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March 1862

Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia
London: Sampson, Low & Son & Co.
(Ferguson 9005).

Saturday, 1 March 1862.
And a very pretty first of March it was. Up early and had breakfast, so that we may be off about the animals. First of all the sheep are to be taken to some dry ground, half a mile off. They will have to swim, and there is a strong current too. Kirby and the horsemen go with them. They manage, with care and patience, to get them over in safety after a difficult job, they then go after the other horses some miles away on the hills. Sometimes I can see them swimming, and then a head suddenly disappears altogether, its proprietor having gone down a hole; they were never less than up to their waists. Middleton and self go after camels in the same sort of way, sometimes swimming, and sometimes just touching the ground with our toes. Thank goodness, they were all close by, two and two, on little bits of ground, just big enough for them to stand on. They came with us through the water quite quietly, and 1 fancy they must have felt some fear of danger, for the female camel in particular has generally a great antipathy to water. She followed me like a dog. We soon got to Camp I, down tents, load up, etc. Soon accomplished it, but it was frightful work, all our clothes dripping, for we did not take them off when we started, as they were wet already. To mend the matter the wind got up, and it went through us like a knife. We never felt it so cold as during this part of the performance. All ready to start, and off we go. We have to lead the camels to where the sheep are camped. We get on all right. The water sometimes up to our necks, and sometimes we have to swim a little way. Camels may well be called the ships of the desert. They answered the purpose of boats today, at any rate, for us. The most of the provisions would have got soaked if the horses had carried them. On our arrival on the spit of. sand where the sheep were, Mr McKinlay ordered two of the camels to be unloaded and to return for the ammunition, flour, tea, sugar, etc., which had hitherto been carried by the horses. So we had to take this most delightful journey again for the aforesaid traps, and very fortunate indeed it was that we had the camels, as otherwise all the flour, etc, would have been spoilt, as the water was over the horses backs in many places, and their packs consequently more or less soaked. The creek this morning was rising some six inches, yesterday it was only three to four inches. It is none too soon for us to be on the move, I'm thinking. We are now in the midst of a vast sea, the shallowest part of which I should say could not be less than five feet. After getting all things to dry land we reloaded the camels with their proper burdens, giving the horses what belonged to them, and what we brought up on the second trip, and started for camp (we are all shivering and shaking, and teeth fairly chattering with the intense cold on a sandhill, where there is plenty of water and fine feed for the animals; but the road to it is our difficulty, the beasts all slipping and sliding about, and we expecting some of them to be down every minute. The poor little sheep were sometimes up to their bellies in mud, and had to be lifted out. It was horrid work for them. It still looks rainy. I suppose we shall remain herd for some time, for I don't see how we are to get out of it. For the present we are in our new position, above all, inundation, and in perfect safety for some time. From this camp the whole country is one immense sea as far as the eye can reach, nothing else visible but the large trees marking the courses of the different creeks and stone hills in the distance. Mr McKinlay remarks again in his journal regarding this flood :

We were very fortunate to be caught in it where we were; had we been caught thus in making this creek, or a day's stage up it, to a certainty we should all have been washed away, or, what would have been just as bad, be perched on a small island of sand with all the animals round us, and nothing but starvation staring us in the face as on most of the sand rises down near the creek there was no vegetation of any consequence upon them.

We had a narrow escape from following in the footsteps of poor Leichhardt and party, who have never been heard of to this day., and it is now some sixteen years since they started. I should not be the least surprised if he and party were carried away in one of these floods, as not the slightest trace of him has ever been seen. This is mere supposition on my part, but I believe Mr McKinlay agrees with me. After arriving and turning out the animals we got into some dry clothes, and not before they were wanted. Then we had some hot tea, and began to feel comfortable once more. Pitched tents, and we all looked more happy than we have done for some days. The sand here is awful, blowing into our eyes, etc., and everything we get to eat is covered with it.

Sunday, 2 March 1862.
It rained steadily for some time last night, and is showery today. The flats are considerably more covered this morning. Thunder and lightning from north east. Some of us began to talk of our possible fate, others raking up stories of accidents that had befallen other explorers, and some painted the picture rather dismally; but it is of no use putting a sad face on, it will be time enough when the accidents do come. Threatening for a storm, but it went off in the evening and the stars shone brightly. No yard for the sheep, and we have to keep a special sharp look out for the wild dogs that are up here in numbers, out of the way of the flood. Mosquitoes very bad, no sleep hardly.

