Dr Ferdinand von Mueller
Wednesday, 25 November 1857
Presented at an Extra Meeting of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, held in the Hall of the Mechanics' Institution [Collins-street, Melbourne], at ' half past seven o'clock. There was a full attendance."
If additions to the geographical knowledge of the globe in every age and in every country elicit the deepest interest, how much greater claims have the exertions of our own explorers on the citizens of Australia.
If a traveler's progress through a country, densely occupied by native races, domiciled and more or less advanced in industry, is still watched with pleasure or anxiety, even should he gain no space for widening the dominions of the Anglo-Saxon race of how much more importance is any new information then on that country, which we adopt as our home, and which supports, notwithstanding its almost equal size to that of Europe less inhabitants than many of the capitals of European states? And if the wandering through the low and humid regions of an equinoctial zone, through regions little qualified for the lengthened exercise of our physical strength, still insures the interest of all, how much more deserves our enquiry into the nature of a country which is well adapted for the exercise of our labour, all the sympathy of a young and enstruggling nation?
Our desire to unveil the remaining unknown portions of Australia is not limited at this moment by demands on our patriotism or our progress alone; its future exploration is likewise claimed by our humanity, and by our honour as a nation.
With the discovery of gold a new epoch commenced in our history; and whilst in former days a wider occupation of pasture-ground was rendered by the increased transit distance to the coast, often hardly remunerative, we find now that the daily influx to our agricultural and mining population renders such extension quite imperative. Again by Cadell's enterprise, judiciously encouraged by Sir Henry Young, the navigation of the Murray stream has been achieved, and has, by the facilities which it offers for a wider inland communication, conquered for settlement a tract of country previously all but unavailable. Deprived of many navigable streams of the interior, we may expect that also by a railroad system vitality will be diffused in later days through many of the dormant wastes of Australia.
And lastly a noble zeal manifests itself all through this country for a renewed endeavour to dissipate the doubts in which the fate of Dr Leichhardt's party has been involved for ten years, and the early appeal of Captain Sturt, the venerable and the greatest of all Australian explorers, to search with equal ardour for the wanderer of the desert, as for the wanderer of the pole, raised a renewed echo in many a feeling heart. However faint the hope of finding any of Leichhardt's little band amongst the living, we would responding to the call, redeem our debt at least to their memory. No one can more deeply deplore than myself, that it has not been the destiny of the last Australian explorer to gain any tidings of the missing party, although when crossing the country between East Australia and the north coast, our hope of learning of their fate was not less justified than ardent.
But it would be needless to explain the necessity of unceasing labours for a final and complete exploration of Australia. Yet since it fell to my share to participate in the work of a former expedition, I thought the Institute in fostering these projects, might indulgently accept my own impressions, as to the best accomplishment of such a task.
In order to obtain a clearer view of what remains to be achieved yet by geographical research, a rapid glance will be needed over the respective labours of those great men, to whom not we alone, but the whole world of science is indebted for all we know at present of the nature of Australia.
But as the question brought before the Institute has reference alone to inland exploration, I have excluded from this summary all that relates exclusively to maritime survey, moreover since an admirable memoir on the examination of our shores has been furnished in the ever valuable work of Flinders, to which the lucid notes of Count Strzelecki on King's and other navigator's labours, may serve as a supplement.
To Mr Oxley's early labours (in 1817), I can but briefly allude, containing only limited evidence for conclusion on the nature of the interior. He extended the geographical survey in 1817 to the marshes of Macquarie and Lachlan, to the Castlereagh, and to the tributaries of the Darling as well as over a great extent of the mountain ranges of New South Wales, Mount Seaview, being the loftiest of those which he examined, attaining an elevation of 6000 feet.
Our acquaintance, however, with the Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers, dates from an earlier period, and we are indebted to Mr Evans for the first account of them. Had Mr Oxley been able to extend his journey for one day farther to the south-west, the Murrumbidgee, and probably with it the Murray, would have been discovered.
Mr Allan Cunningham was the first who reached the sources of the Darling from Liverpool-plains, and had ' the first glimpse of the splendid pastoral country, now generally knows as Darling Downs. The highest elevation examined by him is Mount Lindsay, in the vicinity of Moreton Bay (5700 feet).
Messrs Hume and Hovell performed the first overland journey from New South Wales to Port Phillip, determining thereby the western limits of the Alps and crossing all the rivers rising on the western side of those gigantic mountains.
Captain Sturt, accompanied by Mr Hume, discovered in 1829 the Darling, a river of such great importance as regards the wide extent of its tributaries. Where it was struck (in lat 30°S) it proved saline. The discovery of the Boggan (or New Year's Creek), of Oxley's table land and other features of the interior, resulted likewise from this expedition.
Major, afterwards Sir Thomas Mitchell, in three expeditions undertaken in 1831-32, 1835 and 1836, added to our information on the Darling and many of its tributaries, discovering Mount Hope, the Loddon, the Grampians, the Wimmera, the Glenelg River, the Pyrenees, Hopkins River, Campaspe, Mount Macedon, Fuller's Range; indeed the greatest inland portion of our colony. But our enterprising citizens Messrs Henty were the harbingers of colonisation on these shores. Bearings were likewise obtained by Sir Thomas Mitchell to some prominent points on the western outskirts of our Alps, for instance, to Mount Buller and to Mount Aberdeen.
