Burke & Wills Web
www.burkeandwills.net.au
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2012

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)
1862.

Chapter 12

  • The attempt to reach South Australia and Adelaide by Mount Hopeless
  • Mistake of selecting that Route
  • Mr Wills's Journals from the 23rd of April to the 29th of June, 1861
  • Adventures with the Natives
  • Discovery of Nardoo as a Substitute for Food
  • Mr Burke and King go in search of Natives as a last resource
  • Mr Wills left alone in the Desert
  • The Last Entry in his Journal

---- For an explanation of the Reaumur temperature scale Wills used, which is mentioned in this chapter, GO HERE ----

On the morning of Thursday, the 23rd of April, 1861, Mr Burke, my son, and King, being refreshed and strengthened by the provisions they found at Cooper's Creek, again resumed their journey homewards. It was an unfortunate resolve of Burke's, to select the route to the Adelaide district by Mount Hopeless, instead of returning by the Darling. King says, "Mr Wills and I were of opinion that to follow Brahe was the best mode of proceeding; but Mr Burke had heard it stated positively at the meeting of the Royal Society, that there were South Australian settlers within one hundred miles of Cooper's Creek in the direction he proposed to take;" and by this very questionable assertion, without evidence, his mind was biased. There was, in fact, nothing to recommend the route by Mount Hopeless, while everything was in favour of that by the Darling. Blanche Water, the nearest police-station on the Adelaide line, was distant between four and five hundred miles. The one road they knew nothing of, the other was familiar to them. The camels, too, would have plucked up spirit on returning after the others on the old track. It is true that Brahe's false statement of the condition of his party held out no encouragement that they might be able to overtake him; but there was a chance that a new party might even then be coming up, or that the laggard Wright would be on the advance at last, as proved to be the fact. A Melbourne paper, commenting on these points, had the following remarks, which were as just as they were doubly painful, being delivered after the event:

Wills and King it appears were desirous of following their track out from Menindie, which would unquestionably have been the wiser course; but Mr Burke preferred striking for the South Australian stations, some of which, he had been informed by the Royal Committee of Exploration, were only one hundred and fifty miles from Cooper's Creek. It was a most unfortunate and fatal matter for Mr Burke that these Royal people had anything whatever to do with his movements.

He made two attempts to strike in the direction in which they had assured him he would easily reach a settled district, and twice was he driven back for want of water. It was a fatal mistake on his part to follow the suggestion of these ready advisers. The practical impressions of Wills or King were worth a world of theoretical conjectures and philosophic presumption. But it seems to have been decreed that Burke should have favoured the former instead of the latter; the consequences of which were that himself and poor Wills were to perish miserably.

Much as I approve of and admire my son's steady obedience to his leader, I cannot but regret and wonder that in this particular instance he was not more resolute in remonstrance. It bears out what I said to Mr Burke on taking leave of him:

If you ask his advice, take it; but he will never offer it; and should he see you going to destruction, he will follow you without a murmur.

The party, before they left Cooper's Creek, buried my son's journals in the cache, with the subjoined note from Mr Burke, which were dug out and brought up by Brahe.

Depôt 2, Cooper's Creek Camp 65.

The return party from Carpentaria, consisting of myself, Wills, and King (Gray dead), arrived here last night and found that the Depôt party had only started on the same day. We proceed on, to-morrow, slowly down the creek towards Adelaide by Mount Hopeless, and shall endeavour to follow Gregory's track; but we are very weak. The two camels are done up, and we shall not be able to travel faster than four or five miles a day. Gray died on the road, from exhaustion and fatigue. We have all suffered much from hunger. The provisions left here will, I think, restore our strength. We have discovered a practicable route to Carpentaria, the chief position of which lies in the 140 degrees of east longitude. There is some good country between this and the Stony Desert. From thence to the tropics the land is dry and stony. Between the Carpentaria a considerable portion is rangy, but well watered and richly grassed. We reached the shores of Carpentaria on the 11th of February, 1861. Greatly disappointed at finding the party here gone.

(Signed) Robert O'Hara Burke, Leader.
April 22, 1861.

P.S. The camels cannot travel, and we cannot walk, or we should follow the other party. We shall move very slowly down the creek.

My son's journal is now written in a more complete and consecutive form. He had no instruments for observation or mapping, so that his time and mind were concentrated on the one employment.

April 1861. - Journal of a trip from Cooper's Creek towards Adelaide.
The advance party of the V.E.E., consisting of Burke, Wills, and King (Gray being dead), having returned from Carpentaria, on the 21st April, 1861, in an exhausted and weak state, and finding that the Depôt party left at Cooper's Creek had started for the Darling with their horses and camels fresh and in good condition, deemed it useless to attempt to overtake them, having only two camels, both done up, and being so weak themselves as to be unable to walk more than four or five miles a day. Finding also that the provisions left at the Depôt for them would scarcely take them to Menindie, they started down Cooper's Creek for Adelaide, via Mount Hopeless, on the morning of 23rd April, 1861, intending to follow as nearly as possible, the route taken by Gregory. By so doing they hoped to be able to recruit themselves and the camels whilst sauntering slowly down the creek, and to have sufficient provisions left to take them comfortably, or at least without risk, to some station in South Australia.

