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Menindee, 20 June 1861.

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2082/1f (1-4).
Dispatches sent by members of the Victorian Exploring Expedition to the Exploration Committee.
Wright's dispatches, December 1860-June 1861.
Manuscript, handwritten in ink on blue foolscap paper, 33 pages.

 

Received by an extraordinary meeting of the Exploration Committee held on Sunday, 30 June 1861 at the Supreme Court [new Court House] in the afternoon.

Present: Stawell (chair), McCoy, Ligar, Eades, Bleasdale, Embling, Watson, Wilkie, Mueller, Gilbee, MacKenna, Neumayer and Macadam. Mr Howitt and Mr Brahe were also present.

Business: To receive a despatch from Mr Wright, a despatch from Mr Burke and Wills surveyor's report, brought down by Mr Howitt and Mr Brahe early yesterday morning. There were a large number of members of the Royal Society present. Dr Macadam read the telegram from Mr Howitt received on Saturday evening from Sandhurst. Mr Brahe was examined at length by the Committee - Stawell, Ligar, Embling, Gilbee, Macadam, McCoy, Iffla and Wilkie.

Howitt then made suggestions to the Committee including taking more men, including Brahe and camels. Stawell thought that Governor Bowen should be approached to mount an expedition from Queensland. Wills' report was tabled but not read, but it was handed to the press for publication.

A sub-committee, consisting of Mueller, Wilkie, Neumayer, Macadam and Howitt, was appointed to report on the most efficient, safe and expedient arrangements for rendering succour to Mr Burke and his party. Meeting adjourned until 2.00 pm tomorrow.

Depôt Camp,
Ptomarmora Creek,
June 20th, 1861.

The Secretary,
Victorian Exploring Exp.n.
Melbourne.

Sir,

I have the honor to announce my arrival to Menindie on Monday the 17th inst., and the establishment of my camp in its former position, at the junction of Ptomarmora Creek with the Darling.

The party under my charge consists of Dr Becker, Mr Brahe, Mr Hodgkinson, M'Donogh, Smith, Belooch, Botan, and a man named Williams, whom I have engaged since my arrival here.

The animals comprise 13 camels and 23 horses. Three of the camels and 12 of the horses originally formed a portion of Mr Burke's equipment.

In furnishing the following brief summary of the events occurring during the progress of the party under my charge,

 
     

 

     

I have to regret the great losses I experienced and sufferings I endured from every conceivable opposition to travel in an unexplored country.

The route followed by Mr Burke at the period of his transit abounded in water, the rapidity with which he progressed afforded no opportunity to the natives of forming hostile combinations, and the men under his charge preserved their health.

But when I moved onwards from the Darling the advance of summer had dried up nearly all the watercourses, and the ravages of scurvy reduced the effective strength of my party to an alarming extent.

Unable to proceed from these causes I had no

 
     

 

     

sooner established a camp and stockade at Bulla than the natives became hostile, repeatedly attacking us, and rendering our several duties hazardous in the extreme.

Mr Becker, Charles Stone, William Purcell, and Patton, died at various intervals during the journey.

Three of the horses perished from exhaustion, two of the camels from scab, and another camel was lost at Koorliatto Creek.

The details of the expedition will be found in my diary, which will be transmitted to you as shortly as possible.

As I previously announced to you, I left Ptomarmora Creek on the 26th January, 1861, with Dr Becker, Mr Hodgkinson, Charles Stone, William Purcell, John Smith, and Belooch, ten camels and thirteen

 
     

 

     

horses, and arrived at Tarrugutta, or Duruoto Swamp, February 12, camping on the way at Cogilga, Pilpa, Badurga, Motwinge, Nanta-Bulla, Nendarunge, Tuliawinge, Wannawinte, and Purlprumatte, spots mentioned in Mr Burke's official chart.

Even as far as Tarrugutta I experienced great difficulty, from want of water and other causes.

For two days I spelled at Tarrugutta, and then moved some eighteen miles onward, to the verge of an arid plain extending northward as far as the eye could reach, and bounded to the east and west by sand ridges of a stony nature and insignificant elevation.

