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

Minutes of Evidence: Day 2

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.

All members of the Commission were present:

  • The Honorable Sir T.S. Pratt, K.C.B., in the Chair.
  • The Honorable the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly [Sir Frances Murphy MP].
  • The Honorable the Acting President of the Legislative Council [Matthew Hervey MLC].
  • The Honorable J.F. Sullivan, Esq., M P
  • Evelyn P.S. Sturt, Esq.

Secretary: Mr R.R. Haverfield

The second sitting of the Commission of Enquiry was held in the large committee room adjoining the Legislative Council Chambers. Nearly half an hour was spent in preliminary business before the members of the press were admitted. Mr Haverfield was appointed Secretary of the Commission and a vote of thanks was given to Mr G Dumas, Assistant Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, who had filled the role for the first meeting.

After the press were admitted, the Secretary [Haverfield] read a very lengthy precis of the correspondence connected with the Exploring Expedition.

Murphy asked Macadam if he was prepared to give evidence at once. Macadam replied that he would be present at every meeting of the Commission of Enquiry and ready at all times to give evidence. Macadam opened proceeding by laying some documents on the table, including despatches from Captain Mayne, despatches from the Commissioner of Land and Survey in South Australia, lists of articles included in Mr Howitt's equipment, and he was then called as a witness. Mr Hervey asked if the maps of the route of Messrs Burke and Wills had been delivered yet by the Survey Office. Dr Macadam replied that the maps in question were in readiness but had not yet been delivered.

The Honorable John Macadam, Esq., M.P., further examined.

Q40. Have you any further papers to lay before the Commission ?-Yes; I have some further despatches from Captain Mayne in Sydney, a despatch from Queensland, a despatch from the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey in South Australia, two lists of stores and equipments at Menindie, on the Darling, received from Mr Howitt, also a document signed by Mr Burke at Swan Hill, being a record of the quantity of oats and hay obtained by him from the police, also a summary of the storekeeper's showing the main items of expenditure for stores [which was £4585 according to The Age, 28 November 1861], also the two agreements, the agreement with the men of the original party, and also the agreement with Mr Howitt's party.-[The witness delivered in the above mentioned documents.]

Q41. [Murphy] Would you read the names of the committee that had charge of this exploration matter from the first ?-Yes. I may state that originally there were two committees- there was the original committee belonging to the Royal Society, and there was a committee selected at a public meeting called the "Exploration Fund Committee," a committee instituted for the purpose of raising subscriptions. Those two committees were amalgamated and with the consent of the Government afterwards took charge of this exploration. The name of the committee as it stood were;

Sir William F. Stawell, Chairman;
the Honorable John Hodgson M.L.C., (since dead),
Vice-Chairman: Mr Ligar, the Surveyor-General;
Mr Hodgkinson, the Deputy Surveyor-General;
Professor McCoy,
Professor Neumayer,
Dr Mueller,
Captain Cadell,
Mr Selwyn,
the Rev. Mr Bleasdale,
Dr Gillbee,
Dr Eades,
John Watson, Esq.,
Angus McMillan, Esq.,
Dr Iffla, Sizar Elliott, Esq.,
Dr Mackenna,
James Smith, Esq., and
Dr Embling, with
the Honorable Dr Wilkie to act as treasurer and
myself [Dr Macadam] as secretary.

Q42. [Sullivan] Did the committee appoint any sub-committees to take charge of any particular portion of the exploration ?-Yes; as each subject came under consideration, a committee was selected composed of gentlemen supposed to be more intimately connected with the subject under enquiry.

Q43. [Sullivan] Which sub-committee had the care of the selection of the provisions ?-The names are in the minute book.

Q44. [Sullivan] The provisions were selected by a sub-committee ?-Yes, to work in conjunction with Mr Burke. the calculations as to the provisions were principally made by Dr Mueller who having been out with Mr Gregory in the northern Exploring Expedition, was supposed to be more intimately acquainted with that particular head of the subject.

