During the night, I released one of the poor animals for an hour or two, thinking he would not stray from his companion, and might, perhaps, crop a few of the little shrubs growing on the sand ridges, but on searching for him in the morning he was gone, and I had to walk twelve miles over the heavy sand tracking him, the boy following along our outward track with the other horse, for fear of missing the man who was to meet us with water.
The stray horse had fortunately kept near the line we had followed in going to the lake, and I came upon him in a very weak and miserable condition, soon after the arrival of the man who had been sent to meet us with water. By care and slow travelling, we reached the depot safely in the afternoon, having crossed in going and returning, upwards of 100 miles of desert country, during the last three days, in which the horses had got nothing either to eat or drink. It is painful in the extreme, to be obliged to subject them to such hardships, but alas, in such a country, what else can be done.
In the evening, I directed the overseer to have every thing got ready for breaking up our encampment on the morrow, as the party had been fifteen days in depot, and little else than mud remained in the hole which had supplied them with water.
August 25.—Slight showers during the night, and the day dark and cloudy, with rather an oppressive atmosphere. The horses had strayed during the night, so that it was nine o'clock before we got away.
We had scarcely left the place of encampment, when shoutings were heard, and signal fires lit up in every direction by the natives, to give warning I imagine of our being abroad, and to call stragglers to their camp. These people had still remained in our immediate vicinity, and were now assembled in very considerable numbers on the brow of one of the front ridges, to watch us pass by. They would not approach us, but as the drays moved on kept running in a line with them, at some distance, and occasionally shouting and gesticulating in an unintelligible manner.
In our first and only intercourse with these natives, we had unfortunately given them just cause of offence, and I was most anxious, if possible, before leaving, to efface the unfavourable impression which they had received. Letting the drays therefore move on, I remained behind with Mr. Scott, leading our horses, and trying to induce some of the natives to come up to us; for a long time, however, our efforts were in vain, but at last I succeeded in persuading a fine athletic looking man to approach within a moderate distance; I then shewed him a tomahawk, which I laid on the ground, making signs that I intended it for him. When I had retired a little, he went and took it up, evidently comprehending its use, and appearing much pleased with the gift; the others soon congregated around him, and Mr. Scott and I mounting our horses, followed the party, leaving the sable council to discuss the merits of their new acquisition, and hoping that the unfavourable opinion with which we had at first impressed them, would be somewhat modified for the future.
Steering N. 43 degrees W. for five miles, and then winding through the range, in the bed of a watercourse to the plains on the other side, we took a direction of E. 20 degrees N. for fifteen miles, arriving about dark upon a small channel that I had crossed on the 14th of August. Here was good feed for the horses, and plenty of water a little way up among the hills. This watercourse I had not examined when I was here before, preferring to trace up the larger one beyond instead. Had I followed this, I should easily have found water, and been relieved from much of the anxiety which I had then undergone.
In travelling through a country previously unexplored, no pains should be spared in examining every spot, even the most unlikely, where it is possible for water to exist, for after searching in vain, in large deep rocky and likely looking watercourses, I have frequently found water in some small branch or gorge, that had appeared too insignificant, or too uninviting to require to be explored. This I named The Mundy, after my friend, Alfred Mundy, Esq., now the Colonial Secretary of South Australia.
Early this morning, I took Mr. Scott with me, to examine The Mundy, leaving the overseer to proceed with the party.
After entering the hills a short distance, we found in the bed of the Mundy a strongly running stream, connecting several reaches of waters, upon which many black ducks were sailing about. This appeared to be one of the finest and best streams we had yet discovered, although the water was slightly impregnated with alum. After the watercourse left the hills, the surface water all disappeared, the drainage being then absorbed by the light sandy soil of the plains, and this had invariably been the case with all the waters emanating from Flinders range.
Crossing some stony ridges, we followed the party up the large watercourse, which I had traced so far on the 5th of August, since named the Burr, after the Deputy Surveyor-general of the colony, and at nineteen miles halted early in the afternoon, at some springs rising among rocks and rushes in its bed. The water was very brackish, though drinkable, but did not extend far on either side of the spot we were encamped at, and when after dinner, I took a long walk up the watercourse to search for more, I was unable to find any either in the main channel or its branches. The grass was abundant and good. The latitude of the camp I ascertained to be 30 degrees 27 minutes S.
August 27.—Having risen and breakfasted very early, I took Mr. Scott and a native boy with me, and steered for a very high hill with rather a rounded summit, bearing from our camp E. 17 degrees S. This I named Mount Serle, in accordance with a request made to me before my departure, by the Governor, that I would name some remarkable feature in the country after Mr. Serle. This was the most prominent object we had hitherto met with; among high ranges it appeared the highest, and from a height above our present encampment, it had been selected by us as the most likely point from which to obtain a view to the eastward.
The elevation of this hill could not be less than three thousand feet above the level of the sea; but unfortunately, the injury my barometer had sustained in the escape of some of the mercury, and my being unable to fill it again properly, quite precluded me from ascertaining the height with accuracy.
In our route to Mount Serle, we observed another hill rather more to the northward, seemingly of as great an altitude as Mount Serle itself; this was not situate in the Mount Serle range, nor had it been seen by us in our view from the height above the depot.
At ten miles from our camp, we came to a large watercourse, emanating from the Mount Serle range on the south side, and running close under its western aspect, with an abundance of excellent clear water in it. This I named the Frome, after the Surveyor-general of the colony, to whose kindness I was so much indebted in preparing my outfit and for the loan of instruments for the use of the expedition.
Having watered our horses we tied them up to some trees, and commenced the ascent of Mount Serle on foot. The day was exceedingly hot, and we found our task a much harder one than we had anticipated, being compelled to wind up and down several steep and rugged ridges before we could reach the main one.
At length, however, having overcome all difficulties we stood upon the summit of the mountain. Our view was then extensive and final. At one glance I saw the realization of my worst forebodings; and the termination of the expedition of which I had the command. Lake Torrens now faced us to the east, whilst on every side we were hemmed in by a barrier which we could never hope to pass. Our toils and labours and privations, had all been endured to no purpose; and the only alternative left us would be to return, disappointed and baffled.
To the north and north-west the horizon was unbroken to the naked eye, but with the aid of a powerful telescope I could discover fragments of table land similar to those I had seen in the neighbourhood of the lake in that direction. At N. 8 degrees W. a very small haycock-looking hill might be seen above the level waste, probably the last of the low spurs of Flinders range to the north. To the north-east, the view was obstructed by a high range immediately in front of us, but to the east and as far as E. 13 degrees S. we saw through a break in the hills, a broad glittering belt in appearance, like the bed of a lake, but apparently dry.
The ranges seemed to continue to the eastward of Mount Serle for about fifteen miles, and then terminated abruptly in a low, level, scrubby-looking country, also about fifteen miles in extent, between the hills and the borders of the lake. The latter appearing about twenty-five miles across, whilst beyond it was a level region without a height or elevation of any kind.
Connecting the view before me with the fact that on the 14th August, when in about lat. 29 degrees S., I had found Lake Torrens turning round to the north-east, and had observed no continuation of Flinders range to the eastward of my position, I could now no longer doubt that I had almost arrived at the termination of that range, and that the glittering belt I now saw to the east, was in fact only an arm of the lake taking the drainage from its eastern slopes.
Sad and painful were the thoughts that occupied my mind in returning to the camp. Hitherto, even when placed in the most difficult or desperate circumstances I was cheered by hope, but now I had no longer even that frail solace to cling to, there was no mistaking the nature of the country, by which we were surrounded on every side, and no room for doubting its impracticability.
EXCURSION TO THE NORTH-EAST—TRACE DOWN THE FROME—WATER BECOMES SALT—PASS BEYOND THE RANGES—COCKATOOS SEEN—HEAVY RAINS—DRY WATER-COURSES—MOUNT DISTANCE—BRINE SPRINGS—MOUNT HOPELESS—TERMINATION OF FLINDERS RANGE—LAKE TORRENS TO THE NORTH AND TO THE EAST—ALL FURTHER ADVANCE HOPELESS—YOUNG EMUS CAUGHT—REJOIN PARTY—MOVE BACK TOWARDS MOUNT ARDEN—LOSS OF A HORSE—ARRIVE AT THE DEPOT—PLANS FOR THE FUTURE—TAKE UP STORES—PREPARE FOR LEAVING.
Upon returning to the depot at the Burr, I decided upon making an excursion to the north-east, to ascertain the actual termination of Flinders range, and the nature of the prospect beyond it; not to satisfy myself, for a single glance from the eminence I had recently occupied at Mount Serle, had for ever set my curiosity at rest on these points, but in discharge of the duty I owed to the Governor, and the promoters of the expedition, who could not be expected to be satisfied with a bare conjecture on a subject which they had sent me practically to demonstrate, however fairly from circumstances the conclusions might be deduced at which I had been compelled to arrive. Accordingly, on the morning of the 29th, I took with me my overseer, one man, a native boy, and a cart drawn by three horses to carry water; and making an early start, proceeded to attempt for the last time to penetrate into those regions of gloom.