Pitching the camp upon the southern verge of this apparently waterless plain, I started the day following, with Smith, in search of water, and ultimately found a small puddle, about twenty miles to the north, to which I conducted the party.

 
     

 

     

Unfortunately, however, the horses got access to the hole upon the evening of their arrival, and, by drinking and trampling, rendered the spot a mass of mud.

Sending the camels back to Tarrugutta for a supply of water, upon their return I made further advances northward in search of water; and, after being out with Smith and Belooch for sixteen days, with but seven days' rations, I made Bulla (or Wright's) Creek.

During this trip I passed a large swamp (Karriapundi) of bitter water, lying 60 miles north of Rat Point, and 100 miles north of Tarrugutta. From drinking this water, the men with me and myself became seriously indisposed.

The camels, which had been five days without water, drank without experiencing any ill

 
     

 

     

effects.

Between Karriapundi and Bulla I passed two fine creeks, named Purria and Koorliatto.

During my advance Mr Becker and Purcell I remained at Rat Point in charge of the stores, while Dr Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, and Stone returned to Duruoto with the camels not accompanying me and the horses.

The water used at Rat Point was conveyed from Tarrugutta, 40 miles distant, I may here mention that the whole country between Tarragutta and Cooper's Creek is infested by a marsupial rat, which committed great ravages upon our stores, in spite of every possible precaution.

On the 29th March I moved the depot from Rat Point towards Bulla, reaching Purria Creek, 118 miles from Tarragutta, without having met a drop of water fit for use,

 
     

 

     

save the small quantity originally discovered near Rat Point. At Purria Creek three of the horses died from exhaustion, and sickness showed itself to a fearful extent among the men. Mr Becker, Stone, Smith, Belooch, and Purcell being perfectly unfit for duty.

On the 30th of March I made Koorliatto, and found that watercourse running, though it had been dry when I crossed it on my return from Bulla.

At Koorliatto I was compelled to remain for a few days from wet, but on the 4th of April I started for Bulla, leaving Dr Beckler at Koorliatto, with Mr Becker and Purcell, who were both unfit to travel.

On the 18th of April, after mature consideration, I sent Mr Hodgkinson, accompanied

 
     

 

     

by Belooch, with six of the camels, back to Menindie, for the purpose of escorting Mr Becker and Purcell thither, and returning with as many stores as the camels could bear. Ï also commissioned Mr Hodgkinson to engage two men upon the Darling, to assist in his return, and replace those leaving the party.

At this time the natives, though very numerous, were peaceably disposed, and did not molest either the camp at Koorliatto or that at Bulla.

I instructed Dr Beckler to join the main camp, but upon the following day the latter gentleman, after committing his patients to Mr Hodgkinson's charge, returned with a note from Dr Beckler, stating that he attempt to recovery Mr Becker and Purcell to Menindie would be fatal to them.

Under these circumstances, I had no option but to

 
     

 

     

countermand Mr Hodgkinson's instructions; and as the natives had made a hostile demonstration the very day following his departure, I thought it advisable to erect a stockade, and not weaken the party by sending any to Menindie.

Dr Beckler, Mr Becker, and Purcell, then came to Bulla, and upon the 22nd of April we were attacked again by the natives. As Stone was evidently dying I did not fire upon them, and suffered them to pilfer several articles lying outside the stockade. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, shortly after they retired, Stone died.

The following day Purcell died, and the natives again appeared, making the most insulting demonstrations

 
     

 

     

and invitations to fight them.

On the morning of the 24th of April, after burying Purcell, I started with Smith to look for our horses which had strayed, but I had not proceeded a couple of miles ere signal-fires sprang up in every direction, and I thought it best to return to camp, as the natives were evidently prepared to take advantage of my absence.

On the 27th, the natives once more advanced from a camp which they had established near ours, not, as on former occasions, seeking the protection of cover, but marching boldly across the plain in front of our camp, and quickening their pace as they neared us into a run.

They were, as well as we could count them, some 50 in number, well-armed

 
     

 

     

powerful men; and as they would not stop, though repeatedly required to do so, I gave orders to fire, and succeeded in repulsing them without further trouble.

Mr Becker, during the affray, lay in a tent pitched close to the stockade, but was perfectly unconscious.

