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April 1861.

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2083/1a.
Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, Journals and diaries of members of the VEE.
William John Wills, Transcription of Journey from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria and return to Cooper's Creek. Transcribed by James Smith in November 1861.

The return from Carpentaria to Cooper's Creek

5 April to 21 April 1861

Friday, 5 April 5 1861 - Oil Camp.
Earth and clayey plains, generally sound and tolerably grassed, but in other places bare salt bush, and withered.

Saturday 7 & Sunday 8 April 1861.
Earthy flats, cut into innumerable water courses, succeeded by fine open plains, generally very bare, but having in some places patches of fine salt bush. The dead stalks of portulac and mallows show that those plants are very plentiful in some seasons. Towards noon came upon earthy plains and numerous billibongs. The next day the water and feed much dried up, and nearly all the water has a slightly brackish taste of a peculiar kind, somewhat resembling in flavour potassio-tartrate of soda (cream of tartar).

Monday, 8 April 1861 - Camp 50 R.
Camped a short distance above Camp 75. The creek here contains more water, and there is a considerable quantity of green grass in its bed, but it is much dried up since we passed before. Halted fifteen minutes to send back for Gray, who pretended that he could not walk. Some good showers must have fallen lately, as we have passed surface water on the plains every day. In the latter portion of to-day's journey, the young grass and portulac are springing freshly in the flats, and on the sides of the sand ridges.

Tuesday, 9 April 1861 - Camp 51 R.
Camped on the bank of the creek, where there is a regular field of salt bush, as well as some grass in its bed, very acceptable to the horse, who has not had a proper feed for the last week until last night, and is, consequently, nearly knocked up.

Wednesday, 10 April 1861 - Camp 52 R.
Remained at Camp 52 R all day, to cut up and jerk the meat of the horse Billy, who was so reduced and knocked up for want of food that there appeared little chance of his reaching the other side of the desert; and as we were running short of food of every description ourselves; we thought it best to secure his flesh at once. We found it healthy and tender, but without the slightest trace of fat in any portion of the body.

Thursday, 11 April 1861.
Plenty of water in creek down to this point.

Friday, 12 April 1861.
Extensive earthy plains, intersected by numerous watercourses.

Saturday, 13 April 1861.
Small watercourses lined with lakes. Plenty of saltbush and chrysanthemums on either side. Camped on Stony Desert.

Sunday, 14 April 1861.

Monday, 15 April 1861.
It commenced to rain lightly at five a.m. this morning, and continued raining pretty steadily throughout the day. Owing to the wet and the exertion of crossing the numerous sand ridges, Linda became knocked up about four o'clock, and we had to halt at a claypan amongst the sand hills.

Tuesday, 16 April 1861.

Wednesday, 17 April 1861.
This morning, about sunrise, Gray died. He had not spoken a word distinctly since his first attack, which was just as we were about to start.

Thursday, 18 April 1861.
Another creek and native camp were passed.

Friday. 19 April 1861.
Camped again without water, on the sandy bed of the creek, having been followed by a lot of natives who were desirous of our company, but as we preferred camping alone, we were compelled to move on until rather late, in order to get away from them. The night was very cold. A strong breeze was blowing from the S., which made the fire so irregular that, as on the two previous nights, it was impossible to keep up a fair temperature. Our general course throughout the day had been SSE.

Saturday, 20 April 1861.

Sunday, 21 April 1861.
Arrived at the depot this evening, just in time to find it deserted. A note left in the plant by Brahe communicates the pleasing information that they have started today for the Darling; their camels and horses all well and in good condition. We and our camels being just done up, and scarcely able to reach the depot, have very little chance of overtaking them. Brahe has fortunately left us ample provisions to take us to the bounds of civilization, namely: Flour, 50 lb.; rice, 20 lb.; oatmeal, 60 lb.; sugar, 60 lb.; and dried meat, 15 lb. These provisions, together with a few horse-shoes and nails and some odds and ends, constitute all the articles left, and place us in a very awkward position in respect to clothing. Our disappointment at finding the depot deserted may easily be imagined; returning in an exhausted state, after four months of the severest travelling and privation, our legs almost paralyzed, so that each of us found it a most trying task only to walk a few yards. Such a leg-bound feeling I never before experienced, and hope I never shall again. The exertion required to get up a slight piece of rising ground, even without any load, induces an indescribable sensation of pain and helplessness and the general lassitude makes one unfit for anything. Poor Gray must have suffered very much many times when we thought him shamming. It is most fortunate for us that these symptoms, which so early affected him, did not come on us until we were reduced to an exclusively animal diet of such an inferior description as that offered by the flesh of a worn out and exhausted horse. We were not long in getting out the grub that Brahe had left, and we made a good supper off some oatmeal porridge and sugar. This, together with the excitement of finding ourselves in such a peculiar and almost unexpected position, had a wonderful effect in removing the stiffness from our legs. Whether it is possible that the vegetables can have so affected us, I know not: but both Mr Burke and I remarked a most decided relief and a strength in the legs greater than we had had for several days. I am inclined to think that but for the abundance of portulac that we obtained on the journey, we should scarcely have returned to Cooper's Creek at all.

 
     

Provenance: A note from Burke & Wills Web.
Wills buried these notes in the wooden camel-box cache at the Dig Tree on 30 May 1861. They were dug up and recovered by Alfred Howitt of the Victorian Contingent Party on 28 September 1861 and returned to Melbourne on 3 November 1861 by William Brahe and Weston Phillips. A transcript was made by James Smith of the Royal Society of Victoria's Exploration Committee on the 5 November 1861.

The original notes were subsequently lost and their whereabouts are unknown. Part of the transcript was also lost and so the only remaining record is that which was published in the press, which is reproduced above. Smith failed to indicate the format Wills used to keep these notes, so it is not clear whether these notes were part of a field-book, which was Wills preferred method of recording his journey, or entered in a notebook or on the expedition's loose leaf blue writing paper. However, a closer examinataion of the records at the La Trobe collection at the State Library of Victoria indicates these notes may have been recorded in a surveor's field notebook which had been cut in half. The other half of this notebook still exists and is in the National Library of Australia.

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