& the Australian Exploring Expedition of 1860
London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Relief Parties despatched.
- King Wanderings among the Blacks.
- Mr Howitt's Proceedings.
- He discovers King.
- Rescues him.
- Interment of the Remains of Messrs. Burke and Wills.
- Distribution of Presents to the Natives.
The Committee, having fully considered the circumstances adverted to in the preceding chapter, determined to lose no time in taking measures for the relief of Mr Burke; they accordingly organized a party (*Footnote; In addition to this party another was sent round in a steamer to the Northern Cast, and several search parties were despatched by the neighbouring Colonies), under the leadership of Mr Howitt, a gentleman of much experience in the colony, from whose efforts it was hoped that beneficial results might accrue, and tidings be obtained of the gallant men in whose fate the entire colony had now become deeply interested.
Before detailing Mr Howitt's proceedings, however, it will be necessary to return to King, who, having done all in his power towards attending to the last wishes of his chief, whose eyes he had closed in death, had returned to Mr Wills' gunyah; and, finding him also dead, had buried him as well as he could. He then remained on the spot some days, to recover his own strength. His narrative proceeds:
Finding that my stock of nardoo was running short, and being unable to gather it, I tracked the natives who had been to the camp by their footprints in the sand, and went some distance down the creek, hooting crows and hawks on the road. The natives, hearing the report of the gun, came to meet me, and took me with them to their camp, giving me nardoo and fish. They took the birds I had hot and cooked them for me, and afterwards showed me a gunyah, where I was to sleep with three of the single men. The following morning they commenced talking to me, and putting one finger on the ground, and covering it with sand, at the same time pointing up the creek, saying, "White fellow," which I understood to mean that one white man was dead. From this I knew that they were the tribe who had taken Mr Wills' clothes. They then asked me where the third white man was, and I also made the sign of putting two fingers on the ground and covering them with sand, at the same time pointing up the creek. They appeared to feel great compassion for me when they understood that I was alone on the creek, and gave me plenty to eat. After being four days with them, I saw that they were becoming tired of me; and they made signs that they were going up the creek, and that I had better go downwards; but I pretended not to understand them. The same day they shifted camp, and I followed them; and, on reaching their camp, I shot some crows, which pleased them so much that they made me a breakwind in the centre of their camp, and came and eat round me until such time as the crows were cooked, when they assisted me to eat them. The same day, one of the women, to whom I had given part of a crow, came and gave me a ball of nardoo, saying that she would give me more only she had such a sore arm that she was unable to pound. She showed me a sore on her arm, and the thought struck me that I would boil some water in the billy and wash her arm with a sponge. During the operation the whole tribe sat round, and were muttering one to another. Her husband sit down by her side, and she was crying all the time. After I had washed it, I touched it with some nitrate of silver, when she began to yell, and ran off, crying out, "Mokow ! mokow !" (Fire ! fire !) From this time, she and her husband used to give me a small quantity of nardoo both night and morning, and whenever the tribe were about going on a fishing excursion, he used to give me notice to go with them. They also used to assist me in making a gourley, or breakwind, whenever they shifted camp. I generally shot a crow or a hawk, and gave it to them in return for these little services. Every four or fire days the tribe would surround me, and ask whether I intended going up or down the creek; at last I made them understand that if they went up I should go up the creek, and if they went down I should also go down; and from this time they seemed to look upon me as one of themselves, and supplied me with fish and nardoo regularly.
They were very anxious, however, to know where Mr Burke lay; and one day when we were fishing in the water-holes close by I took them to the spot. On seeing his remains the whole party wept bitterly, and covered them with bushes. After this they were much kinder to me than before; and I always told them that the white men would be here before two moons; and in the evenings, when they came with nardoo and fish, they used to talk about the " white fellows " coming, at the same time pointing to the moon. I also told them they would receive many presents, and they constantly asked me for tomahawks, called by them "bomayko." From this time to when the relief party arrived-a period of about a month-they treated me with uniform kindness, and looked upon me as one of themselves. The day on which I was released, one of the tribe who had been fishing came and told me that the white fellows were coming, and the whole of the tribe who were then in camp sallied out in every direction to meet the party, while the man who had brought me the news took me across the creek, where I shortly saw the party coming down.
