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Journal of a trip from Cooper's Creek towards Adelaide...
June 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 ----

1 June to 26 June 1861

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 1 June 1861.
Started at a quarter to eight a.m. Passed the duck-holes at ten a.m., and my second camp up at two p.m., having rested in the meantime about forty-five minutes. Thought to have reached the blacks' camp, or at least where Landa was bogged, but found myself altogether too weak and exhausted; in fact had extreme difficulty in getting across the numerous little gullies, and was at last obliged to camp, from sheer fatigue. Night ultimately clear and cloudy, with occasional showers.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 2 June 1861.
Started at half-past six, thinking to breakfast at the blacks' camp, below Landa's grave; found myself very much fagged and did not arrive at their camp until ten a.m., and then found myself disappointed as to a good breakfast, the camp being deserted. Having rested awhile, and eaten a few fish-bones, I moved down the creek, hoping by a late march to be able to reach our own camp, but I soon found, from my extreme weakness, that that would be out of the question. A certain amount of good luck, however, still stuck to me, for, on going along by a large waterhole, I was so fortunate as to find a large fish, about a pound and a half in weight, which was just being choked by another which it had tried to swallow, but which had stuck in its throat. I soon had a fire lit, and both of the fish cooked and eaten. The large one was in good condition. Moving on again after my late breakfast, I passed Camp 67 of the journey to Carpentaria, and camped for the night under some polygonum bushes.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 3 June 1861.
Started at seven o'clock, and, keeping on the south bank of the creek, was rather encouraged, at about three miles, by the sound of numerous crows ahead; presently fancied I could see smoke, and was shortly afterwards set at my ease by hearing a cooey from Pitchery, who stood on the opposite bank, and directed me around the lower end of the waterhole, continually repeating his assurance of abundance of fish and bread. Having with some considerable difficulty managed to ascend the sandy path that led to the camp, I was conducted by the chief to a fire, where a large pile of fish were just being cooked in the most approved style. these I imagined to be for the general consumption of the half a dozen natives gathered around, but it turned out that they had already had their breakfast. I was expected to dispose of this lot - a task which, to my own astonishment, I soon accomplished, keeping two or three blacks pretty steadily at work extracting the bones for me. The fish being disposed of, next came a supply of nardoo cake and water, until I was so full as to be unable to eat any more, when Pitchery allowing me a short time to recover myself, fetched a large bowl of the raw nardoo flour, mixed to a thin paste - a most insinuating article, and one that they appear to esteem a great delicacy. I was then invited to stop the night there, but this I declined, and proceeded on my way home.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 4 June 1861.
Started for the blacks' camp, intending to test the practicability of living with them, and to see what I could learn as to their ways and manners.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 5 June 1861.
Remained with the blacks. Light rain during the greater part of the night, and more of less throughout the day, in showers. Wind blowing in squalls from S.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 6 June 1861.
Returned to our own camp, found that Mr Burke and King had been well supplied with fish by the blacks. Made preparation for shifting our camp nearer to theirs on the morrow.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 7 June 1861.
Started in the afternoon for the blacks' camp with such things as we could take, found ourselves all very weak, in spite of the abundant supply of fish that we have lately had. I myself could scarcely get along, although carrying the lightest swag-only about thirty pounds. Found that the blacks had decamped, so determined on proceeding to-morrow up to the next camp, near the nardoo field.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 8 June 1861.
With the greatest fatigue and difficulty we reached the nardoo camp. No blacks, greatly to our disappointment. Took possession of their best mia-mia, and rested for the remainder of the day.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 9 June 1861.
King and I proceeded to collect nardoo, leaving Mr Burke at home.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 10 June 1861.
Mr Burke and King collecting nardoo; self at home, too weak to go out. Was fortunate enough to shoot a crow.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 11 June 1861.
King out for nardoo. Mr. Burke up the creek to look for the blacks.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 12 June 1861.
King out collecting nardoo. Mr Burke and I at home, pounding and cleaning. I still feel myself, if anything, weaker in the legs, although the nardoo appears to be more thoroughly digested.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 13 June 1861.
