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

Minutes of Evidence: Day 7

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.

Monday, 30th December 1861.

Members present.
* The Honorable the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly [Sir Frances Murphy MP].
* The Honorable J F Sullivan, Esq, MP.

* The Honorable Sir T S Pratt, KCB - absent from indisposition (Argus).
* The Honorable the Acting President of the Legislative Council [Matthew Hervey MLC].
* Evelyn P S Sturt, Esq.

Dr Hermann Beckler examined.

1740. You were one of the original party that proceeded from Melbourne with Mr Burke ?-I was.

1741. What position did you occupy in the expedition ?-Botanist, and surgeon to the party.

1742. You went with Mr Burke to the Darling from Melbourne ?-Yes.

1743. Had you ever had any experience before in exploring expeditions ?-No; but I have been in Australia for some time and travelling principally in the north-eastern settlements, and New South Wales.

1744. Outside the settled boundary ?-Principally on the coast ranges.

1745. Did you consider the party well equipped ?-Yes; I think the party was as well equipped as any exploring party that ever left any of the colonies.

1746. You got to the Darling all right ?-Yes, we got to the Darling without any difficulty.

1747. You then resigned your appointment about that time ?-Yes.

1748. But still you remained with the party ?-Yes; because Mr Burke requested me to take charge of the depot at Menindie, until the depot party followed him to Cooper's Creek.

1749. When Mr Burke started from Menindie you were left in charge of the party ?-Yes.

1750. What were the instructions you got from Mr Burke at that time ?- I had no particular instructions at all.

1751. Had you any directions what you were to do in his absence ?-None whatever.

1752. Did Mr Burke not say anything to you with reference to his plans ? Nothing more than what was generally known amongst the party, that he wanted to find a practicable route to Cooper's Creek, and that he wanted to explore the country in the neighborhood of Cooper's Creek, and what he would do afterwards would depend of course very much upon circumstances and the nature of the country.

1753. Did he say anything as to what he would require you to do ?-No.

1754. What was it your opinion you were to do in his absence-to remain there stationary ?-He only requested me to take charge of the depot until somebody else was appointed and that would be likely a very short time. He thought as I had been so long with the party I would know the duties I would have in that position.

1755. Mr Wills had been appointed second in command in place of Mr Landells, and there was nobody appointed by him in place of Mr Wills at that time ?-No.

1756. And he requested you to take charge whilst he was away ?-Yes.

1757. But he gave no instructions as to what you were to do ?-No.

1758. Did he say anything about your coming up after him ?-No.

1759. Did you understand what were his views with reference to the party going up after him ?-I did not know anything more than what is known at present.

1760. Did you not know what you and the party with you were going to do, whether to go up after him or stay there ?-No, but we thought the party would follow him after some time.

1761. Was there any reason why they should not go up immediately after him ?-They had instructions to stay at Menindie until they had further instructions from Mr Burke.

1762. Then you remained there with the party until Mr Wright returned ?-Yes.

1763. What were you doing during the interval ?-I made a short trip to Scrope's Ranges and stayed there two or three days, and we were occupied in removing the stores from Menindie to Pamamoroo Creek, a distance of seven miles. Mr Burke begged me to remove the depot to a certain place, which was pointed out; this point could not be reached at that time because Pamamoroo Creek was very high and could not be crossed-at least not with loaded camels. He thought the best place for the temporary camp would be a bend in the river, where the bend of the river is very considerable and where it would have been very convenient to keep the camels safe through the night because there was only one side open to them to leave the camp. However, this place could not be taken up as a camp at the time because Pamamoroo Creek, which is a very considerable creek from the Darling, was very high at that time. I chose therefore a spot at the junction of Pamamoroo Creek and the Darling, that was the nearest and most convenient place after the one which was recommended by Mr Burke. We then began to remove the stores from Menindie to this place, but we found we could not move them in sufficiently short a time by the camels alone, because the stores were very cumbrous. I therefore made arrangements with Mr Paine to take the remainder of the stores, after we had been three times with the camels, upon one of his drays. This was about a week after Mr Burke had left Menindie - about a week after he had left, all the stores were removed to the camp at Pamamoroo Creek.

1764. Then you remained there until Mr Wright returned ?-Yes.

1765. What did Mr Wright communicate to you when he came back as to his position ?-Mr Wright brought a letter from Mr Burke to me, in which Mr Burke tells me that he dispenses now with my services as surgeon and botanist to the party and that I am to give charge of the camp immediately to Mr Wright.

1766. Did Mr Wright say anything as to what he was instructed to do ?-He did not at the time, or at least I do not recollect.

1707. Did you understand from him what he was about to do, how long he was going to remain, and why; and when he was going up ?-I did not hear anything of the time he would stay at Menindie or Pamamoroo; there was only a very few days between that and the message coming up from Swan Hill.

