Improvement in the aspect of the country — Increase of the river — Strong westerly gales — Chronometer broken — A healthier tribe of natives — Termination of the Murray in a large lake — Its extent and environs — Passage across it — Hostile appearance of the natives — Beautiful scenery — Channel from the lake to the sea at Encounter Bay — Reach the beach — Large flocks of water fowl — Curious refraction — State of provisions — Embarrassing situation — Inspection of the channel to the ocean — Weak condition of the men — Difficulties of the return.
It now appeared that the Murray had taken a permanent southerly course; indeed, it might strictly be said that it ran away to the south. As we proceeded down it, the valley expanded to the width of two miles; the alluvial flats became proportionably larger; and a small lake generally occupied their centre. They were extensively covered with reeds and grass, for which reason, notwithstanding that they were little elevated above the level of the stream, I do not think they are subject to overflow. Parts of them may be laid under water, but certainly not the whole. The rains at the head of the Murray, and its tributaries, must be unusually severe to prolong their effects to this distant region, and the flats bordering it appear, by successive depositions, to have only just gained a height above the further influence of the floods. Should this prove to be the case, the valley may be decidedly laid down as a most desirable spot, whether we regard the richness of its soil, its rock formation, its locality, or the extreme facility of water communication along it. It must not, however, be forgotten or concealed, that the summits of the cliffs by which the valley is enclosed, have not a corresponding soil. On the contrary, many of the productions common to the plains of the interior still existed upon them, and they were decidedly barren; but as we measured the reaches of the river, the cliffs ceased, and gave place to undulating hills, that were very different in appearance from the country we had previously noted down. It would have been impossible for the most tasteful individual to have laid out pleasure ground to more advantage, than Nature had done in planting and disposing the various groups of trees along the spine, and upon the sides of the elevations that confined the river, and bounded the low ground that intervened between it and their base. Still, however, the soil upon these elevations was sandy, and coarse, but the large oat-grass was abundant upon them, which yielded pasture at least as good as that in the broken country between Underaliga and Morumbidgee.
We had now gained a distance of at least sixty miles from that angle of the Murray at which it reaches its extreme west. The general aspect of the country to our right was beautiful, and several valleys branched away into the interior upon that side which had a most promising appearance, and seemed to abound with kangaroos, as the traces of them were numerous, and the dogs succeeded in killing one, which, to our great mortification, we could not find.
While, however, the country to the westward had so much to recommend it, the hills to our left became extremely bare. It was evident that the right was the sheltered side of the valley. The few trees on the opposite side bent over to the N.E., as if under the influence of some prevailing wind.
We experienced at this time a succession of gales from the S.W., against which we, on several occasions, found it useless to contend: the waves on the river being heavy and short; and the boat, driving her prow into them, sent the spray over us and soon wet us through. Indeed, it is difficult for the reader to imagine the heavy swell that rolled up the river, which had increased in breadth to the third of a mile, and in the length of its reaches to eight or ten. I was satisfied that we were not only navigating this river at a particularly stormy, perhaps THE stormy, season; but also, that the influence of the S.W. wind is felt even as far in the interior as to the supposed Darling; in consequence of the uniform build of the huts, and the circumstance of their not only facing the N.E., but also being almost invariably erected under the lee of some bush.
The weather, under the influence of the wind we experienced, was cool and pleasant, although the thermometer stood at a medium height of 86 degrees; but we found it very distressing to pull against the heavy breezes that swept up the valley, and bent the reeds so as almost to make them kiss the stream.
We communicated on the 6th and 7th with several large tribes of natives, whose manners were on the whole quiet and inoffensive. They distinctly informed us, that we were fast approaching the sea, and, from what I could understand, we were nearer to it than the coast line of Encounter Bay made us. We had placed sticks to ascertain if there was any rise or fall of tide, but the troubled state of the river prevented our experiments from being satisfactory. By selecting a place, however, that was sheltered from the effects of the wind, we ascertained that there was an apparent rise of about eight inches.
