Burke & Wills Web
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& the Australian Exploring Expedition of 1860

Andrew Jackson
London: Smith, Elder & Co.
(Ferguson 10857)

Chapter 9

  • Departure for Carpentaria.
  • Diary of the Explorers.

On the morning of the 16th of December, 1860, Mr Burke assembled the whole of the party at Cooper's Creek, and formally appointed Brahe to remain as officer in charge of the Depot until Wright's arrival. He then shook hands with the different men, one of whom (Patten), much disappointed at not being taken on with his leader, shed tears; and, indeed, the whole of the party were anxious to go on. But there was no complaining. All were in excellent health and good spirits, and the advance party were accompanied to their first camp, twenty two miles down the creek, by Brahe, who was desired to await his leader's return at Cooper's Creek, until obliged to leave "by absolute necessity." These are the words employed in Mr Wills's last letter to his father, (*Footnote; Royal Commission, Question 318), written and read over to Mr Burke and King, by whom they were certified as correct, when all three began to feel that their last chance of life was rapidly passing away. (*Footnote; Ibid., Question 1069). There can, therefore, be little doubt that, whatever the precise words may have been in which the instructions were given, considerable pains were taken, both before Mr Burke's departure, and during the first day's journey, to impress upon Brahe that he was not to leave Cooper's Creek to return to the Darling, until the return of the exploring party from Carpentaria. It has been stated that, although the provisions taken on were only calculated to last for three months, yet a period of four months' absence was alluded to as quite possible; and this was impressed by Mr Wills upon Brahe, with a request that four months might be allowed to pass before he quitted the Depot. In justice to Brahe, it is only right to say that he did actually remain more than four months; though at the same time it was in his power to have waited much longer.

On first starting, the party were well supplied with food, the following being the average daily ration: one pound of damper (a kind of bread), three-quarters of a pound of dried meat, and a quarter of a pound of salt pork; besides which about a quarter of a pound of rice for each was boiled every second day. Their entire stock was as follows:- About 300 lbs. of flour, 110 lbs. of dried meat, 30 lbs. of meat biscuit, 90 lbs. of salt pork, 30 lbs. of oatmeal, 50 lbs. of sugar, 50 lbs. of rice, 12 lbs. of tea, 5 lbs. of salt; a few tins of preserved vegetables, and some butter. In addition to these provisions, it was found that the country through which they travelled supplied them with a leafy and nutritious vegetable called portulac, which proved a great assistance to the party in eking out their limited supply of rations.

King conducted the six camels; Gray led the horse, which he was often allowed to ride after he began to complain of illness. Messrs. Burke and Wills walked ahead, steering, in turn, by means of a pocket compass; and, in halting at night, the former was always particular in selecting, above all things, a good place for the camels to feed.

The details of the successful journey of these strong men are given, as follows, in the diary of the party. The Diary, written daily, with few exceptions, by Mr Wills, was subsequently transcribed under the superintendence of Dr Mueller, one of the members of the Committee of the Royal Society. Apart from the special interest attaching to the actual writing left by the explorers, the story cannot be better told than in the truthful and graphic language of the amiable, accomplished and heroic man who wrote it, under circumstances of the most difficult and trying nature.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria.
(*Footnote; The omissions in the diary are supplied as far as possible by the information contained in the maps).

Field-book No. 1.

Sunday, 16 December, 1860
The horse having been shod and our reports finished, we started at 6.40 A.M. for Eyre's Creek, the party consisting of Mr Burke, myself, King, and Charley (*Footnote; Gray), having with us six camels, one horse, and three months' provisions. We followed down the creek to the point where the sandstone ranges cross the creek, and were accompanied to that place by Brahe, who would return to take charge of the depot. Down to this point the banks of the creek are very rugged and stony, but there is a tolerable supply of grass and salt bush in the vicinity. A large tribe of blacks came pestering us to go to their camp and have a dance, which we declined. They were very troublesome, and nothing but the threat to shoot them will keep them away. They are, however, easily frightened; and, although fine-looking men, decidedly not of a warlike disposition. They show the greatest inclination to take whatever they can, but will run no unnecessary risk in so doing. They seldom carry any weapon, except a shield and a large kind of boomerang, which I believe they use for killing rats, &c. Sometimes, but very seldom, they have a large spear; reed spears seem to be quite unknown to them. They are undoubtedly a finer and better-looking race of men than the blacks on the Murray and Darling, and more peaceful; but in other respects I believe they will not compare favourably with them, for from the little we have seen of them, they appear to be mean-spirited and contemptible in every respect.

