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January 1862

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.

Wednesday, 1 January 1862.
New Year's Day, and a very fine one after the great discharge of electricity from the heavens for the last four days. Crew drying sails, cleaning boats and boats' gear, bilges to sweeten ship as much as possible to keep off sickness, which up to the present time has not been of a very serious form. Diarrhœa and some small blind boils amongst a few of the crew only. Thermometer 85° to 88°.

Thursday, 2 January 1862.
Men employed on general routine duty. Light winds from N. to N.W., with fine though close sultry weather. Thermometer 87° to 92°.

Friday, 3 January 1862.
No sign of the cutter yet. Made the necessary preparation for sending up the whaler to-morrow morning, and as the first lieutenant is again laid up, I must send the boatswain in charge. Fine throughout, with light variable winds. Thermometer 87° to 94°.

Saturday, 4 January 1862.
Started off the whaler at 6.30 a.m. with four days' provisions for the cutter and six for themselves. I am now without any officers on board on duty, the first lieutenant being ill, the second up the Flinders, the mate in charge of the dépôt on the Albert, and the gunner and midshipman both wounded on Sweer's Island, where the surgeon has remained to attend to them; one man sick with diarrhœa, one of fever, and four others with boils. Sent Mr Wilson to assist in piloting the whaler, as he was up with me in the barge on her trip. Light winds from the N. until 10.30 p.m., then freshening to a stiff breeze from the N.E. Thermometer 87° to 92°.

Sunday, 5 January 1862.
__ a.m., strong breeze, with lightning in the N.E., but dying away to light winds after 8 a.m., and very fine weather. Sick list :—First lieutenant, Mills, Mason, Walters, Dunk, and four others with small boils. Performed Divine service after divisions at 10 a.m.

Monday, 6 January 1862.
Lightning in the N.E. and N.W., but fine weather, though sultry. Thermometer 85° to 92°. Sick list as yesterday. The general routine of duties carried out.

Tuesday, 7 January 1862.
Northerly winds, with damp muggy weather. Looking anxiously for one or both boats' return, but no signs of them up to dark. Lightning in the N.E. and S.W., and weather looking very unsettled at 10 p.m. Sick list as yesterday. At 2 a.m. a very heavy squall from the N.E., with thunder, lightning, and heavy rain until 4 a.m.; then clearing away with a fine easterly breeze after sunrise. At 0.30 p.m. the whaler appeared in sight, and at 2 p.m. came alongside, bringing no news of Mr Walker's party, although both boats have been far above Burial Reach, one on the southern, the other on the eastern arm. Gascoyne writes to say he will be down on board on Friday night. Walker is now five days over the time he named that it would take him. I hope all is going well with them, as I ought to be back to Sweer's Island the end of this week to give them rations there. Thermometer 87° to 90°.

Wednesday, 8 January 1862.
A very fine night, with light easterly winds. Rather warm, but not oppressive. Sick all getting better ; but there are eight of them afflicted with a sort of boil, which is small, but very painful. Thermometer 84° to 89°. A little rain at 10.30 p.m., with lightning in the N.E. quarter.

Thursday, 9 January 1862.
Easterly and N.E. winds, with fine weather. No sign of the cutter up to 4 p.m. Made the necessary preparations for starting myself to-morrow morning in the barge to relieve her, and continue the search for Walker or Burke's dépôt.

Friday, 10 January 1862.
At 7.30 a.m., the cutter not making her appearance, I left the ship with the barge and galley for the purpose of relieving her, and continuing the search for marks or documents to find the camp of either party, taking Mr Griffiths to assist me, leaving orders with the commanding officer (first lieutenant) to proceed to Sweer's Island as soon as the cutter got on board; call off the Albert, and send a boat up for a report from the officer in charge of the dépôt (Handfield) of their state and condition; to supply the dépôt on the island with one month's provisions, and pick up the boat off the Albert River, returning here by the 17th instant. At 9 a.m. grounded on the bar, and had to wait one hour to float over it. Five natives came to the boat unarmed and friendly; gave them some presents, and we passed on at 11 a.m. Spoke the cutter on her way down ; Lieutenant Gascoyne reported having found tracks of camels; sent her on to the ship, and proceeded on to Station A, taking with me Wilson as a guide, and to point out where the tracks had been seen. Found the flag and bottle as I left them on the 29th. Took the latter down, and put another memorandum in to say I was on my way up the river again. Stopped here to dinner for two hours to rest and shelter the men, as the thermometer showed 124° at 2 p.m. and 95° at sunset, with light N.E. winds all day. At 6 p.m. camped on shore at E; but the swarms of mosquitoes here allowed no rest to any of us all night. The nature of the country for the first twenty-five miles by the river is nothing but one plain of mud fiats, with little rises above the reach of spring tides, which overflow everywhere else as far as the eye could discover, with fringes of mangrove.

