In the meantime a division of the army had returned to Carlisle and was laying siege to it with great vigour. Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth worked in the trenches in their shirt sleeves. The sound of bullets in their ears, the sight of formidable preparations for an assault, were too much for the mayor and his citizens; on the 13th, the 'true-hearted Englishmen' hung out a white flag, and the Prince's army marched in and took possession. It was another success, as sudden and complete as any of the former ones. But there were ominous signs even at this happy moment. The command of the siege of Carlisle had been given to the Duke of Perth, and Lord George Murray, the older and abler general, resented the slight. He sent in his resignation of the command of the forces, but with proud magnanimity offered to serve as a volunteer. Charles accepted the resignation, but the idea of losing the one general of any experience they had, created consternation among the chiefs. The crisis would have become serious but for the generous good sense and modesty of the Duke of Perth, who sent in his resignation also to the Prince. A more ominous fact was that they had been almost a week in England and no one had declared for them. Charles refused to let anything damp his hopefulness. Lancashire was the stronghold of Jacobitism. Once in Lancashire, gentlemen and their following would flock to join him.
The road between Carlisle and Preston lies over bare, stony heights, an inhospitable country in the short, bleak days and long nights of November. Charles shared every hardship with his soldiers. He had a carriage but he never used it, and it was chiefly occupied by Lord Pitsligo. With his target on his shoulder he marched alongside of the soldiers, keeping up with their rapid pace, and talking to them in his scanty Gaelic. He seldom dined, had one good meal at night, lay down with his clothes on, and was up again at four next morning. No wonder that the Highlanders were proud of 'a Prince who could eat a dry crust, sleep on pease-straw, dine in four minutes, and win a battle in five.' Once going over Shap Fell he was so overcome by drowsiness and cold that he had to keep hold of one of the Ogilvies by the shoulderbelt and walked some miles half asleep. Another time the sole of his boot was quite worn out, and at the next village he got the blacksmith to nail a thin iron plate to the boot. 'I think you are the first that ever shod the son of a king,' he said, laughing as he paid the man.
Still entire silence on the part of the English Jacobites. The people in the villages and towns through which they passed looked on the uncouth strangers with ill-concealed aversion and fear. Once going to his quarters in some small town the 'gentle Locheil' found that the good woman of the house had hidden her children in a cupboard, having heard that the Highlanders were cannibals and ate children!
The town of Preston was a place of ill omen to the superstitious Highlanders. There, thirty years before, their countrymen had been disastrously defeated. They had a presentiment that they too would never get beyond that point. To destroy this fear, Lord George Murray marched half his army across the river and encamped on the further side.
Manchester was the next halting-place, and there the prospects were rather brighter. An enterprising Sergeant Dickson hurried on in front of the army with a girl and a drummer boy at his side. He marched about the streets recruiting, and managed to raise some score of recruits. In Manchester society there was a certain Jacobite element; on Sunday the church showed a crowd of ladies in tartan cloaks and white cockades, and a nonjuring clergyman preached in favour of the Prince's cause. Among the officers who commanded the handful of men calling itself the Manchester Regiment, were three brothers of the name of Deacon, whose father, a nonjuring clergyman, devoted them all gladly to the cause. Another, Syddel, a wig-maker, had as a lad of eleven seen his father executed as a Jacobite in the '15, and had vowed undying vengeance against the house of Hanover. Manchester was the only place in England that had shown any zeal in the Prince's cause, and it only contributed some few hundred men and 3,000l. of money.
The situation seemed grave to the leaders of the Prince's army. He himself refused to recognise any other fact than that every day brought him nearer to London. On October 31 the army left Manchester. At Stockport they crossed the Mersey, the Prince wading up to the middle. Here occurred a very touching incident. A few Cheshire gentlemen met Charles at this point, and with them came an aged lady, Mrs. Skyring. As a child she remembered her mother lifting her up to see Charles II. land at Dover. Her parents were devoted Cavaliers, and despite the ingratitude of the royal family, loyalty was an hereditary passion with their daughter. For years she had laid aside half her income and had sent it to the exiled family, only concealing the name of the donor, as being of no interest to them. Now, she had sold all her jewels and plate, and brought the money in a purse as an offering to Charles. With dim eyes, feeble hands, and feelings too strong for her frail body, she clasped Charles's hand, and gazing at his face said, 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.'
The Highland forces were in the very centre of England and had not yet encountered an enemy, but now they were menaced on two sides. General Wade—'Grandmother Wade' the Jacobite soldiers called him—by slow marches through Yorkshire had arrived within three days' march of them on one side, while, far more formidable, in front of them at Stafford lay the Duke of Cumberland with 10,000 men. He was a brave leader, and the troops under him were seasoned and experienced. At last the English Government had wakened up to the seriousness of the danger which they had made light of as long as it only affected Scotland. When news came that the Scots had got beyond Manchester, a most unmanly panic prevailed in London. Shops were shut, there was a run on the Bank, it has even been asserted that George II. himself had many of his valuables removed on to yachts in the Thames, and held himself in readiness to fly at any moment.
The Duke of Cumberland and his forces were the only obstacle between the Prince's army and London. Lord George Murray, with his usual sagacity, determined to slip past this enemy also, as he had already slipped past Wade. While the Prince, with one division of the army, marched straight for Derby, he himself led the remaining troops apparently to meet the Duke of Cumberland. That able general fell into the snare and marched up his men to meet the Highlanders at Congleton. Then Lord George broke up his camp at midnight (of December 2), and, marching across country in the darkness, joined the Prince at Leek, a day's journey short of Derby. By this clever stratagem the Highland army got a start of at least a day's march on their way to London.
On the 4th, the Highland army entered Derby, marching in all day in detachments. Here Charles learned the good news from Scotland that Lord John Drummond had landed at Montrose with 1,000 French soldiers and supplies of money and arms. Never had fortune seemed to shine more brightly on the young Prince. He was sure now of French assistance, he shut his eyes to the fact that the English people were either hostile or indifferent; if it came to a battle he was confident that hundreds of the enemy would desert to his standard. The road to London and to a throne lay open before him! That night at mess he seriously discussed how he should enter London in triumph. Should it be in Highland or English dress? On horseback or on foot? Did he notice, one wonders, that his gay anticipations were received in ominous silence by the chiefs? At least the private soldiers of his army shared his hopes. On the afternoon of the 5th many had their broadswords and dirks sharpened, and some partook of the Sacrament in the churches. They all felt that a battle was imminent.
Next morning a council of war was held. Charles was eager to arrange for an immediate advance on London. Success seemed to lie within his grasp. Lord George Murray rose as spokesman for the rest. He urged immediate retreat to Scotland! Two armies lay one on either hand, a third was being collected to defend London. Against 30,000 men what could 5,000 avail? He had no faith in a French invasion, he was convinced that nothing was to be looked for from the English Jacobites. 'Rather than go back, I would I were twenty feet underground,' Charles cried in passionate disappointment. He argued, he commanded, he implored; the chiefs were inexorable, and it was decided that the retreat should begin next morning before daybreak. This decision broke the Prince's heart and quenched his spirit; never again did his buoyant courage put life into his whole army. Next morning he rose sullen and enraged, and marched in gloomy silence in the rear.
All the private soldiers and many of the officers believed that they were being led against the Duke of Cumberland. When returning daylight showed that they were retreating by the same road on which they had marched so hopefully two days before, they were filled with grief and rage. 'Would God,' writes a certain brave Macdonald, 'we had pushed on though we had all been cut to pieces, when we were in a condition for fighting and doing honour to our noble Prince and the glorious cause we had taken in hand.' The distrust caused in the Prince's mind by Lord George's action had, later, the most fatal effect.
