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Minutes of Evidence: Dr Mueller

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.

Thursday 5th December 1861

Dr F Mueller examined.

Q1098. Did you superintend the provisions for this expedition ?-No.

Q1099. You were one of the committee. There was a sub-committee formed from the general committee to do certain things, were you one of that ?-Yes. The list of the equipment provisions and stores for the expedition was submitted to me, to which I wrote memoranda and suggested such alterations and additions as my own experience pointed out, and they were generally complied with. But during the greater part of the winter of 1860 I was very ill and therefore very seldom present in the committee, and certainly not engaged on any sub-committee formed for any special arrangements.

Q1100. You have had considerable experience in exploring matters ?-I had the honor of accompanying Mr gregory during his North Australian Expedition.

Q1101. How long were you out then ?-Somewhere about eighteen months from any settlement.

Q1102. Where did you start from ?-From Moreton Bay, by sea, whence we made the north-west coast.

Q1103. You were aware of all the arrangements of this party as made by the committee ?-As far as I could be, not being a regular attendant.

Q1104. As far as you knew ?-As far as I could know under the circumstances; I have just to repeat that during that winter I was for a long time very unwell, and thus confined to my house for a considerable time, whilst during the spring and summer I was nearly three months travelling.

Q1105. From what you know as an explorer and experienced bushman, as you must have been, were the arrangements as far as you know judicious ?-All the arrangements for outfit, &c., were made, as far as I recollect them, and was acquainted with them, with the perfect concurrence of myself, and it is but right towards my colleagues of the Exploration Committee that I should state so.

Q1106. You know sufficient of travelling to know, as regards the quantity of stores taken, how long they were calculated to last ?-Yes,

Q1107. How long would you say they were calculated to last ?-At the time when the stores were completed and sent off I was not a regular attendant at the committee meetings, and can therefore not exactly say for how long a time they were calculated; but it seems to me that it was not of very great importance, as at the Darling the stores could, have been replenished. As regards the general outfit, I really think that it was well calculated by the committee to last eighteen months, and as regards the stores, as I have said, they could have been replenished. Indeed, it was a question at the time whether it was not more advantageous to purchase some of the various stores at the Darling, rather than to take them up there during the winter season, when the roads were not very good, and at a time when steam communication had not been reopened. I do not think there was any difficulty, according to the instructions which the Exploration Committee issued, for enabling Mr Burke to get any additional stores he thought proper.

Q1108. You heard the description given by Mr King of the country on that coast ?-Yes.

Q1109. Does that correspond with what you recollect of the coast ?-Yes, it does. A portion of the Plains of Promise, of Captain Stokes, extends considerably farther than marked by him who only saw them upon a pedestrian journey on the Albert River.

Q1110. How far from the sea do you suppose you crossed the river that Mr King or Mr Burke reached ?

Q1111. The Witness to Mr King.-Could you recollect the nature of the country where you were encamped whilst Messrs. Burke and Wills went on foot down to the sea, was it a low country in which you were, or were there any stony ridges near the bank where you camped ? [King]-There were some stony ridges which we passed the day before we camped.

Q1112. Was it a flat elevated country or a very broken country ? [King]-Convenient to the creek it was very regular, the country back was gradually rising.

Q1113. Was it table land ? [King]-Yes.

Q1114. And the river, where you struck it, formed only a deep fissure in the table land to which you descended 400 feet ? [King]-That is in the ranges.

Q1115. Was the country very much broken or was it a high plateau ? [King]-It was very much broken. The watercourse that we left may not have been the main watercourse of the river as there were creeks adjoining this from east to west, one was a running creek.

Q1116. What was the width of the river where you camped for several days ? [King]-Twenty-five yards.

Q1117. Was it a continuous stream or was it broken up into pools ? [King]-A continuous stream. We travelled some thirty or thirty-five miles on one continuous stream. The day before we camped the water was quite brackish and scarcely drinkable, and the day we camped the water was quite salt.

Q1118. Dr Mueller.-Some little difficulty arises in identifying the river by the mere description, because we only struck these rivers in one place, where we crossed them, except in one instance when the two Messrs. Gregory went down the Albert river to a place I did not see. They buried some documents on the Albert River. The Albert River is a deep channel which is supplied by springs and forms a continuous stream, whereas the Leichhardt River and Flinders River, are beyond the tidal influence, more shallow, and, during the season, when not very heavy rain falls, are broken into large lagoons, at least far away from the coast.

Q1119. To Dr Mueller.-Did you see the sea at the bottom of the Gulf ?-No we arrived at a place where the water was quite salt and the tide was flowing.

Q1120. How far do you suppose you were from the coast ?-Fifteen miles.

Q1121. And a very low country ?-Yes; we started in June from the Victoria River and reached the Albert in August which is the end of the dry season, whereas Mr King was there at the end of the wet season, and then the Gulf plains would be very boggy.

Q1122. Are you of opinion that it was the same river that Mr Burke's party struck that you were on ?-At present it is rather difficult for me to answer that question, but I am inclined to think from the description Mr king gives that it was the Albert.

Q1123. It would not be in the same longitude ?-So I thought originally, but I believe Dr Macadam is of opinion that the longitude reduces it some where nearer the Albert.

Dr Macadam. -I understood Mr Ligar the other day that the calculations had been gone into and that the statement of Mr Wills is correct, that it was the Albert.

Q1124. To Dr Mueller. -Then it would be farther to the west than is shown on the maps published ?-Yes.

The witness withdrew.

Monday 30th December 1861.

Dr Ferdinand Mueller further examined.

1960. Do you wish to correct any of he evidence given by you on a former occasion ?-I wish to make a short statement with reference to the last question or two put to me when I was previously examined. I was then asked cursorily as to he river which I supposed had been reached by Mr Burke in his exploration, and I was informed by a gentleman in the room that the calculations made in Mr Wills's astronomic notes, brought his longitude nearer to that of the true Albert River; but having since my examination looked into the matter more fully, I am now satisfied that I was correct in my first impression that it was the Flinders River which the travellers had reached; I gave, at the very first inspection of Mr Wills's manuscript chart, it as my opinion, that either the Leichhardt River (the Albert River of Leichhardt) or the Flinders (the Yappar of the aborigines, according to Dr Leichhardt) must have been reached by the Victorian Explorers, inasmuch as Stokes's Albert River, (Beames River of Dr Leichhardt) was crossed by us near its sources, at about latitude 18° south, whereas the Cloncurry of Mr Burke, rises in about 21° south latitude. The Leichhardt River carries its waters undoubtedly from much further south than the Albert, but since the Flinders River is at least fully of the same magnitude, at about 40 miles in a straight line from its estuary, where we crossed it, as the Leichhardt, and since the calculations for longitude of Mr Wills's data, bring his and Mr Burke's track somewhere into the vicinity of the Flinders, I feel persuaded of the great likelihood that it was the latter river, which the Victorian expedition traced from the source to near the mouth.
The witness withdrew.

Adjourned sine die.

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