Their equipment consists of the following articles:--Flour, 50 pounds; sugar, 60 pounds; rice, 20 pounds; oatmeal, 60 pounds; jerked meat, 25 pounds; ginger, 2 pounds; salt, 1 pound.--[Then follow some native words with their meanings.]

From Depôt.
Tuesday, 23rd April, 1861.--Having collected together all the odds and ends that seemed likely to be of use to us, in addition to provisions left in the plant, we started at 9.15 A.M., keeping down the southern bank of the creek; we only went about five miles, and camped at 11.30 on a billibong, where the feed was pretty good. We find the change of diet already making a great improvement in our spirits and strength. The weather is delightful, days agreeably warm, but the nights very chilly. The latter is more noticeable from our deficiency in clothing, the Depôt party having taken all the reserve things back with them to the Darling.--To Camp 1.

From Camp 1.
Wednesday, 24th April, 1861.--As we were about to start this morning, some blacks came by, from whom we were fortunate enough to get about twelve pounds of fish for a few pieces of straps and some matches, etc. This is a great treat for us, as well as a valuable addition to our rations. We started at 8.15 P.M., on our way down the creek, the blacks going in the opposite direction, little thinking that in a few miles they might be able to get lots of pieces for nothing, better than those they had obtained from us.--To Camp 2.

From Camp 2.
Thursday, 25th April, 1861.--Awoke at five o'clock after a most refreshing night's rest--the sky was beautifully clear, and the air rather chilly--the terrestrial radiation seems to have been considerable, and a slight dew had fallen. We had scarcely finished breakfast, when our friends the blacks, from whom we obtained the fish, made their appearance with a few more, and seemed inclined to go with us and keep up the supply. We gave them some sugar, with which they were greatly pleased--they are by far the most well-behaved blacks we have seen on Cooper's Creek. We did not get away from the camp until 9.30 A.M., continuing our course down the most southern branch of the creek which keeps a general south-west course. We passed across the stony point which abuts on one of the largest waterholes in the creek, and camped at 12.30 about a mile below the most dangerous part of the rocky path. At this latter place we had an accident that might have resulted badly for us: one of the camels fell while crossing the worst part, but we fortunately got him out with only a few cuts and bruises. To Camp 3.--The waterhole at this camp is a very fine one, being several miles long, and on an average about--chains broad. The water-fowl are numerous, but rather shy, not nearly so much so, however, as those on the creeks between here and Carpentaria; and I am convinced that the shyness of the latter, which was also remarked by Sturt on his trip to Eyre's Creek, arises entirely from the scarcity of animals, both human and otherwise, and not from any peculiar mode of catching them that the blacks may have.

From Camp 3.
Friday, 26th April, 1861.--Last night was beautifully calm and comparatively warm, although the sky was very clear. We loaded the camels by moonlight this morning, and started at a quarter to six: striking off to the south of the creek, we soon got on a native path which leaves the creek just below the stony ground and takes a course nearly west across a piece of open country, bounded on the south by sand ridges and on the north by the scrub by ground which flanks the bank of the creek at this part of its course. Leaving the path on our right at a distance of three miles, we turned up a small creek, which passes down between some sandhills, and finding a nice patch of feed for the camels at a waterhole, we halted at 7. 15 for breakfast. We started again at 9.50 A.M., continuing our westerly course along the path: we crossed to the south of the watercourse above the water, and proceeded over the most splendid salt-bush country that one could wish to see, bounded on the left by sandhills, whilst to the right the peculiar-looking flat-topped sandstone ranges form an extensive amphitheatre, through the far side of the arena of which may be traced the dark line of creek timber. At twelve o'clock we camped in the bed of the creek at camp--, our last camp on the road down from the Gulf, having taken four days to do what we then did in one. This comparative rest and the change in diet have also worked wonders, however; the leg-tied feeling is now entirely gone, and I believe that in less than a week we shall be fit to undergo any fatigue whatever. The camels are improving, and seem capable of doing all that we are likely to require of them.--To Camp 4.

From Camp 4.
Saturday, 27th April, 1861.--First part of night clear, with a light breeze from south. Temperature at midnight 10 degrees (Reaumur). Towards morning there were a few cirrocumulus clouds passing over north-east to south-west, but these disappeared before daylight. At five A.M. the temperature was 7.5 degrees (Reaumur). We started at six o'clock, and following the native path, which at about a mile from our camp takes a southerly direction, we soon came to the high sandy alluvial deposit which separates the creek at this point from the stony rises. Here we struck off from the path, keeping well to the south of the creek, in order that we might mess in a branch of it that took a southerly direction. At 9. 20 we came in on the creek again where it runs due south, and halted for breakfast at a fine waterhole with fine fresh feed for the camels. Here we remained until noon, when we moved on again, and camped at one o'clock on a general course, having been throughout the morning south-west eight miles. The weather is most agreeable and pleasant; nothing could be more favourable for us up to the present time. The temperature in the shade at 10.30 A.M. was 17.5 degrees (Reaumur), with a light breeze from south and a few small cirrocumulus clouds towards the north. I greatly feel the want of more instruments, the only things I have left being my watch, prism compass, pocket compass, and one thermometer (Reaumur).--To Camp 5.