The exertions of this celebrated man, which tended so materially to our early welfare, have not been, we must confess, sufficiently appreciated by this colony.
Lieutenant (now Sir George) Grey, Governor of South Africa landed towards the end of 1837, at Hanover Bay, whence he discovered and explored to some extent the Glenelg River. It is a stream of some importance; probably navigable near its mouth, winding either through sandstone table land, or a fine basaltic country, highly adapted for cattle runs, not only on account of its luxuriant meadows, but also as being within reach of three harbours, and enjoying likewise a climate quite salubrious. He also examined the elevated watershed between the Glenelg and Prince Regents River, (the latter previously revealed by the late Admiral King), and the occurrence of a species of Araucaria (probably distinct from any other kind), could not fail to attract the attention of such a keen observer as Captain Grey. His and Lushington's journey terminated in a cheerless sandstone country, similar to that in which most of the rivers rise in North Australia.
He landed in February 1839, in Shark's Bay, with whale-boats only, discovered the Gascoigne, a river, perhaps already known to Fleming, who visited the same locality in 1667. The alluvium in the neighbourhood of that river was fertile, and fresh water lagoons existed in undulating ground near the Gascoigne. This observation will be valued, when we learn, that south of Shark's Bay water can only be obtained as far as known, at a distance of forty miles from a native well. Rising land however, was nowhere observed, to cheer the travelers on towards the east. His party's return to the settlements of Western Australia was effected by a foot journey from Gantheaume Bay, attended with the severest hardships and privations under which, one of the bravest of their companions sunk.
To this harassing journey we owe also our first knowledge of the River Murchison, which forms at present the most northern limit of the colonisation of western Australia. Its upper course is yet unknown, and may, according to Mr Gregory's opinion, afford yet, in a favourable season the means for examining the north-western interior of that colony, to our knowledge of which district the last labours of Mr Austin have also added in a slight degree.
Instead, however, of detailing the results of Captain Grey's labours south of Shark's Bay, I insert gladly a comprehensive published account of the physical geography of Western Australia, from the pen of my excellent and generous commander in North Australia, to whom also geography is indebted for the greatest amount of inland discovery in South West Australia.
The general character of the known portion of Western Australia is that of a moderately elevated tableland, rising about 1200 or 1400 feet above the sea; the rocks are almost wholly granite, covered with a thin stratum of sandstone, the surface of which, by its decomposition produces barren sandy soil, which is one of the causes of the scrubby vegetation and small development of grasses. The edge only of this table land is drained by the rivers, the water in the interior forming shallow lakes of saltwater during the rainy seasons, some of which overflow into the rivers, but others have no apparent outlet, while the small quantity of rain which falls in the interior is quite insufficient to balance the evaporation, which is excessive in consequence of the extreme dryness of the air.
On the western coast there is a narrow strip of lower land of sandstone formation which lies between the table land and the sea level, in lat 33°W, and rises gradually as it goes north to lat 28°, where it is 800 or 900 feet above the sea, and nearly hides the escarpment of the interior table land. It is near this point that granite has protruded, and it is in this rock that the mines of lead and copper exist; the rock being intersected by numerous metallic veins, some doubtless, of great value, while the granite of the interior table land is almost destitute of mineral deposits.
Coal has only been found in the valleys of the rivers at the base of the table land, along which it probably extends for a great distance, but is covered by sandstones of a later period.
Along the coast from Sharks Bay, nearly to Cape Leeuwin, there is a strip of limestone of recent formation. This has not been deposited in water but results from the constant accumulation of sand and broken shells which have been drifted from the sea beach by the force of the wind, and in course of time become indurated by the lime of the shells cementing the sand together, and forming a coarse rock, without any regular stratification and nearly destitute of fossils, this rock is still in course of formation, and may be seen in every stage of progress from distinct sand to compact limestone.
The only hills of any elevation, are some small detached ranges of sandstone, which has altered so much that its age cannot be exactly determined, but either belongs to the carboniferous series, or is of older date. This rock forms near hills near King George's Sound, and along the coast near Mount Barren, and rises to 3000 feet with rugged summits, which do not appear to have been covered by the ocean at the period when the sandstones, overlying the coal formation were deposited, and on their slopes above the limits of the sandstones which rest horizontally around them, long lines of water worn boulders of rock present the appearance of sea beach, though now nearly 500 feet above the ocean.
As every other part of Australia which I have yet examined shows distinct evidence of having been submerged at the period when these beaches were formed, it would be highly interesting to investigate, how far the remarkable prevalence of forms peculiarly Australian, in the flora of this portion of the continent may be connected with the fact of these hills having been islands during the period when the inundation of the greater portion of Australia must have destroyed the ancient vegetation of the country.'
The flora of the South West Australia is more replete with quite endemic forms than that of any other portion of the globe, and its vegetation is more universally restricted to locality than that of any country hitherto examined. This fact quite unimportant as it may appear, deserves a serious consideration in any theory on the interior. The question arises, is it likely that many mountains exist eastward of and similar to those of West Australia.
