Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
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November 1861

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

Friday, 1 November 1861.
Our old native friend came into camp today quite unexpectedly; he did not know how he would be received, but being a useful fellow, Mr McKinlay spoke to him in rather a jocular way, and he was himself again very shortly. A westerly wind today, and very cold; we thought perhaps Mr Bullenjani would be up to some of his sly tricks, and be only a spy to see if he could catch us napping, but if he did come with malice aforethought, he was done, as the watch has strict orders to note all the movements of this chap.

Saturday, 2 November 1861.
Mr McKinlay left us today for a short time, and went out on horseback to see if he could make out any water to the east or west of our present position. He came on a fine creek northwest. Mr Bullenjani left us again today, with promises to be back again tomorrow; we shall see if he keeps his word. On Mr McKinlay's return he reported having seen fresh tracks of natives within 300 or 400 yards of our camp, showing that there had been something in the wind with the sable gentry; the good watch kept over our ally, however, prevented his giving the signal for attack, which I now think they had thought feasible. Had such a thing occurred, I fear they would have had to sing the darkeys lament, for our little Terry's breech loaders would have told on them, and many would have been food for the crows. Mr McKinlay found on his travels today some horse dung, very old, some little distance from our camp. Who has been here with horses? And one of our fellows, the cook, getting wood, found a bottle strap very old and rotten. No signs however, of any camp of white men here.

Tuesday, 5 November 1861.
Guy's [Fawkes] day in the wilds of Australia! How we talked of what would be done at home, of rockets, crackers, and pocketfuls of squibs; and visions of Vauxhall and Cremorne appeared to our mental vision, an agreeable relief to the eternal gum trees. Many natives visited us today, all having their front teeth knocked out. Two of our men shot twelve birds, ducks and waterfowls. The natives who came over had an invitation from our chief to dine, which they accepted with seeming pleasure, and did ample justice to roast mutton, damper and blood pudding. The blood of every sheep was caught and made into a pudding with rice, pepper and salt, and very good they are; it is also used by us to put into the soup, it thickens it and gives it a good colour.

Wednesday, 6 November 1861.
Fearfully dull today; nothing doing after 8 am, worse than a soldier's life in barracks, there you can get books from the regimental library. Mr McKinlay has a few books, such as the Travels of Leichhardt and Stokes' Discoveries in the Rattlesnake. We had also a few pictorial newspapers; had we the courage perhaps we might have been able to put up a small library, but as it is we are all thrown on our own resources. Wind east. Out after ducks this afternoon, but could not get near them. We all weighed ourselves, having nothing better to do, and found that most of us had lost considerably. Mr McKinlay lost two stones, Davis twenty pounds, Kirby sixteen pounds, Wylde eight pounds, Middleton four pounds, but strange to say the bullock driver had gained four pounds; perhaps this may be accounted for by his having done the duty of cook for some time, as cooks generally do get fat; and another thing, he had been on the roads for years, and was able to stand the hard life we were leading.

Thursday, 7 November 1861.
Today we got up a revolver match, Poole v. Middleton, distance fifty yards, Mr McKinlay umpire, who did all in his power to keep us employed, lending us his books and getting up rifle matches to pass the time pleasantly, keeping away blue devils; three shots each this match at 10/ a shot. The shooting would pass muster, but Middleton proving himself the best man, Poole was not satisfied, but challenged him to a second contest, when Middleton again was the winner; when Mr McKinlay took his revolver, and put all three bullets within an inch of the bull's eye, clearly showing that he was the best shot of the lot, and he commenced chaffing Middleton and Poole until they were glad when the cook called out Supper. No sport today, nothing shot. Every appearance of rain.

Friday, 8 November 1861.
Mr McKinlay left us this morning to look at the country to the east. We were visited during his absence by a lot of natives, old friends from Lake Siva; did not let them come into the camp, but, gave them a fire stick to make their own fire some 300 yards away. One or two got talking to them by signs, for it is impossible for us to understand a word they say, nor could they understand us. We surprised them much with a revolver, firing of the six barrels one after another as fast as possible. They looked at it when offered them, but would not touch it; what they thought of it of course we could not tell, but they talked very fast among themselves, and by their actions seemed to look upon the pistol as a wonderful machine. It reminded me of some of the hill tribes in India, who for the first time saw a steam engine at work, and after they had danced round the place for some time, they fell down and worshipped it.