Q45. [Murphy] Mr Burke himself was conversant of everything that was provided ?-Yes.

Q46. And it was with his approval ?-Yes, the sub-committee went into it with him. The list of stores was drawn, up, the articles of food were prescribed and the quantities required, and some of the members of the Committee even superintended the preparations of the different descriptions of food. Sir William Stawell personally looked after the preparation of the bread-and-meat biscuit, and so on. When approved of by the Committee, it was submitted to the Chief Secretary and was approved of by him, and the Government storekeeper had orders to carry out the arrangement.

Q47. Was the transport also provided with the consent and knowledge of Mr Burke?- Entirely with his concurrence. At one period the committee proposed that an offer made by Captain Cadell, on behalf of the Murray River Navigation Company, for the removal of some of the stores by the Murray, should be accepted. He offered to take some 30 tons of material gratuitously, but Mr Burke considered that it would be much better to have the whole matter under his own control, inasmuch as he could regulate it as to time and not be dependent upon any accidents upon the river.

Q48. No restrictions were placed upon Mr Burke as to what he might have thought fit for the expedition ?-None whatever; and before leaving he expressed himself, both to the committee and in public, as satisfied that the whole thing was got up entirely to his satisfaction, and that he believed the expedition was equipped such as no expedition was before.

Q49. Were the committee aware of Mr Burke's plans after he reached the Darling ?-We had no knowledge whatever as to what course he would pursue.

Q50. He was unrestricted as to the course he should pursue when he reached the Darling ?-He was unrestricted, except that he should move from Cooper's Creek.

Q51. You received despatches from him pretty regularly until his arrival at Menindie, and whilst he was there ?-Very regularly indeed.

Q52. Did you receive any despatch after the date of his departure from Menindie ?-We received a despatch dated from Torowoto.

Q53. But not before that ?-We had several despatches from Menindie.

Q54. Announcing his departure ?-Announcing his intention to depart that day.

Q55. Upon the day of his departure from Menindie there was a despatch from Mr Burke ?-Yes.

Q56. You received no other despatch from Mr Burke except that received through Mr Hodgkinson, dated-the 19th December ?-No other despatch, except the one from Torowoto, dated 29th October, which reached the committee 3rd December; until recently we had that memorandum from Cooper's Creek.

Q57. From the time of the departure of Mr Burke from the Darling you received no despatch, nor had any knowledge of the proceedings of the party either at the Darling or after they had proceeded from there until you received from Mr Hodgkinson the despatch dated the 19th December ?-None whatever, except the one stated above.

Q58. Were the committee aware of what Mr Burke had done ?-The committee only became aware of what Mr Burke had done when they received Mr Wright's despatch from Mr Hodgkinson dated the 19th December.

Q59. Are you aware, from the correspondence, that Mr Wright's had returned to the Darling on the 5th of November, after leaving Mr Burke on his way ?-Yes.

Q60. Had you any reason to form a judgment as to the cause of your not hearing from Mr Wright from the 5th of November until the receipt of his despatch of the 19th of December following ?-That circumstance is quite unaccountable to the members of the Committee.

Q61. You received no communication yourselves on that subject ?-No.

Q62. Nor had you any knowledge until that time that there was a party returning to the Darling ?-No knowledge whatever.

Q63. On what date did you receive that despatch from Mr Wright's ?-On the 31st of December, when Mr Hodgkinson arrived in town: he arrived on the 31st of December, or the 30th; I am not quite certain which.

Q64. The despatches that were written in reply to his are dated the 31st of December, are they not ?-They are dated the 31st of December. I think he came on the 30th, and a meeting was called on the 31st, and the despatch in reply bore that date.

Q65. Had you any knowledge that the party were returning to the depot at Menindie from the 5th November until the receipt of their despatch of the 19th December from Mr Wright ?-No.

