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through the Interior of Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

From the Journals and Letters of William John Wills, edited by his father, William Wills.
London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street.
(Ferguson 18622)

Chapter 7

  • From Menindie on the Darling to Torowoto
  • Mr Burke's Despatch, and Mr Wills's Report from Torowoto
  • Mr Wright's unaccountable delay at Menindie
  • The Expedition proceeds onwards to Cooper's Creek
  • Exploring Trips in that Neighbourhood
  • Loss of Three Camels
  • Mr Wills's Letter to his Sister, December 6th and 15th
  • Incorrectness of McDonough's Statements

The incapables being happily disposed of, Mr Burke and his party left Menindie on the 19th of October. The committee having decided on Cooper's Creek as the basis of his operations, he pushed on in that direction, and reached Torowoto on the 29th of the same month. From the latter encampment he forwarded the following despatch, including my son's surveying report:

October 29, 1860.

Sir - I have the honour to report, that I left Menindie on the 19th instant with the following party:- Messrs. Burke, Wills, Brahe, Patten, McDonough, King, Gray, Dost Mahomet, fifteen horses and sixteen camels, and Mr Wright, who had kindly volunteered to show me a practical route towards Cooper's Creek, for a distance of a hundred miles from the Darling; and he has more than fulfilled his promise, for we have now travelled for upwards of 200 miles, generally through a fine sheep-grazing country; and we have not had any difficulty about water, as we found creeks, or waterholes, many of them having every appearance of permanent water, at distances never exceeding twenty miles. Mr Wills's report, herewith forwarded, gives all the necessary details. Although travelling at the rate of twenty miles a day, the horses and camels have all improved in condition, and the country improves as we go on. Yesterday, from Wanominta to Paldrumata Creek, we travelled over a splendid grazing country, and to-day, we are encamped on a creek or swamp, the banks of which are very well grassed, and good feed all the way from our last camp (44), except for two miles, where the ground was barren and swampy. Of course it is impossible for me to say what effect an unusually dry summer would produce throughout this country, or whether we are now travelling in an unusually favourable season or not. I describe things as I find them.

Mr Wright returns from here to Menindie. I informed him that I should consider him third officer of the expedition, subject to the approval of the committee, from the day of our departure from Menindie, and I hope that they will confirm the appointment. In the mean time I have instructed him to follow me up with the remainder of the camels to Cooper's Creek, to take steps to procure a supply of jerked meat, and I have written to the doctor to inform him that I have accepted his resignation, as, although I was anxious to await the decision of the committee, the circumstances will not admit of delay, and he has positively refused to leave the settled districts. I am willing to admit that he did his best until his fears for the safety of the party overcame him; but these fears, I think, clearly show how unfit he is for his post. If Mr Wright is allowed to follow out the instructions I have given him, I am confident that the result will be satisfactory; and if the committee think proper to make inquiries with regard to him they will find that he is well qualified for the post, and that he bears the very highest character. I shall proceed on from here to Cooper's Creek. I may, or may not, be able to send back from there until we are followed up. Perhaps it would not be prudent to divide the party; the natives here have told Mr. Wright that we shall meet with opposition on our way there. Perhaps I might find it advisable to leave a Depot at Cooper's Creek, and to go on with a small party to examine the country beyond it.

Under any circumstances it is desirable that we should soon be followed up. I consider myself very fortunate in having Mr. Wills as my second in command. He is a capital officer, zealous and untiring in the performance of his duties, and I trust that he will remain my second as long as I am in charge of the expedition.

The men all conduct themselves admirably, and they are all most anxious to go on; but the committee may rely upon it that I shall go on steadily and carefully, and that I shall endeavour not to lose a chance or to run any unnecessary risk.

I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient servant,
R O'Hara Burke, Leader.


The two blacks and four horses go back with Mr Wright.

