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March 1861

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2083/1a.
Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, Journals and diaries of members of the VEE.
William John Wills, Transcription of Journey from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria and return to Cooper's Creek. Transcribed by James Smith in November 1861.

The return from Carpentaria to Cooper's Creek

1 March to 31 March 1861

Friday, 1 March 1861 - Camp of the Three Crows, 13R.

Saturday, 2 March 1861 - Salt-bush Camp, 14 R.
Found Golah. He looks thin and miserable; seems to have fretted a great deal, probably at finding himself left behind, and he has been walking up and down our tracks till he has made a regular pathway; could find no sign of his having been far off, although there is a splendid feed to which he could have gone. He began to eat as soon as he saw the other camels.

Sunday, 3 March 1861 - Eureka Camp, 15 R.
In crossing a creek by moonlight, Charley rode over a large snake; he did not touch him, and we thought that it was a log until he struck it with the stirrup iron; we then saw that it was an immense snake, larger than any I have ever before seen in a wild state. It measured eight feet four inches in length and seven inches in girth round the belly; it was nearly the same thickness from the head to within twenty inches of the tail; it then tapered rapidly. The weight was 11 [and a half] lbs. From the tip of the nose to five inches back, the neck was black, both above and below; throughout the rest of the body, the under part was yellow, and the sides and back had irregular brown transverse bars on a yellowish brown ground. I could detect no poisonous fangs, but there were two distinct rows of teeth in each jaw, and two small claws of nails, about three-eighths of an inch long, one on each side of the vent.

Monday, 4 March 1861 - Feasting Camp, 16 R.
Shortly after arriving at Camp 16 we could frequently hear distant thunder towards the east, from which quarter the wind was blowing. During the afternoon there were frequent heavy showers, and towards evening it set in to rain steadily but lightly; this lasted till about eight P.M., when the rain ceased and the wind got round to west; the sky, however, remained overcast until late in the night, and then cleared for a short time; the clouds were soon succeeded by a dense fog or mist, which continued until morning. The vapour having then risen, occupied the upper air in the form of light cir.-stratus and cumuli clouds.

Tuesday, 5 March 1861 - Camp 17 R.
Started at two A.M. on a S.S.W. course, but had soon to turn in on the creek, as Mr Burke felt very unwell, having been attacked by dysentery since eating the snake; he now felt giddy and unable to keep his seat. At six A.M., Mr Burke feeling better, we started again, following along the creek, in which there was considerably more water than when we passed down. We camped, at 2.15 P.M., at a part of the creek where the date trees were very numerous, and found the fruit nearly ripe and very much improved on what it was when we were here before.

Wednesday, 6 March 1861 - Camp 18 R.
Arrived at our former camp, and found the feed richer than ever, and the ants just as troublesome. Mr Burke is a little better, and Charley looks comparatively well. The dryness of the atmosphere seems to have a beneficial effect on all. We found yesterday, that it was a hopeless matter about Golah, and we were obliged to leave him behind, as he seemed to be completely done up and could not come on, even when the pack and saddle were taken off.

Thursday, 7 March 1861 - Fig-tree Camp, 19 R.
Palm-tree Camp, No. 104 Latitude, by observation, coming down, 20° 21' 40".
There is less water here than there was when we passed down, although there is evidence of the creek having been visited by considerable floods during the interval. Feed is abundant, and the vegetation more fresh than before. Mr Burke almost recovered, but Charley is again very unwell and unfit to do anything; he caught cold last night through carelessness in covering himself.

Friday, 8 March 1861 - Camp 20 R.
Followed the creek more closely coming up than going down. Found more water in it generally.

Saturday, 9 March 1861 - Camp 21 R.
Reached our former camp at 1.30 P.M. Found the herbage much dried up, but still plenty of feed for the camels.

Sunday, 10 March 1861 - Camp 22 R.
Camped at the junction of a small creek from the westward, a short distance below our former camp, there being plenty of good water here, whereas the supply at Specimen Camp is very doubtful.