After travelling ten miles, we arrived at the Frome, where we watered and fed the horses. From this place I sent the overseer on before us, to see how far the water extended, that we might determine where to fix our halting-place for the night. After resting awhile we proceeded on with the cart, tracing down the watercourse over a very rough and stony road on which the cart was upset, but without any serious damage, and passing several very large and fine water-holes with many teal and wood-duck upon them.
At eight miles from where we lunched, we encamped with abundance of water, but very little grass. The latitude by meridian altitude of Altair was 30 degrees 18 minutes 30 seconds S. In the evening the overseer returned, and stated there was water for nine miles further, but that the road was very rocky and bad.
August 30.—Leaving the overseer to bring on the cart, I rode on a-head down the watercourse to trace the continuance of the water. The road I found to be very bad, and at twenty-three miles, upon tasting the water I found it as salt as the sea, and the bed of the creek quite impracticable for a cart; I therefore hurried back for seven miles, and halted the party at the last good water-hole, which was about sixteen miles from our yesterday's camp.
We had seen many ducks during the day, two of which I shot, and the black boy found a nest with fresh eggs in it, so that we fared more luxuriously than usual. The night set in very dark and windy, but no rain fell.
August 31.—This morning I sent the overseer back to the depot with the cart and two horses, whilst I and the native boy proceeded on our route on horseback, taking also a man leading a pack-horse to carry water for us the first day. Following down the watercourse, we passed through some imposing scenery, consisting of cliffs from six to eight hundred feet in height, rising perpendicularly from their bases, below which were recesses, into which the sun never shone, and whose gloomy grandeur imparted a melancholy cast to the thoughts and feelings, in unison with the sublimity of the scene around.
After travelling twelve miles from the camp, we got clear of the hills, and found an open country before us to the north; through this we proceeded for ten miles further, still following the direction of the watercourse, and halting upon it for the night, after having made a stage of twenty-two miles. We had tolerable grass for the horses, but were obliged to give them water from the kegs.
At this place I was much astonished to see four white cockatoos, flying about among the gum-trees in the watercourse, and immediately commenced a narrow search for water, as I knew those birds did not frequently go far away from it: there was not, however, a drop to be found anywhere, nor the least sign of there having been any for a long time. What made the circumstance of finding cockatoos here so surprising and unusual was, that for the last two hundred miles we had never seen one at all. Where then had these four birds come from? could it be that they had followed under Flinders range from the south, and had strayed so far away from all others of their kind, or had they come from some better country beyond the desert by which I was surrounded, or how was that country to be attained, supposing it to exist? Time only may reply to these queries, but the occasion which prompted them was, to say the least, extraordinary.
Towards night the sky became overcast with clouds, and as I saw that we should have rain, I set to work with the boy and made a house of boughs for our protection, but the man who accompanied us was too indolent to take the same precaution, thinking probably that the rain would pass away as it had often done before. In this, however, he was disappointed, for the rain came down in torrents [Note 7 at end para.]—in an hour or two the whole country was inundated, and he was taught a lesson of industry at the expense of a thorough and unmitigated drenching.
[Note 7: This will not appear surprising, when the great amount of rain which falls annually in some parts of Australia, is taken into account. The Count Strzelecki gives 62.68 inches, as the average annual fall for upwards of twenty years, at Port Macquarie.—At p. 193, that gentleman remarks:—"The greatest fall of rain recorded in New South Wales, during 24 hours, amounted to 25 inches. (Port Jackson)."]
September 1.—This morning I sent the man back to the depot with the pack-horse, with orders to the overseer to move back the party as rapidly as possible towards Mount Arden, that by taking advantage of the rain we might make a short route through the plains, and avoid the necessity of going up among the rugged and stony watercourses of the hills.
This retrograde movement was rendered absolutely necessary from our present position, for since we had wound through the hills to the north, and come out upon the open plains, I saw that Flinders range had terminated, and I now only wished to trace its northern termination so far east as to enable me to see round it to the southward, as well as to ascertain the character and appearance of the country to the north and to the east; as soon therefore as the man had left, I proceeded at a course of E. 35 degrees N. for a low and very distant elevation, apparently the last of the hills to the eastward, this I named Mount Distance, for it deceived us greatly as to the distance we were from it.
In passing through the plains, which were yesterday so arid and dry, I found immense pools, nay almost large reaches of water lodged in the hollows, and in which boats might have floated. Such was the result of only an hour or two's rain, whilst the ground itself, formerly so hard, was soft and boggy in the extreme, rendering progress much slower and more fatiguing to the horses than it otherwise would have been. By steadily persevering we made a stage of thirty-five miles, but were obliged to encamp at night some miles short of the little height I had been steering for.
During our ride we passed several dry watercourses at five, ten, twenty-five, thirty, and thirty-five miles from our last encampment. The last we halted upon with good feed for the horses, and rainwater lodged everywhere. All these watercourses took their course to the north, emptying and losing themselves in the plains. In the evening heavy showers again fell, and the night set in very dark.
September 2.—After travelling seven miles we ascended Mount Distance, and from it I could see that the hills now bore S. and S.E. and were getting much lower, so that we were rapidly rounding their northern extremity. To the north and north-east were seen only broken fragments of table lands, similar to what I found near the lake to the north-west; the lake itself, however, was nowhere visible, and I saw that I should have another day's hard riding before I could satisfactorily determine its direction. Upon descending I steered for a distant low haycock-like peak in the midst of one of the table-topped fragments; from this rise I expected the view would be decisive, and I named it Mount Hopeless.—From Mount Distance it bore E. 25 degrees N.
Crossing many little stony ridges, and passing the channel of several watercourses, I discovered a new and still more disheartening feature in the country, the existence of brine springs. Hitherto we had found brackish and occasionally salt water in some of the watercourses, but by tracing them up among the hills, we had usually found the quality to improve as we advanced, but now the springs were out in the open plains, and the water poisoned at its very source.
Occasionally round the springs were a few coarse rushes, but the soil in other respects was quite bare, destitute of vegetation, and thickly coated over with salt, presenting the most miserable and melancholy aspect imaginable. We were now in nearly the same latitude as that in which Captain Sturt had discovered brine springs in the bed of the Darling, and which had rendered even that river so perfectly salt that his party could not make use of it.
September 2.—At thirty-five miles we reached the little elevation I had been steering for, and ascended Mount Hopeless, and cheerless and hopeless indeed was the prospect before us. As I had anticipated, the view was both extensive and decisive. We were now past all the ranges; and for three quarters of the compass, extending from south, round by east and north, to west, the horizon was one unbroken level, except where the fragments of table land, or the ridge of the lake, interrupted its uniformity
The lake was now visible to the north and to the east; and I had at last ascertained, beyond all doubt, that its basin, commencing near the head of Spencer's Gulf, and following the course of Flinders range (bending round its northern extreme to the southward), constituted those hills the termination of the island of South Australia, for such I imagine it once to have been. This closed all my dreams as to the expedition, and put an end to an undertaking from which so much was anticipated. I had now a view before me that would have damped the ardour of the most enthusiastic, or dissipated the doubts of the most seeptical. To the showers that fell on the evening of the 31st of August, we were solely indebted for having been able to travel thus far; had there been much more rain the country would have been impracticable for horses,—if less we could not have procured water to have enabled us to make such a push as we had done.
The lake where it was visible, appeared, as it had ever done, to be from twenty-five to thirty miles across, and its distance from Mount Hopeless was nearly the same. The hills to the S. and S. W. of us, seemed to terminate on the eastern slopes, as abruptly as on the western; and from the point where we stood, we could distinctly trace by the gum-trees, the direction of watercourses emanating from among them, taking northerly, north-easterly, easterly and south-easterly courses, according to the point of the range they came from. This had been the case during the whole of our route under Flinder's range. We had at first found the watercourses going to the south of west, then west, north-west, north, and now north-east, east and south-east. I had, at the same time, observed all around this mountain mass, the appearance of the bed of a large lake, following the general course of the ranges on every side, and receiving, apparently, the whole drainage from them.