NEVER, perhaps, in any history was there a march more mournful than that of the Highland army from Derby. These soldiers had never known defeat, and yet there they were, in full retreat through a hostile country. So secret and rapid were their movements that they had gained two full days' march before the Duke of Cumberland had any certain news of their retreat. Though he started at once in pursuit, mounting a body of infantry on horses that they might keep up with the cavalry, and though all were fresh and in good condition, it was not till the 18th that he overtook the Prince's army in the wilds of Cumberland. Lord George Murray, looking upon himself as responsible for the safety of the army, had sent on the first division under the Prince, and himself brought up the rear with the baggage and artillery. In the hilly country of the North of England, it was no light task to travel with heavy baggage. The big wagons could not be dragged up the steep ill-made roads, and the country people were sullenly unwilling to lend their carts. The general was reduced to paying sixpence for every cannon ball that could be carried up the hills. The Prince was already at Penrith on the 17th, but Lord George had been obliged to stop six miles short of that point. Marching before daybreak on the 18th, he reached a village called Clifton as the sun rose. A body of horsemen stood guarding the village; the Highlanders, exhilarated at meeting a foe again, cast their plaids and rushed forward. On this the Hanoverians—a mere body of local yeomanry—fled. Among a few stragglers who were taken prisoner was a footman of the Duke of Cumberland, who told his captors that his master with 4,000 cavalry was following close behind them. Lord George resolved to make a stand, knowing that nothing would be more fatal than allowing the dragoons to fall suddenly on his troops when they had their backs turned. He had a body of Macdonalds and another of Stuarts with him; he found also some two hundred Macphersons, under their brave commander Cluny, guarding a bridge close to the village. The high road here ran between a wall on one side, and fields enclosed by high hedges and ditches on the other. On either side he could thus place his soldiers under cover. As evening fell he learned that the Hanoverian soldiers were drawn up on the moor, about a mile distant. He sent some of his men to a point where they should be partly visible to the enemy over a hedge; these he caused to pass and repass, so as to give a delusive idea of numbers. When the night fell the Highland soldiers were drawn up along the wall on the road, and in the enclosures behind the hedges; Lord George and Cluny stood with drawn swords on the highway. Every man stood at his post on the alert, in the breathless silence. Though the moon was up, the night was cloudy and dark, but in a fitful gleam the watchful general saw dark forms approaching in a mass behind a hedge. In a rapid whisper he asked Cluny what was to be done. 'I will charge sword in hand if you order me,' came the reply, prompt and cheery. A volley from the advancing troops decided the question. 'There is no time to be lost; we must charge,' cried Lord George, and raising the Highland war cry, 'Claymore, Claymore,' he was the first to dash through the hedge (he lost his hat and wig among the thorns, and fought the rest of the night bareheaded!). The dragoons were forced back on to the moor, while another body of horse was similarly driven back along the high road by the Stuarts and Macdonells of Glengarry. About a dozen Highlanders, following too eagerly in pursuit, were killed on this moor, but the loss on the other side was far greater. Nor did the Duke of Cumberland again attack the retreating enemy; he had learned, like the other generals before him, the meaning of a Highland onset.
A small garrison of Highlanders had been left in Carlisle, but these rejoined the main army as it passed through the town. There was an unwillingness among the soldiers to hold a fort that was bound to be taken by the enemy. Finally the Manchester regiment consented to remain, probably arguing, in the words of one of the English volunteers, that they 'might as well be hanged in England as starved in Scotland.'
The Esk was at this time in flood, running turbid and swift. But the Highlanders have a peculiar way of crossing deep rivers. They stand shoulder to shoulder, with their arms linked, and so pass in a continuous chain across. As Charles was fording the stream on horseback, one man was swept away from the rest and was being rapidly carried down. The Prince caught him by the hair, shouting in Gaelic, 'Cohear, cohear!' 'Help, help!'
They were now again on Scottish ground, and the question was, whither were they to go next? Edinburgh, immediately after the Prince's departure, had gladly reverted to her Whig allegiance. She was garrisoned and defended; any return thither was practically out of the question. It was resolved that the army should retire to the Highlands through the West country.
Dumfries, in the centre of the Covenanting district, had always been hostile to the Stuarts. Two months before, when the Highland army marched south, some of her citizens had despoiled them of tents and baggage. To revenge this injury, Charles marched to Dumfries and levied a large fine on the town. The Provost, Mr. Carson, was noted for his hostility to the Jacobites. He was warned that his house was to be burned, though the threat was not carried out. He had a little daughter of six years old at the time; when she was quite an old lady she told Sir Walter Scott that she remembered being carried out of the house in the arms of a Highland officer. She begged him to point out the Pretender to her. This he consented to do, after the little girl had solemnly promised always to call him the Prince in future.
An army which had been on the road continuously for more than two winter months, generally presents a sufficiently dilapidated appearance; still more must this have been the case with the Highland army, ill-clad and ill-shod to begin with. The soldiers—hardly more than 4,000 now—who on Christmas day marched into Glasgow, had scarcely a whole pair of boots or a complete suit of tartans among them. This rich and important town was even more hostile than Dumfries to the Jacobites, but it was necessity more than revenge that forced the Prince to levy a heavy sum on the citizens, and exact besides 12,000 shirts, 6,000 pairs of stockings, and 6,000 pairs of shoes.
At Stirling, whither the Prince next led his army, the prospects were much brighter. Here he was joined by the men raised in Aberdeenshire under Lord Lewis Gordon, Lord Strathallan's Perthshire regiment, and the French troops under Lord John Drummond. The whole number of his army must have amounted to not much less than 9,000 men.
The Duke of Cumberland had given up the pursuit of the Highland army after Carlisle; an alarm of a French invasion having sent him hurrying back to London. In his stead General Hawley had been sent down to Scotland and was now in Edinburgh at the head of 8,000 men. He was an officer trained in the Duke of Cumberland's school, severe to his soldiers and relentlessly cruel to his enemies. A vain and boastful man, he looked with contempt on the Highland army, in spite of the experience of General Cope. On the 16th he marched out of Edinburgh with all his men, anticipating an easy victory. Lord George Murray was at Linlithgow, and slowly retreated before the enemy, but not before he had obtained full information of their numbers and movements. On the nights of January 15 and 16, the two armies lay only seven miles apart, the Prince's at Bannockburn and General Hawley's at Falkirk. From the one camp the lights of the other were visible. The Highland army kept on the alert, expecting every hour to be attacked.
All the day of the 16th they waited, but there was no movement on the part of the English forces. On the 17th the Prince's horse reconnoitred and reported perfect inactivity in Hawley's camp. The infatuated general thought so lightly of the enemy that he was giving himself up to amusement.
The fair and witty Lady Kilmarnock lived in the neighbourhood at Callender House. Her husband was with the Prince, and she secretly favoured the same cause. By skilful flattery and hospitality, she so fascinated the English general that he recklessly spent his days in her company, forgetful of the enemy and entirely neglectful of his soldiers.
Charles knew that the strength of his army lay in its power of attack, and so resolved to take the offensive. The high road between Bannockburn and Falkirk runs in a straight line in front of an old and decaying forest called Torwood. Along this road, in the face of the English camp, marched Lord John Drummond, displaying all the colours in the army, and making a brave show with the cavalry and two regiments. Their advance was only a feint. The main body of the army skirted round to the south of the wood, then marched across broken country—hidden at first by the trees and later by the inequalities of the ground—till they got to the back of a ridge called Falkirk Muir, which overlooked the English camp. Their object was to gain the top of this ridge before the enemy, and then to repeat the manoeuvres of Prestonpans.
Meanwhile, the English soldiers were all unconscious, and their general was enjoying himself at Callender House. At eleven o'clock General Huske, the second in command, saw Lord John Drummond's advance, and sent an urgent message to his superior officer. He, however, refused to take alarm, sent a message that the men might put on their accoutrements, and sat down to dinner with his fascinating hostess. At two o'clock, General Huske, looking anxiously through his spy-glass, saw the bulk of the Highland army sweeping round to the back of the ridge.
A messenger was instantly despatched to Callender House. At last Hawley was aroused to the imminence of the danger. Leaving the dinner table, he leaped on his horse and arrived in the camp at a gallop, breathless and bare-headed. He trusted to the rapidity of his cavalry to redeem the day. He placed himself at the head of the dragoons, and up the ridge they rode at a smart trot. It was a race for the top. The dragoons on their horses were the first to arrive, and stood in their ranks on the edge of the hill. From the opposite side came the Highlanders in three lines; first the clans (the Macdonalds, of course, on the right), then the Aberdeenshire and Perthshire regiments, lastly cavalry and Lord John Drummond's Frenchmen. Undismayed, nay, rather exhilarated by the sight of the three regiments of dragoons drawn up to receive them, they advanced at a rapid pace. The dragoons, drawing their sabres, rode on at full trot to charge the Highlanders. With the steadiness of old soldiers, the clans came on in their ranks, till within ten yards of the enemy. Then Lord George gave the signal by presenting his own piece, and at once a withering volley broke the ranks of the dragoons. About 400 fell under this deadly fire and the rest fled, fled as wildly and ingloriously as their fellows had done at Coltbridge or Prestonpans. A wild storm of rain dashing straight in their faces during the attack added to the confusion and helplessness of the dragoons. The right and centre of Hawley's infantry were at the same instant driven back by the other clans, Camerons and Stewarts and Macphersons. The victory would have been complete but for the good behaviour of three regiments at the right of Hawley's army, Price's, Ligonier's, and Barrel's. From a point of vantage on the edge of a ravine they poured such a steady fire on the left wing of the Highlanders, that they drove them back and forced them to fly in confusion. Had the victorious Macdonalds only attacked these three steady regiments, the Highland army would have been victorious all along the line. Unfortunately they had followed their natural instinct instead of the word of command, and flinging away their guns, were pursuing the fugitive dragoons down the ridge. The flight of the Hanoverians was so sudden that it caused suspicion of an ambush. The Prince was lost in the darkness and rain. The pipers had thrown their pipes to their boys, had gone in with the claymore, and could not sound the rally. It was not a complete victory for Charles, but it was a sufficiently complete defeat for General Hawley, who lost his guns. The camp at Falkirk was abandoned after the tents had been set on fire, and the general with his dismayed and confused followers retired first to Linlithgow and then to Edinburgh. Hawley tried to make light of his defeat and to explain it away, though to Cumberland he said that his heart was broken; but the news of the battle spread consternation all over England, and it was felt that no one but the Duke of Cumberland was fit to deal with such a stubborn and daring enemy.