Saturday, 11 January 1862.
This morning at daylight I started out three parties to explore the plains in different directions, taking Bailey with me to do the same. These plains are mud, and are mostly overflown on the spring tides, but with some of the rises above high water mark, on one of which we came upon the track of one horse and one man, with shoes or boots on walking by it: these tracks were leading north, and on a further search we found the same returning south. Marked trees, and left this camp at noon, pulling on upwards in a calm, with very sultry weather until I reached G* at 5 p.m., we then camped on the east bank of the river, and guided by Wilson, went to examine the supposed camel tracks which were found round a waterhole about (250) two hundred and fifty yards off from the river bank. The tracks are well and clearly defined, and are much too large for horses, or any other animal. Griffiths very unwell from what is (I fear) a slight stroke of the sun. Gave him some m medicine, and traversed the plains as long as we could see, in very long good grass, but finding no trees marked, or sign of any one having camped, returned to camp, and by having a fresh N.W. breeze, got some rest, which was much required, after the last two days heat.

* At G the country assumes quite a different appearance, from being higher land with good soil. It is covered with several varieties of good grasses. timbered with acacia, box, gum, and the native wild plum, with cliffs of brown clay twenty feet high on the river bank

Sunday, 12 January 1862.
At 6 a.m. started with Secker and Desmore to make further explorations, two other parties doing the same, in different directions; but after going over many miles of very fine open country, slightly but very prettily timbered with box, acacia, gum, and other timbers, we all got back to camp by 9 a.m., without seeing any marked tree, or sign of any one having been in the neighborhood. At 10.30 inspected the men, and performed Divine service. Wind dying away, it commenced to rain, which continued, more or less, all day, with calm at night. Made large fires all round tents, but to little purpose, for the enemy beat us owing to its being calm; the fires were useless to keep them off.

Monday, 13 January 1862.
At 6.30 a.m. started in the galley to explore further up the river, taking Wilson to assist and point out the dangers. After going about four miles, came to what I conclude must be the Burial Reach of Stokes, towards the head of which there was not more than six inches of water (low water) for half a mile, and it was necessary to carry and launch the boat over it very carefully, it being of a jagged and rocky formation. Proceeded upwards by the S.E. arm, and after going over four other rocky bars by the same means, (lightening the boat and carrying her) got up about eighteen miles by 3 p.m. The course made direct being about S.E., and finding a dry ford close to us, I considered it likely Walker crossed here, but on exploring found no tracks, or signs of his having done so. Marked a tree, and it being then 5 p.m., had some tea, and returned to the first rocky bar, with the hope of getting over it by the same means as coming up, but the water being much lower, and the rocks bare and very ragged, I gave it up, and prepared to get some rest, but we were not able to get any for the enemy, and as the tide had risen high enough at 9.30 p.m., we got over the bar and pulled on down again, the men keeping on their oars all night.

Tuesday, 14 January 1862.
We were at the head of Burial Reach at daylight, and at the camp at 7.30 a.m.; found Griffiths better, but two of the men unwell, and no further discoveries made. Had some rest, and after dinner started with Griffiths, to take a pattern of the tracks seen (supposed to be camels); this being done, marked a large gum tree with:

^ [a broad vertical arrow]
V
N
Jany 14, 1862

put a memorandum into a bottle and buried it at its foot with arrow pointing at it, and the word "Dig" In the memorandum I stated that as I had been eighteen days searching for him, without success, I must conclude he had gone on ; that if all was well which I had no reason to doubt, notwithstanding my disappointment at not meeting him, I trusted to do so in Melbourne.

Wednesday, 15 January 1862.
At day dawn struck camp, and after early breakfast started downwards with the tide. At 6.30 a.m. two natives made their appearance on the opposite bank, but would not come near us; sent Wilson and two seamen to walk down from point to point, while the boat was going slowly round the reaches, with the hope that some marks might yet be discovered, and determined to explore any arms of the river I might pass. Afterwards took Wilson and men on board at 9 a.m., they having seen nothing after going about five miles. On passing the arms on either side, I found they were mere ditches, partly dry at low water, but very different at high tide, so that no good end could be served by my tracking the boat up them for a short distance. Determined at once to return to the ship. After dinner pulled on to 4.30 p.m., when the flood tide running too strong, anchored until it slacked at 10 p.m., then continued pulling down, and at midnight anchored in sea reach.