Mr Howitt, then, as has been said, being despatched with a relieving party, proceeded on his mission; and from his interesting diary the following passages are taken, as affording, in conjunction with the papers which follow, the fittest conclusion to the story which these pages are intended to record.
Mr Howitt's Diary
September 3, Camp 21 -
Lat. 28º 22', Long. 142º 31'.
Started at eight o'clock, and left the Expedition track at Poria Creek. Struck a course for Cooper's Creek NW by compass. For seven miles travelled over sand-ridges running NE and SW, with wide clayey valleys between, in which were occasional small pools of muddy water. The feed everywhere very dry, but tolerably plentiful on the sand-hills. Bushes and small mulgar-trees were growing in places. We here crossed a dry box swamp, where crows, wood swallows, kites, and small birds were numerous; and I observed here several trees with a rough bark resembling cork, and with bunches of long pointed dark green leaves growing at the ends of the small branches. The sand-hills here became low and flat, and the valley wider. Shortly afterwards crossed the track of a large camel going NE, apparently about eight months ago. The country undulating and well grassed, and, as far as I could make out, the watershed both to the NE and SW. At twelve o'clock, after crossing a dry swamp full of watercourses, and passing a low sand-hill, came on a creek running SW, thickly timbered with large box-trees, the bed wide and the banks steep, and in several places large pools of clear water. Marshmallows and other vegetation, now perfectly dried up, were on the banks. Native camps were numerous; but none that I saw were very recent. Mussel shells and the claws of crayfish were lying near them. I have every reason to believe that some of these pools are permanent. Crossing this we passed several branch creeks running through a clayey plain, and all lined with trees; large pools of water in several. I named this creek after the Hon. David Wilkie, MD, MLC. On leaving the clay flats at the creek we again crossed sand-hills and undulating country for several miles, mostly well grassed, but much burned up. Salt-bush and cotton-bush plentiful in the hollows, and scattered timber beginning to appear. At half-past two came on a water-course running N, and containing large but shallow pools of water. The feed round about excellent, and enough timber to be called a thin gum forest. The gums here a new species not before seen by us, several feet of the butt having a rough semi-persistent bark, above which it is smooth and greenish, with a red tint; leaves thick and glossy, very much resembling one growing near Omeo. Ducks here very tame. Camped, having made eighteen miles, and county not looking so well ahead. The general fall seems to be to the westward. Samla, the largest of our camels, lay down just before reaching the camp; he is the only one of the lot that has not improved in condition, and he keeps himself poor by constantly watching the other camels, and driving them away from the females. He only carries two cwts.
September 6, Camp 24 – Lat 28º, Long. 142º.
Left camp shortly after six. The horses had not fed during the night, partly from thirst, partly being afraid of the stones. Followed down a gully leading into very stony plains, which we crossed for several hours being obliged to lead the horses very slowly. No timber, and scarcely any vegetation; the most desolate stony wilderness imaginable. About ten o'clock came near the sandhills, and the country improved as regarded travelling, but not for feed or water. On a dry watercourse came on a party of natives, of whom some ran away; the others, consisting of an old grey-haired man, an old hag of a woman, a younger man, and two or three lubras and children, waited until I rode up. They were in a very excited state, waving branches, and jabbering incessantly. The younger man shook all over with fright. Sandy could not understand them, and I could only catch '' GOW !” (Go on). At last, by the offer of a knife, I prevailed on the old man to come with us to show us the nearest water, but after half a mile his courage gave way, and he climbed up a box-tree to be out of reach. Mr Brahe rode up to him, when he climbed into the top branches, jabbering without stopping for a moment. Finding that he would not come down, and kept pointing to the NW (our course), we left him. All the natives were naked, and the old man was the only one who had any covering for his head – a net.
We here entered undulating sandy country, slightly scrubbed and well grassed, and at the same time came on Brahe's down track. Our horses at once struck into a better pace, going at least three miles and a-half an hour. The camels also pushed on well. The low horses kept wide of the track, looking out for water in the polygonum ground, and at ten minutes past twelve one old stager found an ample supply in a channel on the right hand. The horses at once made a rush, and it was almost impossible to prevent them drinking as much as they wished. Three had for the last hour shown unmistakable signs of giving in, and all were very much pinched with thirst. Camped by the water, in first-rate feed. Rain came on steadily from NE shortly after, and has continued. The horses have just been a third time to water.