Monday, 11 March 1861 - Camp 23 R.
Halted for breakfast at the Specimen Camp at 7.15 A.M., found more water and feed there than before; then proceeded up the creek and got safely over the most dangerous part of our journey. Camped near the head of the Gap in a flat, about two miles below our former camp at the Gap.

Tuesday, 12 March 1861 - Camp 24 R.

Wednesday, 13 March 1861 - Camp 25 R.
Rain all day, so heavily that I was obliged to put my watch and field book in the pack to keep them dry. In the afternoon the rain increased, and all the creeks became flooded. We took shelter under some fallen rocks, near which was some feed for the camels; but the latter was of no value, for we had soon to remove them up amongst the rocks, out of the way of the flood, which fortunately did not rise high enough to drive us out of the cave; but we were obliged to shift our packs to the upper part. In the evening the water fell as rapidly as it had risen, leaving everything in a very boggy state. There were frequent light showers during the night.

Thursday, 14 March 1861 - Camp 26 R, Sandstone cave.
The water in the creek having fallen sufficiently low, we crossed over from the cave and proceeded down the creek. Our progress was slow, as it was necessary to keep on the stony ridge instead of following the flats, the latter being very boggy after the rain. Thinking that this creek must join Scratchley's, near our old camp, we followed it a long way, until finding it trend altogether too much eastward, we tried to shape across for the other creek, but were unable to do so, from the boggy nature of the intervening plain.

Friday, 15 March 1861 - Camp 27 R.

Saturday, 16 March 1861 - Camp 28 R, Scratchley's Creek.

Sunday, 17 March 1861 - Camp 29 R.

Monday, 18 March 1861 - Camp 30 R.

Tuesday, 19 March 1861 - Camp 31 R.

Wednesday, 20 March 1861 - Camp 32 R, Feasting Camp.
Last evening the sky was clouded about nine P.M., and a shower came down from the north. At ten o'clock it became so dark that we camped on the bank of the creek, in which was a nice current of clear water. Today we halted, intending to try a night journey. The packs we overhauled and left nearly 60 lb. weight of things behind. They were all suspended in a pack from the branches of a shrub close to the creek. We started at a quarter to six, but were continually pulled up by billibongs and branch creeks, and soon had to camp for the night. At the junction of the two creeks just above are the three cones, which are three remarkably small hills to the eastward.

Thursday, 21 March 1861 - Humid Camp, 33 R.
Unable to proceed on account of the slippery and boggy state of the ground. The rain has fallen very heavily here to-day, and every little depression in the ground is either full of water or covered with slimy mud. Another heavy storm passed over during the night, almost extinguishing the miserable fire we were able to get up with our very limited quantity of waterlogged and green wood. Having been so unfortunate last night, we took an early breakfast this morning at Camp 33, which I had named the Humid Camp, from the state of dampness in which we found everything there; and crossing to the east bank of the main creek, proceeded in a southerly direction nearly parallel with the creek. Some of the flats near the creek contain the richest alluvial soil, and are clothed with luxuriant vegetation. There is an immense extent of plain, back, of the finest character for pastoral purposes, and the country bears every appearance of being permanently well watered. We halted on a large billibong at noon, and were favoured during dinner by a thunderstorm, the heavier portion of which missed us, some passing north and some south, which was fortunate, as it would otherwise have spoiled our baking process, a matter of some importance just now. We started again at seven o'clock, but the effects of the heavy rain prevented our making a good journey.

Friday, 22 March 1861 - Muddy Camp, 34 R.
Had an early breakfast this morning, and started before sunrise. Found that the wet swampy ground that checked our progress last night was only a narrow strip, and that had we gone a little further we might have made a fine journey. The country consisted of open, well-grassed, pebbly plains, intersected by numerous small channels, all containing water. Abundance of fine rich portulac was just bursting into flower along all these channels, as well as on the greater portion of the plain. The creek that we camped on last night ran nearly parallel with us throughout this stage. We should have crossed it, to avoid the stony plains, but were prevented by the flood from so doing.

