Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020

Minutes of Evidence: William Brahe

Report of the commissioners appointed to enquire into and report upon the circumstances connected with the sufferings and death of Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills.
Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer.
Parliamentary papers, No 97, 1861-2. 1862.

Wednesday 27th November 1861

Mr William Brahe examined.

Q111. You were one of the expedition under Mr Burke ? -Yes.

Q112. You started from Melbourne with him ?-I did.

Q113. Did you occupy any office in that expedition ?- No.

Q114. You were one of the ordinary men engaged ?- Yes.

Q115. Had you ever been in any exploring expedition before ?- Never.

Q116. Had you had any experience in the bush ?- I have been in the bush since I have been in the colony, and I arrived in the colony in 1852.

Q117. Where were you employed in the bush ?-On stations for some years, and I have been digging.

Q118. What part of the country were you in principally ?-At the Ovens.

Q119. About Beechworth ?- In the neighborhood of Beechworth.

Q120. Did you proceed with the expedition the whole way from Melbourne up to the Darling ?- I did.

Q121. Did you experience any difficulty in getting up, from the quantity of provisions or; the deficient means of transport ? -The country on the other side of the Murray was too heavy for wagons, delays were caused by that.

Q122. That was the only delay ?- Yes.

Q123. Did you get to the Darling safely with all your provisions ?-No; some provisions were left at Balranald and some stores were left at Swan Hill, principally iron.

Q124. What was left at Balranald ?-Principally iron, and a quantity of rice and sugar, some rifles and revolvers.

Q125. Did you leave the rice and sugar because you did not require them, or because you could not carry them ? - I do not know.

Q126. You got to the Darling with most part of the things you carried from Melbourne ?- Yes.

Q127. And formed a depot there ? -Yes; a quantity of stores was left at Phelps's station, about 90 miles below Menindie; they were to be left there, but the steamer coming by Mr Burke took them on to Menindie.

Q128. There was abundance, as far as you could judge, for everybody ?- I believe there was.

Q129. How long did you remain at Menindie before you finally left with Mr Burke ?- Three days.

Q130. And then you were one of the advance party that went with Mr Burke ?- Yes.

Q131. You carried on [sic] abundance of provisions at that time ?- I understood at that time that we had only taken six months' provisions, and I believe the other members of the party understood that also; but I am not at all sure of it. I have seen a list of stores we took myself. I had the store-book at Cooper's Creek, and made out the list of stores left. I handed the store-book to Mr Hodgkinson when I met Mr Wright's party.

Q132. How many started with Mr Burke originally - there were yourself and Patten and McDonough and Dost Mohammed; those were the party that were left were they not; and there were besides those Mr Burke, Mr Wills, King, Gray, Mr Wright and two blackfellows ?-Yes.

Q133. That is eleven altogether ?-Yes.

Q134. Had you any difficulty in getting to Cooper's Creek ?- No; we had native guides again from Torowoto; three blacks went with us as far as McDonough's Creek, north of Bulloo.

Q135. Then when you got to Torowoto, Mr Wright and the two blacks went back ?-Yes.

Q136. And you went on under the guidance of some blackfellows northwards to Cooper's Creek ?-Yes.

Q137. Were you walking or riding ? -We used to ride by turns, and Mr Burke used to give us his horse sometimes; he walked sometimes.

Q138. Did the camels carry all the provisions ? -No; the horses and camels did.

Q139. You cannot judge of what quantity of provisions you took forward to Cooper's Creek ?- No.

Q140. But you had no difficulty in getting from Torowoto to Cooper's Creek ?-None; there were plenty of shallow pools of water, but they were drying up fast when we passed.

Q141. At that time you had no difficulty in going from the Darling to Cooper's Creek-there was water all the way ?-Plenty.

Q142. You did not suffer from the want of it ?- No; on that trip we were only one night without water.

Q143. Did you make very long stages ?-Yes, sometimes.

Q144. How long were you going to Cooper's Creek from Torowoto ?- Our first camp on the creek (Camp 57) we reached on the 11th of November; we travelled twenty-three days from Menindie to Cooper's Creek.

Q145. Did you arrive safely at Cooper's Creek with all the stores with which you started from the Darling, and all the horses and camels ?- Yes.

Q146. And in good condition ?- The horses and camels were not in very good condition; they were leg weary.

Q147. How long did you spell there before there was any effort made to move them again ?- We travelled down the creek; our first camp on Cooper's Creek was camp 57; from some of the first camps Mr Wills went out exploring the creek.

Q148. How long did you remain at the first camp ?- One night; at the second camp, two days; and at the third camp, two days; and from each camp Mr Wills went down tracing the creek.

Q149. And you remained two days at each camp, for three camps down the creek ?- Yes.

Q150. Was the third camp the final camp formed on the creek ?- No, at the 63rd camp the first depot was formed. We remained there a fortnight.

Q151. At the 63rd camp ?- Yes, that would be the fifth or sixth camp on the creek.

Q152. What were you doing that fortnight ?- Mr Wills was exploring the country to the north; Mr Burke was out with him once; Mr Burke was out with me first, and we could not go far enough with horses, not finding any water away from the camp.

Q153. How far did you go ?- About twenty-five miles straight, the weather being very hot we could not go further; we had to return the second day to the camp.

Q154. Then Mr Wills went out by himself ?- He went ninety miles; he took McDonough with him and three camels.

Q155. And he lost one of his camels, did he not ?- He lost the three and returned on foot.

Q156. Was he much weakened by that journey ?- Not Mr Wills.

Q157. But McDonough was ?- Rather.

Q158. Did they suffer from want of food as well as want of water ?- No, only want of water.

Q159. How long did you remain after that before there was a final start again ?- I believe we started two or three days after that. Mr Wills went out a second time from that camp with King and only two camels to bring down those things that he had left where he lost the camels.

