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.
- Departure from Cooper's Creek for the Gulf of Carpentaria
- Arrangements for the Continuance of the Depot at Cooper's Creek
- Mr Brahe left in Charge
- Determination of Route
- Progress and Incidents
- Mr Wills's Field Books, from the 16th of December, 1860, to the 30th of January, 1861, 1 to 9
- Shores of Carpentaria
During the halt at Cooper's Creek, it was
reported through an Adelaide paper that Mr McDouall Stuart had
returned from his attempt to explore in a north-western
direction, and was preparing to start again with Government aid,
and no longer confined entirely to the private resources and
enterprise of Mr James Chambers. The Gulf of Carpentaria was not
so much the immediate object of Stuart's efforts, as the opening
of a commercial avenue with a view to future trade, in a
direction more toward the north-west coast, and as far north as
the 16 or 18 degrees of southern latitude. This line of
exploration appeared preferable to the strong practical mind of
Mr Chambers, who had in view the quid pro quo. Stuart's object
was therefore plain business, and the immediate advantage of the
colony with which he was connected; whilst the Victorian
Expedition included scientific discoveries, and the settlement of
a great geographical problem. Stuart is again out, since August,
1861, and doubts are entertained for his safety. Mr Chambers has
died in the interim, and cannot know the result of the work he
set afloat with so much spirit. Thus it is in all ages of
discovery, that few of the early pioneers live to travel on the
roads they open with so much difficulty and endurance.
Mr Burke and my son, impatient of Wright's delay, and seeing the time slip by that could never return, determined to make a dash for the Gulf while the opportunity still remained to them. I was not aware, until after a communication with Mr Brahe, on his first visit to Melbourne, subsequent to his desertion of his post at the Depot, that my son had strongly advocated a direct course northward; but Mr Burke hesitated to adopt this, unless he could feel confident in a supply of water; the committee having included something in his instructions as to proceeding north-west towards Eyre's Creek and Sturt's Furthest. In his excursions round the camp and the district of Cooper's Creek, with the all-important question of water in view, my son must have gone over little short of a thousand miles. When he lost his camels he had seen smoke in the direction of north by east, which he believed to be a native fire, but the disaster frustrated his attempts to ascertain the fact. Unable thoroughly to assure his leader on the point of water, the more western course was adopted at the commencement of the journey, for a day or two, after which they turned to the east, and scarcely deviated throughout from the 141st degree of eastern longitude.
The party left Cooper's Creek on the morning of the 16th of December, 1860. It consisted of Mr Burke, Mr Wills, King, and Gray, (or Charley as my son calls him in his journal); one horse, and six camels. It appears strange to me that they did not take more horses. As they had been living on horseflesh so much they would have increased their available food, in addition to the facility of carrying burthens.
Mr Brahe remained at Cooper's Creek Depot with Patten, McDonough, Dost Mahomet, an Indian, six camels, and twelve horses. He was left in charge until the arrival of Mr Wright or some other person duly appointed by the committee to take command of the remainder of the expedition at Menindie. A surveyor also was expected to assist my son, and plenty of work was laid out for all, until Mr Burke's return, had the authorities known how to employ the proper people and employed them in time.
There can be no doubt that Brahe received MOST POSITIVE ORDERS TO REMAIN AT COOPER'S CREEK UNTIL THE RETURN OF THE EXPLORING PARTY FROM THE GULF OF CARPENTARIA. Three and four months were named as the possible time of absence. Brahe did remain over four months; but even then it was in his power to have waited much longer, and he ought to have done so. But the man was over-weighted; the position was too much for him, and he gave way when a stronger mind might have stood firm. The worst point about him appears to be his want of consistency and miserable prevarication; but this may have been weakness rather than absolute absence of principle, or of any due sense of right or wrong. He was unfit to direct, but he might have been directed. Mr Burke has been blamed for trusting Brahe; but he was the best of those who remained behind, and there were not many to choose from. King has since told me that it was by my son's advice Brahe was appointed, and that the arrival of the party from Menindie was considered so certain, that the appointment was looked upon only as a temporary affair. It has been also said that King might have been left behind in charge, and Brahe taken on. This arrangement, eligible in some respects, was open to objection in others. Brahe could travel by compass and observation, which King could not; and one so qualified might be wanted for a journey to Menindie.
The details of the journey are given as follows, in my son's Field Books, numbered from 1 to 7 consecutively, transcribed by Dr Mueller, Mr Smith, and Mr Cooper. I was associated with them as a matter of personal delicacy to the memory of the deceased explorer.
Mr Wills's Journal.
Field Book 1 - Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria.
[The omissions in this diary are supplied by the information
contained in the maps, with the exception of the last two days on
the shore of the Gulf.]
Sunday, 16th December, 1860.--The horse having been shod and our reports finished, we started at 6.40 A.M. for Eyre's Creek, the party consisting of Mr Burke, myself, King, and Charley, having with us six camels, one horse, and three months' provisions. We followed down the creek to the point where the sandstone ranges cross the creek, and were accompanied to that place by Brahe, who would return to take charge of the Depot. Down to this point the
banks of the creek are very rugged and stony, but there is a tolerable supply of grass and salt bush in the vicinity. A large tribe of blacks came pestering us to go to their camp and have a dance, which we declined. They were very troublesome, and nothing but the threat to shoot them will keep them away. They are, however, easily frightened; and, although fine-looking men, decidedly not of a warlike disposition. They show the greatest inclination to take whatever they can, but will run no unnecessary risk in so doing. They seldom carry any weapon, except a shield anda large kind of boomerang, which I believe they use for killing rats, etc. Sometimes, but very seldom, they have a large spear; reed spears seem to be quite unknown to them. They are undoubtedly a finer and better-looking race of men than the blacks on the Murray and Darling, and more peaceful; but in other respects I believe they will not compare favourably with them, for from the little we have seen of them, they appear to be mean-spirited and contemptible in every respect.