On its western, and north-western shores, I had ascertained by actual examination, that its basin was a very low level, clearly defined, and effectually inclosed by an elevated continuous sandy ridge, like the outer boundary of a sea-shore, its area being of immense extent, and its bed of so soft and yielding a nature, as to make it quite impossible to cross it. All these points I had decided positively, and finally, as far as regards that part of Lake Torrens, from near the head of Spencer's Gulf, to the most north-westerly part of it, which I visited on the 14th of August, embracing a course of fully 200 miles in its outline. I had done this, too, under circumstances of great difficulty, toil, and anxiety, and not without the constant risk of losing my horses, from the fatigues and privations of the forced labours I was obliged to impose upon them.
Having ascertained these particulars, and at so much hazard, relative to Lake Torrens, for so great a part of its course, what conclusion could I arrive at with regard to the character of its other half to the north-east, and east of Flinders ranges, as seen from Mount Hopeless, and Mount Serle points, nearly ninety miles apart! The appearances from the ranges were similar; the trend of all the watercourses was to the same basin, and undoubtedly that basin, if traced far enough, must be of nearly the same level on the eastern, as on the western side of the ranges. I had completely ascertained that Flinders range had terminated to the eastward, the north-east, and the north; that there were no hills or elevations connected with it beyond, in any of these directions, and that the horizon every where was one low uninterrupted level.
With such data, and under such circumstances, what other opinion could I possibly arrive at, than that the bed of Lake Torrens was nearly similar in its character, and equally impracticable in its eastern, as its western arm; and that, considering the difficulties I had encountered, and the hazards I had subjected myself to, in ascertaining these points so minutely on the western side, I could not be justified in renewing those risks to the eastward, where the nature and extent of the impediments were so self-evidently the same, and where there was not the slightest hope of any useful result being attained by it.
I was now more than a hundred miles away from my party; and having sent them orders to move back towards Mount Arden, I had no time to lose in following them. With bitter feelings of disappointment I turned from the dreary and cheerless scene around me, and pushing the horses on as well as circumstances would allow, succeeded in retracing ten miles of my course by a little after dark, having completed a stage of fully forty-five miles during the day. Here there was tolerable good grass, and plenty of water from the late rains, so that the horses were more fortunate on this excursion than usual. I observed the variation to be 4 degrees E.
September 3.—Travelling early, we made a long stage of about forty miles, and encamped with good grass and water. During the day we caught four young emus in the plains, which we roasted for supper, being very hungry, and upon short allowance, as I had not calculated upon remaining out so long; the black boy enjoyed them exceedingly, and I managed to get through one myself. They were about the size of full grown fowls.
September 4.—Making a very early start, we travelled twenty miles to the watercourse, where we had encamped on the 31st of August, striking it a little lower down. As I had left one or two trifles here, that I wished to take on with me, I sent the black boy for them, telling him to follow my tracks while I went slowly on. Upon finding that he did not overtake me so soon as I expected, I halted for some time, but still he did not come up, and I again proceeded; for as I had left my former track, I concluded he had taken that line, and thus missed me. Steering, therefore, across the hills, some of which were very stony and broken, I made for the Mundy, which I reached very late in the evening, and found the party safely encamped there.
I had rode fifty-five miles, and had been on horseback about thirteen hours, so that both myself and horse were well nigh knocked up. The black boy had not arrived, nor did he come up during the night.
The next day, becoming uneasy about his absence, I detained the party in the camp, and sent Mr. Scott to search for him, who fortunately met him almost immediately he had left us. The boy's detention had been occasioned by the fagged condition of his horse, which prevented the possibility of his overtaking me. As the day was wet, I did not move on, but gave the party a day's rest, whilst I employed myself in meditating upon the disappointment I had experienced, and the future steps it might be most advisable to take to carry out the objects of the expedition. I was still determined not to give up the undertaking,—but rather to attempt to penetrate either to the eastward or westward, and to try to find some other line of route that might afford a practicable opening to the interior.
September 6.—Moving on the party early to-day, I pushed steadily towards the depot near Mount Arden. In doing this, the favourable state of the weather enabled us to keep more in the open plains, and thus both to avoid a good deal of rough ground, and to shorten the road considerably.
Upon mustering the horses on the 9th, the overseer reported to me that one of them was lying down with a broken leg, and upon going to examine him, I found that it was one of the police horses kindly lent to the expedition by the Governor. During the night some other horse had kicked him and broken the thigh bone of the hind leg. The poor animal was in great pain and unable to rise at all, I was therefore obliged to order the overseer to shoot him. By this accident we lost a most useful horse at a time when we could but ill spare one.
During our progress to the south we had frequently showers and occasionally heavy rains, which lodging in puddles on the plains, supplied us abundantly with water, and we were unusually fortunate enough to obtain grass also. We were thus enabled to push on upon nearly a straight course, which, after seven days of hard travelling, brought us once more, on the afternoon of the 12th, to our old position at the depot near Mount Arden. I had intended to have halted the party here for a day or two, to recruit after the severe march we had just terminated; but the weather was so favourable and the season so far advanced, that I did not like to lose an hour in following out my prospective plans.
During the homeward journey from the Mundy, I had reflected much on the position in which I was placed, and spent many an anxious hour in deliberating as to the future. I had one of three alternatives to choose, either to give up the expedition altogether;—to cross to the Murray to the east and follow up that river to the Darling;—or by crossing over to Streaky Bay to the westward, to endeavour to find some opening leading towards the interior in that direction. After weighing well the advantages and disadvantages of each (and there were many objections to them all,) I determined upon adopting the last, for reasons which will be found in my Report sent to the Governor, and to the Chairman of the Northern Expedition Committee from Port Lincoln. [Note 8: Vide Chapter IX.] My mind having thus been made up, I knew, from former experience, that I had no time to lose, now that the weather was showery and favourable, and that if I delayed at all in putting my plans into execution I might probably be unable to cross from Mount Arden to Streaky Bay. The distance between these two points was upwards of two hundred miles, through a barren and desert region, in which, though among high ranges, I had on a former occasion been unable to discover any permanent water, and through which we could only hope to pass by taking advantage of the puddles left by the late rains; I therefore decided upon halting at the depot to rest the horses even for a day; and the party had no sooner reached their encampment, than, while one portion of the men took the horses up the watercourse to water, the others were employed in digging up the stores we had buried here, and in repacking and rearranging all the loads ready to move on again immediately. By the evening all the arrangements were completed and the whole party retired to rest much fatigued.
PROCEED TO THE WESTWARD—CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LAKE TORRENS AND SPENCER'S GULF—BAXTER'S RANGE—DIVIDE THE PARTY—ROUTE TOWARDS PORT LINCOLN—SCRUB—FRUITLESS SEARCH FOR WATER—SEND DRAY BACK FOR WATER—PLUNDERED BY THE NATIVES—RETURN OF DRAY—DENSE SCRUB—REFUGE ROCKS—DENSE SCRUB—SALT CREEK—MOUNT HILL—DENSE SCRUB—LARGE WATERCOURSE—ARRIVE AT A STATION—RICH AND GRASSY VALLEYS—CHARACTER OF PORT LINCOLN PENINSULA—UNABLE TO PROCURE SUPPLIES—ENGAGE A BOAT TO SEND OVER TO ADELAIDE—BUY SHEEP.
September 13.—UPON leaving the depot this morning I was obliged to leave behind a very large tarpaulin which we did not require, and which from the extra weight we had last night put upon the drays, we could not conveniently carry. Steering to the south-west we came at twelve miles to the head of Spencer's Gulf, and crossed the channel connecting it with Lake Torrens. At this place it is not very wide, but its bed like that of the lake is soft and boggy, with salt water mixed with the mud. We had a good deal of difficulty in getting over it, and one of the drays having stuck fast, we had to unload it, carrying the things over on men's backs. A few miles beyond this we halted for the night, where there was good grass for the horses and plenty of water in the puddles around us. We crossed principally during the day, a rather heavy sandy country, but were now encamped in plains of a firmer and better character for the drays.
September 14.—Travelling on through open plains with loose gravelly stones, lying on their surface, we passed to the south of a small table-topped hill, visible from Mount Arden, and very much resembling the fragments of table land that I had met with to the north. This however was somewhat larger than those, and though steep-sided as they were it did not disclose the same white strata of chalk and gypsum, its formation being more rocky and of rather a slaty character.
September 15.—Pushing on rapidly over extensive plains very similar to those we had already crossed, we arrived, after a long stage, under Baxter's range, and encamped upon a small channel coming from it, with abundance of water and good grass. This range is high and rocky, rising abruptly out of the plains, and distinctly visible from Mount Arden, from which it is about fifty miles distant. Its formation is entirely conglomerate of rather a coarse description. Among its rugged overhanging steeps are many of the large red species of wallabie similar to those we had seen to the north at the Scott. Two of these we shot. The latitude of our camp at Baxter's range was 32 degrees 40 minutes S.