Monday, 3 March 1862.
I hope, as the day promises, it may be fine and dry, that we may get our things out to air, they being all more or less damp. There was a horrid row about 2am. Mr McKinlay caught the man who should have been on watch, not only asleep but absolutely coiled up in his blanket most comfortably. My stars! he caught it, and no mistake. I mention no names, but if he ever sees this he will remember the circumstance. After breakfast Mr McKinlay called us all round him, and standing on a small eminence addressed us to the effect that if ever he found any one asleep on his watch, or even sitting down, which was as bad, he should erase that mans name from the list of those receiving pay; and that for the future he would have to work for nothing. It is very hard to keep on your feet two or three hours without resting, after a long march; however, the edict has gone forth, and becomes a law. Began shoeing horses today, as their feet are rather soft, and we shall have to tackle plenty of stony ground on our course. Mr McKinlay and Ned went out on horseback to look after the lost bullock which had been left behind on coming to last camp. They found him with the stifle joint broken, so that we shall jerk him as soon as the sun comes out hotter. Made a stunning currie today for all hands, which was duly appreciated, but the want of salt was a great drawback to arriving at perfection. Middleton unwell again.

Tuesday, 4 March 1862
This morning four men started with as many horses to kill and bring in the lame bullock. The country is very boggy and travelling heavy. Mr McKinlay went out yesterday, after he returned from finding the bullock, to see the state of the flood. He had to swim his horse some distance, the water was still so high, but he found that the creek had gone down nine inches. The last flood (whenever that was) was some seven feet higher than the present one, from the marks left on the stone hills and trees. The high land up here is perfectly infested with wild dogs, but we have plenty of strychnine, and that soon settles them. They are so hungry, or voracious perhaps is the word, that when one of their gang gets poisoned he is quickly torn in pieces by his fellows, and some of them pay the penalty of their repast, and are in turn devoured themselves. Mr McKinlay and Poole rode out to some high stone hills to the east to see from what quarter the creek flowed, but the haze was so great that the journey was of little use. From the stony hills to the west of north there was a perfect sea, nothing but the tops of trees to be seen here and there above the water. . The ground was all but impassable in some places. Some days ago there was not a bird to be seen, but now thousands of cranes, gulls, ducks, etc., are here, and also a few black swans passed over our camp. We have seen very few of these birds up to the present time. The dews at night are very heavy, and you get quite damp on the watch, and those who sleep out in the open air have a wet blanket in the morning. Mosquitoes and sand still very troublesome, the latter blowing into the bread while it is being made, so you grind it up all the time you are eating, which is agreeable in the extreme.

Wednesday, 5 March 1862
Every appearance of a magnificent day, the country beginning to look green, and pretty lilies in profusion in. blossom for hundreds of yards. It is splendid, and the little birds chirping round and about give it quite the appearance of spring. About dinner time the party returned with the bullock, in the shape of beef, in packages, and after dinner we all commenced the work of cutting up and jerking; while doing this an accident happened to Maitland, which might have been worse. One of the men while splitting down the head with an axe and cutting it up for soup, the head of the axe flew of and buried itself in his (Maitland's) knee. He is laid up for a time, so we shall have to cook by turns, he being our chef de cuisine. We got all the meat jerked to night, and if the weather continues as it is it will be first chop. It is very hot indeed today, and I am cook; the sun blisters my back and the fire my belly, and I thought I should have been done before the soup. I must tell you there was no shelter from the sun at the cooking place, it was just on the open sand. There was not a tree on the sand hill that could be called a shade. Jolly, my cooking day is over! This evening we draw lots for tomorrow and consecutive days. Mr McKinlay rather unwell today, and kept his tent.

Thursday, 6 March 1862
Every appearance of a fine day, and the weather appears to have broken. No signs of more rain. Still busy shoeing horses. A very painful touch of rheumatism in my ankle. WyIde takes charge of the pots and kettles and relieves me. (NB. It is a relief.) We are looking forward to some roast beef today, which will be a treat after the jerked mutton.