From Camp 5.
Sunday, 28th April, 1861.--Morning fine and calm, but rather chilly. Started at 4.45 A.M., following down the bed of a creek in a westerly direction by moonlight. Our stage was, however, very short for about a mile--one of the camels (Landa) got bogged by the side of a waterhole, and although we tried every means in our power, we found it impossible to get him out. All the ground beneath the surface was a bottomless quicksand, through which the beast sank too rapidly for us to get bushes of timber fairly beneath him; and being of a very sluggish stupid nature he could never be got to make sufficiently strenuous efforts towards extricating himself. In the evening, as a last chance, we let the water in from the creek, so as to buoy him up and at the same time soften the ground about his legs; but it was of no avail. The brute lay quietly in it, as if he quite enjoyed his position.--To Camp 6.

Camp 6.
Monday, 29th April, 1861.--Finding Landa still in the hole, we made a few attempts at extricating him, and then shot him, and after breakfast commenced cutting off what flesh we could get at for jerking.

Tuesday, 30th April, 1861.--Remained here to-day for the purpose of drying the meat, for which process the weather is not very favourable. [Meteorological note follows.]

From Camp 6.
Wednesday, 1st May, 1861.--Started at 8.40, having loaded our only camel, Rajah, with the most necessary and useful articles, and packed up a small swag each, of bedding and clothing for our own shoulders. We kept on the right bank of the creek for about a mile, and then crossed over at a native camp to the left, where we got on a path running due west, the creek having turned to the north. Following the path we crossed an open plain, and then some sand ridges, whence we saw the creek straight ahead of us running nearly south again: the path took us to the southernmost point of the bend in a distance of about two and a-half miles from where we had crossed the creek, thereby saving us from three to four miles, as it cannot be less than six miles round by the creek.--To Camp 7.

From Camp 7.
Thursday, 2nd May, 1861.--Breakfasted by moonlight and started at 6.30. Following down the left bank of the creek in a westerly direction, we came at a distance of six miles on a lot of natives who were camped on the bed of a creek. They seemed to have just breakfasted, and were most liberal in their presentations of fish and cake. We could only return the compliment by some fishhooks and sugar. About a mile further on we came to a separation of the creek, where what looked like the main branch, turned towards the south. This channel we followed, not however without some misgivings as to its character, which were soon increased by the small and unfavourable appearance that the creek assumed. On our continuing along it a little further it began to improve and widened out with fine waterholes of considerable depth. The banks were very steep, and a belt of scrub lined it on either side. This made it very inconvenient for travelling, especially as the bed of the creek was full of water for a considerable distance. At eleven A.M., we halted, until 1.30 P.M., and then moved on again taking a south-south-westerly course for about two miles, when at the end of a very long waterhole it breaks into billibongs, which continue splitting into sandy channels until they are all lost in the earthy soil of a box forest. Seeing little chance of water ahead, we turned back to the end of the long waterhole and camped for the night. On our way back, Rajah showed signs of being done up. He had been trembling greatly all the morning. On this account his load was further lightened to the amount of a few pounds by the doing away with the sugar, ginger, tea, cocoa, and two or three tin plates.--To Camp 8.

From Camp 8.
Friday, 3rd May, 1861.--Started at seven A.M., striking off in a northerly direction for the main creek. At a mile and a-half came to a branch which--[Left unfinished].--To Camp 9.

Junction.--From Camp 9.
Saturday, 4th May, 1861.--Night and morning very cold. Sky clear, almost calm, occasionally a light breath of air from south. Rajah appears to feel the cold very much. He was so stiff this morning as to be scarcely able to get up with his load. Started to return down the creek at 6.45, and halted for breakfast at 9 A.M., at the same spot as we breakfasted at yesterday. Proceeding from there down the creek we soon found a repetition of the features that were exhibited by the creek examined on Thursday. At a mile and a-half we came to the last waterhole, and below that the channel became more sandy and shallow, and continued to send off billibongs to the south and west, slightly changing its course each time until it disappeared altogether in a north-westerly direction. Leaving King with the camel, we went on a mile or two to see if we could find water; and being unsuccessful we were obliged to return to where we had breakfasted as being the best place for feed and water.--To Camp 10.

