to see us, and to listen to a description of our appearance, although it seemed doubtful whether they would be alive twenty-four hours after we left them. An old woman, a picture of whom would disgust my readers, made several attempts to embrace me. I managed, however, to avoid her, and at length got rid of her by handing her over to Fraser, who was no wise particular as to the object of his attention. This tribe must have been one of the most numerous on the banks of the Murray, since we fell in with detached families for many miles below the place where we had parted from the main body.

I have omitted to mention that, while among them, I fired at a kite and killed it; yet, though close to me, the blacks did not start or evince the least surprise. It really is difficult to account for such firmness of nerve or self-command. It is not so much a matter of surprise that they were indifferent to its effects, for probably they knew them not, but it is certainly odd that they should not have been startled by the report.

The river inclined very much to the southward for some miles below our last camp; at length it struck against some elevations that turned it more to the westward. Before we terminated our day’s pull it again changed its direction to the eastward of south. The right bank became lofty, and the left proportionably depressed.

Reflections on the Progress of the Expedition.

In consequence of the boisterous weather we had had, we were uncertain as to our precise situation, even in point of latitude. But I was perfectly aware that we were considerably to the south of the head of St. Vincent’s Gulf. I began, therefore, to contemplate with some confidence a speedy termination to our wanderings, or, at least, that we should soon reach the extreme point to which we could advance. The sun was at this time out of my reach, since the sextant would not measure double the altitude. Observations of the stars were, in like manner, uncertain, in consequence of the boisterous weather we had had, and the unavoidable agitation of the quicksilver. My last observation of Antares placed us in latitude 34 degrees 4 minutes; so that we were still 115 miles from the coast.

We had now been twenty-two days upon the river, and it was uncertain how long we should be in compassing the distance we had still to run. Considering all things, we had, as yet, been extremely fortunate; and I hoped that we should terminate our journey without the occurrence of any fatal accident. Had the country corresponded with the noble stream that traversed it, we should have been proportionably elated, but it was impossible to conceal from ourselves its inhospitable and unprofitable character, as far as we had, as yet, penetrated. If we except the partial and alluvial flats on the immediate borders, and in the neighbourhood of its tributaries and creeks, the Murray might be said to flow through a barren and sandy interior. The appearance of the country through which we passed on the 29th, was far from being such as to encourage us with the hopes of any change for the better. The river was enclosed, on either side, by the same kind of banks that have already been described; and it almost appeared as if the plain had been rent asunder to allow of a passage for its waters. The view of the distant interior was unsatisfactory. It was, for the most part, covered with brush, but, at length, cypresses again made their appearance, although at a considerable distance from us.

The river continued to flow to the southward, a circumstance that gave me much satisfaction, for I now began to feel some anxiety about the men. They had borne their fatigues and trials so cheerfully, and had behaved so well, that I could not but regret the scanty provision that remained for them. The salt meat being spoiled, it had fallen to the share of the dogs, so that we had little else than flour to eat. Fish no one would touch, and of wild fowl there were none to be seen. The men complained of sore eyes, from the perspiration constantly running into them, and it was obvious to me that they were much reduced. It will be borne in mind, that we were now performing the earliest part of our task, and were going down with the stream. I was sure that on our return, (For I had no hopes of meeting any vessel on the coast,) we should have to make every day’s journey good against the current; and, if the men were now beginning to sink, it might well be doubted whether their strength would hold out. Both M’Leay and myself, therefore, encouraged any cheerfulness that occasionally broke out among them, and Frazer enlivened them by sundry tunes that he whistled whilst employed in skinning birds. I am sure, no galley-slave ever took to his oar with more reluctance than poor Frazer. He was indefatigable in most things, but he could not endure the oar.

Natives Become Unruly.

We did not fall in with any natives on the 30th, neither did we see those who had preceded us from the last tribe. On the 31st, to my mortification, the river held so much to the northward, that we undid almost all our southing. What with its regular turns, and its extensive sweeps, the Murray covers treble the ground, at a moderate computation, that it would occupy in a direct course; and we had a practical instance of the truth of this in the course of the afternoon, when we found our friends ready to introduce us to a large assemblage of natives. On asking them how they had passed us, they pointed directly east to the spot at which we had parted. By crossing from one angle of the river to the other, they had performed in little more than half a day, a journey which it had taken us two long days to accomplish. After our usual distribution of presents, we pushed away from the bank; though not without some difficulty, in consequence of the obstinacy of the natives in wishing to detain us; and I was exceedingly vexed to find, while we were yet in sight of them, that we had proceeded down a shallow channel on one side of an island instead of the further and deeper one; so that the boat ultimately grounded. A crowd of the blacks rushed into the water, and surrounded us on every side. Some came to assist us, others, under a pretence of assisting, pulled against us, and I was at length obliged to repel them by threats. A good many of them were very much disposed to annoy us, and, after the boat was in deep water, some of them became quite infuriated, because we would not return. Had we been within distance, they would assuredly have hurled their spears at us. Thirteen of them followed us to our resting place. They kept rather apart from us, and kindled their fire in a little hollow about fifty paces to our right; nor did they venture to approach the tents unless we called to them, so that by their quiet and unobtrusive conduct they made up in some measure for the unruly proceedings of others of their tribe.

