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April 1861

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2083/3b .
Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, Part IX: Journals and diaries of members of the VEE.
William Wright's diary of the Depot Camp, Darling River. 26 January-21 June 1861.
Manuscript, 92 pages, numbered 1-90 with final page unnumbered.


Monday, 1st April. Koorliatto Creek.
Spelled, as rain fell at intervals throughout the day. No improvement in the health of the men.

Tuesday, 2nd April. Koorliatto Creek.
Though the weather cleared up, I was compelled to remain in camp. Stone being affected with severe rheumatic pains. In the morning a native made his appearance, and gave us the names of the surrounding localities. He wore no covering, save a tassel of native grass round his loins, and pointed out Bulloo as lying much more to the west than our course lay. After taking a minute survey of the camp he left.

Wednesday, 3rd April. Koorliatto Creek.
Seeing plainly that any attempt to move Mr. Becker and Purcell would retard their prospect of ultimate recovery, and finding no cause for apprehension from the natives, I resolved to push forward to Bulloo, which I conjectured from our northern position would be Cooper's Creek. My anxiety to move arose from the fact that I feared Mr Burke's stores must require replenishment, and that any party left at Cooper's Creek would be anxiously expecting our arrival. On these considerations I gave orders to prepare for a start on the following day.

Thursday, 4th April. Bulloo, or Wright's Creek.
At 9 a.m. the camels started, under charge of Mr Hodgkinson and Belooch, Gobin's saddle being left behind, as her back was getting very sore, and her lameness incapacitated her from carrying any load. Considerable difficulty was experienced in crossing the creek, which had been slightly escarped from the steepness of the banks, but eventually the camels with their loads were got over without injury. The track led over the narrow belt of sandhills bordering the north bank of the creek, and then debouching upon an extensive plain, intersected with water-courses, and crowded with rat-holes, pursued a course some few degrees to the E. of N. In places Mr Burke's track was hardly perceptible, but no difficulty was found in regaining it, as it was flanked on the west side by the Bulloo Range, and on the east side by a line of creek-timber running with prominent headlands towards it at distances varying from six to eight miles. Twelve miles from Koorliatto we passed one of these points where Mr Burke had pitched his 52nd camp. We found no water there. Eight miles farther we sighted Bulloo, and established the camp at the point where we first struck it. The horses which started after the camels overtook the latter, and reached camp about half an hour before them. We saw no natives throughout, the day save two who accompanied us a few miles from Koorliatto, but signal fires broke out in all directions. The weather continued fearfully hot.

Friday, 5th April, to Wednesday, 17th April. Bulloo.
Throughout the period included in the above mentioned dates Mr Hodgkinson, Stone, Smith, and Belooch, remained with me at Bulloo, spelling the camels and occasionally visiting Koorliatto, to convey supplies to the party there. Dr Beckler's patients were gradually sinking, and Stone became much worse. As the natives were very numerous, and apparently collecting from the surrounding districts, I cut logs for a rough stockade, which was subsequently erected. Though there was no feed near the camp, at four or five miles distance grass and salsolaceous plants were abundant, so that the cattle rapidly improved. From the absence of any indication that Mr Burke had stopped at this creek, I felt convinced that Cooper's Creek lay still farther in advance, and made two advances, NE and NW, for the purpose of tracing the course of the track. I found Bulloo watercourse to consist of a large sheet of water, extending some five miles to the north of our camp, with a breadth of 100 to 200 yards and a depth in some parts of sixteen or twenty feet. Fish of a considerable size were caught by the party; and at the northern termination of the waterhole, where the creek branched with insignificant channels, numbers of ingeniously constructed fishing dams showed that the natives derived a considerable sustenance from its waters. At the northern commencement of the small channels, which apparently connect the larger water basins, but from their intricate courses are difficult to follow, the plains became extremely stony, and the track turning rapidly to the west, completely obliterated. On the two occasions to which I have referred as advancing northerly I was compelled to turn back from the hostility of the natives, who, upon my camping, collected in large numbers, making fires all round me, and trying to entice Smith, who accompanied me, by means of their women. Bands often visited the camp, signifying the ground to be theirs, and ordering us to move away. All these demonstrations, in the present state of my party, gave me much anxiety, and I felt anxious to obtain additional stores for recruiting the sick and effectually supplying the advance party. I instructed Mr Hodgkinson, therefore, to start for Menindie on the 18th instant, with Belooch and seven of the camels, to escort Mr Becker and Purcell to that township, and having engaged two men in their places, to return as quickly as possible with stores. By these means I should do away with the inconvenience of two camps, afford two of the sick what I considered a chance of ultimate recovery, and only, by Dr Beckler's return to the Bulloo camp, lose one available hand. Moving backwards or forwards with the whole depot was impossible with so many sick, and I thought myself still sufficiently strong to hold an entrenched position against any attack made by the natives.