Sunday, 5th May, 1861.--Started by myself, to reconnoitre the country in a southerly direction, leaving Mr Burke and King with the camel at Camp 10. Travelled south-west by south for two hours, following the course of the most southerly billibongs; found the earthy soil becoming more loose and cracked up, and the box track gradually disappearing. Changed course to west for a high sand ridge, which I reached in one hour and a half, and continuing in the same direction to one still higher, obtained from it a good view of the surrounding country. To the north were the extensive box forests bounding the creek on either side. To the east earthy plains intersected by watercourses and lines of timber, and bounded in the distance by sand ridges. To the south the projection of the sand ridge partially intercepted the view; the rest was composed of earthy plains, apparently clothed with chrysanthemums. To the westward another but smaller plain was bounded also by high sand ridges running nearly parallel with the one on which I was standing. This dreary prospect offering no encouragement to proceed, I returned to Camp 10 by a more direct and better route than I had come, passing over some good salt-bush land which borders on the billibongs to the westward.--[Here follow some meteorological notes.]

From Camp 10 back to 9.
Monday, 6th May, 1861.--Moved up the creek again to Camp 9, at the junction, to breakfast, and remained the day there. The present state of things is not calculated to raise our spirits much; the rations are rapidly diminishing; our clothing, especially the boots, are all going to pieces, and we have not the materials for repairing them properly; the camel is completely done up and can scarcely get along, although he has the best of feed and is resting half his time. I suppose this will end in our having to live like the blacks for a few months.

From Camp 9.
Tuesday, 7th May, 1861.--Breakfasted at daylight; but when about to start, found that the camel would not rise even without any load on his back. After making every attempt to get him up, we were obliged to leave him to himself.
Mr Burke and I started down the creek to reconnoitre; at about eleven miles we came to some blacks fishing; they gave us some half-a-dozen fish each, for luncheon, and intimated that if we would go to their camp we should have some more and some bread. I tore in two a piece of macintosh stuff that I had, and Mr Burke gave one piece and I the other. We then went on to their camp about three miles further. They had caught a considerable quantity of fish, but most of them were small. I noticed three different kinds; a small one that they call Cupi, from five to six inches long, and not broader than an eel; the common one, with large coarse scales, termed Peru; and a delicious fish, some of which run from a pound to two pounds weight; the natives call them Cawilchi. On our arrival at the camp they led us to a spot to camp on, and soon afterwards brought a lot of fish, and a kind of bread which they call nardoo. The lighting a fire with matches delights them, but they do not care about having them. In the evening various members of the tribe came down with lumps of nardoo and handfuls of fish, until we were positively unable to eat any more. They also gave us some stuff they call bedgery or pedgery; it has a highly intoxicating effect when chewed even in small quantities. It appears to be the dried stems and leaves of some shrub.

Wednesday, 8th May, 1861.--Left the blacks' camp at 7.30, Mr. Burke returning to the junction, whilst I proceeded to trace down the creek. This I found a shorter task than I had expected, for it soon showed signs of running out, and at the same time kept considerably to the north of west. There were several fine waterholes within about four miles of the camp I had left, but not a drop all the way beyond that, a distance of seven miles. Finding that the creek turned greatly towards the north, I returned to the blacks' encampment, and as I was about to pass they invited me to stay;--I did so, and was even more hospitably entertained than before, being, on this occasion, offered a share of a gunyah, and supplied with plenty of fish and nardoo, as well as a couple of nice fat rats--the latter found most delicious; they were baked in their skins.
Last night was clear and calm, but unusually warm. We slept by a fire just in front of the blacks' camp; they were very attentive in bringing us firewood and keeping the fire up during the night.

Thursday, 9th May, 1861.--Parted from my friends, the blacks, at 7. 30, and started for camp 9.

From Camp 9.
Friday, 10th May, 1861.--Mr Burke and King employed in jerking the camel's flesh, whilst I went out to look for the nardoo seed for making bread: in this I was unsuccessful, not being able to find a single tree of it in the neighbourhood of the camp. I, however, tried boiling the large kind of bean which the blacks call padlu; they boil easily, and when shelled are very sweet, much resembling in taste the French chestnut; they are to be found in large quantities nearly everywhere.

Saturday, 11th May, 1861.--To-day Mr Burke and King started down the creek to the blacks' camp, determined to ascertain all particulars about the nardoo. I have now my turn at the meat jerking, and must devise some means for trapping the birds and rats, which is a pleasant prospect after our dashing trip to Carpentaria, having to hang about Cooper's Creek, living like the blacks.

Sunday, 12th May, 1861.--Mr Burke and King returned this morning, having been unsuccessful in their search for the blacks, who it seems have moved over to the other branch of the creek. Decided on moving out on the main creek tomorrow, and then trying to find the natives of the creek.

Monday, 13th May, 1861.--Shifted some of the things, and brought them back again, Mr Burke thinking it better for one to remain here with them for a few days, so as to eat the remains of the fresh meat, whilst the others went in search of the blacks and nardoo.