Q160. How far was that from the creek ?- Ninety miles.

Q161. And he went out with King and two camels for the things that he had left behind when he lost his camels and brought them back ?- Yes; and on the same day, or the day after, Mr Wills went out on that second journey, Mr Burke removed the depot to the lower place.

Q162. Did those camels lost by Mr Wills ever turn up ?- I believe two of them have been found near Adelaide.

Q163. In the meantime you went down to the last depot ?- Yes.

Q164. How long did you remain there ?- Mr Burke started from there about five or six days after Mr Wills returned from that second journey.

Q165. Will you give the Commission the particulars about the starting of Mr Burke; you were nine or ten days at the lower depot before Mr Burke finally started ?- Yes; we killed two horses during the time we were there; they were killed for jerking the meat for the purpose of carrying it on.

Q166. Have you any idea what provisions were there at that time before Mr Burke finally started ?- Yes; Mr Burke requested me on the day of starting, when I went down the creek with him to look over the stores left at the depot and make a list of them; I did so, and thought the stores sufficient for twenty-four weeks.

Q167. Have you got that list ?- I handed the store-book to Mr Hodgkinson, I have not the slightest doubt he can produce it.

Q168. He was the storekeeper of the party ?- Yes; the stores we took from the Darling were entered in the same book.

Q169. Then there was a list made of the stores before Mr Burke started from Cooper's Creek ?- No; he requested me on the day he left to make a list of them and I did so.

Q170. After he had taken away what he wished ?- Yes.

Q171. And you considered you had enough to last twenty-four weeks after he started ?- Yes.

Q172. Did Mr Burke communicate to you what his plans were before he started; do you recollect any conversation that took place with you on the subject ?- He intended to go from Cooper's. Creek to Eyre's Creek and try from there to go to Carpentaria if he could do it without running any risk.

Q173. Did he write anything ?- The only writing I have had from Mr Burke, was the despatch I delivered here in Melbourne, and a parcel of pocket-books he left with me and made me seal them in his presence, and he requested me to throw them into the water should he not return when I left the creek, and I told him then I would burn them, and he agreed to that and I burnt that parcel of books in the presence of McDonough.

Q174. Was there any other writing Mr Burke left with you ?- Not any.

Q175. And he communicated to you verbally his intention to proceed first to Eyre's Creek and then to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and that he would run no risk ? - Yes; and he said he was bound to be back in three months since the provisions he took with him were scarcely sufficient for twelve weeks; we all knew that as well as he did himself, and he fold me he would run not the slightest risk on account of provisions or scarcity of water, and on the morning he left us he called us round him and said that if he found any difficulties he might return in a month's time, that he would not go if he had any great difficulties.

Q176. Do you know whether Mr Burke ever wrote memoranda of his day's journey or his proceedings at all ?- I never saw him.

Q177. You never saw him writing ?- No.

Q178. Did you sleep in tents each night ?- No, we camped out.

Q179. Did you never observe Mr Burke writing what you might suppose to be memoranda of his day's journey ? - Yes, I believe I have sometimes.

Q180. Mr Wills used to do so, used he not ?- Yes, he used to do so every night, and he always carried a field book in his hand nearly the whole of the day going along.

Q181. Making memoranda ?- Yes.

Q182. Mr Burke was not in the habit of doing that ?- No, not in the day time never, but I believe that I have seen him write at night sometimes.

Q183. But it was not a constant practice of his ?- No:

Q184. Had you several duties assigned to you at those camps - was one man engaged in getting firewood, and so on ?- No; some of the men were with the camels and others with the horses, and one man to cook; of course he was assisted by the rest of us in getting firewood and water.

Q185. Then when Mr Burke left you finally at Cooper's Creek, you say he gave you no written instructions whatever except the paper you brought down to the committee ?- Yes.

Q186. And there were no other documents left with you but the books which you sealed up in his presence and afterwards burned ?- Yes, and the field books were left with me by Mr Wills

Q187. But Mr Burke left you no authority ?- No.

Q188. And what you state is the only information you had from him as to the course he would pursue, that he would go from Cooper's Creek to Eyre's Creek and thence to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and would run no risks, and that he might be away three months or only a month ?- Yes.

Q189. Then Mr Burke started from you finally with three men besides himself ?- Yes.

Q190. And he took six camels and one horse ?- Yes.

Q191. Were the provisions packed upon the camels ?- Yes.

Q192. And the horse was taken for riding ?- No; I believe he took the horse more for the sake of meat.

Q193. Do you know whether he took an easterly course to the one which Mr Wills had been on his ninety-mile journey - did they start to the eastward of that or the westward of that ?- To the westward a long way; they followed Cooper's Creek down to the westward before they left it. Mr Wills went almost due north when he went.

Q194. Then it was to the westward of that that Mr Burke finally started ?- Yes.

Q195. You went down with Mr Burke a portion of the way, did you not ?- Yes, to his first camp about 22 miles upon the creek.

Q196. And on his finally leaving you did he make any observation to you as his last words ? - That I was to follow him with despatches if Wright should arrive within two days of his departure.

Q197. Then he expected Mr Wright to arrive within two days ?- He did.

Q198. Were you cognizant of any instructions he gave Mr Wright ?- No.

Q199. You did not hear him give any ?- I know that he was to bring up a quantity of dried meat; he told me that.

Q200. At finally starting he told you that you were to follow with despatches if Mr Wright came up, and that he expected him up within two days ?- Yes; and he also told me that Mr Wright was to explore the country between the Darling and Cooper's Creek and find a nearer route if he could.

Q201. Than you were on the look out for Mr Wright ?- Yes.

