Cooper's Creek, 6 December 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.
My dear Bessy
You must excuse my writing with a pencil; ink dries so rapidly that it is a nuisance to use it. We have been here now about three weeks, and shall, I expect, make a start northwards in about a fortnight. Our journey to this point has been interesting, but not in any particular that you will care much about. Our party here consists of eight men, sixteen camels, and fourteen horses. We expect the rest of the men and camels up in a few weeks.
Everything has been very comfortable so far; in fact, more like a picnic party than a serious exploration, but I suppose we shall have some little difficulties to contend with soon. I had an intimation of something of the kind a few days ago, having been out reconnoitering the country to the north for three days, with one man and three camels, and had found no water, so that the animals were very thirsty, and on the third night managed to get away from us, leaving us about eighty miles from the main camp, without hay or water, except what remained of that which we had brought with us; so here was nothing for it, but to walk home as soon as we could, carrying as much water as possible, to be drunk on the way. After searching about in order to be sure that the camels had gone home, we started at about half-past seven, and were lucky enough to find a creek with some water in it about ten miles on, where we remained until evening; for it is dry work travelling in the middle of the day, with the thermometer varying from 90° to 105° in the shade, and about 140° in the sun. Well, we started again in the evening and walked until between nine and ten and again at three a.m. had pushed on until midday. We then went on from five p.m., as before, until nine p.m.; and then from two a.m, and reached the camp at nine a.m, having walked more than eighty miles in rather less than fifty hours, including sleeping, feeding, and all stoppages. We found no water all the way, except what I have mentioned above, so that, as you may imagine, we ran rather short towards the end of our journey having not quite half a pint left between us. When we stopped to rest the second night, it had been blowing a hot wind all day, with the thermometer at 107° in the shade. This made us require more water than usual. I can assure you there is nothing like a walk of this sort to make one appreciate the value of a drink of cold water. We feel no inclination for anything else, and smack our lips over a drop such as you would not think of tasting, with as much relish as ever any one did over the best sherry or champagne.
I have enjoyed myself so far. It is now nearly four months since we left Melbourne, and you will see by the map that we are about half-way across the continent. I hope by the time that this reaches you we shall not only have been entirely across, but back here again, and possibly on our way to Melbourne. There is no probability of the expedition lasting two or three years. I expect to be in town again within twelve months from the time of starting.
I enclose a few chrysanthemums from the Australian desert. I know you will highly prize them. To give you an idea of Cooper's Creek, fancy extensive flat, sandy plains, covered with herbs dried like hay, and imagine a creek or river, somewhat similar in appearance and size to the Dart above the Weir, winding its way through these flats, having its banks densely clothed with gum trees and other evergreens.- so far there appears to be a considerable resemblance, but now for the difference. The water of Cooper's Creek is the colour of flood-water in the Dart; the latter is a continuous running stream; Cooper's Creek is only a number of waterholes. In some places it entirely disappears, the water in flood-time spreading all over the flats and forming no regular channel. The flies are very numerous, so that one can do nothing without having a veil on; and whilst eating the only plan is to wear goggles.
William J Wills