Monday, 17th December, 1860.--We continued to follow down the creek. Found its course very crooked, and the channel frequently dry for a considerable distance, and then forming into magnificent waterholes, abounding in water fowl of all kinds. The country on each side is more open than on the upper part of the creek. The soil on the plains is of a light earthy nature, supporting abundance of salt bush and grass. Most of the plains are lightly timbered, and the ground is finer and not cracked up as at the head of the creek. Left Camp 67 at ten minutes to six A.M., having breakfasted before leaving. We followed the creek along from point to point, at first in a direction west-north-west for about twelve miles, then about north-west. At about noon we passed the last water, a short distance beyond which the creek runs out on a polygonum flat [Footnote: Polygonum Cunninghami.]; but the timber was so large and dense that it deceived us into the belief that there was a continuation of the channel. On crossing the polygonum ground to where we expected to find the creek we became aware of our mistake. Not thinking it advisable to chance the existence of water ahead, we camped at the end of a large but shallow sheet of water in the sandy bed of the creek.
The hole was about 150 links broad, and * [Footnote: Blank in original.] feet deep in most places. In many places the temperature of the water was almost incredibly high, which induced me to try it at several points. The mean of two on the shady side of the creek gave 97 4/10 degrees. As may be imagined this water tasted disagreeably warm, but we soon cooled some in water bags, and thinking that it would be interesting to know what we might call cool, I placed the thermometer in a pannikin containing some that appeared delightfully so, almost cold in fact; its temperature was, to our astonishment, 78 degrees. At half-past six, when a strong wind was blowing from south, and temperature of air had fallen to 80 degrees, the lowest temperature of water in the hose, that had been exposed to the full effect of evaporation for several hours was 72 degrees. This water for drinking appeared positively cold, and is too low a temperature to be pleasant under the circumstances. A remarkable southerly squall came on between five and six P.M., with every appearance of rain. The sky however soon cleared, but the wind continued to blow in a squally and irregular manner from the same quarter at evening.
Wednesday, 19th December, 1860.--Started at a quarter-past eight A. M., leaving what seemed to be the end of Cooper's Creek. We took a course a little to the north of west, intending to try and obtain water in some of the creeks that Sturt mentioned that he had crossed, and at the same time to see whether they were connected with Cooper's Creek, as appeared most probable from the direction in which we found the latter running, and from the manner in which it had been breaking up into small channels, flowing across the plains in a north and north-north-west direction. We left on our right the flooded flats on which this branch of the creek runs out, and soon came to a series of sand ridges, the directions of which were between north half-west and north-north-west. The country is well grassed and supports plenty of salt bush. Many of the valleys are liable to be inundated by the overflow of the main creek. They have watercourses and polygonum flats bordered with box trees, but we met with no holes fit to hold a supply of water. At about ten miles we crossed a large earthy flat lightly timbered with box and gum. The ground was very bad for travelling on, being much cracked up and intersected by innumerable channels, which continually carried off the water of a large creek. Some of the valleys beyond this were very pretty, the ground being sound and covered with fresh plants, which made them look beautifully green. At fifteen miles we halted, where two large plains joined. Our attention had been attracted by some red-breasted cockatoos, pigeons, a crow, and several other birds, whose presence made us feel sure that there was water not far off; but our hopes were soon destroyed by finding a claypan just drying up. It contained just sufficient liquid to make the clay boggy. At ten minutes to seven P.M., we moved on, steering straight for Eyre's Creek, north-west by north, intending to make a good night's journey and avoid the heat of the day; but at a mile and a half we came to a creek which looked so well that we followed it for a short distance, and finding two or three waterholes of good milky water we camped for the night. This enabled me to secure an observation of the eclipse of Jupiter's (I) satellite, as well as some latitude observations. The night was so calm that I used the water as an horizon; but I find it much more satisfactory to take the mercury for several reasons.
Thursday, 20th December.--We did not leave this camp until half-past eight, having delayed to refill the water-bags with the milky water, which all of us found to be a great treat again. It is certainly more pleasant to drink than the clear water, and at the same time more satisfying. Our course from here, north-west by north, took us through some pretty country, lightly timbered and well grassed. We could see the line of creek timber winding through the valley on our left. At a distance of five miles there was a bush fire on its banks, and beyond it the creek made a considerable bend to the south-west. At two miles farther we came in sight of a large lagoon bearing north by west, and at three miles more we camped on what would seem the same creek as last night, near where it enters the lagoon. The latter is of great extent and contains a large quantity of water, which swarms with wild fowl of every description. It is very shallow, but is surrounded by the most pleasing woodland scenery, and everything in the vicinity looks fresh and green. The creek near its junction with the lagoon contains some good waterholes five to six feet deep. They are found in a sandy alluvium which is very boggy when wet. There was a large camp of not less than forty or fifty blacks near where we stopped. They brought us presents of fish, for which we gave them some beads and matches. These fish we found to be a most valuable addition to our rations. They were of the same kind as we had found elsewhere, but finer, being from nine to ten inches long, and two to three inches deep, and in such good condition that they might have been fried in their own fat. It is a remarkable fact, that these were the first blacks who have offered us any fish since we reached Cooper's Creek.