It blew a heavy gale during the whole of the 7th; and we laboured in vain at the oar. The gusts that swept the bosom of the water, and the swell they caused, turned the boat from her course, and prevented us from making an inch of way. The men were quite exhausted, and, as they had conducted themselves so well, and had been so patient, I felt myself obliged to grant them every indulgence consistent with our safety. However precarious our situation, it would have been vain, with our exhausted strength, to have contended against the elements. We, therefore, pulled in to the left bank of the river, and pitched our tents on a little rising ground beyond the reeds that lined it.
I had been suffering very much front tooth-ache for the last three or four days, and this day felt the most violent pain from the wind. I was not, therefore, sorry to get under even the poor shelter our tents afforded. M’Leay, observing that I was in considerable pain, undertook to wind up the chronometer; but, not understanding or knowing the instrument, he unfortunately broke the spring. I shall not forget the anxiety he expressed, and the regret he felt on the occasion; nor do I think M’Leay recovered the shock this unlucky accident gave him for two or three days, or until the novelty of other scenes drove it from his recollection.
We landed close to the haunt of a small tribe of natives, who came to us with the most perfect confidence, and assisted the men in their occupations. They were cleaner and more healthy than any tribe we had seen; and were extremely cheerful, although reserved in some respects. As a mark of more than usual cleanliness, the women had mats of oval shape, upon which they sat, made, apparently, of rushes. There was a young girl among them of a most cheerful disposition. She was about eighteen, was well made, and really pretty. This girl was married to an elderly man who had broken his leg, which having united in a bent shape, the limb was almost useless. I really believe the girl thought we could cure her husband, from her importunate manner to us. I regretted that I could do nothing for the man, but to show that I was not inattentive to her entreaties, I gave him a pair of trousers, and desired Fraser to put them upon him; but the poor fellow cut so awkward an appearance in them, that his wife became quite distressed, and Fraser was obliged speedily to disencumber him from them again.
We could not gain any satisfactory information, as to the termination of the river, from these people. It was evident that some change was at hand; but what it was we could not ascertain.
On the morning of the 9th, we left our fair friend and her lame husband, and proceeded down the river. The wind had moderated, although it still blew fresh. We ascended every height as we went along, but could not see any new feature in the country. Our view to the eastward was very confined; to the westward the interior was low and dark, and was backed in the distance by lofty ranges, parallel to which we had been running for some days. The right bank of the valley was beautifully undulated, but the left was bleak and bare. The valley had a breadth of from three to four miles, and the flats were more extensive under the former than under the latter. They were scarcely two feet above the level of the water, and were densely covered with reeds. As there was no mark upon the reeds to indicate the height to which the floods rose, I cannot think that these flats are ever wholly laid under water; if they are, it cannot be to any depth: at all events a few small drains would effectually prevent inundation. The soil upon the hills continued to be much mixed with sand, and the prevailing trees were cypress and box. Among the minor shrubs and grass, many common to the east coasts were noticed; and although the bold cliffs had ceased, the basis of the country still continued of the fossil formation. At a turn of the stream hereabouts, however, a solitary rock of coarse red granite rose above the waters, and formed an island in its centre; but only in this one place was it visible. The rock was composed principally of quartz and feldspar.
A little below it, we found a large tribe anxiously awaiting our arrival. They crowded to the margin of the river with great eagerness, and evinced more surprise at our appearance than any tribe we had seen during the journey; but we left them very soon, notwithstanding that they importuned us much to stay.
After pulling a mile or two, we found a clear horizon before us to the south. The hills still continued upon our left, but we could not see any elevation over the expanse of reeds to our right. The river inclined to the left, and swept the base of the hills that still continued on that side. I consequently landed once more to survey the country.