We had now arrived at a point at which I hoped to gain some information from the natives, respecting the sea. It was to no purpose, however, that I questioned these stupid people. They understood perfectly, by my pointing to the sky, and by other signs, that I was inquiring about large waters, but they could not, or would not, give any information on the subject.

Change in the Geology of the Country.

As we proceeded down the river, its current became weaker, and its channel somewhat deeper. Our attention was called to a remarkable change in the geology of the country, as well as to an apparent alteration in the natural productions. The cliffs of sand and clay ceased, and were succeeded by a fossil formation of the most singular description. At first, it did not exceed a foot in height above the water, but it gradually rose, like an inclined plane, and resembled in colour, and in appearance, the skulls of men piled one upon the other. The constant rippling of the water against the rock had washed out the softer parts, and made hollows and cavities, that gave the whole formation the precise appearance of a catacomb. On examination, we discovered it to be a compact bed of shells, composed of a common description of marine shell from two to three inches in length, apparently a species of turritella.

Banks of Petrified Shells.

At about nine miles from the commencement of this formation, it rose to the height of more than 150 feet; the country became undulating, and a partial change took place in its vegetation. We stopped at an early hour, to examine some cliffs, which rising perpendicularly from the water, were different in character and substance from any we had as yet seen. They approached a dirty yellow-ochre in colour, that became brighter in hue as it rose, and, instead of being perforated, were compact and hard. The waters of the river had, however, made horizontal lines upon their fronts, which distinctly marked the rise and fall of the river, as the strength or depth of the grooves distinctly indicated the levels it generally kept. It did not appear from these lines, that the floods ever rose more than four feet above the then level of the stream, or that they continued for any length of time. On breaking off pieces of the rock, we ascertained that it was composed of one solid mass of sea-shells, of various kinds, of which the species first mentioned formed the lowest part.

It rained a good deal during the night, but the morning turned out remarkably fine. The day was pleasant, for however inconvenient in some respects the frequent showers had been, they had cooled the air, and consequently prevented our feeling the heat so much as we should otherwise have done, in the close and narrow glen we had now entered.

Among the natives who followed us from the last tribe, there was an old man, who took an uncommon fancy or attachment to Hopkinson, and who promised, when we separated, to join us again in the course of the day.

Face of the Country.

As we proceeded down the river we found that it was confined in a glen, whose extreme breadth was not more than half-a-mile. The hills that rose on either side of it were of pretty equal height. The alluvial flats were extremely small, and the boldest cliffs separated them from each other. The flats were lightly wooded, and were for the most part covered with reeds or polygonum. They were not much elevated above the waters of the river, and had every appearance of being frequently inundated. At noon we pulled up to dine, upon the left bank, under some hills, which were from 200 to 250 feet in height. While the men were preparing our tea, (for we had only that to boil,) M’Leay and I ascended the hills. The brush was so thick upon them, that we could not obtain a view of the distant interior. Their summits were covered with oyster-shells, in such abundance as entirely to preclude the idea of their having been brought to such a position by the natives. They were in every stage of petrification.

In the course of the afternoon the old man joined us, and got into the boat. As far as we could understand from his signs, we were at no great distance from some remarkable change or other. The river had been making to the N.W., from the commencement of the fossil formation, and it appeared as if it was inclined to keep that direction. The old man pointed to the N.W., and then placed his hand on the side of his head to indicate, as I understood him, that we should sleep to the N.W. of where we then were; but his second motion was not so intelligible, for he pointed due south, as if to indicate that such would be our future course; and he concluded his information, such as it was, by describing the roaring of the sea, and the height of the waves. It was evident this old man had been upon the coast, and we were therefore highly delighted at the prospect thus held out to us of reaching it.

Remarkable Cliffs.