Friday, 21st December.--We left Camp 70 at half-past five A.M., and tried to induce one or two of the blacks to go with us, but it was of no use. Keeping our former course we were pulled up at three miles by a fine lagoon, and then by the creek that flows into it; the latter being full of water, we were obliged to trace it a mile up before we could cross. I observed on its banks two wild plants of the gourd or melon tribe, one much resembling a stunted cucumber: the other, both in leaf and appearance of fruit, was very imilar to a small model of a water melon. [Footnote: Probably Muckia micrantha.--F.M.] The latter plant I also found at Camp 68. On tasting the pulp of the newly-found fruit, which was about the size of a large pea, I found it to be so acrid that it was with difficulty that I removed the taste from my mouth. At eight or nine miles from where we crossed the creek we passed another large lagoon, leaving it two miles on our left, and shortly afterwards we saw one nearly as far on our right. This last we should have availed ourselves of, but that we expected to find water in a creek which we could see, by the timber lining its banks, flowed from the lagoon on our left and crossed our course a few miles ahead. We reached it at a distance of four or five miles farther, and found a splendid waterhole at which we camped. The creek at the point flows in a northerly direction through a large lightly timbered flat, on which it partially runs out. The ground is, however, sound and well clothed with grass and salsolaceous plants. Up to this point the country through which we have passed has been of the finest description for pastoral purposes. The grass and saltbush are everywhere abundant, and water is plentiful with every appearance of permanence. We met with porcupine grass, [Footnote: Triodia pungens.--Br.] and only two sand ridges before reaching Camp 71.
Field Book 2 - Camp 72 to
Lattitude 27 to 25½ degrees.
Saturday, 22nd December.--At five minutes to five
A.M. we left one of the most delightful camps we have had in the
journey, and proceeded on the same course as before, north-west
by north, across some high ridges of loose sand, many of which
were partially clothed with porcupine grass. We found the ground
much worse to travel over than any we have yet met with, as the
ridges were exceedingly abrupt and steep on their eastern side,
and although sloping gradually towards the west, were so
honeycombed in some places by the burrows of rats, that the
camels were continually in danger of falling. At a distance of
about six miles, we descended from these ridges to undulating
country of open box forest, where everything was green and fresh.
There is an abundance of grass and salt bushes, and lots of birds
of all descriptions. Several flocks of pigeons passed over our
heads, making for a point a little to our right, where there is
no doubt plenty of water, but we did not go off our course to
look for it. Beyond the box forest, which keeps away to the
right, we again entered the sand ridges, and at a distance of six
miles, passed close to a dry salt lagoon, the ridges in the
vicinity of which are less regular in their form and direction,
and contain nodules of limestone. The ground in the flats and
claypans near, has that encrusted surface that cracks under the
pressure of the foot, and is a sure indication of saline
deposits. At a distance of eight miles from the lagoon, we camped
at the foot of a sand ridge, jutting out on the stony desert. I
was rather disappointed, but not altogether surprised, to find
the latter nothing more nor less than the stony rises that we had
before met with, only on a larger scale and not quite as
undulating. During the afternoon several crows came to feed on
the plain. They came from an east-north-east direction, no doubt
from a portion of the creek that flows through the forest that we
left on our right. In the morning, as we were loading, a duck
passed over, but it was too dark to see which way it went.
Sunday, 23rd December.--At five A.M. we struck out across the desert in a west-north-west direction. At four and a-half miles we crossed a sand ridge, and then returned to our north-west by north course. We found the ground not nearly as bad for travelling on as that between Bulloo and Cooper's Creek. In fact I do not know whether it arose from our exaggerated anticipation of horrors or not, but we thought it far from bad travelling ground, and as to pasture it is only the actually stony ground that is bare, and many a sheep run is in fact worse grazing ground than that. At fifteen miles we crossed another sand ridge, for several miles round which there is plenty of grass and fine salt bush. After crossing this ridge we descended to an earthy plain, where the ground was rather heavy, being in some places like pieces of slaked lime, and intersected by small watercourses; flocks of pigeons rose from amongst the salt bushes and polygonum; but all the creeks were dry, although marked by lines of box timber. Several gunyahs of the blacks were situated near a waterhole that had apparently contained water very lately, and heaps of grass were lying about the plains, from which they had beaten the seeds. We pushed on, hoping to find the creeks assuming an improved appearance, but they did not, and at one o'clock we halted, intending to travel through part of the night. About sunset, three flocks of pigeons passed over us, all going in the same direction, due north by compass, and passing over a ridge of sand in that direction. Not to have taken notice of such an occurrence would have been little short of a sin, so we determined to go eight or ten miles in that direction. Starting at seven o'clock P.M., we, at six miles, crossed the ridge over which the birds had flown, and came on a flat, subject to inundation. The ground was at first hard and even like the bottom of a claypan, but at a mile or so, we came on cracked earthy ground, intersected by numberless small channels running in all directions. At nine miles we reached the bed of a creek running from east to west: it was only bordered by polygonum bushes, but as there was no timber visible on the plains, we thought it safer to halt until daylight, for fear we should miss the water. At daylight, when we had saddled, a small quantity of timber could be seen at the point of a sand ridge about a mile and a half or two miles to the west of us, and on going there we found a fine creek, with a splendid sheet of water more than a mile long, and averaging nearly three chains broad: it is, however, only two or three feet deep in most parts.
Monday, 24th December, 1860.--We took a day of rest on Gray's Creek to celebrate Christmas. This was doubly pleasant, as we had never, in our most sanguine moments, anticipated finding such a delightful oasis in the desert. Our camp was really an agreeable place, for we had all the advantages of food and water, attending a position of a large creek or river, and were at the same time free from the annoyance of the numberless ants, flies, and mosquitoes that are invariably met with amongst timber or heavy scrub.