If so I think the plants destroyed by any great deluge, would have re-descended from such elevations, allotting thus a wider range to the species than they are known to possess.
To Count Strzelecki is due the credit of having ascended and measured for the first time (in 1840) many of the principal north east mountains of our Alps. As his account of some of the elevations stands in discrepancy to those measurements instituted in 1852 by the Reverend Mr Clark, I draw attention to the following scale of Alpine heights kindly furnished for this paper by the rev. gentleman. Mount Kosciusko 7308', second height of the Munyang Mountains 7064', Rams Head 6838', Bagong mountains at the sources of the Tumut River 6763', Bald Hill at the head of the Gungarlin River (tributary of the Snowy River) 5337', Marragurall or Mount Murray (head of the Murrumbidgee) 6987', Tollula, (head of the Murrumbidgee) 6934', Mount Gungarlin (Head of the Gungarlin River) 5337', Crakenback Hill 4697'. Other alpine mountains, near the sources of the Hastings have been measured by a member of this Institute, Mr Clement Hodgkinson. Accompanied by Messrs Riley and Macarthur, the Count completed the discovery of Gipps Land, into which my enterprising friend Mr Angus M'Millan had led the way before. The whole of the watercourses east and north of the La Trobe River had been crossed and named by M'Millan (in his advance to the coast from Lake Omeo in search of a southern harbour), whilst the first overland journey was accomplished by Strzelecki from Gipps Land into Western Port, and this not without the severest trials, the party abandoning their horses three weeks previous to their arrival at Western Port, hardly able to force their way on foot through extensive and almost impenetrable forests, intersected by swamps, creeks, and morasses.
The exertions of Captain Wickham and Stokes, the commanders of HMS Beagle between 1837 and 1843, by which manifold additions were gained to inland discoveries are praiseworthy in a high degree, particularly when we recollect that in the engagements for maritime surveys, the means for land exploration can be but limited in the extreme. The finest stream of tropical Australia, justly bearing a royal name, was then discovered. But since I contemplate to lay the principal results of the last North Australian expedition, to which I was attached, in a special paper before the institute, I will not dwell on this occasion on the importance of that discovery. The Adelaide river, winding through a level country, and doubtless rising in the same low table land as the South Alligator River, was found to be navigable upwards of fifty miles, and into fresh, offering thus to the fine pastures of Arnheim's Land, a favourable access. The tall Bamboo imparts to this river quite the aspect of an Indian stream. The discovery of the Albert, the Flinders and the FitzRoy Rivers resulted from the same expedition. Adansonia reaches its western limits on the FitzRoy.
In 1840 an expedition was fitted out conjointly by the Government and the colonists of South Australia for the exploration of the northern interior of that colony, under the command of the talented Mr Eyre, now Governor in West India, who in the year previous had gained the highest reputation as an explorer by his discovery of Lake Torrens, Mount Remarkable, and many other mountains and several of the rivers of South Australia; Mount Eyre forming the northern limit of his researches in 1839.
No one can read the lucid account of this journey without admiring his skill, his perseverance and courage, or without sympathising with his sufferings and bitter disappointments. Inhospitable tracts of country along the Flinders Ranges were reconnoitered by Mr Eyre, merely accompanied by a native boy, on one occasion 120 miles ahead of his party. A desperate push over a difficult country was necessary on more than one occasion to reach water, fifty miles to and fro to be traveled without a refreshing drink to either animals or men, and this at a season of the year (August), when it would have been abundantly expected. Traveling partially by night. alone rendered it possible for him to regain the camp of his party. Although in the subsequent advance of the squatters permanent watering places were discovered, it does not detract from the merits of the first and less fortunate explorer, who led the way into these regions.
In the months of June hardly any water existed on the western side of Flinders Range.
He discovered in this tour Mount Serle, one of the highest mountains in the northern tracts of that colony, rising to about 3000', afterwards more specially examined by Mr Sinnett, of this city. From the summit of that mountain the view to the N and NW presented an almost unbroken horizon, whilst Mr Eyre's progress to the north was utterly impeded by the circular expansion of Lake Torrens, a vast salt morass, the water where examined, proving perfect brine. The Mundy, the Burr, and the Frome Rivers were discovered, the water proved, however, in the lower portion of the Frome, to be perfectly saline, an observation confirmed afterwards also by Mr Sinnett; and, at Mount Distance the springs even were salt; brine springs having been found also by Captain Sturt previously in the Darling, in nearly the same latitude.
Undaunted by endless embarrassment and unparalleled hardships, Mr Eyre did not entirely abandon his task, but crossing the country to Baxters Range (a chain composed of Conglomerate), he opened for the first time the overland communication from the head of Spencers Gulf to the settlements of Port Lincoln, passing a sandy scrub-tract with a few granitic hills. He rejoined his small party, which on his former track of discovery along the almost waterless naked granitic ridges of Gawler Range, had reached Streaky Bay. Salt lakes, saline flats, and scrub, alternating with sandy ridges, completed also here the type of the genuine Australian desert, neither watercourses nor timber existing even under the high rocky declivities of Gawler Range.
