Captain Charles Sturt in Lake Alexandrina 1831 A.D. ‘The transition from freshwater to salt was almost immediate’. ‘A seal rose close to the boat’. Chapter VI, paragraphs 19 and 32-36.
THE OPOSSUM HUNT.
MORUMBIDGEE AND MURRAY RIVERS,
In 1829, 1830 and 1831.
Remarks on the results of the former Expedition—The fitting out of another determined on—Its objects—Provisions, accoutrements, and retinue—Paper furnished by Mr. Kent—Causes that have prevented the earlier appearance of the present work.
The expedition of which we have just detailed the proceedings was so far satisfactory in its results, that it not only set at rest the hypothesis of the existence of an internal shoal sea in southern Australia, and ascertained the actual termination of the rivers it had been directed to trace, but also added very largely to our knowledge of the country considerably to the westward of former discoveries. And although no land had been traversed of a fertile description of sufficient extent to invite the settler, the fact of a large river such as the Darling lying at the back of our almost intertropical settlements, gave a fresh importance to the distant interior. It was evident that this river was the chief drain for carrying off the waters falling westerly from the eastern coast, and as its course indicated a decline of country diametrically opposite to that which had been calculated upon, it became an object of great importance to ascertain its further direction. Had not the saline quality of its waters been accounted for, by the known existence of brine springs in its bed, it would have been natural to have supposed that it communicated with some mediterranean sea; but, under existing circumstances, it remained to be proved whether this river held on a due south course, or whether it ultimately turned westerly, and ran into the heart of the interior. In order fully to determine this point, it would be necessary to regain it banks, so far below the parallel to which it had been traced as to leave no doubt of its identity; but it was difficult to fix upon a plan for approaching that central stream without suffering from the want of water, since it could hardly be expected that the Lachlan would afford such means, as it was reasonable to presume that its termination was very similar to that of the Macquarie. The attention of the government was, consequently, fixed upon the Morumbidgee, a river stated to be of considerable size and of impetuous current. Receiving its supplies from the lofty ranges behind Mount Dromedary, it promised to hold a longer course than those rivers which, depending on periodical rains alone for existence, had been found so soon to exhaust themselves.
The fitting out of another expedition was accordingly determined upon; and about the end of September 1829, I received the Governor’s instructions to make the necessary preparations for a second descent into the interior, for the purpose of tracing the Morumbidgee, or such rivers as it might prove to be connected with, as far as practicable. In the event of failure in this object, it was hoped that an attempt to regain the banks of the Darling on a N.W. course from the point at which the expedition might be thwarted in its primary views, would not be unattended with success. Under any circumstances, however, by pursuing these measures, an important part of the colony would necessarily be traversed, of which the features were as yet altogether unknown.
It became my interest and my object to make the expedition as complete as possible, and, as far as in me lay, to provide for every contingency: and as it appeared to me that, in all likelihood, we should in one stage or other of our journey have to trust entirely to water conveyance, I determined on taking a whale-boat, whose dimensions and strength should in some measure be proportioned to the service required. I likewise constructed a small still for the distillation of water, in the event of our finding the water of the Darling salt, when we should reach its banks. The whale-boat, after being fitted, was taken to pieces for more convenient carriage, as has been more particularly detailed in the last chapter of the preceding volume.
So little danger had been apprehended from the natives in the former journey, that three firelocks had been considered sufficient for our defence. On the present occasion, however, I thought it adviseable to provide arms for each individual.
Mr. Hume declined accompanying me, as the harvest was at hand. Mr. George M’Leay therefore supplied his place, rather as a companion than as an assistant; and of those who accompanied me down the banks of the Macquarie, I again selected Harris (my body servant), Hopkinson, and Fraser.
The concluding chapter of this volume, relative to the promontory of St. Vincent, or Cape Jervis, has been furnished me by the kindness of Mr. Kent, who accompanied the lamented officer to whom the further exploration of that part of coast unhappily proved fatal. There is a melancholy coincidence between Captain Barker’s death and that of Captain Cook, which cannot fail to interest the public, as the information that has been furnished will call for their serious consideration. I shall leave for their proper place, the remarks I have to offer upon it, since my motive in these prefatory observations has been, to carry the reader forward to that point at which he will have to view the proceedings of the expedition alone, in order the more satisfactorily to arrive at their results. And, although he must expect a considerable portion of dry reading in the following pages, I have endeavoured to make the narrative of events, some of which are remarkably striking, as interesting as possible.
It only remains for me to refer the reader to the concluding chapter of the preceding volume, for such general information as I have been enabled to furnish upon the nature of the services on which I was employed, and on the manner of conducting similar expeditions. Indeed, I trust that this book (whatever be its defects) will be found to contain much valuable information of a practical character, and I may venture to affirm, that it will give a true description of the country, and of the various other subjects of which it treats.
Notwithstanding that I have in my dedication alluded to the causes that prevented the earlier appearance of this work, I feel it due both to myself and the public here to state, that during these expeditions my health had suffered so much, that I was unable to bear up against the effects of exposure, bodily labour, poverty of diet, and the anxiety of mind to which I was subjected. A residence on Norfolk Island, under peculiarly harassing circumstances, completed that which the above causes had commenced; and, after a succession of attacks, I became totally blind, and am still unable either to read what I pen, or to venture abroad without an attendant. When it is recollected, that I have been unassisted in this work in any one particular, I hope some excuse will be found for its imperfections. A wish to contribute to the public good led me to undertake those journeys which have cost me so much. The same feeling actuates me in recording their results; and I have the satisfaction to know, that my path among a large and savage population was a bloodless one; and that my intercourse with them was such as to lessen the danger to future adventurers upon such hazardous enterprises, and to give them hope where I had so often despaired. Something more powerful, than human foresight or human prudence, appeared to avert the calamities and dangers with which I and my companions were so frequently threatened; and had it not been for the guidance and protection we received from the Providence of that good and all-wise Being to whose care we committed ourselves, we should, ere this, have ceased to rank among the number of His earthly creatures.
Commencement of the expedition in November, 1829.—Joined by Mr. George M’Leay—Appearance of the party—Breadalbane Plains—Hospitality of Mr. O’Brien—Yass Plains—Hill of Pouni—Path of a hurricane—Character of the country between Underaliga and the Morumbidgee—Appearance of that river—Junction of the Dumot with it—Crossing and recrossing—Geological character and general aspect of the country—Plain of Pondebadgery—Few natives seen.
The expedition which traversed the marshes of the Macquarie, left Sydney on the 10th day of Nov. 1828. That destined to follow the waters of the Morumbidgee, took its departure from the same capital on the 3rd of the same month in the ensuing year. Rain had fallen in the interval, but not in such quantities as to lead to the apprehension that it had either influenced or swollen the western streams. It was rather expected that the winter falls would facilitate the progress of the expedition, and it was hoped that, as the field of its operations would in all probability be considerably to the south of the parallel of Port Jackson, the extreme heat to which the party and the animals had been exposed on the former journey, would be less felt on the present occasion.
As there was no Government establishment to the S.W. at which I could effect any repairs, or recruit my supplies, as I had done at Wellington Valley, the expedition, when it left Sydney, was completed in every branch, and was so fully provided with every necessary implement and comfort, as to render any further aid, even had such been attainable, in a great measure unnecessary. The Governor had watched over my preparations with a degree of anxiety that evidenced the interest he felt in the expedition, and his arrangements to ensure, as far as practicable, our being met on our return, in the event of our being in distress, were equally provident and satisfactory. It was not, however, to the providing for our wants in the interior alone that His Excellency’s views were directed, but orders were given to hold a vessel in readiness, to be dispatched at a given time to St. Vincent’s Gulf, in case we should ultimately succeed in making the south coast in its neighbourhood.
The morning on which I left Sydney a second time, under such doubtful circumstances, was perfectly serene and clear. I found myself at 5 a.m. of that delightful morning leading my horses through the gates of those barracks whose precincts I might never again enter, and whose inmates I might never again behold assembled in military array. Yet, although the chance of misfortune flashed across my mind, I was never lighter at heart, or more joyous in spirit. It appeared to me that the stillness and harmony of nature influenced my feelings on the occasion, and my mind forgot the storms of life, as nature at that moment seemed to have forgotten the tempests that sometimes agitate her.
I proceeded direct to the house of my friend Mr. J. Deas Thomson, who had agreed to accompany me to Brownlow Hill, a property belonging to Mr. M’Leay, the Colonial Secretary, where his son, Mr. George M’Leay, was to join the expedition. As soon as we had taken a hasty breakfast, I went to the carters’ barracks to superintend the first loading of the animals. Mr. Murray, the superintendent, had arranged every article so well, and had loaded the drays so compactly that I had no trouble, and little time was lost in saddling the pack animals. At a quarter before 7 the party filed through the turnpike-gate, and thus commenced its journey with the greatest regularity. I have the scene, even at this distance of time, vividly impressed upon my mind, and I have no doubt the kind friend who was near me on the occasion, bears it as strongly on his recollection. My servant Harris, who had shared my wanderings and had continued in my service for eighteen years, led the advance, with his companion Hopkinson. Nearly abreast of them the eccentric Fraser stalked along wholly lost in thought. The two former had laid aside their military habits, and had substituted the broad brimmed hat and the bushman’s dress in their place, but it was impossible to guess how Fraser intended to protect himself from the heat or the damp, so little were his habiliments suited for the occasion. He had his gun over his shoulder, and his double shot belt as full as it could be of shot, although there was not a chance of his expending a grain during the day. Some dogs Mr. Maxwell had kindly sent me followed close at his heels, as if they knew his interest in them, and they really seemed as if they were aware that they were about to exchange their late confinement for the freedom of the woods. The whole of these formed a kind of advanced guard. At some distance in the rear the drays moved slowly along, on one of which rode the black boy mentioned in my former volume, and behind them followed the pack animals. Robert Harris, whom I had appointed to superintend the animals generally, kept his place near the horses, and the heavy Clayton, my carpenter, brought up the rear. I shall not forget the interest Thomson appeared to take in a scene that must certainly have been new to him. Our progress was not checked by the occurrence of a single accident, nor did I think it necessary to remain with the men after we had gained that turn which, at about four miles from Sydney, branches off to the left, and leads direct to Liverpool. From this Point my companion and I pushed forward, in order to terminate a fifty miles’ ride a little sooner than we should have done at the leisurely pace we had kept during the early part of our journey. We remained in Liverpool for a short time, to prepare the commissariat office for the reception, and to ensure the accommodation, of the party; and reached Brownlow Hill a little after sunset.
As I have already described the country on this line of road as far us Goulburn Plains, it will not be considered necessary that I should again notice its features with minuteness.
The party arrived at Glendarewel, the farm attached to Brownlow Hill, on the 5th. I resumed my journey alone on the 8th. M’Leay had still some few arrangements to make, so that I dispensed with his immediate attendance. He overtook me, however, sooner than I expected, on the banks of the Wallandilly. I had encamped under the bluff end of Cookbundoon, and, having been disappointed in getting bearings when crossing the Razor Back, I hoped that I should be enabled to connect a triangle from the summit of Cookbundoon, or to secure bearings of some prominent hill to the south. I found the brush, however, so thick on the top of the mountain, that I could obtain no satisfactory view, and and M’Leay, who accompanied me, agreed with me in considering that we were but ill repaid for the hot scramble we had had. Crossing the western extremity of Goulburn Plains on the 15th, we encamped on a chain of ponds behind Doctor Gibson’s residence at Tyranna, and as I had some arrangements to make with that gentleman, I determined to give both the men and animals a day’s rest. I availed myself of Doctor Gibson’s magazines to replace such of my provisions as I had expended, as I found that I could do so without putting him to any inconvenience; and I added two of his men to the party, intending to send them back, in case of necessity, or, when we should have arrived at that point from which it might appear expedient to forward an account of my progress and ultimate views, for the governor’s information.
On the 17th we struck the tents, and, crossing the chain of ponds near which they had been pitched, entered a forest track, that gave place to barren stony ridges of quartz formation. These continued for six or seven miles, in the direction of Breadalbane Plains, upon which we were obliged to stop, as we should have had some difficulty in procuring either water or food, within any moderate distance beyond them. The water, indeed, that we were obliged to content ourselves with was by no means good. Breadalbane Plains are of inconsiderable extent, and are surrounded by ridges, the appearance of which is not very promising. Large white masses of quartz rock lie scattered over them, amongst trees of stunted growth. Mr. Redall’s farm was visible at the further extremity of the plains from that by which we had entered them. It would appear that these plains are connected with Goulburn Plains by a narrow valley, that was too wet for the drays to have traversed.
Doctor Gibson had kindly accompanied us to Breadalbane Plains. On the morning of the 18th he returned to Tyranna, and we pursued our journey, keeping mostly on a W.S.W. course. From the barren hills over which we passed, on leaving the plains, we descended upon an undulating country, and found a change of rock, as well as of vegetation, upon it. Granite and porphyry constituted its base. An open forest, on which the eucalyptus mannifera alone prevailed, lay on either side of us, and although the soil was coarse, and partook in a great measure of the decomposition of the rock it covered, there was no deficiency of grass. On the contrary, this part of the interior is decidedly well adapted for pasturing cattle.
About 1 p.m. we passed Mr. Hume’s station, with whom I remained for a short time. He had fixed his establishment on the banks of the Lorn, a small river, issuing from the broken country near Lake George, and now ascertained to be one of the largest branches of the Lachlan River. We had descended a barren pass of stringy bark scrub, on sandstone rock, a little before we reached Mr. Hume’s station, but around it the same, open forest tract again prevailed. We crossed the Lorn, at 2 o’clock, leaving Mr. Broughton’s farm upon our left, and passed through a broken country, which was very far from being deficient in pasture. We encamped on the side of a water-course, about 4 o’clock, having travelled about fifteen miles.
On the 19th, we observed no change in the soil or aspect of the country, for the first five miles. The eucalyptus mannifera was the most prevalent of the forest trees, and certainly its presence indicated a more flourishing state in the minor vegetation. At about five miles, however, from where we had slept, sandstone reappeared, and with it the barren scrub that usually grows upon a sandy and inhospitable soil. One of the drays was upset in its progress down a broken pass, where the road had been altogether neglected, and it was difficult to avoid accidents. Fortunately we suffered no further than in the delay that the necessity of unloading the dray, and reloading it, occasioned. Mr. O’Brien, an enterprising settler, who had pushed his flocks to the banks of the Morumbidgee, and who was proceeding to visit his several stations, overtook us in the midst of our troubles. We had already passed each other frequently on the road, but he now preceded me to his establishment at Yass; at which I proposed remaining for a day. We stopped about three miles short of the plains for the night, at the gorge of the pass through which we had latterly been advancing, and had gradually descended to a more open country. From the place at which we were temporarily delayed, and which is not inappropriately called the Devil’s Pass, the road winds about between ranges, differing in every respect from any we had as yet noticed. The sides of the hills were steeper, and their summits sharper, than any we had crossed. They were thickly covered with eucalypti and brush, and, though based upon sandstone, were themselves of a schistose formation.
Yharr or Yass Plains were discovered by Mr. Hovel, and Mr. Hume, the companion of my journey down the Macquarie, in 1828. They take their name from the little river that flows along their north and north-west boundaries. They are surrounded on every side by forests, and excepting to the W.N.W., as a central point, by hill. Undulating, but naked themselves, they have the appearance of open downs, and are most admirably adapted for sheep-walks, not only in point of vegetation, but also, because their inequalities prevent their becoming swampy during the rainy season. They are from nine to twelve miles in length, and from five to seven in breadth, and although large masses of sandstone are scattered over them, a blue secondary limestone composes the general bed of the river, that was darker in colour and more compact than I had remarked the same kind of rock, either at Wellington Valley, or in the Shoal Haven Gully. I have no doubt that Yass Plains will ere long be wholly taken up as sheep-walks, and that their value to the grazier will in a great measure counterbalance its distance from the coast, or, more properly speaking, from the capital. Sheep I should imagine would thrive uncommonly well upon these plains, and would suffer less from distempers incidental to locality and to climate, than in many parts of the colony over which they are now wandering in thousands. And if the plains themselves do not afford extensive arable tracts, there is, at least, sufficient good land near the river to supply the wants of a numerous body of settlers.
We left Mr. O’Brien’s station on the morning of the 21st, and, agreeably to his advice, determined on gaining the Morumbidgee, by a circuit to the N.W., rather than endanger the safety of the drays by entering the mountain passes to the westward. Mr. O’Brien, however, would not permit us to depart from his dwelling without taking away with us some further proofs of his hospitality. The party had pushed forward before I, or Mr. M’Leay, had mounted our horses; but on overtaking it, we found that eight fine wethers had been added to our stock of animals.
To the W.N.W. of Yass Plains there is a remarkable hill, called Pouni, remarkable not so much on account of its height, as of its commanding position. It had, I believe, already been ascended by one of the Surveyor-general’s assistants. The impracticability of the country to the south of it, obliged us to pass under its opposite base, from which an open forest country extended to the northward. We had already recrossed the Yass River, and passed Mr. Barber’s station, to that of Mr. Hume’s father, at which we stopped for a short time. Both farms are well situated, the latter I should say, romantically so, it being immediately under Pouni, the hill we have noticed. The country around both was open, and both pasture and water were abundant.
Mr. O’Brien had been kind enough to send one of the natives who frequented his station to escort us to his more advanced station upon the Morumbidgee. Had it not been for the assistance we received from this man, I should have had but little leisure for other duties: as it was however, there was no fear of the party going astray. This gave M’Leay and myself an opportunity of ascending Pouni, for the purpose of taking bearings; and how ever warm the exertion of the ascent made us, the view from the summit of the hill sufficiently repaid us, and the cool breeze that struck it, although imperceptible in the forest below, soon dried the perspiration from our brows. The scenery around us was certainly varied, yet many parts of it put me forcibly in mind of the dark and gloomy tracks over which my eye had wandered from similar elevations on the former journey. This was especially the case in looking to the north, towards which point the hills forming the right of the valley by which we had entered the plains, decreased so rapidly in height that they were lost in the general equality of the more remote country, almost ere they had reached abreast of my position. From E.S.E. to W.S.W. the face of the country was hilly, broken and irregular; forming deep ravines and precipitous glens, amid which I was well aware the Morumbidgee was still struggling for freedom; while mountains succeeded mountains in the back-ground, and were themselves overtopped by lofty and very distant peaks. To the eastward, however, the hills wore a more regular form, and were lightly covered with wood. The plains occupied the space between them and Pouni; and a smaller plain bore N.N.E. which, being embosomed in the forest, had hitherto escaped our notice.
We overtook the party just as it cleared the open ground through which it had previously been moving. A barren scrub succeeded it for about eight miles. The soil in this scrub was light and sandy.
We stopped for the night at the head of a valley that seemed to have been well trodden by cattle. The feed, therefore, was not abundant, nor was the water good. We had, however, made a very fair journey, and I was unwilling to press the animals. But in consequence, I fancy, of the scarcity of food, they managed to creep away during the night, with the exception of three or four of the bullocks, nor should we have collected them again so soon as we did, or without infinite trouble, had it not been for our guide and my black boy. We unavoidably lost a day, but left our position on the 23rd, for Underaliga, a station occupied by Doctor Harris, the gentleman I have already had occasion to mention. We reached the banks of the creek near the stock hut, about 4 p.m., having journeyed during the greater part of the day through a poor country, partly of scrub and partly of open forest-land, in neither of which was the soil or vegetation fresh or abundant. At about three miles from Underaliga, the country entirely changed its character, and its flatness was succeeded by a broken and undulating surface. The soil upon the hills was coarse and sandy, from the decomposition of the granite rock that constituted their base. Nevertheless, the grass was abundant on the hills, though the roots or tufts were far apart; and the hills were lightly studded with trees.
In the course of the day we crossed the line of a hurricane that had just swept with resistless force over the country, preserving a due north course, and which we had heard from a distance, fortunately too great to admit of its injuring us. It had opened a fearful gap in the forest through which it had passed, of about a quarter of a mile in breadth. Within that space, no tree had been able to withstand its fury, for it had wrenched every bough from such as it had failed to prostrate, and they stood naked in the midst of the surrounding wreck. I am inclined to think that the rudeness of nature itself in these wild and uninhabited regions, gives birth to these terrific phenomena. They have never occurred, so far as I know, in the located districts. Our guide deserted us in the early part of the day without assigning any reason for doing so. He went off without being noticed, and thus lost the reward that would have been bestowed on him had he mentioned his wish to return to Yass. I the more regretted his having sneaked off, because he had had the kindness to put us on a track we could not well lose.
Underaliga, is said to be thirty miles from the Morumbidgee. The country between the two has a sameness of character throughout. It is broken and irregular, yet no one hill rises conspicuously over the rest. We found ourselves at one time on their summits beside huge masses of granite, at others crossing valleys of rich soil and green appearance. A country under cultivation is so widely different from one the sod of which has never been broken by the plough, that it is difficult and hazardous to form a decided opinion on the latter. If you ask a stockman what kind of a country lies, either to his right, or to his left, he is sure to condemn it, unless it will afford the most abundant pasture. Accustomed to roam about from one place to another, these men despise any but the richest tracts, and include the rest of the neighbourhood in one sweeping clause of condemnation. Thus I was led to expect, that we should pass over a country of the very worst description, between Underaliga and the Morumbidgee. Had it been similar to that midway between Yass and Underaliga, we should, in truth, have found it so; but it struck me, that there were many rich tracts of ground among the valleys of the former, and that the very hills had a fair covering of grass upon them. What though the soil was coarse, if the vegetation was good and sufficient? Perhaps the greatest drawback to this part of the interior is the want of water; yet we crossed several creeks, and remarked some deep water holes, that can never be exhausted, even in the driest season. Wherever the situation favoured our obtaining a view of the country on either side of us, while among these hills, we found that to the eastward lofty and mountainous; whilst that to the westward, had the appearance of fast sinking into a level.
A short time before we reached the Morumbidgee, we forded a creek, which we crossed a second time where it falls into the river. After crossing it the first time we opened a flat, on which the marks of sheep were abundant. In the distance there was a small hill, and on its top a bark hut. We were not until then aware of our being so near the river, but as Mr. O’Brien had informed me that he had a station for sheep, at a place called Tuggiong , by the natives, on the immediate banks of the river, I did not doubt that we had, at length, arrived at it. And so it proved. I went to the hut, to ascertain where I could conveniently stop for the night, but the residents were absent. I could not but admire the position they had taken up. The hill upon which their hut was erected was not more than fifty feet high, but it immediately overlooked the river, and commanded not only the flat we had traversed in approaching it, but also a second flat on the opposite side. The Morumbidgee came down to the foot of this little hill from the south, and, of course, running to the north, which latter direction it suddenly takes up from a previous S.W. one, on meeting some hills that check its direct course. From the hill on which the hut stands, it runs away westward, almost in a direct line, for three miles, so that the position commands a view of both the reaches, which are overhung by the casuarina and flooded-gum. Rich alluvial flats lie to the right of the stream, backed by moderate hills, that were lightly studded with trees, and clothed with verdure to their summits. Some moderate elevations also backed a flat, on the left bank of the river, but the colour of the soil upon the latter, as well as its depressed situation, showed clearly that it was subject to flood, and had received the worst of the depositions from the mountains. The hills behind it were also bare, and of a light red colour, betraying, as I imagined, a distinct formation from, and poorer character than, the hills behind us. At about three miles the river again suddenly changes its direction from west to south, for about a mile, when it inclines to the S.E. until it nearly encircles the opposite hills, when it assumes its proper direction, and flows away to the S.W.
We crossed the Underaliga creek a little below the stock hut, and encamped about a mile beyond it, in the centre of a long plain. We were surrounded on every side by hills, from which there was no visible outlet, as they appeared to follow the bend of the river, with an even and unbroken outline. The scenery around us was wild, romantic, and beautiful; as beautiful as a rich and glowing sunset in the most delightful climate under the heavens could make it. I had been more anxious to gain the banks of the Morumbidgee on this occasion, than I had been on a former one to gain those of the Macquarie, for although I could not hope to see the Morumbidgee all that it had been described to me, yet I felt that on its first appearance I should in some measure ground my anticipations of ultimate success. When I arrived on the banks of the Macquarie, it had almost ceased to flow, and its current was so gentle as to be scarcely perceptible. Instead, however, of a river in such a state of exhaustion, I now looked down upon a stream, whose current it would have been difficult to breast, and whose waters, foaming among rocks, or circling in eddies, gave early promise of a reckless course. It must have been somewhat below its ordinary level, and averaged a breadth of about 80 feet. Its waters were hard and transparent, and its bed was composed of mountain debris, and large fragments of rock. As soon as the morning dawned, the tents were struck and we pursued our journey. We followed the line of the river, until we found ourselves in a deep bight to the S.E. The hills that had been gradually closing in upon the river, now approached it so nearly, that there was no room for the passage of the drays. We were consequently obliged to turn back, and, moving along the base of the ranges, by which we were thus apparently enclosed, we at length found a steep pass, the extreme narrowness of which had hidden it from our observation. By this pass we were now enabled to effect our escape. On gaining the summit of the hills, we travelled south for three or four miles, through open forests, and on level ground. But we ultimately descended into a valley in which we halted for the night. On a closer examination of the neighbourhood, it appeared that our position was at the immediate junction of two valleys, where, uniting the waters of their respective creeks, the main branch declines rapidly towards the river. One of these valleys extended to to the S.W., the other to the W.N.W. It was evident to us that our route lay up the former; and I made no doubt we should easily reach Whaby’s station on the morrow.
We were now far beyond the acknowledged limits of the located parts of the colony, and Mr. Whaby’s station was the last at which we could expect even the casual supply of milk or other trifling relief. Yet, although the prospect of so soon leaving even the outskirts of civilization, and being wholly thrown on our own resources, was so near, it never for a moment weighed upon the minds of the men. The novelty of the scenery, and the beauty of the river on which they were journeying, excited in them the liveliest anticipations of success. The facility with which we had hitherto pushed forward blinded them to future difficulties, nor could there be a more cheerful spectacle than that which the camp daily afforded. The animals browzing in the distance, and the men talking over their pipes of the probable adventures they might encounter. The loads had by this time settled properly, and our provisions proved of the very best quality, so that no possible improvement could have been made for the better.
On the morrow we pushed up the southernmost of the valleys, at the junction of which we had encamped, having moderate hills on either side of us. At the head of the valley we crossed a small dividing range into another valley, and halted for the night, on the banks of a creek from the westward, as we found it impossible to reach Whaby’s station, as we had intended, before sunset. Nothing could exceed the luxuriance of the vegetation in this valley, but the water of the creek was so impregnated with iron, as to be almost useless. Being anxious to obtain a view of the surrounding country, I ascended a hill behind the camp, just as the sun was sinking, a time the most favourable for the object I had in view. The country, broken into hill and dale, seemed richer than any tract I had as yet surveyed; and the beauty of the near landscape was greatly heightened by the mountainous scenery to the S. and S.E. Both the laxmania, and zanthorea were growing around me; but neither appeared to be in congenial soil. The face of the hill was very stony, and I found, on examination, that a great change had taken place in the rock-formation, the granite ranges having given place to chlorite schist.
We reached Whaby’s about 9 a.m. of the morning of the 27th, and received every attention and civility from him. The valley in which we had slept opened upon an extensive plain, to the eastward of which the Morumbidgee formed the extreme boundary; and it was in a bight, and on ground rather elevated above the plain, that he had fixed his residence. He informed me that we should have to cross the river, as its banks were too precipitous, and the ranges too abrupt, to admit of our keeping the right side; and recommended me to examine and fix upon a spot at which to cross, before I again moved forward, expressing his readiness to accompany me as a guide. We accordingly rode down the river, to a place at which some stockman had effected a passage,—after a week’s labour in hewing out a canoe. I by no means intended that a similar delay should occur in our case, but I saw no objection to our crossing at the same place; since its depth, and consequent tranquillity, rendered it eligible enough for that purpose.
The Dumot river, another mountain stream, joins the Morumbidgee opposite to Mr. Whaby’s residence. It is little inferior to the latter either in size or in the rapidity of its current, and, if I may rely on the information I received, waters a finer country, the principal rock-formation upon it being of limestone and whinstone. It rises amidst the snowy ranges to the S.E., and its banks are better peopled than those of the stream into which it discharges itself. Of course, such a tributary enlarges the Morumbidgee considerably: indeed, the fact is sufficiently evident from the appearance of the latter below the junction.
During our ride with Whaby down its banks, we saw nothing but the richest flats, almost entirely clear of timber and containing from 400 to 700 acres, backed by ranges that were but partially wooded, and were clothed with verdure to their very summits. The herds that were scattered over the first were almost lost in the height of the vegetation, and the ranges served as natural barriers to prevent them from straying away.
On the following morning, we started for the place at which it had been arranged that we should cross the Morumbidgee, but, though no more than five miles in a direct line from Whaby’s house, in consequence of the irregularity of the ground, the drays did not reach it before noon. The weight and quantity of our stores being taken into consideration, the task we had before us was not a light one. Such, however, was the industry of the men, that before it became dark the whole of them, including the drays and sheep, were safely deposited on the opposite bank. We were enabled to be thus expeditious, by means of a punt that we made with the tarpaulins on an oblong frame. As soon as it was finished, a rope was conveyed across the river, and secured to a tree, and a running cord being then fastened to the punt, a temporary ferry was established, and the removal of our stores rendered comparatively easy. M’Leay undertook to drive the horses and cattle over a ford below us, but he did not calculate on the stubborn disposition of the latter, and, consequently, experienced some difficulty, and was well nigh swept away by the current. So great was his difficulty, that he was obliged to land, to his great discomfiture, amidst a grove of lofty nettles. Mulholland, who accompanied him, and who happened to be naked, was severly stung by them. The labour of the day was, however, satisfactorily concluded, and we lay down to rest with feelings of entire satisfaction.
A great part of the following day was consumed in reloading, nor did we pursue our journey until after two o’clock. We then passed over tracks on the left of the river of the same rich description that existed on its right; they were much intersected by creeks, but were clear of timber, and entirely out of the reach of floods. At about seven miles from where we started, we found ourselves checked by precipitous rocks jutting into the stream, and were obliged once more to make preparations for crossing it. Instead of a deep and quiet reach, however, the Morumbidgee here expanded into a fretful rapid; but it was sufficiently shallow to admit of our taking the drays over, without the trouble of unloading them. There was still, however, some labour required in cutting down the banks, and the men were fully occupied until after sunset; and so well did they work, that an hour’s exertion in the morning enabled us to make the passage with safety. On ascending the right bank, we found that we had to force through a dense body of reeds, covering some flooded land, at the base of a range terminating upon the river; and we were obliged, in order to extricate ourselves from our embarrassments, to pass to the N.W. of the point, and to cross a low part of the range. This done, we met with no further interruptions during the day, but travelled along rich and clear flats to a deep bight below an angle of the river called Nangaar by the natives; where we pitched our camp, and our animals revelled amid the most luxuriant pasture. Only in one place did the sandy superficies upon the plain indicate that it was there subject to flood.
The Morumbidgee from Tuggiong to our present encampment had held a general S.S.W. course, but from the summit of a hill behind the tents it now appeared to be gradually sweeping round to the westward; and I could trace the line of trees upon its banks, through a rich and extensive valley in that direction, as far as my sight could reach. The country to the S.E. maintained its lofty character, but to the westward the hills and ranges were evidently decreasing in height, and the distant interior seemed fast sinking to a level. The general direction of the ranges had been from N. to S., and as we had been travelling parallel to them, their valleys were shut from our view. Now, however, several rich and extensive ones became visible, opening from the southward into the valley of the Morumbidgee, and, as a further evidence of a change of country from a confused to a more open one, a plain of considerable size stretched from immediately beneath the hill on which I was to the N.W.
The Morumbidgee itself, from the length and regularity of its reaches, as well as from its increased size, seemed to intimate that it had successfully struggled through the broken country in which it rises, and that it would henceforward meet with fewer interruptions to its course. It still, however, preserved all the characters of a mountain stream; having alternate rapids and deep pools, being in many places encumbered with fallen timber, and generally a shingly bed, composed of rounded fragments of every rock of which the neighbouring ranges were formed, and many others that had been swept by the torrents down it. The rock formation of the hills upon its right continued of that chlorite schist which prevailed near Mr. Whaby’s, which I have already noticed, and quartz still appeared in large masses, on the loftier ranges opposite, so that the geology of the neighbourhood could not be said to have undergone any material change. It might, however, be considered an extraordinary feature in it, that a small hill of blue limestone existed upon the left bank of the river. The last place at which we had seen limestone was at Yass, but I had learned from Mr. Whaby, that, together with whinstone, it was abundant near a Mr. Rose’s station on the Dumot, that was not at any great distance. The irregularity, however, of the intervening country, made the appearance of this solitary rock more singular.
Although the fires of the natives had been frequent upon the river, none had, as yet, ventured to approach us, in consequence of some misunderstanding that had taken place between them and Mr. Stuckey’s stockmen. Mr. Roberts’ stockmen* [These men had lately fixed themselves on the river a little below Mr. Whaby’s.], however, brought a man and a boy to us at this place in the afternoon, but I could not persuade them to accompany us on our journey—neither could I, although my native boy understood them perfectly, gain any particular information from them.
In consequence of rain, we did not strike the tents so early as usual. At 7 a.m. a heavy thunder storm occurred from the N.W. after which the sky cleared, and we were enabled to push forward at 11 a.m., moving on a general W.N.W, course, over rich flats, which, having been moistened by the morning’s showers, showed the dark colour of the rich earth of which they were composed. Some sand-hills were, however, observed near the river, of about fifteen feet in elevation, crowned by banksias; and the soil of the flats had a very partial mixture of sand in it. How these sand-hills could have been formed it is difficult to say; but they produced little minor vegetation, and were as pure as the sand of the sea-shore. Some considerable plains were noticed to our right, in appearance not inferior to the ground on which we were journeying. At noon we rose gradually from the level of these plains, and travelled along the side of a hill, until we got to a small creek, at which we stopped, though more than a mile and a half from the river. The clouds had been gathering again in the N.W. quarter, and we had scarcely time to secure our flour, when a second storm burst upon us, and it continued to rain violently for the remainder of the day.
From a small hill that lay to our left Mr. M’Leay and I enjoyed a most beautiful view. Beneath us to the S. E. the rich and lightly timbered valley through which the Morumbidgee flows, extended, and parts of the river were visible through the dark masses of swamp-oak by which it was lined, or glittering among the flooded-gum trees, that grew in its vicinity. In the distance was an extensive valley that wound between successive mountain ranges. More to the eastward, both mountain and woodland bore a dark and gloomy shade, probably in consequence of the light upon them at the time. Those lofty peaks that had borne nearly south of us from Pouni, near Yass, now rose over the last-mentioned ranges, and by their appearance seemed evidently to belong to a high and rugged chain. To the westward, the decline of country was more observable than ever; and the hills on both sides of the river, were lower and more distant from it. Those upon which we found ourselves were composed of iron-stone, were precipitous towards the river in many places, of sandy soil, and were crowned with beef-wood as well as box. The change in the rock-formation and in the soil, produced a corresponding change in the vegetation. The timber was not so large as it had been, neither did the hills any longer bear the green appearance which had distinguished those we had passed to their very summits. The grass here grew in tufts amidst the sand, and was of a burnt appearance as if it had suffered from drought.
Some natives had joined us in the morning, and acted as our guides; or it is more than probable that we should have continued our course along the river, and got enbarrassed among impediments that were visible from our elevated position; for it was evident that the range we had ascended terminated in an abrupt precipice on the river, that we could not have passed. The blacks suffered beyond what I could have imagined, from cold, and seemed as incapable of enduring it as if they had experienced the rigour of a northern snow storm.
The morning of the 2nd December was cloudy and lowering, and the wind still hung in the N.W. There was truly every appearance of bad weather, but our anxiety to proceed on our journey overcame our apprehensions, and the animals were loaded and moved off at 7 a.m. The rain which had fallen the evening previous, rendered travelling heavy; so that we got on but slowly. At 11, the clouds burst, and continued to pour down for the rest of the day. On leaving the creek we crossed the spine of the range, and descending from it into a valley, that continued to the river on the one hand, and stretched away to the N.W. on the other, we ascended some hills opposite to us, and moved generally through open, undulating forest ground, affording good pasturage.
One of the blacks being anxious to get an opossum out of a dead tree, every branch of which was hollow, asked for a tomahawk, with which he cut a hole in the trunk above where he thought the animal lay concealed. He found however, that he had cut too low, and that it had run higher up. This made it necessary to smoke it out; he accordingly got some dry grass, and having kindled a fire, stuffed it into the hole he had cut. A raging fire soon kindled in the tree, where the draft was great, and dense columns of smoke issued from the end of each branch as thick as that from the chimney of a steam engine. The shell of the tree was so thin that I thought it would soon be burnt through, and that the tree would fall; but the black had no such fears, and, ascending to the highest branch, he watched anxiously for the poor little wretch he had thus surrounded with dangers and devoted to destruction; and no sooner did it appear, half singed and half roasted, than he seized upon it and threw it down to us with an air of triumph. The effect of the scene in so lonely a forest, was very fine. The roaring of the fire in the tree, the fearless attitude of the savage, and the associations which his colour and appearance, enveloped as he was in smoke, called up, were singular, and still dwell on my recollection. We had not long left the tree, when it fell with a tremendous crash, and was, when we next passed that way, a mere heap of ashes.
