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Minutes of Evidence: Edward Wecker

Report of the commissioners appointed to enquire into and report upon the circumstances connected with the sufferings and death of Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills.
Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer.
Parliamentary papers, No 97, 1861-2. 1862.

Thursday 28th November 1861

Mr Edward Wecker examined.

521. You have been living at Menindie ?-Yes, I have been.

522. For how long ?-For fifteen or eighteen months.

523. You did not belong to this exploring party ?-No, I was engaged by Captain Cadell as storekeeper there.

524. Do you happen to know what quantity of stores were brought to Menindie ?-I do not think any one in the party knew. A great part of the stores were left at Balranald; part of the stores were left on the road to it, and the stores brought there; there was never any inventory taken by the storekeeper of the party to show what amount of stores there were at Menindie.

525. You know that ?-I know that.

526. Therefore you do not know the quantity of stores ?-No.

527. Do you know the quantity of stores taken on by Mr Burke when he left ?-I did not see what quantity were taken; but I was informed by the doctor as well as by Mr Hodgkinson and other members of the party that stores were taken for twenty or twenty-four weeks.

528. For how many persons ?-For six people.

529. The stores that were brought to the Darling appeared to be a very large quantity ?-A very large quantity indeed.

530. Of all descriptions ?-Of all descriptions.

531. You say the quantity that was taken on by Mr Burke was sufficient for twenty-four weeks for six people? -That was taken on by Mr Burke when he started.

532. Do you happen to know when Mr Wright started what quantity he took ?-I believe from what I heard sufficient for about twenty-four weeks, or six months provisions for his party, and they were full provisions.

533. Is it within your knowledge the quantity that was left after that ?-There is some part of it is known to me.

534. Tell me what you know ?-Half a ton of flour was left, or more than half a ton; there was some sugar left; there were some camels' shoes left; some water bags were left; there were some camel trunks containing saddlery and drapery, and a medicine chest with medicines for the camels and horses, as well as medicines for the party-for the men.

535. Did it at all come under your knowledge the cause of Mr Wright's detention at Menindie for so long a period ?-Yes, Mr Wright when coming up from Torowoto brought a despatch, which was sent to Melbourne.

536. On the 19th December ?-After the next mail; Mr Wright came in, in November.

537. Do you recollect the date in November he came in ?-I believe he came in the 5th or the 7th, or somewhere thereabouts.

538. Then when did the next mail go ?-The next mail went a week after Mr Wright arrived, and I am certain the despatch went the very next mail.

539. How often is the mail despatched ?-Fortnightly. I was postmaster at Menindie, and feel quite certain as to the mails.

540. The date of Mr Wright's despatch, when he sent down the letter of Mr Burke's, is the 19th of December; that is the date of the despatch that he wrote when he forwarded Mr Burke's letter ?-That was the despatch that was sent after Mr Lyons arrived with the first despatch. It was before Mr Burke's despatch was sent down by the mail.

541. Mr Burke's letter was forwarded by Mr Wright at the same time, not by the mail ?-Not forwarded by Mr Wright, by Mr Hodgkinson.

542. Do you know that there was a despatch forwarded by the mail ?-I am pretty certain there was a despatch forwarded by the mail from Mr Wright.

543. How soon after his arrival would that be ?-A few days after his arrival he would post it; it was by the next mail after his arrival at Menindie. Mr Wright told me many times after he did not intend to start out till his appointment was confirmed by the committee in Melbourne. Dr Becker told me at different times that he (Becker) would not acknowledge Mr Wright as second in command until his appointment was confirmed, so Mr Wright did not live up at the camp; he lived at Kinchega, a station of Mr Baker's, until the appointment was confirmed.

544. We are in this difficulty, that it has been stated here already in evidence, and it so appears from the books of the committee, that Mr Burke's despatch, requesting that Mr Wright might be appointed second in command, was not forwarded by Mr Wright from Menindie till the 19th of December, and was then forwarded by Mr Hodgkinson-that is, through him-and not by the mail, and that it did not arrive in Melbourne until the 30th of December ?-I am certain there must have been a previous despatch sent.

545. And you are under that impression from what he said to you ?-Yes, from what he said and from what I can remember.

546. Was it addressed to the Exploration Committee ? -Yes, or the secretary of the Exploration Committee.

547. And did you happen to understand from Mr Wright that that despatch contained. Mr Burke's letter requesting him to be appointed second in command ?-I understood it to contain that despatch from Mr Burke.