Thursday, 16 January 1862.
At 2 a.m. a heavy thunder storm with rain, clearing off at daylight; saw the ship bearing N. by E., started for her and got on board at 9.30 a.m. Started at once with the ship and anchored at 5 p.m. in Investigator Roads. Found poor Frost had departed this life at 6.30 a.m. on the 31st December, and that the news from the Albert was "All well." A heavy squall from S.W. at sunset, ending with more or less rain during the whole night. I took medicine on going to bed, but could get no rest, being very unwell after the late exposure to the sun, and break of rest.

Friday, 17 January 1862.
The wind at S.W. with squalls and rain all the twenty-four hours. Got some sleep this morning and feel all the better for it. Thermometer 92° to 82°.

Saturday, 18 January 1862.
The wind round to N.E., with thunder, lightning, and squalls of rain veering to N. and N.W. Feeling much better, I visited the grave of poor Frost, and saw that all which was necessary was being done by preparing a headstone and some fencing for it. Squally, with rain, close damp weather ; very relaxing. Thermometer 86° to 87°.

Sunday, 19 January 1862.
Strong N.W. wind, with squalls and rain throughout. Performed Divine service. Thermometer 87° to 82°.

Monday, 20 January 1862.
Strong N.W. wind with sharp squalls of rain throughout the twenty-four hours. Sent all the crew on shore to wash clothes, and have the rest of the day to themselves as a change ; which was made the most of I observed, by their having several games on the sand, and returning on board orderly and tired. Thermometer 85° to 82°.

Tuesday, 21 January 1862.
Squally with rain, but much less wind from W.N.W. Ordered the annual survey on all stores to be held, and in the afternoon proceeded in the gig to Bentinck Island to try and get up a friendly feeling with the natives there. On closing in with the beach they came down about thirty of them, men and boys, fully armed. Seeing they were in hostile inclination, I did not land, but proceeded further south away from them, and there landed, which was no sooner done than they were after us. On their coming up, tried to show them by every means that we were not come to do them harm, but to give them some presents, which I at once did by giving them two tomahawks ; they then laid their arms down, but would not leave them for a moment, or come near us. Seeing they were so very suspicious, I thought it better to leave them for the present, and did so, going over to Fowler's Island to look at it. I found it of a rocky formation of the same nature as up the Flinders River, w with some good dark soil on the top, on which good grass was growing, but no timber but stunted mangrove, and no water fit for anything.

Wednesday, 22 January 1862.
South-westerly wind, with gloomy weather, and thunder and lightning to the southward. The annual survey of all stores, ordered to be taken, is being carried out. Thermometer 82° to 78°.

Thursday, 23 January 1862.
Squally, with rain, from 4 to 6 a.m.; then clearing up, with a brisk south-east gale. Crew coaling ship. Continuing the survey of all stores. Very fine cool pleasant weather all night. Thermometer 82° to 79°.

Friday, 24 January 1862.
Strong S.E. breeze, increasing and decreasing with the sun as yesterday, giving us quite an agreeable change of weather. Thermometer 86° to 80°.
A general washing day for the crew on shore.

Saturday, 25 January 1862.
Light winds and very fine weather throughout. A general scrubbing day, inside and out, all over the ship.

Sunday, 26 January 1862.
A very fine day, but sultry. Thermometer in sun 124°, in shade 86° to 88°. Performed Divine service at 10 a.m. The fishing party having been very successful with the seine, sent the galley over to Bentinck Island with fifty pounds for the natives. There was no one in sight when the boatswain landed to place them under a tree; but, immediately after shoving off, they made their appearance, and rushed towards their feast. I hope, by repeating the presents, to get them to look upon us in a more friendly manner ere we leave.

Monday, 27 January 1862.
I find myself getting covered with boils, the same kind as most of the men have had; but mine are all over my head. This morning the fishing party have been very successful with the seine, so I took over to the natives another fifty pounds, also a turtle, at the sight of which they were much pleased, but still very distant and shy. Crew coaling ship until noon, and then washing clothes on shore. Light northerly airs, with fine but sultry weather. Thermometer below 88° to 84°.

Tuesday, 28 January 1862.
Calm and sultry weather. At 2 p.m. a light breeze from the north. Part of the crew coaling ship before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. Thermometer 87° to 85°.

Wednesday, 29 January 1862.
- A S.E. breeze at daylight, veering to N.E., with sultry weather, after 2 p.m., and lightning in the S.E. quarter after sunset. Coaling ship. Thermometer, 88° to 84°. Sick list shows an increase, with two cases of dysentery among them.

Thursday, 30 January 1862.
Calm and sultry weather. Coaling ship from daylight to 10 a.m., and from 3 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Thermometer 89° to 85°. A light north wind from noon to midnight.

Friday, 31 January 1862.
Calm to 10 a.m.; then light southerly and S.E. airs, veering to N.E., as yesterday. Coaling during the morning and evening, as above.

 

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