Shortly before it commenced raining, the dogs started an emu, and took after it, followed by M’Leay and myself. We failed in killing it, and I was unfortunate enough to lose a most excellent watch upon the occasion, which in regularity was superior to the chronometer I had with me.
As there was no hope of the weather clearing up, I sent M’Leay and one of the blacks with the flour to the river, with directions to pile it up and cover it with tarpaulins, as soon as possible, remaining myself to bring up the drays. It was not, however, until after 4 p.m. that we gained the river-side, or that we were enabled to get into shelter. Fraser met with a sad accident while assisting the driver of the teams, who, accidentally, struck him with the end of the lash of his whip in the eye, and cut the lower lid in two. The poor fellow fell to the ground as if he had been shot, and really, from the report of the whip, I was at first uncertain of the nature of the accident.
We had gradually ascended some hills; and as the sweep of the valley led southerly, we continued along it until we got to its very head; then, crossing the ridge we descended the opposite side, towards a beautiful plain, on the further extremity of which the river line was marked by the dark-leafed casuarina. In spite of the badness of the weather and the misfortunes of the day, I could not but admire the beauty of the scene. We were obliged to remain stationary the following day, in consequence of one of the drays being out of repair, and requiring a new axle-tree. I could hardly regret the necessity that kept us in so delightful a spot. This plain, which the natives called Pondebadgery , and in which a station has since been formed, is about two miles in breadth, by about three and a-half in length. It is surrounded apparently on every side by hills. The river running E. and W. forms its southern boundary. The hills by which we had entered it, terminating abruptly on the river to the north-east, form a semi-circle round it to the N.N.W. where a valley, the end of which cannot be seen, runs to the north-west, of about half a mile in breadth. On the opposite side of the river moderate hills rise over each other, and leave little space between them and its banks. The Morumbidgee itself, with an increased breadth, averaging from seventy to eighty yards, presents a still, deep sheet of water to the view, over which the casuarina bends with all the grace of the willow, or the birch, but with more sombre foliage. To the west, a high line of flooded-gum trees extending from the river to the base of the hills which form the west side of the valley before noticed, hides the near elevations, and thus shuts in the whole space. The soil of the plain is of the richest description, and the hills backing it, together with the valley, are capable of depasturing the most extensive flocks.
Such is the general landscape from the centre of Pondebadgery Plain. Behind the line of gum-trees, the river suddenly sweeps away to the south, and forms a deep bight of seven miles, when, bearing up again to the N.W. it meets some hills about 10 miles to the W.N.W. of the plain, thus encircling a still more extensive space, that for richness of soil, and for abundance of pasture, can nowhere be excelled; such, though on a smaller scale, are all the flats that adorn the banks of the Morumbidgee, first on one side and then on the other, as the hills close in upon them, from Juggiong to Pondebadgery.
It is deeply to be regretted that this noble river should exist at such a distance from the capital as to be unavailable. During our stay on the Pondebadgery Plain, the men caught a number of codfish, as they are generally termed, but which are, in reality, a species of perch. The largest weighed 40 lb. but the majority of the others were small, not exceeding from six to eight. M’Leay and I walked to the N.W. extremity of the plain, in order to ascertain how we should debouche from it, and to get, if possible, a view of the western interior. We took with us two blacks who had attached themselves to the party, and had made themselves generally useful. On ascending the most westerly of the hills, we found it composed of micaceous schist, the upper coat of which was extremely soft, and broke with a slaty fracture, or crumbled into a sparkling dust beneath our feet. The summit of the hill was barren, and beef-wood alone grew on it. The valley, of which it was the western boundary, ran up northerly for two or three miles, with all the appearance of richness and verdure. To the south extended the flat I have noticed, more heavily timbered than we had usually found them, bounded, or backed rather, by a hilly country, although one fast losing in its general height. To the W.N.W. there was a moderate range of hills on the opposite side of an extensive valley, running up northerly, from which a lateral branch swept round to the W.N.W. with a gradual ascent into the hills, which bore the same appearance of open forest, grazing land, as prevailed in similar tracts to the eastward. The blacks pointed out to us our route up the valley, and stated that we should get on the banks of the river again in a direction W. by N. from the place on which we stood. We accordingly crossed the principal valley on the following morning, and gradually ascended the opposite line of hills. They terminate to the S.E. in lofty precipices, overlooking the river flats, and having a deep chain of ponds under them. The descent towards the river was abrupt, and we encamped upon its banks, with a more confined view than any we had ever had before. There was an evident change in the river; the banks were reedy, the channel deep and muddy, and the neighbourhood bore more the appearance of being subject to overflow than it had done in any one place we had passed over. The hills were much lower, and as we gained the southern brow of that under which we encamped, we could see a level and wooded country to the westward. The line of the horizon was unbroken by any hills in the distance, and the nearer ones seemed gradually to lose themselves in the darkness of the landscape.
The two natives, whom the stockmen had named Peter and Jemmie, were of infinite service to us, from their knowledge of all the passes, and the general features of the country. Having, however, seen us thus far on the journey from their usual haunts, they became anxious to return, and it was with some difficulty we persuaded them to accompany us for a few days longer, in hopes of reward. The weather had been cool and pleasant; the thermometer averaging 78 of Fahrenheit at noon, in consequences of which the animals kept in good condition, the men healthy and zealous. The sheep Mr. O’Brien had presented to us, gave no additional trouble; they followed in the rear of the party without attempting to wander, and were secured at night in a small pen or fold. No waste attended their slaughter, nor did they lose in condition, from being driven from ten to fifteen miles daily, so much as I had been led to suppose they would have done.
Character of the Morumbidgee where it issues from the hilly country—Appearance of approach to swamps—Hamilton Plains—Intercourse with the natives—Their appearance, customs, &c.—Change in the character of the river—Mirage—Dreariness of the country—Ride towards the Lachlan river—Two boats built and launched on the Morumbidgee; and the drays, with part of the men sent back to Goulburn Plains.
From our camp, the Morumbidgee held a direct westerly course for about three miles. The hills under which we had encamped, rose so close upon our right as to leave little space between them and the river. At the distance of three miles, however, they suddenly terminated, and the river changed its direction to the S.W., while a chain of ponds extended to the westward, and separated the alluvial flats from a somewhat more elevated plain before us. We kept these ponds upon our left for some time, but, as they ultimately followed the bend of the river, we left them. The blacks led us on a W. by S. course to the base of a small range two or three miles distant, near which there was a deep lagoon. It was evident they here expected to have found some other natives. Being disappointed, however, they turned in towards the river again, but we stopped short of it on the side of a serpentine sheet of water, an apparent continuation of the chain of ponds we had left behind us, forming a kind of ditch round the S.W. extremity of the range, parallel to which we had continued to travel. This range, which had been gradually decreasing in height from the lagoon, above which it rose perpendicularly, might almost be said to terminate here. We fell in with two or three natives before we halted, but the evident want of population in so fine a country, and on so noble a river, surprised me extremely. We saw several red kangaroos in the course of the day, and succeeded in killing one. It certainly is a beautiful animal, ranging the wilds in native freedom. The female and the kid are of a light mouse-colour. Wild turkeys abound on this part of the Morumbidgee, but with the exception of a few terns, which are found hovering over the lagoons, no new birds had as yet been procured; and the only plant that enriched our collection, was an unknown metrosideros. In crossing the extremity of the range, the wheels of the dray sunk deep into a yielding and coarse sandy soil, of decomposed granite, on which forest-grass prevailed in tufts, which, being far apart, made the ground uneven, and caused the animals to trip. We rose at one time sufficiently high to obtain an extensive view, and had our opinions confirmed as to the level nature of the country we were so rapidly approaching. From the N. to the W.S.W. the eye wandered over a wooded and unbroken interior, if I except a solitary double hill that rose in the midst of it, bearing S. 82° W. distant 12 miles, and another singular elevation that bore S. 32° W. called by the natives, Kengal. The appearance to the E.S.E. was still that of a mountainous country, while from the N.E., the hills gradually decrease in height, until lost in the darkness of surrounding objects to the northward. We did not travel this day more than 13 miles on a W. by N. course. The Morumbidgee, where we struck it, by its increased size, kept alive our anticipations of its ultimately leading us to some important point. The partial rains that had fallen while we were on its upper branch, had swollen it considerably, and it now rolled along a vast body of water at the rate of three miles an hour, preserving a medium width of 150 feet; its banks retaining a height far above the usual level of the stream. A traveller who had never before descended into the interior of New Holland, would have spurned the idea of such a river terminating in marshes; but with the experience of the former journey, strong as hope was within my breast, I still feared it might lose itself in the vast flat upon which we could scarcely be said to have yet entered. The country was indeed taking up more and more every day the features of the N.W. interior. Cypresses were observed upon the minor ridges, and the soil near the river, although still rich, and certainly more extensive than above, was occasionally mixed with sand, and scattered over with the claws of crayfish and shells, indicating its greater liability to be flooded; nor indeed could I entertain a doubt that the river had laid a great part of the levels around us under water long after it found that channel in which nature intended ultimately to confine it. We killed another fine red kangaroo in the early part of the day, in galloping after which I got a heavy fall.
The two blacks who had been with us so long, and who had not only exerted themselves to assist us, but had contributed in no small degree to our amusement, though they had from M’Leay’s liberality, tasted all the dainties with which we had provided ourselves, from sugar to concentrated cayenne, intimated that they could no longer accompany the party. They had probably got to the extremity of their beat, and dared not venture any further. They left us with evident regret, receiving, on their departure, several valuable presents, in the shape of tomahawks &c. The last thing they did was to point out the way to us, and to promise to join us on our return, although they evidently little anticipated ever seeing us again.
In pursuing our journey, we entered a forest, consisting of box-trees, casuarinae, and cypresses, on a light sandy soil, in which both horses and bullocks sunk so deep that their labour was greatly increased, more especially as the weather had become much warmer. At noon I altered my course from N.W. by W. to W.N.W., and reached the Morumbidgee at 3 in the afternoon. The flats bordering it were extensive and rich, and, being partially mixed with sand, were more fitted for agricultural purposes than the stiffer and purer soil amidst the mountains; but the interior beyond them was far from being of corresponding quality. We crossed several plains on which vegetation was scanty, probably owing to the hardness of the soil, which was a stiff loamy clay, and which must check the growth of plants, by preventing the roots from striking freely into it. The river where we stopped for the night appeared to have risen considerably, and the fish were rolling about on the surface of the water with a noise like porpoises. No elevations were visible, so that I had not an opportunity of continuing the chain of survey with the points I had previously taken.
As we proceeded down the river on the 8th, the flats became still more extensive than they had ever been, and might almost be denominated plains. Vegetation was scanty upon them, although the soil was of the first quality. About nine miles from our camp, we struck on a small isolated hill, that could scarcely have been of 200 feet elevation; yet, depressed as it was, the view from its summit was very extensive, and I was surprised to find that we were still in some measure surrounded by high lands, of which I took the following bearings, connected with the present ones.
|A High Peak . .||N. 66 E. distance 40 miles.|
|Kengal . .||N. 110 E. distant.|
|Double Hill . .||S. 10 W. distant.|
To the north, there were several fires burning, which appeared rather the fires of natives, than conflagrations, and as the river had made a bend to the N.N.W., I doubted not that they were upon its banks. From this hill, which was of compact granite, we struck away to the W.N.W., and shortly afterwards crossed some remarkable sand-hills. Figuratively speaking, they appeared like islands amidst the alluvial deposits, and were as pure in their composition as the sand on the sea-shore. They were generally covered with forest grass, in tufts, and a coarse kind of rushes, under banksias and cypresses. We found a small fire on the banks of the river, and close to it the couch and hut of a solitary native, who had probably seen us approach, and had fled. There cannot be many inhabitants hereabouts, since there are no paths to indicate that they frequent this part of the Morumbidgee more at one season than another.
On the 9th, the river fell off again to the westward, and we lost a good deal of the northing we had made the day before. We journeyed pretty nearly equidistant from the stream, and kept altogether on the alluvial flats. As we were wandering along the banks of the river, a black started up before us, and swam across to the opposite side, where he immediately hid himself. We could by no means induce him to show himself; he was probably the lonely being whom we had scared away from the fire the day before. In the afternoon, however we surprised a family of six natives, and persuaded them to follow us to our halting place. My boy understood them well; but the young savage had the cunning to hide the information they gave him, or, for aught I know, to ask questions that best suited his own purposes, and therefore we gained little intelligence from them.
Every day now produced some change in the face of the country, by which it became more and more assimilated to that I had traversed during the first expedition. Acacia pendula now made its appearance on several plains beyond the river deposits, as well as that salsolaceous class of plants, among which the schlerolina and rhagodia are so remarkable. The natives left us at sunset, but returned early in the morning with an extremely facetious and good-humoured old man, who volunteered to act as our guide without the least hesitation. There was a cheerfulness in his manner, that gained our confidence at once, and rendered him a general favourite. He went in front with the dogs, and led us a little away from the river to kill kangaroos, as he said. At about two miles we struck on an inconsiderable elevation, which the party crossed at the S.W. extremity. I ascended it at the opposite end, but although the view was extensive, I could not make out the little hill of granite from which I had taken my former bearings, and the only elevation I could recognise as connected with them, was one about ten miles distant, bearing S. 168 W. I could observe very distant ranges to the E.N.E. and immediately below me in that direction, there was a large clear plain, skirted by acacia pendula, stretching from S.S.E. to N.N.W. The crown and ridges of the hill on which I stood, were barren, stony, and covered with beef-wood, the rock-formation being a coarse granite. The drays had got so far ahead of me that I did not overtake them before they had halted on the river at a distance of ten miles.
The Morumbidgee appeared, on examination, to have increased in breadth, and continued to rise gradually. It is certainly a noble stream, very different from those I had already traced to their termination. The old black informed me that there was another large river flowing to the southward of west, to which the Morumbidgee was as a creek, and that we could gain it in four days. He stated that its waters were good, but that its banks were not peopled. That such a feature existed where he laid it down, I thought extremely probable, because it was only natural to expect that other streams descended from the mountains in the S.E. of the island, as well as that on which we were travelling. The question was, whether either of them held on an uninterrupted course to some reservoir, or whether they fell short of the coast and exhausted themselves in marshes. Considering the concave direction of the mountains to the S.E., I even at this time hoped that the rivers falling into the interior would unite sooner or later, and contribute to the formation of an important and navigable stream. Of the fate of the Morumbidgee, the old black could give no account. It seemed probable, therefore, that we were far from its termination.
I had hitherto been rather severe upon the animals, for although our journey had not exceeded from twelve to fifteen miles a day, it had been without intermission. I determined, therefore, to give both men and animals a day of rest, as soon as I should find a convenient place. We started on the 11th with this intention, but we managed to creep over eight or ten miles of ground before we halted. The country was slightly undulated, and much intersected by creeks, few of which had water in them. The whole tract was, however, well adapted either for agriculture, or for grazing, and, in spite of the drought that had evidently long hung over it, was well covered with vegetation. We had passed all high lands, and the interior to the westward presented an unbroken level to the eye. The Morumbidgee appeared to hold a more northerly course than I had anticipated. Still low ranges continued upon our right, and the cypress ridges became more frequent and denser; but the timber on the more open grounds generally consisted of box and flooded-gum. Of minor trees, the acacia pendula was the most prevalent, with a shrub bearing a round nut, enclosed in a scarlet capsule, and an interesting species of stenochylus. I had observed as yet, few of the plants of the more northern interior.
In this neighbourhood, the dogs killed an emu and a kangaroo, which came in very conveniently for some natives whom we fell in with on one of the river flats. They were, without exception, the worst featured of any I had ever seen. It is scarcely possible to conceive that human beings could be so hideous and loathsome. The old black, who was rather good-looking, told me they were the last we should see for some time, and I felt that if these were samples of the natives on the lowlands, I cared very little how few of I them we should meet.
VIEW ON THE MORUMBIDGEE RIVER.
The country on the opposite side of the river had all the features of that to the north of it, but a plain of such extent suddenly opened upon us to the southward, that I halted at once in order to examine it, and by availing myself of a day of rest, to fix our position more truly than we could otherwise have done. We accordingly pitched our tents under some lofty gum-trees, opposite to the plain, and close upon the edge of the sandy beach of the river. Before they were turned out, the animals were carefully examined, and the pack-saddles overhauled, that they might undergo any necessary repairs. The river fell considerably during the night, but it poured along a vast body of water, possessing a strong current. The only change I remarked in it was that it now had a bed of sand, and was generally deeper on one side than on the other. It kept a very uniform breadth of from 150 to 170 feet—and a depth of from 4 to 20. Its channel, though occasionally much encumbered with fallen timber, was large enough to contain twice the volume of water then in it, but it had outer and more distant banks, the boundaries of the alluvial flats, to confine it within certain limits, during the most violent floods, and to prevent its inundating the country.
With a view to examine the plain opposite to us, I directed our horses to be taken across the river early in the morning, and after breakfast, M’Leay and I swam across after them. We found the current strong, and could not keep a direct line over the channel, but were carried below the place at which we plunged in. We proceeded afterwards in a direction W.S.W. across the plain for five or six miles, before we saw trees on the opposite extremity, at a still greater distance. We thus found ourselves in the centre of an area of from 26 to 30 miles. It appeared to be perfectly level, though not really so. The soil upon it was good, excepting in isolated spots, where it was sandy. Vegetation was scanty upon it, but, on the whole, I should conclude that it was fitter for agriculture than for grazing. For I think it very probable, that those lands which lie hardening and bare in a state of nature, would produce abundantly if broken up by the plough. I called this Hamilton’s plains, in remembrance of the surgeon of my regiment. The Morumbidgee forms its N.E. boundary, and a creek rising on it, cuts off a third part on the western side, and runs away from the river in a southerly direction. This creek, even before it gets to the outskirts of the plains, assumes a considerable size. Such a fact would argue that heavy rains fall in this part of the interior, to cut out such a watercourse, or that the soil is extremely loose; but I should think the former the most probable, since the soil of this plain had a substratum of clay. I place our encampment on the river in latitude 34° 41´ 45´´ S., and in East longitude 146° 50´, the variation of the compass being 6° 10´ E.
On our return to the camp we found several natives with our people, and among them one of the tallest I had ever seen. Their women were with them, and they appeared to have lost all apprehension of any danger occurring from us. The animals were benefited greatly by this day of rest. We left the plain, therefore, on the 13th with renewed spirits, and passed over a country very similar to that by which we had approached it, one well adapted for grazing, but intersected by numerous creeks, at two of which we found natives, some of whom joined our party. Our old friend left us in quest of some blacks, who, as he informed Hopkinson, had seen the tracks of our horses on the Darling. I was truly puzzled at such a statement, which was, however, further corroborated by the circumstance of one of the natives having a tire-nail affixed to a spear, which he said was picked up, by the man who gave it to him, on one of our encampments. I could not think it likely that this story was true, and rather imagined they must have picked up the nail near the located districts, and I was anxious to have the point cleared up. When we halted we had a large assemblage of natives with us, amounting in all to twenty-seven, but I awaited in vain the return of the old man. The night passed away without our seeing him, nor did he again join us.
We started in the morning with our new acquaintances, and kept on a south-westerly course during the day, over an excellent grazing, and, in many places, an agricultural country, still intersected by creeks, that were too deep for the water to have dried in them. The country more remote from the river, however, began to assume more and more the character and appearance of the northern interior. I rode into several plains, the soil of which was either a red sandy loam, bare of vegetation, or a rotten and blistered earth, producing nothing but rhagodiae, salsolae, and misembrianthemum.
We fell in with another tribe of blacks during the journey, to whom we were literally consigned by those who had been previously with us, and who now turned back, while our new friends took the lead of the drays. They were two fine young men, but had very ugly wives, and were for a long time extremely diffident. I found that I could obtain but little information through my black boy,—whether from his not understanding me, or because he was too cunning, is uncertain. One of these young men, however, clearly stated that he had seen the tracks of bullocks and horses, a long time ago, to the N.N.W. in the direction of some detached hills, that were visible from 20 to 25 miles distant. He remembered them, he said, as a boy, and added that the white men were without water. It was, therefore, clear that he alluded to Mr. Oxley’s excursion, northerly from the Lachlan, and I had no doubt on my mind, that he had been on one of that officer’s encampments, and that the hills to the north of us were those to the opposite base of which he had penetrated. I was determined, therefore, if practicable, to reach these hills, deeming it a matter of great importance to connect the surveys, but I deferred my journey for a day or two, in hopes, from the continued northerly course of the river, that we should have approached them nearer.
In the evening we fell in with some more blacks, among whom were two brothers, of those who were acting as our guides. One had a very pretty girl as a wife, and all the four brothers were very good-looking young men. There cannot, I should think, be a numerous population on the banks of the Morumbidgee, from the fact of our having seen not more than fifty in an extent of more than 180 miles. They are apparently scattered along it in families. I was rather surprised that my boy understood their language well, since it certainly differed from that of the Macquarie tribes, but nevertheless as these people do not wander far, our information as to what was before us was very gradually arrived at, and only as we fell in with the successive families. Moreover, as my boy was very young, it may be that he was more eager in communicating to those who had no idea of them, the wonders he had seen, than in making inquiries on points that were indifferent to him.
We passed a very large plain in the course of the day, which was bounded by forests of box, cypress, and the acacia pendula, of red sandy soil and parched appearance. The Morumbidgee evidently overflows a part of the lands we crossed, to a greater extent than heretofore, though the alluvial deposits beyond its influence were still both rich and extensive. The crested pigeon made its appearance on the acacias, which I took to be a sure sign of our approach to a country more than ordinarily subject to overflow; since on the Macquarie and the Darling, those birds were found only to inhabit the regions of marshes, or spaces covered by the acacia pendula, or the polygonum. We had not, however, yet seen any of the latter plant, although we were shortly destined to be almost lost amidst fields of it.
We were now approaching that parallel of longitude in which the other known rivers of New Holland had been found to exhaust themselves; the least change therefore, for the worse was sufficient to raise my apprehensions; yet, although the Morumbidgee had received no tributary from the Dumot downwards, and was leading us into an apparently endless level, I saw no indication of its decreasing in size, or in the rapidity of its current. Certainly, however, I had, from the character of the country around us, an anticipation that a change was about to take place in it, and this anticipation was verified in the course of the following day. The alluvial flats gradually decreased in breadth, and we journeyed mostly over extensive and barren plains, which in many places approached so near the river as to form a part of its bank. They were covered with the salsolaceous class of plants, so common in the interior, in a red sandy soil, and were as even as a bowling green. The alluvial spaces near the river became covered with reeds, and, though subject to overflow at every partial rise of it, were so extremely small as scarcely to afford food for our cattle. Flooded-gum trees of lofty size grew on these reedy spaces, and marked the line of the river, but the timber of the interior appeared stunted and useless.
We found this part of the Morumbidgee much more populous than its upper branches. When we halted, we had no fewer than forty-one natives with us, of whom the young men were the least numerous. They allowed us to choose a place for ourselves before they formed their own camp, and studiously avoided encroaching on our ground so as to appear troublesome. Their manners were those of a quiet and inoffensive people, and their appearance in some measure prepossessing. The old men had lofty foreheads, and stood exceedingly erect. The young men were cleaner is their persons and were better featured than any we had seen, some of them having smooth hair and an almost Asiatic cast of countenance. On the other hand, the women and children were disgusting objects. The latter were much subject to diseases, and were dreadfully emaciated. It is evident that numbers of them die in their infancy for want of care and nourishment. We remarked none at the age of incipient puberty, but the most of them under six. In stating that the men were more prepossessing than any we had seen, I would not be understood to mean that they differed in any material point either from the natives of the coast, or of the most distant interior to which I had been, for they were decidedly the same race, and had the same leading features and customs, as far as the latter could be observed. The sunken eye and overhanging eyebrow, the high cheek-bone and thick lip, distended nostrils, the nose either short or acquiline, together with a stout bust and slender extremities, and both curled and smooth hair, marked the natives of the Morumbidgee as well as those of the Darling. They were evidently sprung from one common stock, the savage and scattered inhabitants of a rude and inhospitable land. In customs they differed in no material point from the coast natives, and still less from the tribes on the Darling and the Castlereagh. They extract the front tooth, lacerate their bodies, to raise the flesh, cicatrices being their chief ornament; procure food by the same means, paint in the same manner, and use the same weapons, as far as the productions of the country will allow them. But as the grass-tree is not found westward of the mountains, they make a light spear of a reed, similar to that of which the natives of the southern islands form their arrows. These they use for distant combat, and not only carry in numbers, but throw with the boomerang to a great distance and with unerring precision, making them to all intents and purposes as efficient as the bow and arrow. They have a ponderous spear for close fight, and others of different sizes for the chase. With regard to their laws, I believe they are universally the same all over the known parts of New South Wales. The old men have alone the privilege of eating the emu; and so submissive are the young men to this regulation, that if, from absolute hunger or under other pressing circumstances, one of them breaks through it, either during a hunting excursion, or whilst absent from his tribe, he returns under a feeling of conscious guilt, and by his manner betrays his guilt, sitting apart from the men, and confessing his misdemeanour to the chief at the first interrogation, upon which he is obliged to undergo a slight punishment. This evidently is a law of policy and necessity, for if the emus were allowed to be indiscriminately slaughtered, they would soon become extinct. Civilized nations may learn a wholesome lesson even from savages, as in this instance of their forebearance. For somewhat similar reasons, perhaps, married people alone are here permitted to eat ducks. They hold their corrobories, (midnight ceremonies), and sing the same melancholy ditty that breaks the stillness of night on the shores of Jervis’ Bay, or on the banks of the Macquarie; and during the ceremony imitate the several birds and beasts with which they are acquainted. If these inland tribes differ in anything from those on the coast, it is in the mode of burying their dead, and, partially, in their language. Like all savages, they consider their women as secondary objects, oblige them to procure their own food, or throw to them over their shoulders the bones they have already picked, with a nonchalance that is extremely amusing; and, on the march, make them beasts of burden to carry their very weapons. The population of the Morumbidgee, as far as we had descended it at this time, did not exceed from ninety to a hundred souls. I am persuaded that disease and accidents consign many of them to a premature grave.
From this camp, one family only accompanied us. We journeyed due west over plains of great extent. The soil upon them was soft and yielding, in some places being a kind of light earth covered with rhagodiae, in others a red tenacious clay, overrun by the misembrianthemum and salsolae. Nothing could exceed the apparent barrenness of these plains, or the cheerlessness of the landscape. We had left all high lands behind us, and were now on an extensive plain, bounded in the distance by low trees or by dark lines of cypresses. The lofty gum-trees on the river followed its windings, and, as we opened the points, they appeared, from the peculiar effect of a mirage, as bold promontories jutting into the ocean, having literally the blue tint of distance. This mirage floated in a light tremulous vapour on the ground, and not only deceived us with regard to the extent of the plains, and the appearance of objects, but hid the trees, in fact, from our view altogether; so that, in moving, as we imagined, upon the very point or angle of the river, we found as we neared it, that the trees stretched much further into the plain, and were obliged to alter our course to round them. The heated state of the atmosphere, and the sandy nature of the country could alone have caused a mirage so striking in its effects, as this,—exceeding considerably similar appearances noticed during the first expedition. The travelling was so heavy, that I was obliged to make a short day’s journey, and when we struck the river for the purpose of halting, it had fallen off very much in appearance, and was evidently much contracted, with low banks and a sandy bed. It was difficult to account for this sudden change, but when I gazed on the extent of level country before me, I began to dread that this hitherto beautiful stream would ultimately disappoint us.
I had deferred my intended excursion to the hills under which I imagined Mr. Oxley had encamped, until we were out of sight of them, and I now feared that it was almost too late to undertake it, but I was still anxious to determine a point in which I felt considerable interest. I was the more desirous of surveying the country to the northward, because of the apparent eagerness with which the natives had caught at the word Colare, which I recollected having heard a black on the Macquarie make use of in speaking of the Lachlan. They pointed to the N.N.W., and making a sweep with the arm raised towards the sky, seemed to intimate that a large sheet of water existed in that direction; and added that it communicated with the Morumbidgee more to the westward. This information confirmed still more my impressions with regard to Mr. Oxley’s line of route; and, as I found a ready volunteer in M’Leay, I gave the party in charge to Harris until I should rejoin him, and turned back towards the hills, with the intention of reaching them if possible. No doubt we should have done so had it not been for the nature of the ground over which we travelled, and the impossibility of our exceeding a walk. We rode to a distance of 18 miles, but still found ourselves far short of the hills, and therefore gave up the point. I considered, however, that we were about the same distance to the south, as Mr. Oxley had been to the north of them, and in taking bearings of the highest points, I afterwards found that they exactly tallied with his bearings, supposing him to have taken them from his camp.
On our way to the river, we Passed through some dense bushes of casuarinae and cypresses, to the outskirts of the plains through which the Morumbidgee winds. We reached the camp two or three hours after sunset, and found it crowded with natives to the number of 60. They were extremely quiet and inoffensive in their demeanour, and asked us to point out where they might sleep, before they ventured to kindle their fires. One old man, we remarked, had a club foot, and another was blind, but, as far as we could judge from the glare of the fires, the generality of them were fine young men, and supported themselves in a very erect posture when standing or walking. There were many children with the women, among whom colds seemed to prevail. It blew heavily from the N.W. during the night, and a little rain fell in the early part of the morning. Our route during the day, was over as melancholy a tract as ever was travelled. The plains to the N. and N.W. bounded the horizon; not a tree of any kind was visible upon them. It was equally open to the S., and it appeared as if the river was decoying us into a desert, there to leave us in difficulty and in distress. The very mirage had the effect of boundlessness in it, by blending objects in one general hue; or, playing on the ground, it cheated us with an appearance of water, and on arriving at the spot, we found a continuation of the same scorching plain, over which we were moving, instead of the stream we had hoped for.
The cattle about this time began to suffer, and, anxious as I was to push on, I was obliged to shorten my journeys, according to circumstances. Amidst the desolation around us, the river kept alive our hopes. If it traversed deserts, it might reach fertile lands, and it was to the issue of the journey that we had to look for success. It here, however, evidently overflowed its banks more extensively than heretofore, and broad belts of reeds were visible on either side of it, on which the animals exclusively subsisted. Most of the natives had followed us, and their patience and abstinence surprised me exceedingly. Some of them had been more than twenty-four hours without food, and yet seemed as little disposed to seek it as ever. I really thought they expected me to supply their wants, but as I could not act so liberal a scale, George M’Leay undeceived them; after which they betook themselves to the river, and got a supply of muscles. I rather think their going so frequently into the water engenders a catarrh, or renders them more liable to it than they otherwise would be. In the afternoon the wind shifted to the S.W. It blew a hurricane; and the temperature of the air was extremely low. The natives felt the cold beyond belief and kindled large fires. In the morning, when we moved away, the most of them started with fire-sticks to keep themselves warm; but they dropped off one by one, and at noon we found ourselves totally deserted.
It is impossible for me to describe the kind of country we were now traversing, or the dreariness of the view it presented. The plains were still open to the horizon, but here and there a stunted gum-tree, or a gloomy cypress, seemed placed by nature as mourners over the surrounding desolation. Neither beast nor bird inhabited these lonely and inhospitable regions, over which the silence of the grave seemed to reign. We had not, for days past, seen a blade of grass, so that the animals could not have been in very good condition. We pushed on, however, sixteen miles, in consequence of the coolness of the weather. We observed little change in the river in that distance, excepting that it had taken up a muddy bottom, and lost all the sand that used to fill it. The soil and productions on the plains continued unchanged in every respect. From this time to the 22nd, the country presented the same aspect. Occasional groups of cypress showed themselves on narrow sandy ridges, or partial brushes extended from the river, consisting chiefly of the acacia pendula, the stenochylus, and the nut I have already noticed. The soil on which they grew was, if possible, worse than that of the barren plain which we were traversing; and their colour and drooping state rendered the desolate landscape still more dreary.
On the 21st, we found the same singular substance* [Gypsum. See Plate.] embedded in the bank of the river that had been collected, during the former expedition, on the banks of the Darling; and hope, which is always uppermost in the human breast, induced me to think that we were fast approaching that stream. My observations placed me in 34° 17´ 15´´ S. and 145° of E. longitude.
On the 22nd, my black boy deserted me. I was not surprised at his doing so, neither did I regret his loss, for he had been of little use under any circumstances. He was far too cunning for our purpose. I know not that the term ingratitude can be applied to one in his situation, and in whose bosom nature had implanted a love of freedom. We learnt from four blacks, with whom he had spoken, and who came to us in the afternoon, that he had gone up the river,—as I conjectured, to the last large tribe we had left, with whom he appeared to become very intimate.
A creek coming from the N.N.W. here fell into the Morumbidgee; a proof that the general decline of country was really to the south, although a person looking over it would have supposed the contrary.
We started on the 23rd, with the same boundlessness of plain on either side of us; but in the course of the morning a change took place, both in soil and productions; and from the red sandy loam, and salsolaceous plants, amidst which we had been toiling, we got upon a light tenacious and blistered soil, evidently subject to frequent overflow, and fields of polygonum junceum, amidst which, both the crested pigeon and the black quail were numerous. The drays and animals sank so deep in this, that we were obliged to make for the river, and keep upon its immediate banks. Still, with all the appearance of far-spread inundation, it continued undiminished in size, and apparently in the strength of its current. Its channel was deeper than near the mountains, but its breadth was about the same.
On the 24th, we were again entangled amidst fields of polygonum, through which we laboured until after eleven, when we gained a firmer soil. Some cypresses appeared upon our right, in a dark line, and I indulged hopes that a change was about to take place in the nature of the country. We soon, however, got on a light rotten earth, and were again obliged to make for the river, with the teams completely exhausted. We had not travelled many miles from our last camp, yet it struck me, that the river had fallen off in appearance. I examined it with feelings of intense anxiety, certain, as I was, that the flooded spaces, over which we had been travelling would, sooner or later, be succeeded by a country overgrown with reeds. The river evidently overflowed its banks, on both sides, for many miles, nor had I a doubt that, at some periods, the space northward, between it and the Lachlan, presented the appearance of one vast sea. The flats of polygonum stretched away to the N.W. to an amazing distance, as well as in a southerly direction, and the very nature of the soil bore testimony to its flooded origin. But the most unaccountable circumstance to me was, that it should be entirely destitute of vegetation, with the exception of the gloomy and leafless bramble I have noticed.
M’Leay, who was always indefatigable in his pursuit after subjects of natural history, shot a cockatoo, of a new species, hereabouts, having a singularly shaped upper mandible. It was white, with scarlet down under the neck feathers, smaller than the common cockatoo, and remarkable for other peculiarities.
Two or three natives made their appearance at some distance from the party, but would not approach it until after we had halted. They then came to the tents, seven in number, and it was evident from their manner, that their chief or only object was to pilfer anything they could. We did not, therefore, treat them with much ceremony. They were an ill-featured race, and it was only by strict watching during the night that they were prevented from committing theft. Probably from seeing that we were aware of their intentions, they left us early, and pointing somewhat to the eastward of north, said they were going to the Colare, and on being asked how far it was, they signified that they should sleep there. I had on a former occasion recollected the term having been made use of by a black, on the Macquarie, when speaking to me of the Lachlan, and had questioned one of the young men who was with us at the time, and who seemed more intelligent than his companions, respecting it. Immediately catching at the word, he had pointed to the N.N.W., and, making a sweep with his arms raised towards the sky had intimated, evidently, that a large sheet of water existed in that direction, in the same manner that another black had done on a former occasion: on being further questioned, he stated that this communicated with the Morumbidgee more to the westward, and on my expressing a desire to go to it, he said we could not do so under four days. We had, it appeared, by the account of the seven natives, approached within one day’s journey of it, and, as I thought it would be advisable to gain a little knowledge of the country to the north, I suggested to M’Leay to ride in that direction, while the party should be at rest, with some good feed for the cattle that fortune had pointed out to us.
Our horses literally sank up to their knees on parts of the great plain over which we had in the first instance to pass, and we rode from three to four miles before we caught sight of a distant wood at its northern extremity; the view from the river having been for the last two or three days, as boundless as the ocean. As we approached the wood, two columns of smoke rose from it, considerably apart, evidently the fires of natives near water. We made for the central space between them, having a dead acacia scrub upon our right. On entering the wood, we found that it contained for the most part, flooded-gum, under which bulrushes and reeds were mixed together. The whole space seemed liable to overflow, and we crossed numerous little drains, that intersected each other in every direction. From the resemblance of the ground to that at the bottom of the marshes of the Macquarie, I prognosticated to my companion that we should shortly come upon a creek, and we had not ridden a quarter of a mile further, when we found ourselves on the banks of one of considerable size. Crossing it, we proceeded northerly, until we got on the outskirts of a plain of red sandy soil, covered with rhagodia alone, and without a tree upon the visible horizon. The country appeared to be rising before us, but was extremely depressed to the eastward. After continuing along this plain for some time, I became convinced from appearances, that we were receding from water, and that the fires of the natives, which were no longer visible, must have been on the creek we had crossed, that I judged to be leading W.S.W. from the opposite quarter. We had undoubtedly struck below to the westward of the Colare or Lachlan, and the creek was the channel of communication between it and the Morumbidgee, at least such was the natural conclusion at which I arrived. Having no further object in continuing a northerly course, we turned to the S.E., and, after again passing the creek, struck away for the camp on a S. by W. course, and passed through a dense brush of cypress and casuarina in our way to it.