The following is a list of the camps from Menindie to this place:

October 19 - Totoynya, a waterhole on the plains. . . . . Camp 35.
October 20 - Kokriega, well in the Scope Ranges. . . . . .Camp 36.
October 21 - Bilpa Creek, do. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Camp 37.
October 22 - Botoja Clay-pans. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Camp 38.
October 23 - Langawirra Gully; Mount Doubeny Range. .Camp 39.
October 24 - Bengora Creek, Mount Doubeny Range. . . Camp 40.
October 25 - Naudtherungee Creek. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Camp 41.
October 26 - Teltawongee Creek. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Camp 42.
October 27 - Wonominta Creek. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Camp 43.
October 28 - A clay-pan on the plains. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Camp 44.
October 29 - Torowoto Swamp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Camp 45.
Latitude, 30 degrees 1 minute 30 seconds south;
longitude, 142 degrees 27 minutes east.

October 30, 1860. Forwarded.
R O'Hara Burke, Leader.
Dr Macadam, Secretary, Exploring Expedition

Surveyors Report.
From Mr Wills, Second in Command, Astronomer and surveyor of the party.

The country, Bilbarka and Tolarno, in the immediate vicinity of the eastern bank of the River Darling, presents the most barren and miserable appearance of any land that we have yet met with. It consists chiefly of mud flats, covered with polygonum bushes, box timber, and a few salsolaceous plants, of inferior quality. Above Tolarno there is a slight improvement, and between Kinchica and Menindie there is some fair grazing country. All agree in saying that there is fine grazing land back from the river; but the want of water will probably prevent its being occupied, except in a very partial manner, for many years; and I fear that the high sand ridges, twenty to forty feet, and in some cases more than sixty feet above the level of the river banks, will form almost insuperable barriers in the way of any one who may attempt to conduct water from the river by means of canals. It appears to me, from the information that I have been able to obtain, that the difficulties with which settlers have here to contend arise not so much from the absorbent nature of the soil as from the want of anything to absorb. This last season is said to have been the most rainy that they have had for several years; yet everything looked so parched up that I should have imagined it had been an exceedingly dry one.

Gales.--I noticed that the forests for about 30 miles below Menindie had been subjected to severe gales from west-north-west. This was so striking, that I at first thought it was the effect of a hurricane; but I could find no indications of a whirling force, all the trees and branches lying in the same direction; besides which, they seemed to have been torn down at various times, from the different stages of decay in which they were found; and Mr Wright has subsequently informed me that almost every spring they have a gale from west-north-west, which lasts but a short time, but carries everything before it. It is this same strip of country which is said to be more favoured with rain than that lower down.

Sand Drifting.--One can perceive everywhere in the neighbourhood of Menindie, the effect of the winds in shifting the sand, by the numerous logs in various stages of inhumation.

The Darling Pea.--It appears to be a disputed question, even on the river, as to the effect of the Darling pea on horses, some asserting that they become cranky simply from eating that herb, and others that it is starvation that makes them mad. I could get no satisfactory information even as to the symptoms, which seem to vary considerably; but this I had from a reliable source, that horses will eat the pea in large quantities without being injuriously affected, provided they can obtain other food as well; but that when they are on portions of the river where they can get nothing else to eat, then they soon get an attack of madness.

Menindie to Scrope Ranges.--The country between Menindie and Kokriega, in the Scrope Ranges, a distance of thirty-six miles in a northerly direction, is a fine open tract of country, well grassed, but having no permanent water. At Kokriega there is a well which may be relied on for a small supply, but would be of no use in watering cattle in large numbers. The ranges are composed of ferruginous sandstone and quartz conglomerate, and as to vegetation are of a very uninviting aspect. The plain to the south is covered with quartz and sandstone pebbles. About five miles to the north-east of the Kokriega is a spot where the schist rock crops out from under the sandstone, and the rises here have somewhat of an auriferous character.
North of the Scrope Range.--To the north of the Scrope Range the country has much the same appearance, except that there are more trees, and no stones until one reaches the Mount Doubeny Ranges, a distance of nearly forty miles. At a spot half way, named Botoga, there are some flats well calculated for collecting and retaining rain water.