Tuesday, 14th May, 1861.--Mr Burke and King gone up the creek to look for blacks with four days' provisions. Self employed in preparing for a final start on their return. This evening Mr. Burke and King returned, having been some considerable distance up the creek and found no blacks. It is now settled that we plant the things, and all start together the day after to-morrow. The weather continues very fine; the nights calm, clear and cold, and the days clear, with a breeze generally from south, but to-day from east, for a change; this makes the first part of the day rather cold. When clouds appear they invariably move from west to east.

Wednesday, 15th, 1861.--Planting the things and preparing to leave the creek for Mount Hopeless.

Thursday, 16th, 1861.--Having completed our planting, etc., started up the creek for the second blacks' camp, a distance of about eight miles: finding our loads rather too heavy we made a small plant here of such articles as could best be spared.--[Here follow a few meteorological notes.]

Nardoo, Friday, 17th May, 1861.--Started this morning on a blacks' path, leaving the creek on our left, our intention being to keep a south-easterly direction until we should cut some likely looking creek, and then to follow it down. On approaching the foot of the first sandhill, King caught sight in the flat of some nardoo seeds, and we soon found that the flat was covered with them. This discovery caused somewhat of a revolution in our feelings, for we considered that with the knowledge of this plant we were in a position to support ourselves, even if we were destined to remain on the creek and wait for assistance from town. Crossing some sand ridges, running north and south, we struck into a creek which runs out of Cooper's Creek, and followed it down; at about five miles we came to a large waterhole, beyond which the watercourse runs out on extensive flats and earthy plains. Calm night; sky cleared towards morning, and it became very cold. A slight easterly breeze sprung up at sunrise but soon died away again. The sky again became overcast and remained so throughout the day. There was occasionally a light breeze from south, but during the greater portion of the day it was quite calm. Fine halo around the sun in the afternoon.

Camp 16.
Saturday, 18th May, 1861.--[No entry except the following meteorological entry on an opposite page, which may probably refer to this date.] Calm night; sky sometimes clear and sometimes partially overcast with veil clouds.

Sunday, 19th May, 1861.--[No entry beyond this citation of date.]

Monday, 20th May, 1861.--[No entry beyond this citation of date.]

Tuesday, 21st May.--Creek.--[No entry beyond this citation of date.]

Wednesday, 22nd May, 1861.--Cooper's Creek.--[No entry beyond this citation of date.]

Thursday, 23rd May, 1861.--[No entry beyond this citation of date.]

Friday, 24th May, 1861.--Started with King to celebrate the Queen's birthday by fetching from Nardoo Creek what is now to us the staff of life; returned at a little after two P.M. with a fair supply, but find the collecting of the seed a slower and more troublesome process than could be desired. Whilst picking the seed, about eleven A.M., both of us heard distinctly the noise of an explosion, as if of a gun, at some considerable distance. We supposed it to have been a shot fired by Mr Burke, but on returning to the camp found that he had not fired, nor had heard the noise. The sky was partially overcast with high cumulostratus clouds, and a light breeze blew from the east, but nothing to indicate a thunderstorm in any direction.

Saturday, 25th May, 1861.--[No entry beyond this.]

Sunday, 26th May.--[No entry beyond this.]

Monday, 27th May, 1861.--Started up the creek this morning for the Depôt, in order to deposit journals and a record of the state of affairs here. On reaching the sandhills below where Landa was bogged, I passed some blacks on a flat collecting nardoo seed. Never saw such an abundance of the seed before. The ground in some parts was quite black with it. There were only two or three gins and children, and they directed me on, as if to their camp, in the direction I was before going; but I had not gone far over the first sandhill when I was overtaken by about twenty blacks, bent on taking me back to their camp, and promising any quantity of nardoo and fish. On my going with them, one carried the shovel, and another insisted on taking my swag in such a friendly manner that I could not refuse them. They were greatly amused with the various little things I had with me. In the evening they supplied me with abundance of nardoo and fish, and one of the old men, Poko Tinnamira, shared his gunyah with me. . .The night was very cold, but by the help of several fires--[The entry suddenly stops here; but in the margin of the opposite page is written the names of several natives, and certain native words with their meanings in English.]

Tuesday, 28th May, 1861:--Left the blacks' camp, and proceeded up the creek; obtained some mussels near where Landa died, and halted for breakfast. Still feel very unwell from the effects of constipation of the bowels. After breakfast travelled on to our third camp coming down.

Wednesday, 29th.--Started at seven A.M. and went on to the duck-holes, where we breakfasted coming down. Halted there at 9.30 A.M. for a feed, and then moved on. At the stones saw a lot of crows quarrelling about something near the water; found it to be a large fish, of which they had eaten a considerable portion. As it was quite fresh and good, I decided the quarrel by taking it with me. . .It proved a most valuable addition to my otherwise scanty supper of nardoo porridge. This evening I camped very comfortably in a mia-mia, about eleven miles from the Depôt. The night was very cold, although not entirely cloudless. A brisk easterly breeze sprang up in the morning, and blew freshly all day. In the evening the sky clouded in, and there were one or two slight showers, but nothing to wet the ground.