September 16.—Remained in camp to-day to rest the horses and prepare for dividing the party, as from the great abundance of rain that had fallen, I no longer apprehended a scarcity of water on the route to Streaky Bay, and therefore decided upon sending my overseer across with the party, whilst I myself took a dray down direct to Port Lincoln, on the west side of Spencer's Gulf, to obtain additional supplies, with the intention of joining them again at Streaky Bay.
Having spent some time in taking bearings from the summit of Baxter's range, I examined all the channels and gorges coming from it, and in most of these I found water. I am of opinion however that in a very dry season, the water which I now found will be quite dried up, and especially in the largest of the watercourses, or the one upon which we were encamped. [Note 9: In October 1842, this was quite dry, but water was still found in holes in the rocks in the southernmost gorge, above the waterfall, at the base of which water was also procured by digging in the gravel.]
A little further south, there is a rocky ravine winding through a gorge and terminating in a waterfall, with a large pool of beautiful water at the base, and with many large and deep holes of water in the rocks above. In this ravine I imagine water might be procured at any period of the year, and I am confirmed in this opinion by the circumstance of three well beaten native roads, coming from different points of the compass, and all converging at this place. This is an important position for parties crossing to the westward, or going overland to Port Lincoln. Baxter's range is the nearest point at which permanent water can be procured on the west side of the head of Spencer's Gulf, as the Depot creek near Mount Arden is on the eastern. Having completed my examination of the range, and taken all my observations, I spent the remainder of the day in constructing a chart of my former route from Streaky Bay in 1839, and in writing out instructions for the overseer during my absence, as a guide for him in crossing to the westward.
September 17.—Placing under the charge of the overseer, two drays, seven of our best horses, all the sheep, one native boy, and two men, I saw him fairly started this morning, and wished him a speedy and prosperous journey. I had left with me one dray, five horses, one man, one native boy, and Mr. Scott; with fourteen days provision and forty gallons of water. Steering S. 25 degrees W. for sixteen miles, we halted for the night upon a patch of tolerable grass but without any water; I was consequently obliged to give a bucket of water to each of the horses out of the small stock which we had brought with us. The country we travelled through was low, level, and for the most part covered with salsolae, or brush, the latter in some places being very dense, and causing great fatigue to the horses in dragging the dray through it.
September 18.—Upon taking a view of the country, this morning, previous to starting, it appeared so low and level, and held out so little prospect of our finding water, that I was induced to deviate from the course I had laid down, and steering S. 20 degrees E. made for some hills before us. After travelling four miles upon this course, I observed a native fire upon the hills at a bearing of S. 40 degrees E. and immediately turned towards it, fully hoping that it was at a native camp and in the immediate vicinity of water.
At eight miles we were close under the hills, but found the dray could not cross the front ridges; I therefore left Mr. Scott to keep a course parallel with the range, whilst I and the native boy rode across to where we had seen the fire. Upon arriving at the spot I was greatly disappointed to find, instead of a native camp, only a few burning bushes, which had either been lit as a signal by the natives, after noticing us in the plains, or was one of those casual fires so frequently left by them on their line of march. I found the hills scrubby, barren, and rocky, with much prickly grass growing upon their slopes. There were no watercourses upon the west side of the range at all, nor could I by tracing up some short rocky valleys coming from steep gorges in the face of the hill find any water. The rock was principally of ironstone formation. Upon ascending to the summit of the hill, I had an extensive but unsatisfactory view, a vast level field of scrub stretching every where around me, interspersed here and there with the beds of small dried up lakes, but with no signs of water any where. At S. W. by S. I saw the smoke of a native fire rising in the plains. Hurrying down from the range, I followed the dray, and as soon as I overtook it, halted for the night in the midst of a thick scrub of large tea-trees and minor shrubs. There was a little grass scattered among the trees, on which, by giving our horses two buckets of water each, they were able to feed tolerably well. During the day we had travelled over a very heavy sandy country and through dense brush, and our horses were much jaded. Occasionally we had passed small dried up salt lakes and the beds of salt water channels; but even these did not appear to have had any water in them for a long time.
Upon halting the party, I sent Mr. Scott to explore the range further south than I had been, whilst I myself went to search among the salt lakes to the southwest. We, however, both returned equally unsuccessful, and I now found that I should be compelled to send the dray back for a supply of water from Baxter's range. The country was so scrubby and difficult to get a dray through that our progress was necessarily slow; and in the level waste before us I had no hope of finding water for some distance further. I thought, therefore, that if the dray could bring a supply to last us for two days after leaving our present encampment, we should then be enabled to make a fresh push through a considerable extent of bad country, and might have a better chance of finding water as we advanced to the south-west.
September 19.—This morning I unloaded the dray of every thing except the water casks, and pitching my tent among the scrub took up my quarters alone, whilst I sent back the man, the native boy, the dray, and all the horses with Mr. Scott to Baxter's range. As they made an early start, I gave them instructions to push on as rapidly as possible, so as to get the range that night, to rest the horses next day and fill the casks with water, and on the third day, if possible, to return the whole distance and rejoin me.
Having seen them fairly away, I occupied myself in writing and charting during the day, and at night amused myself in taking stellar observations for latitude. I had already taken the altitude of Vega, and deduced the latitude to be 32 degrees 3 minutes 23 seconds S.; leaving my artificial horizon on the ground outside whilst I remained in the tent waiting until Altair came to the meridian, I then took my sextant and went out to observe this star also; but upon putting down my hand to take hold of the horizon glass in order to wipe the dew off, my fingers went into the quick-silver—the horizon glass was gone, and also the piece of canvass I had put on the ground to lie down upon whilst observing so low an altitude as that of Vega. Searching a little more I missed a spade, a parcel of horse shoes, an axe, a tin dish, some ropes, a grubbing hoe, and several smaller things which had been left outside the tent, as not being likely to take any injury from the damp.
It was evident I was surrounded by natives, who had stolen all these things during the short time I had been in my tent, certainly not exceeding half an hour. The night was very windy and I had heard nothing, besides I was encamped in the midst of a very dense brush of large wide-spreading tea-trees and other bushes, any of which would afford a screen for a considerable number of natives. In daylight it was impossible to see many yards in distance, and nothing could be discerned at night.
The natives must have watched the dray go away in the morning, and waited until dark for their opportunity to rob me; and most daringly and effectually had they done it. At the time that I lay on the ground, taking the star's altitude, they must have been close to me, and after I went into the tent, they doubtless saw me sitting there by the light of the candle, since the door was not quite closed, and they had come quite in front to obtain some of the things they had stolen. The only wonder with me was that they had not speared me, as they could scarcely have been intimidated by my individual presence.
As soon as I missed my horizon glass, and entertained the suspicion of natives being about, I hurried into the tent and lighting a large blue light, run with it rapidly through the bushes around me. The effect of this was very beautiful amidst the darkness and gloom of the woods, and for a great distance in every direction objects could be seen as well as by day; the natives, however, were gone, and I could only console myself by firing a couple of balls after them through the underwood to warn them of the danger of intruding upon me again; I then put every thing which had been left outside, into the tent, and kept watch for an hour or two, but my visitors came no more. The shots, or the blue light, had effectually frightened them. They had, however, in their turn, produced as great an effect upon me, and had at least deprived me of one night's rest.
September 20.—Rising very early I set to work, with an axe, to clear away the bushes from around my tent. I now discovered that the natives had been concealed behind a large tea-tree not twenty yards from the tent; there were numerous foot-marks there, and the remains of fire-sticks which they had brought with them, for a native rarely moves at night without fire.
By working hard I cleared a large circle with a radius of from thirty to forty yards, and then piling up all the bushes outside and around the tent, which was in the centre, I was completely fortified, and my sable friends could no longer creep upon me to steal without my hearing them. I spent great part of the day in charting, and took a few angles from the tent, but did not dare to venture far away. At night, when it was dark, I mounted guard with my gun for three hours, walking round outside the tent, and firing off my gun before I lay down, which I did with my clothes on, ready to get up at a moment's notice. Nothing, however, disturbed me.
September 21.—I had been occupied during the greater part of the day in charting, and in the evening was just shouldering my gun to mount guard again, when I was delighted to see Mr. Scott returning with the dray, and the party all safe. They had executed the duty entrusted to them well, and had lost no time in rejoining me; the horses were, however, somewhat fatigued, having come all the way from the range in one day. Being now reinforced, I had no longer occasion to mount guard, and for the first time since the natives had stolen upon me, enjoyed a sound sleep.