Friday, 7 March 1862
Wind very changeable, veering all round the compass. All the beef cooked yesterday gone bad, 1 regret to say, so that we must put up with the soup made of the bones, etc. What brutes those camels are for wandering; here they have left good food and are og over stone hills, where there is not a blade of green to be seen, so I had a nice walk after them, and found them going straight a head, one after the other, and returned to a sorry supper of mildewed mutton and damper.

Saturday, 8 March 1862 - Camp VII (Escape Camp).
In camp still. Mr McKinlay calls this Escape Camp. Finishing shoeing horses, and we shall make a start, if all be well, the day after tomorrow. Extraordinary vegetation going on, grass springing up, everywhere, in fact in places where you would think grass could not grow. This country will be beautiful in a short time, with flowers of all descriptions, and creepers, principally of the convolvulus family, are beginning to creep up all the trees along the creek. Innumerable black macaws flying about and discoursing anything but sweet music. Mr McKinlay says, in two or three months time from this date one could, with little difficulty (I am almost certain), start with any description of stock from the northern settled parts of South Australia, and go right across the continent to whatever point he might think fit. The bullock has given us 116 lb of dried meat besides what we have been using 1 lb of sugar to be served out today to each man, as this is the last, except a few pounds which will be preserved in case of sickness; so here goes the first of the stores; after all, what is it, we shall soon drink our tea (as long as that lasts,) without it, and think nothing about it! One of the fellows made all his into to tea, so that was soon done. Offers were made at 5/ per pound for sugar, and no sellers. Had a nice job today to melt up all the extra fat to grease Mr McKinlay's tent, but the sand was flying about so I was obliged to stop; it will make an additional weight of 50 lb for the camels. There was a great game going on in the flat this afternoon, one of the nags could not be caught for two hours; having been without hobbles for some days she had got rather fresh, and at last we lassoed her.

Sunday, 9 March 1862.
We are getting all ready for a start tomorrow; it will be a relief to get out of this disagreeable sandy camp. Middleton still unwell, 'he has not quite got over the shaking he had at No V Camp.

Monday, 10 March 1862.
We start this morning, all being ready for it. The bullocks very refractory at being packed; they don't seem to like it at all. We did not get away till mid day in consequence. Our journey was over stony hills and flats, crossing several small creeks; on the way we crossed the outskirts of a flat, about sixteen miles from Escape Camp, with plenty of water and fine feed. Mr McKinlay arrived at camp some time before we did; lie thought shortly after that the water was gaining on us, or rather that the wind being high it was driving. it up the flat; but no such thing, we were again to be flooded out and had to move the horse gear from where it was and bring it up to the most elevated spot, where all the other things were. The bullocks did not get in till after sunset, and one of them gave an infinity of trouble. Mr McKinlay thinks of leaving him behind rather than be bothered with him. The camels came over the rough stones admirably. Mr McKinlay remarks that they are certainly the best animals for this kind of work. They will eat anything, from a gum tree to the smallest shrub, and then come and lie down by you; whereas horses and bullocks, if a chance offers, will ramble all over the country: with sheep and camels, one could travel over any practicable part of the continent, and keep them in good condition. I am suffering from rheumatism fearfully in one of my legs, from being so long in water and wet clothes.

Tuesday, 11 March 1862.
Where we removed the horse packs from last night is now a perfect sea, and even up to the foot of some of our blankets; one of the men had to shift his quarters during the night, as he found himself getting very cold and wet. We start after breakfast for a gap in the hills, and have to wade through the water for a mile or more before we get to the foot of the sand hills. There are rather high table topped ranges in the distance to the north and south of our course; then to the top of a high red sand hill and across a stony plain, with plenty of feed, thence to another sand hill, from whence there is a perfect sheet of water as far as you could see. Camped on a myall creek, after passing table topped hills right and left; passed a native camp, with the fire still burning, and the tracks quite fresh, but we saw no human being. One of the bullocks did not come into camp to night; knocked up, and charged the men who were with him, so they left him to his fate; he won't hurt, for there is plenty of good feed and water where he is. It is a great pity he should be left, for we want him for food. The cook not recovered yet, so we still do a little in the culinary line by turns. The men with the rest of the bullocks not until late.

