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Journal of a trip from Cooper's Creek towards Adelaide...
April 1861

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Original item held at the National Library of Australia, NLA MS 30/7.
Papers of Burke and Wills Expedition, National Library of Australia, MS 30.
Diary of William John Wills' journal of trip from Cooper Creek towards Adelaide.
23 April 1861 - 26 June 1861. Blue notebook, 12.5 x 20 cm, cardboard covers one partly torn, 125 p.

Journal of trip from Cooper's Creek towards Adelaide
23 April 1861 - 26 June 1861

---- For an explanation of the Reaumur temperature scale Wills used, GO HERE ----

23 April to 30 April 1861

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 23 April 1861
From Depot: having collected together all the odds and ends that seemed likely to be of use to us, in addition to provisions left in the plant, we started at a quarter past nine a.m., keeping down the southern bank of the creek. We only went about five miles and camped at half past eleven on a billibong, where the feed was pretty good. We find the change of diet already making a great improvement in our spirits and strength. The weather is delightful, days agreeably warm, but the nights very chilly. The latter is more noticeable from our deficiency in clothing, the depot party having taken all the reserve things back with them to the Darling.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 24 April 1861.
From Camp No. 1.
As we about to start this morning some blacks came by from whom we were fortunate enough to get about twelve pounds of fish for a few pieces of straps and some matches, &c. This is a great treat for us as well as a valuable addition to our rations. We started at a quarter past eight p.m. on our way down the creek, the blacks going in the opposite direction - little thinking that in a few miles they would be able to get lots of pieces for nothing, better than those they had obtained from us.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 25 April 1861.
From Camp No. 2.
Awoke at five o'clock, after a most refreshing night's rest. The sky was beautifully clear and the air rather chilly. The terrestrial radiation seems to have been considerable, and a slight dew had fallen. We had scarcely finished breakfast when our friends the blacks, from whom we obtained the fish, made their appearance with a few more, and seemed inclined to go with us and keep up the supply. We gave them some sugar, with which they were greatly pleased, they are by far the most well-behaved blacks we have seen on Cooper's Creek. We did not get away from our camp until half-past nine a.m., continuing our course down the most southern branch of the creek, which keeps a general S.W. course. We passed across the stony point which abuts on one of the largest waterholes in the creek, and camped at half-past twelve about a mile below the most dangerous part of the rocky path. At this latter place we had an accident that might have resulted badly for us. One of the camels fell while crossing the worst part, but we fortunately got him out with only a few cuts and bruises. The waterhole at this camp is a very fine one, being several miles long and on an average about [blank] chains broad. The waterfowl are numerous, but rather shy - not nearly so much so, however, as those on the creeks between here and Carpentaria, and I am convinced the shyness of the latter, which was also remarked by Sturt on his trip to Eyre's Creek, arises entirely from the scarcity of animals, both human and otherwise, and not from any peculiar mode of catching them that the blacks may have.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 26 April 1861.
From Camp No. 3
Last night was beautifully calm, and comparatively warm, although the sky was very clear. Reloaded the camels by moonlight this morning, and started at a quarter to six. Striking off to the south of the creek, we soon got on a native path, which leaves the creek just below the stony ground, and takes a course nearly west across a piece of open country, bounded on the south by sand ridges, and on the north by the scrubby ground which flanks the bank of the creek at this part of its course. Leaving the path on the right at a distance of three miles, we turned up a small creek which passes down between some sand-hills; and finding a nice patch of feed for the camels at a waterhole, we halted at fifteen minutes past nine a.m. Continuing our westerly course along the path we crossed to the S. of the watercourse above the water, and proceeded over the most splendid saltbush country that one could wish to see, bounded on the left by sand-hills, whilst to the right the peculiar-looking flat-topped sandstone ranges form an extensive amphitheatre, through the far side of the arena of which may be traced the dark line of creek timber. At twelve o'clock we camped in the bed of the creek, at Camp No. [blank], our last camp on the road down from the Gulf, having taken four days to do what we then did in one. This comparative rest and the change in diet, have also worked wonders; however the leg-tied feeling is now entirely gone, and I believe that in less than a week we shall be fit to undergo any fatigue whatever. The camels are improving, and seem capable of doing all that we are likely to require of them.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 27 April 1861.
From Camp No 4
First part of night clear, with a light breeze from S. Temperature at midnight 10 deg. (Reaumur); towards morning there were a few cir.cum. clouds passing over N.E. to S.W., but these disappeared before daylight; at five a.m. the temperature was 7.5 deg. (Reaumur). We started at six o'clock and, following the native path, which at about a mile from our camp takes a southerly direction, we soon came to the high sandy alluvial deposit, which separates the creek at this point from the stony rises. Here we struck off from the path, keeping well to the S. of the creek, in order that we might mess in a branch of it that took a southerly direction. At twenty minutes past nine we came in on the creek again where it runs due south, and halted for breakfast at a fine waterhole, with fine fresh feed for the camels. Here we remained until noon, when we moved on again, and camped at one o'clock on a general course; having been throughout the morning S.W. eight miles. The weather is most agreeable and pleasant; nothing could be more favourable for us up to the present time. The temperature in the shade at half-past ten a.m. was 17.5 (Reaumur) with a light breeze from S., and a few small cir.cum. clouds towards the N. I greatly feel the want of more instruments, the only things I have left being my watch, prism compass, pocket compass and one thermometer (Reaumur). To Camp No.5.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 28 April 1861.
From Camp No. 5
Morning fine and calm but rather chilly. Started at a quarter to five a.m., following down the bed of a creek in a westerly direction, by moonlight. Our stage was, however, very short, for about a mile one of the camels (Landa) got bogged by the side of a waterhole, and although we tried every means in our power, we found it impossible to get him out. All the ground beneath the surface was a bottomless quicksand, through which the beast sank too rapidly for us to get bushes or timber fairly beneath him, and being of a very sluggish stupid nature, he could never be got to make sufficiently strenuous efforts towards extricating himself. In the evening, as a last chance, we let the water in from the creek, so as to buoy him up and at the same time soften the ground about his legs, but it was of no avail. The brute lay quietly in it as if he quite enjoyed his position. To Camp No. 6.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 29 April 1861.
Camp No. 6
Finding Landa still in the hole, we made a few attempts at extricating him, and then shot him; and after breakfast commenced cutting off what flesh we could get at, for jerking.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 30 April 1861.
Camp No.6 Remained here to-day for the purpose of drying the meat, for which process the weather is not very favourable. (Meteorological note)


Provenance: A note from Burke & Wills Web.
Burke and King buried Wills' field-book containing this diary on 28 June 1861 next to the gunyah in which Wills died at Breerily Waterhole on Cooper Creek. The field-book was dug up and recovered by Alfred Howitt of the Victorian Contingent Party on 18 September 1861 and returned to Melbourne on 3 November 1861 by William Brahe and Weston Phillips. A transcript was made by William Henry Archer, Registrar General of Victoria on the evening of 5 November 1861.

The original field-book was subsequently lost until 1909 when the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library (now the National Library of Australia) purchased the field-book at auction from Mrs Grace Gavan Dufy, Archer's daughter, for £25.

In 2002 Valerie Helson, Assistant Manuscripts Librarian at the National Library of Australia transcribed the notebook as part of the project to digitise the diary.

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