Q202. Did you ever endeavor to find out why he did not come up ?- I could not leave the depot. The first few weeks after Mr Burke's departure large numbers of natives were continually about the depot; and one man was always obliged to be minding the camels we never allowed him to leave them, and another, Patten, used to look after the horses; They were not hobbled; there was only a very narrow strip of country on the creek fit for horses to run upon; they had a run of about ten miles on the creek up and down, four or five miles above the depot and as many miles below; and they were driven up to the depot mostly every night. We always kept a horse tied up for the purpose of going after the others, for otherwise it would have been impossible to look after them.

Q203. Then there was no grass on the creek at all ?- No, it was stony rises.

Q204. On both sides ?- On the north side, the side the depot was on, there was a flat of three-quarters or half a mile in width.

Q205. What was the average width of the grass land on each side of the creek for the space you have mentioned ? - About half a mile on the average. Three or four miles below the depot the country became more sandy and the horses could go two or three miles.

Q206. Was the country outside that narrow slip of grass land you have mentioned stony ?- Yes.

Q207. On both sides ?- Yes.

Q208. Extending any distance ?- Yes.

Q209. You never came down the creek towards the Darling to see if there was any sign of Mr Wright?- No; I should have had to follow up the creek for eight days; if I had gone to Mr Burke's first camp on the creek, and one man never could have done that, on account of the natives, two would have been necessary, and they could not have been spared.

Q210. Then you never did go in that direction ?-No.

Q211. Did you ever go in the other direction upon Mr Burke's track ?-I have been ten miles down the creek perhaps, after Mr Burke's party.

Q212. But that was not as far as you went the first day with him ?-No; I could never go away; I did not like to leave the depot for a single night.

Q213. Were you in constant apprehension of the natives ?-No, not at all after that time, but we never could tell when the natives were near us. They stole a camel saddle from one of the tents when three of us were in the camp; I had just left the camp for a quarter of an hour, and when I returned, I found the saddle gone, and not a native had been observed near the depot for weeks; I saw the tracks of a native then, and he was followed by Patten.

Q214. What do you think shelters them ?-The banks of the creek, and the scrub.

Q215. Did the country improve at all for the first stage you went with Mr Burke ?-Yes, certainly, the country is more sandy, and there is pretty good herbage.

Q216. Did Mr Burke while you were with him, come across natives when you first came on the creek ?-Yes, at the lower depot.

Q217. Was that. the first time you came across natives ?-No; once before that when Mr Burke and I were away from the camp we passed a camp of sixty or seventy natives.

Q218. Did Mr Burke give you any instructions about dealing with the natives in any way ?-Yes; at the time he left he seemed to think they would be very troublesome, and he told me if they annoyed me at all to shoot them at once.

Q219. Had you any conversation with Mr Wright when you joined him as to his being so long coming up ?-He expected me back at the Darling with the horses and camels; Mr Burke had told him that he would send me back from Cooper's Creek to meet him at the Darling.

Q220. Did he explain in any way the cause of his being so long in coming up ?-Scarcity of water kept him from travelling any faster.

Q221. But nothing about the time of his departure being so long before he started ?-No; he told me that Hodgkinson had to be sent to Melbourne, and that a great deal of time was lost in getting up answers to his letters.

Q222. You made up your mind finally to leave Cooper's Creek in consequence, as you state in your diary, of the sickness of the men, and you were afraid of running short of provisions ?-The sickness of one man, and that by staying any longer I would consume the provisions, and could be of no service to Mr Burke; I was then enabled to leave that small quantity of provisions, but I should have consumed them if I had remained longer, but I did not think it possible that Mr Burke could return to the place, from the provisions he had taken, and from what he had told me I did not think that anything had happened to Mr Burke, but I made sure I should hear of him when I arrived at Menindie.

Q223. How did you suppose to hear ?-That he had made Queensland in perhaps a little more than three months after leaving Cooper's Creek.

Q224. Had you any reason to suppose that he would go that way ?-I spoke to Mr Burke about Queensland three or four days before he left the creek and he certainly had no notion whatever about going there, but on the day of his departure he made a remark again to me and I mentioned Queensland. Then he said "if I am not back in three months time you may consider me perished," and I told him "or on your way to Queensland," and he said "just so," and was it not likely after my mentioning Queensland to him three or four days before that he might have thought it advisable to go to Queensland instead of returning to Cooper's Creek from Carpentaria, and I was sure he had gone there and told my companions and Mr Wright, so that I believed to hear from Mr Burke when we got to Menindie.

Q225. That was the reason that made you make up your mind that you fancied Mr Burke was not coming back by Cooper's Creek, and you had one man sick, and that your provisions were likely to runout ?- Yes.

Q226. In consequence of that you made up your mind to return to the Darling ?-Yes.

Q227. And you hid some-provisions ?-I did.

Q228. And you wrote a paper ?-Yes; I left what provisions I could well spare; I took sufficient to last seven or eight weeks; I calculated it would take that time to go to Menindie, knowing the country between Cooper's Creek and the Darling would almost be waterless and I could not at all depend upon it, and Patten being ill I expected that would delay me some days.

Q229. What was the cause of Patten's illness ?-I Thought at the time that it was caused by a fall from a horse; he was thrown by one of the horses about three months before. He used to do his work up to the 4th of April, and looked after the horses. He very seldom complained, and he told me on the last day of March that he had better shoe the horses as he thought he would not be able to do it if he left it any longer; his elbow was getting stiff.

Q230. Was he lame ?-Very slightly; he never used to complain.

Q231. Were the other men complaining at that time ?-McDonough was kicked by a camel at the same time that Patten was thrown from the horse, and he was laid up for some days and could not walk, but he got better again and used to do his work as usual; he was slightly complaining for some weeks, and I myself had pains in my legs and sore gums, but not knowing what it was.

Q232. You did not suspect what was the matter with yourself and the men more than the hurts ?-No; I did not understand Patten's leg at all, and he got very bad on the 4th of April and had to take to his bed; he could not walk at all.

