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December 1861

The Age [Melbourne]
Thursday 10 April 1862: 7. 'The Exploration Despatches'


Sunday, 1 December 1861. [Camp 55, Leichhardt River]
To-day has been an annoying day. I first went five miles WbyN to some sandstone cliffs, descended from them WSW one mile to a saltwater creek, which we had to run up ESE for nearly four miles, and the last corner took us E. to complete the four miles, so that we have come back parallel to our course. We now found some small holes of fresh water having crossed this, we went W. by N. three miles, and W.N.W. one mile, when we at last pulled up the Leichhardt River ; the water as salt as brine. We ran it up SSE by compass for eight miles ; passed by a black fishing at what looked like a ford, just above the junction with a creek, which I take to be that of Gregory's camp, 3rd September. The black never saw us. There was now a good crossing-place, but as Jingle signalised there was fresh water in a creek at the back of a plain about one mile EbyS, I went to it and camped. My men shot two ducks in the river, and a couple of blacks were watching them a little lower down the river. After dinner, or a make-shift for one, my men went over towards the river, in hopes of getting some ducks ; but as they were crossing the plain they saw two mobs of blacks approaching. As their appearance looked hostile, they returned to camp. I directed Mr. Macalister, Mr. Haughton, Patrick, Jingle, Rodney, and Coreen Jemmy, to get some horses saddled. In the meanwhile Jemmy Cargara mounted a tree, to observe the movements of the blacks. He reported that they were stretching out in a half moon, in three parties. This move, which my men term stockyarding, is, I believe, peculiar to blacks throwing spears with a woomera, the object being to concentrate a shower of spears. It was one long familiar to me, and I directed Mr. Macalister to charge their left wing. The result was that the circular line doubled up, the blacks turned and fled. Their right wing, which was, I think, the strongest mob, got over the river, and were off; but their centre and left wing suffered a heavy loss.

Monday, 2 December 1861. [Camp 56, Millar Creek?]
A mare of Patrick's has been bleeding from a vein on the back all night and is nearly done. I succeeded in stopping the bleeding with a plaster of strong blue clay and she is recovering. Rodney found in a black's camp a sailor's jumper and an empty cognac bottle. The Hotham has perhaps been up the Leichhardt, which is a fine river. The men (black) have all gone to the river to shoot ducks, for I cannot cross over until low water, which will be about 2 p.m. In the afternoon we crossed the river, and all were safe across at 3.15 p.m. Four blacks had a parley with us at a respectful distance: strange to say, they spoke a language resembling Rodney's, which is that spoken at Deniliquin, on the Edward River. He was able to gather from them that they had seen a large party of whites on the Albert River; that they had got some flour from them, and that they fired off many guns. I now went to Gregorys Creek, of 3rd September, and there camped reaching it in four hours.

Tuesday, 3 December 1861 [Camp 57, Albert River]
Went WNW 22 miles to the Albert River; found plenty of grass and the water fresh, but with a suspicion of salt, more decided when the tide rose; we had crossed an alternate succession of plains and flooded box flats, with small watercourses. This morning was very sultry, but the last 8 miles were pleasant, a thunder-storm having crossed a little to the north and cooled the air. I left six horses here to spell. We had some trouble in finding a suitable place to water the horses, and that which we did find was by no means good. One horse got bogged, and would make no effort to relieve himself. We had to pull him out by main strength; marked a tree FW. Gun heard down the river at 8.7 p.m.

