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December 1861

Report of Commander Norman, of H.M.C.S.S. Victoria, together with copy of his journal of the late expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria
Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer.
Victorian Parliamentary Papers No. 109. 1862.

Sunday, 1 December 1861.
All this last week we have not seen the least sign of a native up the river; and not finding Mr Walker, I begin to doubt his having started. Performed Divine service. The wind at N.W. for the last two days, with much cooler weather. Thermometer 92° to 98°.

Monday, 2 December 1861.
At 7 a.m. fifteen natives, men and youths, visited the camp., Gave them some presents of handkerchiefs, beads, buttons, &c., but no tomahawks, fearing they might injure the marked trees. They were much pleased with everything they saw about us, which they kept up by their signs of astonishment; but on opening my umbrella it was a great surprise to them, at which they kept peeping to see how it was done, until I showed one of them who was more intelligent and brave than the rest, and who had the courage to do it himself, very much to the astonishment of the others. Allowing them to remain at the camp two hours, I ordered them to leave, which they did, going away very quietly. I thought it was best to send them away, as they began to pilfer. One had got an axe, and another had made several attempts to get at some of my clothes hung out to dry. Made preparations to go up the saltwater arm to explore and mark trees there. At 10 p.m. whaler arrived from the ship, bringing two turtles, and reporting very bad luck with them ; nearly all they had caught having died (a total of 120) in the pond, or on board before they could be got to it. Thermometer 88° to 97°.

Tuesday, 3 December 1861.
Sent the whaler back for provisions to complete deficiencies found by taking survey of stock this morning.

Wednesday, 4 December 1861.
Left with barge for the saltwater arm, which was entered at 3 p.m., and with the flood tide, got to the head of, at 7 p.m., so far as the boat could go to turn round; and the mosquitoes set to work in such numbers that to eat or drink was quite impossible, so everyone rushed on shore, and tried the plains with large fires all round. By so doing we got through the meal; but to sleep, we tried in vain, and had a very bad night of it, notwithstanding that the fires were kept up by the sentry on duty.

Thursday, 5 December 1861.
At day dawn I started with two of the boat's crew and Charlie, on a S.E. track for five miles. Marked a large tree broad arrow over V, and where dépôt could be found, and others with common marks, on our return to the boat. Mr Bourne and two others going by the river to explore it, and two others of the boat's crew across the plains for three mile ; but nothing being discovered we all got back to the boat at 8.30 and 9 a.m. Breakfasted, and left to return to the dépôt, after having been sorely punished for our visit here by the swarms of mosquitoes which infest the place. Landed at the Junction* to wait for flood tide, and found the place had been some feet under water last tide, and that for miles the plains were then covered with saltwater, showing the place quite uninhabitable, with no fresh water to be had for many miles round. I arrived at the dépôt at 9.30 p.m. The men, having to pull the whole way for twelve hours, were quite done up. After we had passed two reaches going down, we were suddenly surprised by an ambush of natives on both sides. They were painted, and armed with long spears, womeras, and clubs. Our boat being under sail and going with the tide was going fast through the water; so I suppose they were disappointed in their intended attack upon us; and from all that I have heard since from Walker, it is very evident they intended mischief. I would not allow them to be fired at, as was asked of me, as they had done us no harm, whatever they intended to have done by their defiant gesticulations when they found we were out of their reach. Thermometer 98° to 109°.

* This is the spot which was fixed upon for a dépôt on our leaving Melbourne.

Friday, 6 December 1861.
At 2 a.m. whaler, returned. Many clouds gathering, the last two days threatening for rain, but clearing off without any; but to-day it commenced to fall, with the wind light from every quarter of the compass, and continued to rain all day. The wind settling in at N.E. latterly increasing, with squalls and vivid lightning and very heavy thunder during the whole night. All day I employed the men in re-securing the tents for the impending storm, and it was well I did so, for it blew very hard, with one continued down-pour all night, and increased to a heavy set-in gale.

