Narrative of the various trips and excursions in
connexion with the magnetic survey: Trip III
With the Victorian Exploring Expedition to the Darling,
further to the country between the Murray and the Wimmera
and from thence to Melbourne.
(From 3rd September to 19th December 1860).
The great Victorian Exploring Expedition under R O'Hara Burke had left Melbourne on the 20th August and was now on its way to Swan Hill. Messrs Burke and Wills had been very anxious that I should accompany them some 200 or 300 miles in order to assist in the organisation of systematic observations in the various branches of physical science and astronomy; and as this feeling was also shared by the Exploration committee and the Government, I made arrangements for leaving town at the earliest moment with the intention of joining the Expedition at Swan Hill.
[Monday, 3 September 1860 - Diggers Rest]
Left the observatory on the 3rd of September having previously put up new differential instruments for the use of the survey. Went as far as Diggers Rest where I remained for the night.
[Tuesday, 4 September 1860 - Taradale]
On the following morning I started for Forest Hill (1589), where I arrived by 10 o'clock, but was detained for several hours in consequence of one of my horses having lost a shoe. Reached Taradale (1281) towards evening.
[Wednesday, 5 September 1860 - Lockwood]
On the morning of the 5th passed through Elphinstone (1366), Castlemaine and arrived at Harcourt at the foot of Mount Alexander. The elevation near Talbot Hotel was determined to be 1081 feet, the weather having been very favourable ever since our first start. On account of the terrible state of the roads near the railway now in progress of being made, I was prevented from getting farther than Lockwood for the day. Visited and measured several hills near the place with elevations of 970', 865', 1111'.
[Thursday, 6 September 1860 - Serpentine Inn]
On the 6th we made an early start and passing through Bullock Creek, Woodstock Junction (572) across the basaltic plains arrived the Serpentine Inn (418).
[Friday, 7 September 1860 - Nine Mile Creek]
Soon after having left the Inn on the morning of the 7th, I found out that my horse Jimmy had been pricked in being shod which manifested itself already to such a degree that I had the greatest difficulty in getting the poor fellow along. After a short halt at Durham (328) proceeded towards Kerang, however barely making the Nine-Miles-Creek (308). The night being very stormy and unpleasant we scarcely had any opportunity of attending to the poor horse...
[Saturday, 8 September 1860]
... and in the morning we found he had run away from the camp along with the others, frightened by a thunderstorm. Everything being ready we started for Kerang (246) where we soon found that Jimmy would be unable to go any further: hence I had to try and get along by another horse as far as Swan Hill.
[Sunday, 9 September 1860]
Through the kindness of Mr Stevens, the pound-keeper, my little expedition was soon again put into working order...
[Monday, 10 September 1860 - Swan Hill]
...and on the 10th at 11h am I reached the camp of the Victorian Exploring Expedition near Swan Hill in all safety. Sent immediately back to have the sick horse brought up to this place and as Mr H Forster, superintendant of police, had the great kindness to promise me the loan of another horse and to look after the lame one during my absence with Mr Burke,...
[Tuesday, 11 & Wednesday, 12 September 1860 - Swan Hill]
...I could devote my time to observations and the comparison of instruments which was done during the 11th, 12th and 13th.
[Thursday, 13 September 1860 - Spivoa]
On the latter day everything was prepared for a fresh start, and I followed the Exploring Expedition which had crossed the Murray on the proceeding day and was now camping on New South Wales territory. We came as far as a place called Spivoa close to a fine water-hole and large gum-trees and camped quite near a native camping place. The Blacks certainly were some of the finest and tallest I have yet seen of that race and the good condition on which they apparently were, was probable to some extent owing to the kind treatment they received at the hands of Mr McKenzie of Poonboon and the settlers generally.
Friday, 14 September 1860 - Nine miles north of Kyalite]
On the morning of the 14th we arrived at the latter place [Poon Boon], where two days before the Victorian Exploring Expedition had camped and had likewise an opportunity of availing themselves of the hospitality of Mr McKenzie. Crossed the Wakool near Favora and joined the Exploring Expedition nine miles further on having passed through a country for the most part covered with Mallee scrub (Eucal dumosa) and spinifex (Triodia irritans), the weather being all the while very fine and not too hot, although the wind was from the North.
[Saturday, 15 September 1860 - Balranald]
On the 15th we passed Yanga, near a good sized lake and reached Balranald in the evening, our progress having been rather impeded by the sheets of water through which we had to make our way and which were caused by the inundations of the Murrumbidgee.