Thursday, 5 December 1861. [Camp 58, Albert River]
Some trees marked Victoria and V.Q.N.E, were seen this morning. I directed Mr Macalister to proceed higher up, and pick a camp with a good watering place. Jingle and I proceeded down the river, to reconnoitre; five miles below our camp I found a tree marked with a chisel Victoria Four Dep. 8 miles miles lower down I saw some trees outside of saltwater inlet, one marked V, and the others broad arrow merely common marked trees ; about 4 miles further I saw a smoke, but failed in reaching it, on account of the tide-waters. I went round them, and upon higher ground found some pools of fresh water. About 4 miles further I reached a saltwater inlet, and here I saw some blacks. We now returned towards the camp, but had not got more than 2 miles when we found the blacks were cutting us off from the river; unluckily Jingle's horse gave in, and we were in a dangerous predicament, the more so as Jingle now told me he had only two cartridges. I thought we were lost; but we managed to reach a belt of timber, and there Jingle abandoned his horse, and proceeded on foot at a great rate for two hours; I had to put my horse to a canter every now and then to pull him up. Got up a tree, and could see no more signs of our enemy, whom I had last seen giving chase across tho plains. We had been thiown out of our course a great deal, and I relieved Jingle every now and then by walking and letting him ride my horse, and the noble animal, although evidently distressed, bought us about 8.30 to the river, or rather creek, for river it was no more. I saw now we must be above our camp, and had come 17 or 18 miles since we saw the blacks trying to cut us off. We were now, however, safe, for the creek was as good to us as a rifle pit, and my revolver would have disposed of some, besides our two guns. I turned my faithful horse out, and we descended into the bed of the creek, which was here dry, and followed it down, climbing and tumbling over the numerous fallen trees, until we reached a pool of water. Here, having refreshed ourselves, we lay down and were soon fast asleep; but the cold night awoke us frequently; we were both completely knocked up, but I was very grateful for our providential escape.

Thursday, 5 December 1861. [Camp 58, Albert River]
At daybreak Jingle and I were off on foot, and in three miles we heard voices which, to our great joy, we recognised. Jingle fired off his gun ; it was at once responded to, and we arrived safe at the camp. Two of the men went up, and fetched my horse, saddle, and bridle. Mr. Macalister had found Gregory's marked tree, and also a bottle under ground, near a tree, marked by Captain Norman, with directions to dig. The bottle contained a note, stating the depot of the Victoria was about twelve miles lower down on the left bank. We now having saddled up, went up the creek until we could cross it, just above where I had slept last night. We then went N.W. by W. in three and a half miles to Beame's Brook. Some delay took place, owing to the creek being boggy, and I was glad to camp as soon as we had crossed, for I was unwell from yesterday'sanxiety and fatigue. A bit of an opossum, however, much revived me; and having had a sleep and a bath I felt much renovated. Poor Jingle is also much fatigued. He looked yesterday fearfully anxious, and begged of me not to leave him. I told him that if he was killed, I would be too; and the poor fellow was more full of hope. The tracks of the Queensland horses were seen here; and as Captain Norman's note is dated 20th November, there is now good hope of our meeting to-morrow.

Friday, 6 December 1861. [Camp 59, Albert River]
Proceeded ENE about 16 miles; but have to camp, in order to make all safe before the storm, now breaking over us, comes with too much force. Night dismal, but the sound of a cannon within two or three miles was a comfort, and produced loud cheers.

Saturday, 7 December 1861. [Albert River Depot]
In two miles, through a pelting hurricane of rain, reached the depot; and had the pleasure of shaking hands with Captain Norman.

FREDERICK WALKER, Leader of the Expedition.

I hereby certify that I have been in the constant habit of reading the above journal; that it was frequently referred to me, in order that I might supply any omissions; and that it is correct in every respect.
DANIEL MACALISTER, Second in Command.

(No. 10.)

H.M.S. Victoria, Dec. 10, 1861.

Sir, In handing over to you a copy of my journal, and a tracing of my map, I have deemed it advisable to supply you with a few notes relative to what had been my original plan, and the course I wish now to follow out, with your approbation.

In the first place, if Mr. Burke had attempted to make east, the more west my party went the greater was the probability of my crossing his tracks. From my journal and map, you will perceive that I went as much west as was consistent with the safety of my party, and as soon as I became aware of the system of the Barkly River watershed, I went a whole degree more west than I had intended when I wrote to Captain Mayne; and also to you, in a letter left by me with our mutual friend Captain Hunter, of Rockhampton, but which you, of course, did not receive.