Saturday, 7 December 1861.
At daylight, which kept us constantly on the alert, fearing the tents would blow down, and to prevent which all sorts of measures were resorted to, and at 8 a.m., while at breakfast, a shout from Charlie announced Mr Walker being in sight. On going out, I found him and his party were coming to the dépôt in very good order, and as if some systematic discipline was enforced. I soon learnt of Burke's track being found, and decided on his immediate return to follow them up. He reported he had found one of my memoranda at a marked tree below Hope Reach, which guided him straight to the dépôt. The heavy rains continued all day, but the gale decreased after 8 p.m. At 10 p.m. calm and clearing up, with a light E.S.E. wind. Thermometer lowest at 2 a.m. 68° to 72°.

Sunday, 8 December 1861.
A fine cool morning, but the plains around showing evidence of the immense quantity of rain that fell, being more like a lake. Set the men to make a clearance out of their tents of all wet clothes, &c.; gave them quinine rum; dug drains and re-secured tents.

Monday, 9 December 1861.
At 8.30 a.m. I left the dépôt with barge and Mr Walker for the ship, to obtain a tracing of his route, copy of his journal, and give him such stores as he required. At 7.45 p.m. got on board; found the ship had rode out the gale, but very uneasily on the ebb tide. Thermometer 87° to 90°.

Tuesday, 10 December 1861.
At 1 p.m. started for Sweer's Island to ascertain if any loss was sustained there by the late gale. Anchoring at 4 p.m., found all well, and only a loss of some thirty turtles, from the sea having washed part of the pond away. Thermometer 85° to 91°.

Wednesday, 11 December 1861.
Crew coaling ship; Walker making tracing of his route; Wilson copying his journal.

Thursday, 12 December 1861.
Sultry weather, with light winds, and variable. The first lieutenant proceeded to Bentinck Island to haul the seine, but with no success. Thirty-five natives came down while he was doing so, and by their manner were suspected to be treacherous and hostile. No collision took place.

Mr Arthur Moore joined Mr Walker's party in lieu of John Horsfeldt, who is afflicted with fistula. Thermometer 88° to 92°.

Friday, 13 December 1861.
At 8 a.m. started for the Albert, anchoring there at noon. 1.15 p.m., I left in the cutter, taking Walker up to the dépôt, and the whaler in charge of Gascoyne, with Dr Patterson, and stores for Walker. It being first quarter's flood, and a fine breeze from the north, we arrived at the dépôt at 8.30 p.m. Found all well, except three men with fly-blight, so that the doctor's services were not so much required as I feared they might be. Thermometer 84° to 90°.

Saturday, 14 December 1861.
Daylight, crossed the river with Walker, to examine and select the best place for crossing the horses and stores over, so as to save the three days it will take him to go round the head of this river again. Sent the whaler back to the ship with surgeon at midnight. A strong N.W. breeze, and very fine day. Thermometer, noon 94˚, night 84°.

Sunday, 15 December 1861.
Very fine weather; performed Divine service. Thermometer, 96° noon, 76° midnight.

Monday, 16 December 1861.
Walker's black boys out for horses very early; but it was 2.30 p.m. before they were all brought down, and by 4.30 they were all taken safe over by the two boats. On examining the horses as they came in, I was sorry to see what a bad state their backs were in from being chafed by the pack-saddles, as Walker reported, and although they are getting better fast, the poor animals will not be well and fit for work by the 20th. Fourteen days more would no doubt heal them, but time is of so much importance it cannot be allowed them for it.

Tuesday, 17 December 1861.
Fine weather. All hands at work making bags, mending tents, and packing stores for Walker. Thermometer 78° to 94°.

Wednesday, 18 December 1861.
All hands employed as yesterday. Wind N.W., and calm at sunset. Thermometer 82° to 94°. Musquitoes (sic) getting very troublesome; no rest can be got for them in the night.

Thursday, 19 December 1861.
Walker's stores finished packing this day, and taken across the river, himself and men camping there ready for to-morrow's start. Thermometer 94° noon, midnight 82°.