The Prince's army did not reap so much advantage from their victory as might have been expected; their forces were in too great confusion to pursue the English general, and on the morrow of the battle many deserted to their own homes, carrying off their booty. A more serious loss was the defection of the clan Glengarry. The day after the battle a young Macdonald, a private soldier of Clanranald's company, was withdrawing the charge from a gun he had taken on the field. He had abstracted the bullet, and, to clean the barrel, fired off the piece. Unfortunately it had been double loaded, and the remaining bullet struck Glengarry's second son, Aeneas, who was in the street at the time. The poor boy fell, mortally wounded, in the arms of his comrades, begging with his last breath that no vengeance should be exacted for what was purely accidental. It was asking too much from the feelings of the clansmen. They indignantly demanded that blood should atone for blood. Clanranald would gladly have saved his clansman, but dared not risk a feud which would have weakened the Prince's cause. So another young life as innocent as the first was sacrificed to clan jealousy. The young man's own father was the first to fire on his son, to make sure that death should be instantaneous. Young Glengarry was buried with all military honours, Charles himself being chief mourner; but nothing could appease the angry pride of the clan, and the greater part of them returned to their mountains without taking any leave.
IN THE HIGHLANDS
ON January 30 the Duke of Cumberland arrived in Edinburgh. His reception was a curious parody of Charles's brilliant entry four months before. The fickle mob cheered the one as well as the other; the Duke occupied the very room at Holyrood that had been Charles's; where the one had danced with Jacobite beauties, the other held a reception of Whig ladies. Both were fighting their father's battle; both were young men of five-and-twenty. But here likeness gives way to contrast; Charles was graceful in person, and of dignified and attractive presence; his cousin, Cumberland, was already stout and unwieldy, and his coarse and cruel nature had traced unpleasant lines on his face. He was a poor general but a man of undoubted courage. Yet he had none of that high sense of personal honour that we associate with a good soldier. In Edinburgh he found many of the English officers who had been taken prisoner at Prestonpans. They had been left at large on giving their word not to bear arms against the Prince. Cumberland declared that this 'parole' or promise was not binding, and ordered them to return to their regiments. A small number—it is right that we should know and honour their names—Sir Peter Halket, Mr. Ross, Captain Lucy Scott, and Lieutenants Farquharson and Cumming, thereupon sent in their resignations, saying that the Duke was master of their commissions but not of their honour.
On the 30th the Duke and his soldiers were at Linlithgow, and hoped to engage the Highland army next day near Falkirk. But on the next day's march they learned from straggling Highlanders that the enemy had already retired beyond the Forth. They had been engaged in a futile siege of Stirling Castle. The distant sound of an explosion which was heard about midday on the 1st, proved to be the blowing up of the powder magazine, the last act of the Highlanders before withdrawing from Stirling. This second, sudden retreat was as bitter to the Prince as the return from Derby. After the battle at Falkirk he looked forward eagerly and confidently to fighting Cumberland on the same ground. But there was discontent and dissension in the camp. Since Derby the Prince had held no councils, and consulted with no one but Secretary Murray and his Irish officers. The chiefs were dispirited and deeply hurt, and, as usual, the numbers dwindled daily from desertion. In the midst of his plans for the coming battle, Charles was overwhelmed by a resolution on the part of the chiefs to break up the camp and to retire without delay to the Highlands. Again he saw his hopes suddenly destroyed, again he had to yield with silent rage and bitter disappointment.
The plan of the chiefs was to withdraw on Inverness, there to attack Lord Loudon (who held the fort for King George); to rest and recruit, each clan in its own country, till in the spring they could take the field again with a fresher and larger army. Lord George Murray led one division by the east coast and Aberdeen, to the rendezvous near Inverness, Charles led the other by General Wade's road through Badenoch and Athol. Cumberland with his heavy troops and baggage could not overtake the light-footed Highlanders; by the time he reached Perth he was six days' march behind them. He sent old Sir Andrew Agnew to garrison the house of Blair, and other small companies to occupy all the chief houses in Athol. He himself retired with the main body to Aberdeen, and there waited for milder weather.
In the neighbourhood of Inverness lies the country of the Mackintoshes. The laird of that ilk was a poor-spirited, stupid man. It was his simple political creed that that king was the right one who was willing and able 'to give a half-guinea to-day and another to-morrow.' That was probably the pay he drew as officer in one of King George's Highland companies. Of a very different spirit was his wife. Lady Mackintosh was a Farquharson of Invercauld; in her husband's absence she raised a body of mixed Farquharsons and Mackintoshes, several hundred strong, for the Prince. These she commanded herself, riding at their head in a tartan habit with pistols at her saddle. Her soldiers called her 'Colonel Anne.' Once in a fray between her irregular troops and the militia, her husband was taken prisoner and brought before his own wife. She received him with a military salute, 'Your servant, captain;' to which he replied equally shortly, 'Your servant, colonel.'
This high-spirited woman received Charles as her guest on February 16 at the castle of Moy, twelve miles from Inverness.
Having learnt that Charles was staying there with a small guard, Lord Loudon conceived the bold plan of capturing the Prince, and so putting an end to the war once for all. On Sunday the 16th, at nightfall, he started with 1,500 men with all secrecy and despatch. Still the secret had oozed out, and the dowager Lady Mackintosh sent a boy to warn her daughter-in-law and the Prince. The boy was both faithful and sagacious. Finding the high road already full of soldiers, he skulked in a ditch till they were past, then, by secret ways, over moor and moss, running at the top of his pace, he sped on, till, faint and exhausted, he reached the house at five o'clock in the morning, and panted out the news that Loudon's men were not a mile away! The Prince was instantly aroused, and in a few minutes was out of the house and off to join Lochiel not more than a mile distant. As it happened, Lord Loudon's troops had already been foiled and driven back by a bold manoeuvre of some of 'Colonel Anne's' men. A blacksmith with some half-dozen men—two pipers amongst them—were patrolling the woods near the high road, when in the dim morning twilight they saw a large body of the enemy approaching. They separated, planted themselves at intervals under cover, fired rapidly and simultaneously, shouted the war cries of the various clans, Lochiel, Keppoch, Glengarry, while the pipers blew up their pipes furiously behind. The advancing soldiers were seized with panic, and flying wildly back, upset the ranks of the rear and filled them with the same consternation. The 'Rout of Moy' was hardly more creditable to the Hanoverian arms than the 'Canter of Coltbridge.' In this affair only one man fall, MacRimmon, the hereditary piper of the Macleods. Before leaving Skye he had prophesied his own death in the lament, 'Macleod shall return, but MacRimmon shall never.'
The next day, February 18, Charles, at the head of a body of troops, marched out to besiege Inverness. He found that town already evacuated: Lord Loudon had too little faith in his men to venture another meeting with the enemy. Two days later Fort George also fell into the Prince's hands.
During the next six weeks the Highland army was employed in detachments against the enemies who surrounded them on all sides. Lord John Drummond took Fort Augustus, Lochiel and others besieged—but in vain—the more strongly defended Fort William. Lord Cromarty pursued Lord Loudon into Sutherland. But the most notable and gallant feat of arms was performed by Lord George Murray. He marched a body of his own Athol men, and another of Macphersons under Cluny—700 men in all—down into his native district of Athol. At nightfall they started from Dalwhinnie, before midnight they were at Dalnaspidal, no one but the two leaders having any idea of the object of the expedition. It was the middle of March; at that season they might count on five hours of darkness before daybreak. It was then explained to the men that they were to break up into some thirty small companies, and each was to march to attack one of the English garrisons placed in all the considerable houses in the neighbourhood. It was necessary that each place should be attacked at the same time, that the alarm might not spread. By daybreak all were to reassemble at the Falls of Bruar, within a mile or two of Castle Blair. One after the other the small parties moved off swiftly and silently in the darkness, one marching some ten miles off to the house of Faskally, others attacking Lude, Kinnachin, Blairfettie, and many other houses where the English garrisons were sleeping in security. Meanwhile Lord George and Cluny, with five-and-twenty men and a few elderly gentlemen, went straight to the Falls of Bruar. In the grey of the morning a man from the village of Blair came up hastily with the news that Sir Andrew Agnew had got the alarm, and with several hundred men was scouring the neighbourhood and was now advancing towards the Falls! Lord George might easily have escaped up the pass, but if he failed to be at the rendezvous, each small body as it came in would be surrounded and overpowered by the enemy. The skilful general employed precisely the same ruse as had been so successful at the Rout of Moy.
He put his followers behind a turf wall at distant intervals, displayed the colours in a conspicuous place, and placed his pipers to advantage. As Sir Andrew came in sight, the sun rose, and was flashed back by brandished broadswords behind the turf wall. All along the line plaids seemed to be waving, and heads appeared and disappeared as if a large body of men were behind; while the pipes blew up a clamorous pibroch, and thirty men shouted for three hundred. Sir Andrew fell into the snare, and promptly marched his men back again. One by one the other parties came in: some thirty houses had yielded to them, and they brought three hundred prisoners with them.