Mount Doubeny Range.--In this range there are, no doubt, many places where permanent water may be found in considerable quantities. Two places I may mention where the water is certainly permanent--Mutwongee, a gully midway between camps 39 and 40; and Bengora Creek, the latter camp.
Country North of Mount Doubeny.--From these ranges up to our present position we have passed over as good grazing country as one would wish to see; salt bushes of every kind, grass in abundance, and plenty of water. Amongst the ranges we found kangaroo grass as high as our shoulders, and on the plains the spear grass up to our knees.

Naudtherungee Creek.--At this creek, which takes its rise near Mount Lyell, and probably flows into the McFarlane's Creek of Sturt, we found a small shallow pond of water, in the sandy bed of the creek. This did not look very promising, but on digging I found that the whole bed of the creek was a mass of loose sand, through which the water freely permeated, and that the waterhole we found was only a spot where, the level of the surface of the sand being below that of the water, the latter oozed through. I am informed by Mr Wright, who was here in January last, that the creek contained much more water then than now.

Country North of Naudtherungee Creek.--For a few miles to the north of this creek the ground is very sandy, and timbered with pines, acacias, and several descriptions of trees with which I am unacquainted. There are two very handsome trees that I have never seen in any other part of the country--the leopard tree (called so from its spotted bark), and a tree which in general appearance much resembles the poplar. On these sandhills the grass is very coarse, but in the flats there is good feed. Beyond the sand rises the country becomes more open again; and at about twelve or thirteen miles one comes to quartz rises, from which there is a fine view to the east, north, and west. Two creeks are distinctly visible by the lines of gum timber; they take their rise near some hills to the eastward, and passing around towards the north, join at a point about three miles north-west, from whence the resulting creek continues in a west-north-westerly direction, as far as the eye can reach. The hills are composed of an argillaceous schist. On several of the lower rises, quartz reefs crop out, and some of the quartzwhich I examined had every appearance of being auriferous, except the main one--the colour of the gold. There are some fine waterholes in the first creek (Teltawongee), but I cannot say for certain that the water is permanent. The whole of the country from here to our next camp, a distance of twenty six miles, is the finest I have seen for collecting and retaining water; and the only question as to a permanent supply of that essential liquid is, whether this part of the country is subject to long-continued droughts; for the waterholes that we have met with are not large enough to last for any great length of time, in the event of the country being stocked. At ten miles from Teltawongee, we came to the Wonominta--a creek having all the characteristics of water-courses that take their rise in hills of schistoze formation. At first, the numberless small waterholes, without the trace of a creek connecting them, then the deep-cut narrow channel, with every here and there a fine waterhole. The banks of the creek are clothed with high grass and marshmallows. The latter grow to an immense size on nearly all the creeks out here.

The Wonominta Ranges are high, bare-looking hills, lying to the eastward of the creek; the highest peaks must be between two and three thousand feet above the sea. The blacks say that there is no water in them--an assertion that I can scarcely credit. They say, however, that there is a fine creek, with permanent water, to the east of the ranges, flowing northwards. At the point of the Wonominta Creek where we camped there is a continuous waterhole of more than a mile long, which, they say, is never dry. It is from fifteen to twenty feet broad, and averages about five feet in depth, as near as I could ascertain. From this point, Camp 43, the creek turns to the north-west and around to north, where it enters a swamp, named Wannoggin; it must be the same that Sturt crossed in coming across from Evelyn Plains. In going over to Wannoggin, a distance of fourteen miles, I found the plains everywhere intersected by small creeks, most of them containing water, which was sheltered from the sun by the overhanging branches of drooping shrubs, tall marshmallows, and luxuriant salt bushes; and at some of them were hundreds of ducks and waterhens. When crossing some flats of light-coloured clay soil, near Wannoggin, and which were covered with box timber, one might almost fancy himself in another planet, they were so arid and barren. The Wannoggin Swamp is at present dry, but I believe it is generally a fine place for water. Birds are very numerous about there, and I noticed that by far the greater portion of the muslka trees (a species of acacia) contained nests, either old or new. At about twenty miles from Wonominta, in a north-north-easterly direction, there is a fine creek, with a waterhole about a mile long, which we passed; and Mr Wright tells me there is a larger one further up the creek.