September 9, Camp 26 - Lat. 27º 49'. Long. 141° 38'.
While loading up this morning, five black fellows made their appearance on the opposite side of the creek, and, as usual, commenced shouting and waving their arms. We cooeyd in return, and one waded across, but waited on the bank until I broke a branch and beckoned him to come up. The others then followed him. They were all fine, well-built young men, with open, intelligent faces, and very different from the natives usually met with. They wore nets wrapped round their waists; and one, apparently the head man, had his front teeth, knocked out. Sandy said he could only understand "narrangy word" they said; but I believe that he could not understand them at all, as he was quite unable to make them comprehend that I wished to know if they had seen any stray camels about the creek. Before we had finished loading they returned to the opposite bank, and sat down watching us. On our starting, they waded across to our camp - probably to pick up anything left behind, which would be very little. To-day we travelled over earthy plains for thirteen miles; they were cracked in every direction, and covered with a network of channels. In times of flood the whole of them must be under water, and I can scarcely imagine anything more luxuriant than the appearance of these plains after a wet season. At present everything is dry and withered, but everywhere the stalks of marshmallows and other flowering plants are as high as a horse's back, and very close together. Tufts of grass line each side, and cover the bed of the water-courses. Here and there clumps and lines of timber mark the course of the larger creeks, and sand-hills rise like islands from the plains. To the S of W, at about nine miles, we had a range-probably stony-and following its base a strongly marked line of timber, which I believe to be the main creek. No floods appear to have come down for two seasons, and water-holes which were tolerably well filled five months ago are now dry, or nearly so. At thirteen miles crossed a branch, where Burke's marked tree, LXI, stands, and camped at a clay pan under a sand-hill, about a mile to the W. Strong breeze from the NE and N all day, and steady rain at night. Near here, I observed for the first time a new tree, with a, rough scaly bark and thick foliage, the leaves small and oval, and set in pairs on a stem. The tree grows to fifteen or twenty feet, and bears numbers of flat brown pods, each containing from five to six hard light brown beans, known by us as the bean-tree.
September 10, Camp 27 - Lat. 27º 39'. Long. 141° 30'.
The rain ceased shortly before sunrise, and the travelling was, in consequence, rely heavy, the earthy plains being not only soft, as before, but sticky. Shortly after leaving camp saw several natives on a sand-hill making signs. I went up to them with Mr Welch, and after a great deal of trouble persuaded one to come to me. He was a fine-looking fellow, painted white, skeleton fashion, and carried a very long boomerang stuck in his girdle behind. I could make nothing of him, excepting that he gave me a small ball of what seemed to be chewed grass, as a token of friendship, and in return I gave him a piece of cold doughboy I had with me for lunch, which he seemed to relish very much. We travelled till noon over a succession of earthy plains, broken by numerous box channels, one of which contained a large reach of water; but the feed everywhere was miserably dry and scarce. The country looks wretched. After passing this channel, seven natives made their appearance, one of whom Mr Brahe recognized as one of the party who tried to surprise the depôt last season. They presented him with a small quantity of some dried plant, from a bundle which one of them carried; it had a strong pungent taste and smell, and I am at a loss to conjecture its use, unless as a kind of tobacco. Our black boy was frightened, and told me he thought they meant to "look out, kill him" - as I understood - by witchcraft, or enchantment, or poison. They followed us at a distance to our camp, where they sat down a little way off, making signs that they were hungry, and wanted tomahawks. After an hour's waiting they decamped. Killed two deaf adders and a snake of a sulphur colour on the track. Halted near a small pool of water, where there was a little green feed, which has become a rarity; the country looks miserable ahead. Travelling very heavy on the horses, as the mud balls in great lumps. Stony ridges to the S of the creek, at about four miles, and a good deal of timber visible on all sides. Weather still threatening rain; flies very troublesome.
September 13, Camp 30 - Lat. 27º 38'. Long. 141º.