After this success Lord George actually attempted to take the House of Blair. It was a hopeless enterprise; the walls of the house were seven feet thick, and Lord George had only two small cannons. 'I daresay the man's mad, knocking down his own brother's house,' said the stout old commander, Sir Andrew, watching how little effect the shot had on the walls. Lord George sent to Charles for reinforcements when it began to seem probable that he could reduce the garrison by famine, but Charles, embittered and resentful, and full of unjust suspicion against his general, refused any help, and on March 31 Lord George had to abandon the siege and withdraw his men. The Prince's suspicions, though unjust, were not unnatural. Lord George had twice advised retreat, where audacity was the only way to success.
IN the meantime the weeks were rolling on. The grey April of the North, if it brought little warmth, was at least lengthening the daylight, and melting the snow from the hills, and lowering the floods that had made the rivers impassable. Since the middle of February the Duke of Cumberland and his army of at least eight thousand men—horse and infantry—had been living at free quarters in Aberdeen. He bullied the inhabitants, but he made careful provision for his army. English ships keeping along the coast were ready to supply both stores and ammunition as soon as the forces should move. With the savage content of a wild animal that knows that his prey cannot escape, the duke was in no hurry to force on an engagement till the weather should be more favourable.
To the Highland army every week's delay was a loss. Many of the clansmen had scattered to their homes in search of subsistence, for funds were falling lower and lower at Inverness. Fortune was treating Charles harshly at this time. Supplies had been sent once and again from France, but the ships that had brought them had either fallen into the enemy's hands, or had been obliged to return with their errand unaccomplished. His soldiers had now to be paid in meal, and that in insufficient quantities. There was thus discontent in the ranks, and among the chiefs there was a growing feeling of discouragement. Charles treated with reserve and suspicion the men who were risking property and life for his cause, and consulted only with Secretary Murray and his Irish officers.
On April 8 the Duke of Cumberland began his march from Aberdeen. Between the two armies lay the river Spey, always deep and rapid, almost impassable when the floods were out. A vigilant body of men commanding the fords from either bank would have any army at its mercy that might try to cross the stream under fire. Along the west bank Lord John Drummond and his men had built a long, low barrack of turf and stone. From this point of vantage they had hoped to pour their fire on the Hanoverian soldiers in mid-stream, but the vigilant Duke of Cumberland had powerful cannons in reserve on the opposite bank, and Lord John and his soldiers drew off before the enemy got across.
On Monday the 15th this retreating party arrived at Inverness, bringing the news that the Duke was already at Nairne, and would probably next day approach to give battle. Prince Charles was in the highest spirits at the news. In the streets of Inverness the pipers blew the gatherings of the various clans, the drums beat, and with colours flying the whole army marched out of the town and encamped on the plain of Culloden.
The Prince expected to be attacked next morning, Tuesday the 16th, and at six o'clock the soldiers were drawn up in order of battle. There was an ominous falling away in numbers. The Macphersons with Cluny had scattered to their homes in distant Badenoch; the Frasers were also absent. [Neither of these brave and faithful clans was present at the battle the next day.] The Keppoch Macdonalds and some other detachments only came in next morning.
By the most fatal mismanagement no provision had been made for feeding the soldiers that day, though there was meal and to spare at Inverness. A small loaf of the driest and coarsest bread was served out to each man. By the afternoon, the starving soldiers had broken their ranks and were scattering in search of food. Lord Elcho had reconnoitred in the direction of Nairne, twelve miles off, and reported that the English army would not move that day; they were resting in their camp and celebrating their commander's birthday. Charles called a council of war at three in the afternoon. Lord George Murray gave the daring counsel that instead of waiting to be attacked they should march through the night to Nairne, and while it was still dark surprise and overwhelm the sleeping enemy. By dividing the Highland forces before reaching Nairne they might attack the camp in front and rear at the same moment; no gun was to be fired which might spread the alarm; the Highlanders were to fall on with dirk and broadsword. The Prince had meant to propose this very plan: he leaped up and embraced Lord George. It was a dangerous scheme; but with daring, swiftfooted, enterprising men it did not seem impossible. Yes! but with men faint and dispirited by hunger? At the review that morning the army had numbered about 7,000 men, but hardly more than half that number assembled in the evening on the field, the rest were still scattered in search of food. By eight o'clock it was dark enough to start. The attack on the enemy's camp was timed for two in the morning, six hours was thus allowed for covering the twelve miles. The army was to march in three columns, the clans first in two divisions, Lochiel and Lord George at the head with 30 of the Mackintoshes as guides. The Prince himself commanded the third column, the Lowland troops, and the French and Irish regiments. The utmost secrecy was necessary; the men marched in dead silence. Not only did they avoid the high roads, but wherever a light showed the presence of a house or sheiling they had to make a wide circuit round it. The ground they had to go over was rough and uneven; every now and then the men splashed into unexpected bogs or stumbled over hidden stones. Add to this that the night was unusually dark. Instead of marching in three clear divisions, the columns got mixed in the darkness and mutually kept each other back. Soon the light-footed clansmen got ahead of the Lowland and French and Irish regiments unused to such heavy walking. Every few minutes messengers from the rear harassed the leaders of the van by begging them to march more slowly. It was a cruel task to restrain the pace while the precious hours of darkness were slipping past. At Kilravock House the van halted. This was the point where it was arranged that the army was to divide, one part marching straight on the English camp, the other crossing the river so as to fall on the enemy from the opposite side. The rear had fallen far behind, and there was more than one wide gap between the various troops. The Duke of Perth galloped up from behind and told Lord George that it was necessary that the van should wait till the others came up; other officers reported that the men were dropping out of their ranks, and falling asleep by the roadside. Watches were now consulted. It was already two o'clock and there were still four miles to be covered. Some of the officers begged that, at all risks, the march might be continued. As they stood consulting an aide-de-camp rode up from the rear saying that the Prince desired to go forward, but was prepared to yield to Lord George's judgment. Just then through the darkness there came from the distance the rolling of drums! All chance of surprising the English camp was at an end. With a heavy heart Lord George gave the order to march back. This affair increased the Prince's suspicions of Lord George, which were fostered by his Irishry.
In the growing light the retreat was far more rapid than the advance had been. It was shortly after five that the army found themselves in their old quarters at Culloden. Many fell down where they stood, overpowered with sleep; others dispersed in search of food. Charles himself and his chief officers found nothing to eat and drink at Culloden House but a little dry bread and whisky. Instead of holding a council of war, each man lay down to sleep where he could, on table or floor.
But the sleep they were able to snatch was but short. At about eight a patrol coming in declared that the Duke of Cumberland was already advancing, his main body was within four miles, his horse even nearer.
In the utmost haste the chiefs and officers of the Highland army tried to collect their men. Many had straggled off as far as Inverness, many were still overpowered with sleep; all were faint for lack of food. When the ranks were arrayed in order of battle, their numbers only amounted to 5,000 men. They were drawn up on the open plain; on the right, high turf walls, enclosing a narrow field, protected their flank (though, as it proved, quite ineffectually), on their left lay Culloden House. In spite of hunger and fatigue, the old fighting instinct was so strong in the clans that they took up their positions in the first line with all their old fire and enthusiasm, all but the Macdonalds. By extraordinary mismanagement the clans Glengarry, Keppoch, and Clanranald—they who had so nobly led the right wing at Prestonpans and Falkirk—were placed on the left. It was a slight that bitterly hurt their pride; it was also, to their superstitious minds, a fatal omen. Who was the cause of the blunder? This does not seem to be certainly known. On the right, where the Macdonalds should have been, were the Athol men, the Camerons, the Stewarts of Appin, Macleans, Mackintoshes, and other smaller clans, each led by their own chiefs, and all commanded by Lord George. At the extremities of the two wings the guns were placed, four on each side, the only artillery on the Prince's side. The second line consisted of the French, Irish, and Lowland regiments. The Prince and his guards occupied a knoll at the rear, from which the whole action of the fight was visible. His horse was later covered with mud from the cannon balls striking the wet moor, and a man was killed behind him. By one o'clock the Hanoverian army was drawn up within five hundred paces of their enemies. The fifteen regiments of foot were placed in three lines, so arranged that the gaps in the first line were covered by the centres of the regiments in the second line. Between each regiment in the first line two powerful cannons were placed, and the three bodies of horse were drawn up, flanking either wing. The men were fresh, well fed, confident in their general, and eager to retrieve the dishonour of Prestonpans and Falkirk.
A little after one, the day clouded over, and a strong north-easterly wind drove sudden showers of sleet in the faces of the Highland army. They were the first to open fire, but their guns were small, and the firing ill-directed; the balls went over the heads of the enemy and did little harm. Then the great guns on the other side poured out the return fire, raking the ranks of the Highlanders, clearing great gaps, and carrying destruction even into the second line. For half an hour the Highlanders stood exposed to this fire while comrade after comrade fell at their side. It was all they could do to keep their ranks; their white, drawn faces and kindling eyes spoke of the hunger for revenge that possessed their hearts. Lord George was about to give the word to charge, when the Mackintoshes impatiently rushed forward, and the whole of the centre and left wing followed them. On they dashed blindly, through the smoke and snow and rattling bullets. So irresistible was the onset that they actually swept through two regiments in the first line, though almost all the chiefs and front rank men had fallen in the charge. The regiment in the second rank—Sempill's—was drawn up three deep—the first rank kneeling, the third upright—all with bayonets fixed. They received the onrushing Highlanders with a sharp fire. This brought the clansmen to a halt, a few were forced back, more perished, flinging themselves against the bayonets. Their bodies were afterwards found in heaps three or four deep.
