Tuesday, 21 August 1860.
The Royal Park presented a scene of unwonted bustle yesterday. Long before noon, hundreds of persons flocked thither, and, as the day advanced, the assemblage gradually increased until it numbered several thousands. The usually quiet umbrageous retreat was consequently all animation. The cause of the gathering was the departure of the exploring expedition, an event which, as might naturally be expected, a large portion of the Melbourne public would not allow to occur without taking the opportunity of wishing the party 'God speed' on their way.
Near the wooden houses which have afforded accommodation for the camels for some weeks past were pitched about a dozen small tents, composed of stout canvas, lined with green baize. These are for the accommodation of the officers and associates of the expedition, and can be easily pitched and struck. Near them were larger tents, containing stores and equine appliances. Several four horse and six horse wagons were being packed with material for the expedition. At one part might be observed a couple of “associates” already dressed in their expeditionary undress uniform (scarlet jumper, flannel trousers and cabbage tree Garibaldi), busily engaged in packing; at another a sepoy might be seen occupied in tying together the legs of a sheep. Orders were being rapidly issued and rapidly executed, and there was, indeed, every indication of the approach of a movement of an extraordinary character. But amidst all the hurrying to and fro there was time for a cordial greeting and hearty shake of the hand, which every member of the expedition was compelled to undergo from friends who had assembled to witness his departure.
It was supposed that the expedition would start about 1 o'clock, but with an undertaking of so complex a character, absolute punctuality was not to be expected. The public appeared to understand this, and therefore waited with exemplary patience until all the arrangements were completed for the departure, which was not until nearly four o'clock; and the display of patience was all the more noteworthy from the total absence of all the facilities for refreshment. There was a whisper of the extemporizing of a “sly-grog shop” on the ground. But this was believed to be a myth. Under these circumstances, the public had ample leisure for inquiring into the victualling and other arrangements of the expedition.
This field of enquiry, for those who chose to enter it proved highly interesting. The expedition carries 12 months' stores, which, however will be but slightly trenched upon, so long as the explorers are within what might be called the limits of civilisation, the squatters resident on the line of route having kindly undertaken to entertain the party on their passage. The stores with which the exception of about 15 tons, which will be conveyed by way of Adelaide and the Murray, occupy six wagons, three of which belong to the expedition, and one of these on being unfastened from its bed can be used as a flat bottomed boat, and will therefore be useful for crossing the streams which may be met with during the progress. One important item in the provisions is the “expedition biscuit”. This is made of meat dried thoroughly and pulverised, and mixed with an equal quantity of wheat flour. One biscuit is considered quite sufficient for a man's dinner. A pannier contrivance suited admirably for the camel's back, will afford capital accommodation for invalids should sickness unfortunately visit the party. Each beast of burden, by having provided for it a waterproof covering, lined with flannel, will be protected when stationary from the injurious effects of adverse weather, and by the supply for each camel of two sets of shoes, each made of several folds of leather and shod with iron, the difficulties attending the travelling on stony ground will be overcome. Then again by the aid of a peculiar kind of bridle there will be no obstacle to the camels swimming the rivers which may intersect the regions about to be opened up. Each member of the expedition is in possession of a pocket charcoal filter by means of which he will be able to obtain drinkable water under the most unfavourable circumstances.
Then there are a large number of leather water bags and other means to guard against a scarcity of the pure element. Both as a safeguard and also to procure food, the expedition have a supply of breech loading rifles, revolvers and ammunition. And in order to provide for the contingencies of separation and loss of track, there is an abundance of signals, from the rocket and the blue light to the Union Jack and the gong.
Between 2 and 3 o'clock, in anticipation of some little ceremonial to precede the departure of the expedition, the ground occupied by the tents was cleared and the spectators formed a circle; but as the time fled and nothing transpired the open space was gradually occupied by the crowd. Then a right-angled avenue was formed after great trouble, by the police who certainly discharged their delicate duty of keeping the ground with remarkable urbanity. But scarcely had this arrangement been satisfactorily accomplished, then everybody was startled by a camel which had got loose from its companions and was running among the crowd, pursued by a sepoy. The horses kicked, the females screamed and there was general confusion for a time, but at length order was restored and the camels being duly loaded, Mr Burke, the leader of the expedition, announced that everything was ready for a start.
The mayor of Melbourne (Dr Eades) there-upon mounted a wagon and expressed his gratification at so large a number of the citizens of Victoria assembling to witness the departure of the exploring expedition, to the members of the which he would say, in the name of all present, and in the name of the colony at large, “May God speed you.” His worship then called for three cheers for Mr Burke, which were accorded with right good will, this being followed by “Three cheers for Mr Landells and the officers” and “Three cheers for the party itself”, each invitation being cordially responded to.
Mr Burke, who was mounted on a gallant grey charger, acknowledged the compliment on brief but forcible terms. No expedition, he said, had ever started under such favourable circumstances. The Government and the Exploration Committee had all done everything in their power; and it was now the part of the members of the expedition to show what they could do.
These observations were greeted with loud acclamations and then the long caravan, headed by Mr Landells on his favourite camel, filed off towards the north portion of the park to the tune of “Cheer, boys, cheer”, which a party of volunteer musicians appropriately struck up. After filing past, the expedition turned and left by the south gate, proceeding past the cattle yards and the swamp, and taking the road for Essendon, where it was expected the party would encamp for the night.
The officers and men forming the expedition number 15, exclusive of three sepoys, whose duty it is to attend to the camels. The men are fine healthy looking fellows and seem to enter with all their soul into the adventure. The camels accompanying the expedition number 26, the horses 22. Four or five camels are left at Melbourne.
The Chief Justice, several members of the Legislature and a number of ladies were among those who witnessed the departure of the expedition.
The exact route of the expedition is not known. Much, of course depends upon the state of the roads and of course the leader will exercise his discretion with regard to this matter. Before starting, the leader had presented to him a series of general instructions, or rather suggestions, drawn up chiefly by the Surveyor-General (Mr Ligar), submitted for the opinions of Dr Mueller, Mr Selwyn and Professor Neumayer, and discussed paragraph by paragraph by the committee. The scientific members of the expedition received a special list of instructions, those for the botanist being prepared by Dr Mueller; those for the astronomer and surveyor by Professor Neumayer; those for the geologist by Mr Selwyn; and those for the naturalist by Professor McCoy. Until the expedition is beyond the limits of civilisation, full reports will be received monthly from the leader and his officers. Full instructions have been given for the expedition to leave traces of its progress by the building of cairns, the branding of trees and the depositing of message bottles.
The scientific instruments belonging to the expedition are said to be of the first order.