1768. Did Mr Wright communicate to you what he intended to do or what he was instructed to do ?-I do not recollect that he did.

1769. You did not understand from him that you were to move up at once ?-No.

1770. Did you understand that there was anything to be waited for there, horses or camels, or any stores ?-We did not wait for stores. The party had not to wait for any stores, except perhaps meat, but we had no horses at that time. Three of our horses had perished.

1771. That was afterwards. When Mr Wright returned you then had a quantity of camels and horses at the camp ?-We had nine camels and seven horses.

1772. Was that sufficient to carry the whole party up at that time ?-Certainly not.

1773. What further would have been required, do you think ?-I think that they ought certainly to have had many more horses to go out to be of any value to the party which had moved towards Cooper's Creek.

1774. Would there have been any difficulty in getting those additional horses ?-I have not sufficient knowledge. We heard repeatedly from Mr Wright that he had difficulty to procure the horses.

1775. That was afterwards, when he went to get them ?-Yes.

1776. Much later ?-Yes.

1777. At that time was there anything said about the difficulty of moving up because of the want of horses by Mr Wright ?-Yes, he mentioned it then, and besides he had no pack saddles. If he could procure the horses he could not procure any new saddles; at that time he could only get saddles from different people whom he knew.

1778. Do I understand you to say that after Mr Wright returned he had then a difficulty in moving up because he was in want of horses and that he said so ?-I cannot recollect that distinctly, but Mr Wright certainly at that time could not move immediately because he had no horses. These nine camels would not have been sufficient to carry up all the provisions for the time and the number of our party.

1779. But was that mentioned as a reason for not moving up-was that the cause why the party did not move up then ?-At the time Mr Wright came back from Torowoto he had not the intention to start immediately for Cooper's Creek.

1780. How do you know that-did he say so ?-I can recollect distinctly that there was nothing spoken of an immediate plan to move the party out.

1781. What led you to that conclusion, that he had no particular desire to return immediately ?-Of course; this comes always more from the later conversations we had when the native returned.
1782. That was a long time after ?-It was.

1783. After Mr Wright returned from Torowoto, when he left Mr Burke was there any reason why he was not able to move up immediately to Cooper's Creek; you stated that he would not be able to move up because he had not horses sufficient ?-He would have had to provide himself with sufficient horses and with sufficient meat; but I recollect distinctly that there was no conversation or no arrangements for an immediate start of the party.

1784. You did not know that Mr Wright had any intention of moving up at that time and he did not say so ?-No.

1785. And if he had intended to move up there would have been a barrier in his way, because you say there were not horses sufficient ?-Not at that time.

1786. You do not know that there were any arrangements made at the time to secure horses or pack saddles ?- Not to my knowledge.

1787. Then the party did nothing until the arrival of the despatch by Lyons, the trooper, from Melbourne ?-Nothing particular, except to take charge of the horses and camels.

1788. In the mean time you had made some journey in the neighborhood ?-Yes, I was three days in Scrope's Ranges.

1789. You sent a despatch down to town stating that ?-Yes.

1790. That was dated on the 13th November ?-I do not recollect the particular date.

1791. When you returned Mr Wright and you remained there until Lyons, the trooper joined you ?-Yes; Mr Wright returned on the 5th of November, I think.

1792. And you went after that on the journey to Scrope's Ranges ?-No, it was before Mr Wright arrived from Torowoto two days before I came in from Scrope's Ranges.

1793. You were doing nothing but looking after the horses and camels, until Lyons arrived with the despatches ?-At that time nothing else.

1794. Do you recollect how soon he arrived after Mr Wright's return ?-I think he arrived before Mr Wright returned-the 5th of November, it is in my recollection. (see Appendix E).

1795. You did not start to bring Lyons and McPherson in until late in December ?-Exactly, but they were out a very long time.

1796. You were only three days away in Scrope's Ranges ?-Not more.

1797. Then you remained there from the time you came back-about the 8th of November, until the middle of December, when you heard of the failure of Lyons and McPherson. You remained there doing nothing the whole of that time ?-We had always something to employ our time.

1798. But still there was no effort made, or no intention of moving up to Cooper's Creek ?-Not during that time.

1799. Is there any reason for that ?-There are the reasons which Mr Wright gave us. Mr Wright expected continually instructions, or at least he wanted to get instructions from the committee in Melbourne, whether Mr Burke's recommendation of his appointment would be accepted.

1800. Did you understand that from him ?-I did so.

1801. That he was waiting to get the confirmation of his appointment during that period until the return of the black man with the news of the failure of Lyons and McPherson ?-Yes; he expected Lyons and McPherson back; he had the intention to wait in Pamamoroo until Lyons and McPherson, or at least Lyons would be back with Dick the native.