Made a short stage to-day, for the sake of feed for the horses, which is a thing to be considered, from the dry appearance of the country. Reached the depôt, Fort Wills, in three miles, through country rather better than we have seen for some days. More rain has fallen here lately than elsewhere, and the grass is just springing, but too short to be of much use. I believe this to be the first rain for many months. The water all down the creek, as far as we have come, has fallen at the rate of about three feet in the last four months. Found the depôt as Mr Brahe left it, the plant untouched, and nothing removed of the useless things lying about, but a piece of leather. But from the very evident fact that these things are buried, I cannot understand why the natives have not found them. From here followed down the creek for several miles, and camped at some sand-hills near a pool of water. Saw here the track of a large camel going up the creek. The small crested pigeon, spoken of by Sturt, numerous. Cool wind from SE.
September 14, Camp 31 - Lat. 27º' 42'. Long. 140° 4'.
Camped on a large water-hole, about a quarter of a mile below Mr Burke's first camp after leaving the depôt. We could see where the camels had been tied up, but found no marked tree. To-day I noticed in two or three places old camel droppings and tracks, where Mr Brahe informed me he was certain their camels had never been, as they were watched every day near the depôt, and tied up at night. Mr Burke's camels were led on the way down. It looked very much as if stray camels had been about during the last four months. The tracks seemed to me to be going up the creek, but the ground was too stony to be able to make sure.
September 15, Camp 32 - Lat. 27º 44'. Long. 140º 40'.
On leaving this morning I went ahead with Sandy, to try and pick up Mr Burke's track. At the lower end of a large water-hole, found where one or two horses had been feeding for some months; the tracks ran in all directions to and from the water, and were as recent as a week. At the same place I found the handle of a clasp-knife. From here struck out south for a short distance from the creek, and found a distinct camel's track and droppings on a native path: the footprint was about four months old, and going E. I then set the black boy to follow the creek, and struck across some sandy country in a bend on the north side. No tracks here; and coming on a native path leading my way, I followed it, as the most likely place to see any signs. In about four miles this led me to the lower end of a very large reach of water, and on the opposite side were numbers of native wurleys. I crossed at a neck of sand, and at a little distance again came on the track of a camel going up the creek; at the same time I found a native, who began to gesticulate in a very excited manner, and to point down the creek, bawling out, “Gow, gow !” as loud as he could; when I went towards him he ran away, and finding it impossible to get him to come to me, I turned back to follow the camel track and to look after my party, as had not seen anything of them for some miles. The track was visible in sandy places, and was evidently the same I had seen for the last two days. I also found horse tracks in places, but very old. Crossing the creek, I cut our track, and rode after the party. In doing so I came upon three pounds of tobacco, which had lain where I saw it for some time. This, together with the knife-handle, the fresh horse tracks, and the camel track going eastward, puzzled me extremely, and led me into a hundred conjectures. At the lower end of the large reach of water before mentioned I met Sandy and Frank looking for me, with the intelligence that King, the only survivor of Mr Burke's party, had been found. A little farther on I found the party halted, and immediately went across to the blacks' wurleys, where I found King sitting in a hut which the natives had made for him. He presented a melancholy appearance - wasted to a shadow, and hardly to be distinguished as a civilized being but by the remnants of clothes upon him. He seemed exceedingly weak, and found it occasionally difficult to follow what he said. The natives were all gathered round, seated on the ground, looking with a most gratified and delighted expression. Camped where the party had halted on a high bank, close to the water. I shall probably be here ten days, to recruit King before returning.
September 16, Camp 32.
King already looks vastly improved, even since yesterday, and not like the same man. Have commenced shoeing horses and preparing for our return. Wind from SW, with signs of rain. The natives seem to be getting ready for it.
September 18, Camp 32.
Left camp this morning with Messrs. Brahe, Welch, Wheeler, and King, to perform a melancholy duty which has weighed on my mind ever since we have camped here, and which I have only put off until King should be well enough to accompany us. We proceeded down the creek for seven miles, crossing a branch running to the southward, and followed a native track lending to that part of the creek where Mr Burke, Mr Wills, and King camped after their unsuccessful attempt to reach Mount Hopeless, and the northern settlement of South Australia, and where poor Wills died. We found the two gunyahs pretty much as King had described them, situated on a sand-bank between two water-holes, and about a mile from the flat where they procured the nardoo seed, on which they managed to exist so long. Poor Wills' remains we found lying in the wurley in which he died, and where King, after his return from seeking for the natives, had buried him with sand and rushes. We carefully collected the remains and interred them where they lay; and, not having a prayer-book, I read chap. XV of 1 Cor., that we might at least feel a melancholy satisfaction in having shown the last respect to his remains. We heaped sand over the grave, and laid branches upon it, that the natives might understand by their own tokens not to disturb the last repose of a fellow being. I cut the following inscription on a tree close by, to mark the spot:-
W. J. WILLS,
The field-books, a note-book belonging to Mr Burke, various small articles lying about, of no deep value in themselves, but now invested with an interest from the circumstances connected with them, and some of the nardoo seed on which they had subsisted, with the small wooden trough in which it had been cleansed, I hare now in my possession. We returned home with saddened feelings; but I must confess that I felt a gene of relief that this painful ordeal had been gone through. King was very tired when we returned, and I must most unwillingly defer my visit to the spot where Mr Burke's remains are lying until he is better able to bear the fatigue.