Friday, 20 December 1861.
At 11.30 a.m., all being ready, and the health and good wishes for Walker and party drank with all honors, they left in good spirits for the Flinders River, where it is my intention of meeting them on the 28th or 29th, Dec., to see Burke's tracks myself, and obtain any documents he may have left there. Made the necessary preparations for starting in the night; wrote Landsborough a letter in the event of his coming in, to inform him that I do not consider it necessary he should go overland after Mr Walker has been gone too long to be overtaken by him, and that he ought to return by sea to Brisbane. At 9.30 p.m., as the boat's crew were driven out of their tent by mosquitoes, and as no rest could be got by any one, we retreated to the boat, and preferred pulling against the tide to remaining under the punishment of so many of their stings; but a goodly number followed us up until daylight, when we entered sea reach, in the middle of which the men were enabled to lay their oars in for the first time, as there was a light southerly breeze which took us to within a mile and a half of the ship; it then being a-head nearly, they pulled on board. This has been a very trying pull for the men; the close and moist air is so very relaxing, without any exertion.

Saturday, 21 December 1861.
Got on board at 9.30 a.m.; weighed at 10 a.m., and stood over to Bountiful island, and anchored there at 5 p.m. Despatched cutter to South Island in charge of second lieutenant, for turtle, and landed gunner and boatswain at sunset abreast of ship. 10 p.m. whaler started with first lieutenant to bring off those turned.

Sunday, 22 December 1861.
4 a.m. we got thirty-six turtles on board; and at 5 a.m. weighed and ran down to pick up the cutter and her night's work, but they only had one small one in the boat, not having seen any other sort but that species. Stood on for and anchored in Investigator Roads, at 11. a.m. Sent all the turtle on shore immediately to the pond. Light S.E. winds and very sultry weather, which appears to sicken the turtle if they are more than a few hours out of the water. Mr Law returned on board with a pistol-shot wound through the calf of his left leg: by accident. Sent the gunner on shore to take charge of dépôt. Thermometer 94° to 105°.

Monday, 23 December 1861.
Light N.E. and N.W. winds, with close sultry weather. No luck with the seine this morning. Coaling ship. Thermometer 95° to 106°.

Tuesday, 24 December 1861.
Close sultry weather, with thunder and lightning in the N.E. quarter. Thermometer 88° to 95° in cabin.

Wednesday, 25 December 1861.
A very sultry and unpleasant day, ending in a heavy thunder-storm, which commencing in the S.W., going round to N.E. at 9 p.m. Killed four of the, sheep for the crew. Performed divine service of the day in the morning. Thermometer 91° to 99°.

Thursday, 26 December 1861.
Wind from N.E.; light and fine weather. Thermometer 89°. At 10 a.m. an alarm was given on shore of some accident. Dr Patterson immediately proceeded on shore, and found that Mr Frost, the gunner, had shot himself through the right side by taking hold of a loaded gun by the muzzle, and drawing it to him from under the bed stretcher to clean. The wound was a very serious one, from the gun being loaded with swan shot (and a double charge of powder), some of which it is feared may have turned off the hip bone and gone internally. At 5 p.m. proceeded on shore for the purpose of attesting the will of Mr Frost, and, after drawing it out in accordance with his wishes, from a rough draft he had, I carefully read it over to him before Dr Patterson, when, having expressed himself clearly that he perfectly understood it, and that it was in accordance with his wishes, he attested it in our presence, which we witnessed in the presence of each other, and by Frost's wish I took it in charge for him.

Friday, 27 December 1861.
At daylight Dr Patterson came on board, reporting Mr Frost much easier. My first lieutenant being laid up with neuralgia, and suffering much pain, two officers with wounds, and one in charge of the dépôt on the Albert, leaves me only one for the duty on board, so I shall not start for the Flinders to-day as I had intended doing. Thermometer 88° to 98°.