1802. How long after he returned to Menindie did he tell you this, that his object was to wait for this confirmation of his appointment ?-This was only after Lyons and McPherson had returned.

1803. Then it was for the first time mentioned to you, that he was waiting for the confirmation of his appointment ?-He was first waiting for Lyons.

1804. When did Mr Wright first state to you that his object in remaining at Menindie was to get the confirmation of his appointment ?-In my recollection it is only after the time Lyons and McPherson had returned that he told me this.

1805. He was waiting for their return up to the time the black man came back with the news of their failure ?-Yes.

1806. Then you understood from Mr Wright that, up to the time when the black returned stating the failure of Lyons and McPherson, the cause of his delay was that he wanted those men to come back, and that he had not horses and pack saddles sufficient ?-Yes.

1807. Did you hear him say anything about the necessity of moving up to Cooper's Creek expeditiously ?-Not during this time.

1808. You never heard him say that Mr Burke was anxious that they should move immediately ?-No.

1809. You were not aware of it yourself, that Mr Burke was desirous that the party remaining at Menindie should move up immediately after him ?-I did not know anything of Mr Burke having given such instructions.

1810. Everything went on well whilst your party were at the Darling ?-Yes.

1811. The camels and the horses were in good condition, and the stores were plentiful ?-Yes.

1812. In fact, there was nothing to prevent the party moving up but the want of a few horses ?-The want of a few horses, and Mr Wright thought it was his duty to wait for Lyons. He thought McPherson would be requested to stop with the other party.

1813. Would it not have been easier to move the whole party up at once, and meet them on the way back ?-I think so.

1814. When Mr Burke left you at Menindie, was the party in a position then to have moved on to Cooper's Creek ?-I think the whole party could have moved on to Cooper's Creek; but we had certainly not sufficient preserved meat at that time, because the preserved meat we had taken from Melbourne turned out to be quite useless.

1815. Are you aware that five hundred weight of meat-biscuit was left at Menindie ?-Yes, Mr Burke was very anxious to take it with him but he could not make any arrangement to carry the whole of the meat-biscuit.

1816. But it appears a large quantity of it was left behind at Menindie ?-Yes.

1817. Do you think you had sufficient provisions, irrespective of the preserved meat, to have carried on the whole party to Cooper's Creek, and maintained them for a considerable time, much longer indeed than they were out ?-I think so.

1818. Then, upon the return of the black man, recounting the failure of Lyons and McPherson, you were sent out to relieve them ?-Yes.

1819. The black man and Mr Hodgkinson went with you ?-I had a black man with me and one of the Indians.

1820. You found them about two hundred miles away, at Torowoto ?-Yes, at Torowoto

1821. Was there much difficulty in reaching that part at that time ?-No, we reached them with ease.

1822. How much further beyond that had they gone-two hundred miles farther ?-I do not think they had gone quite that distance farther, but they had been certainly to the north of Bulloo; it was to the north of Bulloo that they lost the horses.

1823. Had you any difficulty in going to Torowoto at that time ?-Not the slightest, there was plenty of water; we had to make long stages returning, because the water had so very soon evaporated, but at the time of going up we had no difficulties.

1824. You understood of course from those men of the failure of the water beyond that again, and that it was from that cause they could not get on ?-Yes; during the time Lyons had been at Torowoto, there were three or four days' continuous rain, which was supposed to be quite general over a. large extent of country.

1825. But still you must have been aware of the difficulties beyond Torowoto, from the failure of Lyons and McPherson-you understood that there were great difficulties ?-I thought so at the time from their description of the country.

1826. Did you think it would be easy to get up to Cooper's Creek at that time ?-I thought it would be very difficult at that time, but as plentiful rain had been over a large extent of the country, we could expect that the journey would be much easier than they had found it.

1827. You brought them back ?-Yes.

1828. Then you still remained at Menindie after coming back ?-It was just about the time that the native returned that I thought of leaving the camp, and I had spoken with Mr Wright to that effect, and Mr Wright told me that I should take my own time. I only begged to be allowed to remain so long until I had dried a parcel of plants which I had recently collected. Then Dick the native returned, and there were not many of us available. We were then only Mr Wright, Mr Hodgkinson, Dr Becker, myself, and Belooch, and I offered then to Mr Wright to go out to relieve Lyons and McPherson, if it was possible, as I would have probably no other chance of seeing anything of the Northern country; and Mr Wright accepted my proposal, and I went out the following day. I returned on the 4th or 5th of January, and after a few days more I resolved to offer my services to Mr Wright, for the party he had to take out, because at the time of my return from Torowoto, he talked of leaving Pamamoroo with the whole party as soon as possible.