September 22.—Moving on the party for ten miles at a course of S. 35 degrees W., we passed through a dreadful country, composed of dense scrub and heavy sandy ridges, with some salt water channels and beds of small dry lakes at intervals. In many cases the margins bounding these were composed of a kind of decomposed lime, very light and loose, which yielded to the slightest pressure; in this our horses and drays sank deep, throwing out as they went, clouds of fine white dust on every side around them. This, added to the very fatiguing and harassing work of dragging the dray through the thick scrub and over the heavy sand ridges, almost knocked them up, and we had the sad prospect before us of encamping at night without a blade of grass for them to eat. Just at this juncture the native boy who was with me, said he saw rocks in one of the distant sand hills, but upon examining the place with a telescope I could not make out distinctly whether they were rocks or only sand. The boy however persisted that there were rocks, and to settle the point I halted the dray in camp, whilst I proceeded with him to the spot to look.
At seven miles W. 10 degrees S. of the drays we reached the ridge, and to my great delight I found the boy was right; he had seen the bare sheets of granite peeping out near the summit of a sandy elevation, and in these we found many holes with water in them. At the base of the hill too, was an opening with good grass around, and a fine spring of pure water. Hastening back to the dray, I conducted the party to the hills, which I named Refuge Rocks, for such they were to us in our difficulties, and such they may be to many future travellers who may have to cross this dreary desert.
From the nature of the road and the exhausted state of our horses, it was very late when we encamped, but as the position was so favourable a one to recruit at, I determined to take advantage of it, and remain a couple of days for that purpose.
September 23.—Leaving my party to rest, after the fatigue they had endured in forcing a way through the scrub, I set off after breakfast to reconnoitre our position at Refuge Rocks, and to take a series of angles. The granite elevation, under which we were encamped, I found to be one of three small hills, forming a triangle, about a mile apart from each other, and having sheets of granite lying exposed upon their summits, containing deep holes which receive and retain water after rains. The hill we were encamped under, was the highest of the three, and the only one under which there was a spring. [Note 10: This was dried up in October, 1842.] There was also better grass here than around either of the other two; it appeared, too, to be the favourite halting place of the natives, many of whose encampments still remained, and some of which appeared to have been in use not very long ago. The bearings from the hill we were under, of the other two elevations, which, with it, constitute the Refuge Rocks, were N. 15 degrees W. and W. 35 degrees N. Baxter's range was still visible in the distance, appearing low and wedge-shaped, with the high end towards the east, at a bearing of N. 24 degrees E. In the western extreme it bore N. 22 degrees E. Many other hills and peaks were apparent in various directions, to all of which I took angles, and then returned to the tent to observe the sun's meridian altitude for latitude. By this observation, I made the latitude 33 degrees 11 minutes 12 seconds S.; but an altitude of Altair at night only gave 33 degrees 10 minutes 6 seconds S.; probably the mean of the two, or 33 degrees 10 minutes 39 seconds S., will be very nearly the true position of the spring. From the summit of the hill I had been upon, many native fires were visible in the scrub, in almost every direction around. At one time I counted eleven different fires from the smokes that were ascending, and some of which were very near us. Judging from these facts, the natives appeared to be numerous in this part of the country, and it would be necessary to be very cautious and vigilant after the instance I had recently met with of their cunning and daring.
September 24.—I still kept my party in camp to refresh the horses, and occupied myself during the morning in preparing a sketch of my route to the north, to send to the Governor from Port Lincoln. In the afternoon, I searched for a line of road for our drays to pass, on the following day, through the scrubby and sandy country, which still appeared to continue in every direction.
September 25.—Leaving Refuge Rocks, at a course of S. 37 degrees W., we passed over a wretched country, consisting principally of heavy sandy ridges, very densely covered with scrub, and giving our horses a severe and fagging day's work to get the dray along for only twelve miles. I then halted, as we were fortunate enough to find an opening in the scrub, with good grass. Searching about our encampment, I found in a small valley at one end of the little plain, a round hole, dug by the natives, to catch the drainage from the slope above it. There were two or three quarts of water in this hole when we discovered it; but by enlarging it, we managed to fill a bucket once every hour from the water which drained into it. This enabled us to save, to some extent, the water we had in our casks, at the same time that all the horses had as much as they could drink. I took angles from the camp to all the hills in sight, and at night made the latitude of the tent 33 degrees 18 minutes 34 seconds S. by an altitude of a Cygnus.
September 26.—After travelling for thirteen miles at S. 40 degrees W., I took a set of angles from a low scrubby hill, being the last opportunity I should have of setting many of the heights, of which I had obtained bearings from former camps. I then changed our course to S. 27 degrees W. for five miles, and halted for the night where there was good grass. We could find no water during the day; I had, consequently, to give the horses some out of the casks. The country we traversed had altered greatly in character, and though still heavy and sandy, it was a white coarse gritty sand, instead of a fine red; and instead of the dense cucalyptus scrub, we had now low heathy shrubs which did not present much impediment to the progress of the dray, and many of which bore very beautiful flowers. Granite was frequently met with during the day, but no water could be found. Our latitude by an altitude of a Aquilae was 33 degrees 30 minutes S.
September 27.—Continuing our last night's course for about seven miles, we passed through the densest scrub I had yet met with; fortunately, it was not growing upon a sandy soil, and we got tolerably well through it, but the horses suffered severely. Upon emerging from the brush, I noticed a little green looking valley, about a mile off our track, and sent Mr. Scott to see if there was water there. Upon his return, he reported that there was, and I at once moved down to it, to rest the horses after the toil of breaking through the scrub. The day was not far advanced when we halted, and I was enabled to obtain the sun's altitude at noon, making the latitude of the camp 33 degrees 34 minutes 25 seconds S. There was good grass for the horses, and abundance of water left by the rains in the hollows of a small watercourse, running between two scrubby ridges.
September 28.—Making an early start, we crossed at four and a half miles, a low scrubby range, and there found, upon the left of our track, some very pretty grassy hills, and a valley lightly wooded with casuarinae. Whilst I went on with the party, I detached Mr. Scott to see if there was water at this little patch of good country, but he did not find any. I am still of opinion, however, that if more time for examination had been allowed, springs would have been discovered not far away; as every thing looked so green and luxuriant, and formed so strong a contrast to the country around.
Pushing on steadify, we crossed over many undulations, coated on the surface either with sand or breccia, and frequently having a good deal of the eucalyptus scrub upon them, at eleven miles we passed a long grassy plain in the scrub, and once or twice crossed small openings with a little grass. For one of these we directed our course, late in the evening, to encamp; upon reaching it, however, we were greatly disappointed to find it covered only by prickly grass. I was therefore obliged, after watering the horses from the casks, to send them a mile and half back to some grass we had seen, and where they fared tolerably well. Our day's journey had been long and fatiguing, through a barren, heavy country. One mile before encamping, we crossed the bed of a salt water channel, trending to the westward, which was probably connected with the Lagoon Harbour of Flinders, as it appeared to receive the flood tide. Our latitude was 33 degrees 50 minutes S. by observation of a Aquilae.
September 29.—Whilst the man was out looking for the horses, which had strayed a little during the night, I took a set of angles to several heights, visible from the camp; upon the man's return, he reported that he had found some fresh water, but upon riding to the place, I. found it was only a very small hole in a sheet of limestone rock, near the salt watercourse, which did not contain above a pint or two. The natives, however, appeared to come to this occasionally for their supply; similar holes enabling them frequently to remain out in the low countries long after the rain has fallen. After seeing the party move on, with the native boy to act as guide through the scrub, I rode in advance to search for water at the hill marked by Flinders as Bluff Mount, and named by Colonel Gawler, Mount Hill. This isolated elevation rises abruptly from the field of scrub, in the midst of which it is situated and is of granite formation; nearly at its summit is an open grassy plain, which was visible long before we reached it, and which leads directly over the lowest or centre part of the range; water was found in the holes of rock in the granite, and the grass around was very tolerable. Having ascertained these particulars, I hurried back to the drays to conduct them to a place of encampment. The road was very long and over a heavy sandy country, for the most part densely covered with scrub, and it was late, therefore, when we reached the hill. The horses, however, had good feed and fair allowance of water, but of the latter they drank every drop we could find. During our route to-day, I noticed some little distance to the north-west of our track, a high scrubby range, having clear grassy-looking openings at intervals. In this direction, it is probable that a better line of road might be found than the one we had chosen.