Saturday, 28 December 1861.
At 4.30 a.m. sent the boat on shore for Dr Patterson, to see first lieutenant and others. His report of Frost being as good as could be expected from the nature of the wound, and none on board requiring his immediate attendance, after landing him again I left the roads for the Flinders River, anchoring off there at noon in three fathoms at half flood, at seven miles off the entrance bearing S. by W. First lieutenant stated he was better, and fit for duty if necessity required him. Started with the barge, and entered the river at high water. Proceeded up to within one mile of the appointed place of meeting [A] Walker, but seeing, no one, anchored at 9 30 p.m. for the night, with the hope of getting some rest; but we soon found that the heat, mosquitoes and sand-flies were too much for sleep.

Sunday, 29 December 1861.
At daylight visited the place of meeting marked [A], and found the nature of the country such that the tides overflowed it at the springs, with nothing but mud and mangrove in sight, so that no horses can get so far down for the mud and saltwater creeks. After marking a tree, hoisting a flag on a conspicuous one, and hanging up a bottle with a note for Walker, I proceeded on further up, passing the one island that is marked on the chart, and another ten miles further up which is not, and up to which, and for five miles further, the country was of the same low mud banks and mangrove, with not the slightest sign of any trees or fresh-water vegetation whatever. The river now became more tortuous, and several sand-banks were passed, contracting the tide, which was running up strong. I continued on with the hope of reaching Burial Reach; but, after going on to 1 p.m., we stopped to dinner, when I landed, and found the country-better, with grass and water in plenty. Left again at 2.30 p.m., and proceeded ten miles further, came to some cliffs on the eastern side (dark brown clay), twelve feet high. Here I stopped again, at 4.30 p.m., and finding no sign of any one, marked a large tree with a broad arrow over a V, and tied a letter round one of its branches for Walker. I have now come by estimation thirty-five miles up, and have not got to Burial Reach, or anything like it, by Stokes's description ; no "grassy islands," or "sloping banks down to the water's edge clothed with grass," but only mangrove and mud, and one or two sunken islands with the tops of mangrove a foot above water as we passed them, to indicate their position. The country around here is the best I have seen in the Gulf, and the grasses, of which there are varieties, very good, with the timber larger, and looking more healthy than any part of the Albert; but, finding no traces of any one, and the upper part of the river here not agreeing with its description, I began to fear I must be in a wrong river, so I determined to start on the turn of tide, return to the ship, and make a further exploration of the coast to the eastward of this entrance, as I may have entered a wrong river, there being no land-marks to guide any one, and I have not my sea chart up with me to see if there is another like it. Ordered the crew to rest at 8, as the tide turned at 10 p.m.; but again it was quite impossible for any one to sleep, for the insects I have named, and the excessive heat. If you take the only remedy to keep them off, wearing blanket clothing, or getting into a blanket bag, either of these, with the thermometer at 95° to 100° and not a breath of wind, is too much to sleep under, with sixteen people in a boat of thirty feet, and nine days' provisions in her. At 10.15 p.m. started with the first of the tide downward, and in a dead calm, with much thunder and lightening (sic) all round the compass. The men pulled to within two miles of the mouth of the river, when a heavy thunder-storm made us anchor three hours for shelter and safety to the men, and give them some rest.

Monday, 30 December 1861.
At 7.30 a.m. the storm having passed seaward, stood out of the river to the bar, and waited until turn of tide and N.W. or sea-breeze to fetch the ship, which we did at 3.30 p.m. On examining Stokes's book and chart with the first lieutenant (who I was glad to find somewhat better), I found there could be no doubt of my having been up the Flinders, and that the difference in time of tide in seeing these places makes so much difference in their appearance. Stokes appears to have gone up and down at night. I passed from the first position [A] right up, by daylight. Determined upon sending the cutter up the first thing in the morning to convey the stores and meet Walker. A very sultry night, with lightning all round.

Tuesday, 31 December 1861.
At 5.45 a.m. the cutter, in charge of the second lieutenant, started for the river. At 7 a.m. a very heavy thunder-storm broke over the ship, blowing strong from the west for half an hour, with heavy rain for one hour and a half. At 9 I saw the cutter at anchor, all safe, and, getting under weigh, she steered into the river. Thermometer 81½° at 8 a.m. ; noon 85°.

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