In my journal I at once came to the conclusion that Eyre's Creek is a tributary of my Barkly River, and that Burke consequently would hit that fine river, and probably run it and its great feeder, the Stawell, until he got to a latitude which would enable him, with some prospect of success, to hit a watershed flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria, which probably would be that of the Flinders.

That he did so there is now little doubt, as I found his well-defined trail running down the Flinders; and at present my belief is that he has returned up that river, but of his certain course I shall inform you when I meet your boats on that river, according to the arrangement I made in our consultation.

It was a matter of great satisfaction to me that I found that, without any hesitation, you cordially approved of my proposal to follow out these tracks wherever they may go; and the zeal which my aboriginal comrades evinced when they assured you, in my presence, that they would not abandon these tracks, was as gratifying to me as it was to you.

There are some arrangements necessary to make relative to this expedition, but I propose making that the subject of a separate letter.

I have the honour to be, &c.,
(Signed) FREDK. WALKER,Leader of Victorian Expedition for the Relief of Burke.


Commander Norman, H.M.C.S. Victoria, Dec. 10, 1861.

Sir, I do myself the honour to state that the report of your surgeon, Dr Patterson, has confirmed my fears that my storekeeper, John Horsfeldt, has a fistula, which would render him incapable of assisting me in future.

I therefore shall have to avail myself of your offer to convoy him to Rockhampton, and have to request you will give him a certificate that he had satisfactorily fulfilled his agreement, which commenced on the 15th August, and for which he was, by the authority of Captain Mayne, to be remunerated at the rate of £3 a week.

Captain Hunter, of Rockhampton, holds an authority signed by Horsfeldt, and witnessed by Mr Dutton, to receive all pay due to him, and through that gentleman it will be therefore advisable that Horsfeldt be settled with.

I have the honour to remain, sir, Your obedient servant,
(Signed) FREDERICK WALKER, Leader of the Victorian Expedition for the relief of Mr Burke.

Commander Norman, &c., H.M.C.S. Victoria.

P.S. - As I shall be one man short, it may perhaps be convenient for you to supply me with a man in Horsfeldt's room; but, at the same time, I would draw your attention to the fact, that, unless such a man was prepared to carry out my wishes without demur or grumbling, my party would be better without him.


H.M.C.S. Victoria, Dec. 10,1861.

Sir, I explained to you that out of the pay, at the rate of £1 per week, to my aboriginal explorers engaged by me for the Government of Victoria, I have since had to provide the means of supporting their families during their absence, and of paying one of their comrades who remains at Bauhinian Downs to look after and protect their families. The consequence is, that these men, who have so faithfully served the Government of Victoria in this matter of the Expedition for the relief of Mr Burke, had, upon reaching your depot on the Albert River, but a few shillings over £2 each due to them.

I therefore have considered it but just to guarantee them 10s. per week additional, commencing from the 15th of this month; and have to request you will authorise Captain Hunter, of Rockhampton (who holds an authority to act as agent for these men), to continue to supply their families with rations according to the rate of which he has a memorandum, until at least my return to Rockhampton, or his receipt of a letter of advice from me. In the meanwhile, you will understand that the families are already supplied in full for six months from the 1st of September last.

I have also guaranteed to these men that the Government of Victoria would, upon their arrival in Melbourne, either provide them with a passage to Rockhampton, or give their families the means of rejoining them in Victoria.

As a matter of course, until you have submitted this guarantee of mine for the consideration of His Excellency the Governor of Victoria, you cannot give me any positive assurance that his Government will relieve me of it, but, should it meet with disapprove, you will be so kind as to request that any remuneration which might be intended to be made for my own services should be appropriated to carry out my guarantee, as my men have, for so many years, considered my promise a word as sacred.

I have the honour to remain, Sir, Your obedient servant,
(Signed) FREDERICK WALKER, Leader of the Victorian Expedition for relief of Mr, Burke.