The pages of Mr Eyre's journal afterwards relate even severer trials of his endurance and sufferings. Pushing on often through dense scrubs he forced, by sinking wells in the loose sand, his way to the great bight, but when endeavouring to round that dreadful portion of the country, the limestone rocks prevented him from obtaining water, by digging. For twenty-four days he in vain endeavoured to reach the head of the bight, being obliged after reaching it within twelve miles to abandon three horses his dray and provisions, and toiling unsuccessfully for seven days subsequent to their discovery.
It must, however, not be forgotten, that the season was unfavourable for his enterprise. Open grass plains were isolated and rare, the surface rock being invariably an oolitic limestone. Mountains were nowhere seen for encouraging the traveler to deviate from his coast route inland, not trees were observed. Permanent surface water was totally absent around the bight, and the natives denied also existence inland. From the head of the bight, westward for 300 miles, water was only obtained on one locality in the sand-ridges, the universal extent of the limestone formation frustrating every attempt of getting it by digging.
The dew-fall, together with humidity of the sea air, alone saved the remainder of Mr Eyre's sheep and horses from perishing.
Our surprise and sympathy are equally raised, when we learn that these poor animals could have traveled six and seven days, over a generally scrubby country, in long stages, perfectly deprived of water. Away from the humid coast this would have been an impossibility. I will not detain the Assembly with relating all the horrors attending the murder of Mr Eyre's companion, further than observing how careful a traveler should be in placing implicit reliance in the attachment of natives, however kindly treated, to their masters. But let us sufficiently value the evidence of Mr Eyre in our theories of the Australian interior, when he establishes the startling fact, that from Russell Range, discovered on this occasion to the termination of Spencers Gulf, a coast line of more than 800 miles, not a single river enters the ocean, a fact without parallel in any part of the globe.
The first journey of Dr Leichhardt performed in 1844 and 1845 will ever be recorded as a triumphantly successful exploit, performed by slender means. The line of his wanderings extends over 3000 miles of unexplored country, and for the first time a land journey from the eastern settlements of this country to the extremity of the north coast was prosperously accomplished.
We learned from Leichhardt that in about lat. 18°S the division takes place between the waters of the Gulf Carpentaria and those of the east coast. We learnt from him the unexpected existence of numerous, although insignificant rivers falling into the Gulf of Carpentaria, We learnt from him the extensive fertility of Arnheim's land, and of eastern tropical Australia and that a salubrious climate pervades the greater part of Northern Australia. The life of Mr Gilbert, a meritorious contributor to the works of Gould, was sacrificed in the journey in which he shared for pursuing his favourite science.
The expedition performed in 1846 by the late Sir Thomas Mitchell was also replete with great results, and may be regarded like that of Sturt as very conclusive of the probable nature of Central Australia.
The Darling tributaries were further examined and in about 25°S high ranges discovered, from whence the waters are flowing the Burdekin, towards Lake Torrens, to the Darling. Fine grazing districts stretch along many of these watercourses. Mr Kennedy traced subsequently the Barcoo or Victoria River discovered by Sir Thomas Mitchell, found it identical with Cooper's Creek and traced likewise the Warrego until it seemed to be lost in the desert. Between the Warrego and Calgoa he encountered a waterless country for 80 miles.
The Barcoo is an excellent example of the nature of the generality of the Australian desert rivers. From a fine water course with large pools it spreads, as soon as it leaves the suddenly terminating sandstone ridges, into countless channels over a depressed country devoid of vegetation, until with reappearance of hills, the drainage once more collects in channels retaining permanent water.
In the subsequent year Dr Leichhardt, accompanied by Mr Bunce, connected his former route as far as Peak Ranges with some of the northerly positions gained by Sir Thomas Mitchell.
During the years 1844, 1845, and 1846, the discoverer of the Murray River again took the field for geographical research under the auspices of the British Government. Assisted by Messrs Poole and Brown, he found on his way to central Australia the Barrier Ranges, a chain of low mountains, formerly, perhaps, an island in the ocean. Favoured by rain showers Captain Sturt's officers reached, the east wing of Lake Torrens. Mount Lyall, the highest in the eastern vicinity of Lake Torrens, measuring 2000' was examined, and the Grey Ranges, (flat topped mountains denuded of forest vegetation, in which it seems slate rocks predominated), emanating from a very depressed desert, became also known. The thermometer rose in December to 131° Fahrenheit in the shade, and to 151° under direct exposure to the sun-rays. Captain Sturt proved here the cessation of high land to the east and northeast within a considerable distance.
Deprived of water all around, beyond the friendly glen, to which he was led by Providence, he found himself imprisoned for many months at a solitary pool of Frome Creek, on the western side of Grey-range, lat. 29°S, until the brief rainy season reappeared, surrounded by one of the most gloomy regions that men ever traversed, the stillness of death reigning around them. Captain Sturt further examined the NE part of Lake Torrens, and his companion Mr Browne, in a letter to myself, affirms again after the late discovery of fresh water in the Torrens Basin, that it was where they tasted it indisputably salt. Sturt's brave associate, Mr Poole, fell on this lonely spot a victim of the scurvy. At last released by rain, Captain Sturt and Mr Brown proceeded in August 1845 to the NW, and encountered all the singular phenomena of the desert; low hills raised to gigantic mountains by refraction, the deceptive mirage, the extraordinary changes of the temperature from burning heat at day time to freezing cold at night. He proved by a gallant dash into the interior, worthy to have been crowned with an equally brilliant success, the non-existence of high ranges north of Lake Torrens for at least 300 miles, traversing nothing but a seemingly endless desert, which in its more depressed places appeared like a dry recess of the sea. From sand ridges, like the waves of the ocean in endless succession, interspersed with salt lakes, he returned from his most northern position, within one degree of the tropics, two long days journey away from the last water, without any prospect of finding it by farther advance.
