Bilbarka, September 1860.
A Successful Exploration of Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
From the Journals and Letters of William John Wills, Edited by his father, William Wills.
London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street.
Published in ordinary to Her Majesty, 1863.
It will be necessary for me to remind you that when you left Kornpany, Mr Landells was there with the camels, for the purpose of bringing on some of the heavy goods to lighten the waggons. This he did, and reached the camp at Bilbarka on Tuesday, the 2nd inst., with about three tons, whilst Mr Burke went round by the lower road with the waggons and horses; he was obliged to take the latter with him, greatly to their disadvantage, because Mr Landells would not assume the responsibility of bringing them with the camels. In bringing the things from Kornpany, one of Coppin's camels fell, having at the time on his back a load of upwards of 4 cwt. The result of this fall was, according to Mr Landells' report, a dislocation of the shoulder, for which he said nothing could be done, so that the camel has been left behind a perfect cripple. I have dashed the above words because I myself do not believe it to be a dislocation, but only a strain; but that's merely my idea; Mr L. ought to know best. Certain it is that the poor brute hobbled nearly twenty miles after us on Thursday last, and I think that is rather a good pull for one with a dislocation of the shoulder joint.
On Thursday, the 4th inst., our own two waggons came up to McPherson's, and in the evening Mr Landells and I went down to the station to post some letters. On the way, Mr L made many remarks about Mr Burke and his arrangements that were quite uncalled for. He told me, amongst other things, that Mr B. had no right to interfere about the camels; that he had agreements with the committee of which he believed Mr B. was ignorant; that everything was mismanaged; and, in fact, that if Mr Burke had his way everything would go to the devil.On Friday the other waggons came up, and it was intended that some of the camels should fetch up what things we required, and that the remainder should be stored at McPherson's; but the camels were not to be found until late at night. On Saturday morning Mr Landells and the Doctor went down with seventeen camels to the station, a distance of five miles, and, greatly to Mr Burke's disgust, did not return until after dark. In the meantime the nine remaining camels had travelled off, and could not be found anywhere.On Sunday morning, McPherson sent a note to Mr Burke, requesting him to come down, as all the shearers were drunk on some of the camels' rum, which they had obtained from the waggons. Mr Burke hereupon expressed his determination, which he had previously mentioned to me that he would leave the rum behind. Mr Landells objected to this, and insisted on the necessity of taking it on, and told Mr Burke, who was firm in his resolve, that he would not be responsible for the camels. Mr B. said he should do as he pleased and left the camp; and as soon as he was gone, Mr L. called me to take delivery of the Government things in charge, as he intended to leave for Melbourne at once. He said that Mr B. was mad, and he was frightened to stay in the tent with him. He then went off, telling me that he should deliver over the camels as soon as he could find them. It appears that he went down to the station, and on meeting the waggon-drivers on the road, told them that he was about to leave, so that every one in the camp knew it in a very short time. I should mention that everything was being got ready for a start; and on my mentioning to Mr Burke what had passed, he said that he should take no notice of it until it was brought officially before him. When Mr Landells returned, he asked Mr Burke in my presence to dismiss him, which Mr B. refused to do, but said that he would forward his resignation if he wished it, with a recommendation that he should receive his pay up to that time. This did not exactly satisfy Mr L., who wished to appear before the public as the injured individual. He, nevertheless, expressed to me several times his fixed determination to stay no longer. He took an opportunity in the evening, in his tent, to give expression to opinions of his, which would not tend, if listened to, to raise a leader in the estimation of his officers. He said that Mr B. was a rash, mad man; that he did not know what he was doing; that he would make a mess of the whole thing, and ruin all of us; that he was frightened at him; that he did not consider himself safe in the tent with him and many other things. Some of this was said in the presence of the Doctor and Mr Becker, but the most severe remarks were to me alone after they were gone.
On Monday, Mr Landells asked Hodgkinson to write out for him his resignation, and then in a private conversation, told Hodgkinson several things, which the latter thought it best to make a note of at once. Hodgkinson's statement is this -that Mr Landells having asked him whether he could keep a secret, told him, after extracting a sort of promise about holding his tongue, that Mr Burke wanted an excuse for discharging him, and that he had sent him with the camels with an order to him (Mr Landells) to find fault with him for that purpose. On hearing this, Hodgkinson wanted to go to Mr Burke and speak to him about it at once; but Landells prevented this by reminding him of his promise. This all came out owing to some remarks that Hodgkinson had made to me, and which I considered myself in duty bound to tell Mr Burke.
On Monday evening Mr Landells was speaking to me about the best and quickest way of getting to town, when I suggested to him that he might be placing himself in a disagreeable position by leaving in such a hurry without giving any notice. He replied that he did not care, but that he meant to propose certain terms to Mr Burke, which he read to me from his pocket-book, and on these terms only he would go -That Mr Burke should give him a written agreement that he, Mr L should have full and unqualified charge of the camels, and that from that time Mr B should not interfere with them in any way; that they should travel no further nor faster than Mr L chose, and that he should be allowed to carry provisions for them to the amount of four camels' burthen.' Just after this, Mr B came up and called Mr L aside, and, as the former told me, read to him a letter that he had written to accompany the resignation. The contents of this letter had a considerable effect on Mr L., who said that it was a pity they should have had any quarrel, and so acted on Mr B.'s feelings, that he allowed him to withdraw his resignation. I believe that the information which had arrived about a steamer being on its way up the river had had a great influence in making Mr Landells desirous to withdraw his resignation; but the chief reason was, no doubt, that he feared, from the concluding sentence of Mr Burke's letter, that the committee would refuse him his pay.
After this, everything appeared to be healed for a day or two; but on Wednesday, from various matters that had occurred, I considered it my duty to mention to Mr Burke about Hodgkinson an some things that Mr Landells had said to me whereupon it came out that Mr L had been playing a fine game, trying to set us all together by the ears. To Mr Burke he has been abusing and finding fault with all of us; so much so, that Mr B tells me that Landells positively hates me. We have, apparently, been the best of friends. To me he has been abusing Mr Burke, and has always spoken as if he hated the Doctor and Mr Becker; whereas with them 'he has been all milk and honey. There is scarcely a man in the party whom he has not urged Mr Burke to dismiss.
William J Wills