The land in the neighbourhood of the Torowoto Swamp is very fine for pastoral purposes. It is rather low and swampy, and therefore better for cattle than for sheep. There appears to be a gradual fall in the land from Totoynya to this place, amounting to about 500 feet. This swamp can scarcely be more than 600 feet above the sea, if so much. The highest ground over which we have passed hasbeen in the Mount Doubeny Ranges, from Langawirra to Bengora, and that appears to be about 1000 feet above the sea. Mount Bengora is, by barometrical observation, about 300 feet above the camp at Bengora, but it is not the highest peak in the range by perhaps fifty or sixty feet; and I think we may assume that the highest peak does not exceed 1,500 feet above the sea.

Meteorogical.--We have been very fortunate up to the present time as regards the weather, both in having had plenty of water and moderate temperatures. The thermometer has never risen above 88.5 degrees in the shade, and has seldom been below 50 degrees, the average daily range having been from 58 to 80 degrees. During our stay on the Darling, the temperature of the water varied very slightly, being always between 65 and 67 degrees. The winds have generally been light, frequently going all round the compass in the course of the day; but in any case it has almost invariably fallen calm after sunset. Cirri and cirrostratus clouds have been very prevalent during the day, and cumulostratus during the night.

Wells and Creeks.--The temperature of the water in the well at Kokriega, at ten A.M. October 21, was 58.5 degrees, being exactly the same as the temperature of the air. That of the water between the rocks, at Bilpa, at five P.M. on the same day, was 64 degrees, the temperature of air being 75 degrees. The temperature of the water in the sand at Naudtherungee, at seven A.M. on the 26th, was 59.5 degrees, that of the air being 62 degrees. At five A.M. October 28, the temperature of the water in Wonominta Creek was 63. 5 degrees, that of the air being 62 degrees.
Note.--The temperature of the water is always taken within six inches of the surface.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry censured Mr Burke for the appointment of Mr Wright, without personal knowledge of him; and, judging by the lamentable results, a grave mistake it was. But Mr Burke was placed in great difficulty by the resignation of Mr Landells and Dr Beckler, and acted to the best of his judgment under the circumstances, with the means at his disposal. His confidence, too hastily bestowed, was repaid by ingratitude and contumely. Wright never spoke of his commander without using terms of disparagement, and dwelling on his incapacity. "He was gone to destruction," he said, "and would lose all who were with him." He repeated these words to me, and others even stronger, both in Melbourne and in Adelaide. McDonough, in his evidence before the Royal Commission, was asked, "What did you say as to Mr Wright's desponding?" He answered (436): "He always gave Mr. Burke up as lost; said he was neither gone to Queensland nor anywhere else; the man has rushed madly on, depending upon surface water, and is lost in the desert. He never gave us any hope for him; in fact, so much so, that I offered to make a bet that he would be found at Queensland, or turn up somewhere."

It has been seen by Mr Burke's despatch of the 29th of October, that he gave orders to Mr Wright to follow him up to Cooper's Creek with the remainder of the camels and supplies, without unnecessary delay. McDonough states (Answer 197) that Mr Burke said to him, on the 15th of December, "I expect Mr Wright up in a few days--a fortnight at farthest. I left him POSITIVE INSTRUCTIONS to follow me." King states (Answer 693) "that on the 16th of December, Mr Burke told the party 'he then expected Mr Wright daily'." Wright himself states in his evidence (Answer 1235), "I gave Mr. Burke my word that I would take the remainder of the party out, as soon as I returned to Menindie."