September 30.—After breakfast, I ascended to the summit of Mount Hill, and took a set of angles; whilst the dray wound up the gap between it and another low summit, with which it is connected. Upon descending the hill on the opposite side, I was rejoiced to find two very large pools of water in some granite rocks, one of them appearing to be of a permanent character. Here I halted for an hour and a half, to give the horses a little more water, and fill our casks again before we faced the scrubby waste that was still seen ahead of us. I had been last night within fifty yards of the pools that we now found, but had not discovered them, as the evening was closing in at the time, and I was in great haste to return to my party before dark. Leaving Mount Hill at the course of S. 27 degrees W. we passed through a very dense scrub, the strongest, I think, we had yet experienced; the drays were tearing down the brush with loud crashes, at every step which the horses took, and I could only compare their progress to the effect produced by the efforts of a clearing party, the brush rapidly disappearing before the wheels, and leaving almost as open a road as if it had been cut away by axes; the unfortunate animals, however, had to bear the onus of all, and most severely were they harassed before our short stage was over. At twelve miles we came to a large rocky watercourse of brackish water, trending to the east-north-east, through a narrow valley bounded by dense scrub. In this we found pools of fresh water, and as there was good grass, I called a halt about three in the afternoon. We were now able, for the first time for several hundred miles, to enjoy the luxury of a swim, which we all fully appreciated. In the afternoon Mr. Scott shot six ducks in the pools, which furnished us with a most welcome addition to our very scanty fare. For two days previous to this, we had been subsisting solely upon a very limited allowance of dry bread, having only taken fourteen days provisions with us from Baxter's range, which was nearly all expended, whilst we were yet at least two days journey from Port Lincoln. At night I observed the latitude of our camp, by alpha Aquilae 34 degrees 12 minutes 52 seconds S. by beta Leonis 34 degrees 12 minutes 35 seconds S. and assumed the mean of the two, or 34 degrees 12 minutes 43 seconds as the correct one.
October 1.—Making an early start we passed at three miles the head of the watercourse we had been encamped upon, and then ascended some scrubby ranges, for about five miles further, when we entered into a narrow tract of good grassy country, which at five miles brought us to Mr. Driver's station; a Mr. Dutton was living at this place as Mr. Driver's manager, and by him we were very hospitably received, and furnished with such supplies as we required.
[Note 11: In 1842, Mr. Dutton attempted to take some cattle overland, from this station to the head of Spencer's Gulf; both he and his whole party perished in the desert, (as supposed) from the want of water. In October of that year, I was sent by Government to search for their remains, but as it was the dry season, I could not follow up their tracks through the arid country they had advanced into. The cattle returned.]
It was a cattle station, and abounded with milk and butter, luxuries which we all fully enjoyed after our long ramble in the wilds. Having halted my party for the day, Mr. Scott and myself dined at Mr. Dutton's, and learnt the most recent news from Adelaide and Port Lincoln. We had much to hear and much to inquire about, for even in the few months of our absence, it was to be presumed, that many changes would have taken place in the fluctuating affairs of a new colony. Nor were our conjectures wrong.
That great reaction which was soon to convulse all the Australian Colonies generally, to annihilate all mercantile credit, and render real property comparatively valueless, had already commenced in South Australia; failures, and rumours of failures, were of daily occurrence in Adelaide, and even the little settlement of Port Lincoln had not escaped the troubles of the times. I learnt with regret that it was rapidly falling into decay, and its population diminishing. Many had already deserted it, and amongst them I was surprised to hear of the departure of Captain Porter and others, who were once the most enthusiastic admirers and the staunchest supporters of this embryo town. That which however affected me more particularly was the fear, that from the low and impoverished state to which the place was now reduced, I should not be able to obtain the supplies I required for my party, and should probably have to delay until I could send over to Adelaide for what I wanted, even supposing I was lucky enough to find a vessel to go across for me. In walking round Mr. Dutton's farm I found he was ploughing up some land in the valley for wheat, which appeared to be an excellent soil, and the garden he had already commenced was looking promising. At night I obtained the altitude of a Aquilae, by which I placed Mr. Driver's station in 34 degrees 21 minutes 20 seconds S. lat., or about 22 miles of lat. north of Kirton Point.
October 2.—Before leaving the station I purchased from Mr. Dutton a little Timor pony for 25 pounds for one of the native boys to ride, to replace in some measure the services of the animal I had been obliged to have shot up to the north. The only objection to my new purchase was that it was a little mare and already forward in foal. At Port Lincoln, however, I was not likely to meet with any horses for sale, and did not therefore deem it prudent to lose the only opportunity that might occur of getting an animal of some kind. After quitting Mr. Dutton's, I followed a dray road leading towards Port Lincoln. For the most part we passed through green valleys with rich soil and luxuriant pasturage, but occasionally intersected by poor sandy or gravelly soil of a saline nature; the water was abundant from recent heavy rains, and some of the pools fresh; others, however, were very brackish. The hills adjoining the valley were grassy, and lightly wooded on their slopes facing the valley; towards the summits they became scrubby, and beyond, the scrub almost invariably made its appearance. Altogether we passed this day through a considerable tract of country, containing much land that is well adapted for sheep or cattle, and with a fair proportion suitable for agriculture. It is by far the best portion of the available country in the Port Lincoln peninsula, and I could not help regretting it should be so limited in extent. I had now travelled all the three sides of the triangle, and had obtained extensive views from various heights along each of these lines of route; I had crossed from Port Lincoln to Streaky Bay, from Streaky Bay to the head of Spencer's Gulf, and from the head of Spencer's Gulf down to Port Lincoln again. In the course of these journeys, I had spared no toil nor exertion, to make my examination as complete and as useful as possible, though my labours were not rewarded by commensurate success. The great mass of the peninsula is barren, arid, and worthless; and although Port Lincoln possesses a beautiful, secure, and capacious harbour, with a convenient and pretty site for a town, and immediately contiguous to which there exists some extent of fine and fertile soil, with several good grassy patches of country beyond; yet it can never become a large or important place, in consequence of its complete isolation, except by water, from every other, and the limited nature of its own resources.
For one or two large stock-holders, who wish to secure good grazing ground, and be apart from others, it might answer well, but even they would ordinarily labour under difficulties and disadvantages which would make their situation not at all desirable. The uncertainty and expense of procuring their supplies—of obtaining labour, and of finding a market for their surplus stock [Note 12 at end of para.], and the almost total impossibility of their being able to effect sales in the event of their wishing to leave, would perhaps more than counterbalance the advantages of having the country to themselves. Purchased in the days of wild and foolish speculation, and when a rage existed for buying land and laying out townships, no place has been more misrepresented or misunderstood than Port Lincoln. Many gross and glaring misstatements have been put forth of its character and capabilities, by those who were actuated by interested motives, and many unintentional misrepresentations have been made and perpetuated by others, whose judgment or information has led them into error, so that the public generally, and especially the English public, have had no means of discriminating between the widely conflicting accounts that have been given. Amongst the persons from whom this small settlement has suffered disparagement there are none, perhaps, more blameable than those who have put forth statements which ascribe to it advantages and qualities that it does not possess; for just in proportion as the expectation of intending settlers have been raised by exaggeration or untruths has been their disappointment and disgust, when the facts themselves have stared them in the face.
[Note 12: Pastoral settlers have left Port Lincoln in consequence of these disadvantages—but it is possible that a comparatively large population may locate there, hereafter, should mineral resources be found out. Such discoveries are said to have been made, but Iam not aware upon whose authority the report has become current.]
The day of hallucination has now passed away, but out of the reaction which has succeeded it, has arisen a disposition to deprive Port Lincoln of even the merits to which it really has a legitimate claim, and which would have been far more highly appreciated, if the previous misstatements and consequent disappointments had not induced a feeling of suspicion and distrust not easily effaced.
Our stage to-day was twenty-five miles, over a pretty good road, which brought us towards evening under the range contiguous to the township. In one of the valleys leading from these hills on their west side we found a small spring of good water, and as the grass around us was very abundant and of the most luxuriant growth, I at once decided upon making this our resting place, until I had completed my arrangements for procuring supplies, and was again ready to move onwards.
October 3.—Leaving our horses to enjoy the good quarters we had selected for them, and a respite from their labours, Mr. Scott and I walked across the range into Port Lincoln, not a little surprising the good people there, who had not heard of our coming, and who imagined us to be many hundreds of miles away to the north. Calling upon Dr. Harvey, the only Government officer then at the settlement, I learnt with regret that it was quite impossible for me to procure the supplies I required in the town, whilst there were no vessels in the port, except foreign whalers, who were neither likely to have, nor be willing to part with the things I should require. What to do under such circumstances was rather a difficult question, and my principal hope was that some small coasting vessel might arrive in the course of a few days, or if not, I might try to hire a whale boat from one of the whaling vessels, and send her on to Adelaide. Dr. Harvey had a small open boat of four or five tons, but he did not seem willing to let her go; and unless I could communicate with Adelaide, flour was the only article I could procure, and that not from the stores in the town, but from a small stock belonging to the Government, which had been sent over to meet any emergency that might arise in so isolated a place. This was placed under the charge of Dr. Harvey, who, on behalf of the Government, kindly offered to let me have what I required, on condition that I would replace the same quantity, by the first opportunity.