Considering our situation as connected with the marshes of the Lachlan, I cannot but infer that the creek we struck upon during this excursion serves as a drain to the latter, to conduct its superfluous waters into the Morumbidgee in times of flood, as those of the Macquarie are conducted by the creek at the termination of its marshes into Morrisset’s Chain of Ponds. It will be understood that I only surmise this. I argue from analogy, not from proof. Whether I am correct or not, my knowledge of the facts I have stated, tended very much to satisfy my mind as to the lay of the interior; and to revive my hopes that the Morumbidgee would not fail us, although there was no appearance of the country improving.
We started on the 26th, on a course somewhat to the N.W., and traversed plains of the same wearisome description as those I have already described. The wheels of the drays sank up to their axle-trees, and the horses above their fetlocks at every step. The fields of polygonum spread on every side of us like a dark sea, and the only green object within range of our vision was the river line of trees. In several instances, the force of both teams was put to one dray, to extricate it from the bed into which it had sunk, and the labour was considerably increased from the nature of the weather. The wind was blowing as if through a furnace, from the N.N.E., and the dust was flying in clouds, so as to render it almost suffocating to remain exposed to it. This was the only occasion upon which we felt the hot winds in the interior. We were, about noon, endeavouring to gain a point of a wood at which I expected to come upon the river again, but it was impossible for the teams to reach it without assistance. I therefore sent M’Leay forward, with orders to unload the pack animals as soon as he should make the river, and send them back to help the teams. He had scarcely been separated from me 20 minutes, when one of the men came galloping back to inform me that no river was to be found—that the country beyond the wood was covered with reeds as far as the eye could reach, and that Mr. M’Leay had sent him back for instructions. This intelligence stunned me for a moment or two, and I am sure its effect upon the men was very great. They had unexpectedly arrived at a part of the interior similar to one they had held in dread, and conjured up a thousand difficulties and privations. I desired the man to recall Mr. M’Leay; and, after gaining the wood, moved outside of it at right angles to my former course, and reached the river, after a day of severe toil and exposure, at half-past five. The country, indeed, bore every resemblance to that around the marshes of the Macquarie, but I was too weary to make any further effort: indeed it was too late for me undertake anything until the morning.
The circumstances in which we were so unexpectedly placed, occupied my mind so fully that I could not sleep; and I awaited the return of light with the utmost anxiety. If we were indeed on the outskirts of marshes similar to those I had on a former occasion found so much difficulty in examining, I foresaw that in endeavouring to move round then I should recede from water, and place the expedition in jeopardy, probably, without gaining any determinate point, as it would be necessary for me to advance slowly and with caution. Our provisions, however, being calculated to last only to a certain period, I was equally reluctant to delay our operations. My course was, therefore, to be regulated by the appearance of the country and of the river, which I purposed examining with the earliest dawn. If the latter should be found to run into a region of reeds, a boat would be necessary to enable me to ascertain its direction; but, if ultimately it should be discovered to exhaust itself, we should have to strike into the interior on a N.W. course, in search of the Darling. I could not think of putting the whale-boat together in our then state of uncertainty, and it struck me that a smaller one could sooner be prepared for the purposes for which I should require it. These considerations, together with the view I had taken of the measures I might at last be forced into, determined me, on rising, to order Clayton to fell a suitable tree, and to prepare a saw-pit. The labour was of no consideration, and even if eventually the boat should not be wanted, no injury would arise, and it was better to take time by the forelock. Having marked a tree preparatory to leaving the camp, M’Leay and I started at an early hour on an excursion of deeper interest than any we had as yet undertaken; to examine the reeds, not only for the purpose of ascertaining their extent, if possible, but also to guide us in our future measures. We rode for some miles along the river side, but observed in it no signs, either of increase or of exhaustion. Its waters, though turbid, were deep, and its current still rapid. Its banks, too, were lofty, and showed no evidence of decreasing in height, so as to occasion an overflow of them, as had been the case with the Macquarie. We got among vast bodies of reeds, but the plains of the interior were visible beyond them. We were evidently in a hollow, and the decline of country was plainly to the southward of west. Every thing tended to strengthen my conviction that we were still far from the termination of the river. The character it had borne throughout, and its appearance now so far to the westward, gave me the most lively hopes that it would make good its way through the vast level into which it fell, and that its termination would accord with its promise. Besides, I daily anticipated its junction with some stream of equal, if not of greater magnitude from the S.E. I was aware that my resolves must be instant, decisive, and immediately acted upon, as on firmness and promptitude at this crisis the success of the expedition depended. About noon I checked my horse, and rather to the surprise of my companion, intimated to him my intention of returning to the camp, He naturally asked what I purposed doing. I told him it appeared to me more than probable that the Morumbidgee would hold good its course to some fixed point, now that it had reached a meridian beyond the known rivers of the interior. It was certain, from the denseness of the reeds, and the breadth of the belts, that the teams could not be brought any farther, and that, taking every thing into consideration, I had resolved on a bold and desperate measure, that of building the whale-boat, and sending home the drays. Our appearance in camp so suddenly, surprised the men not more than the orders I gave. They all thought I had struck on some remarkable change of country, and were anxious to know my ultimate views. It was not my intention however, immediately to satisfy their curiosity. I had to study their characters as long as I could, in order to select those best qualified to accompany me on the desperate adventure for which I was preparing.
The attention both of M’Leay, and myself, was turned to the hasty building of the whale-boat. A shed was erected, and every necessary preparation made, and although Clayton had the keel of the small boat already laid down, and some planks prepared, she was abandoned for the present, and, after four days more of arduous labour, the whale-boat was painted and in the water. From her dimensions, it appeared to me impossible that she would hold all our provisions and stores, for her after-part had been fitted up as an armoury, which took away considerably from her capacity of stowage. The small boat would still, therefore, be necessary, and she was accordingly re-laid, for half the dimensions of the large boat, and in three days was alongside her consort in the river. Thus, in seven days we had put together a boat, twenty-seven feet in length, had felled a tree from the forest, with which we had built a second of half the size, had painted both, and had them at a temporary wharf ready for loading. Such would not have been the case had not our hearts been in the work, as the weather was close and sultry, and we found it a task of extreme labour. In the intervals between the hours of work, I prepared my despatches for the Governor, and when they were closed, it only remained for me to select six hands, the number I intended should accompany me down the river, and to load the boats, ere we should once more proceed in the further obedience of our instructions.
It was impossible that I could do without Clayton, whose perseverance and industry had mainly contributed to the building of the boats; of the other prisoners, I chose Mulholland and Macnamee; leaving the rest in charge of Robert Harris, whose steady conduct had merited my approbation. My servant, Harris, Hopkinson, and Fraser, of course, made up the crews. The boats were loaded in the evening of Jan. 6th, as it had been necessary to give the paint a little time to dry. On the 4th, I had sent Clayton and Mulholland to the nearest cypress range for a mast and spar, and on the evening of that day some blacks had visited us; but they sat on the bank of the river, preserving a most determined silence; and, at length, left us abruptly, and apparently in great ill humour. In the disposition of the loads, I placed all the flour, the tea, and tobacco, in the whaleboat. The meat-casks, still, and carpenters’ tools, were put into the small boat.
As soon as the different arrangements were completed, I collected the men, and told off those who were to accompany me. I then gave the rest over in charge to Harris, and, in adverting to their regular conduct hitherto, trusted they would be equally careful while under his orders. I then directed the last remaining sheep to be equally divided among us; and it was determined that, for fear of accidents, Harris should remain stationary for a week, at the expiration of which time, he would be at liberty to proceed to Goulburn Plains, there to receive his instructions from Sydney; while the boats were to proceed at an early hour of the morning down the river,—whether ever to return again being a point of the greatest uncertainty.
Embarkation of the party in the boats, and voyage down the Morumbidgee—The skiff swamped by striking on a sunken tree—Recovery of boat and its loading—Region of reeds—Dangers of the navigation—Contraction of the channel—Reach the junction of a large river—Intercourse with the natives on its banks—Character of the country below the junction of the rivers—Descent of a dangerous rapid—Warlike demonstrations of a tribe of natives—Unexpected deliverance from a conflict with them—Junction of another river—Give the name of the “Murray” to the principal stream.
The camp was a scene of bustle and confusion long before day-light. The men whom I had selected to accompany me were in high spirits, and so eager to commence their labours that they had been unable to sleep, but busied themselves from the earliest dawn in packing up their various articles of clothing, &c. We were prevented from taking our departure so early as I had intended, by rain that fell about six. At a little after seven, however, the weather cleared up, the morning mists blew over our heads, and the sun struck upon us with his usual fervour. As soon as the minor things were stowed away, we bade adieu to Harris and his party; and shortly after, embarked on the bosom of that stream along the banks of which we had journeyed for so many miles
Notwithstanding that we only used two oars, our progress down the river was rapid. Hopkinson had arranged the loads so well, that all the party could sit at their ease, and Fraser was posted in the bow of the boat, with gun in hand, to fire at any new bird or beast that we might surprise in our silent progress. The little boat, which I shall henceforward call the skiff, was fastened by a painter to our stern.
As the reader will have collected from what has already fallen under his notice, the country near the depot was extensively covered with reeds, beyond which vast plains of polygonum stretched away. From the bed of the river we could not observe the change that took place in it as we passed along, so that we found it necessary to land, from time to time, for the purpose of noting down its general appearance. At about fifteen miles from the depot, we came upon a large creek-junction from the N.E., which I did not doubt to be the one M’Leay and I had crossed on the 25th of December. It was much larger than the creek of the Macquarie, and was capable of holding a very great body of water, although evidently too small to contain all that occasionally rushed from its source. I laid it down as the supposed junction of the Lachlan, since I could not, against the corroborating facts in my possession, doubt its originating in the marshes of that river. Should this, eventually, prove to be the case, the similar termination of the two streams traced by Mr. Oxley will be a singular feature in the geography of the interior.
We were just about to land, to prepare our dinner, when two emus swam across the river ahead of us. This was an additional inducement for us to land, but we were unfortunately too slow, and the birds escaped us. We had rushed in to the right bank, and found on ascending it, that the reeds with which it had hitherto been lined, had partially ceased. A large plain, similar to those over which we had wandered prior to our gaining the flooded region, stretched away to a considerable distance behind us, and was backed by cypresses and brush. The soil of the plain was a red sandy loam, covered sparingly with salsolae and shrubs; thus indicating that the country still preserved its barren character, and that it is the same from north to south. Among the shrubs we found a tomb that appeared to have been recently constructed. No mound had been raised over the body, but an oval hollow shed occupied the centre of the burial place, that was lined with reeds and bound together with strong net-work. Round this, the usual walks were cut, and the recent traces of women’s feet were visible upon them, but we saw no natives, although, from the number and size of the paths that led from the river, in various directions across the plain, I was led to conclude, that, at certain seasons, it is hereabouts numerously frequented. Fraser gathered some rushes similar to those used by the natives of the Darling in the fabrication of their nets, and as they had not before been observed, we judged them, of course, to be a sign of our near approach to that river.
As soon as we had taken a hasty dinner, we again embarked, and pursued our journey. I had hoped, from the appearance of the country to the north of us, although that to the south gave little indication of any change, that we should soon clear the reeds; but at somewhat less than a mile they closed in upon the river, and our frequent examination of the neighbourhood on either side of it only tended to confirm the fact, that we were passing through a country subject to great and extensive inundation. We pulled up at half-past five, and could scarcely find space enough to pitch our tents.
The Morumbidgee kept a decidedly westerly course during the day. Its channel was not so tortuous as we expected to have found it, nor did it offer any obstruction to the passage of the boats. Its banks kept a general height of eight feet, five of which were of alluvial soil, and both its depth and its current were considerable. We calculated having proceeded from 28 to 30 miles, though, perhaps, not more than half that distance in a direct line. No rain fell during the day, but we experienced some heavy squalls from the E.S.E.
The second day of our journey from the depot was marked by an accident that had well nigh obliged us to abandon the further pursuit of the river, by depriving us of part of our means of carrying it into effect. We had proceeded, as usual, at an early hour in the morning, and not long after we started, fell in with the blacks who had visited us last, and who were now in much better humour than upon that occasion. As they had their women with them, we pushed in to the bank, and distributed some presents, after which we dropped quietly down the river. Its general depth had been such as to offer few obstructions to our progress, but about an hour after we left the natives, the skiff struck upon a sunken log, and immediately filling, went down in about twelve feet of water, The length of the painter prevented any strain upon the whale-boat, but the consequence of so serious an accident at once flashed upon our minds. That we should suffer considerably, we could not doubt, but our object was to get the skiff up with the least possible delay, to prevent the fresh water from mixing with the brine, in the casks of meat. Some short time, however, necessarily elapsed before we could effect this, and when at last the skiff was hauled ashore, we found that we were too late to prevent the mischief that we had anticipated. All the things had been fastened in the boat, but either from the shock, or the force of the current, one of the pork casks, the head of the still, and the greater part of the carpenter’s tools, had been thrown out of her. As the success of the expedition might probably depend upon the complete state of the still, I determined to use every effort for its recovery: but I was truly at a loss how to find it; for the waters of the river were extremely turbid. In this dilemma, the blacks would have been of the most essential service, but they were far behind us, so that we had to depend on our own exertions alone. I directed the whale-boat to be moored over the place where the accident had happened, and then used the oars on either side of her, to feel along the bottom of the river, in hopes that by these means we should strike upon the articles we had lost. However unlikely such a measure was to prove successful, we recovered in the course of the afternoon, every thing but the still-head, and a cask of paint. Whenever the oar struck against the substance that appeared, by its sound or feel to belong to us, it was immediately pushed into the sand, and the upper end of the oar being held by two men, another descended by it to the bottom of the river, remaining under water as long as he could, to ascertain what was immediately within arm’s length of him. This work was, as may be imagined, most laborious, and the men at length became much exhausted. They would not, however, give up the search for the still head, more especially after M’Leay, in diving, had descended upon it. Had he, by ascertaining his position, left it to us to heave it up, our labours would soon have ended; but, in his anxiety for its recovery, he tried to bring it up, when finding it too heavy, he let it go, and the current again swept it away.
At sunset. we were obliged to relinquish our task, the men complaining of violent head-aches, which the nature of the day increased. Thinking our own efforts would be unavailing, I directed two of the men to go up the river for the blacks, at day-light in the morning, and set the reeds on fire to attract their notice. The day had been cloudy and sultry in the afternoon, the clouds collecting in the N.E.: we heard the distant thunder, and expected to have been deluged with rain. None, however, fell, although we were anxious for moisture to change the oppressive state of the atmosphere. The fire I had kindled raged behind us, and threw dense columns of smoke into the sky, that cast over the landscape a shade of the most dismal gloom. We were not in a humour to admire the picturesque, but soon betook ourselves to rest, and after such a day of labour as that we had undergone, I dispensed with the night guard.
In the morning we resumed our search for the still head, which Hopkinson at length fortunately struck with his oar. It had been swept considerably below the place at which M’Leay had dived, or we should most probably have found it sooner. With its recovery, all our fatigues were at once forgotten, and I ordered the breakfast to be got ready preparatory to our reloading the skiff. Fraser and Mulholland, who had left the camp at daylight, had not yet returned. I was sitting in the tent, when Macnamee came to inform me that one of the frying-pans was missing, which had been in use the evening previous, for that he himself had placed it on the stump of a tree, and he therefore supposed a native dog had run away with it. Soon after this, another loss was reported to me, and it was at last discovered that an extensive robbery had been committed upon us during the night, and that, in addition to the frying-pan, three cutlasses, and five tomahawks, with the pea of the steelyards, had been carried away. I was extremely surprised at this instance of daring in the natives, and determined, if possible, to punish it. About ten, Fraser and Mulholland returned with two blacks. Fraser told me he saw several natives on our side of the river, as he was returning, to whom those who were with him spoke, and I felt convinced from their manner and hesitation, that they were aware of the trick that had been played upon us. However, as Fraser had promised them a tomahawk to induce them to accompany him, I fulfilled the promise.
Leaving this unlucky spot, we made good about sixteen miles during the afternoon. The river maintained its breadth and depth nor were the reeds continuous upon its banks. We passed several plains that were considerably elevated above the alluvial deposits, and the general appearance of the country induced me strongly to hope that we should shortly get out of the region of reeds, or the great flooded concavity on which we had fixed our depot; but the sameness of vegetation, and the seemingly diminutive size of the timber in the distance, argued against any change for the better in the soil of the interior. Having taken the precaution of shortening the painter of the skiff, we found less difficulty in steering her clear of obstacles, and made rapid progress down the Morumbidgee during the first cool and refreshing hours of the morning. The channel of the river became somewhat less contracted, but still retained sufficient depth for larger boats than ours, and preserved a general westerly course. Although no decline of country was visible to the eye, the current in places ran very strong. It is impossible for me to convey to the reader’s mind an idea of the nature of the country through which we passed. On this day the favourable appearances, noticed yesterday, ceased almost as soon as we embarked. On the 10th, reeds lined the banks of the river on both sides, without any break, and waved like gloomy streamers over its turbid waters; while the trees stood leafless and sapless in the midst of them. Wherever we landed, the same view presented itself—a waving expanse of reeds, and a country as flat as it is possible to imagine one. The eye could seldom penetrate beyond three quarters of a mile, and the labour of walking through the reeds was immense; but within our observation all was green and cheerless. The morning had been extremely cold, with a thick haze at E.S.E. About 2 p.m. it came on to rain heavily, so that we did not stir after that hour.
I had remarked that the Morumbidgee was not, from the depot downwards, so broad or so fine a river as it certainly is at the foot of the mountain ranges, where it gains the level country. The observations of the last two days had impressed upon my mind an idea that it was rapidly falling off, and I began to dread that it would finally terminate in one of those fatal marshes in which the Macquarie and the Lachlan exhaust themselves. My hope of a more favourable issue was considerably damped by the general appearance of the surrounding country; and from the circumstance of our not having as yet passed a single tributary. As we proceeded down the river, its channel gradually contracted, and immense trees that had been swept down it by floods, rendered the navigation dangerous and intricate. Its waters became so turbid, that it was impossible to see objects in it, notwithstanding the utmost diligence on the part of the men.
About noon, we fell in with a large tribe of natives, but had great difficulty in bringing them to visit us. If they had heard of white men, we were evidently the first they had ever seen. They approached us in the most cautious manner, and were unable to subdue their fears as long as they remained with us. Collectively, these people could not have amounted to less than one hundred and twenty in number.
As we pushed off from the bank, after having stayed with them about half an hour, the whaleboat struck with such violence on a sunken log, that she immediately leaked on her starboard side. Fortunately she was going slowly at the time, or she would most probably have received some more serious injury. One of the men was employed during the remainder of the afternoon in bailing her out, and we stopped sooner than we should otherwise have done, in order to ascertain the extent of damage, and to repair it. The reeds terminated on both sides of the river some time before we pulled up, and the country round the camp was more elevated than usual, and bore the appearance of open forest pasture land, the timber upon it being a dwarf species of box, and the soil a light tenacious earth.
About a mile below our encampment of the 12th, we at length came upon a considerable creek-junction from the S.E. Below it, the river increased both in breadth and depth; banks were lofty and perpendicular, and even the lowest levels were but partially covered with reeds. We met with fewer obstructions in consequence, and pursued our journey with restored confidence. Towards evening a great change also took place in the aspect of the country, which no longer bore general marks of inundation. The level of the interior was broken by a small hill to the right of the stream, but the view from its summit rather damped than encouraged my hopes of any improvement. The country was covered with wood and brush, and the line of the horizon was unbroken by the least swell. We were on an apparently boundless flat, without any fixed point on which to direct our movements, nor was there a single object for the eye to rest upon, beyond the dark and gloomy wood that surrounded us on every side.
Soon after passing this hill, the whale-boat struck upon a line of sunken rocks, but fortunately escaped without injury. Mulholland, who was standing in the bow, was thrown out of her, head foremost, and got a good soaking, but soon recovered himself. The composition of the rock was iron-stone, and it is the first formation that occurs westward of the dividing range. We noticed a few cypresses in the distance, but the general timber was dwarf-box, or flooded-gum, and a few of the acacia longa scattered at great distances. In verifying our position by some lunars, we found ourselves in 142° 46´ 30´´ of east long., and in lat. 35° 25´ 15´´ S. the mean variation of the compass being 4° 10´´ E. it appearing that we were decreasing the variation as we proceeded westward.
On the 13th, we passed the first running stream that joins the Morumbidgee, in a course of more than 340 miles. It came from the S.E., and made a visible impression on the river at the junction, although in tracing it up, it appeared to be insignificant in itself. The circumstance of these tributaries all occurring on the left, evidenced the level nature of the country to the north. In the afternoon, we passed a dry creek also from the S.E. which must at times throw a vast supply of water into the river, since for many miles below, the latter preserved a breadth of 200 feet, and averaged from 12 to 20 feet in depth, with banks of from 15 to 18 feet in height. Yet, notwithstanding its general equality of depth, several rapids occurred, down which the boats were hurried with great velocity. The body of water in the river continued undiminished, notwithstanding its increased breadth of channel; for which reason I should imagine that it is fed by springs, independently of other supplies. Some few cypresses were again observed, and the character of the distant country resembled, in every particular, that of the interior between the Macquarie and the Darling. The general appearance of the Morumbidgee, from the moment of our starting on the 13th, to a late hour in the afternoon, had been such as to encourage my hopes of ultimate success in tracing it down; but about three o’clock we came to one of those unaccountable and mortifying changes which had already so frequently excited my apprehension. Its channel again suddenly contracted, and became almost blocked up with huge trees, that must have found their way into it down the creeks or junctions we had lately passed. The rapidity of the current increasing at the same time, rendered the navigation perplexing and dangerous. We passed reach after reach, presenting the same difficulties, and were at length obliged to pull up at 5 p.m., having a scene of confusion and danger before us that I did not dare to encounter with the evening’s light; for I had not only observed that the men’s eye-sight failed them as the sun descended, and that they mistook shadows for objects under water, and vice versa, but the channel had become so narrow that, although the banks were not of increased height, we were involved in comparative darkness, under a close arch of trees, and a danger was hardly seen ere we were hurried past it, almost without the possibility of avoiding it. The reach at the head of which we stopped, was crowded with the trunks of trees, the branches of which crossed each other in every direction, nor could I hope, after a minute examination of the channel, to succeed in taking the boats safely down so intricate a passage.
We rose in the morning with feelings of apprehension, and uncertainty; and, indeed, with great doubts on our minds whether we were not thus early destined to witness the wreck, and the defeat of the expedition. The men got slowly and cautiously into the boat, and placed themselves so as to leave no part of her undefended. Hopkinson stood at the bow, ready with poles to turn her head from anything upon which she might be drifting. Thus prepared, we allowed her to go with the stream. By extreme care and attention on the part of the men we passed this formidable barrier. Hopkinson in particular exerted himself, and more than once leapt from the boat upon apparently rotten logs of wood, that I should not have judged capable of bearing his weight, the more effectually to save the boat. It might have been imagined that where such a quantity of timber had accumulated, a clearer channel would have been found below, but such was not the case. In every reach we had to encounter fresh difficulties. In some places huge trees lay athwart the stream, under whose arched branches we were obliged to pass; but, generally speaking, they had been carried, roots foremost, by the current, and, therefore, presented so many points to receive us, that, at the rate at which we were going, had we struck full upon any one of them, it would have gone through and through the boat. About noon we stopped to repair, or rather to take down the remains of our awning, which had been torn away; and to breathe a moment from the state of apprehension and anxiety in which our minds had been kept during the morning. About one, we again started. The men looked anxiously out ahead; for the singular change in the river had impressed on them an idea, that we were approaching its termination, or near some adventure. On a sudden, the river took a general southern direction, but, in its tortuous course, swept round to every point of the compass with the greatest irregularity. We were carried at a fearful rate down its gloomy and contracted banks, and, in such a moment of excitement, had little time to pay attention to the country through which we were passing. It was, however, observed, that chalybeate-springs were numerous close to the water’s edge. At 3 p.m., Hopkinson called out that we were approaching a junction, and in less than a minute afterwards, we were hurried into a broad and noble river.
It is impossible for me to describe the effect of so instantaneous a change of circumstances upon us. The boats were allowed to drift along at pleasure, and such was the force with which we had been shot out of the Morumbidgee, that we were carried nearly to the bank opposite its embouchure, whilst we continued to gaze in silent astonishment on the capacious channel we had entered; and when we looked for that by which we had been led into it, we could hardly believe that the insignificant gap that presented itself to us was, indeed, the termination of the beautiful and noble stream, whose course we had thus successfully followed. I can only compare the relief we experienced to that which the seaman feels on weathering the rock upon which he expected his vessel would have struck—to the calm which succeeds moments of feverish anxiety, when the dread of danger is succeeded by the certainty of escape.
To myself personally, the discovery of this river was a circumstance of a particularly gratifying nature, since it not only confirmed the justness of my opinion as to the ultimate fate of the Morumbidgee, and bore me out in the apparently rash and hasty step I had taken at the depot, but assured me of ultimate success in the duty I had to perform. We had got on the high road, as it were, either to the south coast, or to some important outlet; and the appearance of the river itself was such as to justify our most sanguine expectations. I could not doubt its being the great channel of the streams from the S.E. angle of the island. Mr. Hume had mentioned to me that he crossed three very considerable streams, when employed with Mr. Hovell in 1823 in penetrating towards Port Phillips, to which the names of the Goulburn, the Hume, and the Ovens, had been given; and as I was 300 miles from the track these gentlemen had pursued, I considered it more than probable that those rivers must already have formed a junction above me, more especially when I reflected that the convexity of the mountains to the S.E. would necessarily direct the waters falling inwards from them to a common centre.
We entered the new river at right angles, and, as I have remarked, at the point of junction the channel of the Morumbidgee had narrowed so as to bear all the appearance of an ordinary creek. In breadth it did not exceed fifty feet, and if, instead of having passed down it, I had been making my way up the principal streams, I should little have dreamt that so dark and gloomy an outlet concealed a river that would lead me to the haunts of civilized man, and whose fountains rose amidst snow-clad mountains. Such, however, is the characteristic of the streams falling to the westward of the coast ranges. Descending into a low and level interior, and depending on their immediate springs for existence, they fall off, as they increase their distance from the base of the mountains in which they rise, and in their lower branches give little results of the promise they had previously made.
The opinion I have expressed, and which is founded on my personal experience, that the rivers crossed by Messrs. Hovell and Hume had already united above me, was strengthened by the capacity of the stream we had just discovered. It had a medium width of 350 feet, with a depth of from twelve to twenty. Its reaches were from half to three-quarters of a mile in length, and the views upon it were splendid. Of course, as the Morumbidgee entered it from the north, its first reach must have been E. and W., and it was so, as nearly as possible; but it took us a little to the southward of the latter point, in a distance of about eight miles that we pulled down it in the course of the afternoon. We then landed and pitched our tents for the night. Its transparent waters were running over a sandy bed at the rate of two-and-a-half knots an hour, and its banks, although averaging eighteen feet in height, were evidently subject to floods.
We had not seen any natives since falling in with the last tribe on the Morumbidgee. A cessation had, therefore, taken place in our communication with them, in re-establishing which I anticipated considerable difficulty. It appeared singular that we should not have fallen in with any for several successive days, more especially at the junction of the two rivers, as in similar situations they generally have an establishment. In examining the country back from the stream, I did not observe any large paths, but it was evident that fires had made extensive ravages in the neighbourhood, so that the country was, perhaps, only temporarily deserted. Macnamee, who had wandered a little from the tents, declared that he had seen about a dozen natives round a fire, from whom (if he really did see them) he very precipitately fled, but I was inclined to discredit his story, because in our journey on the following day, we did not see even a casual wanderer.
The river maintained its character, and raised our hopes to the highest pitch. Its breadth varied from 160 to 200 yards; and only in one place, where a reef of iron-stone stretched nearly across from the left bank, so as to contract the channel near the right and to form a considerable rapid, was there any apparent obstruction to our navigation. I was sorry, however, to remark that the breadth of alluvial soil between its outer and inner banks was very inconsiderable, and that the upper levels were poor and sandy. Blue-gum generally occupied the former, while the usual productions of the plains still predominated upon the latter, and showed that the distant interior had not yet undergone any favourable change. We experienced strong breezes from the north, but the range of the thermometer was high, and the weather rather oppressive than otherwise. On the night of the 16th, we had a strong wind from the N.W., but it moderated with day-light, and shifted to the E.N.E., and the day was favourable and cool. Our progress was in every way satisfactory, and if any change had taken place in the river, it was that the banks had increased in height, in many places to thirty feet, the soil being a red loam, and the surface much above the reach of floods. The bank opposite to the one that was so elevated, was proportionably low, and, in general, not only heavily timbered, but covered with reeds, and backed by a chain of ponds at the base of the outer embankment.
About 4 p.m., some natives were observed running by the river side behind us, but on our turning the boat’s head towards the shore, they ran away. It was evident that they had no idea what we were, and, from their timidity, feeling assured that it would be impossible to bring them to a parley, we continued onwards till our usual hour of stopping, when we pitched our tents on the left bank for the night, it being the one opposite to that on which the natives had appeared. We conjectured that their curiosity would lead them to follow us, which they very shortly did; for we had scarcely made ourselves comfortable when we heard their wild notes through the woods as they advanced towards the river; and their breaking into view with their spears and shields, and painted and prepared as they were for battle, was extremely fine. They stood threatening us, and making a great noise, for a considerable time, but, finding that we took no notice of them, they, at length, became quiet. I then walked to some little distance from the party, and taking a branch in my hand, as a sign of peace, beckoned them to swim to our side of the river, which, after some time, two or three of them did. But they approached me with great caution, hesitating at every step. They soon, however, gained confidence, and were ultimately joined by all the males of their tribe. I gave the first who swam the river a tomahawk (making this a rule in order to encourage them) with which he was highly delighted. I shortly afterwards placed them all in a row and fired a gun before them: they were quite unprepared for such an explosion, and after standing stupified and motionless for a moment or two, they simultaneously took to their heels, to our great amusement. I succeeded, however, in calling them back, and they regained their confidence so much, that sixteen of them remained with us all night, but the greater number retired at sunset.
On the following morning, they accompanied us down the river, where we fell in with their tribe, who were stationed on an elevated bank a short distance below—to the number of eighty-three men, women, and children. Their appearance was extremely picturesque and singular. They wanted us to land, but time was too precious for such delays. Some of the boldest of the natives swam round and round the boat so as to impede the use of the oars, and the women on the bank evinced their astonishment by mingled yells and cries. They entreated us, by signs, to remain with them, but, as I foresaw a compliance on this occasion would hereafter be attended with inconvenience, I thought it better to proceed on our journey, and the natives soon ceased their importunities, and, indeed, did not follow or molest us.
The river improved upon us at every mile. Its reaches were of noble breadth, and splendid appearance. Its current was stronger, and it was fed by numerous springs. Rocks, however, were more frequent in its bed, and in two places almost formed a barrier across the channel, leaving but a narrow space for the boats to go down. We passed several elevations of from 70 to 90 feet in height, at the base of which the stream swept along. The soil of these elevations was a mixture of clay (marl) and sand, upon coarse sandstone. Their appearance and the manner in which they had been acted upon by water, was singular, and afforded a proof of the violence of the rains in this part of the interior. From the highest of these, I observed that the country to the S.E. was gently undulated, and so far changed in character from that through which we had been travelling; still, however, it was covered with a low scrub, and was barren and unpromising.
About noon of the 18th, we surprised two women at the water-side, who immediately retreated into the brush. Shortly after, four men showed themselves, and followed us for a short distance, but hid themselves upon our landing. The country still appeared undulated to the S.E.; the soil was sandy, and cypresses more abundant than any other tree. We passed several extensive sand-banks in the river, of unusual size and solidity, an evident proof of the sandy nature of the interior generally. The vast accumulations of sand at the junctions of every creek were particularly remarkable. The timber on the alluvial flats was not by any means so large as we had hitherto observed it; nor were the flats themselves so extensive as they are on the Morumbidgee and the Macquarie. Notwithstanding the aspect of the country which I have described, no positive change had as yet taken place in the general feature of the interior. The river continued to flow in a direction somewhat to the northward of west, through a country that underwent no perceptible alteration. Its waters, confined to their immediate bed, swept along considerably below the level of its inner banks; and the spaces between them and the outer ones, though generally covered with reeds, seemed not recently to have been flooded; while on the other hand, they had, in many places, from successive depositions, risen to a height far above the reach of inundation. Still, however, the more remote interior maintained its sandy and sterile character, and stretched away, in alternate plain and wood, to a distance far beyond the limits of our examination.
About the 21st, a very evident change took place in it. The banks of the river suddenly acquired a perpendicular and water-worn appearance. Their summits were perfectly level, and no longer confined by a secondary embankment, but preserved an uniform equality of surface back from the stream. These banks, although so abrupt, were not so high as the upper levels, or secondary embankments. They indicated a deep alluvial deposit, and yet, being high above the reach of any ordinary flood, were covered with grass, under an open box forest, into which a moderately dense scrub occasionally penetrated. We had fallen into a concavity similar to those of the marshes, but successive depositions had almost filled it, and no longer subject to inundation, it had lost all the character of those flooded tracts. The kind of country I have been describing, lay rather to the right than to the left of the river at this place, the latter continuing low and swampy, as if the country to the south of the river were still subject to inundation. As the expedition proceeded, the left bank gradually assumed the appearance of the right; both looked water-worn and perpendicular, and though not more than from nine to ten feet in height, their summits were perfectly level in receding, and bore diminutive box-timber, with widely-scattered vegetation. Not a single elevation had, as yet, broken the dark and gloomy monotony of the interior; but as our observations were limited to a short distance from the river, our surmises on the nature of the distant country were necessarily involved in some uncertainty.
On the 19th, as we were about to conclude our journey for the day, we saw a large body of natives before us. On approaching them, they showed every disposition for combat, and ran along the bank with spears in rests, as if only waiting for an opportunity to throw them at us. They were upon the right, and as the river was broad enough to enable me to steer wide of them, I did not care much for their threats; but upon another party appearing upon the left bank, I thought it high time to disperse one or the other of them, as the channel was not wide enough to enable me to keep clear of danger, if assailed by both, as I might be while keeping amid the channel. I found, however, that they did not know how to use the advantage they possessed, as the two divisions formed a junction; those on the left swimming over to the stronger body upon the right bank. This, fortunately, prevented the necessity of any hostile measure on my part, and we were suffered to proceed unmolested, for the present. The whole then followed us without any symptom of fear, but making a dreadful shouting, and beating their spears and shields together, by way of intimidation. It is but justice to my men to say that in this critical situation they evinced the greatest coolness, though it was impossible for any one to witness such a scene with indifference. As I did not intend to fatigue the men by continuing to pull farther than we were in the habit of doing, we landed at our usual time on the left bank, and while the people were pitching the tents, I walked down the bank with M’Leay, to treat with these desperadoes in the best way we could, across the water, a measure to which my men showed great reluctance, declaring that if during our absence the natives approached them, they would undoubtedly fire upon them. I assured them it was not my intention to go out of their sight. We took our guns with us, but determined not to use them until the last extremity, both from a reluctance to shed blood and with a view to our future security. I held a long pantomimical dialogue with them, across the water, and held out the olive branch in token of amity. They at length laid aside their spears, and a long consultation took place among them, which ended in two or three wading into the river, contrary, as it appeared, to the earnest remonstrances of the majority, who, finding that their entreaties had no effect, wept aloud, and followed them with a determination, I am sure, of sharing their fate, whatever it might have been. As soon as they landed, M’Leay and I retired to a little distance from the bank, and sat down; that being the usual way among the natives of the interior, to invite to an interview. When they saw us act thus, they approached, and sat down by us, but without looking up, from a kind of diffidence peculiar to them, and which exists even among the nearest relatives, as I have already had occasion to observe. As they gained confidence, however, they showed an excessive curiosity, and stared at us in the most earnest manner. We now led them to the camp, and I gave, as was my custom, the first who had approached, a tomahawk; and to the others, some pieces of iron hoop. Those who had crossed the river amounted to about thirty-five in number. At sunset, the majority of them left us; but three old men remained at the fire-side all night. I observed that few of them had either lost their front teeth or lacerated their bodies, as the more westerly tribes do. The most loathsome diseases prevailed among them. Several were disabled by leprosy, or some similar disorder, and two or three had entirely lost their sight. They are, undoubtedly, a brave and a confiding people, and are by no means wanting in natural affection. In person, they resemble the mountain tribes. They had the thick lip, the sunken eye, the extended nostril, and long beards, and both smooth and curly hair are common among them. Their lower extremities appear to bear no proportion to their bust in point of muscular strength; but the facility with which they ascend trees of the largest growth, and the activity with which they move upon all occasions, together with their singularly erect stature, argue that such appearance is entirely deceptive.
The old men slept very soundly by the fire, and were the last to get up in the morning. M’Leay’s extreme good humour had made a most favourable impression upon them, and I can picture him, even now, joining in their wild song. Whether it was from his entering so readily into their mirth, or from anything peculiar that struck them, the impression upon the whole of us was, that they took him to have been originally a black, in consequence of which they gave him the name of Rundi. Certain it is, they pressed him to show his side, and asked if he had not received a wound there—evidently as if the original Rundi had met with a violent death from a spear-wound in that place. The whole tribe, amounting in number to upwards of 150, assembled to see us take our departure. Four of them accompanied us, among whom there was one remarkable for personal strength and stature.—The 21st passed without our falling in with any new tribe, and the night of the 22nd, saw us still wandering in that lonely desert together. There was something unusual in our going through such an extent of country without meeting another tribe, but our companions appeared to be perfectly aware of the absence of inhabitants, as they never left our side.