Q233. Was the Indian sick ?-No, not then.

Q234. But still you made up your mind to leave ?-Yes.

Q235. What food did you eat at this time?-Rice, flour, and biscuit, and for some time salt pork.

Q236. Did you get any fish ?-Only once.

Q237. Caught by yourselves or by the natives ?-The sepoy and myself caught them.

Q238. Is there not abundance of fish in that creek ?-We found some in shallow holes by baling out the holes; we had very large hooks and it required fine small hooks.

Q239. Could you not make any contrivance for catching fish when you were there ?-Yes, but I had never been in the habit of fishing.

Q240. Nor none of the men with you ?-No.

Q241. Did you never take any from the natives ?-No, we never took any; when with Mr Howitt we caught fish from three to four pounds weight in one hole, but I have never seen a fish more than six inches long at my first stay.

Q242. How did you employ your time on the creek during the long time you were there ?-Looking after the stock.

Q243. Did you tail the camels every day ?-Yes, and we tied them up at night.

Q244. Horses and all ?-Not the horses, only the camels; I used to ride after the horses sometimes, but mostly Patten.

Q245. Were there any wild fowl there ?-Yes; I shot a good many ducks at the first, but we soon got careless about them and lost our appetite; very little food would do us, and the sepoy, who was very fond of going shooting the first few weeks, could not be persuaded to do it afterwards.

Q246. Did you eat any of the nardoo ?-No, I did not know it.

Q247. I understood you that Patten being ill and McDonough complaining ?-No, McDonough's complaint was no reason for my leaving.

Q248. Nor Dost Mahommed ?-No.

Q249. And you yourself were in good health ?-Yes, I was well able to work.

Q250. You then made up your mind to leave ?-Yes.

Q251. And you deposited the provisions you have mentioned-rice, sugar, and flour, and a small quantity of dried meat, and a bag of oatmeal ?-Yes.

Q252. Everything except what you reckoned would take you back to Menindie ?-Yes.

Q253. And besides that you deposited a note in case Mr Burke should come back ?-No; if I had expected Mr Burke to have come back I would have given him an explanation, or told him my reasons for leaving, and have addressed the letter to him, but I did not consider that necessary. I left the note only for any party that should come up - that was most likely to come up from the Darling - to know what had become of us. I was very likely to miss any party coming up.

Q254. You placed that there not with the expectation that Mr Burke would get it ?-Certainly not.

Q255. How deep did you put it in the ground ?-I put the stores in a large chest, about three feet high, and as many feet long, and I buried that chest about eighteen inches under the ground.

Q256. Was that a wooden chest ?-Yes, a camel trunk.

Q257. Did you put the note in it ?-Yes.

Q258. And covered it over with earth ?-Yes.

Q259. Was it close by a tree ?-Yes, at one corner of the stockade, outside the stockade.

Q260. And you marked it ?-Yes, we marked it "Dig."

Q261. Did you mark your initials on it ?-No; I marked another tree with a single "B" and the number of the camp; and the other side I marked "16th December, 1860," and "21st April, 1861."

Q262. What means did you take to conceal that you had disturbed the surface of the earth ?-I covered it carefully, and strewed some horse-dung over it. I chose the place where we used to tie up the horses, and I thought if the natives did see the place they would think the ground was disturbed by the horses being tied up there.

Q263. Did you leave any things on the surface ?-I left a rake, I believe, against the tree, and I found it there when I returned with Mr Wright, still against the tree; I do believe that I put it there when I left the creek, but I am not sure.

Q264. Was there anything else left about besides ?-A piece of leather.

Q265. What kind of leather ?-New leather that was taken up for mending saddles; and I found it there; I pointed it out to Mr Wright that the natives had not taken it, and he said the natives had not any use for it.

Q266. Where you hid those provisions, was quite close to the stockade ?-Yes, within six or seven yards.

Q267. What was the stockade composed of ?-Of the limbs of trees and saplings staked about three feet in the ground.

Q268. Were there any natives about there at the time you made that deposit ?-No, not any; there had been a few days previous, I believe.

Q269. Had you ever any difficulties with the natives beyond the time you mentioned in your journal when you fired into the branches of a tree ?-No.

Q270. They did not in any way molest you, or throw a spear at yourselves or the cattle ?-No.

Q271. Had they their women and children with them ?-Yes.

Q272. Have you ever come across natives in any other part of the colony ?-I have seen some in the Port Fairy district.

Q273. Had any of the men that were with you had any experience of the natives before, do you know ?-No.

Q274. Having made a deposit of the provisions, you then started ?-Yes, about half-past ten in the morning.

Q275. And went fourteen miles on that day, on your return ?-Yes.

Q276. Had you any difficulty in making that journey ?-I had, on account of the camels; they could not travel; two were loaded with leather water bags; and also on account of Patten, he could not get a comfortable seat on the camel; he was sitting on a camel sideways; I had him strapped on, and he wanted his seat shifted so often.

Q277. Was that from the hurt in his leg ?-Yes ; he had been lying for eighteen days, and I suppose he was very weak from not moving about; he could not move about without assistance for eighteen days before we left.

Q278. What was the matter with the camels ?-They had been overloaded when coming from Menindie, I believe, and they must have had scab then, although the sepoy, who I thought knew all about camels, said there was nothing the matter with them; but I found them to be ill the first day I left the depot, and both those camels died afterwards.

Q279. Then they were not able to carry what you put on them ?-No.

Q280. Did you not notice them ill before you left ?-No.

Q281. Do you know what scab is now ?-Yes.

Q282. Were the camels scabby then ?-It was scarcely to be seen, but they got worse on the trip.