[Sunday, 16 September 1860 - Balranald]
The 16th was chiefly employed in revising and comparing the instruments of the Victorian Exploring Expedition; in the afternoon I made magnetic observations extending to a late hour, and at 8.45 pm we saw fine streamers of Aurora Australia in the South-South-West. The elevation of the camp was determined to be 212 feet.
[Monday, 17 September 1860 - Lake Paika]
On the 17th everything was prepared for a start, the weather proving fine and the wind blowing in squalls from the South-West. Mr Burke felt some uncertainty as to the best mode for conveying his stores from this place to the Darling, but determined at last to take on the waggons, thereby saving the strength of the camels. Some of the men who had proved themselves inefficient were discharged and then, all the arrangements being completed, the Expedition made a start, while I myself was yet detained on account of the completion of a set of observations I had to make. Followed the Expedition to lake Paika over a level and sandy country covered with saltbushes and Mallee.
[Tuesday, 18 September 1860 - Tinn]
On the morning of the 18th the weather being very favourable, the Expedition prepared for an early start, whereas I employed the whole morning, for which I had sufficient time in making astronomical and magnetic observations, whereby no delay was caused, as my horses had made off for the Murray and I had to send for them. The station (196) at which these observations were made was situated in a little flat about 11,000 steps from a small hill (208) on the borders of Lake Paika. The country through which we travelled after leaving the lake is very much of the same description, viz. extensive plains with saltbushes and belts of Mallee scrub; the weather was pleasant and cool, the thermometer varying in the course of the day from 54°.5 to 62°.8, and the wind blowing from the North-West. We camped for the night at a place called Tin (222) close to a waterhole. In the evening and the following morning I was engaged with Mr Wills in making observations.
[Wednesday, 19 September 1860 - Tjerikenkom]
The country is perfectly level and our track lay for miles over extensive plains, very much resembling the ocean, the view being limited by the horizon only. It was quite a relief after the monotony of the scenery when we, towards eveining, came upon some scrubby country, the shrubs and trees* (Footnote Hackea, Acacia, Pittosporum, Geranium etc.) being now in full bloom so that we could fancy ourselves almost to be in a fine garden. Pitched our camp at 4pm at a place called by the natives Tjerrikenkom.
[Thursday, 20 September 1860 - Bookoo]
On the 20th, after having made some astronomical and magnetic observations, I started with the Exploring Expedition and passed through a region in which flats alternated with sandhills (338) and Mallee scrub and porcupine with saltbushes, there being now and then some fine groups of Acacia and Quandong trees (Santalacea); reached in the evening a place called Bokoo (330), having scarcely any water near us. During night the temperature fell considerably and was at 2h am 28°.5, and as we had not pitched our tents we met with considerable difficulty in protecting ourselves against the severe effects of radiation.
[Friday, 21 September 1860 - Mungin]
At 10 in the morning we had to cross a low range of hills extending about two miles from N.byE. to S.byW.; the natives called them Prangal or Wrankal (461); reached a good camping place by noon termed Mungin, 180 feet below the summit of the hills, the afternoon and evening being employed in making astronomical and magnetic observations. I was very much pleased by some of the Blacks showing considerable intelligence while explaining to me their way of living and giving me an idea of their language.
The following are a few specimens of words:
star - tingi
sun - nong
moon - bait
cloud - nun, spango
sky - terail
fire - arreng
tree - mann
cart - caruing
white fellow - weifellow, lang
hair - trad
throat - nei
nose - cap
eye - laong
leg - capul
grass - dellum
salt-bush - dolra
night - ran
day - nung
[Saturday, 22 September 1860 - Gowall]
On the 22nd I completed my observations and left soon after midday, the aspect of the country remained nearly the same ever since we left Tjerrikenkom; made a short stage only to a place called Cabul or Gowall (314) as for a distance of 22 miles from this camp there is no water. The atmosphere was very oppressive the whole day, the temperature being occasionally upwards of 70°,...
[Sunday, 23 September 1860]
... but on the morning of the 23rd at six we had only 31°.3, the weather being very fine with heavy dew all night. From this place the country commences gradually to rise, and the soil being of a sandy description caused our movements to be rather slow. When at 9 o'clock we apparently had reached the highest point, I resolved to stop for the purpose of making observations, while the Exploring Expedition proceeded further on its course. About a mile before we reached this spot, we met with a Pinetree in which a cross was cut with an "R" above it, in consequence of which I called the place "Cross" (318). Following the Exploring Expedition in the afternoon I had great difficulty in keeping on its track, eventually losing it and being obliged to force my way through the scrub, which is here exceedingly dense. After dark I had to discontinue my search and camped close to a waterhole, the place being very miserable.