Tuesday, 25th December, 1860.--We left Gray's Creek at half-past four A.M. and proceeded to cross the earthy rotten plains in the direction of Eyre's Creek. At a distance of about nine miles we reached some lines of trees and bushes which were visible from the top of the sand ridge at Gray's Creek. We found them growing on the banks of several small creeks which trend to the north and north-north-west; at a mile and a half further we crossed a small creek north-north-east, and joining the ones above mentioned. This creek contained abundance of water in small detached holes from fifty to a hundred links long, well shaded by steep banks and overhanging bushes. The water had a suspiciously transparent colour and a slight trace of brackishness, but the latter was scarcely perceptible. Near where the creek joined the holes is a sandhill and a dense mass of fine timber. The smoke of a fire indicated the presence of blacks, who soon made their appearance and followed us for some distance, beckoning us away to the north-east. We however continued our course north-west by north, but at a distance of one mile and a half found that the creek did not come round as we expected, and that the fall of the water was in a direction nearly opposite to our course, or about west to east. We struck off north half west for a high sand ridge, from which we anticipated seeing whether it were worth while for us to follow the course of the creeks we had crossed. We were surprised to find all the watercourses on the plains trending rather to the south of east, and at a distance of three miles, after changing our course, and when we approached the sandhills towards which we had been steering, we were agreeably pulled up by a magnificent creek coming from the north-north-west, and running in the direction of the fire we had seen. We had now no choice but to change our course again, for we could not have crossed even if we had desired to do so. On following up the south bank of the creek we found it soon keeping a more northerly course than it had where we first struck it. This fact, together with its magnitude and general appearance, lessened the probability of its being Eyre's Creek, as seemed at first very likely from their relative positions and directions. The day being very hot and the camels tired from travelling over the earthy plains, which by-the-by are not nearly so bad as those at the head of Cooper's Creek, we camped at one P.M., having traced the creek up about five miles, not counting the bends. For the whole of this distance we found not a break or interruption of water, which appears to be very deep; the banks are from twenty to thirty feet above the water, and very steep; they are clothed near the water's edge with mint and other weeds, and on the top of each side there is a belt of box trees and various shrubs. The lower part of the creek is bounded towards the north by a high red sand ridge, and on the south side is an extensive plain, intersected by numerous watercourses, which drain off the water in flood-time. The greater portion of the plain is at present very bare, but the stalks of dry grass show that after rain or floods there will be a good crop on the harder and well drained portion; but I believe the loose earthy portion supports no vegetation at any time. The inclination of the ground from the edge of the creek-bank towards the plain is in many places very considerable; this I should take to indicate that the flooding is or has been at one time both frequent and regular.
Wednesday, 26th December, 1860.--We started at five A.M., following up the creek from point to point of the bends. Its general course was at first north-by-west, but at about six miles, the sand ridge on the west closed in on it, and at this point it takes a turn to the north-north-east for half a mile, and then comes around suddenly north-west. Up to this point it had been rather improving in appearance than otherwise, but in the bend to the north-west the channel is very broad. Its bed being limestone rock and indurated clay, is for a space of five or six chains quite dry; then commences another waterhole, the creek keeping a little more towards north. We crossed the creek here and struck across the plain in a due north course, for we could see the line of timber coming up to the sand ridges in that direction. For from seven to eight miles we did not touch the creek, and the eastern sand ridge seceded to a distance, in some places of nearly three miles, from our line, leaving an immense extent of grassy plain between it and the creek. The distinctly marked feature on the lower part of this creek is that whenever the main creek is on one side of a plain, there is always a fine billibong on the opposite side, each of them almost invariably sticking close to the respective sand ridges. Before coming to the next bend of the creek a view from the top of a sandhill showed me that the creek received a large tributary from the north-west at about two miles above where we had crossed it. A fine line of timber, running up to the north-west, joined an extensive tract of box forest, and the branch we were following was lost to view in a similar forest towards the north. The sand ridge was so abrupt when we came to the creek, that it was necessary to descend into its bed through one of the small ravines adjoining it. We found it partially run out, the bed being sand and strewed with nodules of lime, some of which were from one half to two feet long: they had apparently been formed in the sanddowns by infiltration.
Field Book 3 - Camps 78 to
Latitude south 25½ to 23¾ degrees.
[Footnote: This Field Book was mostly occupied by notes of
astronomical observations, and surveyor's notes for mapping.]
Sunday, 30th December, 1860.--Finding that the creek was trending considerably towards the east without much likelihood of altering its course, we struck off from it, taking a ten days' supply of water, as there were ranges visible to the north, which had the appearance of being stony. A north-east by north course was first taken for about seven miles in order to avoid them. The whole of this distance was over alluvial earthy plains, the soil of which was firm, but the vegetation scanty.
Field Book 4 - Camps 85 to
Latitude 23¾ degrees to 22¼ degrees.
(Fine Country, Tropics.)
Saturday, 5th January, 1861.--On leaving Camp 84, we found slight
but distinct indications of rain in the groves, and a few blades
of grass and small weeds in the little depressions on the plain:
these indications were, however, so slight, that, but for the
fact of our having found surface-water in two holes near our
camp, we should hardly have noticed them. At a distance of about
two miles in a north-north-easterly direction, we came to a creek
with a long broad shallow waterhole. The well-worn paths, the
recent tracks of natives, and the heaps of shells, on the
contents of which the latter had feasted, showed at once that
this creek must be connected with some creek of considerable
importance. The camels and horses being greatly in need of rest,
we only moved up about half a mile, and camped for the day.