Q283. Was there not plenty of grass in that five miles strip along the creek for those cattle during the time you were there to pick up ?-There was abundance of feed for camels: the other camels were in excellent condition; but I have been speaking to King about those two camels since, and he said he expected nothing else,-he knew it would take a long time before they could recover the overloading.

Q284. The first day you came fourteen miles ?-Yes.

Q285. Did you start again the next morning ?-Yes.

Q286. What distance did you come the next day ?-I believe twenty-seven miles.

Q287. Then you made no halt the first day at the end of the fourteen miles journey ?--No; only at night.

Q288. Did you go very slowly ?-Yes, very slowly.

Q289. Was it a hilly country or level ?-A flat level country on the banks of the creek; there were a few patches of stone here and there.

Q290. It would not have been difficult for men to have got over ?-No.

Q291. Had you any difficulty until you met Mr Wright at Bulloo after that ?-I had a strip of country to cross without water; Mr Wright says it was about seventy miles without water but I call it eighty-five.

Q292. From Cooper's Creek to Bulloo ?-Yes.

Q293. How much of that was without water ?-The whole distance. I found a small hole of water at ten miles, just sufficient for ourselves. I gave the horses and camels as much water as they could drink out of buckets when leaving Cooper's Creek, the fourth day after leaving the depot.

Q294. Then you were three days before you left the creek ?-Yes; upon the fourth day I left the creek and only went about twelve miles.

Q295. And from the point at which you left the creek to Bulloo you count it eighty-five miles ?-Yes.

Q296. And you had only water once during that journey ?-I found a small hole sufficient for ourselves, the first day after leaving, and that was all.

Q297. After that first day did you find any water between that and meeting Mr Wright ?-Not within three miles of Mr Wright, at Bulloo.

Q298. That would he about seventy miles you would have to go without water ?-Yes.

Q299. And you accidentally came upon Mr Wright's animals whilst looking for your own in the morning ?-Yes.

Q300. Were you encamped upon the Bulloo Creek the evening before that ?-No, upon a, branch of it, it was a pool of water the first water I made.

The witness withdrew.
Adjourned to the following day, at twelve o'clock.

Thursday 28th November 1861.

Mr William Brahe further examined.

Q301. Referring again to Cooper's Creek with respect to the note you left along with the stores-that note which is taken from the newspapers, in one part of it says : "Two of my companions and myself are quite well; the third (Patten) has been unable to walk for the last eighteen days, as his leg has been severely hurt when thrown by one of the horses; no person has been up here from the Darling. We have six camels and twelve horses in good working condition." Does that accurately describe the state of the party then ?-It does in a very careless way. I stated yesterday I did not expect Mr Burke would see that note. I left it for any party that would probably be coming up from the Darling, who would be sent up in search of us, and by that note it would appear what had become of the depot party. I did not think it of any consequence to tell them the exact state of our health.

Q302. Then it was not the exact state of the party ?-McDonough, Botan, the sepoy, and myself were well able to work, and I said about the camels "that the camels were in good working condition," but I had not travelled half-a-dozen miles when I found that they were hardly able to travel. I had to lighten the loads the first day, and they were but very lightly packed with water bags. I had to throw some of those water bags away that night. I should have told an untruth when I came down here if I had said the camels were in good condition.

Q303. Then the fact is that the paper you left with the provisions did not accurately describe the state of the party ?-No, it did not; the doctor's statement of Wright's party must show that. McDonough was laid up shortly after our arrival at Wright's camp, and he was ill for weeks, and the same with Patten. I myself was very poorly when I returned with Wright to Cooper's Creek, and I suffered a great deal from pains in the legs, and had sore gums. I had sore gums for three or four weeks before we left Cooper's Creek, but not knowing what it was I did not state that in the paper.

Q304. Then your statement "two of my companions and myself are quite well" was not the fact ?-No.

Q305. Neither was it a fact that you had "six camels and twelve horses in good working condition ?"-No; two of the camels were not in good condition. I was told by the sepoy those camels were well able to go down and I wrote it down.

Q306. In the report you made when you came down to town of the circumstances under which you were at Cooper's Creek you stated you found two of the camels were very scabby but that you did not discover it until after you had left Cooper's Creek-was that so ?-I did not discover it until I had left the depot. I did not exactly discover they were scabby, but that they were sick. I thought it was by being over worked.

Q307. The object of the question is to point out to you the discrepancy between the paper you left at the depot, and the report written and signed by you after you came down to town ?-I arrived here on a Sunday morning; I had travelled very quickly from Menindie and was requested by the Committee of the Royal Society to write out a statement. I hurried home and I believe I handed it in that same Sunday afternoon, the day I arrived. I wrote, it out as quickly as I could, and was tired and rather excited at the time.

Q308. You account for the discrepancy in that way ?-I did not exactly say how the party was at the time I left the depot.

Q309. You kept a journal when you were staying at Cooper's Creek ?-Yes.

Q310. In that journal of yours, April the 15th, you say-"Patten is getting worse and I and McDonough begin to feel approaching symptoms of the same disease?"-Yes. I wrote that out of my note-book-at least at that time, I mentioned in my note-book-"We have pains, and do not understand what they are."

Q311. That would be inconsistent with the paper you placed in the depot, which states that two of your companions and yourself were quite well ?-Yes, but I did not wish to give any uneasiness to any party in coming up on our account. It is very probable if I had stated we were ill that they would have thought we should never reach the Darling.

Q312. [Murphy] Do you not see if you had reflected for a moment, you would have seen the difficulty in which Mr Burke would be placed, if he had known you were ill, and not very well able to make long journeys; he might have been induced to follow you, but seeing you state you were quite well he did not do so ?-I made so confident that Mr Burke would not return.

Q313. How did you deal out the rations; did you weigh them out weekly or daily ?-That I could not do. We had a small quantity of rice boiled in the morning for breakfast.