Saturday, 9 November 1861.
Many natives coming about our camp and very friendly with our black fellow, who is taking care of the sheep on the other side of the lake. Mr McKinlay returned today very much knocked up, having had no water or food since he left (twenty four hours); his horse failed him, and I certainly never saw one so done up and so fallen away in so short a time. He was seventeen hands high, and from his appearance you would have imagined he would have held out much longer. Mr McKinlay was looking very ill, his cheeks hollow, and his eyes sunk; he turned in after some breakfast, and drinking citric acid and water. He suffers also from a slight attack of dysentery. Weather very hot and disagreeable. Got two new natives to go to Cooper's Creek.

Sunday, 10 November 1861.
Mr McKinlay very unwell today; however, there is plenty of medicine. Some of us also suffering from sore eyes, caused by those pests of Australia, the flies. We jerked some mutton yesterday, that is cut it in strips and dried it in the sun, and it is very nice; we tasted it today at dinner; it reminds one of the Tasso of the Orinoco prepared from beef, only it is well rubbed with salt before drying. A day of rest today. Our native ally seems very comfortable; he requested leave to go for a net to the lake, and promised to return shortly.

Monday, 11 November 1861.
Fearfully hot; thermometer 135° Mr McKinlay still continues very unwell. It is so very hot in the sun that most of the animals are in the lake, some even rolling in the water. Mr McKinlay rather worse today.

Tuesday, 12 November 1861.
The wind very high last night, and nearly sent the tents all flying again. Mr McKinlay still very unwell, but rather better. The flies bother the animals very much, and what with them and the excessive heat, they are falling off visibly. Obliged to throw away all the remainder of the sausages, and very sorry we are. We boiled them, fried them, and tried them in rolls, but they were too bad; so we put them in a hole by the side of the lake. The bacon we got from Mr Poole is first rate; pity there is only such a little, as it is a good standby; and fancy bringing all the sausages this long way only to bury them!

Wednesday, 13 November 1861.
Weather quite cool and pleasant today, and in the afternoon cold. Quite glad to get into the blankets when on guard at midnight. Beautiful night; sky without a cloud. Still at Lake Buchanan, with little or nothing to occupy the mind. Mr McKinlay gradually getting better. Very cold; blue shirts over Crimean. Flies still teasing animals. Bullocks looking better than the horses; feed round this lake splendid.

Thursday, 14 November 1861.
Thermometer at 5 am only 54°. Fine weather lately; rather cold in the night watch. Greatcoats in request. It is rather dreary, that two hours; nothing to be heard but curlews and wild dogs, and your own measured tread. And then in fancy you go home to scenes never to be enacted again, and conjure up happy faces never to be seen any more, and old associations till you get lost in thought, and so the night slips, or rather glides, away, till I rouse my relief and let him take a spell. But enough of this, and I should not have written it, only that it is very hot, and I am in a queer temper.

Friday, 15 November 1861.
Our native friend, with two women, came into camp today, and brought another male native; very friendly. They got their dinners, and slept at the camp – rather cold, I should think, as neither man nor woman had the slightest covering; the men, perhaps, with a belt of hair plaited round their waists. These are from Lake Perigundi, or Lake Siva. This new chap has a most hang dog look about him; the other native is not so bad looking. The ladies, of course, quite nude. If they went as the Turkish women do, faces and all covered, it would be an improvement. One of them, say sixteen; the other quite a girl, scarcely twelve years old. I dare say, as they have their lubras with them, that the men may remain in camp some time.

Saturday, 16 November 1861.
At daylight the thermometer was 63° at 2 pm it was up to 140°; heat intense; no breeze. Some natives fishing this afternoon on the opposite side of the lake. One is with us, making a net of the rushes that abound round us. They use no mesh, but the, first two fingers of their left hand answer the purpose, and they make a neat, tidy net.

Sunday, 17 November 1861.
Quite calm this morning. Read aloud Galton's Art of Travel. The thermometer at noon was 130°; at 12.20 it was up to 164°. The heat was so great we could do nothing. We tried to sleep, but the flies prevented our burying our troubles in that way. Everything was hot, the water in the lake even. I think it was about the worst day any poor devils ever spent. A number of natives on the other side of the lake. Frank, our nigger, got a story out of Mr Bullenjani, that there was only one white man killed at Kadhiberri. He says that four fellows came there with camels and horses, and attacked the blacks first; that several were killed and wounded, but only one white, and he was buried by his comrades, who then went away in the direction of Cooper's Creek; that afterwards the natives dug him up, and eat the sinewy part of his legs and arms, and then reburied him, but not in the same grave. This seems a true tale, as Mr McKinlay only found one skull, and that had old marks of sabre cuts. This, in all probability, is Grey, who is reported to have died, in Burke's journal, on his way down; but there is no mention of any encounter with the natives; he seems silent on this point. There must, however, have been a scrimmage there some time or other, as a smashed tin pot was found, some empty Eley cartridges, and also some Terry rifle cartridges, empty too; so I don't think there can be much doubt on the subject after these indications of a fight.