Sunday, 6th January, 1861.--Started at twenty minutes to six o'clock, intending to make an easy day's stage along the creek. As we proceeded up in a northerly direction, we found the waterhole to diminish in size very much, and at about two and a half miles the creek ran out in a lot of small watercourses. At the upper end of the creek we found in its bed what appeared to be an arrangement for catching fish: it consisted of a small oval mud paddock about twelve feet by eight feet, the sides of which were about nine inches above the bottom of the hole, and the top of the fence covered with long grass, so arranged that the ends of the blades overhung scantily by several inches the sides of the hole. As there was no sign of timber to the north, we struck off to north-west by north for a fine line that came up from south-west, and seemed to run parallel with the creek we were about to leave. At a distance of about three miles, we reached the bank of a fine creek containing a sheet of water two chains broad, and at least fifteen feet deep in the middle. The banks are shelving, sandy, and lightly clothed with box trees and various shrubs. On starting to cross the plains towards this creek we were surprised at the bright green appearance of strips of land, which look in the distance like swamps. On approaching some of them, we found that there had been a considerable fall of rain in some places, which had raised a fine crop of grass and portulac [Footnote: Portulaca oleracea. L.] wherever the soil was of a sandy and light nature; but the amount of moisture had been insufficient to affect the hard clayey ground which constitutes the main portion of the plain. The sight of two native companions feeding here, added greatly to the encouraging prospects; they are the only specimens of that bird that I remember to have seen on that side of the Darling.
7th January, 1861.--We started at half-past four A.M. without water, thinking that we might safely rely on this creek for one day's journey. We, however, found the line of timber soon began to look small; at three miles the channel contained only a few pools of surface water. We continued across the plains on a due north course, frequently crossing small watercourses, which had been filled by the rain, but were fast drying up. Here and there, as we proceeded, dense lines of timber on our right showed that the creek came from the east of north; at a distance of thirteen miles we turned to the north-north-east towards a fine line of timber. We found a creek of considerable dimensions, that had only two or three small water-holes, but as there was more than sufficient for us, and very little feed for the beasts anywhere else, we camped. I should have liked this camp to have been in a more prominent and easily recognizable position, as it happens to be almost exactly on the tropic of Capricorn. The tremendous gale of wind that we had in the evening and night prevented me from taking a latitude observation, whereas I had some good ones at the last camp and at Camp 87. My reckoning cannot be far out. I found, on taking out my instruments, that one of the spare thermometers was broken, and the glass of my aneroid barometer cracked; the latter I believe not otherwise injured. This was done by the camel having taken it into his head to roll while the pack was on his back.
Tuesday, 8th January, 1861.--Started at a quarter past five A.M. with a load of water, determined to be independent of all creeks and watercourses. At a mile and a half, found surface water in a small creek, and at a mile farther, water in two or three places on the open plains. The country we crossed for the first ten miles consists of fine open plains of firm argillaceous soils, too stiff and hard to be affected by the small quantity of rain that has fallen as yet. They are subject to inundations from the overflow of a number of small creeks, which intersect them in a direction east-north-east to west-south-west. Nearly all the creeks are lined with box trees and shrubs in a tolerably healthy state; of the remains of dead trees there is only a fair proportion to the living ones. After traversing a plain of greater extent than the rest, we, at ten miles, reached the creek, proportionately large and important looking. The channel, however, at the point where we struck it, was deep, level, and dry; but I believe there is water in it not far off, for there were some red-breasted cockatoos in the trees, and native parrots on each side. On the north side there is a part bearing off to the north-north-west. The mirage on the plain to the south of the creek was stronger than I have before seen it. There appear to be sheets of water within a few yards of one, and it looks sufficiently smooth and glassy to be used for an artificial horizon. To the westward of the plains, some fine sandhills were visible, nearly in the direction in which the creek flowed. To the north of the creek the country undergoes a great change. At first there is a little earthy land subject to inundation. The soil then becomes more sandy, with stony pans in which water collects after rain; the whole country is slightly undulating, lightly timbered, and splendidly grassed. A number of small disconnected creeks are scattered about, many of which contained water protected from the sun and wind by luxuriant growth of fine grasses and small bushes. We passed one or two little rises of sand and pebbles, on which were growing some trees quite new to me; but for the seed pods I should have taken them for a species of Casuarina, although the leaf-stalks have not the jointed peculiarities of those plants. The trunks and branches are like the she oak, the leaves like those of a pine; they droop like a willow, and the seed is small, flat, in a large flat pod, about six inches by three-quarters of an inch. As we proceeded, the country improved at every step. Flocks of pigeons rose and flew off to the eastward, and fresh plants met our view on every rise; everything green and luxuriant. The horse licked his lips, and tried all he could to break his nose-string in order to get at the food. We camped at the foot of a sandy rise, where there was a large stony pan with plenty of water, and where the feed was equal in quality, and superior as to variety, to any that I have seen in Australia, excepting perhaps on some soils of volcanic origin.
Wednesday, 9th January, 1861.--Started at five minutes past five, without water, trusting to get a supply of water from the rain that fell during the thunderstorm. Traversed six miles of undulating plains covered with vegetation richer than ever. Several ducks rose from the little creeks as we passed, and flocks of pigeons were flying in all directions. The richness of the vegetation is evidently not suddenly arising from chance thunderstorms, for the trees and bushes on the open plain are everywhere healthy and fresh looking; very few dead ones are to be seen; besides which, the quantity of dead and rotten grass which at present almost overpowers in some places the young blades shows that this is not the first crop of the kind. The grasses are numerous and many of them unknown to me, but they only constitute a moderate portion of the herbage. Several kinds of spurious vetches and portulac, as well as salsolaceae, add to the luxuriance of the vegetation. At seven miles we found ourselves in an open forest country, where the feed was good, but not equal to what we had passed, neither had it been visited by yesterday's rain. We soon emerged again on open plains, but the soil being of a more clayish nature, they were not nearly so much advanced in vegetation as the others. We found surface water in several places, and at one spot disturbed a fine bustard which was feeding in the long grass; we did not see him until he flew up. I should have mentioned that one flew over our camp last evening in a northerly direction; this speaks well for the country and climate. At noon we came to a large creek the course of which was from east-north-east to west-south-west; the sight of the white gum trees in the distance had raised hopes, which were not at all damped on a close inspection of the channel. At the point where we struck it there was certainly no great quantity of water; the bed was broad and sandy, but its whole appearance was that of an important watercourse, and the large gums which line its banks, together with the improved appearance of the soil, and the abundance of feed in the vicinity, satisfied us as to the permanency of the water and the value of the discovery. Although it was so early in the day, and we were anxious to make a good march, yet we camped here, as it seemed to be almost a sin to leave such good quarters. The bed of the creek is loose sand, through which the water freely permeates; it is, however, sufficiently coarse not to be boggy, and animals can approach the water without any difficulty.