Still the desert with all its horrors could not deter the intrepid Sturt from a new attempt of reaching the centre of the continent. Traveling in October, somewhat to the eastward of his last track, he was fortunate enough to intersect the channels which radiate from Cooper's Creek, a delightful oasis in the desert, formed by the drainage of the country declining to the south-west. This watercourse has bye-channels, like most of the North Australian Rivers, and is likewise lined with arborescent melaleucas. Some of the pools were salt. Beyond it only saltlakes and arid country occurred, the shallow stony desert intercepting his progress. From the last sandhill his eye wandered hopelessly for some bright object on which to rest: the appearance of the desert was that of an immense sea beach. Returning along his track guided by a lamp at night, he accomplished his journey back to Cooper's Creek (92 miles), - receiving relief of thirst only by one of his wells; had this failed to supply the element of life, the destruction of the horses would have also sealed the dreadful fate of the explorers.
Captain Sturt is of opinion that the fall of the sub-tropical interior is to the westward, and that large tracts of it are occasionally inundated, bringing fish to the isolated parts of such waters as O'Halloran Creek Disappointed in all his hopes, prostrated by scurvy, and seemingly cut off again by the dryness of the season from his retreat to the Darling, a distance of 270 miles; it required the fortitude of a Sturt to bear up with his fate. However, by a skilful plan and by the most praiseworthy perseverance of his companions, the retreat was effected in safety, the country being previously reconnoitered for water by Mr Browne as far as Flood's Creek, a then waterless distance of 118 miles. A supply for men and animals was carried part of the way in hides, and the achieved in two days and three nights. On two occasions again the heat exceeded 130° in the shade, and approached to 160° in the sun. The water evaporated in the creeks at the rate of 1 inch per day.
The exploration of Cape York peninsula in 1848, under Mr Kennedy, although not fruitful in important results, stands on record as one of the most dreadful in the annals of geography, ending almost at the point of its accomplishment, in the loss of of the most talented and philanthropic explorers of which Australia can boast, and in the consequent almost total destruction of his party.
Mr Kennedy landed in Rockingham Bay; but, such was the difficulty of forcing his way through the jungles and morasses, and such the unhealthiness of the climate, that, after two months struggling with endless impediments, he found himself yet within thirty miles of his landing-place. At last he succeeded in crossing the coast swamps and the scrubby dividing range, and in the progress of his journey northward he was rewarded with the discovery of the main branch of the Mitchell River, and many of its tributaries. Leaving the granitic ridges behind him, he followed the waters of the Kennedy River to Princess Charlotte Bay. At the Depôt at Weymouth Bay, only two of his followers survived their sufferings, the rest sinking under illness and starvation. The young and accomplished leader fell under the spears of the savages, near Port Albany, and his faithful native alone reached the vessel awaiting them at Albany Island. Two of the party, left behind to attend to a dying man, were also never rescued, whilst only two of those encamped at Weymouth Bay were sated when on the brink of death.
During part of the years 1848 and 1819, Lieutenant Roe, Surveyor-General of West Australia, accompanied by Messrs H Gregory and Ritly, extended his survey as far as Russell Range, a low granitic chain, on the west point of the Australian Bight, many tracts of Western Australia having been opened, also by Mr Roe's labours in former years. Brewer Range and Dundas Hills were the northernmost points attained, and coal was discovered on the Fitzgerald River. The grassy country soon failed him, after leaving Cape Riche, and a barren scrub land with saltlakes took its place. The view from Fitzgerald Peak (1000' above the plains), presented a vast sea of dark scrub, intersected by broad belts of salt lakes and samphire marshes, winding through a country almost level. Between Fitzgerald Peak and Mount Ritly only a rain shower saved the party from destruction. On several occasions water was collected from bushes after dew, an expedient to which Mr Gregory likewise repeatedly resorted, in his West Australian travels, and which is effected best by the means of drawing blankets over the bushes loaded with dew. The whole northern horizon from his last position was perfectly unbroken.
The expedition of Mr Gregory (1855-1856), was attained in its beginning with so many disasters, that a less energetic and experienced leader would have failed, perhaps, to extricate himself from his difficulties. The transport vessel carried by the tide out of its course struck a coral reef near Point Keates, from which an escape was effected only after the lapse of seven days, and extreme suffering of the horses, arising from the oblique position of the vessel. Pressed also by this unfortunate delay for want of water, and having lost the guidance of our schooner in a dark night, we were compelled to land the horses at Point Pearce, indeed under those gloomy rocks, from which Captain Stokes was so successfully assailed by the savage. Fresh water was at last found after a long search over the dreary sandstone country. Having recruited our horses as far as circumstances would permit, we crossed in about three weeks, the country between our landing place and the Victoria River, on which tour also, the survey of the Fitzmaurice river, a romantic stream, became greatly extended.