Monday, 17 December
We continued to follow down the creek. Found its course very crooked, and the channel frequently dry for a considerable distance, and then forming into magnificent waterholes, abounding in water fowl of all kinds. The country on each side is more open than on the upper part of the creek. The soil on the plains is of a light earthy nature, supporting abundance of salt bush and grass. Most of the plains are lightly timbered, and the ground is finer and not cracked up as at the head of the creek. Left Camp 67 at ten minutes to six A.M., having breakfasted before leaving. We followed the creek along from point to point, at first in a direction west-north-west for about twelve miles, then about north-west. At about noon we passed the last water, a short distance beyond which the creek runs out on a polygonum flat; but the timber was so large and dense that it deceived us into the belief that there was a continuation of the channel. On crossing the polygonum ground to where we expected to find the creek we became aware of our mistake. Not thinking it advisable to chance the existence of water ahead, we camped at the end of a large but shallow sheet of water in the sandy bed of the creek. The hole was about 150 links broad, and blank (*Footnote; Sic in original) feet deep in most places. In many places the temperature of the water was almost incredibly high, which induced me to try it at several points. The mean of two on the shady side of the creek gave 97 4/10 degrees. As may be imagined this water tasted disagreeably warm, but we soon cooled some in water bags, and thinking that it would be interesting to know what we might call cool, I placed the thermometer in a pannikin containing some that appeared delightfully so, almost cold in fact; its temperature was, to our astonishment, 78 degrees. At half-past six, when a strong wind was blowing from south, and temperature of air had fallen to 80 degrees, the lowest temperature of water in the hose, that had been exposed to the full effect of evaporation for several hours was 72 degrees. This water for drinking appeared positively cold, and is too low a temperature to be pleasant under the circumstances. A remarkable southerly squall came on between five and six P.M., with every appearance of rain. The sky however soon cleared, but the wind continued to blow in a squally and irregular manner from the same quarter at evening.

Wednesday, 19 December
Started at a quarter-past eight A.M., leaving what seemed to be the end of Cooper's Creek. We took a course a little to the north of west, intending to try and obtain water in some of the creeks that Sturt mentioned that he had crossed, and at the same time to see whether they were connected with Cooper's Creek, as appeared most probable from the direction in which we found the latter running, and from the manner in which it had been breaking up into small channels, flowing across the plains in a north and north-north-west direction. We left on our right the flooded flats on which this branch of the creek runs out, and soon came to a series of sand ridges, the directions of which were between north half-west and north-north-west. The country is well grassed and supports plenty of salt bush. Many of the valleys are liable to be inundated by the overflow of the main creek. They have water-courses and polygonum flats bordered with box trees, but we met with no holes fit to hold a supply of water. At about ten miles we crossed a large earthy flat lightly timbered with box and gum. The ground was very bad for travelling on, being much cracked up and intersected by innumerable channels, which continually carried off the water of a large creek. Some of the valleys beyond this were very pretty, the ground being sound and covered with fresh plants, which made them look beautifully green. At fifteen miles we halted, where two large plains joined. Our attention had been attracted by some red-breasted cockatoos, pigeons, a crow, and several other birds, whose presence made us feel sure that there was water not far off; but our hopes were soon destroyed by finding a claypan just drying up. It contained just sufficient liquid to make the clay boggy. At ten minutes to seven P.M., we moved on, steering straight for Eyre's Creek, north-west by north, intending to make a good night's journey and avoid the heat of the day; but at a mile and a half we came to a creek which looked so well that we followed it for a short distance, and finding two or three waterholes of good milky water we camped for the night. This enabled me to secure an observation of the eclipse of Jupiter's (I) satellite, as well as some latitude observations. The night was so calm that I used the water as an horizon; but I find it much more satisfactory to take the mercury for several reasons.

Thursday, 20 December
We did not leave this camp until half-past eight, having delayed to refill the water-bags with the milky water, which all of us found to be a great treat again. It is certainly more pleasant to drink than the clear water, and at the same time more satisfying. Our course from here, north-west by north, took us through some pretty country, lightly timbered and well grassed. We could see the line of creek timber winding through the valley on our left. At a distance of five miles there was a bush fire on its banks, and beyond it the creek made a considerable bend to the south-west. At two miles farther we came in sight of a large lagoon bearing north by west, and at three miles more we camped on what would seem the same creek as last night, near where it enters the lagoon. The latter is of great extent and contains a large quantity of water, which swarms with wild fowl of every description. It is very shallow, but is surrounded by the most pleasing woodland scenery, and everything in the vicinity looks fresh and green. The creek near its junction with the lagoon contains some good waterholes five to six feet deep. They are found in a sandy alluvium which is very boggy when wet. There was a large camp of not less than forty or fifty blacks near where we stopped. They brought us presents of fish, for which we gave them some beads, and matches. These fish we found to be a most valuable addition to our rations. They were of the same kind as we had found elsewhere, but finer, being from nine to ten inches long, and two to three inches deep, and in such good condition that they might have been fried in their own fat. It is a remarkable fact, that these were the first blacks who have offered us any fish since we reached Cooper's' Creek.