1829. Was Mr Wright remaining with you in the camp the whole time you were there ?-He was not.

1830. What was he doing ?-I think he was a great part residing at Kinchega, fourteen miles from Pamamoroo.

1831. Do you know what his occupation was there ?-I think he was overseer of that place.

1832. He resided there nearly the whole time ?-Yes, he had been overseer there and he still remained there.

1833. Was his family there the whole time ?-Up to the time his family left with one of the steamers for Adelaide.

1834. Was that after you returned from relieving Lyons and McPherson ?-Yes.

1835. That must have been just immediately before your final departure for Bulloo ?-Not very long before.

1836. How often had he been at the camp during this time he remained at Kinchega ?-I do not recollect exactly the number of times, but he was there frequently and sometimes he stayed during the night and returned to Kinchega the following day.

1837. Was he ever away a week at a time ?-Yes.

1838. Do you know whether he had any business of his own to attend to ?-I do not know.

1839. Was there any observation made about it amongst the party, about your delaying there so long ?-Mr Wright said then, he could not leave Menindie before he had instructions, he was waiting for instructions from Melbourne.

1840. Then the only reason you know of, for the delay from the 25th of November to the 26th of January, was his waiting for instructions from Melbourne ?-It was first waiting for the return of Lyons, and then waiting for instructions from Melbourne.

1841. When he did finally get instructions from Melbourne, after sending Mr Hodgkinson down, he was directed then to purchase horses ?-Yes.

1842. Had he any difficulty in getting them then ?-No; I do not think many days were spent over it.

1843. And on the 26th of January, you finally started for Cooper's Creek ?-Yes.

1844. Did you take all the stores with you at that time ?-No.

1845. Did you take the best part of them ?-With the exception of the flour, yes.

1846. Did you take as much as you could carry ?-Yes, we took full six months' rations for the party.

1847. Six months' rations for your own party ?-Yes, six months' full rations for our own party.

1848. Not including Mr Burke's party ?-That was as much as we could take on the camels and horses.

1849. By your own party-you do not mean the party that were with Mr Burke at the time ?-I do not mean that any rations especially for Mr Burke's party were taken; but it was expected that we would move up in that time to Cooper's Creek, and then we would have plenty of rations to divide with the other party.

1850. Did you take as much provisions as the horses and camels could carry ?-Yes.

1851. Full loads ?-Yes.

1852. But still you left a quantity behind ?-Yes.

1853. What was it you left principally behind ?-Flour, meat-biscuit, saddlery, ropes, and mats.

1854. Clothing ?-No; we had no clothing, we had to get some more from the stores in Menindie.

1855. Did you take sufficient clothing with you ?-Yes.

1856. And flour, and tea, and sugar, and preserved vegetables ?-Yes, everything in proportion; we had a very great quantity of preserved vegetables.

1857. Which were all in good condition when they started ?-Yes.

1858. You are medical man are you not ?-Yes.

1859. All the party were in good health ?-Yes, so far as I could see.

1860. But very soon after you started some of them got sick ?-Yes; the first symptoms any of the party exhibited were at Torowoto, which was Stone; he had been engaged by Mr Wright only one or two days previous to our leaving Pamamoroo, he had only just returned from Adelaide at the time, and had been attended by a physician in Adelaide.

1861. Then, in fact, he was not a healthy man to take ?-I do not think so; his general outward appearance was not so that you could take him as suffering from any disease at the time.

1862. You did not examine him to see if he was a man fit for the expedition ?-I did not.

1863. You were in medical charge at that time, were you not ?-I was, so far as I had offered to accompany Mr Wright. I had no authority to refuse anybody whom Mr Wright had engaged.

1864. In fact there was no medical examination of Stone, to ascertain whether he was physically capable of enduring the journey ?-There was not.

1865. Was he the first to take sick after you started ?-He was the first that had symptoms of disease.

1866. Do you think that arose from bad water ?-I hardly think so, because none of us were suffering at the time, and the water at Torowoto was sufficiently good that one could not account for any disease in consequence of bad water.

1867. Then you do not think it was from anything peculiar to the journey that the man took sick, but because he had been ill before ?-Yes.

1868. What was the matter with him ?-He was suffering from what is called here chronic bronchitis. He had been affected with cough for more than three years, at least so I heard from his neighbors and friends; but he had no affection [sic] of the respiratory organs when he was with the party. The first symptoms he had in Torowoto was the scurvy. It was a slight affection [sic], and I did recommend at the time that if Mr Wright sent back despatches it would be better for him to return with the party to the Darling, and he was quite willing to do so.