The small schooner, sent to co-operate with the exploring party, was wrecked on its voyage up the Victoria River, a misfortune which shortened the North Australian exploration considerably, not only by the loss of a vast quantity of provisions, but also in rendering it unlikely, even after a superficial repair of the vessel at our camp, to receive afterwards any aid in the exploration of the country around the Gulf of Carpentaria, from whence alone by the re-establishment of a fixed camp the exploration could have been extended to Central Australia.
Mr Gregory continued his survey in November and December, 1855, along the upper part of the Victoria River and over the adjacent country, the climate and fertility of the country improving with our advance inland. Indeed, a luxuriant pastoral country was discovered, the sandstone table land having to a great extent receded before ridges and plains of basaltic origin.
The tropical rain season set in under thunder showers in November, advanced to regular daily rains in December, but ended in January. Thus, at the season desirable for inland travels, Mr Gregory advanced with the whole of his horses to the fine grass land of the Upper Victoria River, forming on one of its eastern tributaries a Depôt in about lat. 17°S, from whence a lightly equipped party of four, in which I had the honour to be included, traced the river to its sources in lat. 18°12' S L and 130° 39' E L.
With a desire of advancing in a south-easterly direction into Central Australia, we crossed the dividing table land, from whence the country gradually sinks towards the interior and the coasts, its elevation, however, on the points of culmination rarely exceeding 1200' to 1400'. The only watercourse which was discovered in this direction, and which bears now the name of my venerable patron, Sir William Hooker, was found to fade after a short course in the all-absorbing desert, notwithstanding our arrival on its banks at the most favourable season. From hence, on a westerly course, Mr Gregory reached, not without difficulties, an inland water-course, formed by the drainage of a wide, and for the greater part fertile valley of the low sandstone table land, the valley sloping almost imperceptibly towards the interior. But since, neither the regular tropical rain showers, nor those of the southern season reach to this latitude, occasional rain-clouds from either direction being almost constantly dissolved by the dryness of the atmosphere, it will not be surprising that along this faint and frequently obliterated watercourse, distinguished by Mr Gregory as Sturt's Creek, but few localities can be relied on for permanency of water; and we observed lastly, the drainage when forced through saline flats converted into brine.
It may suffice to say, that we noticed here the same features of the desert, so vividly described by all its former explorers.
The ferruginous drift sand, which extended along the lower part of Sturt's Creek, and surrounded the large and at the time of our visit, waterless salt lake on its termination, stretched in long regular waves east and west. Thus terminated our journey towards Central Australia, in lat. 20° 20`S L, and 127° 35' E L, at an elevation of 900` above sea level. No watercourses could be discovered east, south or West of termination Lake; no ranges to cheer us further on in difficult path, a country of unbroken barrenness before us.
The distance between Mr Gregory's furthest point and the Great Bight was nearly 800 miles; to the Fitzroy River 300 miles; to the entrance of the Victoria River 400 miles; to the settlements of Western Australia 950 miles; and to Captain Sturt's farthest position inland 700 miles; but we approached 100 miles nearer to the last locality when at the termination of Hooker's Creek, and came to within 450 miles of it, when reaching afterwards the sources of the Nicholson.
When leaving the Victoria River at the end of June, 1856, the dry season had so far advanced, that Mr Gregory's plan of crossing Arnheims Land in an south-east direction became frustrated; and only by a deviation to the north did we gain the systems of water belonging to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Nor could we postpone this journey till a more favourable season, as many of the vessel's crew already suffered severely from scurvy. Mr Gregory reached at the end of August the Albert River, on the southern extremity of the Gulf of Carpentaria, after having determined the length of all the rivers which enter that basin from SW, none rising at a greater distance than 100 miles from the the coast, none except the Albert being supplied by springs, all conveying merely the drainage of a sterile sandstone-plateau, which, continuous to the table land of the same formation occupies such a vast extent of Australia, here, with an elevation more frequently below than above 1000' The extensive flat ,summits of this formation are true desert.
Foreseeing the improbability of obtaining additional supplies from our ill-repaired schooner, Mr Gregory continued his journey to the eastward, whilst water became exceedingly scarce, in the scrubby tract of country which we traversed.
At a more favourable season of the year a passage over the dividing table land from the sources of the Flinders or Leichhardt River towards the Burdekin, would in all likelihood be practicable. But traveling south-east of the Gulf of Carpentaria during the month of September, we gained the waters of the east coast only by a circuitous route into York's Peninsula, crossing Newcastle-range, in which granitic and porphyritic rocks prevail from the sources of the Gilbert or perhaps Van Dieman River, the ranges still at their highest point not exceeding 2500'. Continuing our journey along the Burdekin to the Belyando, Mr Gregory proved the identity of the latter river with the Suttor of Dr Leichhardt. This journey from the NW coast into the East Australian settlements was performed within five months, and with a judicious choice between the better parts of Mr Gregory's and Dr Leichhardt's route, and by avoiding many of the angles in both, a light party may cross the continent in a similar direction, now almost within four months. And gradually the distance between the fair grassy country of Eastern and North-western Australia will still be shortened by the extension of squatting stations on the Burdekin, where the open character of the country, its salubrious climate, predominance of grass, the supply of water offered by an uninterrupted current of the river, and its constant proximity to the harbours of the east coast hold out the greatest facility for settlement By the water, which the Burdekin receives from between 18° and 24° S, probably a stream will be formed navigable near the sea, by which the otherwise difficult transit across the jungle morasses of the coast would be obviated. This interesting and highly important question remains yet to be solved.
