& the Australian Exploring Expedition of 1860
London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Journey to Cooper's Creek. Choice of a Site for Depot.
- Mr Burke's first Journey and Return.
- Mr Wills proceeds Northward.
- Loss of three Camels.
- Mr Burke's Final Arrangements.
- Instructions to Brahe, and Despatch to the Committee at Melbourne.
Guided part of the way by three blacks, who had been procured at Torowoto, the explorers found no difficulty in reaching Cooper's Creek-a sort of inland lake or watercourse, about four hundred miles from Menindie. From the date of their leaving Melbourne, they had been in the habit of numbering each stage, or encampment; and these numbers, by the time they arrived at the Darling, had reached as far as thirty. Torowoto was numbered thirty-five, and the spot at which they first struck Cooper's Creek, on the 11th November, was marked as Camp fifty-seven.
They spelled (or rested) here one day, and then resumed their journey along the Creek, occasionally resting two days at a time, during which intervals Mr Wills went out to feel the way before starting again. They formed their first Depot at Camp sixty-three, remaining there a fortnight. From this place Mr Burke made a short trip northward with Brahe; but not finding any water away from the Creek, they were obliged to return the second day. Mr Wills and McDonough then went out, taking three camels with them, and travelled northerly for nearly ninety miles without finding water. On the third day they began to return; but on encamping that night, the camels unfortunately strayed away, and were lost. Mr Wills speaks of the occurrence in the following extract from a letter to his sister:
Cooper's Creek, December 11, 1860.
My Dear Bessy,
The following is McDonough's account of the loss of the camels:
When we came to the camp that evening the moon was rising, and Mr Wills wanted to take an observation. I went to let out the camels. They were very much done up, and not inclined to feed. We were almost without water at the time. We had some in bags, but they were leaking, and when Mr Wills was taking the observations, I let out the camels, and returned to cook our supper. Then Mr Wills and I sat down to supper. I noticed the camels going into the scrub. I went and brought them back to within about thirty yards of our camp. They were not hobbled. Mr Landells had left the hobbles, and said they were no use to them. (*Footnote; This seems incorrect, for hobbles appear to have been subsequently used by the party). In about ten minutes I went to look after the camels. It was then dark. I could not find them, so called Mr Wills, and we went in search of them. We searched until twelve o'clock at night, and could get no trace of them. We returned to camp. Mr Wills laid down and had a short sleep, desiring me to call him at two o'clock in the morning, and to make a few johnny cakes. He said, "If we do not find the camels, and do not get back, we are lost." In the morning we went to a rim about fifteen miles off, which we reached a short time before day, thinking that we might see the camels coming down the valley. Mr Wills looked through the opera-glass, but could see nothing of them. We walked back to our camp. We had a little bread and water. We did not like to light a fire for fear of the blacks, so we made up our swag (*Footnote; Our burdens). I had a large Colt's revolver, and thirty-five pints of water in a goatskin bag. Mr Wills had three or four johnny cakes, a Trench's revolver, and a pocket compass. We proceeded towards Cooper's Creek, and in about seven or eight miles found a small pool of stagnant water, from which we drank a great deal, and filled the goat-skin bag. We then proceeded, walking eight hours and resting four, until we reached the creek. The last night we camped we had no water, as the bag leaked, and Mr Wills and myself were very much done up, in consequence of carrying it.
After this Mr Wills was obliged to go back with King, to recover the saddles and other things that were left when the camels strayed away. Meanwhile, the Depot was removed two stages farther on, to Camp 65, in order to avoid the ravages of numbers of large rats which infested the first Depot, making sad havoc among the stores.
Early in December Mr Burke made arrangements to solve the problem of crossing the continent from sea to sea, by proceeding to the Gulf of Carpentaria on the northern coast. To increase their stock of provisions a horse was killed, and the meat 'jerked'; that is to say, deprived of bone and fat, and dried in the sun. Subsequently to this, another of the horses broke his leg, and was shot, the flesh being added to the quantity previously dried. Mr Burke then formed the following advance exploring party:
R O'H Burke, leader;
W J Wills,
Patten, McDonough, Dost Mohammed, six camels, twelve horses, and the remainder of the provisions, were left behind in charge of Brahe, with instructions to remain at Cooper's Creek until the return of Mr Burke's party, or until the provisions should run short, and not to leave unless from absolute necessity.
The following is the despatch written to the Committee at this time, and left with Brahe to be forwarded by the first opportunity:
Cooper's Creek, December 13, 10 o'clock.
I have, &c.