1869. Then Dr Becker got sick ?-Dr Becker and Purcell became indisposed about the same time; it was during the time we were at the Mud Plain camp, about forty miles from Torowoto There was no water and Dr Becker, and Purcell, were left there by Mr Wright, because they were not quite well and they were hardly able to work and occupy themselves with the camels, and secondly somebody would have to be there in charge of the stores for fear of natives or of animals.

1870. Some of the stores were left at Mud Plains ?-During the time Dr Becker and Purcell were there all the stores were at Mud Plains.

1871. Then they were left behind whilst, the other party went on ?-Mr Wright did not go on at that time. He tried to find Mr Burke's track and to find a practicable route towards Bulloo.

1872. At that time you had Stone, Dr Becker, and Purcell, sick ?-Yes.

1873. Were they all affected in the same way ?-Not in the same degree.

1874. Do you think it was the same affection-the scurvy ?-Yes.

1875. Did they ever show any symptoms of scurvy before they left Menindie ?-I did not see anything of Stone, and Purcell was in perfect health, and Dr Becker was in good health, with the exception of one spot on the tibia of the right leg.

1876. The diet did not differ very materially on the journey up from what it was at Menindie ?-We had the same diet for the first part of the journey, our provisions were still fresh, and principally the meat was quite good.

1877. Then for the first part of the journey you had the same diet that you had been using at Menindie ?-Very much the same.

1878. But still for all that these three gentlemen got ill ?-Yes.

1879. And you had great difficulties in getting them along ?-Yes, after we moved from the Mud Plain camp.

1880. When Mr Wright first sighted Bulloo when he went out by himself and returned to bring the party on, you could scarcely get along with Dr Becker and Stone ?-We could move pretty well from the Mud Plain camp; when Mr Wright came back he was affected with dysentery, and so was Belooch and Smith; however they soon became, better again, although they were still weak and hardly able to walk much, but Mr Wright had to lay up for two or three days in the Mud Plain camp, but we still moved from the Mud Plain camp without much difficulty, towards Bulloo.

1881. You got to Poria Creek with the sick people within a stage of Bulloo ?-Yes.

1882. And then Mr Wright went on to Bulloo, leaving you behind with Dr Becker and Stone ?-Not from Poria Creek, he did so from Koorliatto Creek, which is about twenty miles from Bulloo. Poria Creek is forty miles from Bulloo

1883. From Koorliatto, he went on to Bulloo, whilst you remained, behind with Purcell and Dr Becker ?-Yes.

1884. After some delay he sent down instructions to remove the sick men back to Menindie ?-Yes.

1885. Would it not have been better to have sent them back when they first got ill ?-He might have done so from Poria Creek but not before, because there is no water from the Mud Plain camp to Poria Creek which is a distance of seventy miles.

1886. Was it suggested in any way to send the sick man back ?-Mr Wright wanted to move the party on. Dr. Becker, Purcell, and Stone, were all so anxious to go on for sometime to see whether they would improve. I had some hopes of them, because Stone very soon improved from his slight affection of scurvy from the time we arrived at Poria Creek, and Purcell at Koorliatto Creek.

1887. What did you give them as an antidote ?-I gave Stone first citric acid.

1888. Were there not plenty of preserved vegetables after you left Menindie ?-Yes.

1889. Did you deal them out pretty liberally to those who were affected with scurvy ?-We had no time to prepare those preserved vegetables which we had with us; they are quite hard and they require dissolving or being kept in water for some time.

1890. Did not you camp every evening ?-Yes.

1891. Could you not soak those vegetables in the evening and boil them in the morning, or give it to them in the night ?-During the time Mr Wright was away looking for Mr Burke's track we were never together. Dr Becker, Stone, Purcell, and myself were not together, but we had to leave the Mud Plain camp for Torowoto, to take down all the horses and camels to recruit them, because they could not have staid at the Mud Plain camp. Dr Becker and Purcell were to be supplied with water once in six days from Torowoto

1892. Did you not make any use of the preserved vegetables all the time ?-Dr Becker and Purcell did so at the Mud Plain camp.

1893. Did you consider yourself in charge medically of the party ?-I thought so at the time.

1894. You made use of an expression some time ago in your evidence that the Commission wish to understand. I understood you to say that Mr Wright did not evince any desire to go to Cooper's Creek; is that so : that when he returned you were led to the belief that he did not wish to return to Cooper's Creek ?-I do not recollect saying so.

1895. I thought I understood from your statement that he did not show any desire to return ?-I do not remember that I made any such statement.

1896. Finally, when Mr Wright formed his camp at Bulloo, he sent back to you instructions to send back with Mr Hodgkinson, Dr Becker and Stone, or Purcell, to Menindie, you being camped at Koorliatto ?-Yes.

1897. He states in his diary that you wrote him a note, in which you strongly protested against the removal of Dr Becker and Purcell to Menindie; did you do so ?-I did so.