Thursday, 10th January, 1861.--At twenty minutes past five A.M., we left our camp with a full supply of water, determined to risk no reverses, and to make a good march. I should mention that last evening we had been nearly deafened by the noise of the cicadariae, and but for our large fires should have been kept awake all night by the mosquitoes. A walk of two miles across a well grassed plain brought us to a belt of timber, and we soon afterwards found ourselves pulled up by a large creek in which the water was broad and deep; we had to follow up the bank of the creek in a north-easterly direction for nearly a mile before we could cross, when to our joy we found that it was flowing; not a muddy stream from the effects of recent floods, but a small rivulet of pure water as clear as crystal. The bed of the river at this place is deep and rather narrow; the water flows over sand and pebbles, winding its way between clumps of melalema, and gum saplings. After leaving the river, we kept our old course due north, crossing, at a distance of one mile, three creeks with gum trees on their banks. The soil of the flats through which they flow is a red loam of fair quality and well grassed. Beyond the third creek is a large plain, parts of which are very stony, and this is bounded towards the east by a low stony rise, partly composed of decayed and honeycombed quartz rock in situ, and partly of waterworn pebbles and other alluvial deposits. At about two miles across this plain, we reached the first of a series of small creeks with deep waterholes: these creeks and holes have the characteristics peculiar to watercourses which are found in flats formed from the alluvial deposits of schistose rocks. The banks are on a level with the surrounding ground, and are irregularly marked by small trees, or only by tufts of long grass which overhang the channel and frequently hide it from one's view, even when within a few yards. At about five miles from where we crossed the river, we came to the main creek in these flats, Patten's Creek; it flows along at the foot of a stony range, and we had to trace it up nearly a mile in a north-north-easterly direction before we could cross it; as it happened, we might almost as well have followed its course up the flat, for at a little more than two miles we came to it again. We re-crossed it at a stony place just below a very large waterhole, and then continued our course over extensive plains, not so well grassed as those we had passed before, and very stony in some places. At eight miles from Patten's Creek, we came to another, running from south-west to south-east: there was plenty of water in it, but it was evidently the result of recent local rains. On the banks was an abundance of good feed but very little timber.
Friday, 11th January, 1861.--We started at five A.M., and in the excitement of exploring fine well-watered country, forgot all aboutthe eclipse of the sun until the reduced temperature and peculiarly gloomy appearance of the sky drew our attention to the matter; it was then too late to remedy the deficiency, so we made a good day's journey, the moderation of the midday heat, which was only about 86 degrees, greatly assisting us. The country traversed has the most verdant and cheerful aspect; abundance of feed and water everywhere. All the creeks seen to-day have a course more or less to the east by south. The land improves in appearance at every mile. A quantity of rain has fallen here and to the south, and some of the flats are suitable for cultivation, if the regularity of the seasons will admit.
Field Book 5 - Camps 92 to
Latitude 22¼ to 21¼ degrees. (Standish Ranges.)
Saturday, 12th January, 1861.--We started at five A.M., and,
keeping as nearly as possible a due north course, traversed for
about eight miles a splendid flat, through which flow several
fine well-watered creeks, lined with white gum trees. We then
entered a series of slaty, low, sandstone ranges, amongst which
were some well-grassed flats, and plenty of water in the main
gullies. The more stony portions are, however, covered with
porcupine grass, and here and there with mallee; large ant-hills
are very numerous; they vary in height from two and a half to
four feet. There was a continuous rise perceptible all the way in
crossing the ranges, and from the highest portion, which we
reached at a distance of about seven miles, we had a pretty good
view of the country towards the north. As far as we could see in
the distance, and bearing due north, was a large range, having
somewhat the outline of a granite mountain. The east end of this
range just comes up to the magnetic north; on the left of this,
and bearing north-north-west, is a single conical peak, the top
of which only is visible. Further to the west there were some
broken ranges, apparently sandstone; to the east of north the
tops of very distant and apparently higher ranges were seen, the
outline of which was so indistinct that I can form no idea as to
their character; the intermediate country below us appeared
alternations of fine valleys and stony ranges, such as we had
just been crossing. From here a descent of two miles brought us
to a creek having a northern course, but on tracing it down for
about a mile, we found it to turn to the south-east and join
another from the north. We crossed over to the latter on a
north-by-west course, and camped on the west bank. It has a broad
sandy channel; the waterholes are large, but not deep; the banks
are bordered with fine white gums, and are in some places very
scrubby. There is abundance of rich green feed everywhere in the
vicinity. We found here numerous indications of blacks having
been here, but saw nothing of them. It seems remarkable that
where their tracks are so plentiful, we should have seen none
since we left King's Creek. I observed that the natives here
climb trees as those on the Murray do, in search of some animal
corresponding in habits to the opossum, which they get out of the
hollow branches in a similar manner. I have not yet been able to
ascertain what the animal is.