A little below the hills under which we had stopped, the country again assumed a level. A line of cliffs, of from two to three hundred feet in height, flanked the river, first on one side and then on the other, varying in length from a quarter of a mile to a mile. They rose perpendicularly from the water, and were of a bright yellow colour, rendered still more vivid occasionally by the sun shining full upon them. The summits of these cliffs were as even as if they had been built by an architect; and from their very edge, the country back from the stream was of an uniform level, and was partly plain, and partly clothed by brush. The soil upon this plateau, or table land, was sandy, and it was as barren and unproductive as the worst of the country we had passed through. On the other hand, the alluvial flats on the river increased in size, and were less subject to flood; and the river lost much of its sandy bed, and its current was greatly diminished in strength.

Native Character.

It blew so fresh, during the greater part of the day, from the westward, that we had great difficulty in pulling against the breeze. The determined N.W. course the river kept, made me doubt the correctness of the story of the little old black; yet there was an openness of manner about him, and a clearness of description, that did not appear like fabrication. He pointed to the S.S.W. when he left us, as the direction in which he would again join us, thus confirming, without any apparent intention, what he had stated with regard to the southerly course the river was about to take. Among the natives who were with him, there was another man of very different manners and appearance. Our friend was small in stature, had piercing grey eyes, and was as quick as lightning in his movements The other was tall, and grey headed; anxious, yet unobtrusive; and confident, without the least mixture of boldness. The study of the human character on many occasions similar to this, during our intercourse with these people, rude and uncivilized as they were, was not only pleasing, but instructive. We found that the individuals of a tribe partook of one general character, and that the whole of the tribe were either decidedly quiet, or as decidedly disorderly. The whole of the blacks left us when we started, but we had not gone very far, when the individual I have described brought his family, consisting of about fifteen persons. We were going down a part of the river in which there was a very slight fall. The natives were posted under some blue-gum trees, upon the right bank, and there was a broad shoal of sand immediately to our left. They walked over to this shoal, to receive some little presents, but did not follow when we continued our journey.

Take Bearings.

During the whole of the day the river ran to the N.W. We stopped for the night under some cliffs, similar to those we had already passed, but somewhat higher. From their summit, mountains were visible to the N.W., but at a great distance from us. I doubted not that they were at the head of the southern gulfs; or of one of them, at all events. Our observations placed us in 34 degrees 08 minutes south of lat., and in long. 139 degrees 41 minutes 15 seconds; we were consequently nearly seventy miles from Spencer’s Gulf, in a direct line, and I should have given that as the distance the hills appeared to be from us. They bore as follows:—

Lofty round mountain, S. 127 degrees W.
Mountain scarcely visible, S. 128 degrees W.
Northern extremity of a broken range, S. 102 degrees W.
Southern extremity scarcely visible, S. 58 degrees W.

The country between the river and these ranges appeared to be very low, and darkly wooded: that to the N.E. was more open. The summit of the cliff did not form any table-land, but it dipped almost immediately to the westward, and the country, although, as I have already remarked, it was depressed, and undulated.

I walked to some distance from the river, across a valley, and started several kangaroos; but I was quite alone, and could not, therefore, secure one of them. Had the dogs been near, we should have had a fine feast. The soil of the interior still continued sandy, but there was a kind of short grass mixed with the salsolaceous plants upon it, that indicated, as I thought, a change for the better in the vegetation; and the circumstance of there being kangaroos in the valleys to the westward was also a favourable sign.

Feast on a Tortoise.

Beneath the cliffs hereabouts, the river was extremely broad and deep. My servant thought it a good place for fishing and accordingly set a night-line, one end of which he fastened to the bough of a tree. During the night, being on guard, he saw a small tortoise floating on the water, so near that he struck it a violent blow with a large stick, upon which it dived: to his surprise, however, in the morning, he found that it had taken the bait, and was fast to the line. On examining it, the shell proved to be cracked, so that the blow must have been a severe one. It was the largest we had ever seen, and made an excellent dish. The flesh was beautifully white, nor could anything, especially under our circumstances, have been more tempting than it was when cooked; yet M’Leay would not partake of it.

The prevailing wind was, at this time, from the S.W. It blew heavily all day, but moderated towards the evening

I was very anxious, at starting on the 3rd, as to the course the river would take, since it would prove whether the little old man had played us false or not. From the cliffs under which we had slept, it held a direct N.W. course for two or three miles. It then turned suddenly to the S.E., and gradually came round to E.N.E., so that after two hours pulling, we found ourselves just opposite to the spot from which we had started, the neck of land that separated the channels not being more than 200 yards across. I have before noticed a bend similar to this, which the Murray makes, a little above the junction of the supposed Darling with it.

Chart of the River.