Friday 21 December
We left Camp 70 at half-past five A .M., and tried to induce one or two of the blacks to go with us, but it was of no use. Keeping our former course we were pulled up at three miles by a fine lagoon, and then by the creek that flows into it; the latter being full of water, we were obliged to trace it a mile up before we could cross. I observed on its banks two wild plants of the, gourd or melon tribe, one much resembling a stunted cucumber the other, both in leaf and appearance of fruit, was very similar to a small model of a water melon. The latter plant I also found at Camp 68. On tasting the pulp of the newly-found fruit, which was about the size of a large pea, I found it to be so acrid that it was with difficulty that I removed the taste from my mouth. At eight or nine miles from where we crossed the creek we passed another large lagoon, leaving it two miles on our left, and shortly afterwards we saw one nearly as far on our right. This last we should have availed ourselves of, but that we expected to find water in a creek which we could see, by the timber lining its banks, flowed from the lagoon on our left and crossed our course a few miles ahead. We reached it at a distance of four or five miles farther, and found a splendid waterhole at which we camped. The creek at the point flows in a northerly direction through a large lightly timbered flat, on which it partially runs out. The ground is, however, sound and well clothed with grass and salsolaceous plants. Up to this point the country through which we have passed has been of the finest description for pastoral purposes. The grass and saltbush are everywhere abundant, and water is plentiful with every appearance of permanence. We met with porcupine grass, and only two sand ridges before reaching Camp 71.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria.

Field-book No. 2
Lat. 27º.-25 ½º S
Stations 72 to 73.

Saturday, 22 December
At five minutes to five A.M. we left one of the most delightful camps we have had in the journey, and proceeded on the same course as before, north-west by north, across some high ridges of loose sand, many of which were partially clothed with porcupine grass. We found the ground much worse to travel over than any we have yet met with, as the ridges were exceedingly abrupt and steep on their eastern side, and although sloping gradually towards the west, were so honeycombed in some places by the burrows of rats, that the camels were continually in danger of falling. At a distance of about six miles, we descended from these ridges to undulating country of open box forest, where everything was green and fresh. There is an abundance of grass and salt bushes, and lots of birds of all descriptions. Several flocks of pigeons passed over our heads, making for a point a little to our right, where there is no doubt plenty of water, but we did not go off our course to look for it. Beyond the box forest, which keeps away to the right, we again entered the sand ridges, and at a distance of six miles, passed close to a dry salt lagoon, the ridges in the vicinity of which are less regular in their form and direction, and contain nodules of limestone. The ground in the flats and claypans near, has that encrusted surface that cracks under the pressure of the foot, and is a sure indication of saline deposits. At a distance of eight miles from the lagoon, we camped at the foot of a sand ridge, jutting out on the stony desert. I was rather disappointed, but not altogether surprised, to find the latter nothing more nor less than the stony rises that we had before met with, only on a larger scale and not quite as undulating. During the afternoon several crows came to feed on the plain. They came from an east-north-east direction, no doubt from a portion of the creek that flows though the forest that we left on our right. In the morning, as we were loading, a duck passed over, but it was too dark to see which way it went.

Sunday, 23 December
At five A.M. we struck out across the desert in a west-north-west direction. At four and a-half miles we crossed a sand ridge, and then returned to our north-west by north course. We found the ground not nearly as bad for travelling on as that between Bulloo and Cooper's Creek. In fact I do not know whether it arose from our exaggerated anticipation of horrors or not, but we thought it far from bad travelling ground, and as to pasture it is only the actually stony ground that is bare, and many a sheep run is in fact worse grazing ground than that. At fifteen miles we crossed another sand ridge, for several miles round which there is plenty of grass and fine salt bush. After crossing this ridge we descended to an earthy plain, where the ground was rather heavy, being in some places like pieces of slaked lime, and intersected by small watercourses; flocks of pigeons rose from amongst the salt bushes and polygonum; but all the creeks were dry, although marked by lines of box timber. Several gunyahs of the blacks were situated near a waterhole that had apparently contained water very lately, and heaps of grass were lying about the plains, from which they had beaten the seeds. We pushed on, hoping to find the creeks assuming an improved appearance, but they did not, and at one o'clock we halted, intending to travel through part of the night. About sunset, three flocks of pigeons passed over us, all going in the same direction, due north by compass, and passing over a ridge of sand in that direction. Not to have taken notice of such an occurrence would have been little short of a sin, so we determined to go eight or ten miles in that direction. Starting at seven o'clock P.M., we, at six miles, crossed the ridge over which the birds had flown, and came on a flat, subject to inundation. The ground was at first hard and even like the bottom of a claypan, but at a mile or so, we cam e on cracked earthy ground, intersected by numberless small channels running in all directions. At nine miles we reached the bed of a creek running from east to west: it was only bordered by polygonum bushes, but as there was no timber visible on the plains, we thought it safer to halt until daylight, for fear we should miss the water. At daylight, when we had saddled, a small quantity of timber could be seen at the point of a sand ridge about a mile and a half or two miles to the west of us, and on going there we found a fine creek, with a splendid sheet of water more than a mile long, and averaging nearly three chains broad: it is, however, only two or three feet deep in most parts.

Monday, 24 December, 1860
We took a day of rest on Gray's Creek to celebrate Christmas. This was doubly pleasant, as we had never, in our most sanguine moments, anticipated finding such a delightful oasis in the desert. Our camp was really an agreeable place, for we had all the advantages of food and water, attending a position of a large creek or river, and were at the same time free from the annoyance of the numberless ants, flies, and mosquitoes that are invariably met with amongst timber or heavy scrub.