Although the banks of the river had been of general equality of height, sandy elevations still occasionally formed a part of them, and their summits were considerably higher than the alluvial flats.
It was upon the crest of one of these steep and lofty banks, that on the morning of the 22nd, the natives who were a-head of the boat, suddenly stopped to watch our proceedings down a foaming rapid that ran beneath. We were not aware of the danger to which we were approaching, until we turned an angle of the river, and found ourselves too near to retreat. In such a moment, without knowing what was before them, the coolness of the men was strikingly exemplified. No one even spoke after they became aware that silence was necessary. The natives (probably anticipating misfortune) stood leaning upon their spears upon the lofty bank above us. Desiring the men not to move from their seats, I stood up to survey the channel, and to steer the boat to that part of it which was least impeded by rocks. I was obliged to decide upon a hasty survey, as we were already at the head of the rapid. It appeared to me that there were two passages, the one down the centre of the river, the other immediately under its right bank. A considerable rock stood directly in own way to the latter, so that I had no alternative but to descend the former. About forty yards below the rock, I noticed that a line of rocks occupied the space between the two channels, whilst a reef, projecting from the left bank, made the central passage distinctly visible, and the rapidity of the current proportionably great. I entertained hopes that the passage was clear, and that we should shoot down it without interruption; but in this I was disappointed. The boat struck with the fore-part of her keel on a sunken rock, and, swinging round as it were on a pivot, presented her bow to the rapid, while the skiff floated away into the strength of it. We had every reason to anticipate the loss of our whale-boat, whose build was so light, that had her side struck the rock, instead of her keel, she would have been laid open from stem to stern. As it was, however, she remained fixed in her position, and it only remained for us to get her off the best way we could. I saw that this could only be done by sending two of the men with a rope to the upper rock, and getting the boat, by that means, into the still water, between that and the lower one. We should then have time to examine the channels, and to decide as to that down which it would be safest to proceed. My only fear was, that the loss of the weight of the two men would lighten the boat so much, that she would be precipitated down the rapid without my having any command over her; but it happened otherwise. We succeeded in getting her into the still water, and ultimately took her down the channel under the right bank, without her sustaining any injury. A few miles below this rapid the river took a singular bend, and we found, after pulling several miles, that we were within a stone’s throw of a part of the stream we had already sailed down.
The four natives joined us in the camp, and assisted the men at their various occupations. The consequence was, that they were treated with more than ordinary kindness; and Fraser, for his part, in order to gratify these favoured guests, made great havoc among the feathered race. He returned after a short ramble with a variety of game, among which were a crow, a kite, and a laughing jackass (alcedo gigantea,) a species of king’s-fisher, a singular bird, found in every part of Australia. Its cry, which resembles a chorus of wild spirits, is apt to startle the traveller who may be in jeopardy, as if laughing and mocking at his misfortune. It is a harmless bird, and I seldom allowed them to be destroyed, as they were sure to rouse us with the earliest dawn. To this list of Fraser’s spoils, a duck and a tough old cockatoo, must be added. The whole of these our friends threw on the fire without the delay of plucking, and snatched them from that consuming element ere they were well singed, and devoured them with uncommon relish.
We pitched our tents upon a flat of good and tenacious soil. A brush, in which there was a new species of melaleuca, backed it, in the thickest part of which we found a deserted native village. The spot was evidently chosen for shelter. The huts were large and long, all facing the same point of the compass, and in every way resembling the huts occupied by the natives of the Darling. Large flocks of whistling ducks, and other wild fowl, flew over our heads to the N.W., as if making their way to some large or favourite waters. My observations placed us in lat. 34° 8´ 15´´ south, and in east long. 141° 9´ 42´´ or nearly so; and I was at a loss to conceive what direction the river would ultimately take. We were considerably to the N.W. of the point at which we had entered it, and in referring to the chart, it appeared, that if the Darling had kept a S.W. course from where the last expedition left its banks, we ought ere this to have struck upon it, or have arrived at its junction with the stream on which we were journeying.
The natives, in attempting to answer my interrogatories, only perplexed me more and more. They evidently wished to explain something, by placing a number of sticks across each other as a kind of diagram of the country. It was, however, impossible to arrive at their meaning. They undoubtedly pointed to the westward, or rather to the south of that point, as the future course of the river; but there was something more that they were anxious to explain, which I could not comprehend. The poor fellows seemed quite disappointed, and endeavoured to beat it into Fraser’s head with as little success. I then desired Macnamee to get up into a tree. From the upper branches of it he said he could see hills; but his account of their appearance was such that I doubted his story: nevertheless it might have been correct. He certainly called our attention to a large fire, as if the country to the N.W. was in flames, so that it appeared we were approaching the haunts of the natives at last.
It happened that Fraser and Harris were for guard, and they sat up laughing and talking with the natives long after we retired to rest. Fraser, to beguile the hours, proposed shaving his sable companions, and performed that operation with admirable dexterity upon their chief, to his great delight. I got up at an early hour, and found to my surprise that the whole of them had deserted us. Harris told me they had risen from the fire about an hour before, and had crossed the river. I was a little angry, but supposed they were aware that we were near some tribe, and had gone on a-head to prepare and collect them.
After breakfast, we proceeded onwards as usual. The river had increased so much in width that, the wind being fair, I hoisted sail for the first time, to save the strength of my men as much as possible. Our progress was consequently rapid. We passed through a country that, from the nature of its soil and other circumstances, appeared to be intersected by creeks and lagoons. Vast flights of wild fowl passed over us, but always at a considerable elevation, while, on the other hand, the paucity of ducks on the river excited our surprise. Latterly, the trees upon the river, and in its neighbourhood, had been a tortuous kind of box. The flooded-gum grew in groups on the spaces subject to inundation, but not on the levels above the influence of any ordinary rise of the stream. Still they were much smaller than they were observed to be in the higher branches of the river. We had proceeded about nine miles, when we were surprised by the appearance in view, at the termination of a reach, of a long line of magnificent trees of green and dense foliage. As we sailed down the reach, we observed a vast concourse of natives under them, and, on a nearer approach, we not only heard their war-song, if it might so be called, but remarked that they were painted and armed, as they generally are, prior to their engaging in deadly conflict. Notwithstanding these outward signs of hostility, fancying that our four friends were with them, I continued to steer directly in for the bank on which they were collected. I found, however, when it was almost too late to turn into the succeeding reach to our left, that an attempt to land would only be attended with loss of life. The natives seemed determined to resist it. We approached so near that they held their spears quivering in their grasp ready to hurl. They were painted in various ways. Some who had marked their ribs, and thighs, and faces with a white pigment, looked like skeletons, others were daubed over with red and yellow ochre, and their bodies shone with the grease with which they had besmeared themselves. A dead silence prevailed among the front ranks, but those in the back ground, as well as the women, who carried supplies of darts, and who appeared to have had a bucket of whitewash capsized over their heads, were extremely clamorous. As I did not wish a conflict with these people, I lowered my sail, and putting the helm to starboard, we passed quietly down the stream in mid channel. Disappointed in their anticipations, the natives ran along the bank of the river, endeavouring to secure an aim at us; but, unable to throw with certainty, in consequence of the onward motion of the boat, they flung themselves into the most extravagant attitudes, and worked themselves into a state of frenzy by loud and vehement shouting.
It was with considerable apprehension that I observed the river to be shoaling fast, more especially as a huge sand-bank, a little below us, and on the same side on which the natives had gathered, projected nearly a third-way across the channel. To this sand-bank they ran with tumultuous uproar, and covered it over in a dense mass. Some of the chiefs advanced to the water to be nearer their victims, and turned from time to time to direct their followers. With every pacific disposition, and an extreme reluctance to take away life, I foresaw that it would be impossible any longer to avoid an engagement, yet with such fearful numbers against us, I was doubtful of the result. The spectacle we had witnessed had been one of the most appalling kind, and sufficient to shake the firmness of most men; but at that trying moment my little band preserved their temper coolness, and if any thing could be gleaned from their countenances, it was that they had determined on an obstinate resistance. I now explained to them that their only chance of escape depended, or would depend, on their firmness. I desired that after the first volley had been fired, M’Leay and three of the men, would attend to the defence of the boat with bayonets only, while I, Hopkinson, and Harris, would keep up the fire as being more used to it. I ordered, however, that no shot was to be fired until after I had discharged both my barrels. I then delivered their arms to the men, which had as yet been kept in the place appropriated for them, and at the same time some rounds of loose cartridge. The men assured me they would follow my instructions, and thus prepared, having already lowered the sail, we drifted onwards with the current. As we neared the sand-bank, I stood up and made signs to the natives to desist; but without success. I took up my gun, therefore, and cocking it, had already brought it down to a level. A few seconds more would have closed the life of the nearest of the savages. The distance was too trifling for me to doubt the fatal effects of the discharge; for I was determined to take deadly aim, in hopes that the fall of one man might save the lives of many. But at the very moment, when my hand was on the trigger, and my eye was along the barrel, my purpose was checked by M’Leay, who called to me that another party of blacks had made their appearance upon the left bank of the river. Turning round, I observed four men at the top of their speed. The foremost of them as soon as he got a-head of the boat, threw himself from a considerable height into the water. He struggled across the channel to the sand-bank, and in an incredibly short space of time stood in front of the savage, against whom my aim had been directed. Seizing him by the throat, he pushed backwards, and forcing all who were in the water upon the bank, he trod its margin with a vehemence and an agitation that were exceedingly striking. At one moment pointing to the boat, at another shaking his clenched hand in the faces of the most forward, and stamping with passion on the sand; his voice, that was at first distinct and clear, was lost in hoarse murmurs. Two of the four natives remained on the left bank of the river, but the third followed his leader, (who proved to be the remarkable savage I have previously noticed) to the scene of action. The reader will imagine our feelings on this occasion: it is impossible to describe them. We were so wholly lost in interest at the scene that was passing, that the boat was allowed to drift at pleasure. For my own part I was overwhelmed with astonishment, and in truth stunned and confused; so singular, so unexpected, and so strikingly providential, had been our escape.
JUNCTION OF THE SUPPOSED DARLING WITH THE MURRAY.
We were again roused to action by the boat suddenly striking upon a shoal, which reached from one side of the river to the other. To jump out and push her into deeper water was but the work of a moment with the men, and it was just as she floated again that our attention was withdrawn to a new and beautiful stream, coming apparently from the north. The great body of the natives having posted themselves on the narrow tongue of land formed by the two rivers, the bold savage who had so unhesitatingly interfered on our account, was still in hot dispute with them, and I really feared his generous warmth would have brought down upon him the vengeance of the tribes. I hesitated, therefore, whether or not to go to his assistance. It appeared, however, both to M’Leay and myself, that the tone of the natives had moderated, and the old and young men having listened to the remonstrances of our friend, the middle-aged warriors were alone holding out against him. A party of about seventy blacks were upon the right bank of the newly discovered river, and I thought that by landing among them, we should make a diversion in favour of our late guest; and in this I succeeded. If even they had still meditated violence, they would have to swim a good broad junction, and that, probably, would cool them, or we at least should have the advantage of position. I therefore, ran the boat ashore, and landed with M’Leay amidst the smaller party of natives, wholly unarmed, and having directed the men to keep at a little distance from the bank. Fortunately, what I anticipated was brought about by the stratagem to which I had had recourse. The blacks no sooner observed that we had landed, than curiosity took place of anger. All wrangling ceased, and they came swimming over to us like a parcel of seals. Thus, in less than a quarter of an hour from the moment when it appeared that all human intervention was at on end, and we were on the point of commencing a bloody fray, which, independently of its own disastrous consequences, would have blasted the success of the expedition, we were peacefully surrounded by the hundreds who had so lately threatened us with destruction; nor was it until after we had returned to the boat, and had surveyed the multitude upon the sloping bank above us, that we became fully aware of the extent of our danger, and of the almost miraculous intervention of Providence in our favour. There could not have been less than six hundred natives upon that blackened sward. But this was not the only occasion upon which the merciful superintendance of that Providence to which we had humbly committed ourselves, was strikingly manifested. If these pages fail to convey entertainment or information, sufficient may at least be gleaned from them to furnish matter for serious reflection; but to those who have been placed in situations of danger where human ingenuity availed them not, and where human foresight was baffled, I feel persuaded that these remarks are unnecessary.
It was my first care to call for our friend, and to express to him, as well as I could, how much we stood indebted to him, at the same time that I made him a suitable present; but to the chiefs of the tribes, I positively refused all gifts, notwithstanding their earnest solicitations. We next prepared to examine the new river, and turning the boat’s head towards it, endeavoured to pull up the stream. Our larboard oars touched the right bank, and the current was too strong for us to conquer it with a pair only; we were, therefore, obliged to put a second upon her, a movement that excited the astonishment and admiration of the natives. One old woman seemed in absolute ecstasy, to whom M’Leay threw an old tin kettle, in recompense for the amusement she afforded us.
As soon as we got above the entrance of the new river, we found easier pulling, and proceeded up it for some miles, accompanied by the once more noisy multitude. The river preserved a breadth of one hundred yards, and a depth of rather more than twelve feet. Its banks were sloping and grassy, and were overhung by trees of magnificent size. Indeed, its appearance was so different from the water-worn banks of the sister stream, that the men exclaimed, on entering it, that we had got into an English river. Its appearance certainly almost justified the expression; for the greenness of its banks was as new to us as the size of its timber. Its waters, though sweet, were turbid, and had a taste of vegetable decay, as well as a slight tinge of green. Our progress was watched by the natives with evident anxiety. They kept abreast of us, and talked incessantly. At length, however, our course was checked by a net that stretched right across the stream. I say checked, because it would have been unfair to have passed over it with the chance of disappointing the numbers who apparently depended on it for subsistence that day. The moment was one of intense interest to me. As the men rested upon their oars, awaiting my further orders, a crowd of thoughts rushed upon me. The various conjectures I had formed of the course and importance of the Darling passed across my mind. Were they indeed realized? An irresistible conviction impressed me that we were now sailing on the bosom of that very stream from whose banks I had been twice forced to retire. I directed the Union Jack to be hoisted, and giving way to our satisfaction, we all stood up in the boat, and gave three distinct cheers. It was an English feeling, an ebullition, an overflow, which I am ready to admit that our circumstances and situation will alone excuse. The eye of every native had been fixed upon that noble flag, at all times a beautiful object, and to them a novel one, as it waved over us in the heart of a desert. They had, until that moment been particularly loquacious, but the sight of that flag and the sound of our voices hushed the tumult, and while they were still lost in astonishment, the boat’s head was speedily turned, the sail was sheeted home, both wind and current were in our favour, and we vanished from them with a rapidity that surprised even ourselves, and which precluded every hope of the most adventurous among them to keep up with us.
Character of the country—Damage of provisions—Adroitness of the natives in catching fish—The skiff broken up—Stream from the North-East supposed to be the Darling—Change of country in descending the river—Intercourse with the natives—Prevalence of loathsome diseases among them—Apparent populousness of the country—Junction of several small streams—The Rufus, the Lindesay, &c.—Rainy and tempestuous weather—Curious appearance of the banks—Troublesomeness of the natives—Inhospitable and desolate aspect of the country—Condition of the men—Change in the geological character of the country—The river passes through a valley among hills.
Arrived once more at the junction of the two rivers, and unmolested in our occupations, we had leisure to examine it more closely. Not having as yet given a name to our first discovery, when we re-entered its capacious channel on this occasion, I laid it down as the Murray River, in compliment to the distinguished officer, Sir George Murray, who then presided over the colonial department, not only in compliance with the known wishes of his Excellency General Darling, but also in accordance with my own feelings as a soldier.
The new river, whether the Darling or an additional discovery, meets its more southern rival on a N. by E. course; the latter, running W.S.W. at the confluence, the angle formed by the two rivers, is, therefore, so small that both may be considered to preserve their proper course, and neither can be said to be tributary to the other. At their junction, the Murray spreads its waters over the broad and sandy shore, upon which our boat grounded, while its more impetuous neighbour flows through the deep but narrow channel it has worked out for itself, under the right bank. The strength of their currents must have been nearly equal, since there was as distinct a line between their respective waters, to a considerable distance below the junction, as if a thin board alone separated them. The one half the channel contained the turbid waters of the northern stream, the other still preserved their original transparency.
The banks of the Murray did not undergo any immediate change as we proceeded. We noticed that the country had, at some time, been subject to extensive inundation, and was, beyond doubt, of alluvial formation. We passed the mouths of several large creeks that came from the north and N.W., and the country in those directions seemed to be much intersected by water-courses; while to the south it was extremely low. Having descended several minor rapids, I greatly regretted that we had no barometer to ascertain the actual dip of the interior. I computed, however, that we were not more than from eighty to ninety feet above the level of the sea. We found the channel of the Murray much encumbered with timber, and noticed some banks of sand that were of unusual size, and equalled the largest accumulations of it on the sea shore, both in extent and solidity.
We would gladly have fired into the flights of wild fowl that winged their way over us, for we, about this time, began to feel the consequences of the disaster that befell us in the Morumbidgee. The fresh water having got mixed with the brine in the meat casks, the greater part of our salt provisions had got spoiled, so that we were obliged to be extremely economical in the expenditure of what remained, as we knew not to what straits we might be driven. It will naturally be asked why we did not procure fish? The answer is easy. The men had caught many in the Morumbidgee, and on our first navigation of the Murray, but whether it was that they had disagreed with them, or that their appetites were palled, or that they were too fatigued after the labour of the day to set the lines, they did not appear to care about them. The only fish we could take was the common cod or perch; and, without sauce or butter, it is insipid enough. We occasionally exchanged pieces of iron-hoop for two other kinds of fish, the one a bream, the other a barbel, with the natives, and the eagerness with which they met our advances to barter, is a strong proof of their natural disposition towards this first step in civilization.
As they threw off all reserve when accompanying us as ambassadors, we had frequent opportunities of observing their habits. The facility, for instance, with which they procured fish was really surprising. They would slip, feet foremost, into the water as they walked along the bank of the river, as if they had accidentally done so, but, in reality, to avoid the splash they would necessarily have made if they had plunged in head foremost. As surely as they then disappeared under the surface of the water, so surely would they re-appear with a fish writhing upon the point of their short spears. The very otter scarcely exceeds them in power over the finny race, and so true is the aim of these savages, even under water, that all the fish we procured from them were pierced either close behind the lateral fin, or in the very centre of the head, It is certain, from their indifference to them, that the natives seldom eat fish when they can get anything else. Indeed, they seemed more anxious to take the small turtle, which, sunning themselves on the trunks or logs of trees over the water, were, nevertheless, extremely on their guard. A gentle splash alone indicated to us that any thing had dropped into the water, but the quick eyes and ears of our guides immediately detected what had occasioned it, and they seldom failed to take the poor little animal that had so vainly trusted to its own watchfulness for security. It appeared that the natives did not, from choice, frequent the Murray; it was evident, therefore, that they had other and better means of subsistence away from it, and it struck me, at the time, that the river we had just passed watered a better country than any through which the Murray had been found to flow.
We encamped rather earlier than usual upon the left bank of the river, near a broad creek; for as the skiff had been a great drag upon us, I determined on breaking it up, since there was no probability that we should ever require the still, which alone remained in her. We, consequently, burnt the former, to secure her nails and iron work, and I set Clayton about cutting the copper of the latter into the shape of crescents, in order to present them to the natives. Some large huts were observed on the side of the creek, a little above the camp, the whole of which faced the N.E. This arrangement had previously been noticed by us, so that I was led to infer that the severest weather comes from the opposite quarter in this part of the interior. I had not the least idea, at the time, however, that we should, ere we reached the termination of our journey, experience the effects of the S.W. winds.
We must have fallen considerably during the day from the level of our morning’s position, for we passed down many reaches where the decline of country gave an increased velocity to the current of the river.
I had feared, not only in consequence of the unceremonious manner in which we had left them, but, because I had, in some measure, rejected the advances of their chiefs, that none of the natives would follow us, and I regretted the circumstance on account of my men, as well as the trouble we should necessarily have in conciliating the next tribe. We had not, however, been long encamped, when seven blacks joined us. I think they would have passed on if we had not called to them. As it was, they remained with us but for a short time. We treated them very kindly, but they were evidently under constraint, and were, no doubt, glad when they found we did not object to their departing.
I have stated, that I felt satisfied in my own mind, that the beautiful stream we had passed was no other than the river Darling of my former journey. The bare assertion, however, is not sufficient to satisfy the mind of the reader, upon a point of such importance, more especially when it is considered how remarkable a change the Darling must have undergone, if this were indeed a continuation of it. I am free to confess that it required an effort to convince myself, but after due consideration, I see no reason to alter the opinion I formed at a moment of peculiar embarrassment. Yet it by no means follows that I shall convince others, although I am myself convinced. The question is one of curious speculation, and the consideration of it will lead us to an interesting conjecture, as to the probable nature of the distant interior, between the two points. It will be remembered that I was obliged to relinquish my pursuit of the Darling, in east long. 144° 48´ 30´´ in lat. 30° 17´ 30´´ south. I place the junction of the Murray and the new river, in long. 140° 56´ east, and in south lat. 34° 3´. I must remark, however, that the lunars I took on this last occasion, were not satisfactory, and that there is, probably, an error, though not a material one, in the calculation. Before I measure the distance between the above points, or make any remarks on the results of my own observations, I would impress the following facts upon the reader’s mind.
I found and left the Darling in a complete state of exhaustion. As a river it had ceased to flow; the only supply it received was from brine springs, which, without imparting a current, rendered its waters saline and useless, and lastly, the fish in it were different from those inhabiting the other known rivers of the interior. It is true, I did not procure a perfect specimen of one, but we satisfactorily ascertained that they were different, inasmuch as they had large and strong scales, whereas the fish in the western waters have smooth skins. On the other hand, the waters of the new river were sweet, although turbid; it had a rapid current in it; and its fish were of the ordinary kind. In the above particulars, therefore, they differed much as they could well differ. Yet there were some strong points of resemblance in the appearance of the rivers themselves, which were more evident to me than I can hope to make them to the reader. Both were shaded by trees of the same magnificent dimensions; and the same kind of huts were erected on the banks of each, inhabited by the same description, or race, of people, whose weapons, whose implements, and whose nets corresponded in most respects.
We will now cast our eyes over the chart: and see if the position of the two rivers upon it, will at all bear out our conclusion that they are one and the same; and whether the line that would join them is the one that the Darling would naturally take, in reference to its previous course.—We shall find that the two points under discussion, bear almost N.E. and S.W. of each other respectively, the direct line in which the Darling had been ascertained to flow, as far as it had been found practicable to trace it. I have already remarked that the fracture of my barometer prevented my ascertaining the height of the bed of the Darling above the sea, during the first expedition. A similar accident caused me equal disappointment on the second; because one of the most important points upon which I was engaged was to ascertain the dip of the interior. I believe I stated, in its proper place, that I did not think the Darling could possibly be 200 feet above the sea, and as far as my observations bear me out, I should estimate the bed of the Murray, at its junction with the new river, to be within 100. It would appear that there is a distance of 300 miles between the Murray River at this place, and the Darling; a space amply sufficient for the intervention of a hilly country. No one could have been more attentive to the features of the interior than I was; nor could any one have dwelt upon their peculiarities with more earnest attention. It were hazardous to build up any new theory, however ingenious it may appear. The conclusions into which I have been led, are founded on actual observation of the country through which I passed, and extend not beyond my actual range of vision; unless my assuming that the decline of the interior to the south has been satisfactorily established, be considered premature. If not, the features of the country certainly justify my deductions; and it will be found that they were still more confirmed by subsequent observation.—That the Darling should have lost its current in its upper branches, is not surprising, when the level nature of the country into which it falls is taken into consideration; neither does it surprise me that it should be stationary in one place, and flowing in another; since, if, as in the present instance, there is a great extent of country between the two points, which may perhaps be of considerable elevation, the river may receive tributaries, whose waters will of course follow the general decline of the country. I take it to be so in the case before us; and am of opinion, that the lower branches of the Darling are not at all dependent on its sources for a current, or for a supply of water. I have somewhere observed that it appeared to me the depressed interior over which I had already travelled, was of comparatively recent formation. And, by whatever convulsion or change so extensive a tract became exposed, I cannot but infer, that the Darling is the main channel by which the last waters of the ocean were drained off. The bottom of the estuary, for it cannot be called a valley, being then left exposed, it consequently remains the natural and proper reservoir for the streams from the eastward, or those falling easterly from the westward, if any such remain to be discovered.
From the junction of the Morumbidgee to the junction of the new river, the Murray had held a W.N.W. course. From the last junction it changed its direction to the S.W., and increased considerably in size. The country to the south was certainly lower than that to the north; for, although both banks had features common to each other, the flooded spaces were much more extensive to our left than to our right.
We started on the morning of the 24th, all the lighter from having got rid of the skiff, and certainly freer to act in case the natives should evince a hostile disposition towards us. As we proceeded down the river, the appearances around us more and more plainly indicated a change of country. Cypresses were observed in the distance, and the ground on which they stood was higher than that near the stream; as if it had again acquired its secondary banks. At length these heights approached the river so nearly as to form a part of its banks, and to separate one alluvial flat from another. Their summits were perfectly level; their soil was a red sandy loam; and their productions, for the most part, salsolae and misembrianthemum. From this it would appear that we had passed through a second region, that must at some time have been under water, and that still retained all the marks of a country partially subject to flood.
We had, as I have said, passed over this region, and were again hemmed in by those sandy and sterile tracts upon which the beasts of the field could obtain neither food nor water. We overtook the seven deputies some time after we started, but soon lost sight of them again, as they cut off the sweeps of the river, and shortened their journey as much as possible. At 2 p.m. we found them with a tribe of their countrymen, about eighty in number. We pulled in to the bank and remained with them for a short time, and I now determined to convince the blacks who had preceded us, that I had not been actuated by any other desire than that of showing to them that we were not to be intimidated by numbers, when I refused to make them any presents after their show of hostility. I now, therefore, gave them several implements, sundry pieces of iron hoop, and an ornamental badge of copper. When we left the tribe, we were regularly handed over to their care. The seven men who had introduced us, went back at the same time that we continued our journey, and two more belonging to the new tribe, went on a-head to prepare the the neighbouring tribe to receive us; nor did we see anything more of them during the day.
We encamped on the left bank of the river, amidst a polygonum scrub, in which we found a number of the crested pigeon. It was late before the tents were pitched: as Fraser seldom assisted in that operation, but strolled out with his gun after he had kindled a fire, so on this occasion he wandered from the camp in search of novelty, and on his return, informed me that there was a considerable ridge to the south of a plain upon which he had been.
I had myself walked out to the S.E., and on ascending a few feet above the level of the camp, got into a scrub. I was walking quietly through it, when I heard a rustling noise, and looking in the direction whence it proceeded, I observed a small kangaroo approaching me. Having a stick in my hand, and being aware that I was in one of their paths, I stood still until the animal came close up to me, without apparently being aware of my presence. I then gave it a blow an the side of the head, and made it reel to one side, but the stick, being rotten, broke with the force of the blow, and thus disappointed me of a good meal.
During my absence from the camp, a flight of cockatoos, new to us, but similar to one that Mr. Hume shot on the Darling, passed over the tents, and I found M’Leay, with his usual anxiety, trying to get a shot at them. They had, he told me, descended to water, but they had chosen a spot so difficult of approach without discovery, that he had found it impossible to get within shot of them.
There was a considerable rapid just below our position, which I examined before dark. Not seeing any danger, I requested M’Leay to proceed down it in the boat as soon as he had breakfasted, and to wait for me at the bottom of it. As I wished to ascertain the nature and height of the elevations which Fraser had magnified into something grand, Fraser and I proceeded to the centre of a large plain, stretching from the left bank of the river to the southward. It was bounded to the S.E. by a low scrub; to the S. a thickly wooded ridge appeared to break the level of the country. It extended from east to west for four or five miles, and then gradually declined. At its termination, the country seemed to dip, and a dense fog, as from an extensive sheet of water, enveloped the landscape. The plain was crowded with cockatoos, that were making their morning’s repast on the berries of the salsolae and rhagodia, with which it was covered.
M’Leay had got safely down the rapid, so that as soon as I joined him, we proceeded on our journey. We fell in with the tribe we had already seen, but increased in numbers, and we had hardly left them, when we found another tribe most anxiously awaiting our arrival. We stayed with the last for some time, and exhausted our vocabulary, and exerted our ingenuity to gain some information from them. I directed Hopkinson to pile up some clay, to enquire if we were near any hills, when two or three of the blacks caught the meaning, and pointed to the N.W. Mulholland climbed up a tree in consequence of this, and reported to me that he saw lofty ranges in the direction to which the blacks pointed; that there were two apparently, the one stretching to the N.E., the other to the N.W. He stated their distance to be about forty miles, and added that he thought he could observe other ranges, through the gap, which, according to the alignment of two sticks, that I placed according to Mulholland’s directions, bore S. 130 W.
We had landed upon the right bank of the river, and there was a large lagoon immediately behind us. The current in the river did not run so strong as it had been. Its banks were much lower, and were generally covered with reeds. The spaces subject to flood were broader than heretofore, and the country for more than twenty miles was extremely depressed. Our view from the highest ground near the camp was very confined, since we were apparently in a hollow, and were unable to obtain a second sight of the ranges we had noticed.
Three creeks fell into the Murray hereabouts. One from the north, another from the N.E., and the third from the south. The two first were almost choked up with the trunks of trees, but the last had a clear channel. Our tents stood on ground high above the reach of flood. The soil was excellent, and the brushes behind us abounded with a new species of melaleuca.
The heat of the weather, at this time, was extremely oppressive, and the thermometer was seldom under 100° of Fahr. at noon. The wind, too, we observed, seldom remained stationary for any length of time, but made its regular changes every twenty-four hours. In the morning, it invariably blew from the N.E., at noon it shifted to N.W., and as the sun set it flew round to the eastward of south. A few dense clouds passed over us occasionally, but no rain fell from them.
Our intercourse with the natives had now been constant. We had found the interior more populous than we had any reason to expect; yet as we advanced into it, the population appeared to increase. It was impossible for us to judge of the disposition of the natives during the short interviews we generally had with them, and our motions were so rapid that we did not give them time to form any concerted plan of attack, had they been inclined to attack us. They did not, however, show any disposition to hostility, but, considering all things, were quiet and orderly, nor did any instances of theft occur, or, at least, none fell under my notice. The most loathsome of diseases prevailed throughout the tribes, nor were the youngest infants exempt from them. Indeed, so young were some, whose condition was truly disgusting, that I cannot but suppose they must have been born in a state of disease; but I am uncertain whether it is fatal or not in its results, though, most probably it hurries many to a premature grave. How these diseases originated it is impossible to say. Certainly not from the colony, since the midland tribes alone were infected. Syphilis raged amongst them with fearful violence; many had lost their noses, and all the glandular parts were considerably affected. I distributed some Turner’s cerate to the women, but left Fraser to superintend its application. It could do no good, of course, but it convinced the natives we intended well towards them, and, on that account, it was politic to give it, setting aside any humane feeling.
The country through which we passed on the 28th, was extremely low, full of lagoons, and thickly inhabited. No change took place in the river, or in the nature and construction of its banks. We succeeded in getting a view of the hills we had noticed when with the last tribe, and found that they bore from us due north, N. 22 E., and S. 130 W. They looked bare and perpendicular, and appeared to be about twenty miles from us. I am very uncertain as to the character of these hills, but still think that they must have been some of the faces of the bold cliffs that we had frequently passed under. From the size and number of the huts, and from the great breadth of the foot-paths, we were still further led to conclude that we were passing through a very populous district. What the actual number of inhabitants was it is impossible to say, but we seldom communicated with fewer than 200 daily. They sent ambassadors forward regularly from one tribe to another, in order to prepare for our approach, a custom that not only saved us an infinity of time, but also great personal risk. Indeed, I doubt very much whether we should ever have pushed so far down the river, had we not been assisted by the natives themselves. I was particularly careful not to do anything that would alarm them, or to permit any liberty to be taken with their women. Our reserve in this respect seemed to excite their surprise, for they asked sundry questions, by signs and expressions, as to whether we had any women, and where they were. The whole tribe generally assembled to receive us, and all, without exception, were in a complete state of nudity, and really the loathsome condition and hideous countenances of the women would, I should imagine, have been a complete antidote to the sexual passion. It is to be observed, that the women are very inferior in appearance to the men. The latter are, generally speaking, a clean-limbed and powerful race, much stouter in the bust than below, but withal, active, and, in some respects, intelligent; but the women are poor, weak, and emaciated. This, perhaps, is owing to their poverty and paucity of food, and to the treatment they receive at the hands of the men; but the latter did not show any unkindness towards them in our presence.
Although I desired to avoid exciting their alarm, I still made a point of showing them the effects of a gunshot, by firing at a kite, or any other bird that happened to be near. My dexterity—for I did not trust Fraser, who would, ten to one, have missed his mark—was generally exerted, as I have said, against a kite or a crow; both of which birds generally accompanied the blacks from place to place to pick up the remnants of their meals. Yet, I was often surprised at the apparent indifference with which the natives not only saw the effect of the shot, but heard the report. I have purposely gone into the centre of a large assemblage and fired at a bird that has fallen upon their very heads, without causing a start or an exclamation, without exciting either their alarm or their curiosity.
Whence this callous feeling proceeded, whether from strength of nerve, or because they had been informed by our forerunners that we should show off before them, I know not, but I certainly expected a very different effect from that which my firing generally produced, although I occasionally succeeded in scattering them pretty well.
About 11 a.m., we arrived at the junction of a small river with the Murray, at which a tribe, about 250 in number, had assembled to greet us. We landed, therefore, for the double purpose of distributing presents, and of examining the junction, which, coming from the north, of course, fell into the Murray upon its right bank. Its waters were so extremely muddy, and its current so rapid, that it must have been swollen by some late rains. Perhaps, it had its sources in the hills we had seen; be that as it may, it completely discoloured the waters of the Murray.
We made it a point never to distribute any presents among the natives until we had made them all sit, or stand, in a row. Sometimes this was a troublesome task, but we generally succeeded in gaining our point; with a little exertion of patience. M’Leay was a famous hand at ordering the ranks, and would, I am sure, have made a capital drill-sergeant, not less on account of his temper than of his perseverance. I called the little tributary I have noticed, the Rufus, in honour of my friend M’Leay’s red head, and I have no doubt, he will understand the feeling that induced me to give it such a name.
Not many miles below the Rufus, we passed under a lofty cliff upon the same side with it. It is the first elevation of any consequence that occurs below the Darling, and not only on that account, but also on account of the numerous substances of which it is composed, and the singular formation that is near requires to be particularly noticed.* [See Appendix.] The examination was a task of considerable danger, and both Fraser and myself had well nigh been buried under a mass of the cliff that became suddenly detached, and, breaking into thousands of pieces, went hissing and cracking into the river.
The weather about this time was extremely oppressive and close. Thunder clouds darkened the sky, but no rain fell. The thermometer was seldom below 104 at noon, and its range was very trifling. The wind shifted several times during the twenty-four hours; but these changes had no effect on the thermometer. It was evident, however, as the sun set on the evening of the 26th, that the clouds from which thunder had for the last four or five days disturbed the silence of nature around us, would not long support their own weight. A little before midnight, it commenced raining, and both wind and rain continued to increase in violence until about seven in the morning of the 27th; when the weather moderated.
Two or three blacks had accompanied us from the last tribe, and had lain down near the fire. As the storm increased, however, they got up, and swimming across the river, left us to ourselves. This was a very unusual thing, nor can I satisfy myself as to their object, unless it was to get into shelter, for these people though they wander naked over the country, and are daily in the water, feel the cold and rain very acutely.
Observing the clouds collecting for so many days, I indulged hopes that we were near high lands, perhaps mountains; but from the loftiest spots we could see nothing but a level and dark horizon. Anxious to gain as correct a knowledge of the country as possible we had, in the course of the day, ascended a sandy ridge that was about a mile from the river. The view from the summit of this ridge promised to be more extensive than any we had of late been enabled to obtain; and as far as actual observation went, we were not disappointed, although in every other particular, the landscape was one of the most unpromising description. To the S. and S.E., the country might be said to stretch away in one unbroken plain, for it was so generally covered with wood that every inequality was hidden from our observation. To the S.W. the river line was marked out by a succession of red cliffs, similar to those we had already passed. To the north, the interior was evidently depressed; it was overgrown with a low scrub, and seemed to be barren in the extreme. The elevations upon which we stood were similar to the sand-hills near the coast, and had not a blade of grass upon them. Yet, notwithstanding the sterility of the soil, the large white amarillis which grew in such profusion on the alluvial plains of the Macquarie, was also abundant here. But it had lost its dazzling whiteness, and had assumed a sickly yellow colour and its very appearance indicated that it was not in a congenial soil.
We passed two very considerable junctions, the one coming from the S.E., the other from the north. Both had currents in them, but the former was running much stronger than the latter. It falls into the Murray, almost opposite to the elevations I have been describing, and, if a judgment can be hazarded from its appearance at its embouchure, it must, in its higher branches, be a stream of considerable magnitude. Under this impression, I have called it the Lindesay, as a tribute of respect to my commanding officer, Colonel Patrick Lindesay of the 39th regt. I place it in east long. 140° 29´, and in lat. 33° 58´ south. Mr. Hume is of opinion that this is the most southerly of the rivers crossed by him and Mr. Hovel in 1823; but, as I have already remarked, I apprehend that all the rivers those gentlemen crossed, had united in one main stream above the junction of the Morumbidgee, and I think it much more probable that this is a new river, and that it rises to the westward of Port Phillips, rather than in the S.E. angle of the coast.