Shoeing horses. A very slow and troublesome job, as many have never been shod before, and our forge is of the most primitive description. This afternoon got the pigeons in order of flying. Their tails being rubbed down by travelling so far in a cage, I got the tails from several crested pigeons, and inserted feathers in the stumps of our carriers, fastening the splices with waxed thread. The plan answered far better than I had expected, and the birds can now fly about the aviary we have made of a tent with the greatest ease.
Started the pigeons at daybreak, each with a message fastened to its legs. On throwing them up they commenced wheeling round the camp, but separated, one being chased by one of the large kites which are always hovering about the creek. After flying round ill various directions with great speed they gradually drew across the creek, when we lost sight of three; the fourth, after making a large circle, pitched in a tree about a mile off: After breakfast he was found under a bush, with a kite watching him; and the feathers of one of the other pigeons was found not far off, having been killed. Of the two others nothing has been seen, and I hope that they got clear away, but I am much afraid that the experiment has proved a failure; however, I should have thought more of it if the pigeons had made a more decided start. Last night the wind changed from NE to SW, and brought up a slight shower. This morning SW, with heavy clouds, threatening rain. King improving slowly but very weak. Turned out the white pigeon again this afternoon; he flew into a gum standing in the camp, and has taken up his quarters there not a proper proceeding for a carrier pigeon, according to my ideas.
Finding it would not be prudent for King to go out for two or three days, I could no longer defer making a search for the spot where Mr Burke died; and with such directions as King could give, I went up the creek this morning with Messrs Brahe, Welsh, Wheeler and Aitkin. We searched the creek upwards for eight miles, and, at length, strange to say, found the remains of Mr Burke lying among tall plants under a clump of boxtrees, within 200 yards of our last camp, and not thirty paces from our track. It was still more extraordinary that three or four of the party and the two black boys had been close to the spot without noticing it. The bones were entire, with the exception of the hands and feet; and the body had been removed from the spot where it first lay, and where the natives had placed branches over it, to about five paces distance. I found the revolver which Mr Burke held in his hand when he expired, partly covered with leaves and earth, and corroded with rust. It was loaded and capped. We dug a grave close to the spot, and interred the remains wrapped in the union jack - the most fitting covering in which the bones of a brave but unfortunate man could take their last rest. On a boxtree, at the head of the grave, the following inscription is cut :-
21 | 9 '61.
The pigeon still keeps its quarters at the camp, and comes down to feed now and then. I have removed the message, and shall leave it to its fate. It has been tying hard to rain for two or three days, but does not seem able; great clouds drift over, looking ready to burst, but only squeeze out two or three drop, and then pass over. I expect fully that it will clear up without rain; another dry season will make Cooper's Creek look fearfully miserable. When the hot weather comes on the water-holes, many of them will be dry, unless filled by rain or a flood. I have written down King's narrative as much as possible in his own words. Shall annex it to this diary. Finished shoeing the homes.