Tuesday, 25 December
We left Gray's Creek at half-past four A.M. and proceeded to cross the earthy rotten plains in the direction of Eyre's Creek. At a distance of about nine miles we reached some lines of trees and bushes which were visible from the top of the sand ridge at Gray's Creek. We found them growing on the banks of several small creeks which trend to the N. and N.N.W.; at a mile and a half further we crossed a small creek N.N.E., and joining the ones above mentioned. This creek contained abundance of water in small detached holes from fifty to a hundred links long, well shaded by steep banks and overhanging bushes. The water had a suspiciously transparent colour and a slight trace of brackishness, but the latter was scarcely perceptible. Near where the creek joined the holes is a sandhill and a dense mass of fine timber. The smoke of a fire indicated the presence of blacks, who soon made their appearance and followed us for some distance, beckoning us away to the N.E. We however continued our course N.W. by N., but at a distance of one mile and a half found that the creek did not come round as we expected, and that the fall of the water was in a direction nearly opposite to our course, or about west to east. We struck off north half west for a high sand ridge, from which we anticipated seeing whether it were worth while for us to follow the course of the creeks we had crossed. We were surprised to find all the watercourses on the plains trending rather to the south of east, and at a distance of three miles, after changing our course, and when we approached the sandhills towards which we had been steering, we were agreeably pulled up by a magnificent creek coming from the N.N.W., and running in the direction of the fire we had seen. We had now no choice but to change our course again, for we could not have crossed even if we had desired to do so. On following up the south bank of the creek we found it soon keeping a more northerly course than it had where we first struck it. This fact, together with its magnitude and general appearance, lessened the probability of its being Eyre's Creek, as seemed at first very likely from their relative positions and directions. The day being very hot and the camels tired from travelling over the earthy plains, which by-the-by are not nearly so bad as those at the head of Cooper's Creek, we camped at one P.M., having traced the creek up about five miles, not counting the bends. For the whole of this distance we found not a break or interruption of water, which appears to be very deep; the banks are from twenty to thirty feet above the water, and very steep; they are clothed near the water's edge with mint and other weeds, and on the top of each side there is a belt of box trees and various shrubs. The lower part of the creek is bounded towards the north by a high red sand ridge, and on the south side is an extensive plain, intersected by numerous water-courses, which drain off the water in flood-time. The greater portion of the plain is at present very bare, but the stalks of dry grass show that after rain or floods there will be a good crop on the harder and well drained portion; but I believe the loose earthy portion supports no vegetation at any time. The inclination of the ground from the edge of the creek-bank towards the plain is in many places very considerable; this I should take to indicate that the flooding is or has been at one time both frequent and regular.

Wednesday, 26 December
We started at five A.M., following up the creek from point to point of the bends. Its general course was at first north-by-west, but at about six miles, the sand ridge on the west closed in on it, and at this point it takes a turn to the N.N.E. for half a mile, and then comes around suddenly N.W. Up to this point it had been rather improving in appearance than otherwise, but in the bend to the N.W. the channel is very broad. Its bed being limestone rock and indurated clay, is for a space of five or six chains quite dry; then commences another waterhole, the creek keeping a little more towards north. We crossed the creek here and struck across the plain in a due north course, for we could see the line of timber coming up to the sand ridges in that direction. For from seven to eight miles we did not touch the creek, and the eastern sand ridge seceded to a distance, in some places of nearly three miles, from our line, leaving an immense extent of grassy plain between it and the creek. The distinctly marked feature on the lower part of this creek is that whenever the main creek is on one side of a plain, there is always a fine billibong on the opposite side, each of them almost invariably sticking close to the respective sand ridges. Before coming to the next bend of the creek a view from the top of a sandhill showed me that the creek received a large tributary from the N.W. at about two miles above where we had crossed it. A fine line of timber, running up to the N.W., joined an extensive tract of box forest, and the branch we were following was lost to view in a similar forest towards the north. The sand ridge was so abrupt when we came to the creek, that it was necessary to descend into its bed through one of the small ravines adjoining it. We found it partially run out, the bed being sand and strewed with nodules of lime, some of which were from one half to two feet long: they had apparently been formed in the sand-downs by infiltration.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria
Field-book No. 3
Lat 25½º to 23¾º
Stations 78 to 85.

Tuesday, 30 December
Finding that the creek was trending considerably towards the east without much likelihood of altering its course, we struck off from it, taking a ten days' supply of water, as there were ranges visible to the north, which had the appearance of being stony. A northeast by north course was first taken for about seven miles in order to avoid them. The whole of this distance was over alluvial earthy plains, the soil of which was firm, but the vegetation scanty.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria
Field-book No. 4
Lat. 23 ¾° to 22 ¼°
Camps 85 to 90.
Fine Country, Tropics.