While the right and centre perished in this wild charge, the Macdonalds on the left remained sullenly in their ranks, rage and angry pride in their souls. In vain the Duke of Perth urged them to charge. 'Your courage,' he cried, 'will turn the left into the right, and I will henceforth call myself Macdonald.'
In vain Keppoch, with some of his kin, charged alone. 'My God! have the children of my tribe forsaken me?' he cried, looking back to where his clansmen stood stubborn and motionless. The stout old heart was broken by this dishonour. A few minutes later he fell pierced by many bullets.
In the meantime the second line had been thrown into confusion. A detachment of the Hanoverians—the Campbells, in fact—had broken down the turf walls on the Prince's right. Through the gaps thus made, there rode a body of dragoons, who fell on the rear and flanks of the Lowland and French regiments, and scattered them in flight. Gillie MacBane held a breach with the claymore, and slew fourteen men before he fell. But the day was lost. All that courage, and pride, and devotion, and fierce hate could do had been done, and in vain.
Charles had, up to the last, looked for victory. He offered to lead on the second line in person; but his officers told him that Highlanders would never return to such a charge. Two Irish officers dragged at his reins; his army was a flying mob, and so he left his latest field, unless, as was said, he fought at Laffen as a volunteer, when the Scots Brigade nearly captured Cumberland. He had been eager to give up Holyrood to the wounded of Prestonpans; his wounded were left to die, or were stabbed on the field. He had refused to punish fanatics who tried to murder him; his faithful followers were tortured to extract information which they never gave. He lost a throne, but he won hearts, and, while poetry lives and romance endures, the Prince Charles of the Forty-Five has a crown more imperishable than gold. This was the ending of that Jacobite cause, for which men had fought and died, for which women had been content to lose homes and husbands and sons.
It was the end of that gifted race of Stuart kings who, for three centuries and more of varying fortunes, had worn the crown of Scotland.
But it was not the end of the romance of the Highland clans. Crushed down, scattered, and cruelly treated as these were in the years that followed Culloden, nothing could break their fiery spirit nor kill their native aptitude for war. In the service of that very government which had dealt so harshly with them, they were to play a part in the world's history, wider, nobler, and not less romantic than that of fiercely faithful adherents to a dying cause. The pages of that history have been written in imperishable deeds on the hot plains of India, in the mountain passes of Afghanistan, in Egypt, in the Peninsula, on the fields of Waterloo and Quatre Bras, and among the snows of the Crimea. And there may be other pages of this heroic history of the Highland regiments that our children and our children's children shall read with proud emotion in days that are to be.
 Others were Frederick the Great, and David Leslie!
 In Waverley this generous speech is attributed to Flora Macivor.
 Readers of Waverley will remember that in this fight Fergus Macivor was taken prisoner.
THE BURKE AND WILLS EXPLORING EXPEDITION
ON August 21, 1860, in the most lovely season of the year—that of early spring—the citizens of Melbourne crowded to the Royal Park to witness the departure of the most liberally equipped exploring party that had yet set out to penetrate the unknown regions of Australia. Their object was to cross the land from the South to the Northern Seas, a task which had never before been accomplished, as well as to add to the scientific knowledge of the interior.
The expedition started under the leadership of Robert O'Hara Burke, who began his career as a cadet at Woolwich, but left at an early age to enter a regiment of Hussars in the Austrian service, in which he subsequently held a captaincy.
When this regiment was disbanded, in 1848, he obtained an appointment in the Irish Constabulary, which he exchanged for the Police Force of Victoria in 1853, and in this he was at once made an inspector.
A Mr. Landells, in charge of the camels, went as second in command, and William John Wills, an astronomer and surveyor, as third.
Wills was the son of Dr. William Wills, and was born at Totnes, in Devonshire, in 1834; he was cousin to Lieutenant Le Viscomte, who perished with Sir John Franklin in the 'Erebus.'
In 1852 the news of the wonderful gold discoveries induced him to try his fortune in Victoria; but he soon became attached to the staff of the Melbourne Observatory, where he remained until selected for the post of observer and surveyor to the exploring expedition.
From the time that the expedition first took shape the names of these leaders were associated in the minds of the people with those of other brave men who had toiled to solve the mystery that lay out in the great thirsty wilderness of the interior. Some of them had tried, and, failing, had returned broken in health by the terrible privations they had met with. Others, having failed, had tried again; but the seasons and years had rolled on since, and had brought back no story of their fate.
Therefore, as late in the afternoon Burke, mounted on a pretty grey, rode forth at the head of the caravan, cheer after cheer rang out from either side of the long lane formed by the thousands of sympathetic colonists who were eager to get a last glimpse of the adventurers.
Immediately following the leader came a number of pack horses led by the European servants on foot; then Landells and Dr. Beckler mounted on camels; and in their train sepoys, leading two by two twenty-four camels, each heavily burdened with forage and provisions, and a mounted sepoy brought up the rear.
At intervals after these several wagons rolled past, and finally when nearly dusk, Wills and Fergusson, the foreman, rode out to their first camping-ground at the village of Essendon, about seven miles distant.
Before the evening star, following close the crescent moon, had dropped below the dark and distant hill range, the green near the church was crowded by the picturesque confusion of the camp.
Above the fires of piled gum-tree bark and sticks rose soft plumes of white smoke that scented the air fragrantly, and the red light of the flames showed, as they would show many times again, the explorers' tents in vivid relief against the coming night.
The horses and camels were unloaded and picketed, and the men sat at the openings of their tents eating their supper, or stood in groups talking to those anxious friends who had come out from Melbourne to say the last good speed, or to repeat fears, to which imagination often lent the wildest colouring, of perils that awaited the adventurers in the great unknown land.
The wet weather which set in soon after their start made travelling very slow as they crossed Victoria, though at that time all seemed to go well with the party.
On fine days Wills found he was able to write his journal and do much of his work whilst riding his camel; he sat behind the hump, and had his instruments packed in front of it; thus he only needed to stop when the bearings had to be carefully taken.
They halted for several days at Swan Hill, which was their last resting-place before leaving the Colony. They were very hospitably entertained there by the people.
This may have had something to do with the ill-content of some of the party when on the march again, as at Balranald, beyond the Murray, Burke found himself obliged to discharge the foreman, Fergusson.
The plan of their route had to be changed here, as they were told that all along the Lower Darling, where they intended to travel, there was absolutely no food for their horses, but a plant called the Darling Pea, which made the animals that ate it mad.
Burke was at this time constantly irritated by Landells refusing to allow the camels to travel the distance of a day's march, or to carry their proper burden; he was naturally full of anxiety to push on while the season was favourable, and impatient and hasty when anything occurred to hinder their progress.
Landells insisted upon taking a quantity of rum for the use of the camels, as he had heard of an officer who took two camels through a two years' campaign in Cabul, the Punjab, and Scind by allowing them arrack. He had also been sowing dissension in the camp for some time; and, in short, the camels and the officer in charge of them seemed likely to disorganise the whole of the enterprise.
Complaints were now continually reaching Burke from the managers of the sheep stations through which they passed, that their shearers had got drunk on some of the camels' rum, which had been obtained from the wagons. He therefore, at last, determined to leave the rum behind. Landells, of course, would not agree to this, and in the end sent in his resignation.
In the course of the same day Dr. Beckler followed his example, giving as his reason that he did not like the manner in which Burke spoke to Landells, and that he did not consider the party safe without him to manage the camels. Burke did not, however, accept the Doctor's resignation.
This happened shortly before they left Menindie, the last station of the settled districts, and it was impossible to find anyone to take Landells' place. Wills was, however, at once promoted to be second in charge.
Burke now divided the expedition into two parts—one to act with him as an exploring party to test the safety of the route to Cooper's Creek, which was about four hundred miles farther on; the other to remain at Menindie with the heavy stores, under the care of Dr. Beckler, until arrangements were made to establish a permanent depot in the interior.
The advance party of eight started on October 29, under the guidance of a man named Wright, who was said to have practical knowledge of the 'back country.'
They were Burke, Wills, Brahe, Patten, M'Donough, King, Gray, and Dost Mahomet, with fifteen horses and sixteen camels.
When this journey was made it was immediately after one of those wonderful seasons that transform these parts of Central Australia from a treeless and grassless desert to a land where the swelling plains that stretch from bound to bound of the horizon are as vast fields of ripening corn in their yellow summertide.