1898. On what ground. He could not move up because of the two sick men camped behind him, and he wanted to send them back to Menindie and you protested against it ?-It was quite certain at that time that Dr Becker and Purcell would not make a single day's journey; it was quite out of the question to think of removing them back to the Darling, which would have been their certain death and would have been besides very cruel, and therefore I thought to protest against it as far as it was in my power.

1899. Then they were left for a while and brought up to Bulloo ?-Yes.

1900. And having been there for a short time they died ?-Yes.

1901. And Purcell died also on his way back ?-Yes, Purcell died a few days after Stone, and Dr Becker soon followed them.

1902. Then the party were a long time camped at Bulloo ?-The party had been there exactly a fortnight before I came up; I came there on the 20th of April.

1903. And still you remained there until Mr Brahe joined ?-Yes.

1904. That was some time after ?-Yes.

1905. With the exception of those three sick men the party were in good health, were they not-yourself, Mr Wright, Belooch, and Smith ?-Mr Wright was in good health, Mr Hodgkinson was in good health and myself, but not Smith or Belooch; they were beginning to suffer from scurvy when I came up.

1906. Was scurvy the complaint the men died of that did die ?-Dr Becker died of dysentery and the exhaustion consequent upon it , of course with some peculiar symptoms which were principally owing to the affection of scurry, and Purcell died of exhaustion in consequence of scurvy.

1907. Scurvy was the primary cause ?-Yes, scurvy was the primary cause of all the deaths that occurred in our party.

1908. You were there when Brahe joined ?-Yes.

1909. Did you take any part in the deliberations with Mr Wright, as to what he had better do; were you consulted by Mr Wright ?-I was not.

1910. Do you know what difficulties were in the way of his proceeding from Bulloo to Cooper's Creek, with the provisions he had ?-What I understood from Mr Wright was that we had two months' provisions left when we were at Bulloo; a few days before we left, Mr Wright told me we had not more than two mouths' provisions left.

1911. Did he say he thought it was not enough to go on with; did he give that as a reason for not going on to Cooper's Creek ?-Not at that time; he could not know what to do because there were none of our party who could make any geographical observations, we had no surveyor with us, and when we came to Bulloo, we were several of us inclined to take it as a branch of Cooper's Creek.

1912. There was no member of the party competent to take observations ?-No.

1913. After you got to Bulloo with the sick party, you remained there some time before Brahe joined, and during that time you had no conversation with Mr Wright about the propriety of following up Mr Burke's track to Cooper's Creek ?-We had many conversations about it, but I do not exactly recollect them at present. Mr Wright had an intention to go ahead of the party with Smith, or with Belooch, and he tried to do that but was prevented by the natives.

1914. He returned back and said he was afraid of the natives ?-Yes.

1915. When Mr Brahe joined there were a large party of you-horses, camels, and men ?-There were.

1916. Was there any discussion then of the propriety of returning upon Mr Brahe's tracks with provisions ?-At the time when Mr Brahe came from Cooper's Creek, with Mr Burke's original party, it was thought impossible for our party to move towards Cooper's Creek.

1917. Why so-what were the reasons for coming to that conclusion ?-Because there was so much sickness in our party, and there were insufficient persons to attempt to proceed with a successful continuance of the journey.

1918. What do you mean by a successful continuance of the journey ?-To leave the camp at a certain time each day and make a certain distance. Mr Brahe was in good health to continue the journey, but Patten was not, and McDonough was not either, Botan was still well enough, but what was to be done with Patten, he could not be moved inland, he had to be left with one or two of us in charge of him at Bulloo. I can really not see clearly how it could be done; we were too few in good health at the time even with the men who joined us.

1919. There were Mr Hodgkinson, yourself, Smith, Belooch, Mr Brahe, Patten, McDonough, and Dost Mahommed; and of that party there were in tolerably good health, Mr Wright, Mr Hodgkinson, yourself, Smith, who was ailing but still able to work, and Belooch ?-He was getting worse every day.

1920. There were Mr Brahe and McDonough ; Patten was very ill, but McDonough was able to work, and Dost Mahommed; six out of the eight were able to help themselves, but you were under the impression at that time that it was impossible to go up to Cooper's Creek in consequence of the sickness ?-Certainly Mr Wright would have gone on towards Cooper's Creek if he knew at all the way to go and which way to find Cooper's Creek, but Mr Wright several times had to pull up and find the tracks of Mr Burke.

1921. Did you understand from him that that was one reason why he did not push on-that he could not find the way up ?-I did so during the time we were in Bulloo, at least he said it must be very difficult to find Cooper's Creek, as we had no tracks to guide us and no natives who could bring us there.