[Monday, 24 September 1860 - Kumpang]
On the 24th I continued my search after the Victorian Exploring Expedition, without being successful however. In forcing my way through the scrub I unfortunately broke the mountain barometer, which was intended to accompany the Expedition and to serve as a standard; at 10 o'clock at last, just as we descended into a little plain, we saw quite in the distance the whole train of the V.E.E., but it was evening before I joined it again when it had already camped near some waterhole called Kumpang (300) by the natives, who are very numerous about here.
[Tuesday, 25 September 1860 - Darling River]
During our journey on the 25th our track became hilly and very sandy so that our horses could scarcely get along, the aspect of the country being anything but cheerful, and the unsettled state of the weather causing us to make very slow progress. It became now quite evident that Mr Burke had acted very wisely in leaving, in the morning, the waggons behind after having part of the luggage and provisions packed on the camels and horses. It was Mr Burke's intention to proceed with the packhorses and some of his camels to the Darling, fix upon a spot for the camp and then return to Kumpang with all available means of transport. My horses were very much knocked up and scarcely able to keep up with the Expedition, fatigue and want beginning to tell severely upon them. Mr Landells killed a beautiful specimen of the carpetsnake (Morelia variegata) just as he crossed a slight ridge of sand; it was 7 feet 2 inches long and at the thickest part 7 3/4 inches round. The weather being very tempestuous we reached after a very fatiguing journey the banks of the Darling at 8h 45m, and camped for the night.
[Wednesday, 26 September 1860 - Bilbarka]
There not being a blade of grass near the camp, Mr Burke determined on the 26th to move 3 miles higher up the river and by 11h we had pitched our camp on a fine spot close to a bend of the river called by the natives "Bilbarka" (188). There was at least so much feed about, that there was no apprehension the horses would take the Darling peas which act so destructively among them.
[Thursday 27 & Friday 28 September 1860 - Bilbarka]
On the 27th and 28th I was engaged in making with Mr Wills astronomical and magnetic observations, the weather being very favourable. During the evening of the latter day I was occupied with Mr Wills in making our final arrangements. Gave him as much advice and assistance as I possibly could for the successful carrying out of his undertaking. Lieutenant Pasco RN, police magistrate at Swan Hill, and I had drawn up some scheme whereby to render assistance to the V.E.E. in case it should succeed in crossing the continent and reaching the shore of the gulf of Carpentaria. The principal part of our conversation during the evening consisted in the discussion of this eventuality; and we also arranged some points whereby to facilitate the discovery of any instructions deposited by the V.E.E. by another party going by ship in the mouth of the Albert River. Messrs. Burke and Wills insisted upon my promising to join such an expedition, should it be undertaken; but it was finally resolved that no step whatever should be taken in the matter unless Mr Burke should make the first move in it, i.e., should, on arriving at Menindee, write to the Government, proposing such an undertaking.
[Saturday, 29 September 1860]
Got up early on the morning of the 29th and took leave of Mr Wills who remained here while Mr Burke and I proceeded back to Kumpang. Wills seemed to be quite cheerful and certain of success.* (Footnote - This was the last time that I ever saw this young man, he having perished, as is well known, on his return to Cooper's Creek. There can be no doubt that, both practically and scientifically, he united all the qualities of an explorer; and that, had he lived, he would eventually have attained an equally high reputation in connexion with science of the Australian continent with that which he has attained in connexion with exploration and the first crossing.)
Mr Burke and I travelled over the old ground on horseback driving eight packhorses before us. My man-servant with a spring-cart followed two hours later; at 3 o'clock we safely arrived at Kumpang and found the camp in a great bustle, preparing for a general advance which was to take place the next morning. At ten in the evening there was a remarkable looking sky, a halo round the moon and every indication that a strong equatorial current prevailed in the upper air.