Riding girth high through the lovely natural grass, from which the ripe seed scattered as they passed, or camping at night surrounded by it, the horses and camels improved in condition each day, and were never at a loss for water. Sometimes they found a sufficiency in a natural well or claypan; or again they struck for some creek towards the west or north, whose irregular curves were outlined on the plain by the gum-trees growing closely on its banks.
Nowhere did they experience great difficulty or serious obstacle on their northward way, though sometimes, as they crossed the rough ironstone ranges which crop up now and then on this great and ever rising table-land, there was little feed, and the sharp stones cut the feet of the animals as they trod with faltering footsteps down the precipitous gulleys, out of which the floods had for ages torn a path. As they followed the dry bed of such a path leading to rich flats, they would come upon quiet pools deeply shaded by gums and marsh mallow, that had every appearance of being permanent.
After they had been out ten days and had travelled over two hundred miles, Burke had formed so good an opinion of Wright that he made him third in charge, and sent him back to Menindie to replace Dr. Beckler—whose resignation was now accepted—in command of the portion of the expedition at that place. Wright took with him despatches to forward to Melbourne, and his instructions were to follow up the advance party with the heavy stores immediately.
Burke now pushed on to Cooper's Creek; and though the last part of their journey led them over many of those tracts of country peculiar to Australia where red sandy ridges rise and fall for many miles in rigid uniformity, and are clothed for the most part in the monotonous grey of salt and cotton-bush leafage, yet they saw before them what has since proved to be one of the finest grazing lands in the world.
Still, as they went on, though the creeks and watercourses were more frequent, everywhere they showed signs of rapid drying up.
The party reached the Cooper on November 11, and after resting for a day, they set about preparing the depot. For about a fortnight from this point Burke or Wills made frequent short journeys to the north or north-east, to feel their way before starting for the northern coast.
On one occasion Wills went out taking with him M'Donough and three camels, and when about ninety miles from the head camp he walked to a rising ground at some distance from where they intended to stop to make some observations, leaving M'Donough in charge of the camels and to prepare tea.
On his return he found that the man had fallen asleep, and that the camels had gone. Night closing in almost directly prevented any search for the missing animals.
Next morning nothing could be seen of them, though their tracks were followed for many miles, and though Wills went to some distant hills and searched the landscape on all sides with his field-glasses.
With a temperature of 112 deg. in the shade, and the dazzling sun-rays beating from a pallid and cloudless sky, they started on their homeward walk of eighty miles, with only a little bread and a few johnny cakes to eat, each carrying as much water as he could.
They feared to light a fire even at night, as it might have attracted the blacks; therefore they took it in turn to sleep and watch when the others rested; while the dingoes sneaked from their cover in the belts of scrub, and howled dismally around them.
They reached the depot in three days, having found only one pool of stagnant water, from which they drank a great deal and refilled the goatskin bag.
Wills was obliged to return afterwards with King to recover the saddles and things that were left when the camels strayed.
For some time Wright had been expected to arrive with the caravan from Menindie; yet a whole month passed and he did not come.
Burke who had now become very impatient at the loss of opportunity and time, determined to make a dash across the continent to the sea.
He therefore left Brahe, a man who could travel by compass and observation, in charge at Cooper's Creek depot until Wright should arrive, giving him positive instructions to remain there until the return of the exploring party from the Gulf of Carpentaria, which he thought would be in about three or four months.
Burke started northwards on December 16, in company with Wills, King, and Gray, taking with them six camels, one horse, and provisions for three months, while Brahe, three men, and a native were left at the Creek with the rest of the horses and camels.
* * * * *
The expedition was now in three parts, and Wright, who perhaps knew more about the uncertainty of the seasons and the terrible consequences of drought than any of the party, still delayed leaving Menindie with his contingent, though he well knew that as the summer advanced the greater would be the difficulty to travel.
He had become faint-hearted, and every day invented some new excuse for not leaving. One day it was that there were not enough camels and horses to carry the necessary provision; the next, that the country through which they must pass was infested by blacks; the next, that he waited for his appointment to be confirmed by the authorities at Melbourne; and all this time he knew that Burke depended solely upon him to keep up communication with the depot from the Darling.
Finally he started at the end of January (summer in Australia), more than a month after his appointment was officially confirmed, and more than two months after his return from Menindie.
For the first few days after Burke and Wills set off they followed up the creek, and though the banks were rugged and stony, there was plenty of grass and soft bush near. They soon fell in with a large tribe of blacks, the first they had seen, who followed them for some time, and constantly tried to entice them to their camp to dance. When they refused to go the natives became very troublesome, until they threatened to shoot them.
They were fine-looking men, but easily frightened, and only carried as a means of defence a shield and a large kind of boomerang.
The channel of the Creek was often quite dry for a great distance; then a chain of magnificent water-holes followed, from whose shady pools pelicans, black swans, and many species of duck flew up in flocks at the approach of the travellers.
After a few days they reached what seemed to be the end of Cooper's Creek, and, steering a more north-easterly course, they journeyed for some time over great plains covered by dry grass-stalks or barren sandy ridges, on the steep sides of which grew scant tufts of porcupine grass; sometimes following the lines of a creek, or, again, travelling along the edge of a splendid lagoon that stretched its placid waters for miles over the monotonous landscape.
Even the stony desert they found far from bad travelling ground, and but little different from much of what they had already crossed.
Yet ever before them there, from the sunrise to its setting, the spectral illusive shapes of the mirage floated like restless spirit betwixt heaven and earth on the quivering heat-haze.
On January 7 they crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and their way beyond it soon began to improve.
In the excitement of exploring fine country Burke rushed on with almost headlong feverishness, travelling in every available hour of the day, and often by night, even grudging the necessary time for food and rest. He walked with Wills in front, taking it in turn with him to steer by a pocket compass.
Before they left each camp its number was cut deeply into the bark of some prominent tree. Wills kept the little record there is of their journey, and as they went it was the duty of King or Gray to blaze a tree to mark their route.
They passed now over many miles of the richly grassed slopes of a beautiful open forest, intersected by frequent watercourses where the land trended gradually upward to the distant mountain-range. Sometimes they had to go out of their course in order to avoid the tangle of tropic jungle; but onward north by east they went, beneath the shade of heavy-fruited palms, their road again made difficult by the large and numerous anthills that give these northern latitudes so strange a solemnity and appearance of desolation.
After leaving Cooper's Creek they often crossed the paths the blacks made for themselves, but had hitherto seen nothing of the natives. One day Golah, one of the camels (who were all now beginning to show great signs of fatigue), had gone down into the bed of a creek to drink, and could not be made to climb its steep sides again.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get him up, they determined to try bringing him down until an easier ascent could be found. King thereupon went on alone with him, and had great difficulty in getting him through some of the deeper water-holes.
But after going in this way for two or three miles they were forced to leave him behind, as it separated King from the rest of the party, and they found that a number of blacks were hiding in the box-trees on the banks, watching, and following them with stealthy footsteps.
It now became a very difficult matter for the camels to travel as the heavy rains that had fallen made the land so wet and boggy that with every footstep they sank several inches into it.
At Camp 119 Burke left them in charge of Gray and King, and walked on to the shores of Carpentaria with Wills, and took only the horse Billy to carry their provisions.
They followed the banks of a river which Burke named the Cloncurry. A few hundred yards below the camp Billy got bogged in a quicksand bank so deeply as to be unable to stir, and they had to undermine him on the creek side and pull him into the water. About five miles farther on he bogged again, and afterwards was so weak that he could hardly crawl.
After floundering along in this way for some time they came upon a native path which led through a forest; following it, they reached a large patch of sandy ground where the blacks had been digging yams and had left numbers lying on the surface; and these the explorers were glad enough to eat.
A little farther on they saw a black lying coiled round his camp fire, and by him squatted his lubra and piccaninny yabbering at a great rate. They stopped to take out their pistols in case of need before disturbing them; almost immediately the black got up to stretch his limbs, and presently saw the intruders.
He stared at them for some time, as if he thought he must be dreaming, then, signing to the others, they all dropped on their haunches, and shuffled off in the quietest manner.
Near their fire was a worley (native hut) large enough to shelter a dozen blacks; it was on the northern outskirt of the forest, and looked out across a marsh which is sometimes flooded by sea-water. Upon this were hundreds of wild geese, plover, and pelicans. After they crossed it they reached a channel through which the sea-water enters, and there passed three blacks, who silently and unasked pointed out the best way to go.
Next day, Billy being completely tired, they short-hobbled and left him, going forward again at daybreak in the hope of at last reaching the open sea. After following the Flinders (this country had already been explored by Gregory) for about fifteen miles, and finding that the tide ebbed and flowed regularly, and that the water was quite salt, they decided to go back, having successfully accomplished one great object of their mission, by crossing the Australian continent from south to north.
After rejoining Gray and King on February 13, the whole party began the return march. The incessant and heavy rains that had set in rendered travelling very difficult; but the provisions were running short, and it was necessary to try to get back to the depot without delay.
The damp and suffocating heat that brooded in the air overpowered both man and beast, who were weak and weary from want of rest; and to breast the heavy rains and to swim the rapid creeks in flood well-nigh exhausted all their strength.