Saturday, 5 January (1861)
On leaving Camp 84, we found slight but distinct indications of rain in the groves, and a few blades of grass and small weeds in the little depressions on the plain: these indications were, however, so slight, that, but for the fact of our having found surface-water in two holes near our camp, we should hardly have noticed them. At a distance of about two miles in a N.N.E. direction, we came to a creek with a long broad shallow waterhole. The well-worn paths, the recent tracks of natives, and the heaps of shells, on the contents of which the latter had feasted, showed at once that this creek must be connected with some creek of considerable importance. The camels and horses being greatly in need of rest, we only moved up about half a mile, and camped for the day.

Sunday, 6 January
Started at twenty minutes to six o'clock, intending to make an easy day's stage along the creek. As we proceeded up in a northerly direction, we found the waterhole to diminish in size very much, and at about two and a half miles the creek ran out in a lot of small watercourses. At the upper end of the creek we found in its bed what appeared to be an arrangement for catching fish: it consisted of a small oval mud paddock about twelve feet by eight feet, the sides of which were about nine inches above the bottom of the hole, and the top of the fence covered with long grass, so arranged that the ends of the blades overhung scantily by several inches the sides of the hole. As there was no sign of timber to the north, we struck off to N.W. by N. for a fine line that came up from S.W., and seemed to run parallel with the creek we were about to leave. At a distance of about three miles, we reached the bank of a fine creek containing a sheet of water two chains broad, and at least fifteen feet deep in the middle. The banks are shelving, sandy, and lightly clothed with box trees and various shrubs. On starting to cross the plains towards this creek we were surprised at the bright green appearance of strips of land, which look in the distance like swamps. On approaching some of them, we found that there had been a considerable fall of rain in some places, which had raised a fine crop of grass and portulac wherever the soil was of a sandy and light nature; but the amount of moisture had been insufficient to affect the hard clayey ground which constitutes the main portion of the plain. The sight of two native companions feeding here, added greatly to the encouraging prospects; they are the only specimens of that bird that I remember to have seen on that side of the Darling.

Monday, 7 January
We started at half-past four A.M. without water, thinking that we might safely rely on this creek for one day's journey. We, however, found the line of timber soon begin to look small; at three miles the channel contained only a few pools of surface water. We continued across the plains on a due north course, frequently crossing small watercourses, which had been filled by the rain, but were fast drying up here and there, as we proceeded, dense lines of timber on our right showed that the creek came from the east of north; at a distance of thirteen miles we turned to the N.N.E. towards a fine line of timber. We found a creek of considerable dimensions, that had only two or three small water holes, but as there was more than sufficient for us, and very little feed for the beasts anywhere else, we camped. I should have liked this camp to have been in a more prominent and easily recognizable position, as it happens to be almost exactly on the tropic of Capricorn. The tremendous gale of wind that we had in the evening and night prevented me from taking a latitude observation, whereas I had some good ones at the last camp and at Camp 87. My reckoning cannot be far out. I found, on taking out my instruments, that one of the spare thermometers was broken, and the glass of my aneroid barometer cracked; the latter I believe not otherwise injured. This was done by the camel having taken it into his head to roll while the pack was on his back.

Tuesday, 8 January
Started at a quarter past five A.M. with a load of water, determined to be independent of all creeks and water-courses. At a mile and a half found surface water in a small creek, and at a mile farther, water in two or three places on the open plains. The country we crossed for the first ten miles consists of fine open plains of firm argillaceous soils, too stiff and hard to be affected by the small quantity of rain that has fallen as yet. They are subject to inundations from the overflow of a number of small creeks, which intersect them in a direction E.N.E. to W.S.W. Nearly all the creeks are lined with box trees and shrubs in a tolerably healthy state; of the remains of dead trees there is only a fair proportion to the living ones. After traversing a plain of greater extent than the rest, we, at ten miles, reached the creek, proportionately large and important looking. The channel, however, at the point where we struck it, was deep, level, and dry; but I believe there is water in it not far off, for there were some red-breasted cockatoos in the trees, and native parrots on each side. On the north side there is a part bearing off to the N.N.W. The mirage on the plain to the south of the creek was stronger than I have before seen it. There appear to be sheets of water within a few yards of one, and it looks sufficiently smooth and glassy to be used for an artificial horizon. To the westward of the plains, some fine sandhills were visible, nearly in the direction in which the creek flowed. To the north of the creek the country undergoes a great change. At first there is a little earthy land subject to inundation. The soil then becomes more sandy, with stony pans in which water collects after rain; the whole country is slightly undulating, lightly timbered, and splendidly grassed. A number of small disconnected creeks are scattered about, many of which contained water protected from the sun and wind by luxuriant growth of fine grasses and small bushes. We passed one or two little rises of sand and pebbles, on which were growing some trees quite new to me; but for the seed pods I should have taken them for a species of Casuarina, although the leaf-stalks have not the jointed peculiarities of those plants. The trunks and branches are like the she oak, the leaves like those of a pine; they droop like a willow, and the seed is small, flat, in a large flat pod, about six inches by three-quarters of an inch. As we proceeded, the country improved at every step. Flocks of pigeons rose and flew off to the eastward, and fresh plants met our view on every rise; everything green and luxuriant. The horse licked his lips, and tried all he could to break his nose-string in order to get at the food. We camped at the foot of a sandy rise, where there was a large stony pan with plenty of water, and where the feed was equal in quality, and superior as to variety, to any that I have seen in Australia, excepting perhaps on some soils of volcanic origin.

