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Journal of a trip from Cooper's Creek towards Adelaide...
May 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 May to 31 May 1861

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 1 May 1861.
From Camp No. 6
Started at Twenty minutes to nine, having loaded our only camel, Rajah, with the most necessary and useful articles, and packed up a small swag each of bedding and clothing for our own shoulders. We kept on the right bank of the creek for about a mile, and then crossed over a native camp to the left, where we got on a path running due west, the creek having turned to the N. Following the path, we crossed an open plain, and then sand-ridges, whence we saw the creek straight ahead of us, running nearly S. again. The path took us to the southernmost point of the bend, in a distance of about two and a half miles from where we had crossed the creek, thereby saving us from three to four miles, as it cannot be less than six miles round by the creek. To Camp No.7.

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Thursday, 2 May 1861.
Camp No. 7
Breakfasted by moonlight, and started at half-past six. Following down the left bank of the creek in a westerly direction, we came, at a distance of six miles, on a lot of natives, who were camped on the bed of a creek. They seemed to have just breakfasted, and were most liberal in the presentations of fish and cake. We could only return the compliment by some fish-hooks and sugar. About a mile further on, we came to a separation of the creek, where what looked like the main branch looked towards the south. This channel we followed, not, however, without some misgivings as to its character, which were increased by the small and unfavourable appearances that the creek assumed. On our continuing along it a little further, it began to improve, and widened out, with fine waterholes of considerable depth. The banks were very steep, and a belt of scrub lined it on either side. This made it very inconvenient for travelling, especially as the bed of the creek was full of water for considerable distances. At eleven a.m., we halted until half past one p.m., and then moved on again, taking a S.S.W. course for about two miles, when, at the end of a very long waterhole, it breaks into billibongs, which continue splitting into sandy channels until they are all lost in the earth soil of a box forest. Seeing little chance of water ahead, we turned back to the end of the long waterhole and camped for the night. On our way back, Rajah showed signs of being done up. He had been trembling greatly all the morning. On this account his load was further lightened to the amount of a few pounds, by the doing away with the sugar, ginger, tea, cocoa, and two or three tin plates. To Camp No.8.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 3 May 1861.
Camp No. 8
Started at seven a.m., striking off in a northerly direction for the main creek. At a mile and a half came to a branch which (unfinished). To Camp No.9.

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Saturday, 4 May 1861.
Junction -from Camp No. 9
Night and morning very cold. Sky clear, almost calm; occasionally a light breath of air from south. Rajah appears to feel the cold very much. He was so stiff this morning as to be scarcely able to get up with his load. Started to return down the creek at 6.45, and halted for breakfast at nine a.m., at the same spot as we breakfasted at yesterday. Proceeding from there down the creek, we soon found a repetition of the features that were exhibited by the creek examined on Thursday. At a mile and a half we came to the last water-hole, and below that the channel became more sandy and shallow, and continued to send off billibongs to the south and west, slightly changing its course each time until it disappeared altogether in a north-westerly direction. Leaving King with the camel, we went on a mile or two to see if we could find water, and being unsuccessful, we were obliged to return to where we had breakfasted, as being the best place for feed and water.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 5 May 1861.
To Camp No. 10
Started by myself to reconnoitre the country in a southerly direction, leaving Mr Burke and King with the camel at Camp No.10. Travelled S.W. by S. for two hours, following the course of the most southerly billibongs. Found the earthy soil becoming more loosed and cracked up, and the box-track gradually disappearing. Changed course to west, for a high sand-ridge, which I reached in one hour and a half, and continuing in the same direction to one still higher, obtained from it a good view of the surrounding country. To the north were the extensive box forests bounding the creek on either side. To the east earthy plains intersected by water-courses and lines of timber, and bounded in the distance by sand-ridges. To the south the projection of the sand-ridge partially intercepted the view; therest was composed of earthy plains, apparently clothed with chrysanthemums. To the westward, another but smaller plain was bounded also by high sand ridges, running nearly parallel with the one on which I was standing. This dreary prospect offering no encouragement for me to proceed, I returned to Camp 10 by a more direct and better route than I had come, passing over some good saltbush land, which borders on the billibongs to the westward. (Some meteorological notes).