Q66. Had you any means provided by the committee for keeping up communication between Menindie and this colony ?-There were no means provided by the committee, but there was a postal communication.

Q67. How often did that run ?-Once a fortnight.

Q68. And there was no letter received from any of the exploring party after that last despatch from Mr Burke upon the day of his starting from Torowoto until the receipt of that despatch from Mr Wright's ?-None received by the committee, and I am not aware of any having been received at all.

Q69 It appears from one of the letters that the dried provisions procured in Melbourne were spoilt, do you know who examined those provisions ?-They were principally examined by Mr Nash, the storekeeper, and by Mr Burke himself.

Q70. Were you one of the committee that examined all the provisions ?-No

Q71. Has there been any reason assigned why the preserved provisions spoilt so soon ?-I have never heard any reason given in reference to it.

Q72. One of the despatches states that the dried provisions were spoilt ?-Yes, the pemmican.

Q73. Has there been any cause assigned for that ?-No reason has ever been assigned for it.

Q74. Do you know positively that Mr Burke examined this provision-are you aware, of your own knowledge, that he examined that?-I never was with him, but he stated that he was quite satisfied with the provisions supplied

Q75. You are not aware of the reason why it spoilt ?-No.

Q76. Do you know what this pemmican was composed of-was it the usual pemmican of other countries ?-I believe it was. The meat was chopped very, very fine, and thoroughly dried, as I understood. I had no superintendence of the preparation of it.

Q77. What opinion had the committee with regard to the time of year being favorable or otherwise for exploring that country-what opinion was formed as to the propriety of starting the expedition at that particular time of year ?-It was considered at the time Mr Burke left Melbourne that he would have ample opportunity of reaching the Darling so as to have crossed to Cooper's Creek at a very favorable period of the year; but the roads were extremely heavy at the time, and I have no doubt that the period from his leaving this to the time of his arrival at the Darling was greater than he anticipated; but still when he crossed the country he had abundance of water, but he knew that he must push on as fast as he could to reach Cooper's Creek.

Q78. Had the Royal Society any idea of doing more than reaching Cooper's Creek that season ?-That was left entirely to Mr Burke; he was to judge on his arrival there and the establishment of a depot whether he should do more.

Q79. Had the Royal Society any idea of Mr Burke pushing on a flying party from any part of the route before reaching Cooper's Creek ?-No.

Q80. It was your intention that he should reach Cooper's Creek with a full supply ?-The notion of the committee was, that his party should be kept together until he arrived at Cooper's Creek. The wagons with which he was furnished for conveying stores were supposed by the committee as likely to prove of great use in even carrying the stores from Menindie to Cooper's Creek.

Q81. Were not the wagons peculiarly constructed, being fitted as boats as well ?-One very large wagon was fitted as a boat for the purpose of crossing rivers.

Q82. And the committee, as far as the matter rested in their hands, deemed it a prudent course to go to Cooper's Creek with the whole party and the provisions, and make a complete fresh start from Cooper's Creek for any further exploration ?-That was the notion we had at the time, that the party would be kept together, and the wagons be taken on beyond Menindie at any rate.

Q83. But you gave no instructions to Mr Burke that that was to be the course adopted ?-No; the instructions did not go that length.

Q84. Did Mr Burke complain, on leaving town, of being over supplied, and being encumbered even then ?-He did not. From the heavy state of the roads he found those wagons, and especially the hired wagons, interfered with his progress.

Q85. Had he discretion as to the quantity as well as the quality of the provisions he required ?-Yes.

Q86. From the first despatch from Burke intimating that he had gone from Menindie to Cooper's Creek, was the society under the impression that he had gone on with his whole party ?-No, because the despatch contained a clause informing us that he had sent Wright back to bring up the depot party.