A circumstance happened about this time, (December 1860), which delayed him, but not even that necessarily. Information reached Melbourne that Mr Stuart had nearly penetrated to the Gulf of Carpentaria, more to the westward; that he had been driven back by the natives, but would start again immediately. The Committee thought it advisable to forward the intelligence to Mr Burke. This was done by a despatch to Swan Hill, where Mr Foster was superintendent of police. He accordingly sent on a trooper named Lyons, who followed in the track of the party, and arrived at Menindie just as Wright returned with his two natives, after escorting the expedition to Torowoto. Lyons refused to give up the despatch, as he had been ordered to place it in Mr Burke's own hands. Here was a plausible excuse for Wright, no doubt, so he sent McPherson, a saddler by trade, who had been engaged en route by Mr Burke, accompanied by Dick, a native, to assist Lyons in his pursuit of the leader. Had he put himself and the whole party in motion at once, the subsequent misfortunes would have been averted. Lyons and McPherson lost their way, being quite unable to overtake Mr. Burke, who had eight days' start, travelling at the rate of twenty miles a day. Neither had they ingenuity enough to find Mr. Burke's tracks, although accompanied by a native, which is inexplicable, if they trusted to Dick, who had both intelligence and energy of purpose. He found his way back to Wright, however, and was thus the means of saving the lives of the trooper and McPherson.

Hodgkinson, we have seen, was despatched by Wright to Melbourne, from Menindie, on the 19th of December, with letters assuming to be written by himself, but, in fact, by Hodgkinson. Whether the committee knew this does not appear: if they did not, here was one reason for confirming Wright's appointment. Hodgkinson reached Melbourne on the morning of the 30th, riding nearly four hundred miles in eleven days. A meeting of the committee was called on Monday, the 31st, at which his Excellency attended, and Hodgkinson started on his return the same evening. This certainly was business. Nearly double the sum that he had asked was allowed to Wright, in cash. From the 5th of November, he lingered at Menindie, until the 19th of December, doing nothing. He says he was waiting for an answer to a letter he had previously sent. Dr Macadam, the Secretary, denies that he ever received such a letter. Wright is here unworthy of credit, for he could not write. This was extracted from himself, after considerable fencing, in his examination before the Commission on the 12th of December, 1861: Mr Wm Wright further examined.

Question 1565. There is evidently some discrepancy between the statement that you wrote yourself on the 5th of November, when you came back, and the statement of Dr Macadam that no such letter was ever received. This letter of yours of the 19th of December, is it written by yourself?--The one I sent myself?

1566. The one of the 19th of December, is it in your own handwriting?--The one that is missing?

1567. No; this one [handing a paper to the witness]?--No, it is not; Hodgkinson did all the writing.

1568. Did he write the one that is stated to be missing?--No, he did not.

1569. You wrote that one?--I wrote that with my own hand. I just wrote a few words.

1570. Could your memory serve you sufficiently to write the purport of that letter that is missing?--It would not.

1571. Nothing approaching to it?--I never thought for a moment of keeping a copy of it, or of giving it to Hodgkinson to keep a copy.

1572. Have you no recollection of the general purport of it?--I just mentioned that Mr Burke had appointed me to take the party out and take the command; that is about the heads of it.

1573. Have you any objection to write a letter similar to that one, as nearly as you can remember it?--No. I write a very indifferent hand.

1574. Which was the reason, it is to be presumed, why you got some one to write the letter of the 19th?--Yes.

Hodgkinson arrived at Menindie on the 9th of January, 1861, and immediately placed in Wright's hands the following letter:

December 31st.

Sir - Your despatch of the 19th instant, forwarded per Mr Hodgkinson, was laid before a meeting of the members of the Exploration Committee held this day, when the following resolutions were carried unanimously:

1. That a letter be forwarded to Mr Wright, informing him that his appointment as third in command of the Victorian Expedition, by Mr Burke, has been approved of and confirmed by this committee.
2. That Mr Wright, third officer of the Victorian Expedition, be empowered to procure a number of horses (not more than ten), and the necessary accoutrements; and also one hundred and fifty (say 150) sheep, and be authorized to draw on the treasurer, the Honourable David E. Wilkie, M.D., M.L.C., for an amount not exceeding four hundred (say 400) pounds sterling, for their purchase, and other necessary incidental expenses.