Saturday, 23 March 1861 - Mosquito Camp, 35 R.
Started at a quarter to six and followed down the creek, which has much of the characteristic appearance of the River Burke, where we crossed it on our up journey. The land in the vicinity greatly improves as one goes down, becoming less stony and better grassed. At eleven o'clock we crossed a small tributary from the eastward, and there was a distant range of considerable extent visible in that direction. Halted for the afternoon in a bend where there was tolerable feed, but the banks are everywhere more or less scrubby.

Sunday, 24 March 1861 - Three-hour Camp.

Monday, 25 March 1861 - Native-Dog Camp, 37 R.
Started at half-past five, looking for a good place to halt for the day. This we found at a short distance down the creek, and immediately discovered that it was close to Camp 89 of our up journey. Had not expected that we were so much to the westward. After breakfast, took some time altitudes, and was about to go back to last camp for some things that had been left, when I found Gray behind a tree eating skilligolee. He explained that he was suffering from dysentery, and had taken the flour without leave. Sent him to report himself to Mr Burke, and went on. He, having got King to tell Mr Burke for him, was called up, and received a good thrashing. There is no knowing to what extent he has been robbing us. Many things have been found to run unaccountably short. (Smith's transcription ends here: the rest of this text is derived from the published versions of the journal) Started at seven o'clock, the camels in first-rate spirits. We followed our old course back (S.). The first portion of the plains had much the same appearance as when we came up, but that near Camp 88, which then looked so fresh and green, is now very much dried up; and we saw no signs of water anywhere. In fact, there seems to have been little or no rain about here since we passed. Soon after three o'clock we struck the first of several small creeks or billibongs, which must be portions of the creek with the deep channel that we crossed on going up, we being now rather to the westward of our former course. From here, after traversing about two miles of the barest clay plain, devoid of all vegetation, we reached a small watercourse, most of the holes in which contained some water of a milky or creamy description. Fine salt bush and portulac being abundant in the vicinity, we camped here at 4.30 A.M. When we started in the evening, a strong breeze had already sprung up in the south, which conveyed much of the characteristic feeling of a hot wind. It increased gradually to a force of five and six, but by eleven o'clock had become decidedly cool, and was so chilly towards morning that we found it necessary to throw on our ponchos. A few cir. cum. clouds were coming up from the east when we started, but we left them behind, and nothing was visible during the night but a thin hazy veil. The gale continued throughout the 26th, becoming warmer as the day advanced. In the afternoon it blew furiously, raising a good deal of dust. The temperature of air at four P.M. was 84° in the shade. Wind trees (?) all day.

Friday, March 29 1861.
Camels' last feast; fine green feed at this camp: plenty of vines and young polygonums on the small billibongs.

Saturday, March 30 1861 - Boocha's rest.
Poor Boocha was killed; employed all day in cutting up and jerking him: the day turned out as favourable for us as we could have wished, and a considerable portion of the meat was completely jerked before sunset.

Sunday, March 31 1861 - Mia Mia Camp.
Plenty of good dry feed; various shrubs; salt bushes, including cotton bush and some coarse kangaroo grass; water in the hollows on the stony pavement. The neighbouring country chiefly composed of stony rises and sand ridges.


Provenance: A note from Burke & Wills Web.
Wills buried these notes in the wooden camel-box cache at the Dig Tree on 30 May 1861. They were dug up and recovered by Alfred Howitt of the Victorian Contingent Party on 28 September 1861 and returned to Melbourne on 3 November 1861 by William Brahe and Weston Phillips. A transcript was made by James Smith of the Royal Society of Victoria's Exploration Committee on the 5 November 1861.

The original notes were subsequently lost and their whereabouts are unknown. Part of the transcript was also lost and so the only remaining record is that which was published in the press, which is reproduced above. Smith failed to indicate the format Wills used to keep these notes, so it is not clear whether these notes were part of a field-book, which was Wills preferred method of recording his journey, or entered in a notebook or on the expedition's loose leaf blue writing paper. However, a closer examinataion of the records at the La Trobe collection at the State Library of Victoria indicates these notes may have been recorded in a surveor's field notebook which had been cut in half. The other half of this notebook still exists and is in the National Library of Australia.

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