Day after day they stumbled listlessly onward; while the poor camels, sweating, bleeding, and groaning from fear, had their feet at almost every step entangled by the climbing plants that clung to the rank grasses, which had rushed in magical growth to a height of eight or ten feet.
If for a moment they went to windward of their camp fires they were maddened by swarms of mosquitoes, and everywhere were pestered by ants.
Wonderful green and scarlet ants dropped upon them from the trees as they passed; from every log or stick gathered for the fires a new species crept; inch-long black or brown 'bulldogs' showed fight at them underfoot: midgets lurked in the cups of flowers; while the giant white ant ate its stealthy way in swarms through the sap of the forest trees from root to crown.
Every night fierce storms of thunder crashed and crackled overhead, and the vivid lightning flaring across the heavens overpowered the moonlight.
Gray, who had been ailing for some time, grew worse, though probably, as they were all in such evil plight, they did not think him really ill.
One night Wills, returning to a camp to bring back some things that had been left, found him hiding behind a tree eating skilligolee. He explained he was suffering from dysentery, and had taken the flour without leave.
It had already been noticed that the provisions disappeared in an unaccountable way; therefore Wills ordered him back to report himself to Burke. But Gray was afraid to tell, and got King to do so for him. When Burke heard of it, he was very angry, and flogged him.
On March 20 they overhauled the packs, and left all they could do without behind, as the camels were so exhausted.
Soon after this they were again beyond the line of rainfall, and once more toiling over the vast plains and endless stony rises of the interior.
At the camp called Boocha's Rest they killed the camel Boocha, and spent the whole day cutting up and jerking the flesh—that is, removing all bone and fat and drying the lean parts in the sun; they also now made use of a plant called portulac as a vegetable, and found it very good, and a great addition to their food.
For more than a week it had become very troublesome to get Gray to walk at all; he was still in such bad odour from his thieving that the rest of the party thought he pretended illness, and as they had to halt continually to wait for him when marching, he was always in mischief.
The faithful Billy had to be sacrificed in the Stony Desert, as he was so reduced and knocked up that there seemed little chance of his reaching the other side; and another day was taken to cut up and jerk his flesh.
At dawn on the fourth day before they reached the depot, when they were preparing to start they were shocked to find poor Gray was dying.
His companions, full of remorse for bygone harshness, their better natures stirred to the depths of humanity by his pitiful case, knelt around to support him in those last moments as he lay stretched speechless on his desolate sand bed. Thus comforted, his fading eyes closed for ever as the red sun rose above the level plain.
The party remained in camp that day to bury him, though they were so weak that they were hardly able to dig a grave in the sand sufficiently deep for the purpose.
They had lived on the flesh of the worn-out horse for fifteen days, and once or twice were forced to camp without water. Though the sun was always hot, at night a gusty wind blew from the south with an edge like a razor, which made their fire so irregular as to be of little use to them. The sudden and cruel extremes of heat and cold racked the exhausted frames of the explorers with pain, and Burke and King were hardly able to walk. They pushed on, only sustained by the thought that but a few hours, a few miles, now separated them from the main party, where the first felicitations on the success of their exploit awaited them, and, what was of greater importance to men shattered by hardships and privation, wholesome food, fresh clothing, and the comfort of a properly organised camp.
On the morning of April 21, with every impatient nerve strung to its utmost tension, and full of hope, they urged their two remaining camels forward for the last thirty miles; and Burke, who rode a little in advance of the others, shouted for joy when they struck Cooper's Creek at the exact spot where Brahe had been left in charge of the depot.
'I think I see their tents,' he cried, and putting his weary camel to its best speed, he called out the names of the men he had left there.
'There they are! There they are!' he shouted eagerly, and with a last spurt left the others far behind.
When Wills and King reached the depot they saw Burke standing by the side of his camel in a deserted camp, alone.
He was standing, lost in amazement, staring vacantly around. Signs of recent departure, of a final packing-up, everywhere met the eye: odd nails and horseshoes lay about, with other useful things that would not have been left had the occupants merely decamped to some other spot. Then, as one struck by some terrible blow, Burke reeled and fell to the ground, overcome by the revulsion of feeling from exultant hope to sudden despair.
Wills, who had ever the greater control of himself, now walked in all directions to make a careful examination, followed at a little distance by King.
Presently he stopped, and pointing to a tree, into the bark of which had been newly cut the words—
'DIG. 'April 21, 1861'
'King, they are gone! They have only gone to-day—there are the things they have left!'
The two men immediately set to work to uncover the earth, and found a few inches below the surface a box containing provisions and a bottle.
In the bottle was a note, which was taken to Burke at once, who read it aloud:—
'Depot, Cooper's Creek, 'April 21, 1861.
'The depot party of the Victorian Exploring Expedition leaves this camp to-day to return to the Darling.
'I intend to go S.E. from Camp 60, to get into our old track near Bulloo. Two of my companions and myself are quite well; the third—Patten—has been unable to walk for the last eighteen days, as his leg has been severely hurt when thrown by one of the horses.
'No person has been up here from the Darling.
'We have six camels and twelve horses in good working condition.
When the leader had finished reading it, he turned to the others and asked if they would start next day to try to overtake Brahe's party.
They replied that they could not. With the slightest exertion all felt the indescribable languor and terrible aching in back and legs that had proved fatal to poor Gray. And, indeed, it was as much as any one of them could do to crawl to the side of the creek for a billy of water.
They were not long in getting out the stores Brahe had left, and in making themselves a good supper of oatmeal porridge and sugar.
This and the excitement of their unexpected position did much to revive them. Burke presently decided to make for a station on the South Australian side which he believed was only one hundred and twenty miles from the Cooper. Both Wills and King wanted to follow down their old track to the Darling, but afterwards gave in to Burke's idea. Therefore it was arranged that after they had rested they would proceed by gentle stages towards the Mount Hopeless sheeprun.
Accordingly, on the next day Burke wrote and deposited in the cache a letter giving a sketch of the exploration, and added the following postscript:
'The camels cannot travel, and we cannot walk, or we should follow the other party. We shall move very slowly down the Creek.'
The cache was again covered with earth, and left as they had found it, though nothing was added to the word 'Dig,' or to the date on the tree; which curious carelessness on the part of men accustomed to note every camping-ground in this way seems unaccountable.
A few days after their return they started with the month's supply of provisions that had been left.
They had every reason to hope, with the help of the camels, they might easily reach Mount Hopeless in time to preserve their lives and to reap the reward of their successful exertions.
* * * * *
It will be remembered that when Burke formally appointed Brahe as officer in command of the depot until Wright should arrive, he was told to await his leader's return to Cooper's Creek, or not to leave it until obliged by absolute necessity. Day after day, week after week passed, and Wright, with the rest of the stores from Menindie, never came. It was more than four months since Burke's party went north, and every day for the last six weeks Brahe had looked out anxiously for their return.
On one hand he was worried by Patten, who was dying, and who wanted to go back to the Darling for advice; on the other, by M'Donough's continually pouring into his ears the assurance that Burke would not return that way, but had doubtless by this time made for some port on the Queensland coast, and had returned to Melbourne by sea; and that if they stayed at the depot they would all get scurvy, and in the end die of starvation. Though they had sufficient provisions to keep them for another month, they decided to start on the morning of April 21, leaving the box of stores and the note hidden in the earth which the explorers found on their return.
Following their former route towards the Darling, they fell in with Wright's party at Bulloo, where they had been stationary for several weeks, and where three of the men had died of scurvy.
Brahe at once put himself under Wright's orders; but he did not rest until Wright consented to go to Cooper's Creek with him, so that before abandoning the expedition he might feel assured that the explorers had not returned.
Wright and Brahe reached the depot on May 8, a fortnight after the others had left, and Brahe seeing nothing above ground in the camp to lead him to think anyone had been there, did not trouble to disturb the box which he had originally planted—as Wright suggested the blacks would be more likely to find it; therefore, running their horses several times over the spot, they completed by their thoughtless stupidity the most terrible blunder the explorers had begun.
Wright and Brahe then rejoined the camp at Bulloo, when all moved back to Menindie, and reached that place on June 18.
Brahe at once set off for Melbourne, and by this time everyone there seemed to be alive to the necessity of sending out to look for the explorers.
Two steamers were despatched to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and a relief party, in charge of Alfred Howitt, up to the Cooper.
From South Australia an organised expedition of twenty-six men, with McKinlay as leader, was already engaged in the search, as well as several smaller parties from the neighbouring colonies.
* * * * *
Burke, Wills, and King, much revived with the rest of a few days and the food they had found at the depot, left for Mount Hopeless, with the intention of following as nearly as possible the route taken by Gregory many years before.
Shortly after their departure Landa, one of the camels, bogged at the side of a water-hole and sank rapidly, as the ground beneath was a bottomless quicksand; all their efforts to dig him out were useless, and they had to shoot him where he lay, and cut off what flesh they could get at to jerk.
They made a fresh start next day with the last camel, Rajah, only loaded with the most useful and necessary articles; and each of the men now carried his own swag of bed and clothing.