Thursday, 18th April. Bulloo.
This morning I sent Mr Hodgkinson on his journey to Menindie, directing him to take charge of Mr Becker and Purcell, and to request Dr Beckler to rejoin me. I had constructed a cudjowar, or camel palanquin, for the carriage of the two sick men, and I trusted that the prospect of a return to the settled districts would lend them energy for the journey. The natives visited the camp during the day, and pertinaciously hung round the stores. They were accompanied by a boy, some eight years of age, singularly impudent in his behaviour. Stone rapidly got worse, being seized frequently with severe rheumatic pains. Mr Hodgkinson, as afterwards reported, reached Koorliatto.

Friday, 19th April. Bulloo.
On this day Mr Hodgkinson returned from Koorliatto, bringing with him a note from Dr Beckler, in which that officer so strongly protested against the removal of Mr. Becker and Purcell to Menindie as to leave me no alternative but that of countermanding my instructions on that point. I therefore directed Mr Hodgkinson to return to Koorliatto and bring Mr. Becker and Purcell to Bulloo, together with the whole of the camels, as I resolved not to send to Menindie any of the party until I could form some more definite opinion regarding the prospects of the recovery of the sick. Stone being much worse, I instructed Dr Beckler to return without any delay, that he might afford his medical assistance. No natives came near the camp throughout the day, but the necessity of watching throughout the night fell very severely on the few in health.

Saturday, 20th April. Bulloo.
Mr Hodgkinson left for Koorliatto, reaching there at 11 a.m., but Dr Beckler did not start for Bulloo, being unable to leave Mr Becker and Purcell with safety.

Sunday, 21st April. Bulloo.
Throughout last night signal fires were burning around the camp here, and the natives imitated the howl of the native dog, apparently for the purpose of ascertaining our vigilance. Fifty-one rats were killed by means of a trap which I had made; but this slaughter, though greatly exceeding the subsequent nightly average, did not seem to diminish either their boldness or their numbers. Dr Beckler arrived at Bulloo at 5 p.m., and Mr Becker and Purcell were not reported as having suffered from their removal. Two tents were at once pitched for their accommodation. Mr Hodgkinson remained at Koorliatto, as only two of the camels were found when Dr Beckler and Belooch started.

Monday, 22nd April. Bulloo.
Between 9 and 10 a.m. this morning, eight natives came to the camp, armed, and upon being told to move off, two went up, and the other six down the creek, joining respectively two bands who have crossed the plains west of the camp, and concealed themselves in the creek timber. In a few minutes, a large body of them appeared on the bank of the creek, distant sixty yards from our stores, thronging through the scrub, and occasionally showing in the open, in parties of seven and eight. A blackfellow, who went by the appellation of "Shirt," from having had that garment presented to him by us, was particularly active, coming boldly up to the stores, and walking unconcernedly around them. He then picked up about forty rats, that were lying dead around, and, dropping a portion of them, motioned for me to pick them up and carry them for him, merely, I think, to get my head in an unguarded position. Several other blacks were meanwhile drawing nearer to us, violently gesticulating, making signs that they were hungry, and that we were camped upon their ground. One tall, strapping lubra accompanied them, and was exceedingly active, bearing a boomerang with considerable grace, and inciting her companions to attack us. At this time I had but two able men with me. Dr Beckler and Smith, Belooch having started for Koorliatto to assist Mr. Hodgkinson in finding the camels and bringing them in. Our cooking place was close to the creek, for the benefit of shade and water, and the utensils were round the fire, together with several clothes which had been washed by the party. Dr Beckler reporting to me that he saw natives creeping on their hands and knees near the fire, I took Smith down with me to clear them away. It was indeed high time-several of them were fingering their boomerangs as if impatient for a shy; and lifting up the lappels of Purcell's tent, commenced unpacking the medicine basket, while a third, with an armfull of boomerangs, was throwing them carelessly upon the ground near his brother warriors. However, they were not quite resolved upon hostilities, as when Smith and I pointed our pieces at them they quietly moved off before us, and retired without any further manifestations of hostility. Throughout this scene Stone, though dying, behaved with great intrepidity, raising himself upon his bed and aiming his revolver at the natives when they approached him. About 2 p.m., just as the blacks moved off, I was called by Stone, who, grasping me by the hand, said, "I am going." He then spoke a few words, and repeatedly asked that cold water should be thrown over him, as he could not breathe. Within ten minutes from the time he first called me, he turned upon his face and died. At 7 p.m. he was buried near the camp, by Dr Beckler and Smith. I have omitted to state that the blacks took away every portable article from the fire, throwing away the tea and salt, and taking the bags. Belooch reached Koorliatto early this morning, and Mr. Hodgkinson started with him towards Bulloo, but were compelled to camp eight miles from Koorliatto, owing to the late time at which they recovered the camels.

