as told to Edwin Welch at the Cooper Depot, September 1861.
|Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2087/7a.|
Victorian Relief Expedition Records, Observations taken by members of the VRE, Edwin Welch.
Welch's Field book No 1. Contains diary 1 August-8 October 1861. 113 pages.
Burke, Wills, Gray, and I, left the depot in charge of Brahe, at Fort Wills, on the 16th December, 1860, with six camels, one horse, and provisions for three months. The stock was in splendid condition, and we were in high spirits. Keeping a steady course northwards, we reached salt water and mangrove swamps on--but I can't tell you the date; you will find it in Wills' field-books. He said it was the Gulf of Carpentaria, and we were satisfied; we could not get through the mangroves, and never saw the open water, but we had accomplished the object of the expedition. One of the camels had knocked up some distance back, and we had to plant his load, so that we were afraid to stay too long, for fear of getting short of rations.
We did not follow our own tracks all the way back, but hurried as much as possible to reach the depot in time. On the way back we killed the horse and one camel for meat, and one of the camels got away from us, so that we had only two left to finish the journey. We all walked, and threw away everything except the rations, a gun, and the clothes we had on. At one of the camps we buried all Mr Wills' instruments, but I don't remember which one it was. Gray was getting knocked up worse and worse every day, and then he got to taking more than his share of the flour and sugar when he got a chance. Mr Burke threatened him and boxed his ears for this, and when he turned in one night, about two days before we expected to reach the depot, he said he felt he would not live till morning, and, sure enough, he didn't. When we turned out at daylight, Gray was dead; so we stopped there that day, and scooped a hole in the sand about three feet deep with our hands, and buried him in it.
The next morning we pushed on for the depot, and when we got there, two days after, it was deserted. The fire was still alight, and the tracks of Brahe's party were all fresh. There was a tree marked 'DIG,' and when we were able to get at the plant we found Brahe's note, which said they had left that morning; but we did not mind it very much, as there was plenty to eat. Of course, we were disappointed, but Mr Burke said we could get back by Strzelecki's Creek to Mount Hopeless, and so to Adelaide. We stopped at the depot five days, which was a good spell for ourselves and the two camels, and we felt much better.
When we were ready to start, we buried all the field-books and some letters, to let anybody who came by know where we were going, and then covered up the plant carefully, so that the blacks should not find it out. We went westerly down the creek, and saw lots of blackfellows, but Mr Burke did not care to try and make friends with them; he said there were too many of them and it was no good wasting time.
After we got some distance down the creek, it was decided to cross and strike to the southward, but we must have picked a bad place, for one of the camels got stuck in a quicksand at the end of a waterhole, and we could not get him out, although we worked hard for nearly twenty-four hours; so, as there was nothing else left for it, we shot him, cut off as much meat as we could carry, and, after drying it, started on again; but our load was so much heavier now that we had to travel very slowly, and the other camel was beginning to knock up. After two days more, he got so weak that he couldn't get up off the ground, so we had to shoot him too, pack some more of the meat, and then go on.
We got on to a branch creek, which ran in the direction we wanted to go, but after a few more miles it ran out, and lost itself in channels in an earthy plain; so we had to go back to the last water.
We were all three beginning to feel bad now, so it was decided to take a good spell before making another attempt. While we were doing this the rations were getting very short, and we began to eat nardoo the same as the blacks. Sometimes the blacks would come by and give us a few fish, which we could not catch ourselves, and sometimes we managed to shoot a crow or a hawk, but we had no strength to go and look for anything. Mr Wills, however, determined to go back to the depot, and see if anybody had been there, and he was away some days by himself. When he came back, he told us that he had seen nobody, but that he had opened the plant in the night, to bury another letter to the committee, and carefully covered it up again.
A good thing for us, it happened that the weather was very fine, although cold at night, and we felt the cold badly, having very few clothes. Then we shifted camp a little higher up the creek, where there were two or three blacks' gunyahs, and Mr Wills got so weak that he could not move out of his at all. Mr Burke and I were getting very weak, too, but I was not so bad as they were, and managed to collect and pound enough nardoo to keep us all from starving outright. In a few days things were so bad that Wills, who was getting worse all the time and suffering great pain, persuaded Mr Burke and I to go up the creek, while we had strength, and look for the blacks, as our only chance of life. We didn't like the idea of separating, but it seemed to be our only chance, so we made him some nardoo bread, and left it, with a billy of water, beside him, and went away.
Together, Mr Burke and I wandered slowly up the creek, but could not see a sign of any blacks, and after we had gone fourteen or fifteen miles, Mr Burke said he could not go any farther, and lay down under a tree. I found some nardoo close by, and had the good luck to shoot a crow. The night was very cold, and we felt it dreadfully, and before daylight Mr Burke said he was dying, and told me not to try and bury him or cover up his body in any way, but just put his pistol in his right hand. I did this, and then he wrote something in his pocket-book, and died about two hours after sunrise. When I was able to move, I went on again, to try and find help for Wills, but the blacks had all disappeared. I found some nardoo in one of their camps, though, and with this and another crow I shot, I started back to Wills. It took me four days to get back, and when I got there I found he was dead, too. I covered up his body with boughs and sand as well as I could, and then rested for two days, and started off again to look for blacks.
I don't know how many days it was before I found them, but I think a good many. At first they were very kind to me, and gave me plenty to eat; after that they tried to drive me away, but I stuck to them, and the women gave me some nardoo every day, and sometimes one of the men would give me some fish. I don't know how long I have been with them, but I think it must be about three months. I knew you were coming before I saw you, for some strange blacks came down the creek and brought the news to the others, and somehow I got to understand that they had seen some white men on horses, who I knew would look for me. I could not learn to talk to them, but I began slowly to understand what they were saying. I think I could have lived for a long time with them, for I was all the while getting a little bit stronger.