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October 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.

Tuesday, 1 October 1861.
Started all hands at 6 a.m. to make a turtle pond, by building a stone wall twenty feet below low water mark to high water line. This was continued throughout the day until 6 p.m., but not finished, as it is a very heavy task, every stone having to be brought from a distance, Hulk got her jury foremast up again, Ordered Mr Campbell, who is in charge of horses, to send on shore the two natives to get some fresh grass for the horses.

Wednesday, 2nd October 1861.
The Native Lass has been busy landing the coals to-day. Crew employed about turtlepond, and bringing Firefly alongside to supply her with water ; when, after filling her up to 1600 gallons, she was dropped astern again to her own anchor. The weather continues very fine, clear, and temperate: thermometer, in shade, 72° to 82°. A party on shore from Firefly cutting grass for horses. Many of the turtle are dying daily, so that the number is lessening very fast.

Thursday, 3rd October 1861.
Crew employed all day, and up to 8 p.m., about turtle pond. Got some of them on shore and placed them in it during the afternoon; put others overboard, with ropes fast to them, to try and save as many as possible. Threw away fifteen dead ones this morning. Native Lass continues discharging coals; and party from Firefly on shore cutting grass.

Friday, 4th October 1861.
Finished the turtle pond, and landed all that were left alive, which occupied nearly the whole day. Fifty-seven is the number put into it, but two died, and two escaped. A party cutting grass for the horses, and others condensing water. Visited Investigator Well with the chief engineer, to point out to him what I should like done when his work will admit of his taking the firemen to do it; which is, to dig the well deeper, and to secure the sides from falling in by planks, or spars, so that there may be a permanent supply for some years for the natives when they are on this island; as well as to water the two colliers, who find the natives troublesome at the waterhole on Bentinck Island, being driven away yesterday by them. No change in the weather, which continues very fine : thermometer, 76° to 80°; sympiesometer, 29.65; aneroid, 29.60. No illness, the only men on sick list being four with cut feet, from working at the turtle pond.

Saturday, 5th October 1861.
Very early this morning a strong breeze set in from the SE., which continued until 1 p.m., and died away to calm at sunset. One boat's crew ashore, under the gunner, to see all secure at the pond, as there was considerable sea on. Carpenter building a house to receive stores, and for the party who remain in charge ; remainder of crew cleaning and purifying ship. The late irregular duty has unavoidably prevented the daily routine being carried out. The colliers being much in want of water, I proceeded over to Bentinck Island with the galley, for the purpose of protecting them against the natives while they filled some casks; remaining there for full two hours without seeing a single native, although we walked round for nearly a mile; saw plenty of their tracks. After leaving a few strings of beads, some brass buttons, which had been intended for the Immigration Department of Victoria, also a showy pocket handkerchief, at one of their camping places, I returned to the boats, and found they had filled two hogsheads only of very stagnant, dirty water, by no means fit for drinking purposes; and, as it is the only water to be got, I told the two captains not to allow their men to drink it, but to send on board the Victoria for some as soon as they could. This is another unlooked for expenditure, to supply both these vessels, in addition to the horses and ourselves,- will keep our condenser going night and day; but if it will do it, and prevent sickness, I shall consider the condenser worth double its weight in gold to the expedition, as without it I could not have taken the horses off Sir Charles Hardy's Island and brought them here. On returning on board, the second lieutenant reported having seen many natives about a quarter of a mile to the south of us; they were seen by him and others, and estimated at about sixty in number. As the colliers, with their small crews, will be without water, when I go over to the mouth of the Albert River. I have determined on sending a party at once to dig out the Investigator Well, the first thing on Monday morning.

Sunday, 6th October 1861.
A day of rest for all. Wind, light from S.E., round by N.E. to N.W. Thermometer 82˚ at noon. Performed Divine service of the day.

Monday 7th October 1861.
At 5 a.m., barge reported; 6, she came alongside ,having been to the head of the Albert, and brought back a very favorable report of everything necessary for the expedition. Plenty of good landing places; good grass; good water, and every appearance, of the Firefly being able to go well up the river; but as it is not yet marked over the bar, it will be necessary to have it, done first. The report of the first lieutenant and Landsborough being both favorable, at 6 p.m., taking the dingy in tow, the barge started to mark the entrance of the river. A party away under chief engineer, deepening Investigator Well for the colliers. Plenty of good water was found after going about ten feet down. Another party, under second lieutenant, landing provisions from Gratia to storehouse on shore. Firefly crew cleaning out horses. Carpenter building store. Ten turtle dead in pond this day, which were of course removed from it as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 8th October 1861.
Brought the Gratia alongside, and received about eighty tons of coals and the greater part of our provisions out of her. A party on shore for grass, and another finishing turtle pond. Thirty-seven were seen alive this morning. Thermometer 82˚ to 86˚.