Last night the sky was pretty clear, and the air rather cold, but nearly calm; a few cir.-st. hung about the N.E. horizon during the first part of the night. Mr Burke and King out for nardoo. Self weaker than ever, scarcely able to go to the water hole for water. Towards afternoon cir.-cum. And cir.-st. began to appear, moving northward, scarcely any wind all day.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 14 June 1861.
Night alternately clear and cloudy, cir.-cum. and cum.-st. moving northwards; no wind, beautifully mild for the time of year; in the morning some heavy clouds on the horizon. King out for nardoo; brought in a good supply. Mr Burke and I at home, pounding and cleaning seed. I feel weaker than ever, and both Mr B. and King are beginning to feel very unsteady in the legs.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 15 June 1861.
Night clear, calm, and cold; morning very fine, with a light breath of air from N.E. King out for nardoo; brought in a fine supply. Mr Burke and I pounding and cleaning. He finds himself getting very weak, and I am not a bit stronger. I heave determined on beginning to chew tobacco and eat less nardoo, in hopes that it may induce some change in the system. I have never yet recovered from the effects of the constipation, and the passage of the stools is always exceedingly painful.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 16 June 1861.
Wind shifted to N., clouds moving from W. to E.; thunder audible two or three times to the southward; sky becoming densely overcast, with an occasional shower about nine a.m. We finished up the remains of Rajah for dinner yesterday. King was fortunate enough to shoot a crow this morning. The rain kept all hands in pounding and cleaning seed during the morning. The weather cleared up towards the middle of the day, and a brisk breeze sprang up in the south, lasting till near sunset, but rather irregular in its force. Distant thunder was audible to westward and southward frequently during the afternoon.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 17 June 1861.
Night very boisterous and stormy. Northerly wind blowing in squalls, and heavy showers of rain, with thunder in the north and west. Heavy clouds moving rapidly from north to south; gradually clearing up during the day from W. and N. W. King out in the afternoon for nardoo.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 18 June 1861.
Exceedingly cold night. Sky clear, slight breeze, very chilly, and changeable; very heavy dew. After sunrise, cir.-st. clouds began to pass over from west to east, gradually becoming more dense, and assuming the form of cum.-st. The sky cleared, and it became warmer towards noon.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 19 June 1861.
Night calm; sky during first part overcast with cir.- cum. Clouds, most of which cleared away towards morning, leaving the air much colder, but the sky remained more or less hazy all night, and it was not nearly as cold as last night. About eight o'clock a strong southerly wind sprung up, which enabled King to blow the dust out of our nardoo seeds, but made me too weak to render him any assistance.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 20 June 1861.
Night and morning very cold, sky clear. I am completely reduced by the effects of the cold and starvation. King gone out for nardoo. Mr Burke at home pounding seed; he finds himself getting very weak in the legs. King holds out by far the best; the food seems to agree with him pretty well. Finding the sun come out pretty warm towards noon, I took a sponging all over, but it seemed to do little good beyond the cleaning effects, for my weakness is so great that I could not do it with proper expedition. I cannot understand this nardoo at all; it certainly will not agree with me in any form. We are now reduced to it alone, and we manage to get from four to five pounds per day between us. The stools it causes are enormous, and seem greatly to exceed the quantity of bread consumed, and is very slightly altered in appearance from what it was when eaten.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 21 June 1861.
Last night was cold and clear, winding up with a strong wind from N.E. in the morning. I feel much weaker than ever, and can scarcely crawl out of the mia-mia. Unless relief comes in some form or other, I cannot possibly last more than a fortnight. It is a great consolation, at least, in this position of ours, to know that we have done all we could, and that our deaths will rather be the result of the mismanagement of others than of any rash acts of our own. Had we come to grief elsewhere, we could only have blamed ourselves; but here we are, returned to Cooper's Creek, where we had every reason to look for provisions and clothing; and yet we have to die of starvation, in spite of the explicit instructions given by Mr Burke, that the depot party should await our return, and the strong recommendation to the committee that we should be followed up by a party from Menindie. About noon a change of wind took place, and it blew almost as hard from the west as it did previously from the N.E. A few cir.cum. continued to pass over towards east.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 22 June 1861.