Wednesday, 12 March 1862.
Of early this morning; the bullock that was left, never came into camp. We crossed several myall creeks on our course, over stony ground, the flood obliging us to diverge continually, over broken and stony hills and several creeks, to camp on a small creek with a frizzly barked tree growing about it, quite new, no one of us knowing the name; it is a beautiful, finely grained wood, very heavy, and something like rosewood; would make very nice furniture. One of the bullocks dropped down within two hundred yards of the camp, apparently struck by the sun, though it was not very hot today. It looks for rain this afternoon; I hope we shall not get any, for we have had enough, at least for the present. Native smoke seen about five miles to west of north of the opening in the hills. Blew fresh to night, and sent all the rain away. This bullock must be left also, as he cannot get up.

Thursday, 13 March 1862 - Camp X.
We start up the range about four miles, over some very stony country. The main range of hills Mr McKinlay has named Wills Range, after the unfortunate gentleman who lost his life with Burke. After passing this range we went over sand hills and rich pasture, with swamps full of water to east end of sand hills. Thousands of pigeons, ducks and teal. They have commenced laying, and we found several pigeons nests with eggs in, and also some ducks nests; the latter had as many as eight or ten eggs each. Of course we gather up all the contents of the several nidifications for a glorious feed this evening. There are also quail and numerous other smaller birds. To the north east of the camp is a very peculiar hill, with an immense stone on the top, which has been called by the leader Elliotts Knob [A very strange round stone hill capped with larger stone McKinlay's Journal.]. The country was very pretty today, the ground covered with flowers of all colours and tints. One native was seen today on the top of one of the hills, but we could not get within speaking distance. We found today a quantity of the vegetable before alluded to the native name is adley. Several ducks and pigeons eggs found today. Bell and Hodgkinson left camp directly after they came in for the purpose of shooting, and they brought home some ducks and pigeons. One or two new birds were seen today; flies very bad.

Friday, 14 March 1862.
Started early this morning on eastern course, to avoid the flood, and went some miles along stony ridges, then through swamp and water. On our left a small but pretty lake, and a long sandy range on our right; in the distance there is a well watered creek, which seems to supply this small lake. We came to camp on a sand hill close to a claypan, with shallow water. The flood is seen some four miles off to the west of north. There seem to be interminable sand hills ahead. Country today was pretty, with much fine feed for the animals, and the adley in abundance, with its elegant little yellow blossom. The sand hills were covered with various flowers of all colours. The smell of the flowers is delicious, so no one must tell me any more that the flowers of this country have no smell.

Saturday, 15 March 1862 - Camp XII.
Off again, but detained a little, as one of the camels saddles was wrong; it had become broken, and was galling the poor beast; it was soon righted, and we started afresh; passed through some fine country, also some stony and sandy rises, and came to camp in good time, on a fine creek, running nearly north and south. We shall again enjoy the luxury of a bathe here, as we shall stop some days, as we are going to kill a bullock, which will delay us. A splendid range of hills in the distance east and north. This is a very pretty camp, but the mosquitoes are beginning to sing already. Lots of ducks killed today, and some eggs found. Old Ranger killed this evening and will be cut up and jerked tomorrow, and some trouble they had with the old brute; he would not stand to be shot, but took to the water, and had a swim for it, but we got him at last.

Sunday, 16 March 1862.
Oh, goodness I talk of mosquitoes, they were in swarms if I may use the expression, in herds on this creek; every man of us was obliged to have his own fire to keep them away, but it was all of no use, they cared for nothing; they bit you through blankets, sheets, trousers, in fact, anything you had on; they could not have had such a chance before, I should think, and they made the most of it; very little sleep we got. I never saw them so bad except at a place called Maturne, up the Orinoco river, where we had gone to procure bullocks for the Government contractor for beef, and there we had to get into our mosquito nets at 4pm, or we should have been eaten alive; here we had no such luxuries; what little we had was just enough to cover the face, and no more. No end of ducks eggs found about the creek and swamps around. All hands jerking old Ranger, except Poole, who is out with McKinlay on a scout to see the country towards the ranges to the east, some twenty miles from here. We all took it out pretty well this morning, having had so little sleep last night, and the governor did not return last night, so when the cat is away the mice always will play. All hands still at the beef; we have a fine sun, and it will be well jerked. Mr McKinlay and Poole returned this afternoon, tired and hungry, having had very little to eat, and having travelled sixty miles. They brought some curiosities, found in a native whirlie, and saw plenty of emus; they saw also part of a European greatcoat, lined with red flannel, in the whirlie. To whom could that coat have once belonged ? They also saw a head ornament, made of goats hair, which must surely have been taken from one of the goats that Leichhardt had with him on his last trip; mosquitoes still very bad, and the sooner we are out of this the better. Mr McKinlay has called this creek after the old bullock Ranger, killed here. Mr McKinlay saw three natives yesterday, but could not get near to them they were busy gathering various seeds.