Sunday, 13th January, 1861.--We did not leave camp this morning until half-past seven, having delayed for the purpose of getting the camels' shoes on--a matter in which we were eminently unsuccessful. We took our breakfast before starting, for almost the first time since leaving the Depot. Having crossed the creek, our course was due north as before, until, at about six miles, we came in sight of the range ahead, when we took a north-half-east direction for the purpose of clearing the eastern front of it. We found the ground more sandy than what we had before crossed, and a great deal of it even more richly grassed. Camp 93 is situate at the junction of three sandy creeks, in which there is abundance of water. The sand is loose, and the water permeates freely, so that the latter may be obtained delightfully cool and clear by sinking anywhere in the beds of the creeks.
Field Book 6 - Camps 98 to
Latitude 21¼ to 20¼ degrees. (Upper part of Cloncurry.)
Saturday, 19th January, 1861.--Started from Camp 98 at 5.30 A.M., and passing to the north-west of Mount Forbes, across a fine and well-grassed plain, kept at first a north-by-east direction. At a distance of three miles, the plain became everywhere stony, being scattered over with quartz pebbles; and a little further on we came to low quartz ranges, the higher portions of which are covered with porcupine grass, but the valleys are well clothed with a variety of coarse and rank herbage. At about five miles we crossed a creek with a sandy bed, which has been named Green's Creek; there were blacks not far above where we crossed, but we did not disturb them. After crossing the creek, we took a due north course over very rugged quartz ranges of an auriferous character. Pieces of iron ore, very rich, were scattered in great numbers over some of the hills. On our being about to cross one of the branch creeks in the low range, we surprised some blacks--a man who, with a young fellow apparently his son, was upon a tree, cutting out something; and a lubra with a piccaninny. The two former did not see me until I was nearly close to them, and then they were dreadfully frightened; jumping down from the trees, they started off, shouting what sounded to us very like "Joe, Joe." Thus disturbed, the lubra, who was at some distance from them, just then caught sight of the camels and the remainder of the party as they came over the hill into the creek, and this tended to hasten their flight over the stones and porcupine grass. Crossing the range at the head of this creek, we came on a gully running north, down which we proceeded, and soon found it open out into a creek, at two or three points in which we found water. On this creek we found the first specimen of an eucalyptus, which has a very different appearance from the members of the gum-tree race. It grows as high as a good-sized gum tree, but with the branches less spreading: in shape it much resembles the elm; the foliage is dark, like that of the light wood; the trunk and branches are covered with a grey bark resembling in outward appearance that of the box tree. Finding that the creek was trending too much to the eastward, we struck off to the north again, and at a short distance came on a fine creek running about south-south-east. As it was now nearly time to camp, we travelled it up for about one and a-half mile, and came to a fine waterhole in a rocky basin, at which there were lots of birds.
Field Book 7 - Camps 105 to
Latitude 20¼ to 19¼ degrees. (Middle part of Cloncurry.)
Sunday, 27th January, 1861.--Started from Camp 105 at five
minutes past two in the morning. We followed along the bends of
the creek by moonlight, and found the creek wind about very much,
taking on the whole a north-east course. At about five miles it
changed somewhat its features; from a broad and sandy channel,
winding about through gum-tree flats, it assumes the unpropitious
appearance of a straight, narrow creek, running in a
north-north-east direction between high, perpendicular, earthy
banks. After running between three or four miles in this manner,
it took a turn to the west, at which point there is a fine
waterhole, and then assumed its original character. Below this we
found water at several places, but it all seemed to be either
from surface drainage or from springs in the sand. The land in
the vicinity of the creek appears to have received plenty of
rain, the vegetation everywhere green and fresh; but there is no
appearance of the creek having flowed in this part of the channel
for a considerable period. Palm trees are numerous, and some bear
an abundance of small, round dates (nuts) just ripening. These
palms give a most picturesque and pleasant appearance to the
Wednesday, 30th January, 1861.--Started at half-past seven A.M., after several unsuccessful attempts at getting Golah out of the bed of the creek. It was determined to try bringing him down until we could find a place for him to get out at; but after going in this way two or three miles it was found necessary to leave him behind, as it was almost impossible to get him through some of the waterholes, and had separated King from the party, which became a matter for very serious consideration when we found blacks hiding in the box trees close to us.
Having reached the point indicated by the last
date and passage in 'Field Book 7,' Mr Burke and my son
determined to leave Gray and King there in charge of the camels,
and to proceed onwards to the shores of Carpentaria, themselves
on foot and leading the horse. The river or creek down which they
passed is named in the journal the Cloncurry. The channel making
a sudden turn, my son remarked that it might be a new river. 'If
it should prove so,' said Mr Burke, 'we will call it after my
old friend Lord Cloncurry.'
With reference to this locality, marked in the map as Camp 119, King was asked in his examination before the Royal Commissioners:
Question 815. Was the water salt?--Quite salt.
Question 816. Who first made the discovery of reaching the sea, or did you all come upon it together; that is, reaching the salt water where the tide was?--Mr Wills knew it; he had told us two or three days before we reached the salt water that we were in the country that had been discovered by Mr Gregory and other previous explorers.
Question 817. Some days before you got upon it he told you that?--Yes, and showed us on the chart the supposed place where Mr Gregory crossed this small creek.
It will be seen by these answers of King, that Mr Burke assumed no topographical knowledge of the position. The Melbourne Argus stated and repeated that he had mistaken the Flinders for the Albert. Now the river in question was never mentioned as either, and the mistake, if made, was Mr Wills's and not Mr Burke's. This portion of the map was said to have been lost on the morning of its arrival in Melbourne; and this I can readily believe, as also that more might have met with the same fate had I not fortunately been there.