Commander Norman, H.M.C.S. Victoria, and Commander-in-Chief of N. Exp. Parties.

P.S. - It is necessary that you should bear in mind that these men would not have come on the expedition at all, if I had not, in the presence of Mr. Jardine, police magistrate of Rockhampton, engaged them as servants of Her Majesty's Government for the colony of Victoria. This was comprehended by them, whereas the Royal Society was to them an enigma.


H.M.C.S. Victoria, Investigator Roads, Dec. 11,1861.

Sir, I do myself the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 10th instant, also copy of journal and tracing of route from Rockhampton to the Albert River, and to state that I consider you have taken the likeliest route to fall in with the tracks of the missing explorers, which you at last discovered on the Flinders River, and were unable to follow up until a supply of provisions was obtained from me at the depot on the Albert River.

I much regret to find by your journal that, in defence of your party, you were compelled to fire upon and kill a number of hostile natives in several instances, but the well known feeling of humanity which you have for so many years exhibited towards the natives, assures me that no alternative was left you to protect the lives of your party when they were surrounding you in such numbers.

Coinciding as we do in our opinions as to your future movements, it is my direction that you proceed to the Flinders River so soon as possible, find Mr Burke's camp and any documents he may have left there; I will join you by boat to receive them for the Government and Royal Society of Victoria, and you will then, in all probability, be the better prepared for following up the tracks to wherever they may lead to.

It will be as gratifying to the Government and Royal Society as it was to me to hear it from your officers and comrades their determination of following up, under your command, the tracks they had found to wherever they might lead them, and that no exertions on their part would be spared to assist you in finding the missing party.

Be so good as to inform your officers, comrades, and natives I shall not fail to represent their conduct to the Governor and Government of Victoria.

I have the honour to be, &c.,
(Signed) W. H. NORMAN, Commander,and Commander-in-Chief of N. Exploring Parties.

F. Walker, Esq., Leader of the Party from Rockhampton.


H.M.C.S. Victoria, Dec 12, 1861.

Sir, With reference to the letter of instructions which I have received from you, I do myself the honour to state, that it will be necessary that the attention of the Government and of the Royal Society of Victoria should be drawn to one matter which has formed a serious point in our consultations.

As it is nearly certain that Mr Burke followed down the Eyre's Creek of Sturt to the Barkly River, it is probable that he will return by the same route.

It is probable that as Mr. Howitt would be in these latitudes about September and October, he would have the short rainy season in his favour, and may have reached the Barkly River, and supplied Mr. Burke with provisions.

Now, if I follow out Mr. Burke's return tracks I shall just reach that part of the Barkly where those tracks leave it to go south, at a season in which my long experience would make me expect a drought in that latitude. If so, I may find that I cannot pursue the tracks further without endangering the lives of my party and, at the same time, if Mr. Burke had got this far on his homeward route, I shall be pretty easy as to his safety, as he would be able to reach Cooper's Creek with his camels.

Therefore, if after having from a temporary stockade tried, by means of my water-bags, if I had a chance of water in Eyre's Creek, and finding my route barred for want of water, I should make round by the Carragaree of the natives, and this large sheet of water I have no doubt has a communication with Stuart's great lake, thus giving me a safe retreat into Adelaide.

You will observe that I place great confidence in the statement of the friendly aborigines on the Barkly River, but that I am justified in doing, for my journal shows how minutely correct was their information whenever I had the means of verifying it.

I have the honour to remain, Sir, Your obediont servant,
(Signed) FREDERICK WALKER, Leader of Victorian Expedition.

Commander Norman, H.M.C.S. Victoria.


19 JUNE 1862: 2.

[Sunday 8 December 1861 - Friday 20 December 1861: Albert River depot.]

Sunday, December 1861.
The night after my arrival, it was blowing very hard from NE, and a great quantity of rain fell.