Wednesday, 9 January
Started at five minutes past five, without water, trusting to get a supply of water from the rain that fell during the thunderstorm. Traversed six miles of undulating plains covered with vegetation richer than ever. Several ducks rose from the little creeks as we passed, and flocks of pigeons were flying in all directions. The richness of the vegetation is evidently not suddenly arising from chance thunderstorms, for the trees and bushes on the open plain are everywhere healthy and fresh looking; very few dead ones are to be seen; besides which, the quantity of dead and rotten grass which at present almost overpowers in some places the young blades shows that this is not the first crop of the kind. The grasses are numerous and many of them unknown to me, but they only constitute a moderate portion of the herbage. Several kinds of spurious vetches and portulac, as well as salsolaceae, add to the luxuriance of the vegetation. At seven miles we found ourselves in an open forest country, where the feed was good, but not equal to what we had passed, neither had it been visited by yesterday's rain. We soon emerged again on open plains, but the soil being of a more clayish nature, they were not nearly so much advanced in vegetation as the others. We found surface water in several places, and at one spot disturbed a fine bustard which was feeding in the long grass; we did not see him until he flew up. I should have mentioned that one flew over our camp last evening in a northerly direction; this speaks well for the country and climate. At noon we came to a large creek the course of which was from E.N.E. to W.S.W.; the sight of the white gum trees in the distance had raised hopes, which were not at all damped on a close inspection of the channel. At the point where we struck it there was certainly no great quantity of water; the bed was broad and sandy, but its whole appearance was that of an important watercourse, and the large gums which line its banks, together with the improved appearance of the soil, and the abundance of feed in the vicinity, satisfied us as to the permanency of the water and the value of the discovery. Although it was so early in the day, and we were anxious to make a good march, yet we camped here, as it seemed to be almost a sin to leave such good quarters. The bed of the creek is loose sand, through which the water freely permeates; it is, however, sufficiently coarse not to be boggy, and animals can approach the water without any difficulty.

Thursday, 10 January
At twenty minutes past five A.M., we left our camp with a full supply of water, determined to risk no reverses, and to make a good march. I should mention that last evening we had been nearly deafened by the noise of the cicadariae, and but for our large fires should have been kept awake all night by the mosquitoes. A walk of two miles across a well grassed plain brought us to a belt of timber, and we soon afterwards found ourselves pulled up by a large creek in which the water was broad and deep; we had to follow up the bank of the creek in a N.E. direction for nearly a mile before we could cross, when to our joy we found that it was flowing; not a muddy stream from the effects of recent floods, but a small rivulet of pure water as clear as crystal. The bed of the river at this place is deep and rather narrow; the water flows over sand and pebbles, winding its way between clumps of melalema, and gum saplings. After leaving the river, we kept our old course due north, crossing, at a distance of one mile, three creeks with gum trees on their banks. The soil of the flats through which they flow is a red loam of fair quality and well grassed. Beyond the third creek is a large plain, parts of which are very stony, and this is bounded towards the east by a low stony rise, partly composed of decayed and honeycombed quartz rock in situ, and partly of waterworn pebbles and other alluvial deposits. At about two miles across this plain, we reached the first of a series of small creeks with deep waterholes: these creeks and holes have the characteristics peculiar to watercourses which are found in flats formed from the alluvial deposits of schistose rocks. The banks are on a level with the surrounding ground, and are irregularly marked by small trees, or only by tufts of long grass which overhang the channel and frequently hide it from one's view, even when within a few yards. At about five miles from where we crossed the river, we came to the main creek in these flats, Patten's Creek; it flows along at the foot of a stony range, and we had to trace it up nearly a mile in a N.N.E. direction before we could cross it; as it happened, we might almost as well have followed its course up the flat, for at a little more than two miles we came to it again. We re-crossed it at a stony place just below a very large waterhole, and then continued our course over extensive plains, not so well grassed as those we had passed before, and very stony in some places. At eight miles from Patten's Creek, we came to another, running from S.W. to S.E. there was plenty of water in it, but it was evidently the result of recent local rains. On the banks was an abundance of good feed but very little timber.

Friday, 11 January
We started at five A.M., and in the excitement of exploring fine well-watered country, forgot all about the eclipse of the sun until the reduced temperature and peculiarly gloomy appearance of the sky drew our attention to the matter; it was then too late to remedy the deficiency, so we made a good day's journey, the moderation of the midday heat, which was only about 86°, greatly assisting us. The country traversed has the most verdant and cheerful aspect; abundance of feed and water everywhere. All the creeks seen to-day have a course more or less to the east by south. The land improves in appearance at every mile. A quantity of rain has fallen here and to the south, and some of the flats are suitable for cultivation, if the regularity of the seasons will admit.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria.
Field-book No. 5
Lat. 22 ¼° to 21 ¼°.
Camps 92 to 95.
Standish Ranges.