I have further to inform you that Mr Hodgkinson, who returns as the bearer of this despatch, will hand you an order from Mr. Superintendent Foster, of Swan Hill, to obtain from trooper Lyons the despatches for the leader, now in the possession of that officer, and which it is desired you should hand to Mr. Burke.

It is hoped by the committee, that trooper Lyons and saddler Macpherson have safely returned to the camp, and you will kindly report as to the manner in which the former has endeavoured to carry out the duty committed to his charge.

The medal for Dick, the aboriginal guide, bearing a suitable inscription, is forwarded with this despatch, and the committee leave in your hands the bestowal of such additional reward as you may deem proper--not exceeding five guineas (say 5 pounds 5 shillings.)

Captain Cadell informed the committee to-day that his store at Menindie would be at your service for depositing any articles you may find it inconvenient to remove to Cooper's Creek at present.

You will endeavour to secure, if possible, twelve pommel pack-saddles, now arrived, it is believed, on the Darling. These were forwarded via Adelaide, and will no doubt be of great use to the main party.

The committee desire that on your meeting with Mr Burke, you will show him, and deposit with him, this despatch, as also a copy of yours of the 19th instant, together with copies of all despatches you may forward to the committee during Mr Burke's absence; and the committee expect that you will communicate under such circumstances as frequently as possible.

Mr Hodgkinson bears letters for the leader and Mr Wills.

In conclusion, it is hoped that your endeavours to remove the stores from your present Depot to Cooper's Creek will be early and successfully accomplished.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) John Macadam, MD, Secretary.

To Mr Wright, third in command, temporary Depot, Plurarmora Creek, Darling River, New South Wales.

Nothing can be clearer than the instructions herein conveyed; yet in the face of them, Wright made no start until the 26th of January. His answers to the Royal Commission were full of contradictions, but to the main question of his delay he gave no answer at all. From my own inquiries I never could make out that any one at Menindie thought him fit for the post, or undertook to recommend him. Captain Cadell did to the committee, but with Mr Burke, Captain Cadell was not on speaking terms.

Mr Burke and my son proceeded onwards, accompanied by the reduced party, consisting of Brahe, King, Gray, Patten, McDonough, and Dost Mahomet, fifteen horses and sixteen camels, on the 29th of September, 1860, and reached Cooper's Creek on the 11th of November, a distance of about 250 miles. Here my son went out occasionally, taking a man with him, to explore the country, far and near. His great desire was to reach Carpentaria by the shortest practicable cut, and he inclined to a direct northern course, or to the eastward of north. The committee represented afterwards, as prominently as they could put it, that Mr Burke was left unshackled on this point, but still suggestions were offered, which a leader naturally considers he is expected to listen to. One of these was, that on leaving Cooper's Creek they should proceed towards Eyre's Creek and Sturt's Farthest (September, 1845); for which I refer the reader to the map. My son could not see the wisdom of this, as Sturt had declared that beyond that point he saw nothing but an impenetrable desert. McDouall Stuart's return to Adelaide was also reported, and that he was about to start again. It therefore became a rival race as to who should reach the goal first.

With reference to my son's exploration trips during the halt at Cooper's Creek, Mr Brahe, on his examination before the Royal Commission, gave the following particulars:

We travelled down the creek; our first camp on Cooper's Creek was Camp 57; from some of the first camps Mr Wills went out exploring the creek.

Question 148. How long did you remain at the first camp?--One night; at the second camp, two days; and at the third camp, two days; and from each camp Mr Wills went down tracing the creek.

149. And you remained two days at each camp for three camps down the creek?--Yes.

150. Was the third camp the final camp formed on the creek?--No, at the 63rd camp the first Depot was formed. We remained there a fortnight.

151. At the 63rd camp?--Yes, that would be the fifth or sixth camp on the creek.

152. What were you doing that fortnight?--Mr Wills was exploring the country to the north; Mr Burke was out with him once; Mr. Burke was out with me first, and we could not go far enough with horses, not finding any water away from the camp.

153. How far did you go?--About twenty-five miles straight; the weather being very hot we could not go further: we had to return the second day to the camp.