I still retained a strong impression on my mind that some change was at hand, and on this occasion, I was not disappointed; but the view was one for which I was not altogether prepared. We had, at length, arrived at the termination of the Murray. Immediately below me was a beautiful lake, which appeared to be a fitting reservoir for the noble stream that had led us to it; and which was now ruffled by the breeze that swept over it. The ranges were more distinctly visible, stretching from south to north, and were certainly distant forty miles. They had a regular unbroken outline; declining gradually to the south, but terminating abruptly at a lofty mountain northerly. I had no doubt on my mind of this being the Mount Lofty of Captain Flinders; or that the range was that immediately to the eastward of St. Vincent’s Gulf — Since the accident to the chronometer, we had not made any westing, so that we knew our position as nearly as possible. Between us and the ranges a beautiful promontory shot into the lake, being a continuation of the right bank of the Murray. Over this promontory the waters stretched to the base of the ranges, and formed an extensive bay. To the N.W. the country was exceedingly low, but distant peaks were just visible over it. To the S.W. a bold headland showed itself; beyond which, to the westward, there was a clear and open sea visible, through a strait formed by this headland and a point projecting from the opposite shore. To the E. and S.E. the country was low, excepting the left shore of the lake, which was backed by some minor elevations, crowned with cypresses. Even while gazing on this fine scene, I could not but regret that the Murray had thus terminated; for I immediately foresaw that, in all probability, we should be disappointed in finding any practicable communication between the lake and the ocean, as it was evident that the former was not much influenced by tides. The wind had again increased; it still blew fresh from the S.W. and a heavy sea was rolling direct into the mouth of the river. I hoped, notwithstanding, that we should have been enabled to make sail, for which reason we entered the lake about 2 p.m. The natives had kindled a large fire on a distant point between us and the further headland, and to gain this point our efforts were now directed. The waves were, however, too strong, and we were obliged to make for the eastern shore, until such time as the weather should moderate. We pitched our tents on a low track of land that stretched away seemingly for many miles directly behind us to the eastward. It was of the richest soil, being a black vegetable deposit, and although now high above the influence, the lake had, it was evident, once formed a part of its bed. The appearance of the country altogether encouraged M’Leay and myself to walk out, in order to examine it from some hills a little to the S.E. of the camp. From them we observed that the flat extended over about fifty miles, and was bounded by the elevations that continued easterly from the left bank of the Murray to the north, and by a line of rising-ground to the south. The whole was lightly wooded, and covered with grass. The season must have been unusually dry, judging from the general appearance of the vegetation, and from the circumstance of the lagoons in the interior being wholly exhausted.
Thirty-three days had now passed over our heads since we left the depot upon the Morumbidgee, twenty-six of which had been passed upon the Murray. We had, at length, arrived at the grand reservoir of those waters whose course and fate had previously been involved in such obscurity. It remained for us to ascertain whether the extensive sheet of water upon whose bosom we had embarked, had any practicable communication with the ocean, and whether the country in the neighbourhood of the coast corresponded with that immediately behind our camp, or kept up its sandy and sterile character to the very verge of the sea. As I have already said, my hopes on the first of these points were considerably damped, but I could not help anticipating a favourable change in the latter, since its features had so entirely changed.
The greatest difficulty against which we had at present to contend was the wind; and I dreaded the exertion it would call for, to make head against it; for the men were so much reduced that I felt convinced they were inadequate to any violent or prolonged effort. It still blew fresh at 8 p.m., but at that time it began to moderate. It may be imagined that I listened to its subdued gusts with extreme anxiety. It did not wholly abate until after 2 a.m., when it gradually declined, and about 3 a light breeze sprung up from the N. E.
We had again placed sticks to ascertain with more precision the rise of tide, and found it to be the same as in the river. In the stillness of the night too we thought we heard the roaring of the sea, but I was myself uncertain upon the point, as the wind might have caused the sound.
From the top of the hill from which we had obtained our first view of the lake, I observed the waves breaking upon the distant headland, and enveloping the cliff in spray; so that, independent of the clearness of the horizon beyond it, I was further led to conclude that there existed a great expanse of water to the S.W.; and, as that had been the direction taken by the river, I thought it probable that by steering at once to the S.W. down the lake, I should hit the outlet. I, consequently, resolved to gain the southern extremity of the lake, as that at which it was natural to expect a communication with the ocean would be found.