Saturday, 12 January
We started at five A.M., and, keeping as nearly as possible a due north course, traversed for about eight miles a splendid flat, through which flow several fine well-watered creeks, lined with white gum trees. We then entered a series of slatey, low, sandstone ranges, amongst which were some well-grassed flats, and plenty of water in the main gullies. The more stony portions are, however, covered with porcupine grass, and here and there with mallee; large ant-hills are very numerous; they vary in height from two and a half to four feet. There was a continuous rise perceptible all the way in crossing the ranges, and from the highest portion, which we reached at a distance of about seven miles, we had a pretty good view of the country towards the north. As far as we could see in the distance, and bearing due north, was a large range, having somewhat the outline of a granite mountain. The east end of this range just comes up to the magnetic north; on the left of this, and bearing N.N.W., is a single conical peak, the top of which only is visible. Further to the west there were some broken ranges, apparently sandstone; to the E. of N. the tops of very distant and apparently higher ranges were seen, the outline of which was so indistinct that I can form no idea as to their character; the intermediate country below us appeared alternations of fine valleys and stony ranges, such as we had just been crossing. From here a descent of two miles brought us to a creek having a northern course, but on tracing it down for about a mile, we found it to turn to the south-east and join another from the north. We crossed over to the latter on a north-by-west course, and camped on the west bank. It has a broad sandy channel; the waterholes are large, but not deep; the banks are bordered with fine white gums, and are in some places very scrubby. There is abundance of rich green feed everywhere in the vicinity. We found here numerous indications of blacks having been here, but saw nothing of them. It seems remarkable that where their tracks are so plentiful, we should have seen none since we left King's Creek. I observed that the natives here climb trees as those on the Murray do, in search of some animal corresponding in habits to the opossum, which they get out of the hollow branches in a similar manner. I have not yet been able to ascertain what the animal is.

Sunday, 13 January
We did not leave camp this morning until half-past seven, having delayed for the purpose of getting the camels' shoes on - a matter in which we were eminently unsuccessful. We took our breakfast before starting, for almost the first time since leaving the depot. Having crossed the creek, our course was due north as before, until, at about six miles, we came in sight of the range ahead, when we took a north-half-east direction for the purpose of clearing the eastern front of it. We found the ground more sandy than what we had before crossed, and a great deal of it even more richly grassed. Camp 93 is situate at the junction of three sandy creeks, in which there is abundance of water. The sand is loose, and the water permeates freely, so that the latter may be obtained delightfully cool and clear by sinking anywhere in the beds of the creeks.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria
Field-book No. 6
Lat. 21 ¼° to 20 ¼°
Stations 98 to 105.
Upper part of Cloncurry.

(Called after Lord Cloncurry's family, who were related to Mr Burke. Lady Cloncurry, his cousin, had always been particularly kind to him; and in the paper written by him in his last moments, he mentions her name.)

Saturday, 19 January
Started from Camp 98 at 5.30 A.M., and passing to the N.W. of Mount Forbes, across a fine and well-grassed plain, kept at first a north-by-east direction. At a distance of three miles, the plain became everywhere stony, being scattered over with quartz pebbles; and a little further on we came to low quartz ranges, the higher portions of which are covered with porcupine grass, but the valleys are well clothed with a variety of coarse and rank herbage. At about five miles we crossed a creek with a sandy bed, which has been named Green's Creek; there were blacks not far above where we crossed, but we did not disturb them. After crossing the creek, we took a due north course over very rugged quartz ranges of an auriferous character. Pieces of iron ore, very rich, were scattered in great numbers over some of the hills. On our being about to cross one of the branch creeks in the low range, we surprised some blacks - a man who, with a young fellow apparently his son, was upon a tree, cutting out something; and a lubra with a piccaninny. The two former did not see me until I was nearly close to them, and then they were dreadfully frightened; jumping down from the trees, they started off, shouting what sounded to us very like 'Joe, Joe.' Thus disturbed, the lubra, who was at some distance from them, just then caught sight of the camels and the remainder of the party as they came over the hill into the creek, and this tended to hasten their flight over the stones and porcupine grass. Crossing the range at the head of this creek, we came on a gully running north, down which we proceeded, and soon found it open out into a creek, at two or three points in which we found water. On this creek we found the first specimen of an eucalyptus, which has a very different appearance from the members of the gum-tree race. It grows as high as a good-sized gum tree, but with the branches less spreading: in shape it much resembles the elm; the foliage is dark, like that of the light wood; the trunk and branches are covered with a grey bark resembling in outward appearance that of the box tree. Finding that the creek was trending too much to the eastward, we struck off to the north again, and at a short distance came on a fine creek running about S.S.E. As it was now nearly time to camp, we travelled it up for about one and a-half mile, and came to a fine waterhole in a rocky basin, at which there were lots of birds.

Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria.
Field-book No. 7
Lat. 20 ¼° to 19 ¼°
Camps 105 to 112.
Middle part of Cloncurry.

Sunday, 27 January
Started from Camp 105 at five minutes past two in the morning. We followed along the bends of the creek by moonlight, and found the creek wind about very much, taking on the whole a N.E. course. At about five miles it changed somewhat its features; from a broad and sandy channel, winding about through gum-tree flats, it assumes the unpropitious appearance of a straight, narrow creek, running in a N.N.E. direction between high, perpendicular earthy banks. After running between three or four miles in this manner, it took a turn to the west, at which point there is a fine waterhole, and then assumed its, original character. Below this we found water at several places, but it all seemed to be either from surface drainage or from springs in the sand. The land in the vicinity of the creek appears to have received plenty of rain, the vegetation everywhere green and fresh; but there is no appearance of the creek having flowed in this part of the channel for a considerable period. Palm trees are numerous, and some bear an abundance of small, round dates (nuts) just ripening. These palms give a most picturesque and pleasant appearance to the creek.

Wednesday, 30 January
Started at half-past seven A.M., after several unsuccessful attempts at getting Golah out of the bed of the creek. It was determined to try bringing him down until we could find a place for him to get out at; but after going in this way two or three miles it was found necessary to leave him behind, as it was almost impossible to get him through some of the waterholes, and had separated King from the party, which became a matter for very serious consideration when we found blacks hiding in the box trees close to us.

Field-book No. 8
Camps 112 to 119.
Lat. 19 ¼° to 17° 53'
Lower part of Cloncurry.


Field-book No. 9

Sunday, February, 1861
Finding the ground in such a state from the heavy falls of rain, that camels could scarcely be got along, it was decided to leave them at Camp 119, and for Mr Burke and I to proceed towards the sea on foot. After breakfast we accordingly started, taking with us the horse and three days' provisions. Our first difficulty was in crossing Billy's Creek, which we had to do where it enters the river, a few hundred yards below the camp. In getting the horse in here, he got bogged in a quicksand bank so deeply as to be unable to stir, and we only succeeded in extricating him by undermining him on the creek's side, and then lugging him into the water. Having got all the things in safety, we continued down the river bank, which bent about from east to west, but kept a general north course. A great deal of the land was so soft and rotten that the horse, with only a saddle and about twenty-five pounds on his back, could scarcely walk over it. At a distance of about five miles we again had him bogged in crossing a small creek, after which he seemed so weak that we had great doubts about getting him on. We, however, found some better ground close to the water's edge, where the sandstone rock crops out, and we stuck to it as far as possible. Finding that the river was bending about so much that we were making very little progress in a northerly direction, we struck off due north and soon came on some tableland, where the soil is shallow and gravelly, and. clothed with box and swamp gums. Patches of the land were very boggy, but the main portion was sound enough; beyond this we came on an open plain, covered with water up to one's ankles. The soil here was a stiff clay, and the surface very uneven, so that between the tufts of grass one was frequently knee deep in water. The bottom, however, was sound and no fear of bogging. After floundering through this for several miles, we came to a path formed by the blacks, and there were distinct signs of a recent migration in a southerly direction. By making use of this path we got on much better, for the ground was well trodden and hard. At rather more than a mile, the path entered a forest through which flowed a nice watercourse, and we had not gone far before we found places where the blacks had been camping. The forest was intersected by little pebbly rises, on which they had made their fires, and in the sandy ground adjoining some of the former had been digging yams, (*Footnote; The dioscorea of Carpentaria), which seemed to be so numerous that they could afford to leave lots of them about, probably having only selected the very best. We were not so particular, but ate many of those that they had rejected, and found them very good. About half a mile further, we came close on a black fellow, who was coiling up by a camp fire, whilst his gin and piccaninny were yabbering alongside. We stopped for a short time to take out some of the pistols that were on the horse, and that they might see us before we were so near as to frighten them. Just after we stopped, the black got up to stretch his limbs, and after a few seconds looked in our direction. It was very amusing to see the way in which he stared, standing for some time as if he thought he must be dreaming, and then, having signaled to the others, they dropped on their haunches, and shuffled off in the quietest manner possible. Near their fire was a fine hut, the best I have ever seen, built on the same principle as those at Cooper's Creek, but much larger and more complete: I should say a dozen blacks might comfortably coil in it together. It is situated at the end of the forest towards the north, and looks out on an extensive marsh, which is at times flooded by the sea water. Hundreds of wild geese, plover and pelicans, were enjoying themselves in the watercourses on the marsh, all the water on which was too brackish to be drinkable, except some holes that are filled by the stream that flows through the forest. The neighbourhood of this encampment is one of the prettiest we have seen during the journey. Proceeding on our course across the marsh, we came to a channel through which the sea water enters. Here we passed three blacks, who, as is universally their custom, pointed out to us, unasked, the best part down. This assisted us greatly, for the ground we were taking was very boggy. We moved slowly down about three miles and then camped for the night; the horse Billy being completely baked. Next morning we started at daybreak, leaving the horse short hobbled.

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