Wednesday, 9th October 1861.
Employed finishing coaling, taking a total of 115 tons on board. Had the hulk along side to fill up with water, and to put on board the stores for land parties under her crew. All being completed, and a small party landed here to protect the stores under Mr Law (mid.), and giving general instructions to the officer in charge of the hulk (Mr Hanfield, mate), the boats were hoisted up ready for starting in the morning to the mouth of the Albert River.

Thursday, 10th October 1861.
At 7 a.m. left with the hulk in tow, steering the entrance of the Albert River. At 10 anchored in three fathoms, with Flinders trees bearing S.S.W. Distance from the nearest land, about eight miles. The barge not being in sight, to mark the anchorage, as was arranged, I did not, deem it prudent to stand into shoal water with a hulk astern of me. At 2.30 p.m. I left the ship with the cutter to sound in-shore, and saw the barge bearing S.S.E: Steered for her, keeping the lead going, and found three fathoms for three miles in-shore of me, and two and a half for the next two, to where the barge was anchored, placing a buoy on the elbow of n channel ; but the necessary marks not quite finished for taking the hulk in through the channel.

Friday 11th October 1861.
At 4 a.m. blowing a strong S.E. breeze. The hulk was reported drifting to sea; sent the barge to her assistance, and finding she continued drifting, got up steam and proceeded after her, towing her in. On heaving in the cable found the anchor-stock was gone; made another; and sent barge away with buoys to mark the channel, the cutter following at 0.30 p.m. with more to assist. At 3 p.m. shifted the ship two and a half miles further in-shore, and proceeded with galley to examine the buoys and channel, returning on board at 7 p.m. The weather continues very fine, the thermometer ranging from, 78˚ in the night to 92˚ in the day, the wind going round will the sun. A strong breeze in the morning from S.E. to north, and very light at noon; calm at 8 p.m. As Landsborough reports but three days hay left, and neither bran or corn remaining, gave orders that the crew should breakfast at 4.30 a.m. so as to be on board the hulk at daylight; for although the officers and crew complain of' being overworked, I have no alternative but keeping at it, trying as it must be to all. The obvious necessity of doing so has determined me to try every means of getting her inside, or at the time he states they will be without food. Owing to the ship being obliged to lay five miles from the nearest land, and with the change of monsoon so near, I do not think it safe to be far away from her myself without the first lieutenant and more of the crew on board: all the seamen except eight being away with the hulk, or at the dépôt on Sweer's Island.

Saturday, 13th October 1861.
At 5 a.m. proceeded with the first lieutenant, the barge, and cutters' crews on board the hulk. A strong breeze from S.E. Weighed and set sail on jury masts; stood on very well over the ebb tide for about four miles, when in the channel steering N.N.W. grounded at 7.15 a.m. in nine feet water, half an hour too late to get over this part, which Woods tells me is the shoalest part of the bar. The tide will fall about feet more, but I do not apprehend any injury to the hulk. Nothing further can be done until next tide. Returned on board with the barge, to give her crew a few hours' rest out of the sun, after their long exposure for several days.

Sunday, 13th October 1861.
At 5 a.m. strong N.E. winds, with the thermometer down to 67˚. The hulk over the bar. Signalled; being west of the bank, and in the channel. All safe. Performed Divine service. The least water shown by the lead alongside was thirteen feet six inches. At 3 p.m. wind decreasing. Calm at sunset, which was very grand.

Monday, 14th October 1861.
SE. wind, more moderate, and dying away to calm at noon At 10 the hulk was seen standing in to the river, and a signal was made out by Mr Gascoyne denoting the word "discovered:" the great distance off preventing anything else hoisted being made out with any degree of certainty, I proceeded with the whaler after the hulk, hoping they might have discovered some traces of Burke or Walker's party. I left to ascertain the truth myself, at 12.45 p.m., and after a long and heavy pull in the broiling sun, overtook the hulk about six miles up the river, at 5 p.m., fast aground, opposite a steep bank, which had been selected for landing the horses, if water could be found; but Landsborough had just returned from exploring, without finding any, and there being a muddy creek which the horses could not cross, I ordered Mr Woods to take the vessel higher up, and only to land the horses where they could have water. The signals I found were made out all wrong; no discovery had been made, but Mr Woods wished to inform me the horsss (sic) had eaten all their food up. When I got on board a party had been on shore collecting gram for them, and got plenty. Having now no fear of their starving, and seeing everything was being done by Woods and Landsborough that was possible for their safety, I left them at 5.30 p.m. to return to the ship. The men pulled all the way on board, where we arrived at 9.30 p.m.