At 4 we had a moderate breeze, and it promised to strengthen; we lost no time therefore in embarking, and with a flowing sheet stretched over to the W.S.W., and ran along the promontory formed by the right bank of the Murray. We passed close under its extreme point at nine. The hills had gradually declined, and we found the point to be a flat, elevated about thirty feet above the lake. It was separated from the promontory by a small channel that was choked up with reeds, so that it is more than probable that the point is insulated at certain periods; whilst in its stratification it resembled the first cliffs I have described that were passed below the Darling. It is a remarkable fact in the geology of the Murray, that such should be the case; and that the formation at each extremity of the great bank or bed of fossils should be the same. Thus far, the waters of the lake had continued sweet; but on filling a can when we were abreast of this point, it was found that they were quite unpalatable, to say the least of them. The transition from fresh to salt water was almost immediate, and it was fortunate we made the discovery in sufficient time to prevent our losing ground. But, as it was, we filled our casks, and stood on, without for a moment altering our course.
It is difficult to give a just description of our passage across the lake. The boisterous weather we had had seemed to have blown over. A cool and refreshing breeze was carrying us on at between four and five knots an hour, and the heavens above us were without a cloud. It almost appeared as if nature had resisted us in order to try our perseverance, and that she had yielded in pity to our efforts. The men, relieved for a time from the oar, stretched themselves at their length in the boat, and commented on the scenery around them, or ventured their opinions as to that which was before them. Up to this moment their conduct had been most exemplary; not a murmur had escaped from them, and they filled the water-casks with the utmost cheerfulness, even whilst tasting the disagreeable beverage they would most probably have to subsist on for the next three or four days.
As soon as we had well opened the point, we had a full view of the splendid bay that, commencing at the western most of the central points, swept in a beautiful curve under the ranges. No land was visible to the W.N.W. or to the S.S.W.: in both these quarters the lake was as open as the ocean. It appeared, therefore, that the land intermediate was an island. To the north the country was extremely low, and as we increased our distance from it we lost sight of it altogether. At noon we were nearly abreast of the eastern headland, or in the centre of the strait to which I have alluded. At this time there was an open sea from W.N.W. to N. by E. A meridian altitude gave our latitude 35 degrees 25 minutes. The land to our left was bold and precipitous; that to the right was low and wooded; and there was evidently a considerable space between the shores of the lake and the base of the ranges. The country to the eastward was hidden from us by the line of cliffs, beyond which from E.S.E. to W.S.W. there was an open sea. We had kept the lead going from the first, and I was surprised at the extreme shallowness of the lake in every part, as we never had six feet upon the line. Its bottom was one of black mud, and weeds of enormous length were floating on its surface, detached by the late gales, and which, from the shallowness of the lake, got constantly entangled with our rudder.
We tried to land on the eastern point, but found the water too shallow, and were obliged to try the western shore. In passing close under the head, we observed several natives upon it, who kindled a large fire as soon as they saw they were noticed, which was answered from every point; for, in less than ten minutes afterwards, we counted no fewer than fourteen different fires, the greater number of which were on the side of the ranges.
As we were standing across from one shore to the other, our attention was drawn to a most singular object. It started suddenly up, as above the waters to the south, and strikingly resembled an isolated castle. Behind it, a dense column of smoke rose into the sky, and the effect was most remarkable. On a nearer approach, the phantom disappeared and a clear and open sea again presented itself to our view. The fact was, that the refractive power upon the coast had elevated the sand-hillocks above their true position, since we satisfactorily ascertained that they alone separated the lake from the ocean, and that they alone could have produced the semblance we noticed. It is a singular fact, that this very hillock was the one which Capt. Barker ascended whilst carrying on the survey of the south coast, and immediately previous to his tragical death.
It was not without difficulty that we succeeded in landing on the western shore; but we did, at length, succeed, and prepared our dinners. The shore was low, but above the reach of all floods; the soil was rich, and superficially sandy. It was covered with high grasses, and abounded in kangaroos; within the space of a few yards we found five or six, but they were immediately lost to us and to the dogs in the luxuriance of the vegetation amidst which they were feeding.
As soon as we had finished our meal, we once more embarked, and stood along the shore to the S.W., but the lake was so shoal, that I was every moment apprehensive we should ground. I ran across, therefore, to the south, towards a low flat that had just appeared above the line of the horizon, in hope that, in sounding, we should have found the channel, but there either was none, or else it was so narrow that we passed over it between the heaves of the lead. At this time, the western shore was quite distinct, and the scenery was beautiful.