With two of the party of eight dead, and a third dying, further advance or a longer stay at Bulla, amid unfriendly natives, was alike impracticable ; and had our cattle been molested by the natives, our fate would have been sealed. Dr Beckler and Mr Hodgkinson, with myself, were the only healthy members of the party, and I decided upon an immediate retreat to Tarrugutta, at which place I hoped to recruit the sick and obtain fresh stores from the Darling.

On the 28th April, therefore, I packed up, proposing to start next morning; but

 
     

 

     

during the night a bell was heard, and at daylight a mob of horses recognised as proving part of Mr Burke's equipment, were seen feeding near the stockade. Shortly afterwards, Mr Brahe came up, and we were gratified to find that he was in charge of a party, consisting of Patton, M'Donogh, and Botan, with 12 horses and six camels (very much infected with scab), on their, return to the Darling, from the depot established by Mr Burke at Cooper's Creek.

Mr Brahe at once placed himself and party under my orders.

On the evening of this day Mr Becker died.

M'Donogh, Patton, and Botan were suffering from scurvy on their arrival at Bulla, and, with the exception of Botan, became quite unfit for the slightest exertion or movement.

Being strengthened by this accession to the party

 
     

 

     

in the eyes of the natives, they made no further attempt to molest us, and I remained at Bulla until the 1st of May, when I commenced my return to Tarrugutta.

Upon reaching the next camp, Koorliatto, I resolved to give the sick a further spell, while I advanced with Mr Brahe to the depot at Cooper's Creek, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Mr Burke had returned, or the provisions left there by Brahe had been discovered by the natives.

I found no sign of Mr Burke's return, or of the cache of stores being disturbed; and returned to Koorliatto on the 12th May, finding the men at the depot there all safe, but very little improved in health.

As will be seen by the diary, the journey from Koorliatto to Menindie

 
     

 

     

was tedious in the extreme, from the difficulty of moving men so extremely weak as were our sick.

Patton died five miles south of that point, on the 30th of May; and the whole party were saved by a providential fall of rain about this period, as no other water than surface water was found from Purria Creek to Wannawinta - a distance of upwards of 150 miles; Karriapunda, Duruoto, and Purlprumatte Creeks being dry.

As the Committee may well conjecture, the whole of the party have suffered considerably from incessant watching and fatigue; but I am happy to inform them that the sick are rapidly recovering, and will, I trust, be convalescent in a very short time.

 
     

 

     

The camels originally under my charge, ten in number, were up to the date of Mr Brahe's arrival at Bulla, in splendid condition, but after that period became infected with scab from contact with the camels brought from Cooper's Creek.

Of the six camels brought in by Mr Brahe one was lost at Koorliatto, two died at Purria Creek from scab, and a fourth is so much reduced that I fear it will be difficult to restore him.

I hope, after a few weeks' careful treatment, to report the remainder fit for service.

Mr Brahe will bear these despatches to Melbourne, and afford the Committee every information relative to Mr Burke's journey from Tarrugutta to Cooper's Creek, and

 
     

 

     

his ultimate departure from the latter place.

Mr Burke left Cooper's Creek on the 16th of December, 1860, with Mr Wills, King and Gray, six camels, and one horse.

He took with him but twelve weeks' rations; and I think it my duty to urge the Committee to despatch a party for his relief without delay, unless they have received information of his arrival in the northern squatting districts.

I would suggest the dispatch of a party overland, and a vessel to the Gulf shores, as it is not improbable that Mr Burke, or a portion of his party, may be detained on the coast.

My presence is urgently required in Adelaide,

 
     

 

     

and I shall leave Menindie for that city in a few days.

Should the Committee desire to communicate with me they can do so more speedily there than upon the Darling, and I will forward my address per telegram as soon as I reach Adelaide.

In conclusion, I beg to remind the Committee that any benefit to be derived from an attempt to relieve Mr Burke will be rendered hopeless unless the party or parties are dispatched within eight weeks at the furthest.

A vessel might start much sooner, but the camels will not be fit to travel in a

 
     

 

     

much shorter time.

I have the honor to be,
Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
W Wright,
Officer in Charge.

 
     

 

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