[Sunday, 30 September 1860]
As the weather was very unsettled in the morning of the thirtieth, I could not make any observations. Mr Burke gave me one of the horses which had been instrumental in getting the waggons through the sandhills and was in a wretched condition, so much so that it was scarcely able to move, and the other horse having a very sore back, my prospects for returning to the Murray were indeed not of a cheerful nature. The recent rains had of course badly affected the grounds over which I had to travel, which certainly would have required that everything should be in first-rate condition; but as no choice now remained for me, I parted from the Exploring Expedition with my best wishes for its welfare and success. On parting Mr Burke asked me to make him a promise that, should he get lost, no one but myself should undertake the search after him. Which promise, so far as its fulfilment depended upon myself, I freely granted.*
(Footnote - When on the 1st July 1861, the unfortunate news of the state of the exploring party arrived at Melbourne, together with the intelligence that Mr Burke had left Copper's Creek on the 17th December 1860, and that since that date nothing had been heard of him and his three companions, the Exploration Committee were summoned to assemble in the Supreme Court for the purpose of devising means for the rescue of the missing party. Dr Macadam, the Honorary Secretary of the Committee had called upon me previously in the morning, in consequence of a request made by His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly to the effect that I should lead a relief party by way of Queensland; and I had promised to give my decision at this meeting. When, therefore, its Chairman, Sir William Stawell put the question to me whether I was prepared to start for the purpose of carrying relief to Mr Burke and his party, I declared myself to be ready at the shortest notice; and in doing so, I may take this opportunity of stating that I was guided solely by my promise previously made to Mr Burke and my anxiety to assist the missing party generally to the best of my ability, and certainly not by any ambitious feeling with respect to myself. I have subsequently shown that not only was the promise made not a vague one, but that I also meant to act in strict accordance with it; and it was only when I perceived the Government, though adopting the plan I had proposed, had decided upon another man to carry it out, that I withdrew, considering that I had fulfilled my promise to Mr Burke so far as it lay in my power to do.)
Soon after having left the campsite we were overtaken by a terrible thunderstorm; we succeeded however in reaching some shelter near an out-station of Mr Scott's; the lightning was quite dazzling and the peals of thunder enough to alarm men and horses. Several trees near by were struck and we passed indeed a most uncomfortable night;
[Monday, 1 October 1860]
...but on the morning of the 1st October the weather had quite cleared up, the wind blowing gently from the North. Made a start upon the old tracks of the waggons of the V.E.E., our progress however was but slow, parts of the plains over which we had to travel were now exceedingly boggy, but on the other hand there was no lack of water. It is strange that with the exception of some ravens, parrots and cockatoos and one native turkey, we had not seen any animals during the whole trip from Lake Paika to the Darling. We tried to reach Gowall, but found it impossible and had to camp for the night in the Mallee with but very little water at hand.
[Tuesday, 2 October 1860]
On the 2nd October we set out early and as the late rains had caused extensive inundations we had to cross sheets of water during the whole morning in the very localities where on our former visit, we had not enough of it for the use of ourselves and the horses. Rain now descending in torrents, caused the ground to be quite boggy so that when passing the plains near Mungin we sank in several places so deeply that we lost hours in extricating ourselves again. Our horses perfectly exhausted and, with the exception of several Blacks who refused to help us, nobody near, this was indeed a difficult task; it was thus impossible to reach a good camping place for the night and our horses had to be without any feed.
[Wednesday, 3 October 1860]
In the morning of the 3rd the weather having considerably improved, we reached Bokoo at an early hour, moreover finding plenty of water and feed; there were now also more frequent signs of the country being enlivened by game, as we noticed several Kangaroo tracks of large size, one of them (hind-foot) actually measuring 7 inches in length. Camped for the night near Gunn, a most lonely place where we were only disturbed in our sleep by the melancholy cry of the curlews.
[Thursday, 4 October 1860]
On the morning of the 4th we passed Tjerrikenkom and a native camp. By this time our provisions ran very short, particularly did we feel for want of meat; here however, we were fortunate enough to procure some. Our horses were thoroughly knocked up by heat, fatigue and want of food; at times we were stopped right in the middle of sheets of water, and it was a pity to be compelled to drive the horses forward as I could see it was not want of will, but sheer exhaustion that brought them to a stand-still. At last we reached our old camp near Tin.
[Friday, 5 October 1860]
On the 5th we had some delay in finding our horses in the morning as they had already made off for the Murray, but after another day's hard work we reached Lake Paika, saw on the road several Kangaroos and wallabies and near the lake plenty of pelicans and black swans. The plains show in many places ridges of decomposed lime-stone forming what the colonists are used to call “cow-soil”.
[Saturday, 6 October 1860]
On the morning of the 6th we reached Balranald, a strong hot wind blowing from the North; resolved to stay here for the day in order to afford our horses and opportunity of picking up a little; the day was spent in putting our things in order and...