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Monday, 6 May 1861.
From Camp No. 10 back to Camp No. 9
Moved up the creek again to Camp No.9, at the junction, to breakfast and remained the day there. The present state of things is not calculated to raise our spirits much. The rations are rapidly diminishing; our clothing, especially the boots, are all going to pieces, and we have not the materials for repairing them properly; the camel is completely done up, and can scarcely get along, although he has the best of feed, and is resting half his time. I suppose this will end in our having to live like the blacks for a few months.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 7 May 1861.
Camp No. 9
Breakfasted at daylight, but when about to start, found that the camel would not rise, even without any load on his back. After making every attempt to get him up, we were obliged to leave him to himself. Mr Burke and I started down the creek to reconnoitre. At about eleven miles we came to some blacks fishing. They gave us some half-a-dozen fish each for luncheon, and intimated that if we would go to their camp, we should have some more, and some bread. I tore in two a piece of macintosh stuff that I had, and Mr Burke gave one piece, and I the other. We then went on to their camp, about three miles further. They had caught a considerable quantity of fish, but most of them were small. I noticed three different kinds - a small one that they call "cupi", five to six inches long, and not broader than an eel; the common one, with large coarse scales, termed "peru"; and a delicious fish, some of which run from a pound to two pounds weight. The natives call them "cawilchi". On our arrival at the camp, they led us to a spot to camp on, and soon afterwards brought a lot of fish and bread, which they call nardoo. The lighting of a fire with matche delights them, but they do not care about having them. In the evening, various members of the tribe came down with lumps of nardoo and handfuls of fish, until we were positively unable to eat any more. They also gave us some stuff they call bedgery or pedgery. It has a highly intoxicating effect, when chewed even in small quantities. It appears to be the dried stems and leaves of some shrub.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 8 May 1861.
Left the blacks' camp at half past seven, Mr Burke returning to the junction, whilst I proceeded to trace down the creek. This I found a shorter task than I had expected, for it soon showed signs of running out, and at the same time kept considerably to the north of west. There were several fine waterholes within about four miles of the camp I had left, but not a drop all the way beyond that, a distance of seven miles. Finding that the creek turned greatly toward the north, I returned to the blacks' encampment; and, as I was about to pass, they invited me to stay. So I did so, and was even more hospitably entertained than before, being on this occasion offered a share of a gunyah, and supplied with plenty of fish and nardoo, as well as a couple of nice fat rats. The latter I found most delicious. They were baked in the skins. Last night was clear and calm, but unusually warm. We slept by a fire, just in front of the blacks' camp. They were very attentive in bringing us firewood, and keeping the fire up during the night.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 8 May 1861.
Parted from my friends, the blacks, at half past seven, and started for Camp No.9.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 10 May 1861.
Camp No. 9
Mr Burke and King employed in jerking the camel's flesh, whilst I went out to look for the nardoo seed, for making bread. In this I was unsuccessful, not being able to find a single tree of it in the neighbourhood of the camp. I however tried boiling the large kind of bean which the blacks call padlu; they boil easily, and when shelled are very sweet, much resembling in taste the French chestnut. They are to be found in large quantities nearly everywhere.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 11 May 1861.
Camp No. 9.
To-day Mr Burke and King started down the creek for the blacks' camp, determined to ascertain all particulars about the nardoo. I have now my turn at the meat jerking, and must devise some means for trapping the birds and rats, which is a pleasant prospect after our dashing trip to Carpentaria, having to hang about Cooper's Creek, living like the blacks.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Sunday, 12 May 1861.
Mr Burke and King returned this morning, having been unsuccessful in their search for the blacks who, it seems, have moved over to the other branch of the creek. Decided on moving out on the main creek tomorrow, and then trying to find the natives of the creek.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 13 May 1861.
Shifted some of the things, and brought them back again, Mr Burke thinking it better for one to remain here with them for a few days, so as to eat the remains of the fresh meat, whilst the others went in search of the blacks and nardoo.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 14 May 1861.
Mr Burke and King gone up the creek to look for blacks, with four days' provisions. Self employed in preparing for a final start on their return. This evening Mr Burke and King returned, having been some considerable distance up the creek, and found no blacks. It is now settled that we plant the things, and all start together the day after tomorrow. The weather continues very fine; the nights calm, clear and cold, and the days clear, with a breeze generally from S., but to-day from E., for a change. This makes the first part of the day rather cold. When clouds appear they invariably move from W. to E.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 15 May 1861.
Camp 9
Planting the things and preparing to leave the creek for Mount Hopeless.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 16 May 1861.
Having completed our planting, &c., started up the creek to the second blacks' camp, a distance of about eight miles. Finding our loads rather too heavy, we made a small plant here of such articles as could best be spared. (Meteorological note).