In a scientific point of view the investigation of the high mountains scattered along the tropical east coast, such as Mount Abbott, Mount Dryander, Mount Hinchinbrooke (easy of access) Mount Bellenden Ker, rising to the elevation of 5000' would also be highly desirable.
The enterprise evinced by South Australia has led in the course of this year, likewise to a few new geographical discoveries.
Mr Swinden and his companions found Lake Torrens disconnected with Spencer's Gulf, and a wider extension of the former to the westward. Low stony hills extend along the south-west flank of the lake. Water, seemingly permanent, was discovered.
Mr Hack proceeded from Streaky Bay to the Gawler Ranges and found some stretches of new pastoral land, although saltbush country and scrub-land with salt-lakes, predominated. No hills of any size were observed in a north-westerly direction at or fifty miles beyond the Gawler Ranges. Fair grassy country with springs was traversed at the eastern side of Gawler's and towards Baxter's Range.
I cannot with silence pass the last observations on Lake Torrens by Mr Goyder. Not only because its waters where found to be fresh in the northern part of the lake, but also as a warning to travelers, how little we can rely on the permanency of water, which in an open desert country so rapidly evaporates !
Mr Oakden was repelled in 1851 from his position on fresh water lakes, west of Lake Torrens, filled by thunder showers at the summer season, but changing afterwards by evaporation, and by the solution of saline particles from the soil to salt-lagoons.
From a little Island in Lake Torrens, Captain Freeling found the view desolate in the extreme, the shallow waters, low islands, and mud extending around three parts of the horizon.
From the evidence of the preceding pages, it will appear that any large unknown rivers, which would afford the means of penetrating far inland can nowhere be expected to exist, unless between the FitzRoy River in North-western Australia and Shark's Bay on the Western Coast.
With the extent of the Murray and, its mighty tributaries we are now fully acquainted.
Mr Eyre's researches proved the absence of large rivers from the head of Spencer's Gulf to Russell Range in West Australia, and Captain Sturt's observations are conclusive as regards the want of large watercourses to the northward of Lake Torrens, although the improbability of any great mountain drainage, entering the north-west side of that lake, remains yet to be proved. In eastern tropical Australia the ranges dividing coast and inland waters are nowhere very distant from the sea, the western slope of the inland ranges not leading extensive water currents into the interior, one instance excepted, that of the Barcoo.
The length of the watercourses entering the southern part of the Gulf of Carpentaria has been determined, either positively, or may, as in the instance of the Leichhardt and Flinders Rivers be assumed from analogy not to exceed about 150 miles, whilst the absence of high mountains as fax as 18° south throughout the whole interior precludes the possibility of any large river occurring in the southern vicinity of that parallel. The want also of large westerly tributaries to the Burdekin, to the Belyando and Barcoo Rivers render the existence of high, extensive, and well-watered ranges in the unexplored portion of the eastern tropical interior quite unlikely.
Still the Cape River and the Clarke River, both unraveled, may perhaps afford the means of penetrating with facility to one degree westward of the Burdekin. From the observations of Eyre, Sturt, Mitchell, Kennedy, and Gregory, we may infer, that the deserts observed by these explorers at such distant points of the interior, yet found to be of so great general resemblance, are contiguous. Cheerless as this prospect must appear to the labours of future travelers, it must not be forgotten, that not only is the monotony of these immense desert-tracts broken occasionally by oases, destined in future to afford the means of communication throughout the continent, but that saline flats and isolated patches of grass land seem to be scattered everywhere through the interior, and will, in many instances where water can be obtained permanently, become available as pasture when gradually inland settlements advance. The dip of the country directs the drainage, however scanty, often into defined channels, in which alluvial deposits and humidity combine, to produce invariably a luxuriant vegetation, but where on account of excessive evaporation water is not always procurable. Of such oases Cooper's Creek, the Warrego Sturt's Creek, and Eyre's Creek, are instances. Nor is it to be doubted that some isolated ranges in the probably extensively depressed interior will offer a stronghold in years of drought. Centuries may elapse before the requirements of Australia will demand the occupation of many distant portions of our continent, but encouraging it must be for us to know that a day will arrive when settlements will be scattered, at least sparingly over its whole extent, and when a coast line of more than 5000 miles will not remain unoccupied. Tracts of pasture land, which in the early days of our colonisation were regarded as worthless, are sought for eagerly at the present day. Thus, every new stepping stone found in the wilderness will more extend the path of civilisation, and almost every discovery of permanent waters will lead to the establishment of fixed homes.
But to achieve this progress. we should avail ourselves judiciously of the experience gained by former explorations and should select with care what would appear the most promising field for future operations. The main questions which geography requires us yet to solve, are to determine the length and extent of the southern fall of waters, descending from the table land around the Gulf of Carpentaria. It will in all probability, be found to be very inconsiderable.