154. Then Mr Wills went out by himself?--He went ninety miles; he took McDonough with him and three camels.

155. And he lost one of his camels, did he not?--He lost the three and returned on foot.

156. Was he much weakened by that journey?--Not Mr Wills.

157. But McDonough was?--Rather.

158. Did they suffer from want of food as well as want of water? --No, only from want of water.

159. How long did you remain after that before there was a final tart again?--I believe we started two or three days after that. Mr Wills went out a second time from that camp with King and only two camels to bring down those things that he had left where he lost the camels.

160. How far was that from the creek?--Ninety miles.

161. And he went out with King and two camels for the things that he had left behind when he lost his camels and brought them back? --Yes; and on the same day, or the day after, when Mr Wills went out on that second journey, Mr Burke removed the Depot to the lower place.

162. Did those camels lost by Mr Wills ever turn up?--I believe two of them have been found near Adelaide.

163. In the meantime you went down to the last Depot?--Yes.

164. How long did you remain there?--Mr Burke started from there about five or six days after Mr Wills returned from that second journey.

My son gives his own account of the exploration when the camels were lost, in the following letter to his sister:

Cooper's Creek,
December 6th, 1860.
Latitude 27 degrees 36 minutes, Longitude 141 degrees 30 seconds.

My dear Bessy,
You must excuse my writing with a pencil; ink dries so rapidly that it is a nuisance to use it. We have been here now about three weeks, and shall, I expect, make a start northwards in about a fortnight. Our journey to this point has been interesting, but not in any particular that you will care much about. Our party here consists of eight men, sixteen camels, and fourteen horses. We expect the rest of the men and camels up in a few weeks. Everything has been very comfortable so far; in fact, more like a picnic party than a serious exploration: but I suppose we shall have some little difficulties to contend with soon. I had an intimation of something of the kind a few days ago, having been out reconnoitring the country to the north for three days, with one man and three camels, and had found no water, so that the animals were very thirsty, and on the third night managed to get away from us, leaving us about eighty miles from the main camp, without hay or water, except what remained of that which we had brought with us; so here was nothing for it, but to walk home as soon as we could, carrying as much water as possible, to be drunk on the way. After searching about in order to be sure that the camels had gone home, we started at about half-past seven, and were lucky enough to find a creek with some water in it about ten miles on, where we remained until evening; for it is dry work travelling in the middle of the day, with the thermometer varying from 90 to 105 degrees in the shade, and about 140 degrees in the sun. Well, we started again in the evening and walked until between nine and ten P.M.; and again at three AM and pushed on until midday. We then went on from five PM, as before, until nine PM; and then from two AM, and reached the camp at nine AM, having walked more than eighty miles in rather less than fifty hours, including sleeping, feeding, and all stoppages. We found no water all the way, except what I have mentioned above, so that, as you may imagine, we ran rather short towards the end of our journey, having not quite half a pint left between us. When we stopped to rest the second night, it had been blowing a hot wind all day, with the thermometer at 107 degrees in the shade. This made us require more water than usual. I can assure you there is nothing like a walk of this sort to make one appreciate the value of a drink of cold water. We feel no inclination for anything else, and smack our lips over a drop such as you would not think of tasting, with as much relish as ever any one did over the best sherry or champagne. I have enjoyed myself so far. It is now nearly four months since we left Melbourne, and you will see by the map that we are about half-way across the continent. I hope by the time that this reaches you we shall not only have been entirely across, but back here again, and possibly on our way to Melbourne. There is no probability of the expedition lasting two or three years. I expect to be in town again within twelve months from the time of starting. I enclose a few chrysanthemums from the Australian desert. I know you will highly prize them. To give you an idea of Cooper's Creek, fancy extensive flat, sandy plains, covered with herbs dried like hay, and imagine a creek or river, somewhat similar in appearance and size to the Dart above the Weir, winding its way through these flats, having its banks densely clothed with gum trees and other evergreens:--so far there appears to be a considerable resemblance, but now for the difference. The water of Cooper's Creek is the colour of flood-water in the Dart; the latter is a continuous running stream; Cooper's Creek is only a number of waterholes. In some places it entirely disappears, the water in flood-time spreading all over the flats and forming no regular channel. The flies are very numerous, so that one can do nothing without having a veil on; and whilst eating the only plan is to wear goggles.