Thursday, 30th May, 1861.--Reached the Depôt this morning at eleven A.M.; no traces of any one except blacks having been here since we left. Deposited some journals and a notice of our present condition. Started back in the afternoon, and camped at the first waterhole. Last night, being cloudy, was unusually warm and pleasant.
[Footnote: The notice left in the cache ran as follows:

Depôt Camp, May 30th.

We have been unable to leave the creek. Both camels are dead, and our provisions are exhausted. Mr Burke and King are down the lower part of the creek. I am about to return to them, when we shall probably come up this way. We are trying to live the best way we can, like the blacks, but find it hard work. Our clothes are going to pieces fast. Send provisions and clothes as soon as possible.

W J Wills.

The Depôt party having left, contrary to instructions, has put us in this fix. I have deposited some of my journals here for fear of accident.
W J W.

Friday, 31st May, 1861.--Decamped at 7.30 A.M., having first breakfasted; passed between the sandhills at nine A.M., and reached the blanket mia-mias at 10.40 A.M.; from there proceeded on to the rocks, where I arrived at 1.30 P.M., having delayed about half-an-hour on the road in gathering some portulac. It had been a fine morning, but the sky now became overcast, and threatened to set in for steady rain; and as I felt very weak and tired, I only moved on about a mile further, and camped in a sheltered gully under some bushes. Night clear and very cold; no wind; towards morning, sky became slightly overcast with cirrostratus clouds.

Saturday, 1st June, 1861.--Started at 7.45 A.M.; passed the duck-holes at ten A.M. and my second camp up, at two P.M., having rested in the meantime about forty-five minutes. Thought to have reached the blacks' camp, or at least where Landa was bogged, but found myself altogether too weak and exhausted; in fact, had extreme difficulty in getting across the numerous little gullies, and was at last obliged to camp from sheer fatigue. Night ultimately both clear and cloudy, with occasional showers.

Sunday, 2nd June, 1861.--Started at half-past six, thinking to breakfast at the blacks' camp below Landa's grave. Found myself very much fagged, and did not arrive at their camp until ten A.M., and then found myself disappointed as to a good breakfast, the camp being deserted. Having rested awhile and eaten a few fish-bones, I moved down the creek, hoping by a late march to be able to reach our own camp; but I soon found, from my extreme weakness, that that would be out of the question. A certain amount of good luck, however, still stuck to me, for on going along by a large waterhole I was so fortunate as to find a large fish, about a pound and a half in weight, which was just being choked by another which it had tried to swallow, but which had stuck in its throat. I soon had a fire lit, and both of the fish cooked and eaten: the large one was in good condition. Moving on again after my late breakfast, I passed Camp 67 of the journey to Carpentaria, and camped for the night under some polygonum bushes.

Monday, 3rd June, 1861.--Started at seven o'clock, and keeping on the south bank of the creek was rather encouraged at about three miles by the sound of numerous crows ahead; presently fancied I could see smoke, and was shortly afterwards set at my ease by hearing a cooey from Pitchery, who stood on the opposite bank, and directed me round the lower end of the waterhole, continually repeating his assurance of abundance of fish and bread. Having with some considerable difficulty managed to ascend the sandy path that led to the camp, I was conducted by the chief to a fire where a large pile of fish were just being cooked in the most approved style. These I imagined to be for the general consumption of the half-dozen natives gathered around, but it turned out that they had already had their breakfast. I was expected to dispose of this lot--a task which, to my own astonishment, I soon accomplished, keeping two or three blacks pretty steadily at work extracting the bones for me. The fish being disposed of, next came a supply of nardoo cake and water until I was so full as to be unable to eat any more; when Pitchery, allowing me a short time to recover myself, fetched a large bowl of the raw nardoo flour mixed to a thin paste, a most insinuating article, and one that they appear to esteem a great delicacy. I was then invited to stop the night there, but this I declined, and proceeded on my way home.

Tuesday, 4th June, 1861.--Started for the blacks' camp intending to test the practicability of living with them, and to see what I could learn as to their ways and manners.

Wednesday, 5th June, 1861.--Remained with the blacks. Light rain during the greater part of the night, and more or less throughout the day in showers. Wind blowing in squalls from south.

Thursday, 6th June, 1861.--Returned to our own camp: found that Mr Burke and King had been well supplied with fish by the blacks. Made preparation for shifting our camp nearer theirs on the morrow.

During my son's absence, which lasted for eleven days, in which he travelled altogether above seventy miles, King mentions in his narrative that Mr Burke, whilst frying some fish set fire to the mia-mia (a shelter made by the blacks with bushes of trees, so thickly laid that it serves to exclude the sun and a great deal of rain); thus destroying every remnant of clothing. King told me that nothing was saved but a gun, although his narrative says a pistol also; but Mr Burke's pistol was burnt.

The incidents of the journal from the 27th of May to the 5th of June, show how well my son had established himself in the good graces of the natives. Had it been his fortune to have survived, we should probably have had an interesting account of these simple aborigines and their doings.