Tuesday, 23rd April. Bullo.
Mr Hodgkinson and Belooch reached Bulloo with the camels at 8 am. this morning, and immediately they arrived we unpacked all the stores, and passed the day in mending rat-holes, and repacking them in the form of a stockade; two sides being formed by as many logs sufficiently straight as we could procure at a reasonable distance. These logs were about four feet in height above the ground, allowing us to fire easily over them. The other two sides were not so high, but still a tolerable protection. Inside the stockade, every available weapon was placed so as to be handy for immediate use, and some of us always slept within it. At the same time our fire was brought within ten yards of it, as we had no more cooking apparatus to spare. Our watch commenced at 8 p.m., and terminated at 6 am.

Wednesday, 24th April. Bulloo.
The first announcement this morning was that Purcell had died in the doctor's presence during the night. For some days past he had been so weak. as to faint after drinking a little water, and we had long been expecting his decease. I sent Belooch and Smith to look after the horses which fed between Bulloo and a tributary creek. About an hour after they started the natives made their appearance, coming in twos and threes through the thick scrub on the creek, until about a score had collected. They were armed with new boomerangs, spears, and waddies, and were accompanied by the boy previously mentioned, whose conduct was even more impudent than before. At first the boy advanced with two powerful fellows, hesitatingly towards the stockade, while in their rear could be seen a dozen others attentively watching their proceedings. Mr Hodgkinson having brought in the things from the fire, I advanced with him towards the natives, motioning them to be off. Disregarding my attempts to clear them off, I caught hold of the boy, and, turning him round, gave him plainly to understand that he would not he allowed to remain near the camp. I thought proper to do this as he was evidently only brought to insult us, and at length he retired with the others to a short distance. We then entered the stockade and watched the proceedings of the natives, who were joined about this time by another party from the SW. The whole body then clustered around Stone's grave and became most insulting in their demeanor. Taking up a dead rat, one of them made a harangue upon it, and concluded by flinging it contemptuously at us. Finding we did not notice this, they threw the earth from Stone's grave in the air, and after carrying logs as if mocking the erection of the stockade, made signs that we should all meet the same fate as those dead. I was very unwilling to fire at them, and allowed them to throw several sticks at us rather than commence actual hostilities. By noon they had concluded their demonstrations, and moved quietly off to a camp which they had established to the north of us. Smith and Belooch returned at nightfall, having been unable to find the horses. Shortly afterwards Dr Beckler and Mr Hodgkinson commenced digging Purcell's grave.

Thursday, 25th April. Bulloo.
At daylight I directed Mr, Hodgkinson to complete Purcell's grave, and, with Dr Beckler's assistance, he was buried by 8 am. Immediately after breakfast I started with Smith for the horses, but had not proceeded two miles before signal fires rose all around me, and I returned to the camp, so that the natives should not derive any advantage from my absence. I should have premised that we had heard a horse-bell in the morning on the opposite side of Bulloo Creek, and that Mr Hodgkinson, who swam over for the purpose, ascertained that six of the horses were feeding upon the bank. I now resolved upon crossing them if possible, and Dr Beckler swam with Mr. Hodgkinson across the creek at midday, for the purpose of driving them into the water. This desirable object was accomplished, after a little delay in getting them to take the water. The natives did not molest us throughout the day, and in the afternoon I disposed of the few clothes belonging to the men lately deceased, as some of us were sadly in want of a fresh supply.