[Sunday, 7 October 1860]
... on the morning of the 7th we at once prepared for crossing the Murrumbidgee. The aspect of the country was now quite different from what it was on our first visit. The water in the Murrumbidgee being exceedingly high caused the country to be flooded, so that the punt was now useless and it became with me a question as to the best mode in which I should cross the river. I managed, however, by the aid of a rope and a barrel to swim my cart safely across, while instruments and provisions were carried over in canoes; some men with a mob of cattle numbering at least two thousand head were not so fortunate, as in the attempt they lost their fine American wagon which it was impossible to recover notwithstanding the frequent divings of the natives. The country between the Murrumbidgee and the Wakool was covered with sheets of water through which we often had to wade, the water reaching to the horses' bellies.
[Monday, 8 October 1860]
This was not a very easy task on account of the reduced state of the horse; we managed, however to get to Favora on the 8th at 11h am., but it was out of the question to proceed any further. The temperature of the Wakool was now 63°.0, while that of the Murrumbidgee was 66°.4.
I may here insert a few remarks respecting some customs of the natives of this part of the country. Whenever one of their number dies a natural death, they firmly believe that his death is caused by another man, and that this man has to be killed; and the only difficulty now consists in finding the malefactor. Early in the morning they go out to the burial place, and seem under the belief that there they receive the information as to the direction they must go in order to meet with him. The first they encounter is to be killed. They seem to have great affection for their relatives; and women have to carry their dead babies on their backs until another baby of their tribe dies. The Blacks between the Murrumbidgee and the Wakool are far stronger and finer men; even the Lubras are far better-looking, than any I have seen in other parts of the country.
[Tuesday, 9 October 1860]
On the 9th towards midday we arrived at Poonboon near lake Bungunyah, our horses now being fairly knocked up. Mr McKenzie, who was very much surprised at my having succeeded in reaching this place with the horses in such a condition, kindly offered to let me have the loan of two to Swanhill, which offer I was but too happy to accept. Employed the afternoon in making observations and taking a sketch of the place.
[Wednesday, 10 October 1860]
On the 10th engaged during the whole morning in making observations. Started at about 10h am., and having now fresh horses, arrived at Swanhill towards evening. My own horses, walking at a slow pace, arrived some hours later.
[Thursday, 11 October 1860]
On the 11th I found that my horse Jimmy which I had left here on account of his lame foot had completely recovered, and was now in fair condition to accompany me on a new trip towards the West; and as I intended to return to Melbourne by the coach, and expected to be detained there for a week or so, I hoped that the little chestnut would also have picked up sufficiently to be able to serve me. During the whole day I was engaged in examining the instruments, provisions and other baggage. Gave the servant also instructions as to his occupation during the time of my absence.
[Friday, 12 October 1860]
On the 12th started in the morning by the mail and stayed for the night at the Durham Ox Inn.
[Saturday, 13 October 1860]
Arrived in Melbourne on the 13th towards evening and found there great anxiety prevailing respecting the Exploring Expedition, for rumours had already had already spread that everything was not going on all right, the principal cause of these being the dissatisfied men who had been discharged by Mr Burke at Balranald.
[Saturday 13 - Sunday 21 October 1860]
During the time between the 13th and 21st I stayed at Melbourne and took an opportunity one evening of rendering an account of the proceedings of the Exploring Expedition as far as I had accompanied it. The public took a great interest in the matter, as the crowded state of the meeting and the close attention of the audience seemed to testify. Some of the men who had been discharged by Mr Burke at Balranald intended to question me on this occasion with reference to the reason of their discharge, a request which I could not comply with, as I was in no way officially connected with Mr Burke's proceedings. In the course of my remarks, I mentioned that Mr Burke acted very wisely in pushing through the waterless country between the Murrumbidgee and the Darling, being aware of the short rainy season which generally sets in early in spring. Fort it is certain that had he not succeeded in getting to the Darling prior to the heavy rains we should for weeks not have been able to get our wagons across, a conviction at which I arrived from the fact that I could scarcely bring my light spring-cart back again. This remark of mine was somehow misinterpreted, as if I had referred to the happy selection of the season for starting* (Footnote – It is well known the Mr Selwyn and I objected to the Cooper's Creek route and proposed to start from Port Augusta, mainly on account of the advanced season.) generally, whereas I only meant to imply that under the circumstances, Mr Burke did the best he could.