Field Book 8 - Camps 112 to
South latitude 19¼ to 17 degrees 53 minutes.
Lower part of Cloncurry.
Field Book 9.
Returning from Carpentaria to Cooper's Creek.
Sunday, February, 1861.--Finding the ground in such a state from
the heavy falls of rain, that camels could scarcely be got along,
it was decided to leave them at Camp 119, and for Mr Burke and I
to proceed towards the sea on foot. After breakfast we
accordingly started, taking with us the horse and three days'
provisions. Our first difficulty was in crossing Billy's Creek,
which we had to do where it enters the river, a few hundred yards
below the camp. In getting the horse in here, he got bogged in a
quicksand bank so deeply as to be unable to stir, and we only
succeeded in xtricating him by undermining him on the creek's
side, and then lugging him into the water. Having got all the
things in safety, we continued down the river bank, which bent
about from east to west, but kept a general north course. A great
deal of the land was so soft and rotten that the horse, with only
a saddle and about twenty-five pounds on his back, could scarcely
walk over it. At a distance of about five miles we again had him
bogged in crossing a small creek, after which he seemed so weak
that we had great doubts about getting him on. We, however, found
some better ground close to the water's edge, where the sandstone
rock crops out, and we stuck to it as far as possible. Finding
that the river was bending about so much that we were making very
little progress in a northerly direction, we struck off due north
and soon came on some table-land, where the soil is shallow and
gravelly, and clothed with box and swamp gums. Patches of the
land were very boggy, but the main portion was sound enough;
beyond this we came on an open plain, covered with water up to
one's ankles. The soil here was a stiff clay, and the surface
very uneven, so that between the tufts of grass one was
frequently knee deep in water. The bottom, however, was sound and
no fear of bogging. After floundering through this for several
miles, we came to a path formed by the blacks, and there were
distinct signs of a recent migration in a southerly direction. By
making use of this path we got on much better, for the ground was
well trodden and hard. At rather more than a mile, the path
entered a forest through which flowed a nice watercourse, and we
had not gone far before we found places where the blacks had been
camping. The forest was intersected by little pebbly rises, on
which they had made their fires, and in the sandy ground
adjoining some of the former had been digging yams, which seemed
to be so numerous that they could afford to leave lots of them
about, probably having only selected the very best. We were not
so particular, but ate many of those that they had rejected, and
found them very good. About half a mile further, we came close on
a black fellow, who was coiling up by a camp fire, whilst his gin
and piccaninny were yabbering alongside. We stopped for a short
time to take out some of the pistols that were on the horse, and
that they might see us before we were so near as to frighten
them. Just after we stopped, the black got up to stretch his
limbs, and after a few seconds looked in our direction. It was
very amusing to see the way in which he stared, standing for some
time as if he thought he must be dreaming, and then, having
signalled to the others, they dropped on their haunches, and
shuffled off in the quietest manner possible. Near their fire was
a fine hut, the best I have ever seen, built on the same
principle as those at Cooper's Creek, but much larger and more
complete: I should say a dozen blacks might comfortably coil in
it together. It is situated at the end of the forest towards the
north, and looks out on an extensive marsh, which is at times
flooded by the sea water. Hundreds of wild geese, plover and
pelicans, were enjoying themselves in the watercourses on the
marsh, all the water on which was too brackish to be drinkable,
except some holes that are filled by the stream that flows
through the forest. The neighbourhood of this encampment is one
of the prettiest we have seen during the journey. Proceeding on
our course across the marsh, we came to a channel through which
the sea water enters. Here we passed three blacks, who, as is
universally their custom, pointed out to us, unasked, the best
part down. This assisted us greatly, for the ground we were
taking was very boggy. We moved slowly down about three miles and
then camped for the night; the horse Billy being completely
baked. Next morning we started at daybreak, leaving the horse
Memo.--Verbally transcribed from the Field Books of the late Mr Wills. Very few words, casually omitted in the author's manuscripts, have been added in brackets. A few botanical explanations have been appended. A few separate general remarks referring to this portion of the diary will be published, together with the meteorological notes to which they are contiguous. No other notes in reference to this portion of the journey are extant.
5/11/61 Ferd Mueller.
It will be observed in following these Field
Books that there are occasional intervals and omissions, which I
account for thus: - My son's first entries, in pencil, are more
in the form of notes, with observations, and figures to guide him
in mapping; because, when his maps are accurate and attended to,
his journal is imperfect, and vice versa. Besides, there can be
no doubt that Mr Burke kept a journal, though perhaps not a
complete one, and of which a very small portion has come to hand.
In it he mentions a difficult pass they went through on the route
to Carpentaria, of which my son does not speak. King confirms Mr
Burke's statement, and says my son knew he had written it, which
was the reason why he did not himself repeat the same
The Royal Commissioners in their Report said:
It does not appear that Mr Burke kept any regular journal, or that he gave written instructions to his officers. Had he performed these essential portions of the duties of a leader, many of the calamities of the Expedition might have been averted, and little or no room would have been left for doubt in judging the conduct of those subordinates who pleaded unsatisfactory and contradictory verbal orders and statements.
With all due submission and humility, I think this opinion too conclusive, and formed on unsatisfactory evidence, as any statement must be considered, proceeding from one who destroyed his own credit by self-contradiction to the extent that Mr Brahe did. He admitted, on his examination, that he had burnt some of Mr Burke's papers at Mr Burke's own request. How then is it possible to determine what he may otherwise have burnt or placed out of the way? In fact, what written instructions, if any, he did or not receive, and what he did with them?