Monday, 18 November 1861.
This day opened fine, with very little wind; the highest temperature 160° in the sun. We are anxiously expecting the detachment from. Blanchewater. Any quantity of natives on the opposite side of the lake. We read today poor Wills' journal or rather, that part of it up to Cooper's Creek; also Wright's journal, the officer Mr Burke left in charge at a place called Bulla. They were interesting to us, we being one of the relief parties sent out in search of Burke. Let us hope we may succeed better. At all events, we have every confidence in our leader; for it is a well admitted fact that the colonies cannot produce a better, if as good a bushman as McKinlay, and having been here so long, he is up to all the dodges of the natives, and knows their general character well. The Government could not have found a better man; in fact, for a wonder, it was the right man in the right place.

Tuesday, 19 November 1861.
The weather still hot, with fine southeast breeze. Thunder and lightning to the north west; looks as if there was rain in that quarter.

Wednesday, 20 November 1861.
Last night the heat was insufferable; most of us forsook the tent and took our blankets into the open air, which was an improvement. Rain brewing all round. Some heavy drops falling. To the west and north it seems to be raining heavily. Thermometer, 6am 86°; wind strong; perhaps when it lulls we may have some rain. The wind is hot as if it came out of a furnace. Our Blanchewater fellows ought to be close at hand, as they have now been away some twenty-four days. Very boisterous indeed looks like rain. The wind was so high today that it actually drove back the water in the lake some five or six hundred yards. We could not make out what was up at first, when we discovered the water receding so fast from our camp. It looked very curious.

Thursday, 21 November 1861.
This morning calm and sultry, and no rain to disturb us last night, but the sentry in the middle watch called us, as he was afraid the wind would take the tents away again. We were all soon out, but the tents were too well pegged down, and we turned in, all standing in case we might be wanted in a hurry. The water in the lake has returned to its old mark. Thermometer at daylight 85°. Mr McKinlay got a long yarn out of a native who came into camp yesterday, about Burke and his companions. He seems to have been up to Cooper's Creek with him, or followed him, as he tells McKinlay every water they passed, and every place they halted at. They had been seen by this fellow gathering the ardoo (or as Burke calls it nardoo), grinding it and preparing it for food; also baking it in the ashes as we do the damper. The seed is procured in almost any quantities in the flooded flats, by sweeping it up into heaps. When cooked it is not very nice, leaving a nasty sensation in the throat; but it will sustain life for a long time. We had a visit from the natives today, some from the north west, and others from west northwest, from about the Stony Desert, as they speak of nothing but stones in that quarter. Mr McKinlay distributed to them necklaces of glass beads; to one set he gave white beads, to the others necklaces of different colours, so as to distinguish one tribe from another. He also showed them some papier-mâché figures of Tom Sayers, Uncle Tom, monkeys, etc. with which they were highly delighted; and when the strings were pulled, and the legs and arms set in motion, nothing could exceed their astonishment: it was quite childish. Several of the men had their hair and beard dyed red, and the hair of the head was all brought up to the top and tied in a knot quite on the very top. To see Mr McKinlay with his white hair blowing from under his Scotch cap, surrounded by some 150 niggers men, women, and children of all ages with some of us hovering round with rifles all ready in case of a rise was quite a pretty picture. The expression of the faces, and the positions they were in, was very pleasing. Had we brought a photographic machine to have taken their likenesses, it would have been first rate; but, alas, no such thing was thought of till it was too late. Mr McKinlay and all of us often regretted that we had not brought one. Some of these men are very like those at Aden, with their red heads and beards, whom I dare say many of my readers may have seen on the overland trip to India or the colonies, as the steamer lies coaling in Aden harbour, diving for coins that the passengers throw over the side into the water, so clear that they often catch the sixpence before it gets to the bottom. A great many of these birds of the wilds had only one eye, and many also at the time they came to see us were suffering from ophthalmia or some other disease of the eye. Some were awful looking rascals, as if nothing were too hot or too heavy for them. The majority, however, were fine looking fellows, jolly, sleek, and healthy; and had they only known their strength, I fear we poor fellows would have come off second best. They don't seem to understand the proverb about unity. I suspect the little shindy at Kadhiberri gave them a wholesome dread of Mr McKinlay and party. They won't forget us in a hurry in that quarter. These chaps are easily managed, and Mr McKinlay knows how to do it. The heat very great today, no air to speak of, looks like rain, only I fear it will blow over as before. The Blanchewater party not in yet. Mr McKinlay very anxious about them. They could not have been able to get the quantity of provisions there, and must have gone down lower to Mr Jacob's station for the stores required, or they would have been back by this time. A circumstance happened today which put us all in the qui vive. Mr Bullenjani bolted of all of a sudden, and the other niggers would have gone but we saw him in time and collared him, and kept him in conversation till dark, and then watched him. Why he started we could not make out. Towards dark a lot of lubras and children crossed the lake and came into our camp, as if there was something very formidable up with them, but Mr McKinlay made them go back where they came from. They were evidently in a great fright about something, but what it was we could not find out.