Went down the creek to-day, in search of the natives. One of the party accompanied me, and we took two day's rations, in case it should be necessary to prolong our search. Two days after we camped here the natives left, and have not been seen since; and I could not think of leaving without showing them that we could appreciate and reward the kindness they had shown to Burke's party, and particularly to King. For three miles we travelled over alluvial flats along the creek, timbered with box and large gums, and dotted with bean-trees, orangetrees of large size, but at present without fruit, various kinds of acacias, and other bushes. To the right hand, level flats and and-ridges, apparently tolerably grassed. We then came on a large reach of water, where four or five natives had just been fishing; their nets were lying on the sand to dry, and the fire yet burning. Not seeing any one about, and getting no answer to a cooey, we went on. At three miles more me passed the first feeder of Stralezki's Creek, going to the southward; and at a large reach of water below, found the natives camped. They made a great commotion when we rode up, but seemed very friendly. I unpacked my blanket, and took out specimens of the things I intended giving them - a tomahawk, a knife, beads, a looking-glass, comb, and flour and sugar. The tomahawk was the great object of attraction, after that the knife, but I think that the looking-glass surprised them most. On seeing their faces, some seemed dazzled, others opened their eyes like saucers, and made a rattling noise with their tongues expressive of surprise. We had quite a friendly palaver, and my watch amused them immensely. When I gave them some of the sugar to taste, it was absurd to see the sleight of hand with which they pretended to eat it, I suppose from a fear of being poisoned, which I suppose is general, as our black boys are continually in dread lest the wild black fellow should poison them by some means. I made them understand that they were to bring the whole tribe up next morning to our camp to receive their presents, and we parted the best of friends. The names of the principal men are Tchukulow, Mungallee (three in number), Toquunter, Pitchery (three in number, one a funny little man, with his head in a net and a kite's feather in it; another, a tall man, with his beard tied in a point), Pruriekow, and Borokow.
This morning, about ten o'clock, our black friends appeared in a long procession, men, women, and children, or, as they here also call them, piccaninnies; and at a mile distance they commenced bawling at the top of their voices as usual. When collected altogether on a little flat, just below our camp, they must have numbered between thirty and forty, and the uproar was deafening. With the aid of King, I at last got them all seated before me, and distributed the presents - tomahawks, knives, necklaces, looking-glasses, combs - among them. I think no people were ever so happy before, and it was very interesting to see how they pointed out one or another who they thought might be overlooked. The piccaninnies were brought forward by their parents to have red ribbon tied round their dirty little heads. One old woman. Carrawaw, who had been particularly kind to King, was loaded with things. I then divided 50 lbs of sugar between them, each one taking his share in a union-jack pocket handkerchief, which they were very proud of. The sugar soon found its way into their mouths; the flour, 50 lbs of which I gave them, they at once called “white-fellow nardoo," and they explained that they understood that these things were given to them for having fed King. Some old clothes were then put on some of the men and women, and the affair ended in several of our party and several of the black-fellows having an impromptu "corroboree," to the intense delight of the natives, and, I must say, very much to our own amusement. They left, making signs expressive of friendship, carrying their presents with them. The men all wore a net girdle; and of the women, some wore one of leaves, others of feathers. I feel confident that we have left the best impression behind us, and that the “white-fellows," as they have already learned to call us, will be looked on henceforth as friends, and that, in case of emergency, any one will receive the kindest treatment at their hands.
September 25, at Camp 31.
This morning I turned my face homewards. The object of our mission being fulfilled, I had to do so, but I return with a great regret at not being able to go on. We take back five months' rations from this date, at the scale we have been using, and which has proved sufficient. The party are in the best of health, the horses in fine order, and the camels none the worse for their journey, and decidedly in better health than when they left the Darling. On the edge of a country so well worth exploring, in a tolerably good season, and with the means I now have at my disposal, I feel how much might be done. We camped to-day at our last camp but one coming down the creek, making an easy stage for King. Got in by noon, as the horses were very fresh after their spell. The camels gave us a good deal of trouble this afternoon, and from a cause which may and probably will constantly occur. One of the male camels had taken to driving the females about; and fighting with the other male, Sama, who up to this time had been master. To-day, the other camel was furious; and in spite of being short-hobbled, and having his head tied down to his knee, chased the whole of the camels from the camp, ten minutes after they were let loose ; and although Brahe went immediately after them, and was for three hours on their tracks, he was unable to overtake them. Coming back for a horse, he took Sandy with him, and cut across to where he had left the tracks, running north over some very rough stony county. It was dark before they returned, having found the camels some miles away. From this and similar occurrences, I find it very unwise to take male and female camels together on a journey. One is never safe for a day from their straying, and from continual fights between the male camels for mastery. The result is that the camels are continually harassed, and watch each other instead of feeding. With either all male or all female camels, there would be less, or certainly not more, trouble than with horses; and with this drawback, I firmly believe in the suitability of camels for exploring.