Q87. Was that the first time that you became aware that Mr Burke had pushed on ?-Yes; from the time that Mr Burke intimated his intention of starting that day with a light party, with Mr Wright's with him, until we received Mr Wright's letter, we had no intimation of his movements, except the despatch before referred to. Our first intimation was that he was going to move on himself and leave the stores to be brought up after him to Cooper's Creek. Having put aside his wagons, the camels required to be loaded then. He had carefully refrained from loading the camels until he arrived at Menindie, so that they might be in good condition to transport the stores from Menindie to Cooper's Creek; and considering that the camels so laden would impede his movements, he led us to understand that he would move on with a light party a-head, and leave the stores to follow.

Q88. Did it ever strike the committee that Mr Wright's having left Mr Burke at Torowoto on the 29th or 30th of October, and arriving at the Darling on the 5th of November, an immense deal of valuable time had been lost between the 5th of November and the 19th of December, when Mr Wright's despatch was dated ?-It was never made matter of comment.

Q89. It was the 5th of November he arrived; knowing what he had to do and yet he does not appear to have taken any steps to let the committee know what he was doing until the 19th of December?-He left Mr Burke upon the 29th of October, and he wrote his first despatch upon the 19th of December. Afterwards upon looking into this matter personally, as one of the committee, I noticed this great interval of time, but when the despatches were brought down as they urged great promptitude in our movements this question of delay was overlooked and it was not mentioned at the time. I have no doubt from the excitement of the moment this interval of time was overlooked.

Q90. [Sullivan] Has there been any explanation obtained since by the committee with regard to this long delay ?-None whatever.

Q91. I understand that Captain Cadell offered to take the provisions by water as far as Menindie or as far as he could possibly get ?-As far as the Murray navigation went, it is not up to Menindie, it is over 100 miles distant from Menindie, and Mr Burke made a calculation to look to the amount of expense and he thought lie could convey the stores as cheaply in those wagons to Menindie from Melbourne as he could by the river even taking into account the gratuitous offer of the Murray Navigation Company.

Q92. And the committee concurred with Mr Burke in the advisability of carting them by land rather than by water ?-Yes.

Q93. In the letter written on the l8th of October, being the day before Mr Burke started from Menindie, he makes this observation with regard to his plans, and it is the only letter the committee could have received from him until the despatch from Mr Burke of the 29th October; he says it is my intention to form a depot upon the river somewhere in this neighborhood, and proceed on towards Cooper's Creek with a small party by a way which will be shown to me by Mr Wright's, manager for Mr Baker, and which I have every reason to believe quite practicable, but I shall not, incur any risk and I shall keep open a communication to the Darling. I shall be obliged to leave the doctor, that is Dr Beckler, in charge of the depot while the committee have decided upon his resignation, that is the communication which the committee received from Mr Burke as to his starting from Menindie ?-Yes, that is the first intimation we had.

Q94. But they knew no more of the proceedings of Mr Burke or the party until they got Mr Wright's despatch of the 19th December, following?-We had no information at all, and we were not at all anxious, inasmuch as Mr Burke stated so plainly that he would keep up communication with the Darling, so that we were quite content that we should receive information at the earliest opportunity.

Q95. Then, on the 19th of December, Mr Wright's writes down to the committee by Mr Hodgkinson, stating his own proceedings and how he had left Mr Burke, and asking for further supplies of horses and means of transport, and on the 31st, the day following the receipt of that letter, a letter was written to return by Mr Hodgkinson in reply to that despatch ?-Yes, Mr Hodgkinson left town within three days of his arrival in it, and he carried with him ample funds to carry out what Mr Wright suggested, and he was back with Mr Wright's in ten days; he took nine days to come down and afterwards it was found he took ten days to return; he would be there about the 10th or 11th of January.

Q96. And on the 26th of January Mr Wright's finally started ?-The 26th from the camp, and the 28th from the other side of the creek.

Q97. After Mr Wright's final departure the committee had no knowledge until his return ?-After that we had no knowledge of the progress of the expedition until Mr Brahe came to town.

Q98. After Mr Wright's return to Menindie ?-Yes.