Friday, 22 November 1861.
Many native watch fires on other side of lake, and last night we had to keep a bright look out on our watches, as something uncommon was certainly stirring. We all slept with our arms by our side, and some slept in their clothes, ready to turn out at a moment's warning; and knowing that there were two or three hundred natives camped on the other side of the lake, it looked like an attack. We all expected it, and I don't think anything would have pleased some of us better than to have had a brush if they. meant mischief, though five or six whites to that mob of natives. I should like to have known what really was in the wind. Our native bolting first, then all the women and children coming up to our camp for protection. We tried to fathom it, but, alas, it was no use. They could not understand us, and we, on the other hand, could not make out what they were talking about, so we were obliged to give it up as hopeless. No Blanchewater detachment yet, McKinlay very uneasy about them, though he does not say much.

Saturday, 23 November 1861.
Fine and cool today, the highest temperature 94°, every appearance of rain, clouds heavy and low, and the wind rising. There was rather a row today between two of our fellows, all about a whip. It was thought there would have been a stand up fight, the odds being about three to one on the little one; but they both thought that discretion was the better part of valour, and let it alone after a good deal of wrangling. I should not have mentioned this incident were it not that I can add that this was the only serious row during the whole of our wanderings except one that occurred at a place called Broadsound, on the East Coast. This speaks a great deal for the morale of the party. I think that considering all things, and that not one of us knew a single mate till we met at the place of enlistment. I might say Mr McKinlay could not have had a much better selection. At all events he has expressed himself in almost the same terms, and therefore I suppose it is a fact. More natives down today. McKinlay held a levee, and presented certain individuals not exactly with the Cross of the Legion of Honour but what they valued perhaps more, some necklaces. They are simple beings indeed, and I believe would, if well treated, be docile and tractable. There is a great feeling against them. I do not like them, in fact I was going to say that I hate any black after the horrible atrocities and massacres in India, and having been present one almost takes a dislike to the whole of the black family; and even here there have been several horrible murders committed by the natives; but perhaps they were occasioned by some aggression on the part of the whites at some time or other, and the law of reprisals here is not well defined, revenge being their motto.

Sunday, 24 November 1861.
We are out now 102 days, but the time has slipped away quickly and pleasantly, and we are all in good health here at the depot camp, Lake Buchanan, and we hope that our absent men are as well and hearty. They ought to be with us now with the extra rations. Today we had nothing to do but the usual routine, seeing all the animals right and safe. The weather cool and fine, the thermometer only 84° in the shade.

Monday, 25 November 1861.
Fine cool breeze from south south east. All hands mending boots, clothes, etc. Some one or two went out with McKinlay after ducks, and shot a few a great treat, as we had lived on mutton only so long. Anything for a change. After dinner we turned into washerwomen a transformation none of us like.

Tuesday, 26 November 1861.
There is not much doing in a camp like this. Unless the niggers attack us, or some other game of the same harmless nature occurs, there is hardly anything to put down in a journal; in fact, in McKinlay's there is nothing save the state of the weather and the range of the thermometer. The wind from south east and beautifully cool, which, as you may imagine, dear reader, is a luxury in an Australian summer. Highest range of thermometer today, 120°.