Friday, 26th April. Bulloo.
The day passed very quietly, no natives appearing.

Saturday, 27th April. Bulloo.
This morning, fortunately, no one went after the cattle, as the horses were quietly feeding within sight, and the camels came home with great regularity at sunset, camping close to the stockade. The stores were all unpacked, and, after the rat-holes had been mended, replaced in their former position. About eleven o'clock the cry of "Natives!" started us to our feet, and every article near the fire was carried into the stockade with the utmost celerity. On looking out a body of natives, numbering between forty and fifty, could be seen advancing towards us from the west, not seeking any cover, but marching in good order straight across the open plain. On this occasion I saw plainly that they meant mischief, as they were all painted, and bore more spears than we had seen on any former occasion. Most of them were painted with a deep red band, from the neck down the centre of the chest, crossed by similar bands at right angles to it. When within a couple of hundred yards, they quickened their pace into a run, exciting each other with war cries, and placing their arms in position. "Shirt," accompanied by two other leaders, was in the van, and despite all my motions for them to stop, had approached within a few yards of us before I gave the order to fire. A few discharges repulsed, them, but as they collected again some 600 yards off, I fired a rifle at them and effectually dispersed them. As soon as they disappeared, we visited Mr Becker in his tent, and found that he was quite unconscious of any unusual occurrence. I now resolved to quit Bulloo immediately, as such a small party was quite unfit to maintain a long contest against the large tribes around, and any men would be picked off while necessarily absent in search of the camels. I instructed Mr Hodgkinson and Smith to get up the camels without delay, and all save Coppin and Mutwala, which could not be found, were brought in, and tied around the stockade.

Sunday, 28th April. Bulloo.
At 6 am. Dr Beckler and Belooch started after the two missing camels, and succeeded in getting them. The day was passed in preparing for a start on the following morning repacking the loads, and burning all articles of a cumbrous and useless description. The cattle were kept near the camp all day, and appeared inclined to remain near us.

Monday, 29th April. Bulloo.
The horses were very troublesome during the night, perpetually trying to steal away, and, though closely hobbled, more than once attempting to swim the broad creek. About 3 am. a bell was heard from the south, and a number of dark objects, like cattle, could be dimly seen through the darkness. When daylight broke these objects were recognised as forming part of the mob of horses taken on by Mr Burke, and shortly afterwards Mr Brahe came up, and reported that he had just arrived from Cooper's Creek, where Mr Burke had left him on the 16th of December in charge of a depot consisting of Patten, McDonough, Botan, six camels, and twelve horses. Mr Brahe had received instructions to remain at Cooper's Creek for three or four months but had extended that period to eighteen weeks, and only left when his rations ran short. Previous to leaving he had made a cache of provisions, sufficient to enable Mr Burke and party if competent to retrace their steps, to reach the Darling. Mr Brahe had not followed Mr Burke's track to Bulloo, but had pursued a direct course, and reached the 52nd camp of Mr Burke, eight miles south of my depot, in about eighty miles. His horses had been 100 hours without water, but travelled with much less difficulty than could have been hoped for. On proceeding to Mr Brahe's camp I found Patten suffering from scurvy to an alarming extent, McDonough almost unable to work, and Botan complaining. Mr Brahe placed himself under my orders, and I united the two camps in the course of the morning. Of the camels brought down by Mr Brahe I found three-Beer, Rowa, and Mustana, suffering severely from scab. The others were in good condition.

Monday, 29th April.
At a quarter-past five this afternoon Mr Becker died.

Tuesday, 30th April. Bulloo.
The night passed quietly, no signs of natives being near having occurred. Early this morning Mr Becker was buried, the stockade pulled down, and the logs used to form, as far as possible, a protection to the dead. Mr Becker's clothes, bedding, tent, &c., being quite unfit for use, were burned, and his other effects placed in a pack for conveyance to Melbourne.

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