Q314. Was that weighed ?-Measured by the pint. I believe it was a pint or just sufficient for four of us, that was all we had with sugar boiled in water. At dinner time we had damper, tea, and while we had salt pork or beef we had a little of that. At night perhaps two biscuits and tea.

Q315. You did not weigh it ?-No.

Q316. [Murphy] You are asked that because it is stated in the papers of yesterday, in the letter to Dr Wills from his son, who, it is regretted, is no more, that your party "had provisions enough to have lasted them twelve months with proper economy" ?-I stated here yesterday that Mr Burke only took six months provisions from the Darling, but I was not sure of it. Since then my brother has handed this statement to me of Mr Hodgkinson's [published in the Argus]. He stated in Melbourne that Mr Burke left the Darling with provisions for twenty-four weeks for six men.

His Excellency asks Hodgkinson "How long do you think Mr Burke was provisioned for when he left ?"

[Hodgkinson]; "He left on the 19th October, with provisions for six men for twenty-four weeks, but since that Mr Wright was attached to the expedition with two blackfellows; in addition to which Mr Burke generally gets a native, from one tribe to another, to show the water-holes, and that costs him something.

His Excellency [Barkly]; "Making all these allowances how long do you think he is provisioned for ?"

[Hodgkinson] "I should say your Excellency for nineteen weeks. He has flour, and everything in fact, except the meat. Mr Wright reports that the meat was nearly all consumed when he left Mr Burke, and that they had some apprehension of wanting meat. The heat of the climate reduces the weight of the salt meat, especially pork, very much.

Q317. [Murphy] Then, that statement which appears here (we have not got the original letter and therefore it can at present only be taken from the newspapers), about the party having "provisions enough to have lasted them for twelve months with proper economy," you think was not absolutely correct; that was not substantially the state of the case?- Certainly it was not unless we were supposed to kill horses and camels, and I had no instructions to that effect.

Q318. [Murphy] It is stated also in this letter, "the party we left here had special instructions not to leave until our return, unless from absolute necessity ?"-I never received such instructions, and I do not believe that Mr Wills at the time he left expected that I would receive such instructions, for on our way down he asked me to remain at least four months if possible.

Q319. You have stated that already. Would not it have struck yourself that you should not have moved from that depot unless in case of absolute necessity ?-Certainly not.

Q320. Did you conceive that that absolute necessity had arisen ?-Not exactly an absolute necessity. The time Mr Burke gave me was three months; he said after three months time I had no reason to expect him back, nor did I; I did not expect him back; but I might have stopped longer, and then used up those provisions I was able to bury.

Q321. Could you not have remained a month longer without risk to the party, except to that one sick man ?-Certainly not. If I had remained longer, at most I could only have remained a fortnight longer, and then if Mr Burke had not returned to the creek, I should most likely not have been able to leave the creek.

Q322. Why ?- On account of ourselves; Patten was evidently getting worse, and McDonough's leg was getting worse, and I myself felt getting weaker I was not so strong at least as I was.

Q323. [Pratt] Had you any clothes of any description at Cooper's Creek that might have been left ?-Yes, I had a parcel of clothes that were left with me by Mr Wills, and only those that I knew of, and we ourselves were very badly off.

Q324. Those you brought back with you ?-Yes, I brought them back.

Q325. Why did you not leave them behind as well as the provisions ?-I thought if they did return they were as well provided with clothing as we were. They were mostly shirts.

Q326. Not warm clothing of any kind ?-No, not any.

Q327. Were they all shirts ? -Some shoes and light clothing.

Q328. [Sullivan] When you returned to Cooper's Creek with Wright how long did you remain there ?-I suppose, I could not exactly tell, not more than a quarter of an hour at the depot.

Q329. Did you make any examination about to see who had been there ?-Yes; I tied my horse up, and so I believe did Wright, near the cache, and went into the stockade and round it and examined all the trees.

Q330. Could you not discover any tracks ?-I saw camel tracks, but supposed them to be our own.

Q331. Did you see any impression of human feet ?-No impression.

Q332. Why ?-From the number of rats and the place being dusty.

Q333. Are you bushman enough to be able to follow a track ?- Yes.

Q334. Have you ever practised it ?-Yes, I have of horses and camels.

Q335. Could you tell the difference between the track of a white man and of a native ?-Certainly, unless they were bare footed.

Q336. Even bare footed ?-I should not be able.

Q337. You did not discover any track that would lead you to suppose any one had been there ?-None. I should certainly have opened the cache if I had thought any one had been there. I thought the natives had been there on account of those three different fire-places.

Q338. Did you see any native tracks ?-No, not fresh.

Q339. [Hervey] At whose instigation did you return after meeting Wright - yours or his ?-Mine.

Q340. What was the object of that ?-I had got right, and Patten he was in the doctor's hands. I thought he required rest there, and would get all right in a fortnight's time. Mr Wright not having been to Cooper's Creek I thought that we could not be better employed than in going back there as a last chance for Mr Burke.

Q341. Had you a lingering suspicion that he might be there ?-Yes, there was still a chance.

Q342. [Hervey] At the time you left Cooper's Creek to make your way to the Darling was it the last part of the season that was favorable for it ?-It had been dry for a very long time.

Q343. What was the month you left ?-The 21st of April I left. We had had a few slight showers the week before.

Q344. You had no apprehension of not getting to the Darling because you left at that particular time-it was not too late in the season but that you could have reached it at a later time ?-I had expected rain then for weeks, and thought that it had most probably rained down the country.

Q345. Was it in reality the beginning of the season for that country ?-I believe so.

Q346. And that season extends on until October generally, and sometimes as late as December, when you might have reached the Darling with safety, as far as water is concerned ?-Yes; but as I had only been up there once, I did not know whether I could depend upon rains or not. The natives had told me a month before we left the creek that we would be flooded out-that the depot would be flooded.