The flat we were approaching was a mud-flat, and, from its appearance, the tide was certainly at the ebb. We observed some cradles, or wicker frames, placed far below high water-mark, that were each guarded by two natives, who threatened us violently as we approached. In running along the land, the stench from them plainly indicated what they were which these poor creatures were so anxiously watching.
We steered a S.W. course, towards some low and wooded hills, passing a rocky island, and found that we had struck the mouth of a channel running to the W.S.W. It was about half-a-mile wide, was bounded to the right by some open flat ground, and to the left by a line of hills of about sixty or seventy feet in elevation, partly open and partly covered with beefwood.
Upon the first of these hills, we observed a large body of natives, who set up the most terrific yells as we approached. They were fully equipped for battle and, as we neared the shore, came down to meet us with the most violent threats. I wished much to communicate with them, and, not without hopes of quieting them, stood right in with the intention of landing. I observed, however, that if I did so, I should have to protect myself. I hauled a little off, and endeavoured, by holding up a branch and a tomahawk, to gain their confidence, but they were not to be won over by my show of pacification. An elderly man walked close to the water’s edge unarmed, and, evidently, directed the others. He was followed by seven or eight of the most daring, who crept into the reeds, with their spears shipped to throw at us. I, therefore, took up my gun to return their salute. It then appeared that they were perfectly aware of the weapon I carried, for the moment they saw it, they dashed out of their hiding place and retreated to the main body; but the old man, after saying something to them, walked steadily on, and I, on my part, laid my firelock down again.
It was now near sunset; and one of the most lovely evenings I had ever seen. The sun’s radiance was yet upon the mountains, but all lower objects were in shade. The banks of the channel, with the trees and the rocks, were reflected in the tranquil waters, whose surface was unruffled save by the thousands of wild fowl that rose before us, and made a noise as of a multitude clapping hands, in their clumsy efforts to rise from the waters. Not one of them allowed us to get within shot.
We proceeded about a mile below the hill on which the natives were posted; some few still following us with violent threats. We landed, however, on a flat, bounded all round by the continuation of the hills. It was an admirable position, for, in the centre of it, we could not be taken by surprise, and, on the other hand, we gave the natives an opportunity of communicating with us if they would. The full moon rose as we were forming the camp, and, notwithstanding our vicinity to so noisy a host, the silence of death was around us, or the stillness of the night was only broken by the roar of the ocean, now too near to be mistaken for wind, or by the silvery and melancholy note of the black swans as they passed over us, to seek for food, no doubt, among the slimy weeds at the head of the lake. We had been quite delighted with the beauty of the channel, which was rather more than half-a-mile in width. Numberless mounds, that seemed to invite civilised man to erect his dwelling upon them, presented themselves to our view. The country round them was open, yet ornamentally wooded, and rocks and trees hung or drooped over the waters.
We had in one day gained a position I once feared it would have cost us infinite labour to have measured. Indeed, had we been obliged to pull across the lake, unless during a calm, I am convinced the men would have been wholly exhausted. We had to thank a kind Providence that such was not the case, since it had extended its mercy to us at so critical a moment. We had indeed need of all the little strength we had remaining, and could ill have thrown it away on such an effort as this would have required. I calculated that we could not have run less than forty-five miles during the day, a distance that, together with the eight miles we had advanced the evening previously, would give the length of the lake at fifty-three miles.
We had approached to within twelve miles of the ranges, but had not gained their southern extremity. From the camp, Mount Barker bore nearly north. The ranges appeared to run north and south to our position, and then to bend away to the S.S.W., gradually declining to that point, which I doubted not terminated in Cape Jervis. The natives kept aloof during the night, nor did the dogs by a single growl intimate that any had ventured to approach us. The sound of the surf came gratefully to our ears, for it told us we were near the goal for which we had so anxiously pushed, and we all of us promised ourselves a view of the boundless ocean on the morrow.
As the morning dawned, we saw that the natives had thrown an out-post of sixteen men across the channel, who were watching our motions; but none showed themselves on the hills behind us, or on any part of the south shore. We embarked as soon as we had breakfasted, A fresh breeze was blowing from the N.E. which took us rapidly down the channel, and our prospects appeared to be as cheering as the day, for just as we were about to push from the shore, a seal rose close to the boat, which we all regarded as a favourable omen. We were, however, shortly stopped by shoals; it was in vain that we beat across the channel from one side to the other; it was a continued shoal, and the deepest water appeared to be under the left bank. The tide, however, had fallen, and exposed broad flats, over which it was hopeless, under existing circumstances, to haul the boat. We again landed on the south side of the channel, patiently to await the high water.