His next letter is written with ink:

December 15th.

Dear Bessy
Since scribbling the above, I have been up to the place from whence I had the walk I mentioned. The camels did not get away this time. We have shifted our quarters to a better place, about twenty miles down the creek. To-morrow we start for Eyre's Creek, about two hundred miles towards the Una. There have been heavy thunderstorms towards the north, and I hope we shall find plenty of water. If so, I shall soon be able to send you a good long letter without resorting to the use of a pencil. I wish I could send mamma a few lines, but she must read yours and fancy it written to her: I have not even time to send a line to my father. Tell mamma that I am getting into that robust state of health that I always enjoy when in the bush; a tremendous appetite, and can eat anything. One of our chief articles of consumption is horseflesh: it is very nice; you would scarcely know it from beef.

Give my love to all, and Believe me, Ever your affectionate brother,
William J Wills

Here we find my son, between the 1st and 15th of December, travelling about five hundred miles, and walking from eighty to ninety. McDonough, in his examination, gave altogether a falsified account respecting the loss of the camels, as he also made a bombastic statement of his great intimacy with Mr Burke. The real truth is, that McDonough was the least trustworthy of the party. He would not have been taken by my son, but in the morning Mr Burke had volunteered to accompany him, so that McDonough would not have been left alone; but after travelling a short distance, Mr Burke did not feel well, and returned. At the place mentioned by my son as having dismounted, he told McDonough that he wished to make some observations, and was going to a rising ground at a distance; that the camels should feed, but he was not to lose sight of them for an instant. Instead of attending to his instructions, McDonough set to work to light a fire and boil his pannikin. Perhaps he went to sleep; for he pointed out some stunted bushes in the distance and said they were the camels. My son then sent him to search for them, but they could not be found. King, the only survivor of the party, on his examination, said:

Mr Wills told me that the camels were lost through McDonough's neglect during the time he was writing and taking observations.

Question 1737. McDonough never disputed that, did he?--McDonough told me that it was while they were at supper in the evening; but I do not see how that could be, because they generally took supper, and ourselves, about six o'clock; and it was so dark that they could not see the camels, so that they were most likely lost when Mr Wills was taking observations.

Mr Burke, in his report from Cooper's Creek, dated December the 13th, says:

Mr Wills, upon one occasion, travelled ninety miles to the north, without finding water, when his camels escaped, and he and the man who accompanied him were obliged to return on foot, which they accomplished in forty-eight hours. Fortunately, upon their return they found a pool of water. The three camels have not yet been recovered. . .Mr Wills co-operates cordially with me. He is a most zealous and efficient officer.

King, in the course of his evidence stated as follows:

Question 667. What did you do when you got to Cooper's Creek; did you go on any of these expeditions with Mr Burke or Mr Wills? --Yes; when Mr Burke made our first Depot at the creek, Mr. Burke, Mr Wills, and McDonough started one morning to try and find water some distance to the north. Mr Burke seemed not to be well, and returned after going a mile or so, and so McDonough and Mr Wills continued, and were away some few days; I do not know the exact number of days; they lost the camels (three in number) and had to return to the Depot on foot.

668. After a few days?--Yes; after a few days.

669. Did you go out yourself on that expedition?--Not then; a few days after, Mr Burke, Mr Wills, and myself went to a distance of about seventy miles north; we could not find water; Mr Wills found water when he and McDonough went before.

670. Did you go the same track as they did?--Yes; but I do not know how Mr Wills could not find it; he seemed not to recognize the place.

671. Did you lose any horses or camels then?--None; we just rested, and Mr Wills and myself went the third time, and found the water at a distance of about ninety miles to the north, and we also had to bring the camel saddles, and riding saddles, which Mr Burke intended to take with him across the continent.


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