We found the blacks who had deserted us with a tribe at the junction, but it was weak in point of numbers; as were also two other tribes or hordes to whom we were introduced in rapid succession. Taken collectively, they could not have amounted to 230 men, women, and children. The last of these hordes was exceedingly troublesome, and I really thought we should have been obliged to quarrel with them. Whether it was that we were getting impatient, or that our tempers were soured, I know not, but even M’Leay, whose partiality towards the natives was excessive at the commencement of our journey, now became weary of such constant communication as we had kept up with them. Their sameness of appearance, the disgusting diseases that raged among them, their abominable filth, the manner in which they pulled us about, and the impossibility of making them understand us, or of obtaining any information from them,—for if we could have succeeded in this point, we should have gladly borne every inconvenience,—all combined to estrange us from these people and to make their presence disagreeable. Yet there was an absolute necessity to keep up the chain of communication, to ensure our own safety, setting aside every other consideration; but as I had been fortunate in my intercourse with the natives during the first expedition, so I hoped the present journey would terminate without the occurrence of any fatal collision between us. The natives, it is true, were generally quiet; but they crowded round us frequently without any regard to our remonstrances, laying hold of the boat to prevent our going away, and I sometimes thought that had any of them been sufficiently bold to set the example, many of the tribes would have attempted our capture. Indeed, in several instances, we were obliged to resort to blows ere we could disengage ourselves from the crowds around us, and whenever this occurred, it called forth the most sullen and ferocious scowl—such, probably, as would be the forerunner of hostility, and would preclude every hope of mercy at their hands. With each new tribe we were, in some measure, obliged to submit to an examination, and to be pulled about, and fingered all over. They generally measured our hands and feet with their own, counted our fingers, felt our faces, and besmeared our shirts all over with grease and dirt. This was no very agreeable ceremony, and a repetition of it was quite revolting, more especially when we had to meet the grins or frowns of the many with firmness and composure.
The weather had been tempestuous and rainy, for three or four successive days: on the 28th it cleared up a little. Under any circumstances, however, we could not have delayed our journey. We had not proceeded very far when it again commenced to rain and to blow heavily from the N.W. The river trended to the South. We passed down several rapids, and observed the marks of recent flood on the trees, to the height of seven feet. The alluvial flats did not appear to have been covered, or to be subject to overflow. The timber upon them was not of a kind that is found on flooded lands, but wherever reeds prevailed the flooded or blue gum stretched its long white branches over them. The country to the westward was low and bushy.
The left bank of the Murray was extremely lofty, and occasionally rose to 100 feet perpendicularly from the water. It is really difficult to describe the appearance of the banks at this place; so singular were they in character, and so varied in form. Here they had the most beautiful columnar regularity, with capitals somewhat resembling the Corinthian order in configuration; there they showed like falls of muddy water that had suddenly been petrified; and in another place they resembled the time-worn battlements of a feudal castle. It will naturally be asked, of what could these cliffs have been composed to assume so many different forms? and what could have operated to produce such unusual appearances? The truth is, they were composed almost wholly of clay and sand. Wherever the latter had accumulated, or predominated, the gradual working of water had washed it away, and left the more compact body, in some places, so delicately hollowed out, that it seemed rather the work of art than of nature. This singular formation rested on a coarse grit, that showed itself in slabs.
From the frequent occurrence of rapids I should imagine that we had fallen considerably, but there was no visible decline of country. The river swept along, in broad and noble reaches, at the base of the cliffs. Vast accumulations of sand were in its bed, a satisfactory proof of the sandy character of the distant interior, if other proof were wanting.
We did not see so many natives on the 28th as we had been in the habit of seeing; perhaps in consequence of the boisterous weather. A small tribe of about sixty had collected to receive us, but we passed on without taking any notice of them, Nevertheless they deputed two of their men to follow us, who overtook us just as we stopped for the purpose of pitching our tents before the clouds should burst, that just then bore the most threatening appearance. The blacks seemed to be perfectly aware what kind of a night we should have, and busied themselves preparing a hut and making a large fire.
The evening proved extremely dark, and towards midnight it blew and rained fiercely. Towards morning the wind moderated, and the rain ceased. Still, the sky was overcast, and the clouds were passing rapidly over us. The wind had, however, changed some points, and from the N.W. had veered round to the S.S.W.; and the day eventually turned out cool and pleasant.
We fell in with a large tribe of natives, amounting in all to 270. They were extremely quiet, and kept away from the boat; in consequence of which I distributed a great many presents among them. This tribe was almost the only one that evinced any eagerness to see us. The lame had managed to hobble along, and the blind were equally anxious to touch us. There were two or three old men stretched upon the bank, from whom the last sigh seemed about to depart; yet these poor creatures evinced an anxiety to see us, and to listen to a description of our appearance, although it seemed doubtful whether they would be alive twenty-four hours after we left them. An old woman, a picture of whom would disgust my readers, made several attempts to embrace me. I managed, however, to avoid her, and at length got rid of her by handing her over to Fraser, who was no wise particular as to the object of his attention. This tribe must have been one of the most numerous on the banks of the Murray, since we fell in with detached families for many miles below the place where we had parted from the main body.
I have omitted to mention that, while among them, I fired at a kite and killed it; yet, though close to me, the blacks did not start or evince the least surprise. It really is difficult to account for such firmness of nerve or self-command. It is not so much a matter of surprise that they were indifferent to its effects, for probably they knew them not, but it is certainly odd that they should not have been startled by the report.
The river inclined very much to the southward for some miles below our last camp; at length it struck against some elevations that turned it more to the westward. Before we terminated our day’s pull it again changed its direction to the eastward of south. The right bank became lofty, and the left proportionably depressed.
In consequence of the boisterous weather we had had, we were uncertain as to our precise situation, even in point of latitude. But I was perfectly aware that we were considerably to the south of the head of St. Vincent’s Gulf. I began, therefore, to contemplate with some confidence a speedy termination to our wanderings, or, at least, that we should soon reach the extreme point to which we could advance. The sun was at this time out of my reach, since the sextant would not measure double the altitude. Observations of the stars were, in like manner, uncertain, in consequence of the boisterous weather we had had, and the unavoidable agitation of the quicksilver. My last observation of Antares placed us in latitude 34° 4´; so that we were still 115 miles from the coast.
We had now been twenty-two days upon the river, and it was uncertain how long we should be in compassing the distance we had still to run. Considering all things, we had, as yet, been extremely fortunate; and I hoped that we should terminate our journey without the occurrence of any fatal accident. Had the country corresponded with the noble stream that traversed it, we should have been proportionably elated, but it was impossible to conceal from ourselves its inhospitable and unprofitable character, as far as we had, as yet, penetrated. If we except the partial and alluvial flats on the immediate borders, and in the neighbourhood of its tributaries and creeks, the Murray might be said to flow through a barren and sandy interior. The appearance of the country through which we passed on the 29th, was far from being such as to encourage us with the hopes of any change for the better. The river was enclosed, on either side, by the same kind of banks that have already been described; and it almost appeared as if the plain had been rent asunder to allow of a passage for its waters. The view of the distant interior was unsatisfactory. It was, for the most part, covered with brush, but, at length, cypresses again made their appearance, although at a considerable distance from us.
The river continued to flow to the southward, a circumstance that gave me much satisfaction, for I now began to feel some anxiety about the men. They had borne their fatigues and trials so cheerfully, and had behaved so well, that I could not but regret the scanty provision that remained for them. The salt meat being spoiled, it had fallen to the share of the dogs, so that we had little else than flour to eat. Fish no one would touch, and of wild fowl there were none to be seen. The men complained of sore eyes, from the perspiration constantly running into them, and it was obvious to me that they were much reduced. It will be borne in mind, that we were now performing the earliest part of our task, and were going down with the stream. I was sure that on our return, (For I had no hopes of meeting any vessel on the coast,) we should have to make every day’s journey good against the current; and, if the men were now beginning to sink, it might well be doubted whether their strength would hold out. Both M’Leay and myself, therefore, encouraged any cheerfulness that occasionally broke out among them, and Frazer enlivened them by sundry tunes that he whistled whilst employed in skinning birds. I am sure, no galley-slave ever took to his oar with more reluctance than poor Frazer. He was indefatigable in most things, but he could not endure the oar.
We did not fall in with any natives on the 30th, neither did we see those who had preceded us from the last tribe. On the 31st, to my mortification, the river held so much to the northward, that we undid almost all our southing. What with its regular turns, and its extensive sweeps, the Murray covers treble the ground, at a moderate computation, that it would occupy in a direct course; and we had a practical instance of the truth of this in the course of the afternoon, when we found our friends ready to introduce us to a large assemblage of natives. On asking them how they had passed us, they pointed directly east to the spot at which we had parted. By crossing from one angle of the river to the other, they had performed in little more than half a day, a journey which it had taken us two long days to accomplish. After our usual distribution of presents, we pushed away from the bank; though not without some difficulty, in consequence of the obstinacy of the natives in wishing to detain us; and I was exceedingly vexed to find, while we were yet in sight of them, that we had proceeded down a shallow channel on one side of an island instead of the further and deeper one; so that the boat ultimately grounded. A crowd of the blacks rushed into the water, and surrounded us on every side. Some came to assist us, others, under a pretence of assisting, pulled against us, and I was at length obliged to repel them by threats. A good many of them were very much disposed to annoy us, and, after the boat was in deep water, some of them became quite infuriated, because we would not return. Had we been within distance, they would assuredly have hurled their spears at us. Thirteen of them followed us to our resting place. They kept rather apart from us, and kindled their fire in a little hollow about fifty paces to our right; nor did they venture to approach the tents unless we called to them, so that by their quiet and unobtrusive conduct they made up in some measure for the unruly proceedings of others of their tribe.
We had now arrived at a point at which I hoped to gain some information from the natives, respecting the sea. It was to no purpose, however, that I questioned these stupid people. They understood perfectly, by my pointing to the sky, and by other signs, that I was inquiring about large waters, but they could not, or would not, give any information on the subject.
As we proceeded down the river, its current became weaker, and its channel somewhat deeper. Our attention was called to a remarkable change in the geology of the country, as well as to an apparent alteration in the natural productions. The cliffs of sand and clay ceased, and were succeeded by a fossil formation of the most singular description. At first, it did not exceed a foot in height above the water, but it gradually rose, like an inclined plane, and resembled in colour, and in appearance, the skulls of men piled one upon the other. The constant rippling of the water against the rock had washed out the softer parts, and made hollows and cavities, that gave the whole formation the precise appearance of a catacomb. On examination, we discovered it to be a compact bed of shells, composed of a common description of marine shell from two to three inches in length, apparently a species of turritella.
At about nine miles from the commencement of this formation, it rose to the height of more than 150 feet; the country became undulating, and a partial change took place in its vegetation. We stopped at an early hour, to examine some cliffs, which rising perpendicularly from the water, were different in character and substance from any we had as yet seen. They approached a dirty yellow-ochre in colour, that became brighter in hue as it rose, and, instead of being perforated, were compact and hard. The waters of the river had, however, made horizontal lines upon their fronts, which distinctly marked the rise and fall of the river, as the strength or depth of the grooves distinctly indicated the levels it generally kept. It did not appear from these lines, that the floods ever rose more than four feet above the then level of the stream, or that they continued for any length of time. On breaking off pieces of the rock, we ascertained that it was composed of one solid mass of sea-shells, of various kinds, of which the species first mentioned formed the lowest part.
It rained a good deal during the night, but the morning turned out remarkably fine. The day was pleasant, for however inconvenient in some respects the frequent showers had been, they had cooled the air, and consequently prevented our feeling the heat so much as we should otherwise have done, in the close and narrow glen we had now entered.
Among the natives who followed us from the last tribe, there was an old man, who took an uncommon fancy or attachment to Hopkinson, and who promised, when we separated, to join us again in the course of the day.
As we proceeded down the river we found that it was confined in a glen, whose extreme breadth was not more than half-a-mile. The hills that rose on either side of it were of pretty equal height. The alluvial flats were extremely small, and the boldest cliffs separated them from each other. The flats were lightly wooded, and were for the most part covered with reeds or polygonum. They were not much elevated above the waters of the river, and had every appearance of being frequently inundated. At noon we pulled up to dine, upon the left bank, under some hills, which were from 200 to 250 feet in height. While the men were preparing our tea, (for we had only that to boil,) M’Leay and I ascended the hills. The brush was so thick upon them, that we could not obtain a view of the distant interior. Their summits were covered with oyster-shells, in such abundance as entirely to preclude the idea of their having been brought to such a position by the natives. They were in every stage of petrification.
In the course of the afternoon the old man joined us, and got into the boat. As far as we could understand from his signs, we were at no great distance from some remarkable change or other. The river had been making to the N.W., from the commencement of the fossil formation, and it appeared as if it was inclined to keep that direction. The old man pointed to the N.W., and then placed his hand on the side of his head to indicate, as I understood him, that we should sleep to the N.W. of where we then were; but his second motion was not so intelligible, for he pointed due south, as if to indicate that such would be our future course; and he concluded his information, such as it was, by describing the roaring of the sea, and the height of the waves. It was evident this old man had been upon the coast, and we were therefore highly delighted at the prospect thus held out to us of reaching it.
A little below the hills under which we had stopped, the country again assumed a level. A line of cliffs, of from two to three hundred feet in height, flanked the river, first on one side and then on the other, varying in length from a quarter of a mile to a mile. They rose perpendicularly from the water, and were of a bright yellow colour, rendered still more vivid occasionally by the sun shining full upon them. The summits of these cliffs were as even as if they had been built by an architect; and from their very edge, the country back from the stream was of an uniform level, and was partly plain, and partly clothed by brush. The soil upon this plateau, or table land, was sandy, and it was as barren and unproductive as the worst of the country we had passed through. On the other hand, the alluvial flats on the river increased in size, and were less subject to flood; and the river lost much of its sandy bed, and its current was greatly diminished in strength.
It blew so fresh, during the greater part of the day, from the westward, that we had great difficulty in pulling against the breeze. The determined N.W. course the river kept, made me doubt the correctness of the story of the little old black; yet there was an openness of manner about him, and a clearness of description, that did not appear like fabrication. He pointed to the S.S.W. when he left us, as the direction in which he would again join us, thus confirming, without any apparent intention, what he had stated with regard to the southerly course the river was about to take. Among the natives who were with him, there was another man of very different manners and appearance. Our friend was small in stature, had piercing grey eyes, and was as quick as lightning in his movements The other was tall, and grey headed; anxious, yet unobtrusive; and confident, without the least mixture of boldness. The study of the human character on many occasions similar to this, during our intercourse with these people, rude and uncivilized as they were, was not only pleasing, but instructive. We found that the individuals of a tribe partook of one general character, and that the whole of the tribe were either decidedly quiet, or as decidedly disorderly. The whole of the blacks left us when we started, but we had not gone very far, when the individual I have described brought his family, consisting of about fifteen persons. We were going down a part of the river in which there was a very slight fall. The natives were posted under some blue-gum trees, upon the right bank, and there was a broad shoal of sand immediately to our left. They walked over to this shoal, to receive some little presents, but did not follow when we continued our journey.
During the whole of the day the river ran to the N.W. We stopped for the night under some cliffs, similar to those we had already passed, but somewhat higher. From their summit, mountains were visible to the N.W., but at a great distance from us. I doubted not that they were at the head of the southern gulfs; or of one of them, at all events. Our observations placed us in 34° 08´ south of lat., and in long. 139° 41´ 15´´; we were consequently nearly seventy miles from Spencer’s Gulf, in a direct line, and I should have given that as the distance the hills appeared to be from us. They bore as follows:—
|Lofty round mountain . .||S. 127° W.|
|Mountain scarcely visible . .||S. 128° W.|
|Northern extremity of a broken range . .||S. 102° W.|
|Southern extremity scarcely visible . .||S. 58° W.|
The country between the river and these ranges appeared to be very low, and darkly wooded: that to the N.E. was more open. The summit of the cliff did not form any table-land, but it dipped almost immediately to the westward, and the country, although, as I have already remarked, it was depressed, and undulated.
I walked to some distance from the river, across a valley, and started several kangaroos; but I was quite alone, and could not, therefore, secure one of them. Had the dogs been near, we should have had a fine feast. The soil of the interior still continued sandy, but there was a kind of short grass mixed with the salsolaceous plants upon it, that indicated, as I thought, a change for the better in the vegetation; and the circumstance of there being kangaroos in the valleys to the westward was also a favourable sign.
Beneath the cliffs hereabouts, the river was extremely broad and deep. My servant thought it a good place for fishing and accordingly set a night-line, one end of which he fastened to the bough of a tree. During the night, being on guard, he saw a small tortoise floating on the water, so near that he struck it a violent blow with a large stick, upon which it dived: to his surprise, however, in the morning, he found that it had taken the bait, and was fast to the line. On examining it, the shell proved to be cracked, so that the blow must have been a severe one. It was the largest we had ever seen, and made an excellent dish. The flesh was beautifully white, nor could anything, especially under our circumstances, have been more tempting than it was when cooked; yet M’Leay would not partake of it.
The prevailing wind was, at this time, from the S.W. It blew heavily all day, but moderated towards the evening
I was very anxious, at starting on the 3rd, as to the course the river would take, since it would prove whether the little old man had played us false or not. From the cliffs under which we had slept, it held a direct N.W. course for two or three miles. It then turned suddenly to the S.E., and gradually came round to E.N.E., so that after two hours pulling, we found ourselves just opposite to the spot from which we had started, the neck of land that separated the channels not being more than 200 yards across. I have before noticed a bend similar to this, which the Murray makes, a little above the junction of the supposed Darling with it.
It may appear strange to some of my readers, that I should have laid down the windings of the river so minutely. It may therefore be necessary for me to state that every bend of it was laid down by compass, and that the bearings of the angles as they opened were regularly marked by me, so that not a single winding or curve of the Murray is omitted in the large chart. The length of some of the reaches may be erroneous, but their direction is strictly correct. I always had a sheet of paper and the compass before me, and not only marked down the river line, but also the description of country nearest; its most minute changes, its cliffs, its flats, the kind of country back from it, its lagoons, the places at which the tribes assembled, its junctions, tributaries and creeks, together with our several positions, were all regularly noted, so that on our return up the river we had no difficulty in ascertaining upon what part of it we were, by a reference to the chart; and it proved of infinite service to us, since we were enabled to judge of our distance from our several camps, as we gained them day by day with the current against us; and we should often have stopped short of them, weary and exhausted, had we not known that two or three reaches more would terminate our labour for the day.
From the spot last spoken of, the river held on a due south course for the remainder of the day; and at the same time changed its character. It lost its sandy bed and its current together, and became deep, still, and turbid, with a muddy bottom. It increased considerably in breadth, and stretched away before us in magnificent reaches of from three to six miles in length. The cliffs under which we passed towered above us, like maritime cliffs, and the water dashed against their base like the waves of the sea. They became brighter and brighter in colour, looking like dead gold in the sun’s rays; and formed an unbroken wall of a mile or two in length. The natives on their summits showed as small as crows; and the cockatoos, the eagles, and other birds, were as specks above us; the former made the valley reverberate with their harsh and discordant notes. The reader may form some idea of the height of these cliffs, when informed that the king of the feathered race made them his sanctuary. They were continuous on both sides of the river, but retired, more or less, from it, according to the extent of the alluvial flats. The river held a serpentine course down the valley through which it passed, striking the precipices alternately on each side. The soil on the flats was better, and less mixed with sand than it had been, but the flats were generally covered with reeds, though certainly not wholly subject to flood at any time. The polygonum still prevailed upon them in places, and the blue-gum tree alone occupied their outskirts. From the several elevations we ascended, the country to the N.W. appeared undulating and well wooded; that to the eastward, seemed to be brushy and low. Certainly there was a great difference in the country, both to the eastward and to the westward. We had frequent views of the mountains we had seen, or, I should have said, of a continuation of them. They bore nearly west from us at a very great distance all day.
We fell in with several tribes, but did not see our old friend, although, from the inquiries we made, it was evident he was well known among them. It would disgust my readers were I to describe the miserable state of disease and infirmity to which these tribes were reduced. Leprosy of the most loathsome description, the most violent cutaneous eruptions, and glandular affections, absolutely raged through the whole of them; yet we could not escape from the persecuting examination of our persons that curiosity prompted them in some measure to insist upon.
The old man, whose information had proved strictly correct, joined us again on the 4th, and his joy at being received into the boat was unbounded, as well as the pleasure he expressed at again meeting Hopkinson. He had been on a long journey, it would appear, for he had not then reached his tribe. As we approached their haunt, he landed and preceded us to collect them. We were, of course, more than usually liberal to so old a friend, and we were really sorry to part with him.
Soon after leaving his tribe, which occupied the left bank of the river, and was very weak in point of numbers, we fell in with a very strong tribe upon the right bank. They numbered 211 in all. We lay off the bank, in order to escape their importunities; a measure that by no means satisfied them. The women appeared to be very prolific; but, as a race, these people are not to be compared with the natives of the mountains, or of the upper branches of the Murray.
We passed some beautiful scenery in the course of the day. The river preserved a direct southerly course, and could not in any place have been less than 400 yards in breadth. The cliffs still continued, and varied perpetually in form; at one time presenting a perpendicular wall to the view, at others, they overhung the stream, in huge fragments. All were composed of a mass of shells of various kinds; a fact which will call for further observation and remark.
Many circumstances at this time tended to confirm our hopes that the sea could not be very far from us, or that we should not be long in gaining it. Some sea-gulls flew over our heads, at which Fraser was about to shoot, had I not prevented him, for I hailed them as the messengers of glad tidings, and thought they ill deserved such a fate. It blew very hard from the S.W., during the whole of the day, and we found it extremely laborious pulling against the heavy and short sea that came rolling up the broad and open reaches of the Murray at this place.
Four of the blacks, from the last tribe, followed us, and slept at the fires; but they were suspicious and timid, and appeared to be very glad when morning dawned. Our fires were always so much larger than those made by themselves, that, they fancied, perhaps, we were going to roast them. Our dogs, likewise, gave them great uneasiness; for although so fond of the native brute, they feared ours, from their size. We generally tied them to the boat, therefore, to prevent a recurrence of theft, so that they were not altogether useless.
Improvement in the aspect of the country—Increase of the river—Strong westerly gales—Chronometer broken—A healthier tribe of natives—Termination of the Murray in a large lake—Its extent and environs—Passage across it—Hostile appearance of the natives—Beautiful scenery—Channel from the lake to the sea at Encounter Bay—Reach the beach—Large flocks of water fowl—Curious refraction—State of provisions—Embarrassing situation—Inspection of the channel to the ocean—Weak condition of the men—Difficulties of the return.
It now appeared that the Murray had taken a permanent southerly course; indeed, it might strictly be said that it ran away to the south. As we proceeded down it, the valley expanded to the width of two miles; the alluvial flats became proportionably larger; and a small lake generally occupied their centre. They were extensively covered with reeds and grass, for which reason, notwithstanding that they were little elevated above the level of the stream, I do not think they are subject to overflow. Parts of them may be laid under water, but certainly not the whole. The rains at the head of the Murray, and its tributaries, must be unusually severe to prolong their effects to this distant region, and the flats bordering it appear, by successive depositions, to have only just gained a height above the further influence of the floods. Should this prove to be the case, the valley may be decidedly laid down as a most desirable spot, whether we regard the richness of its soil, its rock formation, its locality, or the extreme facility of water communication along it. It must not, however, be forgotten or concealed, that the summits of the cliffs by which the valley is enclosed, have not a corresponding soil. On the contrary, many of the productions common to the plains of the interior still existed upon them, and they were decidedly barren; but as we measured the reaches of the river, the cliffs ceased, and gave place to undulating hills, that were very different in appearance from the country we had previously noted down. It would have been impossible for the most tasteful individual to have laid out pleasure ground to more advantage, than Nature had done in planting and disposing the various groups of trees along the spine, and upon the sides of the elevations that confined the river, and bounded the low ground that intervened between it and their base. Still, however, the soil upon these elevations was sandy, and coarse, but the large oat-grass was abundant upon them, which yielded pasture at least as good as that in the broken country between Underaliga and Morumbidgee.
We had now gained a distance of at least sixty miles from that angle of the Murray at which it reaches its extreme west. The general aspect of the country to our right was beautiful, and several valleys branched away into the interior upon that side which had a most promising appearance, and seemed to abound with kangaroos, as the traces of them were numerous, and the dogs succeeded in killing one, which, to our great mortification, we could not find.
While, however, the country to the westward had so much to recommend it, the hills to our left became extremely bare. It was evident that the right was the sheltered side of the valley. The few trees on the opposite side bent over to the N.E., as if under the influence of some prevailing wind.
We experienced at this time a succession of gales from the S.W., against which we, on several occasions, found it useless to contend: the waves on the river being heavy and short; and the boat, driving her prow into them, sent the spray over us and soon wet us through. Indeed, it is difficult for the reader to imagine the heavy swell that rolled up the river, which had increased in breadth to the third of a mile, and in the length of its reaches to eight or ten. I was satisfied that we were not only navigating this river at a particularly stormy, perhaps the stormy, season; but also, that the influence of the S.W. wind is felt even as far in the interior as to the supposed Darling; in consequence of the uniform build of the huts, and the circumstance of their not only facing the N.E., but also being almost invariably erected under the lee of some bush.
The weather, under the influence of the wind we experienced, was cool and pleasant, although the thermometer stood at a medium height of 86°; but we found it very distressing to pull against the heavy breezes that swept up the valley, and bent the reeds so as almost to make them kiss the stream.
We communicated on the 6th and 7th with several large tribes of natives, whose manners were on the whole quiet and inoffensive. They distinctly informed us, that we were fast approaching the sea, and, from what I could understand, we were nearer to it than the coast line of Encounter Bay made us. We had placed sticks to ascertain if there was any rise or fall of tide, but the troubled state of the river prevented our experiments from being satisfactory. By selecting a place, however, that was sheltered from the effects of the wind, we ascertained that there was an apparent rise of about eight inches.
It blew a heavy gale during the whole of the 7th; and we laboured in vain at the oar. The gusts that swept the bosom of the water, and the swell they caused, turned the boat from her course, and prevented us from making an inch of way. The men were quite exhausted, and, as they had conducted themselves so well, and had been so patient, I felt myself obliged to grant them every indulgence consistent with our safety. However precarious our situation, it would have been vain, with our exhausted strength, to have contended against the elements. We, therefore, pulled in to the left bank of the river, and pitched our tents on a little rising ground beyond the reeds that lined it.
I had been suffering very much front tooth-ache for the last three or four days, and this day felt the most violent pain from the wind. I was not, therefore, sorry to get under even the poor shelter our tents afforded. M’Leay, observing that I was in considerable pain, undertook to wind up the chronometer; but, not understanding or knowing the instrument, he unfortunately broke the spring. I shall not forget the anxiety he expressed, and the regret he felt on the occasion; nor do I think M’Leay recovered the shock this unlucky accident gave him for two or three days, or until the novelty of other scenes drove it from his recollection.
We landed close to the haunt of a small tribe of natives, who came to us with the most perfect confidence, and assisted the men in their occupations. They were cleaner and more healthy than any tribe we had seen; and were extremely cheerful, although reserved in some respects. As a mark of more than usual cleanliness, the women had mats of oval shape, upon which they sat, made, apparently, of rushes. There was a young girl among them of a most cheerful disposition. She was about eighteen, was well made, and really pretty. This girl was married to an elderly man who had broken his leg, which having united in a bent shape, the limb was almost useless. I really believe the girl thought we could cure her husband, from her importunate manner to us. I regretted that I could do nothing for the man, but to show that I was not inattentive to her entreaties, I gave him a pair of trousers, and desired Fraser to put them upon him; but the poor fellow cut so awkward an appearance in them, that his wife became quite distressed, and Fraser was obliged speedily to disencumber him from them again.
We could not gain any satisfactory information, as to the termination of the river, from these people. It was evident that some change was at hand; but what it was we could not ascertain.
On the morning of the 9th, we left our fair friend and her lame husband, and proceeded down the river. The wind had moderated, although it still blew fresh. We ascended every height as we went along, but could not see any new feature in the country. Our view to the eastward was very confined; to the westward the interior was low and dark, and was backed in the distance by lofty ranges, parallel to which we had been running for some days. The right bank of the valley was beautifully undulated, but the left was bleak and bare. The valley had a breadth of from three to four miles, and the flats were more extensive under the former than under the latter. They were scarcely two feet above the level of the water, and were densely covered with reeds. As there was no mark upon the reeds to indicate the height to which the floods rose, I cannot think that these flats are ever wholly laid under water; if they are, it cannot be to any depth: at all events a few small drains would effectually prevent inundation. The soil upon the hills continued to be much mixed with sand, and the prevailing trees were cypress and box. Among the minor shrubs and grass, many common to the east coasts were noticed; and although the bold cliffs had ceased, the basis of the country still continued of the fossil formation. At a turn of the stream hereabouts, however, a solitary rock of coarse red granite rose above the waters, and formed an island in its centre; but only in this one place was it visible. The rock was composed principally of quartz and feldspar.
A little below it, we found a large tribe anxiously awaiting our arrival. They crowded to the margin of the river with great eagerness, and evinced more surprise at our appearance than any tribe we had seen during the journey; but we left them very soon, notwithstanding that they importuned us much to stay.
After pulling a mile or two, we found a clear horizon before us to the south. The hills still continued upon our left, but we could not see any elevation over the expanse of reeds to our right. The river inclined to the left, and swept the base of the hills that still continued on that side. I consequently landed once more to survey the country.
I still retained a strong impression on my mind that some change was at hand, and on this occasion, I was not disappointed; but the view was one for which I was not altogether prepared. We had, at length, arrived at the termination of the Murray. Immediately below me was a beautiful lake, which appeared to be a fitting reservoir for the noble stream that had led us to it; and which was now ruffled by the breeze that swept over it. The ranges were more distinctly visible, stretching from south to north, and were certainly distant forty miles. They had a regular unbroken outline; declining gradually to the south, but terminating abruptly at a lofty mountain northerly. I had no doubt on my mind of this being the Mount Lofty of Captain Flinders; or that the range was that immediately to the eastward of St. Vincent’s Gulf—Since the accident to the chronometer, we had not made any westing, so that we knew our position as nearly as possible. Between us and the ranges a beautiful promontory shot into the lake, being a continuation of the right bank of the Murray. Over this promontory the waters stretched to the base of the ranges, and formed an extensive bay. To the N.W. the country was exceedingly low, but distant peaks were just visible over it. To the S.W. a bold headland showed itself; beyond which, to the westward, there was a clear and open sea visible, through a strait formed by this headland and a point projecting from the opposite shore. To the E. and S.E. the country was low, excepting the left shore of the lake, which was backed by some minor elevations, crowned with cypresses. Even while gazing on this fine scene, I could not but regret that the Murray had thus terminated; for I immediately foresaw that, in all probability, we should be disappointed in finding any practicable communication between the lake and the ocean, as it was evident that the former was not much influenced by tides. The wind had again increased; it still blew fresh from the S.W. and a heavy sea was rolling direct into the mouth of the river. I hoped, notwithstanding, that we should have been enabled to make sail, for which reason we entered the lake about 2 p.m. The natives had kindled a large fire on a distant point between us and the further headland, and to gain this point our efforts were now directed. The waves were, however, too strong, and we were obliged to make for the eastern shore, until such time as the weather should moderate. We pitched our tents on a low track of land that stretched away seemingly for many miles directly behind us to the eastward. It was of the richest soil, being a black vegetable deposit, and although now high above the influence, the lake had, it was evident, once formed a part of its bed. The appearance of the country altogether encouraged M’Leay and myself to walk out, in order to examine it from some hills a little to the S.E. of the camp. From them we observed that the flat extended over about fifty miles, and was bounded by the elevations that continued easterly from the left bank of the Murray to the north, and by a line of rising-ground to the south. The whole was lightly wooded, and covered with grass. The season must have been unusually dry, judging from the general appearance of the vegetation, and from the circumstance of the lagoons in the interior being wholly exhausted.
Thirty-three days had now passed over our heads since we left the depot upon the Morumbidgee, twenty-six of which had been passed upon the Murray. We had, at length, arrived at the grand reservoir of those waters whose course and fate had previously been involved in such obscurity. It remained for us to ascertain whether the extensive sheet of water upon whose bosom we had embarked, had any practicable communication with the ocean, and whether the country in the neighbourhood of the coast corresponded with that immediately behind our camp, or kept up its sandy and sterile character to the very verge of the sea. As I have already said, my hopes on the first of these points were considerably damped, but I could not help anticipating a favourable change in the latter, since its features had so entirely changed.
The greatest difficulty against which we had at present to contend was the wind; and I dreaded the exertion it would call for, to make head against it; for the men were so much reduced that I felt convinced they were inadequate to any violent or prolonged effort. It still blew fresh at 8 p.m., but at that time it began to moderate. It may be imagined that I listened to its subdued gusts with extreme anxiety. It did not wholly abate until after 2 a.m., when it gradually declined, and about 3 a light breeze sprung up from the N. E.
We had again placed sticks to ascertain with more precision the rise of tide, and found it to be the same as in the river. In the stillness of the night too we thought we heard the roaring of the sea, but I was myself uncertain upon the point, as the wind might have caused the sound.
From the top of the hill from which we had obtained our first view of the lake, I observed the waves breaking upon the distant headland, and enveloping the cliff in spray; so that, independent of the clearness of the horizon beyond it, I was further led to conclude that there existed a great expanse of water to the S.W.; and, as that had been the direction taken by the river, I thought it probable that by steering at once to the S.W. down the lake, I should hit the outlet. I, consequently, resolved to gain the southern extremity of the lake, as that at which it was natural to expect a communication with the ocean would be found.
At 4 we had a moderate breeze, and it promised to strengthen; we lost no time therefore in embarking, and with a flowing sheet stretched over to the W.S.W., and ran along the promontory formed by the right bank of the Murray. We passed close under its extreme point at nine. The hills had gradually declined, and we found the point to be a flat, elevated about thirty feet above the lake. It was separated from the promontory by a small channel that was choked up with reeds, so that it is more than probable that the point is insulated at certain periods; whilst in its stratification it resembled the first cliffs I have described that were passed below the Darling. It is a remarkable fact in the geology of the Murray, that such should be the case; and that the formation at each extremity of the great bank or bed of fossils should be the same. Thus far, the waters of the lake had continued sweet; but on filling a can when we were abreast of this point, it was found that they were quite unpalatable, to say the least of them. The transition from fresh to salt water was almost immediate, and it was fortunate we made the discovery in sufficient time to prevent our losing ground. But, as it was, we filled our casks, and stood on, without for a moment altering our course.
It is difficult to give a just description of our passage across the lake. The boisterous weather we had had seemed to have blown over. A cool and refreshing breeze was carrying us on at between four and five knots an hour, and the heavens above us were without a cloud. It almost appeared as if nature had resisted us in order to try our perseverance, and that she had yielded in pity to our efforts. The men, relieved for a time from the oar, stretched themselves at their length in the boat, and commented on the scenery around them, or ventured their opinions as to that which was before them. Up to this moment their conduct had been most exemplary; not a murmur had escaped from them, and they filled the water-casks with the utmost cheerfulness, even whilst tasting the disagreeable beverage they would most probably have to subsist on for the next three or four days.
As soon as we had well opened the point, we had a full view of the splendid bay that, commencing at the western most of the central points, swept in a beautiful curve under the ranges. No land was visible to the W.N.W. or to the S.S.W.: in both these quarters the lake was as open as the ocean. It appeared, therefore, that the land intermediate was an island. To the north the country was extremely low, and as we increased our distance from it we lost sight of it altogether. At noon we were nearly abreast of the eastern headland, or in the centre of the strait to which I have alluded. At this time there was an open sea from W.N.W. to N. by E. A meridian altitude gave our latitude 35° 25´. The land to our left was bold and precipitous; that to the right was low and wooded; and there was evidently a considerable space between the shores of the lake and the base of the ranges. The country to the eastward was hidden from us by the line of cliffs, beyond which from E.S.E. to W.S.W. there was an open sea. We had kept the lead going from the first, and I was surprised at the extreme shallowness of the lake in every part, as we never had six feet upon the line. Its bottom was one of black mud, and weeds of enormous length were floating on its surface, detached by the late gales, and which, from the shallowness of the lake, got constantly entangled with our rudder.
We tried to land on the eastern point, but found the water too shallow, and were obliged to try the western shore. In passing close under the head, we observed several natives upon it, who kindled a large fire as soon as they saw they were noticed, which was answered from every point; for, in less than ten minutes afterwards, we counted no fewer than fourteen different fires, the greater number of which were on the side of the ranges.
As we were standing across from one shore to the other, our attention was drawn to a most singular object. It started suddenly up, as above the waters to the south, and strikingly resembled an isolated castle. Behind it, a dense column of smoke rose into the sky, and the effect was most remarkable. On a nearer approach, the phantom disappeared and a clear and open sea again presented itself to our view. The fact was, that the refractive power upon the coast had elevated the sand-hillocks above their true position, since we satisfactorily ascertained that they alone separated the lake from the ocean, and that they alone could have produced the semblance we noticed. It is a singular fact, that this very hillock was the one which Capt. Barker ascended whilst carrying on the survey of the south coast, and immediately previous to his tragical death.