Having made arrangements for a supply of fresh meat and a few vegetables during my stay, I walked out to examine the settlement. I found many neat cottages and other improvements since I had been here in 1839; and there were also a few gardens commenced, some of which were in a state of cultivation and appeared to be doing well. The population, however, had decreased, and many of the cottages were now unoccupied. Those who remained were principally persons who had lost everything, and who could not well get away, or who, on the other hand, had invested their property in the place, and could not leave it except at the sacrifice of almost everything they possessed. No one seemed to be doing well but the inn-keeper, and he owed his success chiefly to the custom or traffic of the foreign whalers who occasionally resorted here for refreshments. The stockholders, living a few miles from town, who ought to have succeeded the best, were getting dissatisfied at the many disadvantages which they laboured under, and the smallness of the community around them, and every thing wore a gloomy aspect.
October 4.—After breakfast, accompanied by Mr. Scott, I went to Port Lincoln to attend divine service; prayers were read by Dr. Harvey. The congregation was small but respectable, and apparently devout. After church, we accompanied Dr. Harvey home to dinner, and met the Captain and Surgeon of one of the French whalers in port; both of whom appeared intelligent, and superior to the class usually met with in such employments. After dinner we all walked down to the lagoon, west of Port Lincoln, where the land is of a rich black alluvial character, and well adapted for cultivation. Returning by our tents, Dr. Harvey and the Frenchmen took tea with us, and then returned to the settlement. In the course of our walk this afternoon, Dr. Harvey offered to put a temporary hatch over his boat, and send her to Adelaide for me for ten pounds, which offer I at once accepted, and Mr. Scott volunteered to go in her as supercargo.
October 5.—To-day I employed myself in writing letters, whilst the dray went to Port Lincoln for supplies. The few things I could get there were very dear, meat 1s. per pound, potatoes 9d. per pound, salt butter 2s. 6d., a small bag, with a few old cabbage stumps, five or six shillings, and other things in proportion.
October 6.—Went to town, accompanied by Mr. Scott to inspect the preparations of the little cutter he was to go to Adelaide in;—ordered all our horses to be shod, and several spare sets of shoes to be made to take up to the party at Streaky Bay. On our return we were accompanied by Mr. Smith, who kindly went with Mr. Scott to the station of a Mr. Brown, [Note 13: Since murdered by the natives.] about ten miles away, to select sheep to take with us on our journey. Mr. Scott purchased twelve at 2 pounds each, and brought them to the station; they were not very large, but were in fine condition.
BOY SPEARED BY THE NATIVES—ANOMALOUS STATE OF OUR RELATIONS WITH THE ABORIGINES—MR. SCOTT SAILS FOR ADELAIDE—DOG BOUGHT—MR. SCOTT'S RETURN—CUTTER WATERWITCH SENT TO CO-OPERATE—SEND HER TO STREAKY BAY—LEAVE PORT LINCOLN WITH THE DRAY—LEVEL SANDY COUNTRY CLOTHED WITH BRUSH AND SHRUBS—SALT LAKES—MOUNT HOPE—LAKE HAMILTON—STONY COUNTRY—LOSE A DOG—BETTER COUNTRY—WEDGE-HILL—LAKE NEWLAND—A BOAT HARBOUR—MOUNT HALL—REJOIN PARTY AT STREAKY BAY—SINGULAR SPRING—CHARACTER OF COUNTRY—BEDS OF OYSTERS.
October 6.—In the course of the afternoon I learnt that a little boy about twelve years old, a son of Mr. Hawson's, had been speared on the previous day by the natives, at a station about a mile and a half from my tent. The poor little fellow had, it seems, been left alone at the station, and the natives had come to the hut and speared him. The wounds were of that fatal character, being from barbed spears which had remained in the flesh, that no hopes could be entertained of his surviving their removal. The following account of the occurrence is extracted from a report, on the subject, to the Government by Dr. Harvey, the Colonial Surgeon at Port Lincoln, who attended the boy in his last sufferings.
"The poor boy has borne this heavy affliction with the greatest fortitude, assuring us "that he is not afraid to die." He says that on Monday (5th), he was left in the station hut whilst his brother came into town, and that about ten or eleven natives surrounded his hut, and wished for something to eat. He gave them bread and rice—all he had, and as they endeavoured to force themselves into his hut, he went out and fastened the door, standing on the outside with his gun by his side and a sword in his hand, which he held for the purpose of fighting them. He did not make any signs of using them. One of the children gave him a spear to throw, and while in the act of throwing it, he received the two spears in his chest—he did not fall. He took up his gun and shot one of the natives, who fell, but got up again and ran away; they all fled, but returned and shewed signs of throwing another spear, when he lifted the gun a second time, upon which they all made off.
"He remained with the two spears, seven feet long, sticking in his breast; he tried to cut and saw them without effect; he also tried to walk home, but could not; he then sat upon the ground and put the ends of the spears in the fire to try to burn them off, and in this position he was found at ten o'clock at night, upon the return of his brother Edward (having been speared eleven hours.) He immediately sawed the ends of the spears off, and placed him on horseback, and brought him into town, when I saw him.
"Mr. Smith (with the police force) has gone in search of the natives, one of whom can be identified as having thrown a spear at the boy, he having a piece of red flannel tied round his beard.
"This circumstance has thrown the settlement into great distress. The German missionary, Rev. Mr. Schurman, has gone with Mr. Smith. I am told that the natives have been fired at from some of the stations. I hope this is not the case. The Rev. Mr. Schurman says that Mr. Edward Hawson told him he shot after some a short time ago to frighten them, after they had stolen something from the same hut where they speared his brother. This is denied by the family, but I will ascertain the truth upon the return of the party, Mr. E. Hawson having accompanied them."
The natives immediately disappeared from the vicinity of the settlement, and were not heard of again for a long time. Such is the account of this melancholy affair as given to Dr. Harvey by the boy, who, I believe, also made depositions before a magistrate to the same effect. Supposing this account to be true, and that the natives had not received any previous provocation either from him or from any other settlers in the neighbourhood, this would appear to be one of the most wanton, cold blooded, and treacherous murders upon record, and a murder seemingly as unprovoked as it was without object. Had the case been one in which the European had been seen for the first time by the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, it would have been neither surprising nor at variance with what more civilised nations would probably have done under circumstances of a similar nature. Could we imagine an extraordinary looking being, whose presence and attributes were alike unknown to us, and of a nature to excite our apprehensions, suddenly appearing in any part of our own country, what would be the reception he would meet with among ourselves, and especially if by locating himself in any particular part of the country he prevented us from approaching those haunts to which we had been accustomed from our infancy to resort, and which we looked upon as sacred to ourselves? It is not asserting too much to say that in such a case the country would be raised in a hue and cry, and the intruder would meet with the fate that has sometimes befallen the traveller or the colonist when trespassing upon the dominions of the savage.
In the present lamentable instance, however, the natives could not have acted under the influence of an impulse like this. Here the Europeans had been long located in the neighbourhood, they were known to, and had been frequently visited by the Aborigines, and the intercourse between them had in some instances at least been of a friendly character. What then could have been the inducement to commit so cold and ruthless an act? or what was the object to be attained by it? Without pausing to seek for answers to these questions which, in the present case, it must be difficult, if not impossible, to solve, it may be worth while to take a view of the conduct of the Aborigines of Australia, generally, towards the invaders and usurpers of their rights, setting aside altogether any acts of violence or injury which they may have committed under the influence of terror, naturally excited by the first presence of strangers among them, and which arise from an impulse that is only shared by them in common with mankind generally. I shall be borne out, I think, by facts when I state that the Aborigines of this country have seldom been guilty of wanton or unprovoked outrages, or committed acts of rapine or bloodshed, without some strongly exciting cause, or under the influence of feelings that would have weighed in the same degree with Europeans in similar circumstances. The mere fact of such incentives not being clearly apparent to us, or of our being unable to account for the sanguinary feelings of natives in particular cases, by no means argues that incentives do not exist, or that their feelings may not have been justly excited.
If we find the Aborigines of Australia ordinarily acting under the influence of no worse motives or passions than usually actuate man in a civilised state, we ought in fairness to suppose that sufficient provocative for retaliation has been given in those few instances of revenge, which, our imperfect knowledge of the circumstances attending them does not enable us satisfactorily to account for. In considering this question honestly, we must take into account many points that we too often lose sight of altogether when discussing the conduct of the natives, and more especially when we are doing so under the excitement and irritation arising from recent hostilities. We should remember:—
First, That our being in their country at all is, so far as their ideas of right and wrong are concerned, altogether an act of intrusion and aggression.
Secondly, That for a very long time they cannot comprehend our motives for coming amongst them, or our object in remaining, and may very naturally imagine that it can only be for the purpose of dispossessing them.