Tuesday, 15th October 1861.
Moderate S.E. winds to noon, then calm. Putting boats in order, and otherwise getting them ready for service. At 3.30 left the ship, with cutter and galley, to try the seine in the entrance of the river; had three hauls, and succeeded in getting about 190 lbs. of very good fish—enough for all on board. Got back to the ship at 9 p.m. Thermometer 6 a.m. 75°, noon 80°.

Wednesday, 16th October 1861.
Moderate easterly wind, which freshened to strong N.E. breeze at noon. drawing gradually round, and dying away in the N.W. at sunset, with cool and temperate nights. Nothing can be more healthy than the weather at present. Thermometer 78° at noon to 72° in the night. If all is going well, the whaler in charge of the gunner ought to be back before the morning to say the horses are safety landed.

Thursday, 17th October 1861.
The weather and winds as yesterday. Anxiously looking out for the whaler all day, but seeing no sign of her I left the ship at 3 p.m. in the cutter, to meet or cut her off by entering the inlet * bearing S. by W. ½ W. from the ship, which I was under the impression led into the Albert, through Landsborough Inlet crossed the bar of this entrance at low water, with only two feet water on it pulled on, and kept the western shore a-board until 9 p.m., when finding we had not got into the Albert, and having gone at least fifteen miles in the different bends of the river, (which it turned out to be) I anchored for the night. The boat's crew had been pulling for six hours, and required some rest, but to our great annoyance, we no sooner made our boat as comfortable as possible for the thirteen who were in her, than we were set upon by myriads of mosquitoes and sand-flies, whose tormenting attacks we had to bear as well as we could, and the punishment they inflicted (although every scheme was tried to evade them) will not soon be forgotten. Finding no rest was to be obtained, and that I was clearly in another river, which I did not come in any way prepared to explore, expecting to return on board by 9 p.m.

* This inlet is not marked on any chart or noted in any work, but is supposed to be the mouth of the Leichardt (sic).

Friday, 18th October 1861.
I got under weigh again at 3.15 a.m.,. taking care to keep the same shore (western) on board until the ship was in sight, which l reached at 9.15 a.m. This river, which I think deserves the name of one, is clear for navigation inside, and of good breadth, with apparently good depth of water ; it is also, in many places, very prettily timbered; and the soil, as seen from the boats, looked very good, but from the appearance of salt over some of the plains, it is no doubt overflown on the spring tides. It is as good, if not superior, to the Albert, but very tortuous. I had only a pocket compass, no lead line with me, and did not keep a record of the courses of the reaches or depths of water in them. Their breadths were from 100 to 400 yards. Not a native was seen, or any signs of them whatever. Fired the pivot gun at 8 p.m.

Saturday, 19th October 1861.
At 11.30 p.m. whaler came alongside, bringing the welcome news of twenty-three horses being landed in safety and two weak ones kept on board, but no intelligence of Walker. Fired the pivot gun at 8 p.m. Our distance from the shore being good five miles, I do not think it of much service. From my own observations the whole coast appears to be intersected by rivers and creeks for some miles. Light N.E. and N.W. winds, with very fine weather. Despatched the whaler to dépôt with stores at 3 p.m., and tried the seine again at 4.30, but owing to the time of tide being flood, got very few fish. Thermometer in shade 78° to 82°.

Sunday, 20th October 1861.
Wind from N.E. to N.W., light, with very fine weather throughout. Thermometer 82½°. All continuing very healthy on board. There are four only on the sick list, with boils on their legs and hands. No duty performed this day, excepting what is necessary for discipline and the health of the crew.

Monday, 21st October 1861.
The few sheep I brought to use as circumstances might require for any of the expedition, being without bay or anything to eat, sent the galley to cut some grass for them, and at 2 p.m. whaler returned, reporting hulk ten miles further up, and that the horses were doing very well. Wind N.E. and N., fine clear weather. Thermometer 81° to 79°. At 7.30 p.m. made out a signal fire on the beach, bearing S.S.W. ½W. Fired a gun at 8 p.m., and sent up a rocket at 8 30; also, burnt a blue light at 9. After the rocket, the fire not being kept up as before, I considered it was possible for Walker to be the party who were endeavoring to call our attention. Made the necessary arrangements for landing at daylight, as the danger from the nature of the coast, and our distance, prevented my doing so at once.