It may appear strange to some of my readers, that I should have laid down the windings of the river so minutely. It may therefore be necessary for me to state that every bend of it was laid down by compass, and that the bearings of the angles as they opened were regularly marked by me, so that not a single winding or curve of the Murray is omitted in the large chart. The length of some of the reaches may be erroneous, but their direction is strictly correct. I always had a sheet of paper and the compass before me, and not only marked down the river line, but also the description of country nearest; its most minute changes, its cliffs, its flats, the kind of country back from it, its lagoons, the places at which the tribes assembled, its junctions, tributaries and creeks, together with our several positions, were all regularly noted, so that on our return up the river we had no difficulty in ascertaining upon what part of it we were, by a reference to the chart; and it proved of infinite service to us, since we were enabled to judge of our distance from our several camps, as we gained them day by day with the current against us; and we should often have stopped short of them, weary and exhausted, had we not known that two or three reaches more would terminate our labour for the day.

Remarkable Cliffs.

From the spot last spoken of, the river held on a due south course for the remainder of the day; and at the same time changed its character. It lost its sandy bed and its current together, and became deep, still, and turbid, with a muddy bottom. It increased considerably in breadth, and stretched away before us in magnificent reaches of from three to six miles in length. The cliffs under which we passed towered above us, like maritime cliffs, and the water dashed against their base like the waves of the sea. They became brighter and brighter in colour, looking like dead gold in the sun’s rays; and formed an unbroken wall of a mile or two in length. The natives on their summits showed as small as crows; and the cockatoos, the eagles, and other birds, were as specks above us; the former made the valley reverberate with their harsh and discordant notes. The reader may form some idea of the height of these cliffs, when informed that the king of the feathered race made them his sanctuary. They were continuous on both sides of the river, but retired, more or less, from it, according to the extent of the alluvial flats. The river held a serpentine course down the valley through which it passed, striking the precipices alternately on each side.

The soil on the flats was better, and less mixed with sand than it had been, but the flats were generally covered with reeds, though certainly not wholly subject to flood at any time. The polygonum still prevailed upon them in places, and the blue-gum tree alone occupied their outskirts. From the several elevations we ascended, the country to the N.W. appeared undulating and well wooded; that to the eastward, seemed to be brushy and low. Certainly there was a great difference in the country, both to the eastward and to the westward. We had frequent views of the mountains we had seen, or, I should have said, of a continuation of them. They bore nearly west from us at a very great distance all day.

We fell in with several tribes, but did not see our old friend, although, from the inquiries we made, it was evident he was well known among them. It would disgust my readers were I to describe the miserable state of disease and infirmity to which these tribes were reduced. Leprosy of the most loathsome description, the most violent cutaneous eruptions, and glandular affections, absolutely raged through the whole of them; yet we could not escape from the persecuting examination of our persons that curiosity prompted them in some measure to insist upon.

Rejoined by Our Old Native Guide.

The old man, whose information had proved strictly correct, joined us again on the 4th, and his joy at being received into the boat was unbounded, as well as the pleasure he expressed at again meeting Hopkinson. He had been on a long journey, it would appear, for he had not then reached his tribe. As we approached their haunt, he landed and preceded us to collect them. We were, of course, more than usually liberal to so old a friend, and we were really sorry to part with him.

Soon after leaving his tribe, which occupied the left bank of the river, and was very weak in point of numbers, we fell in with a very strong tribe upon the right bank. They numbered 211 in all. We lay off the bank, in order to escape their importunities; a measure that by no means satisfied them. The women appeared to be very prolific; but, as a race, these people are not to be compared with the natives of the mountains, or of the upper branches of the Murray.

We passed some beautiful scenery in the course of the day. The river preserved a direct southerly course, and could not in any place have been less than 400 yards in breadth. The cliffs still continued, and varied perpetually in form; at one time presenting a perpendicular wall to the view, at others, they overhung the stream, in huge fragments. All were composed of a mass of shells of various kinds; a fact which will call for further observation and remark.

Delayed by Strong Winds.

Many circumstances at this time tended to confirm our hopes that the sea could not be very far from us, or that we should not be long in gaining it. Some sea-gulls flew over our heads, at which Fraser was about to shoot, had I not prevented him, for I hailed them as the messengers of glad tidings, and thought they ill deserved such a fate. It blew very hard from the S.W., during the whole of the day, and we found it extremely laborious pulling against the heavy and short sea that came rolling up the broad and open reaches of the Murray at this place.

Four of the blacks, from the last tribe, followed us, and slept at the fires; but they were suspicious and timid, and appeared to be very glad when morning dawned. Our fires were always so much larger than those made by themselves, that, they fancied, perhaps, we were going to roast them. Our dogs, likewise, gave them great uneasiness; for although so fond of the native brute, they feared ours, from their size. We generally tied them to the boat, therefore, to prevent a recurrence of theft, so that they were not altogether useless.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00