In addition to these misfortunes they had now to contend with the blast of drought that lay over the land; with the fiery sun, that streamed from cloudless skies, beneath which the very earth shrunk from itself in gaping fissures; with the wild night wind, that shrieked and skirled with devastating breath over the wilderness beneath the cold light of the crowding stars.
For a few days they followed the Creek, but found that it split up into sandy channels which became rapidly smaller as they advanced, and sent off large billabongs (or backwaters) to the south, slightly changing the course of the Creek each time, until it disappeared altogether in a north-westerly direction. Burke and Wills went forward alone to reconnoitre, and found that the land as far as they could see stretched away in great earthy plains intersected by lines of trees and empty watercourses.
Next day they retraced their steps to the last camp, and realised that their rations were rapidly diminishing and their boots and clothing falling to pieces.
Rajah was very ill and on the point of dying, when Burke ordered him to be shot, his flesh being afterwards dried in the usual manner.
Some friendly blacks, whom they amused by lighting fires with matches, gave them some fish and a kind of bread called nardoo.
At various times they had tried to learn from the blacks how to procure the nardoo grain, which is the seed of a small clover-like plant, but had failed to make them understand what they wanted.
Then Wills went out alone to look for it; but as he expected to find it growing on a tree, was of course unsuccessful, and the blacks had again moved off to some other branch of the Creek.
The terrible fate of death from starvation awaited them if they could not obtain this knowledge, and for several days they all persevered with the search, until quite by chance King at last caught sight of some seeds which proved to be nardoo lying at the foot of a sandhill, and they soon found the plain beyond was black with it.
With the reassurance that they could now support themselves they made another attempt to reach Mount Hopeless. Burke and King each carried a billy of water, and the last of the provisions was packed up in their swags; but after travelling for three days they found no water, and were forced to turn back to the Creek, at a point where—though they knew it not—scarce fifty miles remained to be accomplished, and just as Mount Hopeless would have appeared above the horizon had they continued their route for even another day.
Wearily they retraced their footsteps to the water and to the prospect of existence. They at once set about collecting nardoo; two of them were employed in gathering it, while one stayed in camp to clean and crush it.
In a few days Burke sent Wills back to the depot to bury the field-books of their journey north in the cache, and another letter to tell of their present condition.
When Wills reached the spot he could see no trace of anyone having been there but natives, and that the hiding-place had not been touched.
Having deposited the field-books and a note, with an account of their sufferings and a pitiful and useless appeal for food and clothing, he started back to rejoin Burke, terribly fatigued and weak from his long walk.
It had taken him eleven days to cover the seventy miles to and fro, and he had had very little to eat.
However, to his surprise, one morning, on his way back he heard a cooee from the opposite bank of the Creek, and saw Pitchery, the chief of the friendly blacks, beckoning to him to come to their camp. Pitchery made him sit down by a fire, upon which a large pile of fish was cooking.
This he thought was to provide a breakfast for the half-dozen natives who sat around; but to his astonishment they made him eat the whole lot, while they sat by extracting the bones.
Afterwards a supply of nardoo was given him; at which he ate until he could eat no more. The blacks then asked him to stay the night with them; but as he was anxious to rejoin Burke and King, he went on.
In his absence Burke, while frying some fish that the natives had given him, had set fire to the mia-mia (a shelter made by the blacks of bushes and trees).
It burnt so quickly that every remnant of their clothing was destroyed, and nothing saved but a gun.
In a few days they all started back towards the depot, in the hope that they could live with the blacks; but they found they had again disappeared.
On again next morning to another of the native camps; but, finding it empty, the wanderers took possession of the best mia-mia, and Wills and King were sent out to collect nardoo.
This was now absolutely their only food, with the exception of two crows which King shot; he alone seemed to be uninjured by the nardoo. Wills had at last suddenly collapsed, and could only lie in the mia-mia, and philosophically contemplate the situation.
He strongly advised Burke and King to leave him, as the only chance for the salvation of any one of them now was to find the blacks.
Very reluctantly at last Burke consented to go; and after placing a large supply of nardoo, wood, and water within easy reach, Burke said again:
'I will not leave you, Wills, under any other circumstance than that of your own wish.'
And Wills, again repeating 'It is our only chance,' gave him a letter and his watch for his father.
King had already buried the rest of the field-books near the mia-mia.
* * * * *
The first day after they left Wills Burke was very weak, and complained sadly of great pain in his back and legs. Next day he was a little better, and walked for about two miles, then lay down and said he could go no farther.
King managed to get him up, but as he went he dropped his swag and threw away everything he had to carry.
When they halted he said he felt much worse, and could not last many hours longer, and he gave his pocket-book to King, saying:—
'I hope you will remain with me till I am quite dead—it is a comfort to know someone is by; but when I am dying, it is my wish that you should place the pistol in my right hand, and that you leave me unburied as I lie.'
Doubtless he thought of King's weak state, and wished to spare him the labour of digging a grave.
The last of the misfortunes that had followed the enterprise from the outset, misfortunes in many cases caused by the impatient zeal of its leader, was drawing to its close.
Tortured by disappointment and despair, racked by starvation and disease, he lay in the desert dying.
Flinging aside the last poor chance of succour, renouncing all hope that he might yet live to reap the reward of his brilliant dash across the continent, he met death
'With the pistol clenched in his failing hand, With the death mist spread o'er his fading eyes He saw the sun go down on the sand, And he slept—and never saw it rise.'
King lingered near the spot for a few hours; but at last, feeling it to be useless, he went on up the Creek to look for the natives.
In one of their deserted mia-mias he found a large store of the nardoo seed, and, carrying it with him, returned to Wills.
On his way back he shot three crows. This addition to their food would, he felt, give them a chance of tiding over their difficulties until the blacks could again be found. But as he drew near the mia-mia where he and poor Burke had left Wills a few days before, and saw his lonely figure in the distance lying much as they had left him, a sudden fear came upon him.
Hitherto the awful quiet of these desolate scenes had little impressed him, and now it came upon him heavily. The shrilling of a solitary locust somewhere in the gums, the brisk crackle of dry bark and twigs as he trod, the melancholy sighing of the wind-stirred leafage, offered him those inexplicable contrasts that give stress to silence.
Anxious to escape thoughts so little comprehended, King hurried on, and essayed a feeble 'cooee' when a few yards from the sleeper. No answering sound or gesture greeted him.
Wills had fallen peacefully asleep for ever.
Footprints on the sand showed that the blacks had already been there, and after King had buried the corpse with sand and rushes as well as he was able, he started to follow their tracks.
Feeling desperately lonely and ill, he went on, and as he went he shot some more crows. The blacks, hearing the report of the gun, came to meet him, and taking him to their camp gave him food.
The next day they talked to him by signs, putting one finger in the ground and covering it with sand, at the same time pointing up the Creek, saying 'White fellow.'
By this they meant that one white man was dead.
King, by putting two fingers in the sand and covering them, made them understand that his second companion was also dead.
Finding he was now quite alone, they seemed very sorry for him, and gave him plenty to eat. However, in a few days they became tired of him, and by signs told him they meant to go up the Creek, pointing in the opposite direction to show that that must be his way. But when he shot some more crows for them they were very pleased. One woman to whom he gave a part of a crow gave him a ball of nardoo, and, showing him a wound on her arm, intimated that she would give him more, but she was unable to pound it. When King saw the wound he boiled some water in his billy and bathed it. While the whole tribe sat round, watching and yabbering excitedly, he touched it with some lunar caustic; she shrieked and ran off, crying 'mokow! mokow!' (fire! fire!) She was, however, very grateful for his kindness, and from that time she and her husband provided him with food.
* * * * *
About two months later the relief party reached the depot, where they found the letters and journals the explorers had placed in the cache. They at once set off down the Creek, in the hope still of finding Burke and Wills. They met a black who directed them to the native camp. Here they found King sitting alone in the mia-mia the natives had made for him, wasted and worn to a shadow, almost imbecile from the terrible hardships he had suffered.
He turned his hopeless face upon the new-comers, staring vacantly at them, muttering indistinctly words which his lips refused to articulate. Only the remnants of his clothing marked him as a civilised being. The blacks who had fed him sat round to watch the meeting with most gratified and delighted expressions.
Howitt waited for a few days to give King an opportunity of recovering his strength, that he might show them where the bodies of his unfortunate leaders lay, that the last sad duty to the dead might be performed before they left the place.
Burke's body had been dragged a short distance from where it originally lay, and was partly eaten by the dingoes (wild dogs). The remains were carefully collected, wrapped in a Union Jack, and placed in a grave dug close to the spot.
* * * * *
A few weeks later the citizens of Melbourne, once again aroused to extravagant enthusiasm, lined the streets through which the only survivor of the only Victorian Exploration Expedition was to pass.
'Here he comes! Here he comes!' rang throughout the crowd as King was driven to the Town Hall to tell his narrative to the company assembled there.
'There is a man!' shouted one—'There is a man who has lived in hell.'
* * * * *
A few months later Howitt was again sent to Cooper's Creek to exhume the bodies of Burke and Wills and bring them to Melbourne. They were honoured by a public funeral, and a monument was erected to their memory—