Friday, 7th June, 1861.--Started in the afternoon for the blacks' camp with such things as we could take; found ourselves all very weak in spite of the abundant supply of fish that we have lately had. I, myself, could scarcely get along, although carrying the lightest swag, only about thirty pounds. Found that the blacks had decamped, so determined on proceeding to-morrow up to the next camp, near the nardoo field.

Saturday, 8th June, 1861.--With the greatest fatigue and difficulty we reached the nardoo camp. No blacks, greatly to our disappointment; took possession of their best mia-mia and rested for the remainder of the day.

Sunday, 9th June, 1861.--King and I proceeded to collect nardoo, leaving Mr Burke at home.

Monday, 10th June, 1861.--Mr Burke and King collecting nardoo; self at home too weak to go out; was fortunate enough to shoot a crow.--[Here follow some meteorological notes which appear to relate to another period.]

Tuesday, 11th June, 1861.--King out for nardoo; Mr Burke up the creek to look for the blacks.

Wednesday, 12th June, 1861.--King out collecting nardoo; Mr. Burke and I at home pounding and cleaning. I still feel myself, if anything, weaker in the legs, although the nardoo appears to be more thoroughly digested.

Thursday, 13th June, 1861.--Last night the sky was pretty clear, and the air rather cold, but nearly calm, a few cirrostratus hung about the north-east horizon during the first part of the night. Mr Burke and King out for nardoo; self weaker than ever; scarcely able to go to the waterhole for water. Towards afternoon, cirrocumulus and cirrostratus began to appear moving northward. Scarcely any wind all day.

Friday, 14th June, 1861.--Night alternately clear and cloudy; cirrocumulus and cumulostratus moving northwards; no wind; beautifully mild for the time of year; in the morning some heavy clouds on the horizon. King out for nardoo; brought in a good supply. Mr Burke and I at home, pounding and cleaning seed. I feel weaker than ever, and both Mr B. and King are beginning to feel very unsteady in the legs.

Saturday, 15th June, 1861.--Night clear, calm, and cold; morning very fine, with a light breath of air from north-east. King out for nardoo; brought in a fine supply. Mr Burke and I pounding and cleaning; he finds himself getting very weak, and I am not a bit stronger. I have determined on beginning to chew tobacco and eat less nardoo, in hopes that it may induce some change in the system. I have never yet recovered from the constipation, the effect of which continues to be exceedingly painful.

Sunday, 16th June, 1861.--Wind shifted to north; clouds moving from west to east; thunder audible two or three times to the southward: sky becoming densely overcast, with an occasional shower about nine A.M. We finished up the remains of the camel Rajah yesterday, for dinner; King was fortunate enough to shoot a crow this morning. The rain kept all hands in, pounding and cleaning seed during the morning. The weather cleared up towards the middle of the day, and a brisk breeze sprang up in the south, lasting till near sunset, but rather irregular in its force. Distant thunder was audible to westward and southward frequently during the afternoon.

Monday, 17th June, 1861.--Night very boisterous and stormy; northerly wind blowing in squalls, and heavy showers of rain, with thunder in the north and west; heavy clouds moving rapidly from north to south; gradually clearing up during the morning; the wind continuing squally during the day from west and north-west. King out in the afternoon for nardoo.

Tuesday, 18th June, 1861.--Exceedingly cold night; sky clear, slight breeze, very chilly and changeable; very heavy dew. After sunrise, cirrostratus clouds began to pass over from west to east, gradually becoming more dense, and assuming the form of cumulostratus. The sky cleared, and it became warmer towards noon.

Wednesday, 19th June, 1861.--Night calm; sky during first part overcast with cirrocumulus clouds, most of which cleared away towards morning, leaving the air much colder; but the sky remained more or less hazy all night, and it was not nearly as cold as last night. About eight o'clock a strong southerly wind sprung up, which enabled King to blow the dust out of our nardoo seed, but made me too weak to render him any assistance.

Thursday, 20th June, 1861.--Night and morning very cold, sky clear. I am completely reduced by the effects of the cold and starvation. King gone out for nardoo; Mr Burke at home pounding seed; he finds himself getting very weak in the legs. King holds out by far the best; the food seems to agree with him pretty well. Finding the sun come out pretty warm towards noon, I took a sponging all over; but it seemed to do little good beyond the cleaning effects, for my weakness is so great that I could not do it with proper expedition. I cannot understand this nardoo at all--it certainly will not agree with me in any form; we are now reduced to it alone, and we manage to consume from four to five pounds per day between us; it appears to be quite indigestible, and cannot possibly be sufficiently nutritious to sustain life by itself.