M’Leay, myself, and Fraser, ascended the hills, and went to the opposite side to ascertain the course of the channel, for immediately above us it turned south round the hills. We there found that we were on a narrow tongue of land. The channel was immediately below us, and continued to the E.S.E. as far as we could trace it. The hills we were upon, were the sandy hills that always bound a coast that is low, and were covered with banksias, casuarina and the grass-tree.
To the south of the channel there was a flat, backed by a range of sand-hummocks, that were covered with low shrubs; and beyond them the sea was distinctly visible. We could not have been more than two and a half miles from the beach where we stood.
Notwithstanding the sandy nature of the soil, the fossil formation again showed itself, not only on these hills, but also on the rocks that were in the channel.
A little before high water we again embarked. A seal had been observed playing about, and we augured well from such an omen. The blacks had been watching us from the opposite shore, and as soon as we moved, rose to keep abreast of us. With all our efforts we could not avoid the shoals. We walked up to our knees in mud and water, to find the least variation in the depth of the water so as to facilitate our exertions, but it was to no purpose. We were ultimately obliged to drag the boat over the flats; there were some of them a quarter of a mile in breadth, knee-deep in mud; but at length got her into deep water again. The turn of the channel was now before us, and we had a good run for about four or five miles. We had completed the bend, and the channel now stretched to the E.S.E. At about nine miles from us there was a bright sand-hill visible, near which the channel seemed to turn again to the south; and I doubted not that it terminated there. It was to no purpose, however, that we tried to gain it. Shoals again closed in upon us on every side. We dragged the boat over several, and at last got amongst quicksands. I, therefore, directed our efforts to hauling the boat over to the south side of the channel, as that on which we could most satisfactorily ascertain our position. After great labour we succeeded, and, as evening had closed in, lost no time in pitching the tents.
While the men were thus employed, I took Fraser with me, and, accompanied by M’Leay, crossed the sand-hummocks behind us, and descended to the sea-shore. I found that we had struck the south coast deep in the bight of Encounter Bay. We had no time for examination, but returned immediately to the camp, as I intended to give the men an opportunity to go to the beach. They accordingly went and bathed, and returned not only highly delighted at this little act of good nature on my part, but loaded with cockles, a bed of which they had managed to find among the sand. Clayton had tied one end of his shirt up, and brought a bag full, and amused himself with boiling cockles all night long.
If I had previously any hopes of being enabled ultimately to push the boat over the flats that were before us, a view of the channel at low water, convinced me of the impracticability of any further attempt. The water was so low that every shoal was exposed, and many stretched directly from one side of the channel to the other; and, but for the treacherous nature of the sand-banks, it would not have been difficult to have walked over dry footed to the opposite side of it. The channel stretched away to the E.S.E., to a distance of seven or eight miles, when it appeared to turn south under a small sand-hill, upon which the rays of the sun fell, as it was sinking behind us.
There was an innumerable flock of wild-fowl arranged in rows along the sides of the pools left by the tide, and we were again amused by the singular effect of the refraction upon them, and the grotesque and distorted forms they exhibited. Swans, pelicans, ducks, and geese, were mingled together, and, according to their distance from us, presented different appearances. Some were exceedingly tall and thin, others were unnaturally broad. Some appeared reversed, or as if they were standing on their heads, and the slightest motion, particularly the flapping of their wings, produced a most ridiculous effect. No doubt, the situation and the state of the atmosphere were favourable to the effect I have described. The day had been fine, the evening was beautiful — but it was the rarefaction of the air immediately playing on the ground, and not the haze at sunset that caused what I have noticed. It is distinct from mirage, although it is difficult to point out the difference. The one, however, distorts, the other conceals objects, and gives them a false distance. The one is clear, the other is cloudy. The one raises objects above their true position, the other does not. The one plays about, the other is steady; but I cannot hope to give a proper idea either of mirage or refraction so satisfactorily as I could wish. Many travellers have dwelt upon their effects, particularly upon those of the former, but few have attempted to account for them.