A question of not less importance remains yet to be answered. Extends the desert from Lake Torrens uninterruptedly, and far inland to the Great Australia Bight, and is it contiguous to that of Western Australia, which stretches according to Mr Gregory's investigations, north at least as far as Shark's Bay? And thirdly, is the country between Shark's Bay and the Fitzroy River really destitute of streams entering the sea ? Maritime surveys alone, even if carried out with the accuracy of a King, a Wickham or a Stokes will never completely disclose all the estuaries on a mangrove lined shore. Thus, for instance, it was reserved to Grey's Land exploration to find the Glenelg River in North Western Australia, which had escaped the scrutiny of the commander of HMS Beagle.
The employment exclusively of packhorses for conveyance will always ensure a rapid progress, and the straightest line for a traveler. His starting point should be established at the remotest station previous to the rainy season, to recruit men and animals before trials of the journey commence. The number of the party should be very limited, not only as involving least delay, but also as on many places, water might be procured by them, where it would not be obtainable for large caravan, and as the great expense of providing for a large party might be employed with more advantage for the longer scrutiny of a larger tract of country by fewer individuals. The survey should be exact, and independent of the use of chronometers and above all, the positions of permanent waters should be marked with scrupulous accuracy. On this may depend the lives of those who may steer for the positions of a former explorer after the obliteration of his track, particularly in our depressed interior where bearings are not always to be secured. Mechanical skill should be at command for the repair of instruments, which on a journey through a wilderness are so liable to be injured.
The use of camels in our deserts has been recommended, but when it is considered that much of the Australian interior is of a stony, and not of a sandy nature, that these animals require a management of their own, and cannot roam about by night to find food, being deprived only of their freedom by the hobble chain - I still believe that horses will remain preferable, if kept shod constantly.
The country to the westward and north-west of the subtropical settlements of New South Wales is assigned to the new exploration of Mr Gregory, as that in which probably Dr Leichhardt met his early fate. Should the enterprise be favoured by the season on this occasion, we may depend on a wide survey of North East Australia by that accurate explorer.
From past experience we are, however, not entitled to anticipate the existence of a well-watered country in that direction. This opinion receives additional weight when we consider that none of Dr Leichhardt's animals of burden returned from the supposed locality of his destruction at the source of the Maranoa, and we can but fear that the unfortunate traveler advanced beyond the systems of the rivers of the east and north west, being under the impression of a much wider extent inland of the Carpentaria streams than Mr Gregory has proved it to exist, and that he thus, with his whole party and animals, met a dreadful fate in the waterless wastes of the north-east interior.
The examination of the country north-west of Lake Torrens, we should leave to its own colonists after the noble manifestations in South Australia for enterprises of this nature. To the northward, however, of this colony, we may observe a large extent of country situated between the Lachlan and the Darling, and a greater still enclosed by the Darling, the Warrego, the Barcoo and Grey and Barrier Ranges, an area, indeed, equal in extent to that of the whole colony of Victoria, hitherto almost totally unexplored.
This country, although belonging politically to New South Wales, will on account of its geographical position hereafter supply its produce to the auriferous northern districts of our own province, and claims, therefore, particularly since the Lower Darling navigation has been accomplished, our full attention. I am aware that what we know of the interior in that direction seems discouraging to any future exertions. although, perhaps, not more so than in any other line of exploration, which we could adopt with equal facility.
Nor must we forget, that neither Sturt nor Kennedy traversed the outlines of this district at a favourable season, or in a favourable year. Moreover, if we trust to aboriginal traditions for a clue to Leichhardt's fate, we may have many chances of success when enquiring for him in that direction. And should the season favour the enterprise, features may be disclosed eastward of the stony desert which may serve hereafter as a key for investigating fully the nature of Central Australia.
It would, perhaps, not be needless to examine, previous to an attempt to cross the Continent from east to west, along its middle part, a distance of 2500 miles, the country north of the Great Bight (perhaps from Fowler's Bay) and east of Shark's Bay (perhaps from the Gascoigne). Without these precautions the undertaking seems, if we value existing testimony to be one not only of imminent risk, but also possessing limited chances of success.
The limit assigned to this paper does neither admit of entering into all the special merits nor into further details of former discoveries. Much has been done for extending the field of geography: more than one man has sunk in the struggle for such a noble purpose. Whoever listens to the special accounts of those, to whom Providence destined a safe return, will rejoice in their addition to our knowledge, will sympathize with their sufferings, and will admire their wise arrangements and their perseverance, or, will learn from their experience how to guard in future against the difficulties which beset their path, or how success may be secured by those who boldly volunteer to resume their labours.
Much has been done, but much remains to be achieved! And if the greatest genius which ever mankind possessed, after his most brilliant achievements, left us, with the modesty which always characterises a son of science, an immortal and self-denying word, we may regard the labours of our own great explorers only as leading stars for future discoveries and we may apply to them Newton's philosophic words;
"I have played like a child with the pebbles on the shore while the great ocean of truth lies unexplored before me."
Dr Ferdinand von Mueller, 1857.