Thirdly, That our presence and settlement, in any particular locality, do, in point of fact, actually dispossess the aboriginal inhabitants. [Note 14: Vide, Notes on the Aborigines, chap. I.]
Fourthly, That the localities selected by Europeans, as best adapted for the purposes of cultivation, or of grazing, are those that would usually be equally valued above others, by the natives themselves, as places of resort, or districts in which they could most easily procure their food. This would especially be the case in those parts of the country where water was scarce, as the European always locates himself close to this grand necessary of life. The injustice, therefore, of the white man's intrusion upon the territory of the aboriginal inhabitant, is aggravated greatly by his always occupying the best and most valuable portion of it.
Fifthly, That as we ourselves have laws, customs, or prejudices, to which we attach considerable importance, and the infringement of which we consider either criminal or offensive, so have the natives theirs, equally, perhaps, dear to them, but which, from our ignorance or heedlessness, we may be continually violating, and can we wonder that they should sometimes exact the penalty of infraction? do not we do the same? or is ignorance a more valid excuse for civilized man than the savage?
Sixthly, What are the relations usually subsisting between the Aborigines and settlers, locating in the more distant, and less populous parts of the country: those who have placed themselves upon the outskirts of civilization, and who, as they are in some measure beyond the protection of the laws, are also free from their restraints? A settler going to occupy a new station, removes, perhaps, beyond all other Europeans, taking with him his flocks, and his herds, and his men, and locates himself wherever he finds water, and a country adapted for his purposes. At the first, possibly, he may see none of the inhabitants of the country that he has thus unceremoniously taken possession of; naturally alarmed at the inexplicable appearance, and daring intrusion of strangers, they keep aloof, hoping, perhaps, but vainly, that the intruders may soon retire. Days, weeks, or months pass away, and they see them still remaining. Compelled at last, it may be by enemies without, by the want of water in the remoter districts, by the desire to procure certain kinds of food, which are peculiar to certain localities, and at particular seasons of the year, or perhaps by a wish to revisit their country and their homes, they return once more, cautiously and fearfully approaching what is their own—the spot perhaps where they were born, the patrimony that has descended to them through many generations;—and what is the reception that is given them upon their own lands? often they are met by repulsion, and sometimes by violence, and are compelled to retire again to strange aud unsuitable localities. Passing over the fearful scenes of horror and bloodshed, that have but too frequently been perpetrated in all the Australian colonies upon the natives in the remoter districts, by the most desperate and abandoned of our countrymen; and overlooking, also, the recklessness that too generally pervades the shepherds and stock-keepers of the interior, with regard to the coloured races, a recklessness that leads them to think as little of firing at a black, as at a bird, and which makes the number they have killed, or the atrocities that have attended the deeds, a matter for a tale, a jest or boast at their pothouse revelries; overlooking these, let us suppose that the settler is actuated by no bad intentions, and that he is sincerely anxious to avoid any collision with the natives, or not to do them any injury, yet under these even comparatively favourable circumstances, what frequently is the result? The settler finds himself almost alone in the wilds, with but few men around him, and these, principally occupied in attending to stock, are dispersed over a considerable extent of country; he finds himself cut off from assistance, or resources of any kind, whilst he has heard fearful accounts of the ferocity, or the treachery of the savage; he therefore comes to the conclusion, that it will be less trouble, and annoyance, and risk, to keep the natives away from his station altogether; and as soon as they make their appearance, they are roughly waved away from their own possessions: should they hesitate, or appear unwilling to depart, threats are made use of, weapons perhaps produced, and a show, at least, is made of an offensive character, even if no stronger measures be resorted to. What must be the natural impression produced upon the mind of the natives by treatment like this? Can it engender feelings otherwise than of a hostile and vindictive kind; or can we wonder that he should take the first opportunity of venting those feelings upon his aggressor?
But let us go even a little further, and suppose the case of a settler, who, actuated by no selfish motives, and blinded by no fears, does not discourage or repel the natives upon their first approach; suppose that he treats them with kindness and consideration (and there are happily many such settlers in Australia), what recompense can he make them for the injury he has done, by dispossessing them of their lands, by occupying their waters, and by depriving them of their supply of food? He neither does nor can replace the loss. They are sometimes allowed, it is true, to frequent again the localities they once called their own, but these are now shorn of the attractions which they formerly possessed—they are no longer of any value to them—and where are they to procure the food that the wild animals once supplied them with so abundantly? In the place of the kangaroo, the emu, and the wallabie, they now see only the flocks and herds of the strangers, and nothing is left to them but the prospect of dreary banishment, or a life of misery and privation. Can it then be a matter of wonder, that under such circumstances as these, and whilst those who dispossessed them, are revelling in plenty near them, they should sometimes be tempted to appropriate a portion of the superabundance they see around them, and rob those who had first robbed them? The only wonder is, that such acts of reprisal are so seldom committed. Where is the European nation, that thus situated, and finding themselves, as is often the case with the natives, numerically and physically stronger than their oppressors, would be guilty of so little retaliation, of so few excesses? The eye of compassion, or of philanthropy, will easily discover the anomalous and unfavourable position of the Aborigines of our colonies, when brought into contact with the European settlers. They are strangers in their own land, and possess no longer the usual means of procuring their daily subsistence; hungry, and famished, they wander about begging among the scattered stations, where they are treated with a familiarity by the men living at them, which makes them become familiar in turn, until, at last, getting impatient and troublesome, they are roughly repulsed, and feelings of resentment and revenge are kindled. This, I am persuaded, is the cause and origin of many of the affrays with the natives, which are apparently inexplicable to us. Nor ought we to wonder, that a slight insult, or a trifling injury, should sometimes hurry them to an act apparently not warranted by the provocation. Who can tell how long their feelings had been rankling in their bosoms; how long, or how much they had borne; a single drop will make the cup run over, when filled up to the brim; a single spark will ignite the mine, that, by its explosion, will scatter destruction around it; and may not one foolish indiscretion, one thoughtless act of contumely or wrong, arouse to vengeance the passions that have long been burning, though concealed? With the same dispositions and tempers as ourselves, they are subject to the same impulses and infirmities. Little accustomed to restrain their feelings, it is natural, that when goaded beyond endurance, the effect should be violent, and fatal to those who roused them;—the smothered fire but bursts out the stronger from having been pent up; and the rankling passions are but fanned into wilder fury, from having been repressed.
Seventhly, There are also other considerations to be taken into the account, when we form our opinion of the character and conduct of the natives, to which we do not frequently allow their due weight and importance, but which will fully account for aggressions having been committed by natives upon unoffending individuals, and even sometimes upon those who have treated them kindly. First, that the native considers it a virtue to revenge an injury. Secondly, if he cannot revenge it upon the actual individual who injured him, he thinks that the offence is equally expiated if he can do so upon any other of the same race; he does not look upon it as the offence of an individual, but as an act of war on the part of the nation, and he takes the first opportunity of making a reprisal upon any one of the enemy who may happen to fall in his way; no matter whether that person injured him or not, or whether he knew of the offence having been committed, or the war declared. And is not the custom of civilized powers very similar to this? Admitting that civilization, and refinement, have modified the horrors of such a system, the principle is still the same. This is the principle that invariably guides the native in his relations with other native tribes around him, and it is generally the same that he acts upon in his intercourse with us. Shall we then arrogate to ourselves the sole power of acting unjustly, or of judging of what is expedient? And are we to make no allowance for the standard of right by which the native is guided in the system of policy he may adopt? Weighing candidly, then, the points to which reference has been made, can we wonder, that in the outskirts of the colony, where the intercourse between the native and the European has been but limited, and where that intercourse has, perhaps, only generated a mutual distrust; where the objects, the intentions, or the motives of the white man, can neither be known nor understood, and where the natural inference from his acts cannot be favourable, can we wonder, that under such circumstances, and acting from the impression of some wrong, real or imagined, or goaded on by hunger, which the white man's presence prevents him from appeasing, the native should sometimes be tempted to acts of violence or robbery? He is only doing what his habits and ideas have taught him to think commendable. He is doing what men in a more civilized state would have done under the same circumstances, what they daily do under the sanction of the law of nations—a law that provides not for the safety, privileges, and protection of the Aborigines, and owners of the soil, but which merely lays down rules for the direction of the privileged robber in the distribution of the booty of any newly discovered country. With reference to the particular case in question, the murder of Master Hawson, it appears from Dr. Harvey's report (already quoted), that in addition to any incentives, such as I have described, as likely to arise in the minds of the natives, there had been the still greater provocation of their having been fired at, but a short time previously, from the same station, and by the murdered boy's brother. We may well pause, therefore, ere we hastily condemn, or unjustly punish, in cases where the circumstances connected with their occurrence, can only be brought before us in a partial and imperfect manner.