Q347. Was it within your knowledge that the rainy season generally began about April and extended to October or sometimes even to December or January ?-No; I was told the heaviest rains fell about the middle of the summer.

Q348. [Pratt] With regard to this statement of Mr Wills sent by him to his father, and which it is understood was read by Mr Wills in the presence of Mr King, in order for him to make any remarks in case he should have stated anything that was not correct-can you at all account for the fact that it appears not only by this letter but on two previous occasions he had distinctly impressed upon his mind that you were to remain until they came back, even beyond the three months-can you at all give an opinion why he made this death-bed declaration and also on two previous occasions had expressed so strongly that he expected to find you there ?-I cannot understand that. I do not know what reason he had for it.

Q349. [Murphy] When you met Mr Wright, did he give you any reasons for his delay in coming up from Menindie-did you not say you expected him up much sooner, and that Mr Burke did too ?-Yes; I said I had expected him up on the 15th of November, that is, that I expected Mr Wright to leave the Darling on the 15th of November.

Q350. Did Mr Burke say that to you ?- He did; he expected him before he left the creek.

Q351. I understand you to say that Mr Burke had told you before he went away that he expected Mr Wright would have left Menindie on the 15th of November ?-Yes.

Q352. Did you mention that to Mr Wright when you met him ?-Yes, and he said it would have been impossible; that when he returned to Menindie, he found Lyons waiting there with despatches, he gave him the horses he had brought from Torowoto and sent him off to Mr Burke with McPherson, one of the original party.

Q353. Did he give that as a reason for not leaving on the 15th ?-I am not sure whether he gave that as a reason, but I believe he expected that some of the party would return with Lyons with horses and camels; he told me that he expected me back to the Darling with horses and camels, and that is not at all unlikely, because I was told by Mr Burke, two days after we left Menindie, I was to go back to the Darling from Cooper's Creek with horses and camels to fetch up the other party. Wright at that time was not one of the party, he was merely a guide; and at Torowoto, Wright was engaged by Mr Burke, and after his departure when we had left Torowoto, Mr Burke told me "Mr Wright will be coming up with you from the Darling."

Q354. "With you" ?-"With you". Until I arrived at Cooper's Creek I believed I would have to go back to the Darling, and he said then "I am going to take you on with me", but two or three days before his departure he said, "As Wright has not come up you must remain here."

Q355. If Wright had come up you would have gone on ?-Yes, I should have gone on.

Q356. When you met Mr Wright had you then, between the two parties, an abundance of provisions ?-I believe so, but I do not know what quantity of provisions Wright had, I never enquired.

357. Until the time of going back to the Darling you might have concluded that there was an abundance ?-I do not think there was any to spare at the Darling.

Q358. [Hervey] By joining Wright's party had you nothing additional that you could have taken back to deposit at the cache ?-Yes, we could have taken some.

Q359. You say you think that you had an abundance with you when you returned to Cooper's Creek with Mr Wright ?-Yes, we could have taken provisions from Bulloo.

Q360. Did not it strike you to do so ?-No.

Q361. Nor Mr Wright ?-I do not suppose so. We went back thinking that the last chance for Mr Burke having arrived, or we should not have required more provisions than to take Mr Burke down with us; those I had left would have been sufficient take us all back.

Q362. Then you must have brought back more provisions than were necessary to bring you back-You took a considerable quantity to Cooper's Creek more than you required ?-No, barely sufficient.

Q363. To take you there and back ?-Yes, just sufficient; we had a long strip of waterless country to go over, we took ten days provisions with us and we returned on the eleventh day.

Q364. Out of the two parties you could no doubt have constructed one to leave at Cooper's Creek; you did not think of sending back a party after having met Wright to remain at Cooper's Creek ?-No; it would have been impossible to do so, most of the men being ill and a great many animals to be looked after, and too few of us.

Q365. [Pratt] You were under Mr Wright after you joined him ?-Yes, from the time I joined.

Q366. [Murphy] When you returned with Mr Wright to Cooper's Creek you did not make any search beyond the depot?-Not beyond the depot.

Q367. [Murphy] ...and you remained there a very short time ?-Yes; we were within four miles of the depot the night before, we went to the depot early in the morning, made a search about the place, and returned.

Q368. Did you dismount ?-Yes, and had the horses tied up.

Q369. And you found the rake leaning against the tree where you had placed it ?-I believe I placed it on the cache, leaning against a tree, and I found it there when I returned.

Q370. Did you meet any of the natives when you returned with Mr Wright ?-At the first camp on the creek, 60.

Q371. That was a considerable distance above the cache ?-Yes, a long distance.

Q372. Perhaps they had not seen Mr Burke ?-No; they had never been down that way, I believe not so far down.

Q373. You did not happen to meet any natives that might have seen him ?-No, not one.

374. Did any of your party express a great desire to return to the Darling - did they suggest being removed to the Darling ?-All the sick did.

Q375. [Murphy] I mean those who were with you at Cooper's Creek ?-Yes; Patten was very anxious to be taken back to the Darling to get assistance.

Q376. Anybody else ?-No, not anyone else.

The secretary, Mr Haverfield, here read the following message;

Junction of the Murray and Darling
20th November 1861.

Dear Sir,

The weekly impression of the Argus newspaper of the 16th inst. is so full of accusations against the late officers of the Victorian Exploring Expedition that think it simply my duty to send you an unprejudiced statement referring to the state of health of the Cooper's Creek party, at the time of their arrival at Bulla.