Tuesday, 22nd October 1861.
At 5 A.M.. left the ship in the cutter for the place where the fire was seen last night, but found on landing it was natives only who had camped there, and they all disappeared on our approaching the shore. Returned on board rather disappointed by 9.30 a.m., and weighed from off the Albert. Proceeded towards Sweer's Island, where we anchored at 2 p.m., and found all well at our dépôt. I was a little surprised to learn from Mr Law that our 8 o'clock gun had been heard very distinctly every night, the distance being twenty-six miles in a straight line to windward. It was also reported by Mr Frost yesterday that it was very distinctly heard ten miles above the Norman Islands in the river, so that if Mr Walker is anywhere near he is sure of hearing it or the howitzer on board the Firefly. I am sorry to find the colliers are not nearly ready for starting on their voyage.

Wednesday, 23rd October 1861.
The master of the Gratia reported that some of his men and the shipwrecked seamen of the Firefly had got drunk on the porter which he had on board as cargo belonging to this vessel. Ordered the second lieutenant to take two of the warrant officers on board, and to survey the same. At 10 a.m. started with cutter and dingy to lay down three buoys to mark the dangers off the Locust Rock, Fowler's Island, and a long spit off this island. All being done, returned at 3.30 p.m. on board. Also, (ordered a trench to be dug at dépôt to bury porter in, which was carried out, six hogsheads being landed.

Thursday, 24th, October 1861.
Colliers discharging cargo; hauled cutter up to repair. Sent two men to cut up turtle to cure for shore parties (Landsborough's and Walker's). Condensing water and putting ship to rights a little with remainder of crew. A strong N.E. breeze from 6 a.m. to noon, with a windy appearance, but dying away to a light northerly air at sunset. Thermometer 78° to 81°. Gratia discharging coals, and schooner ballasting,

Friday, 25th October 1861.
Party on shore cutting up and jerking turtle ; found that three of them, of 3½ cwt. each, will only yield about 80 lbs. of the meat dried, and that it is very doubtful whether we can succeed in drying it, for the blow-flies kept one hand turning it the whole day and driving away these enemies to our success. Carpenter repairing cutter ; engineers at work on boiler. Saw three natives on Bentinck Island from the ship to-day; they appeared to be fishing. It has been reported to me that about thirty have been seen on this, Sweer's Island, and are at its north end, where a lake has been seen by some of the ramblers of the colliers. Gratia discharging coals to-day.

Saturday, 26th October 1861.
Party under the gunner jerking turtle, another under the second lieutenant landing stores from Gratia to dépôt on shore. The captain reported his coals all out to-day, and that about thirty-five tons of ballast would enable him to be ready for sea. Cleaning bilges and other parts during the day with the rest of the crew.

Sunday, 27th October 1861.
Wind from S.W., very light until 8 a.m., when it changed suddenly to N.E.; lightning to the southward from 8 to 10 p.m., but not much wind throughout the night or day. Performed the Divine service of the day. Very fine, but warm. Thermometer 84° to 82°. Sympiesometer 29.50 to 29.45. Aneroid 29.53 to 29.50.

Monday, 28th October 1861.
Very little wind all day, and close, hot weather, with lightning at sunset in the S.S.E. Gunner and party jerking turtle on shore; the rest of the crew employed as requisite on board. Thermometer 82° to 86°. Sympiesometer 29.50 to 29.45. Aneroid 20.58 to 29.50.

Tuesday, 29th October 1861.
Very little wind all day and close hot weather; heavy cloud to the N.E., with water spirts(sic), fork lightning, and thunder, which all passed off to the westward. Colliers report nearly ready for sea; preparing despatches to go by them. Gave them all their receipts this day, so they can start at once if they choose. A party trenching in storehouse.

Wednesday, 30th October 1861.
Weather much the same as yesterday; but no squalls, and the wind from the eastward. Ordered a survey of all provisions to check expenditure, and report to Government the number of days I could remain on the gulf. A party on shore curing turtle, and trenching in stores landed. Thermometer 83° to 81°.

Thursday, 31st October 1861.
Light wind throughout going; round with the sun; threatening for rain to S.W., but none came. Signed the clearance of colliers. Carpenters, examining and caulking where necessary outside. Wrote an order to each master of collier, to take on with them the shipwrecked seamen of Firefly, which was complied with, and at 2.30 p.m., they both left for their destinations, Batavia and Sourabaya; and, passing out to the southward, were out of sight at 4 p.m. The despatches and private letters were put on board Native Lass. The Victoria is now left alone to continue her humane task, although it is a hopeless one, I fear, from the length of time that has elapsed. It will be carried out so long as our provisions will admit, which is 120 days from this day, with the hope that we may be rewarded by being succeeded in recovering our missing friends within that time, or some record of their having succeeded in crossing the continent and returned.

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