Letter from John Neilson
Journal of Landsborough's Expedition from Carpentaria, in search of Burke & Wills
The following letter, received by Captain Cadell from Mr Neilson of Neilson and Williams, two young men who have spent years in exploring the Australian wilderness and who are now settled on the Warrego, gives some additional information as to the discoveries of Landsborough's party:
Kennedy's 19th Camp, River Warrego,
I have nothing to communicate but the arrival here yesterday of Mr Landsborough and party from the Gulf of Carpentaria, whence he left on the 10th of February last in search of the traces of Burke's party.
The journey which he has now accomplished has opened up a practicable route to the Gulf. He followed the Flinders from the Gulf on an average course of south-south-east to 20 degrees south to its head, when, in thirty miles, he picked up the head of the Thomson and followed it down to Cooper's Creek, making his way into the settled districts by following up that creek to its head, and then following the Warrego River to this point, from whence he goes into the Barwon. He speaks of the country to the head of the Thomson, and from thence along the whole course of the Flinders to the Gulf, as magnificent, consisting of rich basaltic plains, very thickly grassed, one of the most conspicuous grasses being greatly in appearance to sorghum. Horses are so fond of it that the party could scarcely drive them along with whips.
The party has met no casualty, and look very well, notwithstanding experiencing a shortness of rations on the journey. The horses are looking well. Landsborough was quite surprised at hearing that Burke's remains had been found. They found no track nor tidings of his party. I have given Mr Landsborough an account of our trip in July and August last towards Cooper's Creek. He considers it a connecting link in the overland route from the Darling to the Gulf, and one that will be used in taking stock to that point. I consider that the route as now found will be the one adopted by the eastern colonies, South Australia availing itself of Stuart's route.
Mr Neilson of Neilson and Williams.
As it is desirable that all the routes from the Darling towards the Barcoo River should be known the following letter from Mr Neilson is appended. The route he describes is almost on a direct line from Mount Rankine to Carpentaria.
Kennedy's XIX Camp, River Warrego, May 22 1862.
Agreeably to your request I beg to furnish you with a few memoranda of a journey made by Messrs H. and F. Williams and myself from Mount Rankine on the Darling towards Cooper's Creek.
We left the Darling on the 22nd of June 1861, and after crossing the Talywalka Creek at six miles camped on Mulyoh Spring, course north-west by west distance twenty-five miles. Our next day's journey was to Wentholey on the Paroo Creek upon the same bearing and a distance of forty miles. We then followed the Paroo Creek upward on a general course of north by east half east to the 29th parallel, when we struck out to the north-west, and on rising the range saw a large sheet of water. Camped upon it. It proved to be a lake of about twenty-five miles in circumference and very shallow. Our distance travelled, twenty-three miles from the boundary.
Next day followed the same course and camped at thirty miles on a large clay-pan. Followed on the next day, and at ten miles came on a Boree Creek with water. Followed on bearing to the northward of north-west about half a point, and camped on a lateral creek containing pools of water and polygonum flats, and on examining the bed of the creek found some crayfish-eyes, and judged to be in the vicinity of a large water. Distance travelled twenty-six miles.
Next day followed the creek on a north-north-west bearing, and at eleven miles came to a large creek running rapid and having flooded flats extending two miles from its bed, and bearing marks of very high floods. We crossed the creek and extended our journey about fifteen miles to the west; the country being cut up by creeks not then flooded but bearing evidences of high floods. Our rations being short we turned back. From this point I consider our position to be within about thirty-five miles of Cooper's Creek. We followed the creek we left, running down for about fifty miles on a south-west by south course. A larger volume of water comes down this creek than what comes down the Warrego, and it contains some fine reaches of water where the creeks meet and form one channel. I believe it to be identical with the Nive of Mitchell, never traced out, and in its position with the Paroo forms a line of communication practicable in all seasons from Mount Rankine on the Darling to Cooper's Creek, and by Cooper's Creek upwards to the Thomson, completes, with your discoveries, a perfect and practicable line of communication to Carpentaria.
I have doubt to venture an opinion that it is quite practicable to make a cross-country track from this to the junction of the Thompson and Cooper from the knowledge I have formed; but I think the requirements of the case are better met by striking the Cooper where it takes the turn westward (i.e.. where Sturt followed it to the east) that point being more adapted to the wants of the more southern settlers.
I have forwarded a tracing of my route to Mr Gregory by my letter of February 26th last, and just give you the foregoing crude data to go upon, and of which you may make what use you think proper.
I beg to remain,
The head of the Barcoo River was discovered by Sir Thomas Mitchell who named it the Victoria River. He described it as probably having its outlet at Carpentaria. Kennedy was sent to trace it, but unfortunately he had a dry season to contend with; so much so that some distance below the junction of the Thomson he found its channel perfectly dry and had to return. He followed it however sufficiently far to enable him to make tolerably sure that it was the head of Cooper's Creek. Gregory afterwards, by following it down, on his route to South Australia ascertained this to be the case. Another river, previously discovered by Captain Wickham, in Northern Australia, had been called by him the Victoria: because of this, and from Kennedy having learned the native name of Mitchell's Victoria to be the Barcoo, it is now generally known by that designation.