It was not without difficulty that we succeeded in landing on the western shore; but we did, at length, succeed, and prepared our dinners. The shore was low, but above the reach of all floods; the soil was rich, and superficially sandy. It was covered with high grasses, and abounded in kangaroos; within the space of a few yards we found five or six, but they were immediately lost to us and to the dogs in the luxuriance of the vegetation amidst which they were feeding.
As soon as we had finished our meal, we once more embarked, and stood along the shore to the S.W., but the lake was so shoal, that I was every moment apprehensive we should ground. I ran across, therefore, to the south, towards a low flat that had just appeared above the line of the horizon, in hope that, in sounding, we should have found the channel, but there either was none, or else it was so narrow that we passed over it between the heaves of the lead. At this time, the western shore was quite distinct, and the scenery was beautiful.
The flat we were approaching was a mud-flat, and, from its appearance, the tide was certainly at the ebb. We observed some cradles, or wicker frames, placed far below high water-mark, that were each guarded by two natives, who threatened us violently as we approached. In running along the land, the stench from them plainly indicated what they were which these poor creatures were so anxiously watching.
We steered a S.W. course, towards some low and wooded hills, passing a rocky island, and found that we had struck the mouth of a channel running to the W.S.W. It was about half-a-mile wide, was bounded to the right by some open flat ground, and to the left by a line of hills of about sixty or seventy feet in elevation, partly open and partly covered with beefwood.
Upon the first of these hills, we observed a large body of natives, who set up the most terrific yells as we approached. They were fully equipped for battle and, as we neared the shore, came down to meet us with the most violent threats. I wished much to communicate with them, and, not without hopes of quieting them, stood right in with the intention of landing. I observed, however, that if I did so, I should have to protect myself. I hauled a little off, and endeavoured, by holding up a branch and a tomahawk, to gain their confidence, but they were not to be won over by my show of pacification. An elderly man walked close to the water’s edge unarmed, and, evidently, directed the others. He was followed by seven or eight of the most daring, who crept into the reeds, with their spears shipped to throw at us. I, therefore, took up my gun to return their salute. It then appeared that they were perfectly aware of the weapon I carried, for the moment they saw it, they dashed out of their hiding place and retreated to the main body; but the old man, after saying something to them, walked steadily on, and I, on my part, laid my firelock down again.
It was now near sunset; and one of the most lovely evenings I had ever seen. The sun’s radiance was yet upon the mountains, but all lower objects were in shade. The banks of the channel, with the trees and the rocks, were reflected in the tranquil waters, whose surface was unruffled save by the thousands of wild fowl that rose before us, and made a noise as of a multitude clapping hands, in their clumsy efforts to rise from the waters. Not one of them allowed us to get within shot.
We proceeded about a mile below the hill on which the natives were posted; some few still following us with violent threats. We landed, however, on a flat, bounded all round by the continuation of the hills. It was an admirable position, for, in the centre of it, we could not be taken by surprise, and, on the other hand, we gave the natives an opportunity of communicating with us if they would. The full moon rose as we were forming the camp, and, notwithstanding our vicinity to so noisy a host, the silence of death was around us, or the stillness of the night was only broken by the roar of the ocean, now too near to be mistaken for wind, or by the silvery and melancholy note of the black swans as they passed over us, to seek for food, no doubt, among the slimy weeds at the head of the lake. We had been quite delighted with the beauty of the channel, which was rather more than half-a-mile in width. Numberless mounds, that seemed to invite civilized man to erect his dwelling upon them, presented themselves to our view. The country round them was open, yet ornamentally wooded, and rocks and trees hung or drooped over the waters.
We had in one day gained a position I once feared it would have cost us infinite labour to have measured. Indeed, had we been obliged to pull across the lake, unless during a calm, I am convinced the men would have been wholly exhausted. We had to thank a kind Providence that such was not the case, since it had extended its mercy to us at so critical a moment. We had indeed need of all the little strength we had remaining, and could ill have thrown it away on such an effort as this would have required. I calculated that we could not have run less than forty-five miles during the day, a distance that, together with the eight miles we had advanced the evening previously, would give the length of the lake at fifty-three miles. We had approached to within twelve miles of the ranges, but had not gained their southern extremity. From the camp, Mount Barker bore nearly north. The ranges appeared to run north and south to our position, and then to bend away to the S.S.W., gradually declining to that point, which I doubted not terminated in Cape Jervis. The natives kept aloof during the night, nor did the dogs by a single growl intimate that any had ventured to approach us. The sound of the surf came gratefully to our ears, for it told us we were near the goal for which we had so anxiously pushed, and we all of us promised ourselves a view of the boundless ocean on the morrow.
As the morning dawned, we saw that the natives had thrown an out-post of sixteen men across the channel, who were watching our motions; but none showed themselves on the hills behind us, or on any part of the south shore. We embarked as soon as we had breakfasted, A fresh breeze was blowing from the N.E. which took us rapidly down the channel, and our prospects appeared to be as cheering as the day, for just as we were about to push from the shore, a seal rose close to the boat, which we all regarded as a favourable omen. We were, however, shortly stopped by shoals; it was in vain that we beat across the channel from one side to the other; it was a continued shoal, and the deepest water appeared to be under the left bank. The tide, however, had fallen, and exposed broad flats, over which it was hopeless, under existing circumstances, to haul the boat. We again landed on the south side of the channel, patiently to await the high water.
M’Leay, myself, and Fraser, ascended the hills, and went to the opposite side to ascertain the course of the channel, for immediately above us it turned south round the hills. We there found that we were on a narrow tongue of land. The channel was immediately below us, and continued to the E.S.E. as far as we could trace it. The hills we were upon, were the sandy hills that always bound a coast that is low, and were covered with banksias, casuarina and the grass-tree.
To the south of the channel there was a flat, backed by a range of sand-hummocks, that were covered with low shrubs; and beyond them the sea was distinctly visible. We could not have been more than two and a half miles from the beach where we stood.
Notwithstanding the sandy nature of the soil, the fossil formation again showed itself, not only on these hills, but also on the rocks that were in the channel.
A little before high water we again embarked. A seal had been observed playing about, and we augured well from such an omen. The blacks had been watching us from the opposite shore, and as soon as we moved, rose to keep abreast of us. With all our efforts we could not avoid the shoals. We walked up to our knees in mud and water, to find the least variation in the depth of the water so as to facilitate our exertions, but it was to no purpose. We were ultimately obliged to drag the boat over the flats; there were some of them a quarter of a mile in breadth, knee-deep in mud; but at length got her into deep water again. The turn of the channel was now before us, and we had a good run for about four or five miles. We had completed the bend, and the channel now stretched to the E.S.E. At about nine miles from us there was a bright sand-hill visible, near which the channel seemed to turn again to the south; and I doubted not that it terminated there. It was to no purpose, however, that we tried to gain it. Shoals again closed in upon us on every side. We dragged the boat over several, and at last got amongst quicksands. I, therefore, directed our efforts to hauling the boat over to the south side of the channel, as that on which we could most satisfactorily ascertain our position. After great labour we succeeded, and, as evening had closed in, lost no time in pitching the tents.
While the men were thus employed, I took Fraser with me, and, accompanied by M’Leay, crossed the sand-hummocks behind us, and descended to the sea-shore. I found that we had struck the south coast deep in the bight of Encounter Bay. We had no time for examination, but returned immediately to the camp, as I intended to give the men an opportunity to go to the beach. They accordingly went and bathed, and returned not only highly delighted at this little act of good nature on my part, but loaded with cockles, a bed of which they had managed to find among the sand. Clayton had tied one end of his shirt up, and brought a bag full, and amused himself with boiling cockles all night long.
If I had previously any hopes of being enabled ultimately to push the boat over the flats that were before us, a view of the channel at low water, convinced me of the impracticability of any further attempt. The water was so low that every shoal was exposed, and many stretched directly from one side of the channel to the other; and, but for the treacherous nature of the sand-banks, it would not have been difficult to have walked over dry footed to the opposite side of it. The channel stretched away to the E.S.E., to a distance of seven or eight miles, when it appeared to turn south under a small sand-hill, upon which the rays of the sun fell, as it was sinking behind us.
There was an innumerable flock of wild-fowl arranged in rows along the sides of the pools left by the tide, and we were again amused by the singular effect of the refraction upon them, and the grotesque and distorted forms they exhibited. Swans, pelicans, ducks, and geese, were mingled together, and, according to their distance from us, presented different appearances. Some were exceedingly tall and thin, others were unnaturally broad. Some appeared reversed, or as if they were standing on their heads, and the slightest motion, particularly the flapping of their wings, produced a most ridiculous effect. No doubt, the situation and the state of the atmosphere were favourable to the effect I have described. The day had been fine, the evening was beautiful,—but it was the rarefaction of the air immediately playing on the ground, and not the haze at sunset that caused what I have noticed. It is distinct from mirage, although it is difficult to point out the difference. The one, however, distorts, the other conceals objects, and gives them a false distance. The one is clear, the other is cloudy. The one raises objects above their true position, the other does not. The one plays about, the other is steady; but I cannot hope to give a proper idea either of mirage or refraction so satisfactorily as I could wish. Many travellers have dwelt upon their effects, particularly upon those of the former, but few have attempted to account for them.
Our situation was one of peculiar excitement and interest. To our right the thunder of the heavy surf, that almost shook the ground beneath us, broke with increasing roar upon our ears; to our left the voice of the natives echoed through the brush, and the size of their fires at the extremity of the channel, seemed to indicate the alarm our appearance had occasioned.
While the men were enjoying their cockles, a large kettle of which they had boiled, M’Leay and I were anxiously employed in examining the state of our provisions, and in ascertaining what still remained. Flour and tea were the only articles we had left, so that the task was not a difficult one. It appeared that we had not sufficient of either to last us to Pondebadgery, at which place we expected to find supplies; and, taking every thing into consideration, our circumstances were really critical.
The first view of Encounter Bay had convinced me that no vessel would ever venture into it at a season when the S.W. winds prevailed. It was impossible that we could remain upon the coast in expectation of the relief that I doubted not had been hurried off for us; since disappointment would have sealed our fate at once. In the deep bight in which we were, I could not hope that any vessel would approach sufficiently near to be seen by us. Our only chance of attracting notice would have been by crossing the Ranges to the Gulf St. Vincent, but the men had not strength to walk, and I hesitated to divide my party in the presence of a determined and numerous enemy, who closely watched our motions. Setting aside the generous feelings that had prompted M’Leay to participate in every danger with me, and who I am persuaded would have deeply felt a separation, my anxiety not only on his account, but on account of the men I might leave in charge of the boat, made me averse to this measure; the chance of any misfortune to them involving in it the destruction of our boat and the loss of our provisions. My anxiety of mind would have rendered me unfit for exertion; yet so desirous was I of examining the ranges and the country at their base, that I should, had our passage to the salt water been uninterrupted, have determined on coasting it homewards, or of steering for Launceston; and most assuredly, with my present experience, I would rather incur the hazards of so desperate a step, than contend against all the evils that beset us on out homeward journey. And the reader may rest assured, I was as much without hopes of our eventual safety, as I was astonished, at the close of our labours, to find that they had terminated so happily.
Further exertion on the part of the men being out of the question, I determined to remain no longer on the coast than to enable me to trace the channel to its actual junction with the sea, and to ascertain the features of the coast at that important point. I was reluctant to exhaust the strength of the men in dragging the boat over the numberless flats that were before us, and made up my mind to walk along the shore until I should gain the outlet. I at length arranged that M’Leay, I, and Fraser, should start on this excursion, at the earliest dawn, leaving Harris and Hopkinson in charge of the camp; for as we were to go towards the position of the natives, I thought it improbable they would attack the camp without my being instantly aware of it.
We had, as I have said, intended starting at the earliest dawn, but the night was so clear and refreshing, and the moon so bright that we determined to avail ourselves of both, and accordingly left the tents at 3 a.m. I directed Harris to strike them at 8, and to have every thing in readiness for our departure at that hour. We then commenced our excursion, and I led my companions rapidly along the shore of Encounter Bay, after crossing the sand-hills about a mile below the camp. After a hasty and distressing walk of about seven miles, we found that the sand-hills terminated, and a low beach spread before us. The day was just breaking, and at the distance of a mile from us we saw the sand-hill I have already had occasion to notice, and at about a quarter of a mile from its base, we were checked by the channel; which, as I rightly conjectured, being stopped in its easterly course by some rising ground, the tongue of land on which the blacks were posted, suddenly turns south, and, striking this sand-hill, immediately enters the sea; and we noticed, in the bight under the rising ground, that the natives had lit a chain of small fires. This was, most probably, a detached party watching our movements, as they could, from where they were posted, see our camp.
At the time we arrived at the end of the channel, the tide had turned, and was again setting in. The entrance appeared to me to be somewhat less than a quarter of a mile in breadth. Under the sand-hill on the off side, the water is deep and the current strong. No doubt, at high tide, a part of the low beach we had traversed is covered. The mouth of the channel is defended by a double line of breakers, amidst which, it would be dangerous to venture, except in calm and summer weather; and the line of foam is unbroken from one end of Encounter Bay to the other. Thus were our fears of the impracticability and inutility of the channel of communication between the lake and the ocean confirmed.
I would fain have lingered on my way, to examine, as far as circumstances would permit, the beautiful country between the lake and the ranges; and it was with heart-felt sorrow that I yielded to necessity. My men were indeed very weak from poverty of diet and from great bodily fatigue. Hopkinson, Mulholland, and Macnamee were miserably reduced. The two former, especially, had exerted themselves beyond their strength, and although I am confident they would have obeyed my orders to the last, I did not feel myself justified, considering the gigantic task we had before us, to impose additional labour upon them.
It will be borne in mind that our difficulties were just about to commence, when those of most other travellers have ceased; and that instead of being assisted by the stream whose course we had followed, we had now to contend against the united waters of the eastern ranges, with diminished strength, and, in some measure, with disappointed feelings.
Under the most favourable circumstances, it was improbable that the men would be enabled to pull for many days longer in succession; since they had not rested upon their oars for a single day, if I except our passage across the lake, from the moment when we started from the depot; nor was it possible for me to buoy them up with the hope even of a momentary cessation from labour. We had calculated the time to which our supply of provisions would last under the most favourable circumstances, and it was only in the event of our pulling up against the current, day after day, the same distance we had compassed with the current in our favour, that we could hope they would last us as long as we continued in the Murray. But in the event of floods, or any unforeseen delay, in was impossible to calculate at what moment we might be driven to extremity.
Independent of these casualties, there were other circumstances of peril to be taken into consideration. As I have already observed, I foresaw great danger in again running through the natives. I had every reason to believe that many of the tribes with which we had communicated on apparently friendly terms, regretted having allowed us to pass unmolested; nor was I at all satisfied as to the treatment we might receive from them, when unattended by the envoys who had once or twice controlled their fury. Our best security, therefore, against the attacks of the natives was celerity of movement; and the men themselves seemed to be perfectly aware of the consequences of delay. Our provisions, moreover, being calculated to last to a certain point only, the slightest accident, the staving-in of the boat, or the rise of the river, would inevitably be attended with calamity. To think of reducing our rations of only three quarters of a pound of flour per diem, was out of the question, or to hope that the men, with less sustenance than that, would perform the work necessary to ensure their safety, would have been unreasonable. It was better that our provisions should hold out to a place from which we might abandon the boat with some prospect of reaching by an effort a stock station, or the plain on which Robert Harris was to await our return, than that they should be consumed before the half of our homeward journey should be accomplished. Delay, therefore, under our circumstances, would have been imprudent and unjustifiable.
On the other hand, it was sufficiently evident to me, that the men were too much exhausted to perform the task that was before them without assistance, and that it would be necessary both for M’Leay and myself, to take our share of labour at the oars. The cheerfulness and satisfaction that my young friend evinced at the opportunity that was thus afforded him of making himself useful, and of relieving those under him from some portion of their toil, at the same time that they increased my sincere esteem for him, were nothing more than what I expected from one who had endeavoured by every means in his power to contribute to the success of that enterprise upon which he had embarked. But although I have said thus much of the exhausted condition of the men,—and ere these pages are concluded my readers will feel satisfied as to the truth of my statement—I would by no means be understood to say that they flagged for a moment, or that a single murmur escaped them. No reluctance was visible, no complaint was heard, but there was that in their aspect and appearance which they could not hide, and which I could not mistake. My object in dwelling so long upon this subject has been to point out our situation and our feelings when we re-entered the Murray. The only circumstance that appeared to be in our favour was the prevalence of the south-west wind, by which I hoped we should be assisted in running up the first broad reaches of that river. I could not but acknowledge the bounty of that Providence, which had favoured us in our passage across the lake, and I was led to hope that its merciful superintendance would protect us from evil, and would silently direct us where human foresight and prudence failed. We re-entered the river on the 13th under as fair prospects as we would have desired. The gale which had blown with such violence in the morning gradually abated, and a steady breeze enabled us to pass our first encampment by availing ourselves of it as long as day light continued. Both the valley and the river showed to advantage as we approached them, and the scenery upon our left (the proper right bank of the Murray) was really beautiful.
Valley of the Murray—Its character and capabilities—Laborious progress up the river—Accident to the boat—Perilous collision with the natives—Turbid current of the Rufus—Passage of the Rapids—Assisted by the natives—Dangerous intercourse with them—Re-enter the Morumbidgee—Verdant condition of its banks—Nocturnal encounter with the natives—Interesting manifestation of feeling in one family—Reach the spot where the party had embarked on the river—Men begin to fail entirely—Determine to send two men forward for relief—Their return—Excursion on horseback—Reach Pondebadgery Plain, and meet the supplies from the colony—Cannibalism of the natives—Return to Sydney—Concluding remarks.
The valley of the Murray, at its entrance, cannot be less than four miles in breadth. The river does not occupy the centre but inclines to either side, according to its windings, and thus the flats are of greater or less extent, according to the distance of the river from the base of the hills. It is to be remarked, that the bottom of the valley is extremely level, and extensively covered with reeds. From the latter circumstance, one would be led to infer that these flats are subject to overflow, and no doubt can exist as to the fact of their being, at least partially, if not wholly, under water at times. A country in a state of nature is, however, so different from one in a state of cultivation, that it is hazardous to give an opinion as to its practical availableness, if I may use such a term. I should, undoubtedly, say the marshes of the Macquarie were frequently covered with water, and that they were wholly unfit for any one purpose whatever. It is evident from the marks of the reeds upon the banks, that the flood covers them occasionally to the depth of three feet, and the reeds are so densely embodied and so close to the river side that the natives cannot walk along it. The reeds are the broad flag-reed (arundo phragmatis), and grow on a stiff earthy loam, without any accompanying vegetation; indeed, they form so solid a mass that the sun cannot penetrate to the ground to nourish vegetation. On the other hand, the valley of the Murray, though covered with reeds in most places, is not so in all. There is no mark upon the reeds by which to judge as to the height of inundation, neither are they of the same kind as those which cover the marshes of the Macquarie. They are the species of round reed of which the South-sea islanders make their arrows, and stand sufficiently open, not only to allow of a passage through, but for the abundant growth of grass among them. Still, I have no doubt that parts of the valley are subject to flood; but, as I have already remarked, I do not know whether these parts are either deeply or frequently covered. Rain must fall simultaneously in the S.E. angle of the island in the inter-tropical regions, and at the heads of all the tributaries of the main stream, ere its effects can be felt in the lower parts of the Murray. If the valley of the Murray is not subject to flood, it has only recently gained a height above the influence of the river, and still retains all the character of flooded land. In either case, however, it contains land that is of the very richest kind—soil that is the pure accumulation of vegetable matter, and is as black as ebony. If its hundreds of thousands of acres were practically available, I should not hesitate to pronounce it one of the richest spots of equal extent on earth, and highly favoured in other respects. How far it is available remains to be proved; and an opinion upon either side would be hazardous, although that of its liability to flood would, most probably, be nearest to truth. It is, however, certain that any part of the valley would require much labour before it could be brought under cultivation, and that even its most available spots would require almost as much trouble to clear them as the forest tract, for nothing is more difficult to destroy than reeds. Breaking the sod would, naturally, raise the level of the ground, and lateral drains would, most probably, carry off all floods, but then the latter, at least, is the operation of an advanced stage of husbandry only. I would, however, observe that there are many parts of the valley decidedly above the reach of flood. I have, in the above observations, been particularly alluding to the lowest and broadest portions of it. I trust I shall be understood as not wishing to over-rate this discovery on the one hand, or on the other, to include its whole extent in one sweeping clause of condemnation.
On the 14th, the wind still continued to blow fresh from the N.W. It moderated at noon, and assisted us beyond measure. We passed our first encampment, but did not see any natives.
On the 15th, the wind was variable at daylight, and a dense fog was on the river. As the sun rose, it was dissipated and a light breeze sprung up from W.S.W. We ran up the stream with a free sheet for six hours, when we stopped for a short time to get the kettle boiled. Four natives joined us, but with the exception of the lowest tribe upon the right bank, we had not seen any number. We were extremely liberal to this tribe, in consequence of the satisfaction they evinced at our return. We had alarmed them much on our passage down the river by firing at a snake that was swimming across it. We, at first, attempted to kill it with the boat-hook, but the animal dived at our approach, and appeared again at a considerable distance. Another such dive would have ensured his escape, but a shot effectually checked him, and as the natives evinced considerable alarm, we held him up, to show them the object of our proceedings. On our return, they seemed to have forgotten their fright, and received us with every demonstration of joy. The different receptions we met with from different tribes are difficult to be accounted for.
The country appeared to rise before us, and looked more hilly to the N.W. than I had supposed it to be. Several fine valleys branched off from the main one to the westward, and, however barren the heights that confined them were, I am inclined to think, that the distant interior is fertile. The marks of kangaroos were numerous, and the absence of the natives would indicate that they have other and better means of subsisting in the back country than what the river affords.
In the evening, we again ran on for two hours and a half, and reached the first of the cliffs.
On the 16th, we were again fortunate in the wind, and pressed up the river as long as day-light continued. At the termination of our journey, we found ourselves a day’s journey in advance. This inspirited the men, and they began to forget the labours they had gone through, as well as those that were before them.
On the 17th, we again commenced pulling, the wind being at north, and contrary. It did not, however, remain in that quarter long, but backed at noon to the S.W., so that we were enabled to make a good day’s journey, and rather gained than lost ground.
Having left the undulating hills, at the mouth of the valley behind us, we passed cliff after cliff of fossil formation: they had a uniform appearance as to the substance of which they were composed, and varied but little in colour. Having already examined them, we thought it unnecessary to give them any further special attention, since it was improbable we should find anything new. In turning an angle of the river, however, a broad reach stretched away before us. An alluvial flat extended to our left, and a high line of cliffs, that differed in no visible respect from those we had already passed, rose over the opposite side of the river. The cliffs faced the W.N.W., and as the sun declined, his beams struck full upon them. As we shot past, we were quite dazzled with the burst of light that flashed upon us, and which gave to the whole face of the cliff the appearance of a splendid mirror. The effect was of course momentary; for as soon as we had passed the angle of refraction, there was nothing unusual in its appearance. On a nearer approach, however, it appeared again as if studded with stars. We had already determined on examining it more closely, and this second peculiarity still further excited our curiosity. On landing, we found the whole cliff to be a mass of selenite, in which the various shells already noticed were plentifully embedded, as in ice. The features of the cliff differed from any we had previously remarked. Large masses, or blocks of square or oblong shape, had fallen to its base, and its surface was hard, whereas the face of the majority of the other cliffs was soft from the effect of the atmosphere; and the rock was entirely free from every other substance, excepting the shells of which it was composed. We of course collected some good specimens, although they added very considerably to the weight of our cargo.
The morning of the 18th was calm and cloudless. The wind, of which there was but little, came from the north, and was as usual warm. We availed ourselves of a favourable spot to haul our boat on shore under one of the cliffs upon the proper left of the river, and cleaned her well both inside and out.
The breezes that had so much assisted as from the lake upwards, had now lost their influence, or failed to reach to the distance we had gained. Calms succeeded them, and obliged us to labour continually at the oars. We lost ground fast, and it was astonishing to remark how soon the men’s spirits drooped again under their first efforts. They fancied the boat pulled heavily, and that her bottom was foul; but such was not the case. The current was not so strong as when we passed down, since the river had evidently fallen more than a foot, and was so shallow in several places, that we were obliged to haul the boat over them. On these occasions we were necessarily obliged to get out of her into the water, and had afterwards to sit still and to allow the sun to dry our clothes upon us. The unemployed consequently envied those at the oars, as they sat shivering in their dripping clothes. I was aware that it was more from imagination than reality, that the men fancied the boat was unusually heavy, but I hesitated not in humouring them, and rather entered into their ideas than otherwise, and endeavoured to persuade them that she pulled the lighter for the cleaning we gave her.
A tribe of natives joined us, and we had the additional trouble of guarding our stores. They were, however, very quiet, and as we had broken up our casks, on leaving the coast, we were enabled to be liberal in our presents of iron hoop, which they eagerly received. We calculated that we should reach the principal junction in about fifteen days from this place.
The natives left us to pursue our solitary journey as soon as the boat was reloaded. Not one of them had the curiosity to follow us, nor did they appear to think it necessary that we should be attended by envoys. We stopped for the night upon the left bank; and close to a burial-ground that differed from any I had ever seen. It must have been used many years, from the number of bones that were found in the bank, but there were no other indications of such a place either by mounds or by marks on the trees. The fact, therefore, is a singular one. I have thought that some battle might have been fought near the place, but I can hardly think one of their battles could have been so destructive.
We had now only to make the best of our journey, rising at dawn, and pulling to seven and often to nine o’clock. I allowed the men an hour from half-past eleven to half-past twelve, to take their bread and water. This was our only fare, if I except an occasional wild duck; but these birds were extremely difficult to kill, and it cost us so much time, that we seldom endeavoured to procure any. Our dogs had been of no great use, and were now too weak to have run after anything if they had seen either kangaroos or emus; and for the fish, the men loathed them, and were either too indifferent or too much fatigued to set the night-lines. Shoals frequently impeded us as we proceeded up the river, and we passed some rapids that called for our whole strength to stem. A light wind assisted us on two or three of these occasions, and I never failed hoisting the sail at every fitting opportunity. In some parts the river was extremely shallow, and the sand-banks of amazing size; and the annoyance of dragging the boat over these occasional bars, was very great. We passed several tribes of blacks on the 19th and 20th; but did not stop to communicate with them.
I believe I have already mentioned that shortly after we first entered the Murray, flocks of a new paroquet passed over our heads, apparently emigrating to the N.W. They always kept too high to be fired at, but on our return, hereabouts, we succeeded in killing one. It made a good addition to our scanty stock of subjects of natural history. It is impossible to conceive how few of the feathered tribe frequent these distant and lonely regions. The common white cockatoo is the most numerous, and there are also a few pigeons; but other birds descend only for water, and are soon again upon the wing. Our botanical specimens were as scanty as our zoological, indeed the expedition may, as regards these two particulars, almost be said to have been unproductive.
When we came down the river, I thought it advisable to lay its course down as precisely as circumstances would permit: for for this purpose I had a large compass always before me, and a sheet of foolscap paper. As soon as we passed an angle of the river, I took the bearings of the reach before us, and as we proceeded down it, marked off the description of country, and any remarkable feature. The consequence was, that I laid down every bend of the Murray River, from the Morumbidgee downwards. Its creeks, its tributaries, its flats, its valleys, and its cliffs, and, as far as I possibly could do, the nature of the distant interior. This chart was, of course, erroneous in many particulars, since I had to judge the length of the reaches of the river, and the extent of its angles, but I corrected it on the scale of the miles of latitude we made during the day, which brought out an approximate truth at all events. The hurried nature of our journey would not allow me to do more; and it will be remembered that my observations were all siderial, by reason that the sextant would not embrace the sun in his almost vertical position at noon. Admitting, however, the imperfection of this chart, it was of inconceivable value and comfort to us on our return, for, by a reference to it, we discovered our place upon the river, and our distance from our several encampments. And we should often have stopped short of them had not the chart shown us that a few reaches more would bring us to the desired spots. It cheered the men to know where they were, and gave them conversation. To myself it was very satisfactory, as it enabled me to prepare for our meetings with the larger tribes, and to steer clear of obstacles in the more difficult navigation of some parts of the stream.
On the 21st, by dint of great labour we reached our camp of the 2nd February, from which it will be remembered the Murray took up a southerly course, and from which we likewise obtained a first view of the coast ranges. The journey to the sea and back again, had consequently occupied us twenty days. From this point we turned our boat’s head homewards; we made it, therefore, a fixed position among the stages into which we divided our journey. Our attention was now directed to the junction of the principal tributary, which we hoped to reach in twelve days, and anticipated a close to our labours on the Murray in eight days more from that stage to the Morumbidgee.
The current in the Murray from the lake, to within a short distance of this singular turn in it, is weak, since its bed is almost on a level with the lake. The channel, which, at the termination, is somewhat more than the third of a mile across, gradually diminishes in breadth, as the interior is gained, but is nowhere under 300 yards; while its depth averages from eighteen to thirty feet, within a foot of the very bank. The river might, therefore, be navigated by boats of considerable burden, if the lake admitted of the same facility; but I am decidedly of opinion, that the latter is generally shallow, and that it will, in the course of years, be filled up by depositions. It is not, however, an estuary in any sense of the word, since no part of it is exposed at low water, excepting the flats in the channel, and the flat between the lake and the sea.
BLACK TAILED PAROQUET.
On the 23rd, we stove the boat in for the first time. I had all along anticipated such an accident, from the difficulty of avoiding obstacles, in consequence of the turbid state of the river. Fortunately the boat struck a rotten log. The piece remained in her side, and prevented her filling, which she must, otherwise, inevitably have done, ere we could have reached the shore. As it was, however, we escaped with a little damage to the lower bags of flour only. She was hauled up on a sand bank, and Clayton repaired her in less than two hours, when we reloaded her and pursued our journey. It was impossible to have been more cautious than we were, for I was satisfied as to the fate that would have overtaken the whole of us in the event of our losing the boat, and was proportionably vigilant.
At half-past five we came to an island, which looked so inviting, and so quiet, that I determined to land and sleep upon it. We consequently, ran the boat into a little recess, or bay, and pitched the tents; and I anticipated a respite from the presence of any natives, as did the men, who were rejoiced at my having taken up so snug a berth. It happened, however, that a little after sunset, a flight of the new paroquets perched in the lofty trees that grew on the island, to roost; when we immediately commenced the work of death, and succeeded in killing eight or ten. The reports of our guns were heard by some natives up the river, and several came over to us. Although I was annoyed at their having discovered our retreat, they were too few to be troublesome. During the night, however, they were joined by fresh numbers, amounting in all to about eighty, and they were so clamorous, that it was impossible to sleep.
As the morning broke, Hopkinson came to inform me that it was in vain that the guard endeavoured to prevent them from handling every thing, and from closing in round our camp. I went out, and from what I saw I thought it advisable to double the sentries. M’Leay, who was really tired, being unable to close his eyes amid such a din, got up in ill-humour, and went to see into the cause, and to check it if he could. This, however, was impossible. One man was particularly forward and insolent, at whom M’Leay, rather imprudently, threw a piece of dirt. The savage returned the compliment with as much good will as it had been given, and appeared quite prepared to act on the offensive. At this critical moment my servant came to the tent in which I was washing myself, and stated his fears that we should soon come to blows, as the natives showed every disposition to resist us. On learning what had passed between M’Leay and the savage, I pretended to be equally angry with both, and with some difficulty forced the greater part of the blacks away from the tents. I then directed the men to gather together all the minor articles in the first instance, and then to strike the tents; and, in order to check the natives, I drew a line round the camp, over which I intimated to them they should not pass. Observing, I suppose, that we were on our guard, and that I, whom they well knew to be the chief, was really angry, they crept away one by one, until the island was almost deserted by them. Why they did not attack us, I know not, for they had certainly every disposition to do so, and had their shorter weapons with them, which, in so confined a space as that on which we were, would have been more fatal than their spears
They left us, however; and a flight of red-crested cockatoos happening to settle on a plain near the river, I crossed in the boat in order to shoot one. The plain was upon the proper left bank of the Murray. The natives had passed over to the right. As the one channel was too shallow for the boat, when we again pursued our journey we were obliged to pull round to the left side of the island. A little above it the river makes a bend to the left, and the angle at this bend was occupied by a large shoal, one point of which rested on the upper part of the island, and the other touched the proper right bank of the river. Thus a narrow channel, (not broader indeed than was necessary for the play of our oars,) alone remained for us to pass up against a strong current. On turning round the lower part of the island, we observed that the natives occupied the whole extent of the shoal, and speckled it over like skirmishers. Many of them had their spears, and their attention was evidently directed to us.—As we neared the shoal, the most forward of them pressed close to the edge of the deep water, so much so that our oars struck their legs. Still this did not induce them to retire. I kept my eye on an elderly man who stood one of the most forward, and who motioned to us several times to stop, and at length threw the weapon he carried at the boat. I immediately jumped up and pointed my gun at him to his great apparent alarm. Whether the natives hoped to intimidate us by a show of numbers, or what immediate object they had in view, it is difficult to say; though it was most probably to seize a fitting opportunity to attack us. Seeing, I suppose, that we were not to be checked, they crossed from the shoal to the proper right bank of the river, and disappeared among the reeds that lined it.
Shortly after this, eight of the women, whom we had not before noticed, came down to the water side, and gave us the most pressing invitation to land. Indeed they played their part uncommonly well, and tried for some time to allure us by the most unequivocal manifestations of love. Hopkinson however who always had his eyes about him, observed the spears of the men among the reeds. They kept abreast of us as we pulled up the stream, and, no doubt, were anticipating our inability to resist the temptations they had thrown in our way. I was really provoked at their barefaced treachery, and should most undoubtedly have attacked them, had they not precipitately retreated on being warned by the women that I was arming my men, which I had only now done upon seeing such strong manifestations of danger. M’Leay set the example of coolness on this occasion; and I had some doubts whether I was justified in allowing the natives to escape with impunity, considering that if they had wounded any one of us the most melancholy and fatal results would have ensued.
We did not see anything more of the blacks during the rest of the day, but the repeated indications of hostility we perceived as we approached the Darling, made me apprehensive as to the reception we should meet from its numerous population; and I was sorry to observe that the men anticipated danger in passing that promising junction.
Having left the sea breezes behind us, the weather had become oppressive; and as the current was stronger, and rapids more numerous, our labour was proportionably increased. We perspired to an astonishing degree, and gave up our oars after our turn at them, with shirts and clothes as wet as if we had been in the water. Indeed Mulholland and Hopkinson, who worked hard, poured a considerable quantity of perspiration from their shoes after their task. The evil of this was that we were always chilled after rowing, and, of course, suffered more than we should otherwise have done.
On the 25th we passed the last of the cliffs composing the great fossil bed through which the Murray flows, and entered that low country already described as being immediately above it. On a more attentive examination of the distant interior, my opinion as to its flooded origin was confirmed, more especially in reference to the country to the S.E. On the 30th we passed the mouth of the Lindesay, and from the summit of the sand hills to the north of the Murray overlooked the flat country, through which I conclude it must run, from the line of fires we observed amid the trees, and most probably upon its banks.
We did not fall in with the natives in such numbers as when we passed down to the coast: still they were in sufficient bodies to be troublesome. It would, however, appear that the tribes do not generally frequent the river. They must have a better country back from it, and most probably linger amongst the lagoons and creeks where food is more abundant. The fact is evident from the want of huts upon the banks of the Murray, and the narrowness of the paths along its margin.
We experienced the most oppressive heat about this time. Calms generally prevailed, and about 3 p.m. the sun’s rays fell upon us with intense effect. The waters of the Murray continued extremely muddy, a circumstance we discovered to be owing to the turbid current of the Rufus, which we passed on the 1st of March. It is, really, singular whence this little stream originates. It will be remembered that I concluded it must have been swollen by rains when we first saw it; yet, after an absence of more than three weeks we found it discharging its waters as muddy as ever into the main stream; and that, too, in such quantities as to discolour its waters to the very lake. The reader will have some idea of the force of the current in both, when I assure him that for nearly fifty yards below the mouth of the Rufus, the waters of the Murray preserve their transparency, and the line between them and the turbid waters of its tributary was as distinctly marked as if drawn by a pencil. Indeed, the higher we advanced, the more did we feel the strength of the current, against which we had to pull.
A little below the Lindesay, a rapid occurs. It was with the utmost difficulty that we stemmed it with the four oars upon the boat, and the exertion of our whole strength. We remained, at one time, perfectly stationary, the force we employed and that of the current being equal. We at length ran up the stream obliquely; but it was evident the men were not adequate to such exertion for any length of time. We pulled that day for eleven successive hours, in order to avoid a tribe of natives who followed us. Hopkinson and Fraser fell asleep at their oars, and even the heavy Clayton appeared to labour.
We again occupied our camp under the first remarkable cliffs of the Murray, a description of which has been given in page 128 of this work. Their summit, as I have already remarked forms a table land of some elevation. From it the distant interior to the S.S.E. appears very depressed; that to the north undulates more. In neither quarter, however, does any bright foliage meet the eye, to tell that a better soil is under it; but a dark and gloomy vegetation occupies both the near and distant ground, in proof that the sandy sterile tracts, succeeding the river deposits, stretch far away without a change.