1922. But still when Mr Brahe returned, there was no difficulty then in going on Mr Brahe's tracks ?-No.

1923. But still Mr Wright did not go ?-No. Mr Wright moved the camp then to Koorliatto Creek, and he returned from there with Mr Brahe to Cooper's Creek; and after, I think it was eleven days he was absent, he returned again.

1924. Before you finally left Bulloo, after Mr Brahe joined, Mr Wright made no effort, nor any of the party, to go back to Cooper's Creek with stores ?-No.

1925. Did you understand that there was any reason for that specially ?-The special reason for removing our camp to Koorliatto Creek was, that Mr Wright was afraid that we would be continually harassed and attacked by the natives, and there were too few of us that we could spare; one or two had to look for horses or camels every day, and those two people were very likely to be attacked by the natives after we had been compelled to fire upon them.

1926. Were the natives very troublesome there ?-They were so.

1927. But until you made a permanent camp at Bulloo and Koorliatto, they did not disturb you ?-Not till then. Mr Wright had been at Bulloo a whole week before he was troubled in any way by the natives.

1928. Did you meet them in the way up, in various places ?-We saw fresh tracks at Koorliatto Creek, that was the first water we came to after Torowoto; but we did not see any natives until the morning Mr Wright left for Bulloo. Mr Wright was half afraid that they would perhaps be troublesome to myself and Dr Becker and Purcell, but they seemed to be very friendly, and Mr Wright took those three natives who made their appearance for some distance, and thought to take them up to Bulloo if he could, to get them away for some time from Koorliatto Creek.

1929. When you left Bulloo you had a large number of horses and camels, and plenty of stores ?-We had full provisions for two months.

1930. And you do not know the reason why Mr Wright did not push on, except that the men were too sick ?-Two men were too much ailing; one man was entirely laid up, so that he could not be possibly moved inland at all.

1931. Did you ever hear Mr Wright say, at anytime on the journey, that it was useless to go to Cooper's Creek; that he knew Mr Burke would never get there ?-I never heard him say that.

1932. Did you ever hear him express a doubt of Mr Burke's getting back to Cooper's Creek ?-I did not. I heard him express doubts about the further journey from Cooper's Creek, but not to Cooper's Creek.

1933. Did you hear him say that Mr Burke would never get back to Cooper's Creek from Carpentaria ?-I do not recollect it.

1934. You went out as botanist, as well as doctor, you say ?-Yes.

1935. Did you find anything in the flora of the country that would answer as an anti-scorbutic ?-There was nothing at all at Bulloo that we could use; I was very anxious to procure some Mesembryanthemums, which were at some times and places in great abundance but I could not find any; besides, we knew that we would meet at many places with Portulac but we did not see a single plant from Torowoto out to Bulloo, nor on our return.

1936. You took a number of seeds with you on the expedition, did you make any use of them ?-The first we planted was at Bulloo, they were planted quite near to the creek, but as soon as the young shoots of the plants appeared they were eaten off by the rats.

1937. I understand that the major part of them were left behind at Menindie ?-Yes; we had such a quantity of seeds with us that it was quite unnecessary to take them all on towards Cooper's Creek.

1938. You were in charge of that particular branch of the expedition-of the seeds ?- No, I had not been put in charge of that particular branch of the expedition.

1939. But it would appertain more to your position to look after them ?-Then I would say that between our journey from the Darling to Poria Creek there was no opportunity of sowing them.

1940. Were any of the seeds sent out with the first party that went to Cooper's Creek to make a depot ?-I do not recollect that Mr Burke took any seeds with him.

1941. Was there any disinclination on the part of the party remaining at Menindie to accept Mr Wright's leadership, when he came back to say that he was appointed third in command ?-No.

1942. Did any refuse to accept him ?-Certainly not. I was without any appointment all the time from Menindie until I came back with McPherson and Lyons, and then after that time I offered myself to accompany the party.

1943. None of the party made any objection to Mr Wright, when he came back and said that he was third in command ?-No.

1944. Did he tell you himself that he was appointed third in command by Mr Burke ?-Yes.

1945. Did the party obey all his orders, or did any one refuse to obey any orders given by Mr Wright ?-None of the party.

1946. What explanation have you to give in regard to your resignation, as to the causes which led to it ?-I know I have given into the hands of Mr Burke himself the reasons for my resignation, and he requested me to read those reasons of my resignation to himself aloud. I did so, and, to the best of my recollection, he has sent them to the committee in Melbourne.

1947. The Commission would like now to hear the reasons which you gave as your reasons for the resignation ?-The different reasons were that Mr Burke gave very little hope of my employing much of my time in making collections.