548. And did he also state to you after that, or at that time, that he was waiting to get his command confirmed ? -Yes, confirmed; and he was astonished that the command was not confirmed. He expressed it, not only to me but to different parties there, because every party was astonished at Mr Wright's conduct in staying so long at the Darling.

549. That was the general remark ?-That was the general remark-that it was a piece of folly of Mr Wright's to stop and let the season pass and go out in the summer, and Mr Wright on every occasion said he was waiting for his appointment to be confirmed by the committee in Melbourne.

550. Do you recollect when Mr Hodgkinson was sent down ?-Mr Hodgkinson was sent down to get permission to buy some horses and some stock.

551. Do you recollect the time when Mr Hodgkinson started from Menindie ?-Yes.

552. Was it previous to that you heard those remarks about Mr Wright's delay ?-No, it was after Mr Hodgkinson was despatched to Melbourne, after the arrival of Dick, the black-fellow, who arrived saying that Lyons and McPherson were at the creek. Then Mr Wright despatched at once the doctor to fetch them in, and then Mr Wright despatched immediately Mr Hodgkinson the same evening to Melbourne for the necessary supplies to start out.

553. And that was the 19th of December ?-Yes.

554. But you understood before that the despatch had gone ?--Yes, I understood that.

555. And he stated the reason why he let the good season pass was, that he had not received the confirmation of his appointment from the committee ?-Yes.

556. And you understood from Mr Wright that he had forwarded down a despatch, which, you suppose, contained Mr Burke's appointment of him as second in command ?-Yes.

557. Do you recollect having seen any document addressed to the honorary secretary previous to Mr Hodgkinson's going down ?-Yes, more than one. Mr Burke had sent down two or three despatches, and Dr Beckler had sent down some despatch, and there was a despatch of Mr Burke's went through the post.

558. You did not register those letters ?-Some of them were registered, some of them were not.

559. You have a clear recollection as to the one sent by Mr Wright, that you know of ?-Yes, I am pretty certain that the despatch was sent; in fact I can say that I have no doubt, not the slightest doubt, that his despatch was sent on the arrival of Mr Wright.

560. That was a despatch previous to Mr Hodgkinson's being sent down ?-Yes; Mr Wright said he wished to have the appointment confirmed by the committee so that he should have somebody to fall back upon for his pay, because the name of the committee at the time was in great discredit in consequence of small cheques that had been given, being dishonored.

561. Cheques on the committee ?-On the National Bank. Amounts so small as £1 and 30s., which were in circulation on the Darling, were dishonored.

562. Whom were they drawn by ?-By Mr Burke; and Mr Wright was very anxious to get a document in his hand which would give him a hold on the committee to get his pay.

563. Do you happen to know if any of the other gentlemen distinctly objected to allow Mr Wright to have any control until his appointment was confirmed ?-Yes, I happen to know that; it was in my presence it was said so.

564. Whom were those cheques you allude to given to ?-They were given to various people; some were in circulation to the carters who were bringing goods over from Balranald and to people for provisions, such as hay and so on, and to a publican; and Mr Burke gave a cheque to a party below at the Darling, and the cook of the party, when he was dismissed, he got a cheque, and there were small expenses incurred, and those cheques were issued for them.

565. Do you remember whether you were present when they were curing some beef there ?-Yes, I was present on two occasions, in fact the only beef that was cured there.

566. Are you able to recollect the mode they adopted for curing the beef ?-Yes.

567. What was it ?-Jerking it, cutting the bones out of it, and the fat off it, and hanging it up on strings across from trees.

568. Did they simply depend, upon drying it by the atmosphere ?-Simply depending upon drying it by the atmosphere.

569. What was the cause of the failure ?-I believe the meat was cut in too thick slices and I believe the hot winds and heavy dews that fell upon the meat caused the meat to spoil! Jerked meat ought to be covered at night, or during hot winds.

570. Had they lost the whole of that meat ?-The greatest part of their meat they lost.

571. You say Mr Wright was generally blamed for losing so much time ?-Yes.

572. Allowing the summer to come on him ?-Yes, he was generally blamed by all parties for losing so much time in starting out, but that was his excuse always. He was waiting the confirmation of his appointment.

573. Can you speak as to the condition of the camels and the horses when Mr Wright returned on the 5th of November ?-Mr Wright only brought horses back, he did not bring any camels back.