Monday, 9 December 1861.
The wind abated the next day, and the rain cleared off through the day. I now accompanied Captain Norman in his boat to the Victoria, and that vessel upon our arrival moved over to the anchorage at Sweer's Island. Here, as it was smooth water, I was enabled to make a tracing of my map, which Captain Norman takes charge of, together with my journal, which he had copied by his clerk, and both will be given to the Royal Society of Victoria. Having completed all the supplies that Captain Norman could muster, in order to fit me out for my search on the traces of Burke, we returned to the depot.

Monday, 16 December 1861.
On Monday, December 16, we crossed over the horses to the right bank of the river, having had the assistance of two of Captain Norman's boats. Several of his men now worked at making me some new saddle bags, my former ones being most of them useless.

Wednesday, 18 December 1861.
On Wednesday the 18th, Mr Houghton, with three men, succeeded in getting the horse abandoned by Jingle on the 4th, but the saddle they could not find. I marked one tree FW over 60 and on another limb RSV over 7 Dec. over 1861.



Friday, 20 December 1861.
On the 20th, everything being packed, the saddles, rations, tents, and all were moved to the other side of the river, and the tents being pitched, my party all camped there the night.

As Jack Horsfeldt has been compelled to return to Rockhampton by the Victoria, on the report from Dr. Campbell that he was quite unfit for a land expedition, I was much pleased when Captain Norman obtained for me the services of Mr Moore in his stead. Mr Moore's duties especially are to have the sole charge of all the stores. On this subject I may as well mention that Captain Norman was much pleased to find that my experience corroborated the opinion he had given Mr. Landsborough upon the necessity of a land party having one person answerable for the stores. It is impossible to avoid waste where every person is at liberty to help himself.

As we left the Albert River the next day, I may now mention how gratified my men were, especially the natives, at his approbation of their good conduct, and the zeal they expressed in their determination to follow Burke's tracks; and too much cannot be said by me to express my thanks for the kindness shown me by Captain Norman, and of his endeavours to fit me out as completely as possible. I now start with 130 days' rations of flour, tea, and sugar, and 50 lbs. rice, 50 lbs. peas, to assist. Unfortunately, we have but 30 days' meat. This would be of little consequence, as we have lots of powder and shot, but, unluckily, very few caps for the fowling-pieces, I trust, however, that when I meet Captain Norman upon the Flinders, he will be able to supply this awkward deficiency.

It has been a source of great satisfaction to me that Captain Norman has coincided in opinion with me as to my future movements.

I was also glad to find that, from his observations of the soundings in the gulf, he had come to the same conclusion as I had from what I obtained on land. Mr Gregory says that the plains which he makes to stretch across the whole width of the bottom of the gulf were formed by the retiring of the sea. Now, in the first place, the sandstone ridges which Mr Gregory crossed continue much further to the north, making the division of the different watersheds. These ridges in many places are very fine downs, and on the Flinders there are traces of basalt and trap. The country, therefore, is a succession of plains, hills, and downs; and as Captain Stokes places on his chart three hummocks on the very verge of the water of the Gulf of Carpentaria, I have no doubt these are the terminations of three of the low ranges crossed by me. The plains are formed by the crumbling down of these ranges, and this process is still going on. The land is gaining on the sea, not the sea retiring from it; and this, as I have stated above, was the opinion already arrived at by Captain Norman.

I have been led in my journal to fall into an error, through Mr Gregory having called the running rivulet of the Albert 'Beame's Brook.' Mr Woods, first lieutenant of the Victoria, showed me, by Leichhardt's map, that 'Beame's Brook' was not anywhere near it.

The Plains of Promise,' as marked by Mr Gregory on his map, I found to be a succession of small plains, intersected by flooded box; and Captain Norman showed me Captain Stoke's map. and his track up tho Salt-water Inlet, where he went on foot over the very ground crossed both by me and Mr Gregory. He there places no 'Plains of Promise,' but does mention the flooded box. The Plains of Promise were not seen by Mr Gregory at all, for he crossed to the north of them.


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