Our situation was one of peculiar excitement and interest. To our right the thunder of the heavy surf, that almost shook the ground beneath us, broke with increasing roar upon our ears; to our left the voice of the natives echoed through the brush, and the size of their fires at the extremity of the channel, seemed to indicate the alarm our appearance had occasioned.
While the men were enjoying their cockles, a large kettle of which they had boiled, M’Leay and I were anxiously employed in examining the state of our provisions, and in ascertaining what still remained. Flour and tea were the only articles we had left, so that the task was not a difficult one. It appeared that we had not sufficient of either to last us to Pondebadgery, at which place we expected to find supplies; and, taking every thing into consideration, our circumstances were really critical.
The first view of Encounter Bay had convinced me that no vessel would ever venture into it at a season when the S.W. winds prevailed. It was impossible that we could remain upon the coast in expectation of the relief that I doubted not had been hurried off for us; since disappointment would have sealed our fate at once. In the deep bight in which we were, I could not hope that any vessel would approach sufficiently near to be seen by us. Our only chance of attracting notice would have been by crossing the Ranges to the Gulf St. Vincent, but the men had not strength to walk, and I hesitated to divide my party in the presence of a determined and numerous enemy, who closely watched our motions. Setting aside the generous feelings that had prompted M’Leay to participate in every danger with me, and who I am persuaded would have deeply felt a separation, my anxiety not only on his account, but on account of the men I might leave in charge of the boat, made me averse to this measure; the chance of any misfortune to them involving in it the destruction of our boat and the loss of our provisions. My anxiety of mind would have rendered me unfit for exertion; yet so desirous was I of examining the ranges and the country at their base, that I should, had our passage to the salt water been uninterrupted, have determined on coasting it homewards, or of steering for Launceston; and most assuredly, with my present experience, I would rather incur the hazards of so desperate a step, than contend against all the evils that beset us on out homeward journey. And the reader may rest assured, I was as much without hopes of our eventual safety, as I was astonished, at the close of our labours, to find that they had terminated so happily.
Further exertion on the part of the men being out of the question, I determined to remain no longer on the coast than to enable me to trace the channel to its actual junction with the sea, and to ascertain the features of the coast at that important point. I was reluctant to exhaust the strength of the men in dragging the boat over the numberless flats that were before us, and made up my mind to walk along the shore until I should gain the outlet. I at length arranged that M’Leay, I, and Fraser, should start on this excursion, at the earliest dawn, leaving Harris and Hopkinson in charge of the camp; for as we were to go towards the position of the natives, I thought it improbable they would attack the camp without my being instantly aware of it.
We had, as I have said, intended starting at the earliest dawn, but the night was so clear and refreshing, and the moon so bright that we determined to avail ourselves of both, and accordingly left the tents at 3 a.m. I directed Harris to strike them at 8, and to have every thing in readiness for our departure at that hour. We then commenced our excursion, and I led my companions rapidly along the shore of Encounter Bay, after crossing the sand-hills about a mile below the camp. After a hasty and distressing walk of about seven miles, we found that the sand-hills terminated, and a low beach spread before us. The day was just breaking, and at the distance of a mile from us we saw the sand-hill I have already had occasion to notice, and at about a quarter of a mile from its base, we were checked by the channel; which, as I rightly conjectured, being stopped in its easterly course by some rising ground, the tongue of land on which the blacks were posted, suddenly turns south, and, striking this sand-hill, immediately enters the sea; and we noticed, in the bight under the rising ground, that the natives had lit a chain of small fires. This was, most probably, a detached party watching our movements, as they could, from where they were posted, see our camp.
At the time we arrived at the end of the channel, the tide had turned, and was again setting in. The entrance appeared to me to be somewhat less than a quarter of a mile in breadth. Under the sand-hill on the off side, the water is deep and the current strong. No doubt, at high tide, a part of the low beach we had traversed is covered. The mouth of the channel is defended by a double line of breakers, amidst which, it would be dangerous to venture, except in calm and summer weather; and the line of foam is unbroken from one end of Encounter Bay to the other. Thus were our fears of the impracticability and inutility of the channel of communication between the lake and the ocean confirmed.