A little above our camp of the 28th of January, we fell in with a large tribe of natives, whose anxiety to detain us was remarkable. The wind, however, which, from the time we lost the sea breezes, had hung to the S.E., had changed to the S.W., and we were eagerly availing ourselves of it. It will not be supposed we stopped even for a moment. In truth we pressed on with great success, and did not land to sleep until nine o’clock. As long as the wind blew from the S.W., the days were cool, and the sky overcast even so much so as to threaten rain.
The least circumstance, in our critical situation, naturally raised my apprehensions, and I feared the river would be swollen in the event of any heavy rains in the hilly country; I hoped, however, we should gain the Morumbidgee before such a calamity should happen to us, and it became my object to press for that river without delay.
Although we had met with frequent rapids in our progress upwards, they had not been of a serious kind, nor such as would affect the navigation of the river. The first direct obstacle of this kind occurs a little above a small tributary that falls into the Murray from the north, between the Rufus and the cliffs we have alluded to. At this place a reef of coarse grit contracts the channel of the river. No force we could have exerted with the oars would have taken us up this rapid; but we accomplished the task easily by means of a rope which we hauled upon, on the same principle that barges are dragged by horses along the canals.
As we neared the junction of the two main streams, the country, on both sides of the river, became low, and its general appearance confirmed the opinion I have already given as to its flooded origin. The clouds that obscured the sky, and had threatened to burst for some time, at length gave way, and we experienced two or three days of heavy rain. In the midst of it we passed the second stage of our journey, and found the spot lately so crowded with inhabitants totally deserted. A little above it we surprised a small tribe in a temporary shelter; but neither our offers nor presents could prevail on any of them to expose themselves to the torrent that was falling. They sat shivering in their bark huts in evident astonishment at our indifference. We threw them some trifling presents and were glad to proceed unattended by any of them.
It will be remembered that in passing down the river, the boat was placed in some danger in descending a rapid before we reached the junction of the Murray with the stream supposed by me to be the Darling. We were now gradually approaching the rapid, nor did I well know how we should surmount such an obstacle. Strength to pull up it we had not, and I feared our ropes would not be long enough to reach to the shore over some of the rocks, since it descended in minor declivities to a considerable distance below the principal rapid, in the centre of which the boat had struck. We reached the commencement of these rapids on the 6th, and ascended the first by means of ropes, which were hauled upon by three of the men from the bank; and, as the day was pretty far advanced, we stopped a little above it, that we might attempt the principal rapid before we should be exhausted by previous exertion. It was fortunate that we took such a precaution. The morning of the 7th proved extremely dark, and much rain fell. We commenced our journey in the midst of it, and soon gained the tail of the rapid. Our attempt to pull up it completely failed. The boat, as soon as she entered the ripple, spun round like a toy, and away we went with the stream. As I had anticipated, our ropes were too short; and it only remained for us to get into the water, and haul the boat up by main force. We managed pretty well at first, and drew her alongside a rock to rest a little. We then recommenced our efforts, and had got into the middle of the channel. We were up to our armpits in the water, and only kept our position by means of rocks beside us. The rain was falling, as if we were in a tropical shower, and the force of the current was such, that if we had relaxed for an instant, we should have lost all the ground we had gained. Just at this moment, however, without our being aware of their approach, a large tribe of natives, with their spears, lined the bank, and took us most completely by surprise. At no time during this anxious journey were we ever so completely in their power, or in so defenceless a situation. It rained so hard, that our firelocks would have been of no use, and had they attacked us, we must necessarily have been slaughtered without committing the least execution upon them. Nothing, therefore, remained for us but to continue our exertions. It required only one strong effort to get the boat into still water for a time, but that effort was beyond our strength, and we stood in the stream, powerless and exhausted.
The natives, in the meanwhile, resting on their spears, watched us with earnest attention. One of them, who was sitting close to the water, at length called to us, and we immediately recognised the deep voice of him to whose singular interference we were indebted for our escape on the 23rd of January. I desired Hopkinson to swim over to him, and to explain that we wanted assistance. This was given without hesitation; and we at length got under the lea of the rock, which I have already described as being in the centre of the river. The natives launched their bark canoes, the only frail means they possess of crossing the rivers with their children. These canoes are of the simplest construction and rudest materials, being formed of an oblong piece of bark, the ends of which are stuffed with clay, so as to render them impervious to the water. With several of these they now paddled round us with the greatest care, making their spears, about ten feet in length,(which they use at once as poles and paddles,) bend nearly double in the water. We had still the most difficult part of the rapid to ascend, where the rush of water was the strongest, and where the decline of the bed almost amounted to a fall. Here the blacks could be of no use to us. No man could stem the current, supposing it to have been shallow at the place, but it was on the contrary extremely deep. Remaining myself in the boat, I directed all the men to land, after we had crossed the stream, upon a large rock that formed the left buttress as it were to this sluice, and, fastening the rope to the mast instead of her head, they pulled upon it. The unexpected rapidity with which the boat shot up the passage astonished me, and filled the natives with wonder, who testified their admiration of so dextrous a manoeuvre, by a loud shout.
It will, no doubt, have struck the reader as something very remarkable, that the same influential savage to whom we had already been indebted, should have been present on this occasion, and at a moment when we so much needed his assistance. Having surmounted our difficulties, we took leave of this remarkable man, and pursued our journey up the river.
It may be imagined we did not proceed very far; the fact was, we only pushed forward to get rid of the natives, for, however pacific, they were always troublesome, and we were seldom fitted for a trial of temper after the labours of the day were concluded. The men had various occupations in which, when the natives were present, they were constantly interrupted, and whenever the larger tribes slept near us, the utmost vigilance was necessary on the part of the night-guard, which was regularly mounted as soon as the tents were pitched. We had had little else than our flour to subsist on. Hopkinson and Harris endeavoured to supply M’Leay and myself with a wild fowl occasionally, but for themselves, and the other men, nothing could be procured to render their meal more palatable.
I have omitted to mention one remarkable trait of the good disposition of all the men while on the coast. Our sugar had held out to that point; but it appeared, when we examined the stores, that six pounds alone remained in the cask. This the men positively refused to touch. They said that, divided, it would benefit nobody; that they hoped M’Leay and I would use it, that it would last us for some time, and that they were better able to submit to privations than we were. The feeling did them infinite credit, and the circumstance is not forgotten by me. The little supply the kindness of our men left to us was, however, soon exhausted, and poor M’Leay preferred pure water to the bitter draught that remained. I have been some times unable to refrain from smiling, as I watched the distorted countenances of my humble companions while drinking their tea and eating their damper.
The ducks and swans, seen in such myriads on the lake, seldom appeared on the river, in the first stages of our journey homewards. About the time of which I am writing, however, a few swans occasionally flew over our heads at night, and their silvery note was musically sweet.
From the 10th to the 15th, nothing of moment occurred: we pulled regularly from day-light to dark, not less to avoid the natives than to shorten our journey. Yet, notwithstanding that we moved at an hour when the natives seldom stir, we were rarely without a party of them, who followed us in spite of our efforts to tire them out.
On the 15th, we had about 150 at our camp. Many of them were extremely noisy, and the whole of them very restless. They lay down close to the tents, or around our fire. I entertained some suspicion of them, and when they were apparently asleep, I watched them narrowly. Macnamee was walking up and down with his firelock, and every time he turned his back, one of the natives rose gently up and poised his spear at him, and as soon as he thought Macnamee was about to turn, he dropped as quietly into his place. When I say the native got up, I do not mean that he stood up, but that he raised himself sufficiently for the purpose he had in view. His spear would not, therefore, have gone with much force, but I determined it should not quit his hand, for had I observed any actual attempt to throw it, I should unquestionably have shot him dead upon the spot. The whole of the natives were awake, and it surprised me they did not attempt to plunder us. They rose with the earliest dawn, and crowded round the tents without any hesitation. We, consequently, thought it prudent to start as soon as we had breakfasted.
We had all of us got into the boat, when Fraser remembered he had left his powder-horn on shore. In getting out to fetch it, he had to push through the natives. On his return, when his back was towards them, several natives lifted their spears together, and I was so apprehensive they would have transfixed him, that I called out before I seized my gun; on which they lowered their weapons and ran away. The disposition to commit personal violence was evident from these repeated acts of treachery; and we should doubtless have suffered from it on some occasion or other, had we not been constantly on the alert.
We had been drawing nearer the Morumbidgee every day. This was the last tribe we saw on the Murray; and the following afternoon, to our great joy, we quitted it and turned our boat into the gloomy and narrow channel of its tributary. Our feelings were almost as strong when we re-entered it, as they had been when we were launched from it into that river, on whose waters we had continued for upwards of fifty-five days; during which period, including the sweeps and bends it made, we could not have travelled less than 1500 miles.
Our provisions were now running very short; we had, however, “broken the neck of our journey,” as the men said, and we looked anxiously to gaining the depot; for we were not without hopes that Robert Harris would have pushed forward to it with his supplies. We were quite puzzled on entering the Morumbidgee, how to navigate its diminutive bends and its encumbered channel. I thought poles would have been more convenient than oars; we therefore stopped at an earlier hour than usual to cut some. Calling to mind the robbery practised on us shortly after we left the depot, my mind became uneasy as to Robert Harris’s safety, since I thought it probable, from the sulky disposition of the natives who had visited us there, that he might have been attacked. Thus, when my apprehensions on our own account had partly ceased, my fears became excited with regard to him and his party.
The country, to a considerable distance from the junction on either side the Morumbidgee, is not subject to inundation. Wherever we landed upon its banks, we found the calistemma in full flower, and in the richest profusion. There was, also, an abundance of grass, where before there had been no signs of vegetation, and those spots which we had condemned as barren were now clothed with a green and luxuriant carpet. So difficult is it to judge of a country on a partial and hurried survey, and so differently does it appear at different periods. I was rejoiced to find that the rains had not swollen the river, for I was apprehensive that heavy falls had taken place in the mountains, and was unprepared for so much good fortune.
The poles we cut were of no great use to us, and we soon laid them aside, and took to our oars. Fortune seemed to favour us exceedingly. The men rallied, and we succeeded in killing a good fat swan, that served as a feast for all. I imagine the absence of mud and weeds of every kind in the Murray, prevents this bird from frequenting its waters.
On the 18th, we found ourselves entering the reedy country, through which we had passed with such doubt and anxiety. Every object elicited some remark from the men, and I was sorry to find they reckoned with certainty on seeing Harris at the depot, as I knew they would be proportionally depressed in spirits if disappointed. However, I promised Clayton a good repast as soon as we should see him.
I had walked out with M’Leay a short distance from the river, and had taken the dogs. They followed us to the camp on our return to it, but the moment they saw us enter the tent, they went off to hunt by themselves. About 10 p.m., one of them, Bob, came to the fire, and appeared very uneasy; he remained, for a short time, and then went away. In about an hour, he returned, and after exhibiting the same restlessness, again withdrew. He returned the third time before morning dawned, but returned alone. The men on the watch were very stupid not to have followed him, for, no doubt, he went to his companion, to whom, most likely, some accident had happened. I tried to make him show, but could not succeed, and, after a long search, reluctantly pursued our journey, leaving poor Sailor to his fate. This was the only misfortune that befell us, and we each of us felt the loss of an animal which had participated in all our dangers and privations. I more especially regretted the circumstance for the sake of the gentleman who gave him to me, and, on account of his superior size and activity.
With the loss of poor Sailor, our misfortunes re-commmenced. I anticipated some trouble hereabouts, for, having succeeded in their hardihood once, I knew the natives would again attempt to rob us, and that we should have some difficulty in keeping them off. As soon as they found out that we were in the river, they came to us, but left us at sunset. This was on the 21st. At nightfall, I desired the watch to keep a good look out, and M’Leay and I went to lie down. We had chosen an elevated bank for our position, and immediately opposite to us there was a small space covered with reeds, under blue-gum trees. About 11, Hopkinson came to the tent to say, that he was sure the blacks were approaching through the reeds. M’Leay and I got up, and, standing on the bank, listened attentively. All we heard was the bark of a native dog apparently, but this was, in fact, a deception on the part of the blacks. We made no noise, in consequence of which they gradually approached, and two or three crept behind the trunk of a tree that had fallen. As I thought they were near enough, George M’Leay, by my desire, fired a charge of small shot at them. They instantly made a precipitate retreat; but, in order the more effectually to alarm them, Hopkinson fired a ball into the reeds, which we distinctly heard cutting its way through them. All was quiet until about three o’clock, when a poor wretch who, most probably, had thrown himself on the ground when the shots were fired, at length mustered courage to get up and effect his escape.
In the morning, the tribe kept aloof, but endeavoured, by the most earnest entreaties, and most pitiable howling, to gain our favour; but I threatened to shoot any that approached, and they consequently kept at a respectful distance, dogging us from tree to tree. It appeared, therefore, that they were determined to keep us in view, no doubt, with the intention of trying what they could do by a second attempt. As they went along, their numbers increased, and towards evening, they amounted to a strong tribe. Still they did not venture near us, and only now and then showed themselves. Our situation at this moment would have been much more awkward in the event of attack, than when we were in the open channel of the Murray; because we were quite at the mercy of the natives if they had closed upon us, and, being directly under the banks, should have received every spear, while it would have been easy for them to have kept out of sight in assailing us.
It was near sunset, the men were tired, and I was looking out for a convenient place at which to rest, intending to punish these natives if they provoked me, or annoyed the men. We had not seen any of them for some time, when Hopkinson, who was standing in the bow of the boat, informed me that they had thrown boughs across the river to prevent our passage. I was exceedingly indignant at this, and pushed on, intending to force the barrier. On our nearer approach, a solitary black was observed standing close to the river, and abreast of the impediment which I imagined they had raised to our further progress. I threatened to shoot this man, and pointed to the branches that stretched right across the stream. The poor fellow uttered not a word, but, putting his hand behind him, pulled out a tomahawk from his belt, and held it towards me, by way of claiming our acquaintance; and any anger was soon entirely appeased by discovering that the natives had been merely setting a net across the river which these branches supported. We, consequently, hung back, until they had drawn it, and then passed on.
The black to whom I had spoken so roughly, cut across a bight of the river, and walking down to the side of the water with a branch in his hand, in mark of confidence, presented me with a fishing net. We were highly pleased at the frank conduct of this black, and a convenient place offering itself, we landed and pitched our tents. Our friend, who was about forty, brought his two wives, and a young man, to us: and at length the other blacks mustered courage to approach; but those who had followed us from the last camp, kept on the other side of the river. On pretence of being different families, they separated into small bodies, and formed a regular cordon round our camp. We foresaw that this was a manoeuvre, but, in hopes that if I forgave the past they would desist from further attempts, M’Leay took great pains in conciliating them, and treated them with great kindness. We gave each family some fire and same presents, and walked together to them by turns, to show that we had equal confidence in all. Our friend had posted himself immediately behind our tents, at twenty yards distance, with his little family, and kept altogether aloof from the other natives. Having made our round of visits, and examined the various modes the women had of netting, M’Leay and I went into our tent.
It happened, fortunately, that my servant, Harris, was the first for sentry. I told him to keep a watchful eye on the natives, and to call me if any thing unusual occurred. We had again chosen a lofty bank for our position; behind us there was a small plain, of about a quarter of a mile in breadth, backed by a wood. I was almost asleep, when my servant came to inform me, that the blacks had, with one accord, made a precipitate retreat, and that not one of them was to be seen at the fires. I impressed the necessity of attention upon him, and he again went to his post. shortly after this, he returned: “Master,” said he, “the natives are coming.” I jumped up, and, taking my gun, followed him, leaving my friend George fast asleep. I would not disturb him, until necessity required, for he had ever shown himself so devoted to duty as to deserve every consideration. Harris led me a little way from the tents, and then stopping, and pointing down the river, said, “There, sir, don’t you see them?” “Not I, indeed, Harris,” I replied, “where do you mean? are you sure you see them?” “Positive, sir,” said he; “stoop and you will see them.” I did so, and saw a black mass in an opening. Convinced that I saw them, I desired Harris to follow me, but not to fire unless I should give the word. The rascals would not stand our charge, however, but retreated as we advanced towards them. We then returned to the tents, and, commending my servant for his vigilance, I once more threw myself on my bed. I had scarcely lain down five minutes, when Harris called out, “The blacks are close to me, sir; shall I fire at them?” “How far are they?” I asked. “Within ten yards, sir.” “Then fire,” said I; and immediately he did so. M’Leay and I jumped up to his assistance. “Well, Harris,” said I, “did you kill your man?” (he is a remarkably good shot.) “No, sir,” said he, “I thought you would repent it, so I fired between the two.” “Where were they, man?” said I. “Close to the boat, sir; and when they heard me, they swam into the river, and dived as soon as I fired between them.” This account was verified by one of them puffing as he rose below us, over whose head I fired a shot. Where the other got to I could not tell. This watchfulness, on our part, however, prevented any further attempts during the night.
I was much pleased at the coolness of my servant, as well as his consideration; and relieving him from his post, desired Hopkinson to take it. I have no doubt that the approach of the natives, in the first instance, was made with a view to draw us off from the camp, while some others might rob the boat. If so, it was a good manoeuvre, and might have succeeded.
In the morning, we found the natives had left all their ponderous spears at their fires, which were broken up and burnt. We were surprised to find that our friend had left every thing in like manner behind him—his spears, his nets, and his tomahawk; but as he had kept so wholly aloof from the other blacks, I thought it highly improbable that he had joined them, and the men were of opinion that he had retreated across the plain into the wood. On looking in that direction we observed some smoke rising among the trees at a little distance from the outskirts of the plain, and under an impression that I should find the native at the fire with his family, I took his spears and tomahawk, and walked across the plain, unattended into the wood. I had not entered it more than fifty yards when I saw a group of four natives, sitting round a small fire. One of them, as I approached, rose up and met me, and in him I recognised the man for whom I was seeking. When near enough, I stuck the spears upright into the ground. The poor man stood thunderstruck; he spoke not, he moved not, neither did he raise his eyes from the ground. I had kept the tomahawk out of his sight, but I now produced and offered it to him. He gave a short exclamation as his eyes caught sight of it, but he remained otherwise silent before me, and refused to grasp the tomahawk, which accordingly fell to the ground. I had evidently excited the man’s feelings, but it is difficult to say how he was affected. His manner indicated shame and surprise, and the sequel will prove that both these feelings must have possessed him. While we were thus standing together, his two wives came up, to whom, after pointing to the spears and tomahawk, he said something, without, however, looking at me; and they both instantly burst into tears and wept aloud. I was really embarrassed during so unexpected a scene, and to break it, invited the native to the camp, but I motioned with my hand, as I had not my gun with me, that I would shoot any other of the blacks who followed me. He distinctly understood my meaning, and intimated as distinctly to me that they should not follow us; nor did they. We were never again molested by them.
I left him then, and, returning to the camp, told M’Leay my adventure, with which he was highly delighted. My object is this procedure was to convince the natives, generally, that we came not among them to injure or to molest them, as well as to impress them with an idea of our superior intelligence; and I am led to indulge the hope that I succeeded. Certain it is, that an act of justice or of lenity has frequently, if well timed, more weight than the utmost stretch of severity. With savages, more particularly, to exhibit any fear, distrust, or irresolution, will inevitably prove injurious.
But although these adventures were happily not attended with bloodshed, they harassed the men much; and our camp for near a week was more like an outpost picquet than any thing else. This, however, terminated all attempts on the part of the natives. From henceforth none of them followed us on our route.
At noon, I stopped about a mile short of the depot to take sights. After dinner we pulled on, the men looking earnestly out for their comrades whom they had left there, but none appeared. My little arbour, in which I had written my letters, was destroyed, and the bank on which out tents had stood was wholly deserted. We landed, however, and it was a satisfaction to me to see the homeward track of the drays. The men were sadly disappointed, and poor Clayton, who had anticipated a plentiful meal, was completely chop fallen. M’Leay and I comforted them daily with the hopes of meeting the drays, which I did not think improbable.
Thus, it will appear, that we regained the place from which we started in seventy-seven days, during which, we could not have pulled less than 2000 miles. It is not for me, however, to make any comment, either on the dangers to which we were occasionally exposed, or the toil and privations we continually experienced in the course of this expedition. My duty is, simply to give a plain narrative of facts, which I have done with fidelity, and with as much accuracy as circumstances would permit. Had we found Robert Harris at the depot, I should have considered it unnecessary to trespass longer on the patient reader, but as our return to that post did not relieve us from our difficulties, it remains for me to carry on the narrative of our proceedings to the time when we reached the upper branches of the Morumbidgee.
The hopes that had buoyed up the spirits of the men, ceased to operate as soon as they were discovered to have been ill founded. The most gloomy ideas took possession of their minds, and they fancied that we had been neglected, and that Harris had remained in Sydney. It was to no purpose that I explained to them that my instructions did not bind Harris to come beyond Pondebadgery, and that I was confident he was then encamped upon that plain.
We had found the intricate navigation of the Morumbidgee infinitely more distressing than the hard pulling up the open reaches of the Murray, for we were obliged to haul the boat up between numberless trunks of trees, an operation that exhausted the men much more than rowing. The river had fallen below its former level, and rocks and logs were now exposed above the water, over many of which the boat’s keel must have grazed, as we passed down with the current. I really shuddered frequently, at seeing these complicated dangers, and I was at a loss to conceive how we could have escaped them. The planks of our boat were so thin that if she had struck forcibly against any one branch of the hundreds she must have grazed, she would inevitably have been rent asunder from stem to stern.
The day after we passed the depot, on our return, we began to experience the effects of the rains that had fallen in the mountains. The Morumbidgee rose upon us six feet in one night, and poured along its turbid waters with proportionate violence. For seventeen days we pulled against them with determined perseverance, but human efforts, under privations such as ours, tend to weaken themselves, and thus it was that the men began to exhibit the effects of severe and unremitting toil. Our daily journeys were short, and the head we made against the stream but trifling. The men lost the proper and muscular jerk with which they once made the waters foam and the oars bend. Their whole bodies swung with an awkward and laboured motion. Their arms appeared to be nerveless; their faces became haggard, their persons emaciated, their spirits wholly sunk; nature was so completely overcome, that from mere exhaustion they frequently fell asleep during their painful and almost ceaseless exertions. It grieved me to the heart to see them in such a state at the close of so perilous a service, and I began to reproach Robert Harris that he did not move down the river to meet us; but, in fact, he was not to blame. I became captious, and found fault where there was no occasion, and lost the equilibrium of my temper in contemplating the condition of my companions. No murmur, however, escaped them, nor did a complaint reach me, that was intended to indicate that they had done all they could do. I frequently heard them in their tent, when they thought I had dropped asleep, complaining of severe pains and of great exhaustion. “I must tell the captain, to-morrow,” some of them would say, “that I can pull no more.” To-morrow came, and they pulled on, as if reluctant to yield to circumstances. Macnamee at length lost his senses. We first observed this from his incoherent conversation, but eventually from manner. He related the most extraordinary tales, and fidgeted about eternally while in the boat. I felt it necessary, therefore, to relieve him from the oars.
Amidst these distresses, M’Leay preserved his good humour, and endeavoured to lighten the task, and to cheer the men as much as possible. His presence at this time was a source of great comfort to me. The uniform kindness with which he had treated his companions, gave him an influence over them now, and it was exerted with the happiest effect.
On the 8th and 9th of April we had heavy rain, but there was no respite for us. Our provisions were nearly consumed, and would have been wholly exhausted, if we had not been so fortunate as to kill several swans. On the 11th, we gained our camp opposite to Hamilton’s Plains, after a day of severe exertion. Our tents were pitched upon the old ground, and the marks of our cattle were around us. In the evening, the men went out with their guns, and M’Leay and I walked to the rear of the camp, to consult undisturbed as to the moat prudent measures to be adopted, under our embarrassing circumstances. The men were completely sunk. We were still between eighty and ninety miles from Pondebadgery, in a direct line, and nearly treble that distance by water. The task was greater than we could perform, and our provisions were insufficient. In this extremity I thought it best to save the men the mortification of yielding, by abandoning the boat; and on further consideration, I determined on sending Hopkinson and Mulholland, whose devotion, intelligence, and indefatigable spirits, I well knew, forward to the plain.
1. POMATORHINUS TEMPORALIS
2. POMATORHINUS SUPERCILIOSUS.
The joy this intimation spread was universal, Both Hopkinson and Mulholland readily undertook the journey, and I, accordingly, prepared orders for them to start by the earliest dawn. It was not without a feeling of sorrow that I witnessed the departure of these two men, to encounter a fatiguing march. I had no fears as to their gaining the plain, if their reduced state would permit them. On the other hand, I hoped they would fall in with our old friend the black, or that they would meet the drays; and I could not but admire the spirit and energy they both displayed upon the occasion. Their behaviour throughout had been such as to awaken in my breast a feeling of the highest approbation. Their conduct, indeed, exceeded all praise, nor did they hesitate one moment when I called upon them to undertake this last trying duty, after such continued exertion. I am sure the reader will forgive me for bringing under his notice the generous efforts of these two men; by me it can never be forgotten.
Six days had passed since their departure; we remaining encamped. M’Leay and myself had made some short excursions, but without any result worthy of notice. A group of sand-hills rose in the midst of the alluvial deposits, about a quarter of a mile from the tents, that were covered with coarse grasses and banksias. We shot several intertropical birds feeding in the latter, and sucking the honey from their flowers. I had, in the mean time, directed Clayton to make some plant cases of the upper planks of the boat, and then to set fire to her, for she was wholly unserviceable, and I felt a reluctance to leave her like a neglected log on the water. The last ounce of flour had been served out to the men, and the whole of it was consumed on the sixth day from that on which we had abandoned the boat. I had calculated on seeing Hopkinson again in eight days, but as the morrow would see us without food, I thought, as the men had had a little rest it would be better to advance towards relief than to await its arrival.
On the evening of the 18th, therefore, we buried our specimens and other stores, intending to break up the camp in the morning. A singular bird, which invariably passed it at an hour after sunset, and which, from its heavy flight, appeared to be of unusual size so attracted my notice, that in the evening M’Leay and I crossed the river, in hope to get a shot at it. We had, however, hardly landed on the other side, when a loud shout called us back to witness the return of our comrades.
They were both of them in a state that beggars description. Their knees and ankles were dreadfully swollen, and their limbs so painful, that as soon as they arrived in the camp they sunk under their efforts, but they met us with smiling countenances, and expressed their satisfaction at having arrived so seasonably to our relief. They had, as I had foreseen, found Robert Harris on the plain, which they reached on the evening of the third day. They had started early the next morning on their return with such supplies as they thought we might immediately want. Poor Macnamee had in a great measure recovered, but for some days he was sullen and silent: sight of the drays gave him uncommon satisfaction. Clayton gorged himself; but M’Leay, myself and Fraser could not at first relish the meat that was placed before us.
It was determined to give the bullocks a day of rest, and I availed myself of the serviceable state of the horses to visit some hills about eighteen miles to the northward. I was anxious to gain a view of the distant country to the N.W., and to ascertain the geological character of the hills themselves. M’Leay, Fraser, and myself left the camp early in the morning of the 19th, on our way to them. Crossing the sand-hills, we likewise passed a creek, and, from the flooded or alluvial tracks, got on an elevated sandy country, in which we found a beautiful grevillia. From this we passed a barren ridge of quartz-formation, terminating in open box forest. From it we descended and traversed a plain that must, at some periods, be almost impassable. It was covered with acacia pendula, and the soil was a red earth, bare of vegetation in many places. At its extremity we came to some stony ridges, and, descending their northern side, gained the base of the hills. They were more extensive than they appeared to be from our camp; and were about six hundred feet in height, and composed of a conglomerate rock. They were extremely barren, nor did the aspect of the country seem to indicate a favourable change. I was enabled, however, to connect my line of route with the more distant hills between the Morumbidgee and the Lachlan. We returned to the camp at midnight.
On the following morning we left our station before Hamilton’s Plains. We reached Pondebadgery on the 28th, and found Robert Harris, with a plentiful supply of provisions. He had everything extremely regular, and had been anxiously expecting our return, of which he at length wholly despaired. He had been at the plain two months, and intended to have moved down the river immediately, had we not made our appearance when we did.
I had sent M’Leay forward on the 20th with letters to the Governor, whose anxiety was great on our account. I remained for a fortnight on the plain to restore the men, but Hopkinson had so much over-exerted himself that it was with difficulty he crawled along.
In my despatches to the Governor, from the depot, I had suggested the policy of distributing some blankets and other presents to the natives on the Morumbidgee, in order to reward those who had been useful to our party, and in the hope of proving beneficial to settlers in that distant part of the colony. His Excellency was kind enough to accede to my request, and I found ample means for these purposes among the stores that Harris brought from Sydney.
We left Pondebadgery Plain early on the 5th of May, and reached Guise’s Station late in the afternoon. We gained Yass Plains on the 12th, having struck through the mountain passes by a direct line, instead of returning by our old route near Underaliga. As the party was crossing the plains I rode to see Mr. O’Brien, but did not find him at home.
While waiting at his hut, one of the stockmen pointed out two blacks to me at a little distance from us. The one was standing, the other sitting. “That fellow, sir,” said he, “who is sitting down, killed his infant child last night by knocking its head against a stone, after which he threw it on the fire and then devoured it.” I was quite horror struck, and could scarcely believe such a story. I therefore went up to the man and questioned him as to the fact, as well as I could. He did not attempt to deny it, but slunk away in evident consciousness. I then questioned the other that remained, whose excuse for his friend was that the child was sick and would never have grown up, adding he himself did not patter (eat) any of it.
Many of my readers may probably doubt this horrid occurrence having taken place, as I have not mentioned any corroborating circumstances. I am myself, however, as firmly persuaded of the truth of what I have stated as if I had seen the savage commit the act; for I talked to his companion who did see him, and who described to me the manner in which he killed the child. Be it as it may, the very mention of such a thing among these people goes to prove that they are capable of such an enormity.
We left Yass Plains on the 14th of May, and reached Sydney by easy stages on the 25th, after an absence of nearly six months.
To most of my readers, the foregoing narrative will appear little else than a succession of adventures. Whilst the expedition was toiling down the rivers, no rich country opened upon the view to reward or to cheer the perseverance of those who composed it, and when, at length, the land of promise lay smiling before them, their strength and their means were too much exhausted to allow of their commencing an examination, of the result of which there could be but little doubt. The expedition returned to Sydney, without any splendid discovery to gild its proceedings; and the labours and dangers it had encountered were considered as nothing more than ordinary occurrences. If I myself had entertained hopes that my researches would have benefited the colony, I was wholly disappointed. There is a barren tract of country lying to the westward of the Blue Mountains that will ever divide the eastern coast from the more central parts of Australia, as completely as if seas actually rolled between them.
In a geographical point of view, however, nothing could have been more satisfactory, excepting an absolute knowledge of the country to the northward between the Murray and the Darling, than the results of the expedition. I have in its proper place stated, as fairly as I could, my reasons for supposing the principal junction (which I consequently left without a name) to be the Darling of my former journey, as well as the various arguments that bore against such a conclusion.
Of course, where there is so much room for doubt, opinions will be various. I shall merely review the subject, in order to connect subsequent events with my previous observations, and to give the reader a full idea of that which struck me to be the case on a close and anxious investigation of the country from mountain to lowland. I returned from the Macquarie with doubts on my mind as to the ultimate direction to which the waters of the Darling river might ultimately flow; for, with regard to every other point, the question was, I considered, wholly decided. But, with regard to that singular stream, I was, from the little knowledge I had obtained, puzzled as to its actual course; and I thought it as likely that it might turn into the heart of the interior, as that it would make to the south. It had not, however, escaped my notice, that the northern rivers turned more abruptly southward (after gaining a certain distance from the base of the ranges) than the more southern streams: near the junction of the Castlereagh with the Darling especially, the number of large creeks joining the first river from the north, led me to conclude that there was at that particular spot a rapid fall of country to the south.
The first thing that strengthened in my mind this half-formed opinion, was the fall of the Lachlan into the Morumbidgee. I had been told that Australia was a basin; that an unbroken range of hills lined its coasts, the internal rivers of which fell into its centre, and contributed to the formation of an inland sea; I was not therefore prepared to find a break in the chain—a gap as it were for the escape of these waters to the coast.
Subsequently to our entrance into the Murray, the remarkable efforts of that river to maintain a southerly course were observed even by the men, and the singular runs it made to the south, when unchecked by high lands, clearly evinced its natural tendency to flow in that direction.
Had we found ourselves at an elevation above the bed of the Darling when we reached the junction of the principal tributary with the Murray, I should still have had doubts on my mind as to the identity of that tributary with the first-mentioned river; but considering the trifling elevation of the Darling above the sea, and that the junction was still less elevated above it, I cannot bring myself to believe that the former alters its course. It is not, however, on this simple geographical principle that I have built my conclusions; other corroborative circumstances have tended also to confirm in my mind the opinion I have already given, not only of the comparatively recent appearance above the ocean of the level country over which I had passed, but that the true dip of the interior is from north to south.
In support of the first of these conclusions, it would appear that a current of water must have swept the vast accumulation of shells, forming the great fossil bank through which the Murray passes from the northern extremity of the continent, to deposit them where they are; and it would further appear from the gradual rise of this bed, on an inclined plain from N.N.E. to S.S.W., that it must in the first instance, have swept along the base of the ranges, but ultimately turned into the above direction by the convexity of the mountains at the S.E. angle of the coast. From the circumstance, moreover, of the summit of the fossil formation being in places covered with oyster shells, the fact of the whole mass having been under water is indisputable, and leads us naturally to the conclusion that the depressed interior beyond it must have been under water at the same time.
It was proved by barometrical admeasurement, that the cataract of the Macquarie was 680 feet above the level of the sea, and, in like manner, it was found that the depot of Mr. Oxley, on the Lachlan, was only 500, there being a still greater fall of country beyond these two points. The maximum height of the fossil bank was 300 feet; and if we suppose a line to be drawn from its top to the eastward, that line would pass over the marshes of the two rivers, and would cut them at a point below which they both gradually diminish. Hence I am brought to conclude that in former times the sea washed the western base of the dividing ranges, at or near the two points whose respective elevations I have given; and that when the mass of land now lying waste and unproductive, became exposed, the rivers, which until then had pursued a regular course to the ocean, having no channel beyond their original termination, overflowed the almost level country into which they now fall; or, filling some extensive concavity, have contributed, by successive depositions, to the formation of those marshes of which so much has been said. I regret extremely, that my defective vision prevents me giving a slight sketch to elucidate whet I fear I have, in words, perhaps, failed in making sufficiently intelligible.
Now, as we know not by what means the changes that have taken place on the earth’s surface have been effected, and can only reason on them from analogy, it is to be feared we shall never arrive at any clear demonstration of the truth of our surmises with regard to geographical changes, whether extensive or local, since the causes which produced them will necessarily have ceased to operate. We cannot refer to the dates when they took place, as we may do in regard to the eruptions of a volcano, or the appearance or disappearance of an island. Such events are of minor importance. Those mighty changes to which I would be understood to allude, can hardly be laid to the account of chemical agency. We can easily comprehend how subterranean fires will occasionally burst forth, and can thus satisfactorily account for earthquake or volcano; but it is not to any clashing of properties, or to any visible causes, that the changes of which I speak can be attributed. They appear rather as the consequences of direct agency, of an invisible power, not as the occasional and fretful workings of nature herself. The marks of that awful catastrophe which so nearly extinguished the human race, are every day becoming more and more visible as geological research proceeds. Thus, in the limestone caves at Wellington Valley, the remains of fossils and exuviae, show that their depths were penetrated by the same searching element that poured into the caverns of Kirkdale and other places. They are as gleams of sunshine falling upon the pages of that sublime and splendid volume, in which the history of the deluge is alone to be found; as if the Almighty intended that His word should stand single and unsupported before mankind: and when we consider that such corroborative testimonies of his wrath, as those I have noticed, were in all probability wholly unknown to those who wrote that sacred book, the discovery of the remains of a past world, must strike those under whose knowledge it may fall with the truth of that awful event, which language has vainly endeavoured to describe and painters to represent.
CHART of CAPE JERVIS
Environs of the lake Alexandrina—Appointment of Capt. Barker to make a further survey of the coast near Encounter Bay—Narrative of his proceedings—Mount Lofty, Mount Barker, and beautiful country adjacent—Australian salmon—Survey of the coast—Outlet of lake to the sea—Circumstances that led to the slaughter of Capt. Barker by the natives—His character—Features of this part of the country and capabilities of its coasts—Its adaptation for colonization—Suggestions for the furtherance of future Expeditions.
The foregoing narrative will have given the reader some idea of the state in which the last expedition reached the bottom of that extensive and magnificent basin which receives the waters of the Murray. The men were, indeed, so exhausted, in strength, and their provisions so much reduced by the time they gained the coast, that I doubted much, whether either would hold out to such place as we might hope for relief. Yet, reduced as the whole of us were from previous exertion, beset as our homeward path was by difficulty and danger, and involved as our eventual safety was in obscurity and doubt, I could not but deplore the necessity that obliged me to re-cross the Lake Alexandrina (as I had named it in honour of the heir apparent to the British crown), and to relinquish the examination of its western shores. We were borne over its ruffled and agitated surface with such rapidity, that I had scarcely time to view it as we passed; but, cursory as my glance was, I could but think I was leaving behind me the fullest reward of our toil, in a country that would ultimately render our discoveries valuable, and benefit the colony for whose interests we were engaged. Hurried, I would repeat, as my view of it was, my eye never fell on a country of more promising aspect, or of more favourable position, than that which occupies the space between the lake and the ranges of St. Vincent’s Gulf, and, continuing northerly from Mount Barker, stretches away, without any visible boundary.