1948. The fact is you were dissatisfied with your position in the exploration ?-No, not with my position, I was quite satisfied with my position; but Mr Burke gave me the charge of all the stores from Melbourne, until he would give other instructions, and there was a very great deal to do with the stores, and at different stages of our journey I could not please Mr Burke as I thought I would, and I gave this as one reason for my resignation. But I state distinctly that I was principally led to resign by his treatment of Mr Landells, the day before we arrived at Menindie.

1949. Then it was no personal cause of your own; you say that you had too much to do to look after the stores ?-There was never any personal disagreement between Mr Burke and myself. I had been residing with Mr Burke for three weeks previous to my leaving Melbourne, and during that time and the whole of the time I had been with him up to the Darling, there was not the slightest disagreement.

1950. Did anyone interfere with you in your duties of looking after the stores ?-Yes, it was Mr Burke himself who interfered very often with me; besides it was very difficult to have charge of the stores which were divided over seven large wagons, and things which we perhaps required could not be always found in a moment's time, and that led to expressions from the side of Mr Burke, which I thought afterwards not to form any sufficient reason for giving in my resignation, but which at the time I sent in my resignation I pointed out as one of the reasons. Besides one of the reasons for my resignation I gave was that Mr Landells had resigned and there was nobody in my opinion sufficiently acquainted with the habits and travelling of camels but Mr Landells himself.

1951. In consequence of Mr Landells' resignation you entertained doubts as to the success of the expedition ?-I did so.

1952. That was the prime motive that induced you to resign ?-No, the prime motive was the treatment which Mr Landells had from Mr Burke, the evening before he came up to Menindie.

1953. Is there anything you would like to say to the Commission either in reference to anything you have said or in reference to the expedition itself ?-Not with regard to the evidence I have just given; but I think it is a duty I owe to the Commission and to myself to correct a statement which was made by McDonough, respecting the treatment of Patten : McDonough stated that he believed Patten died rather from starvation than from scurvy in consequence of having had insufficient diet for sometime. This is quite an erroneous statement as I prepared all the food for Patten, and all patients who were laid up at the time myself. Patten when he arrived in Bulloo, was in such a state that he required great care and immediate attendance, and of course diet was not the least point which was to be looked to under such circumstances, where we were limited to preserved food and could not procure any fresh vegetables or any fresh meat. McDonough says that he had nothing but two meals of arrowroot a day; this is quite in opposition to truth; I prepared all the meals that Patten had. Patten was very fond of oatmeal gruel and oatmeal porridge, and I thought it was very good food to give him. It was quite as good as anything I could give him, and he generally breakfasted on that; for lunch or dinner he had the same as we had, that was, rice and apples. We prepared them by boiling them for two or three hours, so that they were quit soft and what he received of them was generally quite as good an article of food for him as he could get. In the evening he had the same with us in one regard, but it was cooked for him separately, because he could not eat the preserved vegetables or very few of them as we eat them, they were too hard for him, and besides we generally spiced them with pepper so that he would certainly not have liked them, and perhaps they would have disagreed with him, so that I prepared for him every evening separately, soup made from jerked beef and containing a proportionate quantity of pounded meat-biscuit; sometimes he would ask me for tea and bread, and we had generally very good bread, and I gave him then bread and tea as he requested me. We had, when we left Bulloo, about five or six boxes of preserved mutton, that was a very good article of food, and I requested Mr Wright to allow me to have it exclusively for the use of Patten; I prepared it several times for him but it did not agree with him at all; I had to leave it off although I thought at the time, and think so now, that it was a very good article of food for him.

1954. You did not supplement the provisions in any way during the expedition, with what you could shoot ?-We had several times ducks, and two or three times fish, but it was very seldom we had an opportunity of getting anything.

1955. Were they scarce, or did you not go after them ?-The character of the country was not so that we could expect anything. On the Koorliatto Creek there was nobody to try to catch fish, and I do not think we could have caught many, as the natives took their fish only at certain times.

1956. Do not you consider that the inaction of remaining so long at Menindie, without any occupation, predisposed those gentlemen to disease ?-I think so, or at least it predisposed Dr Becker. Purcell was employed, so that I do not think he had any effect from his stay at Menindie.

1957. From what you saw of the country when you went out after Lyons and McPherson, do you think it would have been easier to have got through then to Cooper's Creek than when you started afterwards ?-It was very much easier. We could not have made the journey in so short a time unless we had had great facility. We left Menindie and came out at Torowoto and returned to Menindie in a fortnight, and walked a great part of the journey, which is 400 miles.

1958. What time did you take in going up the second time ?-We were fourteen days from Menindie to Torowoto

1959. That is just double the time ?-Yes.

The witness withdrew.

Dr Ferdinand Mueller further examined.

1960. Do yon 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.
[This was the final days evidence. The Commissioners reconvened on Friday 17th January 1862 to consider the final report.]

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