The state of Mr Patton is fully described in my official report, which can be referred to at any time. Mr Brahe himself was slightly affected with scurvy, yet he was so altered that the morning we had identified his horses, I did not recognise him when he came up to our camp at Bulla. Botan had similar slight symptoms of scurvy, but McDonough was suffering much more then either Brahe or Botan. It was chiefly his left knee, which became notwithstanding immediate attendance, worse, so that he was unable to do anything from three days after our arrival at Koorliatto Creek, and he remained so up to the time of our departure from that place, three weeks after our our arrival there. During this time Botan was also getting gradually worse, and was from the time of our departure from Poria Creek, to our arrival on the Darling, unable to work. Smith was exceedingly weak and unable to do any work at Koorliatto Creek and so was Belooch.

Mr Brahe left for Cooper's Creek with Mr Wright a few days after our arrival at Koorliatto Creek. The only remedies he had with him and which he used regularly and in measured quantities were alum and citric acid. After his return to camp he felt quite well. I fully believe that if Mr Brahe had not left Cooper's Creek at the time he did, or a very few days after he would have been unable to proceed with this small and weak party towards Bulla.

With regard to Brahe's service during the expedition I am sure that I only state what everyone of us would corroborate unhesitatingly, that nobody could be more zealous, active and contentious than he was, and that no one could have a stronger attachment to Mr Burke, or a more strict adherence to his orders. The instructions given to him by Mr Burke he repeated to us so often that there could not have been the slightest misunderstanding or want of arrangement.

As to the imposing appearance of our cavalcade mentioned in Mr Wright's report, and referred to by one of the correspondents of the Argus, I have still a fresh impression of it. It was nothing more than shining misery. Smith and McDonough had to be helped on their horses. Belooch had constructed himself a seat on which he could comfortably rest in a reclining position while riding. Poor Patton was lying helpless in his litter, to which he still had to be secured. His transport alone required the continual attendance of Hodgkinson and myself. Of the six camels which came from Cooper's Creek, all were suffering a loathsome degree of scab, and two of them died a short time after the party joined us, one at Poria Creek and the others a few days afterwards on the journey.

I am, &c,
(Signed) Dr Hermann Beckler.


Q377. [Sullivan] Were you not in possession of certain seeds that you had instructions to plant in different places ?-Yes; a great quantity was taken away from Melbourne.

Q378. Did you plant any while staying at Cooper's Creek ?-We did not take any from the Darling.

Q379. They were all left behind at the Darling ?-Yes.

Q380. Did you ever hear the leaders of the expedition, previous to starting from Cooper's Creek, make any observation as to whether they were well or ill provided with stores ?-No, I did not, the leaders - not Mr Burke or Mr Wills.

Q381. What was the general impression - or, what was your own impression in the matter ?-That the provisions they had taken with them would just do them for twelve months, and that I mentioned to Mr Wills, and he requested us to remain at least four months, if it was possible, as they might possibly make them last that time.

Q382. It is stated in one place that four beeves were killed, and the meat all spoiled in the evening ?-That was while we were at Cooper's Creek - that was done by Mr Wright and his party.

Q383. How did it happen that the meat was spoiled ?-I do not know anything about that, I was not there.

The witness withdrew.

Thursday 5th December 1861

Mr William Brahe further examined.

Q1089. The last day of our meeting, you were asked in regard to this letter from Mr Wills to his father, in which Mr Wills states, "The party who left here had special instructions not to leave until our return "unless from absolute necessity." You said that you never had those instructions ?-Until I was compelled to leave.

Q1090. "The party who left here had special instructions not to leave until our return, from absolute necessity." You never had those instructions you said ?-Not in those words.

Q1091. If you had had those instructions, not to leave unless from absolute necessity, how would you have acted, differently from what you did act ?-I could not have acted differently.

Q1092. Did you consider it was absolutely necessary you should leave when you did ?-Yes.

Q1093. And even if you had had those instructions, you would have acted as you did act ?-Yes.

Q1094. For the reasons you have given the Commissioners, namely, illness ?-Patten's severe illness.

Q1095. And you would still have left, even if those instructions had been given you ?-Perhaps; it is impossible for me to say whether I would or not.

Q1096. The question is, if you had received the instructions not to leave unless from absolutely necessity, whether you think you would have acted differently from what you did act ?-I would have stated, in the letter I left in the cache, what were my reasons for leaving, to Mr Burke, and have tried my utmost to return with supplies to the depot

Q1097. Still you would have left ?-Yes.

The witness withdrew.

Thursday 12th December 1861.

Mr William Brahe further examined.

1729. By Dr Wills (through the Chairman).-I wish to, know whether a portmanteau was left with you belonging to Mr Wills, my son ?-A bag; a calico bag, containing clothes.

1730. You were aware it was his own property ?-I was.

1731. What made you take those clothes back to Menindie, and not leave them in the cache ?-Mr Wills was as well supplied with clothes as any other member of that party, and I did certainly not think they would be in want of clothes.

1732. Are you not aware that those clothes might have saved his life ?-I know a great many things now, that I could not know then. If I had known they would have returned the night they did, I should have remained there certainly. If I had had any reason for expecting them back at all, I would have perished rather than have left.

1733. In regard to the statement made by McDonough with regard to the loss of the camels when Mr Wills and he went out that time, was that statement in accordance with what you know of the matter ?-I remember but little of Mr McDonough's statement. Mr King, who is in the room, I dare say, knows as much about it as I do. I understood while at tea at the farthest out camp, the camels escaped; it was dusk when they went out and they could not find them; they traced them that night a distance of some miles and they were compelled then to return to the camp; they walked back.

1734. Did you happen to know, or not being present, did you happen to hear, or understand, that the camels were lost when they were in charge of McDonough during the time that young Mr Wills was taking observation ?-I know that McDonough was in charge of the camels; Mr Wills was not supposed to look after them.

1735. Were they lost at that time when Mr Wills was taking his observations ?-I understood that Mr Wills was employed writing in the camp at the time the camels got away.

The witness withdrew.

www.burkeandwills.net.au Burke & Wills Web The digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020, Dave Phoenix