Q99. At what date did the committee decide to forward the despatches to Mr Burke with reference to Mr Stuart's journey ?-The date of the despatch which was transmitted by Lyons and McPherson was the l8th of October.

Q100. From the correspondence it appears that those troopers started from the Darling upon the 10th of November ?-Yes.

Q101. Was there any communication sent down to the committee at that time as to the proceedings of the party or of the trooper and McPherson ?-No.

Q102. Because Mr Wright's must have been at the Darling at the time they left. He came back on the 5th of November, and on the 10th those two men started : did any communication reach the committee as to the starting of those two men on the 10th ?-No; we had no despatch.

Q103. Were the committee aware of what progress those two men made from the time they started ?-Not until the news came back of the disaster.

Q104. Are you aware whether those two men had any communication with Mr Wright's party on the Darling before they started finally ?-The letters were sent forward to Swan Hill, and Superintendent Foster selected this man Lyons. He went to Menindie, and afterwards from the despatches, I think it will be found, that McPherson was joined with him; and the despatches will show that Mr Wright's was there, and McPherson was waiting for an opportunity to follow rapidly after Mr Burke for the purpose of shoeing the horses.

Q105. Then you had heard that Mr Wright's was here ?-We heard it afterwards in the despatches.

Q106. Intimating the departure of McPherson ?-We had no intimation of their departure until we had the news of the disaster.

Q107. In fact you had no intimation of what had become of them until you heard of their failure to reach Mr Burke ?-Not until the particulars of their departure came out.

Q108. Which you did not hear until Mr Hodgkinson came down with these despatches of the 19th of December ?-Yes; we had the despatch back, it never reached Mr Burke

Q109. What time elapsed from the time you received information from Mr Brahe until the supporting party was sent out ?-I may state that, on the 13th of June, the committee (having received no information from any of the parties) passed a resolution to the effect that a small light flying party should be formed to proceed rapidly to Menindie, and one to Cooper's Creek. There was a sort of dread that something was going wrong, from having received no communication, and Mr Burke not having maintained a communication as had been arranged for. A party was organised, and Mr Howitt received his instructions on the 24th of June: he left Melbourne on the 26th of June, and he met, three days afterwards, Mr Brahe on his way to town with the disastrous intelligence from Wright's party. Mr Howitt came back very properly with Mr Brahe, and the committee then saw that, instead of having only four men and sixteen horses, as had been originally projected, it was necessary to have a sufficient party to convey provisions to Cooper's Creek, and the party was increased to eight men and thirty-seven horses; but even with those increased arrangements, Mr Howitt was able to leave on the 4th of July, and everything was prepared when he left on the 4th, Mr Brahe accompanying him. I may state at this point, that not only was a light party projected by the committee at this time, but also a proposition was made to apply to the Government to send the Victoria, steamer.

Q110. [Pratt] There are one or two statements as to Mr Landells with regard to which Mr Burke has put the word "False." One of these is that he had private instructions from the committee of which Mr Burke knew nothing; is that the case ?-We gave Mr Landells no private instructions whatever that has been answered over and over again.

The witness withdrew.

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's, 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. [Murphy] 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's to arrive within two days ?- He did.

Q198. Were you cognizant of any instructions he gave Mr Wright's ?- 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's 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's?- 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 on 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.

217. 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's 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's 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 after-wards.

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's 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's 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 1evel ?-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's 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's ?-Not within three miles of Mr Wright's, 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.

[A conversation ensued with regards to Mr Wright, and at length Sir Frances Murphy moved that a letter be sent to the Governor, showing the necessity of obtaining the presence of Mr Wright as a witness, and asking that communications be opened with the South Australian government for the purposes of getting his attendance before the Commission. The motion was carried and after a little desultory conversation about other witnesses, the meeting adjourned to the following day - Argus.]

Adjourned to the following day [Thursday 28 November 1861], at twelve o'clock.

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