Night cloudy and warm. Every appearance of rain. Thunder once or twice during the night. Clouds moving in an easterly direction. Lower atmosphere perfectly calm. There were a few drops of rain during the night, and in the morning, about nine a.m., there was every prospect of more rain until towards noon , when the sky cleared up for a time. Mr Burke and King out for nardoo. The former returned much fatigued. I am so weak today as to be unable to get on my feet.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 23 June 1861.
All hands at home. I am so weak as to be incapable of crawling out of the mia-mia. King holds out well, but Mr Burke finds himself weaker every day.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 24 June 1861.
A fearful night. At about an hour before sunset, a southerly gale sprang up and continued throughout the greater portion of the night; the cold was intense, and it seemed as if one would be shrivelled up. Towards morning it fortunately lulled a little, but a strong cold breeze continued till near sunset, after which it became perfectly calm. King went out for nardoo, in spite of the wind, and came in with a good load, but he himself terribly cut up. He says that he can no longer keep up the work, and as he and Mr Burke are both getting rapidly weaker, we have but a slight chance of anything but starvation, unless we can get hold of some blacks.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 23 June 1861. [sic: 25 June?]
Night calm, clear and intensely cold, especially towards morning. Near daybreak, King reported seeing a moon in the E., with a haze of light stretching up from it, he declared it to be quite as large as the moon, and not dim at the edges. I am so weak that any attempt to get a sight of it was out of the question; but I think it must have been Venus in the zodiacal light that he saw, with a corona around her. Mr Burke and King remain at home cleaning and pounding seed. They are both getting weaker every day. The cold plays the deuce with us, from the small amount of clothing we have. My wardrobe consists of a wide-awake, a merino shirt, a regatta shirt without sleeves, the remains of a pair of flannel trousers, two pairs of socks in rags, and a waistcoat of which I have managed to keep the pockets together. The others are no better off. Besides these we have between us for bedding, two small camel pads, some horsehair, two or three little bits of a rag, and some pieces of oilcloth saved from the fire. The day turned out nice and warm.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 24 June 1861. [sic: 26 June?]
Calm night; sky overcast with hazy cum.strat. clouds. An easterly breeze sprang up towards morning, making the air much colder. After sunrise there were indications of a clearing up of the sky, but it soon clouded in again, the upper current continuing to move in an easterly direction, whilst a breeze from the E. and N.E. blew pretty regularly throughout the day. Mr Burke and King are preparing to go up the creek in search of the blacks. They will leave me some nardoo, wood and water, with which I must do the best I can until they return. I think this is almost our only chance. I feel myself, if anything, rather better, but I cannot say stronger. The nardoo is beginning to agree better with me; but without some change I see little chance for any of us. They have both shown great hesitation and reluctance with regard to leaving me, and have repeatedly desired my candid opinion in the matter. I could only repeat, however, that I considered it our only chance, for I could not last long on the nardoo, even if a supply could be kept up.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 25 June 1861. [sic: 27 Jume?]
Cloudy, calm and comparatively warm night, clouds almost stationary. In the morning a gentle breeze from east. Sky practically cleared up during the day, making it pleasantly warm and bright. It remained clear during the afternoon and evening, offering every prospect of a clear cold night.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 26 June 1861. [sic: 28 June?]
Clear cold night, slight breeze from the E., day beautifully warm and pleasant. Mr Burke suffers greatly from the cold, and is getting extremely weak; he and King start tomorrow up the creek, to look for the blacks - it is the only chance we have of being saved from starvation. I am weaker than ever although I have a good appetite, and relish the nardoo much, but it seems to give us no nutriment, and the birds here are so shy as not to be got at. Even if we got a good supply of fish, I doubt whether we could do much work on them and the nardoo alone. Nothing now but the greatest good luck can now save any of us; and as for myself, I may live four or five days if the weather continues warm. My pulse are at forty-eight, and very weak, and my legs and arms are nearly skin and bone. I can only look out, like Mr Micawber, 'for something to turn up'; but starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move oneself, for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. Certainly, fat and sugar would be more to one's taste, in fact, those seem to me to be the great stand by for one in this extraordinary continent; not that I mean to depreciate the farinacious food, but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of something else.

W J. Wills
[Transcribed by William Henry Archer]

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au


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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