574. The question alludes to the animals that were left on the Darling ?-They were in very good condition. And they would have been in condition to have formed at once and started ?-To have formed at once and started; there was no objection to Mr Burke starting at once from the Darling to take the whole party, -which was also rather astonishing to parties there, that Mr Burke should leave a depot at the Darling.

576. Could provisions be obtained at Menindie at that time apart from what the exploration party had ?-Yes; any amount of provisions, to equip any party.

577. At Menindie ?-Yes; I had a store up there, Captain Cadell's store, and had something like five or six tons of flour in store and four or five tons of sugar, and plenty of tea, every necessary to equip the expedition, in fact all the vegetables Mr Wright took out came mostly from Captain Cadell's store.

578. And they might have fitted themselves out with any amount, to last a long time, for a large number ?-Yes; in fact there was a steamer up at the same time, if I would not have had enough provisions the steamer could have supplied 20 tons of flour or any amount of provisions.

579. Is it not the fact that the refusal to accept those small cheques arose from the want of small change in the neighborhood, and is not it true that the longer cheques were all honored and the name of the committee was considered quite good for the large cheques and that the true reason for the refusal of the small cheques was the want of small change ?-I believe not alone the small ones but the large ones as well, were considered as bad.

580. Were they dishonored ?-To my knowledge they were.

581. Do you mean were they dishonored up there or in Melbourne ?-In Melbourne on being sent down here, cheques to any amount as high as £10 were dishonored on being presented at the National Bank, I know that is a fact; it did not happen to me because I sent my cheques down and I did not send my money direct to Adelaide or Melbourne, I sent the money over through Wentworth, but the storekeeper in Wentworth sent his money down and his cheques were returned.

Dr Macadam stated that he was aware that a sum of money was placed in the Bank to meet cheques presented and it was thought advisable that the drawing of cheques should be reported to the treasurer that he might see that they were correct, that the arrangement of the cheques was changed, and during that transition in two or three cases of the cheques were presented and refused by the bank, but there was not any deficiency of money in the treasurer's hands.

582. To Mr Wecker.-It was owing to the fact of those cheques being dishonored and the credit of the committee being bad that there was a difficulty in buying anything with cheques of the committee ?-It was; I was in fact authorised not to take any more, and I did not take any more, I could not have taken them at a discount.

Mr McDonough.-I know that Tom Paine, the storekeeper and publican at Menindie, honored Mr Wright with any credit he asked him, and some of these bills were not paid until a few months ago, at least until Paine sent his account in, in which he was in no hurry, and he had said he was quite satisfied by being paid by the committee.

583. To Mr Wecker.-Do you think the fact of those cheques being refused interfered in any way with the action of the expedition ?-I think it interfered so much with Mr Wright that he would not go out until he had actually his appointment confirmed, so that he would have a hold upon the committee.

584. Did Mr Wright ever mention that he had so written to the committee, that he required his appointment to be confirmed before he would set out ?-Yes, certainly.

585. Was Mr Wright well acquainted with that country ?-Mr Wright was well acquainted with the country between Torowoto and the Darling.

586. Do you know how he employed himself from the 11th of November to the 19th of December ?-He was staying at Mr Baker's station, where he had been superintendent, but the station was sold.

587. Was he employed in any way ?-No, he was not employed; the station was sold to Mr McGregor, and Mr McGregor had taken charge of the station.

588. Was the station sold before Mr Wright went ?-Yes.

589. Then he was in fact unemployed when he left with Mr Burke ?-Yes.

590. Are you quite certain Mr Wright stated that he had himself written to the committee by that post ?-Yes.

591. Requesting his appointment to be confirmed ?-I am quite certain of that.

592. And intimating that he would not start until his appointment had been confirmed ?-I am quite certain of it.

593. Not only that, but you recollect seeing the letter ?-Yes, I recollect seeing the letter.

594. Was it a letter or a package ?-A letter.

595. A single letter ?-Yes, a single letter.

596. Do you recollect forwarding a number of reports of Drs. Beckler and Becker ?-Yes, perfectly well.

597. That was a separate thing, was it not ?-Yes, quite separate, and had nothing to do with it.

598. Then if it was reported that Mr Wright was engaged on the station with cattle and various things occupying his time during this delay, that would not be correct?-No, that would not be true; there was a dispute about the station; the station was sold, but a dispute arose about the paying for it, and the party whom the station was sold to took forcible possession, so that Mr Wright was ejected from the station, and was only living there by the indulgence of the party who took possession of it.