Friday, 21st June, 1861.--Last night was cold and clear, winding up with a strong wind from north-east in the morning. I feel much weaker than ever and can scarcely crawl out of the mia-mia. Unless relief comes in some form or other, I cannot possibly last more than a fortnight. It is a great consolation, at least, in this position of ours, to know that we have done all we could, and that our deaths will rather be the result of the mismanagement of others than of any rash acts of our own. Had we come to grief elsewhere, we could only have blamed ourselves; but here we are returned to Cooper's Creek, where we had every reason to look for provisions and clothing; and yet we have to die of starvation, in spite of the explicit instructions given by Mr. Burke--"That the Depôt party should await our return;" and the strong recommendation to the Committee "that we should be followed up by a party from Menindie." About noon a change of wind took place, and it blew almost as hard from the west as it did previously from the north-east. A few cirrocumulus continued to pass over towards east.

Saturday, 22nd June, 1861.--Night cloudy and warm; every appearance of rain; thunder once or twice during the night; clouds moving in an easterly direction; lower atmosphere perfectly calm. There were a few drops of rain during the night, and in the morning, about nine A.M., there was every prospect of more rain until towards noon, when the sky cleared up for a time. Mr Burke and King out for nardoo; the former returned much fatigued. I am so weak to-day as to be unable to get on my feet.

Sunday, 23rd June, 1861.--All hands at home. I am so weak as to be incapable of crawling out of the mia-mia. King holds out well, but Mr Burke finds himself weaker every day.

Monday, 24th June, 1861.--A fearful night. At about an hour before sunset, a southerly gale sprung up and continued throughout the greater portion of the night; the cold was intense, and it seemed as if one would be shrivelled up. Towards morning it fortunately lulled a little, but a strong cold breeze continued till near sunset, after which it became perfectly calm. King went out for nardoo in spite of the wind, and came in with a good load; but he himself terribly cut up. He says that he can no longer keep up the work, and as he and Mr Burke are both getting rapidly weaker, we have but a slight chance of anything but starvation, unless we can get hold of some blacks.

Tuesday, 25th June, 1861.--Night calm, clear and intensely cold, especially towards morning. Near daybreak, King reported seeing a moon in the east, with a haze of light stretching up from it; he declared it to be quite as large as the moon, and not dim at the edges. I am so weak that any attempt to get a sight of it was out of the question; but I think it must have been Venus in the Zodiacal Light that he saw, with a corona around her.

26th.--Mr Burke and King remain at home cleaning and pounding seed; they are both getting weaker every day; the cold plays the deuce with us, from the small amount of clothing we have: my wardrobe consists of a wide-awake, a merino shirt, a regatta shirt without sleeves, the remains of a pair of flannel trousers, two pairs of socks in rags, and a waistcoat, of which I have managed to keep the pockets together. The others are no better off. Besides these, we have between us, for bedding, two small camel pads, some horse-hair, two or three little bits of rag, and pieces of oil-cloth saved from the fire. The day turned out nice and warm.

Wednesday, 27th June, 1861.--Calm night; sky overcast with hazy cumulostratus clouds; an easterly breeze sprung up towards morning, making the air much colder. After sunrise there were indications of a clearing up of the sky, but it soon clouded in again, the upper current continuing to move in an easterly direction, whilst a breeze from the north and north-east blew pretty regularly throughout the day. Mr Burke and King are preparing to go up the creek in search of the blacks; they will leave me some nardoo, wood, and water, with which I must do the best I can until they return. I THINK THIS IS ALMOST OUR ONLY CHANCE. I feel myself, if anything, rather better, but I cannot say stronger: the nardoo is beginning to agree better with me; but without some change I see
little chance for any of us. They have both shown great hesitation and reluctance with regard to leaving me, and have repeatedly desired my candid opinion in the matter. I could only repeat, however, that I considered it our only chance, for I could not last long on the nardoo, even if a supply could be kept up.

Thursday, 28th June, 1861.--Cloudy, calm, and comparatively warm night, clouds almost stationary; in the morning a gentle breeze from east. Sky partially cleared up during the day, making it pleasantly warm and bright; it remained clear during the afternoon and evening, offering every prospect of a clear cold night.

Friday, 29th June, 1861.--Clear cold night, slight breeze from the east, day beautifully warm and pleasant. Mr Burke suffers greatly from the cold and is getting extremely weak; he and King start to-morrow up the creek to look for the blacks; it is the only chance we have of being saved from starvation. I am weaker than ever, although I have a good appetite and relish the nardoo much; but it seems to give us no nutriment, and the birds here are so shy as not to be got at. Even if we got a good supply of fish, I doubt whether we could do much work on them and the nardoo alone. Nothing now but the greatest good luck can save any of us; and as for myself I may live four or five days if the weather continues warm. My pulse is at forty-eight, and very weak, and my legs and arms are nearly skin and bone. I can only look out, like Mr Micawber, 'for SOMETHING TO TURN up;' starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move one's self; for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives the greatest satisfaction. Certainly fat and sugar would be more to one's taste; in fact those seem to me to be the great stand-by for one in this extraordinary continent: not that I mean to depreciate the farinaceous food; but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of something else.
(Signed) W J Wills.

------------------------
www.burkeandwills.net.au Burke & Wills Web The digital research archive of expedition records
© 2014, Dave Phoenix