I would fain have lingered on my way, to examine, as far as circumstances would permit, the beautiful country between the lake and the ranges; and it was with heart-felt sorrow that I yielded to necessity. My men were indeed very weak from poverty of diet and from great bodily fatigue. Hopkinson, Mulholland, and Macnamee were miserably reduced. The two former, especially, had exerted themselves beyond their strength, and although I am confident they would have obeyed my orders to the last, I did not feel myself justified, considering the gigantic task we had before us, to impose additional labour upon them.
It will be borne in mind that our difficulties were just about to commence, when those of most other travellers have ceased; and that instead of being assisted by the stream whose course we had followed, we had now to contend against the united waters of the eastern ranges, with diminished strength, and, in some measure, with disappointed feelings.
Under the most favourable circumstances, it was improbable that the men would be enabled to pull for many days longer in succession; since they had not rested upon their oars for a single day, if I except our passage across the lake, from the moment when we started from the depot; nor was it possible for me to buoy them up with the hope even of a momentary cessation from labour. We had calculated the time to which our supply of provisions would last under the most favourable circumstances, and it was only in the event of our pulling up against the current, day after day, the same distance we had compassed with the current in our favour, that we could hope they would last us as long as we continued in the Murray. But in the event of floods, or any unforeseen delay, in was impossible to calculate at what moment we might be driven to extremity.
Independent of these casualties, there were other circumstances of peril to be taken into consideration. As I have already observed, I foresaw great danger in again running through the natives. I had every reason to believe that many of the tribes with which we had communicated on apparently friendly terms, regretted having allowed us to pass unmolested; nor was I at all satisfied as to the treatment we might receive from them, when unattended by the envoys who had once or twice controlled their fury. Our best security, therefore, against the attacks of the natives was celerity of movement; and the men themselves seemed to be perfectly aware of the consequences of delay. Our provisions, moreover, being calculated to last to a certain point only, the slightest accident, the staving-in of the boat, or the rise of the river, would inevitably be attended with calamity. To think of reducing our rations of only three quarters of a pound of flour per diem, was out of the question, or to hope that the men, with less sustenance than that, would perform the work necessary to ensure their safety, would have been unreasonable. It was better that our provisions should hold out to a place from which we might abandon the boat with some prospect of reaching by an effort a stock station, or the plain on which Robert Harris was to await our return, than that they should be consumed before the half of our homeward journey should be accomplished. Delay, therefore, under our circumstances, would have been imprudent and unjustifiable.
On the other hand, it was sufficiently evident to me, that the men were too much exhausted to perform the task that was before them without assistance, and that it would be necessary both for M’Leay and myself, to take our share of labour at the oars. The cheerfulness and satisfaction that my young friend evinced at the opportunity that was thus afforded him of making himself useful, and of relieving those under him from some portion of their toil, at the same time that they increased my sincere esteem for him, were nothing more than what I expected from one who had endeavoured by every means in his power to contribute to the success of that enterprise upon which he had embarked. But although I have said thus much of the exhausted condition of the men — and ere these pages are concluded my readers will feel satisfied as to the truth of my statement — I would by no means be understood to say that they flagged for a moment, or that a single murmur escaped them. No reluctance was visible, no complaint was heard, but there was that in their aspect and appearance which they could not hide, and which I could not mistake. My object in dwelling so long upon this subject has been to point out our situation and our feelings when we re-entered the Murray. The only circumstance that appeared to be in our favour was the prevalence of the south-west wind, by which I hoped we should be assisted in running up the first broad reaches of that river. I could not but acknowledge the bounty of that Providence, which had favoured us in our passage across the lake, and I was led to hope that its merciful superintendance would protect us from evil, and would silently direct us where human foresight and prudence failed. We re-entered the river on the 13th under as fair prospects as we would have desired. The gale which had blown with such violence in the morning gradually abated, and a steady breeze enabled us to pass our first encampment by availing ourselves of it as long as day light continued. Both the valley and the river showed to advantage as we approached them, and the scenery upon our left (the proper right bank of the Murray) was really beautiful.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00