599. Can you, then, account in any way for Mr Wright's delay in starting, except the want of the confirmation of his appointment ?-It was his want of confirmation of his appointment.

600. And nothing else that you know of ?-No; in fact, there could not be anything else.

601. Then when the confirmation of his appointment was received about the 10th or 11th of January, are you aware that he then did not start till the 29th ?-Yes, because he had to await the return of Dr Beckler with Lyons and McPherson.

602. And he also had to purchase horses ?-Yes, he had also to purchase horses.

603. The time was expended in waiting for those people, and purchasing horses ?-Yes.

604. Had not some of the horses been lost or died on the expedition with Dr Beckler ?-Yes, there were two horses died, or three horses died, with Lyons and McPherson.

605. Which rendered it necessary for Mr Wright to buy more ?-Yes.

606. What distance had he to go to purchase horses ?-No distance at all; he purchased most of his horses at Menindie, from Mr Paine.

607. Which would not have taken more than a day or two ?-Not half a day.

608. Was it the general opinion that that delay was unnecessary, after having been so long delayed already, and every person being quite aware that every such delay made the season less favorable, do you think that there should have been that additional delay after the authority was received, and after the money was received ?-There was no delay after the authority was received.

609. You think the delay from the 11th to the 29th of January was imperatively necessary ?-Yes; there was no more delay.

610. What day of the week do you despatch the mails, were they the same last year as they are this year ?-Yes, just the same.

611. What day of the week; is it on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday ?-The mails arrive on Fridays and are despatched on Tuesdays-every fortnight.

Dr Macadam stated that he had found the letter referred to by Mr Wecker as having been sent by Mr Wright before Mr Hodgkinson started for Melbourne, but it was Mr Burke's despatch from Torowoto, asking that the appointment of Mr Wright might be confirmed.

Mr Wecker -I did not say that Mr Wright wrote the letter, but only that he sent it-I know that Mr Wright could not write.

The witness withdrew.

Tuesday 10th December 1861

Mr Edward Wecker further examined.

1422. You brought to the notice of the committee a despatch that was sent down somewhere about the 3rd of December from Mr Burke ?-Yes.

1423. Have you any recollection, or can you at all call to memory, whether at that time there was a separate letter sent by Mr Wright ?-I will not be certain that there was a separate letter, but I understood so from Mr Wright, that he had sent a despatch besides.

1424. There is no means of ascertaining that from the documents in the post office ?-No; the letters were not registered so that it could not be ascertained.

1425. But it is your impression that there was a second ?-Yes, it is my impression.

1426. Is there any mode of tracing it ?-No; the letters are put in a small bag and are sent to Wentworth post office, and there the mail is made up again for Swan Hill.

1427. It is opened three times in the course of transmission to town ?-Four times; it is opened again at Bendigo, I believe.

The witness withdrew.

Tuesday 10th December 1861 (Second appearance)

Mr Edward Wecker further examined.

1557. As the party arrived at Menindie on the 5th of November-Mr Wright with his small party-backward with the despatches, and as those despatches arrived in Melbourne by the post on Monday, the 3rd of December, on what day did your post close at Menindie ?- I could tell you if I looked in the almanac. I do not know exactly what day it was.

1558. The despatch arrived in Melbourne on Monday, the 3rd of December; when did the post close at Menindie ?-I believe the post closed a week after Mr Wright's arrival, but I could not say exactly when. There was a fortnightly mail.

1559. We have room for two fortnightly mails; the party came in on the 5th, and then there is another fortnight ?-It is either the Tuesday after Mr Wright arrived or the week after that. If Mr Wright arrived on Monday, it might be the next day, or it might be the week after. To reach Melbourne it would take a fortnight.

1560. Then any letter received on the 3rd of December in Melbourne must have left Menindie one fortnight before that time ?-Yes.

1561. We have despatches up to the 13th of November forwarded with that despatch. Supposing the mail came in on Monday, the 3rd, when would the return mail leave Melbourne ?-The mail leaves Menindie on Tuesdays, and would arrive in Melbourne on the next Friday week.

1562. Supposing the mail reaches here with that despatch on Monday, the 3rd of December, when could a reply go back from here to Menindie ?-Directly.

1563. Is it not the fact that the Melbourne mail always leaves here on Thursday ?-Yes.

1564. And that it only proceeds once a fortnight ?-Certainly; but then there would be plenty of time to answer letters before the mail starts from here to Menindie.

The witness withdrew.
Adjourned to Thursday next, at Twelve o'clock

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