Wednesday, 27 November 1861.
McKinlay gone out today to the eastward on horseback passed a lake with not much water in it; passed a dry one, Pal-coor-a-ganny, with very fine feed in it, consisting of clover and various grasses. There is a well here dug by the natives, about twelve feet deep. East of the lake there is also a small encampment of blacks close to us. Before leaving McKinlay started us to dig a well, although there is a fine lake within thirty yards of our tents. What in the world he wants with a well no one knows, unless it is to keep us from brooding over our cares, and just keep the cerulean imps away. Nothing like active employment to do that. We of course commented on the propriety of working like navvies, and apparently for nothing, in a temperature of 117° in the sun, and we came to the conclusion that it was insanity, or bordering close on it, while so many black chaps were to be had for a stick or two of tobacco. So we set them to work ; they did it well, too, and struck water at about nine to ten feet. Then we went to work, and finished the job, and most beautiful water it was, clear as crystal, and splendidly cool. This water was so hard that the soap would not lather, but floated on the top. On Mr McKinlay's return he had a bucket poured over his head, and it made his hair stand up as stiff as wire, and he was obliged to send to the lake for some, which is very soft indeed, to wash it, before he could get it into its usual state. It was, however, first rate for drinking, as we could always get it cold. McKinlay returned about 6.30 pm, and was glad we had found it. The well is to be deepened to morrow, and made larger altogether. No rest for the wicked, Ora pro nobis. Very uneasy, all of us, about Blanchewater detachment.

Thursday, 28 November 1861.
At daylight set to work after breakfast at the well; had to do all the work ourselves, governor being in camp; wished him away. We set to, however, with a will, and soon accomplished the feat, making it full ten feet deep, and about three times the size, the water rising from south east corner, and almost too fast for us to bale out and work too. The soil through which we dug before obtaining water was partly a mixture of light coloured yellow clay and sand, next three and a half feet gypsum and blue clay, and at the bottom fine sand, through which the water pours in from all sides now it is finished.

Friday, 29 November 1861.
News this morning at daylight of the Blanchewater detachment brought in by some blacks. They were at a creek called Karadinti. They arrived at 9.30, all well, and we were very happy to see them; they brought us news that Howitt and party had found the remains of Burke and Wills at Cooper's Creek; also that they had found the only survivor of that ill fated expedition [King] living with blacks on Cooper's Creek. There is no necessity to mention here what they told us on their return, or what we read in the Adelaide newspapers they brought us; the circumstances are now so well known. It certainly was a most unfortunate expedition, equaled only by poor Kennedy's. Where is Gray? He must be the poor fellow whose bones were found at Lake Massacre; but then how are the different coloured hairs to be accounted for? Perhaps the mystery will be cleared up when King gets to Melbourne, or when Burke's journal is published. Jack, the black fellow who went with the detachment to Blanchewater, has bolted, not much liking the service. He was an obliging fellow and good natured. Instead of him they have brought a white man from Mr Jacob's station, to act as cook. Of him more anon.

Saturday, 30 November 1861.
Highest temperature today 120°, wind this morning south south east. Mr McKinlay and party, composed of Middleton, Poole, and two natives, preparing to start for Cooper's Creek, and to look at some water reported to the southeast. I wonder where we shall be off to, now that the fate of the Melbourne explorers has been determined. I hope the governor will go to the Gulf of Carpentaria, that is, if he can do so without leaving behind him half his crew; although, perhaps, if he does, the difficulties and dangers passed will be thought little of should he fail, even if he leaves his bones and those of most of us in this hitherto unexplored country. Should any return, they will doubtless get all the glory of the exploit; at least, so it is with the world generally. Eighteen inches of water in well; temperature only 99° at noon. Poor Burke and Wills. It is sad to think that those intrepid fellows should have been the first to cross this great continent, the vast deserts of the interior, and supposed to have arrived within almost a cooev of the settled districts, to have only arrived at their depot some few hours after the depot party had left there, under Mr Brahe who remained there until he could do so no longer from the illness of his men, and to have there laid down and died; it was hard just as they had the laurel wreath almost within their grasp, and that so hardly won. I can fancy these poor fellows, after digging, finding the note stating that Brahe had only left that morning. It must have been a fearful disappointment to them; fancy, reader, just place yourself in their situation, seeing the date of that note after arriving from such an expedition, weary and faint with hunger and exhaustion, clothes in rags and perhaps hardly a boot to your foot; fancy, I say, arriving a few hours after your friends had gone, who you fully expected would be there to give you help and succour, and finding yourself too feeble to follow in their track. They, as it afterwards turned out, were only fourteen miles away.

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