Monday, 18 March 1862.
Still at Ranger Creek; two of our fellows went out after eggs, and brought in seventy-six ducks, not a bad find; I should have gone, but I had something else to do; they were made into custards, without milk, boiled, roasted, just as it suited the fancy of the consumer not that it much signified, as we could eat in those days. We were not in bed quite so late this morning, but were roused by Mr McKinlay just before daylight, and we pack everything for an early start to morrow. The beast gave us 162 lb dried meat, and well jerked it is too, and glad I am that we are off first thing.

Tuesday, 19 March 1862.
Up early as usual, just before daylight, and breakfast by the first dawn, and off after the Animals saddled up, after about two hours detention, And started on north of east course, about 14 miles through a magnificent country, the plain alone extending for miles and miles, level as a billiard table, and beautifully grassed. High ranges in the distance, the scent of the flowers as we passed over them was delightful. Sure it is that many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Wednesday, 20 March 1862.
Started this morning at 10am, our course a little north of east, and travelled till we struck a large creek, and then over sand hills and flats, covered with magnificent grasses of every description, many creepers, and the blue convolvulus, also another beautiful small blue flower, with a dark purple eye. It seems quite tropical, and everything has changed these last few days, flowers, shrubs, and weather too. Only about six pods of the blue flowers could be obtained. Plenty of pigeons today, and a few nests were found also with eggs in. A native brought into camp, and decorated with necklaces; he also got a good feed to console him. Mosquitoes worse than at Ranger Creek I really believe.

Thursday, 21 March 1862.
Our journey today was over red sand hills nearly all the way, our course north north east. We had to cross an immense sheet of water. We found eighty ducks eggs. The grass nearly up to the horses knees. Bullocks and sheep not in tonight. Not one of us could sleep tonight; the air was perfectly alive with mosquitoes. Every day we meet with fresh flowers. Distance today sixteen miles, and camped on a plain by the side of a claypan with a little water, and not very good.

Friday, 22 March 1862.
Bullocks not up, so had to spell here, and a fine place too certainly. Two or three of us went out to look after them. The sheep arrived about 8am. Thunder, with a little rain; then the bullocks came up; they had strayed a long way from where they camped the night before; the men were hungry, as they had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. Mr McKinlay took a ride today, to see what sort of country was ahead of us, leaving orders that if the bullocks came in before 12 o'clock, we were to follow his tracks, but as they did not arrive in time, we shall have to stay here another night. Kirby was much knocked up on his arrival; he had been up all night with the sheep, so I relieved him, and he took his sleep out. Looking much for rain, so preparing for it; covering things up with tarpaulin. Mr McKinlay returned in the afternoon. Ned, the bullock driver, reports that when he was after the bullocks this morning, he was stuck up by a lot of niggers; he fired over their heads, and they soon scampered off, leaving him to go his way in peace. Perhaps they thought to have a good breakfast of him, but they were scared by the fire arms.

Saturday, 23 March 1862 - Claypan Camp.
No tree marked here, as there was not one large enough. We travelled seventeen miles today, the first part over sand hills and flooded stony and sandy flats, then crossed a myall creek, afterwards a box and myall one, some ten miles from our starting place, with plenty of water on both sides of the creek; stony flats and undulating ground, well grassed. We camped on a myall creek, after following it down for two miles to where there was plenty of water and good feed; the flood was close on our left for some time after starting. Mr McKinlay called me into his tent at 3am; he could not sleep, and was very anxious to be on the move. After a sorry breakfast of jerked beef soup we started, and glad enough to get out of this. We are allowed only 12 lb of this meat per diem for the party of ten, with 41 lb flour per 2 week. What shall we do when the flour is all gone, and nothing but this jerked stuff? it is very like thick mahogany shavings. We feel almost as hungry after having had our allowances as before, an d it is no use asking for more; for, like Oliver Twist, we should not get it. The feed all along our route today was magnificent. We found a wild cucumber, but it was so bitter that it could not be eaten.

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