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 17 May 1861.
Started this morning on a black's path, leaving the creek on our left, our intention being to keep a south-easterly direction until we should cut some likely-looking creek, and then to follow it down. On approaching the foot of the first sand-hill King caught sight in the flat of some nardoo seeds, and we soon found that the flat was covered with them. This discovery caused somewhat of a revolution in our feelings, for we considered that with the knowledge of this plant we were in a position to support ourselves, even if we were destined to remain on the creek and wait for assistance from town (?) Crossing some sand-ridges running N. and S., we struck into a creek which runs out of Cooper's Creek, and followed it down. At about five miles we came to a large waterhole, beyond which the watercourse runs out on extensive flats and earthy plains. Calm night; sky cleared towards morning, and it became very cold. A slight easterly breeze sprang up at sunrise, but soon died away again. The sky again became overcast, and remained so throughout the day. There was occasionally a light breeze from south, but during the greater portion of the day it was quite calm. Fine halo around the sun in the afternoon.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 18 May 1861.
Camp No. 11.
Calm night, sky sometimes clear and sometimes partially overcast with veil clouds.

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Sunday, 19 May 1861.

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Monday, 20 May 1861.

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Tuesday, 21 May 1861 - Creek.

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Wednesday, 22 May 1861 - Cooper's Creek.

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Thursday, 23 May 1861.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 24 May 1861.
Started with King to celebrate the Queen's birthday by fetching from Nardoo Creek what is now to us the staff of life. Returned at a little after two p.m., with a fair supply, but find the collecting of the seed a slower and more troublesome process than could be desired. Whilst picking the seed, about eleven o'clock a.m., both of us heard distinctly the noise of an explosion, as if of a gun, at some considerable distance. We supposed it to have been a shot fired by Mr Burke; but on returning to the camp found that he had not fired nor had heard the noise. The sky was partially overcast with high cum. str. clouds, and a light breeze blew from the east, but nothing to indicate a thunderstorm in any direction.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Saturday, 25 May 1861.

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Sunday, 26 May 1861.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Monday, 27 May 1861.
Started up the creek this morning for the depot, in order to deposit journals and a record of the state of affairs here. On reaching the sand-hills below where Landa was bogged I passed some blacks on a flat collecting nardoo seed. Never saw such an abundance of the seed before. The ground in some parts was quite black with it. There were only two or three gins and children, and they directed me on, as if to their camp, in the direction I was before going; but I had not gone far over the first sand-hill when I was overtaken by about twenty blacks, bent on taking me back to their camp, and promising any quantity of nardoo and fish. On my going with them, one carried my shovel, and another insisted on taking my swag, in such a friendly manner that I could not refuse them. They were greatly amused with the various little things I had with me. In the evening they supplied me with abundance of nardoo and fish; and one of the old men, Poko Tinnamira, shared his gunyah with me. The night was very cold but by the help of several fires..(entry not completed).

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Tuesday, 28 May 1861.
Left the blacks' camp and proceeded up the creek. Obtained some mussels near where Landa died and halted for breakfast. Still feel very unwell from the effects of the constipation of the bowels. The stools are exceedingly painful. After breakfast, travelled on to our third camp coming down.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Wednesday, 29 May 1861.
Started at seven o'clock, and went on to the duck holes, where we breakfasted coming down. Halted there at thirty minutes past nine for a feed, and then moved on. At the stones saw a lot of crows quarrelling about something near the water. Found it to be a large fish, of which they had eaten a considerable portion. Finding it quite fresh and good, I decided the quarrel by taking it with me. It proved a most valuable addition to my otherwise scanty supper of nardoo porridge. This evening I camped very comfortably in a mia-mia, about eleven miles from the depot. The night was very cold, although not entirely cloudless. A brisk easterly breeze sprang up in the morning, and blew freshly all day. In the evening the sky clouded in, and there were one or two slight showers, but nothing to wet the ground.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Thursday, 30 May 1861.
Reached the depot this morning, at eleven o'clock. No traces of any one except blacks having been here since we left. Deposited some journals, and a notice of our present condition. Started back in the afternoon, and camped at the first waterhole. Last night being cloudy, was unusually warm and pleasant.

© National Library of Australia - www.nla.gov.au
Friday, 31 May 1861.
Decamped at thirty minutes past seven, having first breakfasted. Passed between the sand-hills at nine, and reached the blanket mia-mia at twenty minutes to eleven; from there proceeded on to the rocks, where I arrived at half-past one, having delayed about half-an-hour on the road in gathering some portulac. It had been a fine morning, but the sky now became overcast, and threatened to set in for a steady rain; and as I felt very weak and tired I only moved on about a mile further, and camped in a sheltered gully, under some bushes. Night very clear and cold. No wind. Towards morning sky became slightly overcast with cirro str. clouds.


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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