It appeared to me that, unless nature had deviated from her usual laws, this tract of country could not but be fertile, situated as it was to receive the mountain deposits on the one hand, and those of the lake upon the other.
In my report to the Colonial Government, however, I did not feel myself justified in stating, to their full extent, opinions that were founded on probability and conjecture alone. But, although I was guarded in this particular, I strongly recommended a further examination of the coast, from the most eastern point of Encounter Bay, to the head St. Vincent’s Gulf, to ascertain if any other than the known channel existed among the sand-hills of the former, or if, as I had every reason to hope from the great extent of water to the N.W., there was a practicable communication with the lake from the other; and I ventured to predict, that a closer survey of the interjacent country, would be attended with the most beneficial results; nor have I a doubt that the promontory of Cape Jervis would ere this have been settled, had Captain Barker lived to complete his official reports.
The governor, General Darling, whose multifarious duties might well have excused him from paying attention to distant objects, hesitated not a moment when he thought the interests of the colony, whose welfare he so zealously promoted, appeared to be concerned; and he determined to avail himself of the services of Captain Collet Barker, of the 39th regiment, who was about to be recalled from King George’s Sound, in order to satisfy himself as to the correctness of my views.
Captain Barker had not long before been removed from Port Raffles, on the northern coast, where he had had much intercourse with the natives, and had frequently trusted himself wholly in their hands. It was not, however, merely on account of his conciliating manners, and knowledge of the temper and habits of the natives, that he was particularly fitted for the duty upon which it was the governor’s pleasure to employ him. He was, in addition, a man of great energy of character, and of much and various information.
Orders having reached Sydney, directing the establishment belonging to New South Wales to be withdrawn, prior to the occupation of King George’s Sound by the government of Western Australia, the Isabella schooner was sent to receive the troops and prisoners on board; and Captain Barker was directed, as soon as he should have handed over the settlement to Captain Stirling, to proceed to Cape Jervis, from which point it was thought he could best carry on a survey not only of the coast but also of the interior.
This excellent and zealous officer sailed from King George’s Sound, on the 10th of April, 1831, and arrived off Cape Jervis on the 13th. He was attended by Doctor Davies, one of the assistant surgeons of his regiment, and by Mr. Kent, of the Commissariat. It is to the latter gentleman that the public are indebted for the greater part of the following details; he having attended Captain Barker closely during the whole of this short but disastrous excursion, and made notes as copious as they are interesting. At the time the Isabella arrived off Cape Jervis, the weather was clear and favourable. Captain Barker consequently stood into St. Vincent’s Gulf, keeping, as near as practicable, to the eastern shore, in soundings that varied from six to ten fathoms, upon sand and mud. His immediate object was to ascertain if there was any communication with the lake Alexandrina from the gulf. He ascended to lat. 34° 40´ where he fully satisfied himself that no channel did exist between them. He found, however, that the ranges behind Cape Jervis terminated abruptly at Mount Lofty, in lat. 34° 56´, and, that a flat and wooded country succeeded to the N. and N.E. The shore of the gulf tended more to the N.N.W., and mud flats and mangrove swamps prevailed along it.
Mr. Kent informs me, that they landed for the first time on the 15th, but that they returned almost immediately to the vessel. On the 17th, Captain Barker again landed, with the intention of remaining on shore for two or three days. He was accompanied by Mr. Kent, his servant Mills, and two soldiers. The boat went to the place at which they had before landed, as they thought they had discovered a small river with a bar entrance. They crossed the bar, and ascertained that it was a narrow inlet, of four miles in length, that terminated at the base of the ranges. The party were quite delighted with the aspect of the country on either side of the inlet, and with the bold and romantic scenery behind them. The former bore the appearance of natural meadows, lightly timbered, and covered with a variety of grasses. The soil was observed to be a rich, fat, chocolate coloured earth, probably the decomposition of the deep blue limestone, that showed itself along the coast hereabouts. On the other hand, a rocky glen made a cleft in the ranges at the head of the inlet; and they were supplied with abundance of fresh water which remained in the deeper pools that had been filled by the torrents during late rains. The whole neighbourhood was so inviting that the party slept at the head of the inlet.
In the morning, Captain Barker proceeded to ascend Mount Lofty, accompanied by Mr. Kent and his servant, leaving the two soldiers at the bivouac, at which he directed them to remain until his return. Mr. Kent says they kept the ridge all the way, and rose above the sea by a gradual ascent. The rock-formation of the lower ranges appeared to be an argillaceous schist; the sides and summit of the ranges were covered with verdure, and the trees upon them were of more than ordinary size. The view to the eastward was shut out by other ranges, parallel to those on which they were; below them to the westward, the same pleasing kind of country that flanked the inlet still continued.
In the course of the day they passed round the head of a deep ravine, whose smooth and grassy sides presented a beautiful appearance. The party stood 600 feet above the bed of a small rivulet that occupied the bottom of the ravine. In some places huge blocks of granite interrupted its course, in others the waters had worn the rock smooth. The polish of these rocks was quite beautiful, and the veins of red and white quartz which traversed them, looked like mosaic work. They did not gain the top of Mount Lofty, but slept a few miles beyond the ravine. In the morning they continued their journey, and, crossing Mount Lofty, descended northerly, to a point from which the range bent away a little to the N.N.E., and then terminated. The view from this point was much more extensive than that from Mount Lofty itself. They overlooked a great part of the gulf, and could distinctly see the mountains at the head of it to the N.N.W. To the N.W. there was a considerable indentation in the coast, which had escaped Captain Barker’s notice when examining it. A mountain, very similar to Mount Lofty, bore due east of them, and appeared to be the termination of its range. They were separated by a valley of about ten miles in width, the appearance of which was not favourable. Mr. Kent states to me, that Capt. Barker observed at the time that he thought it probable I had mistaken this hill for Mount Lofty, since it shut out the view of the lake from him, and therefore he naturally concluded, I could not have seen Mount Lofty. I can readily imagine such an error to have been made by me, more especially as I remember that at the time I was taking bearings in the lake, I thought Captain Flinders had not given Mount Lofty, as I then conceived it to be, its proper position in longitude. Both hills are in the same parallel of latitude. The mistake on my part is obvious. I have corrected it in the charts, and have availed myself of the opportunity thus afforded me of perpetuating, as far as I can, the name of an inestimable companion in Captain Barker himself
Immediately below the point on which they stood, Mr. Kent says, a low undulating country extended to the northward, as far as he could see. It was partly open, and partly wooded; and was every where covered with verdure. It continued round to the eastward, and apparently ran down southerly, at the opposite base of the mount Barker Range. I think there can be but little doubt that my view from the S.E., that is, from the lake, extended over the same or a part of the same country. Captain Barker again slept on the summit of the range, near a large basin that looked like the mouth of a crater, in which huge fragments of rocks made a scene of the utmost confusion. These rocks were a coarse grey granite, of which the higher parts and northern termination of the Mount Lofty range are evidently formed; for Mr. Kent remarks that it superseded the schistose formation at the ravine we have noticed—and that, subsequently, the sides of the hills became more broken, and valleys, or gullies, more properly speaking, very numerous. Captain Barker estimated the height of Mount Lofty above the sea at 2,400 feet, and the distance of its summit from the coast at eleven miles. Mr. Kent says they were surprised at the size of the trees on the immediate brow of it; they measured one and found it to be 43 feet in girth. Indeed, he adds, vegetation did not appear to have suffered either from its elevated position, or from any prevailing wind. Eucalypti were the general timber on the ranges; one species of which, resembling strongly the black butted-gum, was remarkable for a scent peculiar to its bark.
The party rejoined the soldiers on the 21st, and enjoyed the supply of fish which they had provided for them. The soldiers had amused themselves by fishing during Captain Barker’s absence, and had been abundantly successful. Among others they had taken a kind of salmon, which, though inferior in size, resembled in shape, in taste, and in the colour of its flesh, the salmon of Europe. I fancied that a fish which I observed with extremely glittering scales, in the mouth of a seal, when myself on the coast, must have been of this kind; and I have no doubt that the lake is periodically visited by salmon, and that these fish retain their habits of entering fresh water at particular seasons, also in the southern hemisphere.
Immediately behind Cape Jervis, there is a small bay, in which according to the information of the sealers who frequent Kangaroo Island, there is good and safe anchorage for seven months in the year, that is to say, during the prevalence of the E. and N.E. winds.
Captain Barker landed on the 21st on this rocky point at the northern extremity of this bay. He had, however, previously to this, examined the indentation in the coast which he had observed from Mount Lofty, and had ascertained that it was nothing more than an inlet; a spit of sand, projecting from the shore at right angles with it, concealed the month of the inlet. They took the boat to examine this point, and carried six fathoms soundings round the head of the spit to the mouth of the inlet, when it shoaled to two fathoms, and the landing was observed to be bad, by reason of mangrove swamps on either side of it. Mr. Kent, I think, told me that this inlet was from ten to twelve miles long. Can it be that a current setting out of it at times, has thrown up the sand-bank that protects its mouth, and that trees, or any other obstacle, have hidden its further prolongation from Captain Barker’s notice? I have little hope that such is the case, but the remark is not an idle one.
Between this inlet and the one formerly mentioned, a small and clear stream was discovered, to which Captain Barker kindly gave my name. On landing, the party, which consisted of the same persons as the former one, found themselves in a valley, which opened direct upon the bay. It was confined to the north from the chief range by a lateral ridge, that gradually declined towards and terminated at, the rocky point on which they had landed. The other side of the valley was formed of a continuation of the main range, which also gradually declined to the south, and appeared to be connected with the hills at the extremity of the cape. The valley was from nine to ten miles in length, and from three to four in breadth. In crossing it, they ascertained that the lagoon from which the schooner had obtained a supply of water, was filled by a watercourse that came down its centre. The soil in the valley was rich, but stony in some parts. There was an abundance of pasture over the whole, from amongst which they started numerous kangaroos. The scenery towards the ranges was beautiful and romantic, and the general appearance of the country such as to delight the whole party.
Preserving a due east course, Captain Barker passed over the opposite range of hills, and descended almost immediately into a second valley that continued to the southwards. Its soil was poor and stony, and it was covered with low scrub. Crossing it, they ascended the opposite range, from the summit of which they had a view of Encounter Bay. An extensive flat stretched from beneath them to the eastward, and was backed, in the distance, by sand hummocks, and low wooded hills. The extreme right of the flat rested upon the coast, at a rocky point near which there were two or three islands. From the left a beautiful valley opened upon it. A strong and clear rivulet from this valley traversed the flat obliquely, and fell into the sea at the rocky point, or a little to the southward of it. The hills forming the opposite side of the valley had already terminated. Captain Barker, therefore, ascended to higher ground, and, at length, obtained a view of the Lake Alexandrina, and the channel of its communication with the sea to the N.E. He now descended to the flat, and frequently expressed his anxious wish to Mr. Kent that I had been one of their number to enjoy the beauty of the scenery around them, and to participate in their labours. Had fate so ordained it, it is possible the melancholy tragedy that soon after occurred might have been averted.
At the termination of the flat they found themselves upon the banks of the channel, and close to the sand hillock under which my tents had been pitched. From this point they proceeded along the line of sand-hills to the outlet; from which it would appear that Kangaroo Island is not visible, but that the distant point which I mistook for it was the S.E. angle of Cape Jervis. I have remarked, in describing that part of the coast, that there is a sand-hill to the eastward of the inlet, under which the tide runs strong, and the water is deep. Captain Barker judged the breadth of the channel to be a quarter of a mile, and he expressed a desire to swim across it to the sand-hill to take bearings, and to ascertain the nature of the strand beyond it to the eastward.
It unfortunately happened, that he was the only one of the party who could swim well, in consequence of which his people remonstrated with him on the danger of making the attempt unattended. Notwithstanding, however, that he was seriously indisposed, he stripped, and after Mr. Kent had fastened his compass on his head for him, he plunged into the water, and with difficulty gained the opposite side; to effect which took him nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds. His anxious comrades saw him ascend the hillock, and take several bearings; he then descended the farther side, and was never seen by them again.
For a considerable time Mr. Kent remained stationary, in momentary expectation of his return; but at length, taking the two soldiers with him, he proceeded along the shore in search of wood for a fire. At about a quarter of a mile, the soldiers stopped and expressed their wish to return, as their minds misgave them, and they feared that Captain Barker had met with some accident. While conversing, they heard a distant shout, or cry, which Mr. Kent thought resembled the call of the natives, but which the soldiers positively declared to be the voice of a white man. On their return to their companions, they asked if any sounds had caught their ears, to which they replied in the negative. The wind was blowing from the E.S.E., in which direction Captain Barker had gone; and, to me, the fact of the nearer party not having heard that which must have been his cries for assistance, is satisfactorily accounted for, as, being immediately under the hill, the sounds must have passed over their heads to be heard more distinctly at the distance at which Mr. Kent and the soldiers stood. It is more than probable, that while his men were expressing their anxiety about him, the fearful tragedy was enacting which it has become my painful task to detail.
Evening closed in without any signs of Captain Barker’s return, or any circumstance by which Mr. Kent could confirm his fears that he had fallen into the hands of the natives. For, whether it was that the tribe which had shown such decided hostility to me when on the coast had not observed the party, none made their appearance; and if I except two, who crossed the channel when Mr. Kent was in search of wood, they had neither seen nor heard any; and Captain Barker’s enterprising disposition being well known to his men, hopes were still entertained that he was safe. A large fire was kindled, and the party formed a silent and anxious group around it. Soon after night-fall, however, their attention was roused by the sounds of the natives, and it was at length discovered, that they had lighted a chain of small fires between the sand-hill Captain Barker had ascended and the opposite side of the channel, around which their women were chanting their melancholy dirge. It struck upon the ears of the listeners with an ominous thrill, and assured them of the certainty of the irreparable loss they had sustained. All night did those dismal sounds echo along that lonely shore, but as morning dawned, they ceased, and Mr. Kent and his companions were again left in anxiety and doubt. They, at length, thought it most advisable to proceed to the schooner to advise with Doctor Davies. They traversed the beach with hasty steps, but did not get on board till the following day. It was then determined to procure assistance from the sealers on Kangaroo Island, as the only means by which they could ascertain their leader’s fate, and they accordingly entered American Harbour. For a certain reward, one of the men agreed to accompany Mr. Kent to the main with a native woman, to communicate with the tribe that was supposed to have killed him. They landed at or near the rocky point of Encounter Bay, where they were joined by two other natives, one of whom was blind. The woman was sent forward for intelligence, and on her return gave the following details:
It appears that at a very considerable distance from the first sand-hill, there is another to which Captain Barker must have walked, for the woman stated that three natives were going to the shore from their tribe, and that they crossed his tract. Their quick perception immediately told them it was an unusual impression. They followed upon it, and saw Captain Barker returning. They hesitated for a long time to approach him, being fearful of the instrument he carried. At length, however, they closed upon him. Capt. Barker tried to soothe them, but finding that they were determined to attack him, he made for the water from which he could not have been very distant. One of the blacks immediately threw his spear and struck him in the hip. This did not, however, stop him. He got among the breakers, when he received the second spear in the shoulder. On this, turning round, he received a third full in the breast: with such deadly precision do these savages cast their weapons. It would appear that the third spear was already on its flight when Capt. Barker turned, and it is to be hoped, that it was at once mortal. He fell on his back into the water. The natives then rushed in, and dragging him out by the legs, seized their spears, and indicted innumerable wounds upon his body; after which, they threw it into deep water, and the sea-tide carried it away.
Such, we have every reason to believe, was the untimely fate of this amiable and talented man. It is a melancholy satisfaction to me thus publicly to record his worth; instrumental, as I cannot but in some measure consider my last journey to have been in leading to this fatal catastrophe. Captain Barker was in disposition, as he was in the close of his life, in many respects similar to Captain Cook. Mild, affable, and attentive, he had the esteem and regard of every companion, and the respect of every one under him. Zealous in the discharge of his public duties, honourable and just in private life; a lover and a follower of science; indefatigable and dauntless in his pursuits; a steady friend, an entertaining companion; charitable, kind-hearted, disinterested, and sincere—the task is equally difficult to find adequate expressions of praise or of regret. In him the king lost one of his most valuable officers, and his regiment one of its most efficient members. Beloved as he was, the news of his loss struck his numerous friends with sincere grief, but by none was it more severely felt than by the humble individual who has endeavoured thus feebly to draw his portrait.
From the same source from which the particulars of his death were obtained, it was reported that the natives who perpetrated the deed were influenced by no other motive than curiosity to ascertain if they had power to kill a white man. But we must be careful in giving credit to this, for it is much more probable that the cruelties exercised by the sealers towards the blacks along the south coast, may have instigated the latter to take vengeance on the innocent as well as on the guilty. It will be seen, by a reference to the chart, that Captain Barker, by crossing the channel, threw himself into the very hands of that tribe which had evinced such determined hostility to myself and my men. He got into the rear of their strong hold, and was sacrificed to those feelings of suspicion, and to that desire of revenge, which the savages never lose sight of until they have been gratified.
It yet remains for me to state that when Mr. Kent returned to the schooner, after this irreparable loss, he kept to the south of the place at which he had crossed the first range with Captain Barker, and travelled through a valley right across the promontory. He thus discovered that there was a division in the ranges, through which there was a direct and level road from the little bay on the northern extremity of which they had last landed in St. Vincent’s Gulf, to the rocky point of Encounter Bay. The importance of this fact will be better estimated, when it is known that good anchorage is secured to small vessels inside the island that lies off the point of Encounter Bay, which is rendered still safer by a horse shoe reef that forms, as it were, a thick wall to break the swell of the sea. But this anchorage is not safe for more than five months in the year. Independently of these points, however, Mr. Kent remarks, that the spit a little to the north of Mount Lofty would afford good shelter to minor vessels under its lee. When the nature of the country is taken into consideration, and the facility of entering that which lies between the ranges and the Lake Alexandrina, from the south, and of a direct communication with the lake itself, the want of an extensive harbour will, in some measure, be compensated for, more especially when it is known that within four leagues of Cape Jervis, a port little inferior to Port Jackson, with a safe and broad entrance, exists at Kangaroo Island. The sealers have given this spot the name of American Harbour. In it, I am informed, vessels are completely land-locked, and secure from every wind. Kangaroo Island is not, however, fertile by any means. It abounds in shallow lakes filled with salt water during high tides, and which, by evaporation, yield a vast quantity of salt.
I gathered from the sealers that neither the promontory separating St. Vincent from Spencer’s Gulf, nor the neighbourhood of Port Lincoln, are other than barren and sandy wastes. They all agree in describing Port Lincoln itself as a magnificent roadstead, but equally agree as to the sterility of its shores. It appears, therefore, that the promontory of Cape Jervis owes its superiority to its natural features; in fact, to the mountains that occupy its centre, to the debris that has been washed from them, and to the decomposition of the better description of its rocks. Such is the case at Illawarra, where the mountains approach the sea; such indeed is the case every where, at a certain distance from mountain ranges.
From the above account it would appear that a spot has, at length, been found upon the south coast of New Holland, to which the colonist might venture with every prospect of success, and in whose valleys the exile might hope to build for himself and for his family a peaceful and prosperous home. All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of St. Vincent’s Gulf, agree as to the richness of its soil, and the abundance of its pasture. Indeed, if we cast our eyes upon the chart, and examine the natural features of the country behind Cape Jervis, we shall no longer wonder at its differing in soil and fertility from the low and sandy tracks that generally prevail along the shores of Australia. Without entering largely into the consideration of the more remote advantages that would, in all human probability, result from the establishment of a colony, rather than a penal settlement, at St. Vincent’s Gulf, it will be expedient to glance hastily over the preceding narrative, and, disengaging it from all extraneous matter, to condense, as much as possible, the information it contains respecting the country itself; for I have been unable to introduce any passing remark, lest I should break the thread of an interesting detail.
The country immediately behind Cape Jervis may, strictly speaking, be termed a promontory, bounded to the west by St. Vincent’s Gulf, and to the east by the lake Alexandrina, and the sandy track separating that basin from the sea. Supposing a line to be drawn from the parallel of 34° 40´ to the eastward, it will strike the Murray river about 25 miles above the head of the lake, and will clear the ranges, of which Mount Lofty and Mount Barker are the respective terminations. This line will cut off a space whose greatest breadth will be 55 miles, whose length from north to south will be 75, and whose surface exceeds 7 millions of acres; from which if we deduct 2 millions for the unavailable hills, we shall have 5 millions of acres of land, of rich soil, upon which no scrub exists, and whose most distant points are accessible, through a level country on the one hand, and by water on the other. The southern extremity of the ranges can be turned by that valley through which Mr. Kent returned to the schooner, after Captain Barker’s death. It is certain, therefore, that this valley not only secures so grand a point, but also presents a level line of communication from the small bay immediately to the north of the cape, to the rocky point of Encounter Bay, at both of which places there is safe anchorage at different periods of the year.
The only objection that can be raised to the occupation of this spot, is the want of an available harbour. Yet it admits of great doubt whether the contiguity of Kangaroo Island to Cape Jervis, (serving as it does to break the force of the prevailing winds, as also of the heavy swell that would otherwise roll direct into the bay,) and the fact of its possessing a safe and commodious harbour, certainly at an available distance, does not in a great measure remove the objection. Certain it is that no port, with the exception of that on the shores of which the capital of Australia is situated, offers half the convenience of this, although it be detached between three and four leagues from the main.
On the other hand it would appear, that there is no place from which at any time the survey of the more central parts of the continent could be so effectually carried on; for in a country like Australia, where the chief obstacle to be apprehended in travelling is the want of water, the facilities afforded by the Murray and its tributaries, are indisputable; and I have little doubt that the very centre of the continent might be gained by a judicious and enterprising expedition. Certainly it is most desirable to ascertain whether the river I have supposed to be the Darling be really so or not. I have stated my objection to depots, but I think that if a party commenced its operations upon the Murray from the junction upwards, and, after ascertaining the fact of its ultimate course, turned away to the N.W. up one of the tributaries of the Murray, with a supply of six months’ provisions, the results would be of the most satisfactory kind, and the features of the country be wholly developed. I cannot, I think, conclude this work better than by expressing a hope, that the Colonial Government will direct such measures to be adopted as may be necessary for the extension of our geographical knowledge in Australia. The facilities of fitting out expeditions in New South Wales, render the expenses of little moment, when compared with the importance of the object in view; and although I am labouring under the effects of former attempts, yet would I willingly give such assistance as I could to carry such an object into effect.
GEOLOGICAL SPECIMENS FOUND TO THE SOUTH-WEST OF PORT JACKSON.
Considering the nature of the country over which the first expedition travelled, it could hardly have been expected that its geological specimens would be numerous. It will appear, however, from the following list of rocks collected during the second expedition, that the geological formation of the mountains to the S.W. of Port Jackson is as various as that to the N.W. of it is mountainous. The specimens are described not according to their natural order, but in the succession in which they were found, commencing from Yass Plains, and during the subsequent stages of the journey.
Sandstone, Old Red.—Found on various parts of Yass Plains, in contact with
Limestone, Transition.—Colour dark grey; composes the bed of the Yass River, and apparently traverses the sandstone formation. Yass Plains lie 170 miles to the S.W. of Sydney.
Sandstone, Old Red.—Again succeeds the limestone, and continues to the N.W. to a considerable distance over a poor and scrubby country, covered for the most part with a dwarf species of Eucalyptus.
Granite.—Colour grey; feldspar, black mica, and quartz: succeeds the sandstone, and continues to the S.W. as far as the Morumbidgee River, over an open forest country broken into hill and dale. It is generally on these granite rocks that the best grazing is found.
Greywacke.—Colour grey, of light hue, or dark, with black specks. Soft.—Composition of a part of the ranges that form the valley of the Morumbidgee.
Serpentine.—Colour green of different shades, striped sulphur yellow; slaty fracture, soft and greasy to the touch. Forms hills of moderate elevation, of peculiarly sharp spine, resting on quartz. Composition of most of the ranges opposite the Doomot River on the Morumbidgee, in lat. 35° 4´ and long. 147° 40´.
Quartz.—Colour snow-white; formation of the higher ranges on the left bank of the Morumbidgee, in the same latitude and longitude as above; showing in large blocks on the sides of the hills.
Slaty Quartz, with varieties.—Found with the quartz rock, in a state of decomposition.
Granite.—Succeeds the serpentine, of light colour; feldspar decomposed; mica, glittering and silvery white.
Sandstone, Old Red.—Composition of the more distant ranges on the Morumbidgee. Forms abrupt precipices over the river flats; of sterile appearance, and covered with Banksias and scrub.
Mica Slate.—Colour dark brown, approaching red; mica glittering. The hills enclosing Pondebadgery Plain at the gorge of the valley of the Morumbidgee, are composed of this rock. They are succeeded by
Sandstone.—Which rises abruptly from the river in perpendicular cliffs, of 145 feet in height.
Jasper and Quartz.—Colour red and white. Forms the slope of the above sandstone, and may be considered the outermost of the rocks connected with the Eastern or Blue Mountain Ranges. It will be remembered that jasper and quartz were likewise found on a plain near the Darling River, precisely similar to the above, although occurring at so great a distance from each other.
Granite.—Light red colour; composition of a small isolated hill, to all appearance wholly unconnected with the neighbouring ranges. This specimen is very similar to that found in the bed of New-Year’s Creek.
Breccia.—Silicious cement, composed of a variety of pebbles. Formation of the most westerly of the hills between the Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers. This conglomerate was also found to compose the minor and most westerly of the elevations of the more northern interior.
Chrystallized Sulphate of Lime.—Found embedded in the deep alluvial soil in the banks of the Morumbidgee River, in lat. 34° 30´ S., and long. 144° 55´ E. The same substance was found on the banks of the Darling, in lat. 29° 49´ S., and in long. 145° 18´ E.
A reference to the chart will show that the Morumbidgee, from the first of the above positions, may be said to have entered the almost dead level of the interior. No elevation occurs to the westward for several hundreds of miles. A coarse grit occasionally traversed the beds of the rivers, and their lofty banks of clay or marl appear to be based on sandstone and granitic sand. The latter occurs in slabs of four inches in thickness, divided by a line of saffron-coloured sand, and seems to have been subjected to fusion, as if the particles or grains had been cemented together by fusion.
The first decided break that takes place in the level of the interior occurs upon the right bank of the Murray, a little below the junction of the Rufus with it. A cliff of from 120 to 130 feet in perpendicular elevation here flanks the river for about 200 yards, when it recedes from it, and forms a spacious amphitheatre that is occupied by semicircular hillocks, that partake of the same character as the cliff itself; the face of which showed the various substances of which it was composed in horizontal lines, that if prolonged would cut the same substance in the hillocks. Based upon a soft white sandstone, a bed of clay formed the lowest part of the cliff; upon this bed of clay, a bed of chalk reposed; this chalk was superseded by a thick bed of saponaceous earth, whilst the summit of the cliff was composed of a bright red sand. Semi-opal and hydrate of silex were found in the chalk, and some beautiful specimens of brown menelite were collected from the upper stratum of the cliff.
A little below this singular place, the country again declines, when a tertiary fossil formation shows itself, which, rising gradually as an inclined plain, ultimately attains an elevation of 300 feet. This formation continues to the very coast, since large masses of the rock were observed in the channel of communication between the lake and the ocean; and the hills to the left of the channel were based upon it. This great bank cannot, therefore, average less than from seventy to ninety miles in width. At its commencement, it strikingly resembled skulls piled one on the other, as well in colour as appearance. This effect had been produced by the constant rippling of water against the rock. The softer parts had been washed away, and the shells (a bed of Turritella) alone remained.
Plate I, Figures 1, 2, and 3, represent the selenite formation.
Plate II, represents a mass of the rock containing numerous kinds of shells, of which the following are the most conspicuous:
The following is a list of the fossils collected from various parts of this formation, from which it is evident that a closer examination would lead to the discovery of numberless species.
Plate III. Fig:
- Eschara celleporacea.
- ——- piriformis.
- ——- unnamed.
- Cellepora echinata.
- ——— escharoides?
- Retepora disticha.
- ——– vibicata.
- Glauconome rhombifera.
All Tertiary in Westphalia and England.
- Spatangus Hoffmanni—Goldfuss.
Tertiary, in Westphalia.
Corbula gallica—Paris basin—Tertiary.
Venus (Cytherea) laevigata—ibid.
—– ———- obliqua—ibid.
- Nucula—such is found in London clay.
- Pecten coarctatus?—Placentia.
- —— species unknown.
Two other Pectens also occur.
- One cast, genus unknown, perhaps a Cardium.
Bulla? Plate II., fig. 2.
- —— large species.*
———- in gyps.
- —– very short.*
- —– (Plate II., fig. 3.)*
- Two, unknown, (Also Plate II, fig. 4.)
The above all appear to belong to the newer tertiary formations.* These genera are scarcely ever, and some of them not at all, found in any but tertiary formations.
A block of coarse red granite forms an island in the centre of the river near the lake, but is nowhere else visible, although it is very probably the basis of the surrounding country.
ROCK FORMATION OF THE COAST RANGE OF ST. VINCENT’S GULF.
Primitive Transition Limestone.—Light grey, striped. Altered in appearance by volcanic action; occurs on the Ranges north of Cape Jervis.
Granite.—Colour, red; found on the west side of Encounter Bay.
Brown Spar.—South point of Cape Jervis.
Sandstone, Old Red.—East coast of St, Vincent’s Gulf.
Limestone, Transition.—Colour, blue. East Coast of St. Vincent’s Gulf. Formation near the first inlet. Continuing to the base of the Ranges.
Clay Slate.—Composition of the lower part of the Mount Lofty Range.
Granite.—Fine grained, red; forms the higher parts of the Mount Lofty Range.
Quartz, with Tourmaline.—Lower parts of the Mount Lofty Range.
Limestone Flustra, and their Corallines, probably tertiary.—From the mouth of the Sturt, on the coast line, nearly abreast of Mount Lofty.
1. MASS of FOSSILS of the TERTIARY FORMATION.
2. BULLA. Species uncertain
3. CONUS. ditto
4. GENUS. Unknown
1 & 2 CHRYSTALLIZED SELENITE.
FOSSILS of the TERTIARY FORMATION.
OFFICIAL REPORT TO THE COLONIAL GOVERNMENT.
Colonial Secretary’s Office, Sydney,
May 10, 1830.
His Excellency the Governor has much satisfaction in publishing the following report of the proceedings of an expedition undertaken for the purpose of tracing the course of the river “Morumbidgee,” and of ascertaining whether it communicated with the coast forming the southern boundary of the colony.
The expedition, which was placed under the direction of Captain Sturt, of his Majesty’s 39th Regiment, commenced its progress down the “Morumbidgee” on the 7th day of January last, having been occupied twenty-one days in performing the journey from Sydney.
On the 14th January they entered a new river running from east to west, now called the “Murray,” into which the “Morumbidgee” flows.
After pursuing the course of the “Murray” for several days, the expedition observed another river (supposed to be that which Captain Sturt discovered on his former expedition), uniting with the “Murray” which they examined about five miles above the junction.
The expedition again proceeded down the “Murray,” and fell in with another of its tributaries flowing from the south east, which Captain Sturt has designated the “Lindesay;” and on the 8th February the “Murray” was found to enter or form a lake, of from fifty to sixty miles in length, and from thirty to forty in breadth, lying immediately to the eastward of gulf St. Vincent, and extending to the southward, to the shore of “Encounter Bay.”
Thus has Captain Sturt added largely, and in a highly important degree, to the knowledge previously possessed of the interior.
His former expedition ascertained the fate of the rivers Macquarie and Castlereagh, on which occasion he also discovered a river which, there is every reason to believe, is, in ordinary seasons, of considerable magnitude.
Should this, as Captain Sturt supposes, prove to be the same river as that above-mentioned, as uniting with the “Murray,” the existence of an interior water communication for several hundreds of miles, extending from the northward of “Mount Harris,” down to the southern coast of the colony, will have been established.
It is to be regretted, that circumstances did not permit of a more perfect examination of the lake, (which has been called “Alexandrina”), as the immediate vicinage of Gulf St. Vincent furnishes a just ground of hope that a more practicable and useful communication may be discovered in that direction, than the channel which leads into “Encounter Bay.”
The opportunity of recording a second time the services rendered to the colony by Captain Sturt, is as gratifying to the government which directed the undertaking, as it is creditable to the individual who so successfully conducted it to its termination.—It is an additional cause of satisfaction to add, that every one, according to his sphere of action, has a claim to a proportionate degree of applause. All were exposed alike to the same privations and fatigue, and every one submitted with patience, manifesting the most anxious desire for the success of the expedition. The zeal of Mr. George M’Leay, the companion of Captain Sturt, when example was so important, could not fail to have the most salutary effect; and the obedience, steadiness, and good conduct of the men employed, merit the highest praise.
By his Excellency’s command,
Banks of the Morumbidgee, April 20th, 1830.
SIR,—The departure of Mr. George M’Leay for Sydney, who is anxious to proceed homewards as speedily as possible, affords me an earlier opportunity than would otherwise have presented itself, by which to make you acquainted with the circumstance of my return, under the divine protection, to the located districts; and I do myself the honour of annexing a brief account of my proceedings since the last communication for the information of His Excellency the Governor, until such time as I shall have it in my power to give in a more detailed report.
On the 7th of January, agreeably to the arrangements which had been made, I proceeded down the Morumbidgee in the whale boat, with a complement of six hands, independent of myself and Mr. M’Leay, holding the skiff in tow. The river, for several days, kept a general W.S.W. course; it altered little in appearance, nor did any material change take place in the country upon its banks. The alluvial flats had occasionally an increased breadth on either side of it, but the line of reeds was nowhere so extensive as from previous appearances I had been led to expect. About twelve miles from the depot, we passed a large creek junction from the N.E. which, from its locality and from the circumstance of my having been upon it in the direction of them, I cannot but conclude originates in the marshes of the Lachlan.
On the 11th, the Morumbidgee became much encumbered with fallen timber, and its current was at times so rapid that I was under considerable apprehension for the safety of the boats. The skiff had been upset on the 8th, and, although I could not anticipate such an accident to the large boat, I feared she would receive some more serious and irremediable injury. On the 14th, these difficulties increased upon us.—The channel of the river became more contracted, and its current more impetuous. We had no sooner cleared one reach, than fresh and apparently insurmountable dangers presented themselves to us in the next. I really feared that every precaution would have proved unavailing against such multiplied embarrassments, and that ere night we should have possessed only the wrecks of the expedition. From this state of anxiety, however, we were unexpectedly relieved, by our arrival at 2 p.m. at the termination of the Morumbidgee; from which we were launched into a broad and noble river, flowing from E. to W. at the rate of two and a half knots per hour, over a clear and sandy bed, of a medium width of from three to four hundred feet.
During the first stages of our journey upon this new river, which evidently had its rise in the mountains of the S.E., we made rapid progress to the W.N.W. through an unbroken and uninteresting country of equal sameness of feature and of vegetation. On the 23rd, as the boats were proceeding down it, several hundreds of natives made their appearance upon the right bank, having assembled with premeditated purposes of violence. I was the more surprised at this show of hostility, because we had passed on general friendly terms, not only with those on the Morumbidgee, but of the new river. Now, however, emboldened by numbers, they seemed determined on making the first attack, and soon worked themselves into a state of frenzy by loud and vehement shouting. As I observed that the water was shoaling fast, I kept in the middle of the stream; and, under an impression that it would be impossible for me to avoid a conflict, prepared for an obstinate resistance. But, at the very moment when, having arrived opposite to a large sand bank, on which they had collected, the foremost of the blacks had already advanced into the water, and I only awaited their nearer approach to fire upon them, their impetuosity was restrained by the most unlooked for and unexpected interference. They held back of a sudden, and allowed us to pass unmolested. The boat, however, almost immediately grounded on a shoal that stretched across the river, over which she was with some difficulty hauled into deeper water,—when we found ourselves opposite to a large junction from the eastward, little inferior to the river itself. Had I been aware of this circumstance, I should have been the more anxious with regard to any rupture with the natives, and I was now happy to find that most of them had laid aside their weapons and had crossed the junction, it appearing that they had previously been on a tongue of land formed by the two streams. I therefore landed among them to satisfy their curiosity and to distribute a few presents before I proceeded up it. We were obliged to use the four oars to stem the current against us; but, as soon as we had passed the mouth, got into deeper water, and found easier pulling, The parallel in which we struck it, and the direction from which it came, combined to assure me that this could be no other than the “Darling.” To the distance of two miles it retained a breadth of one hundred yards and a depth of twelve feet. Its banks were covered with verdure, and the trees overhanging them were of finer and larger growth than those on the new river by which we had approached it. Its waters had a shade of green, and were more turbid than those of its neighbours, but they were perfectly sweet to the taste.
Having satisfied myself on those points on which I was most anxious, we returned to the junction to examine it more closely.
The angle formed by the Darling with the new river is so acute, that neither can be said to be tributary to the other; but more important circumstances, upon which it is impossible for me to dwell at the present moment, mark them as distinct rivers, which have been formed by Nature for the same purposes, in remote and opposite parts of the island. Not having as yet given a name to the latter, I now availed myself of the opportunity of complying with the known wishes of His Excellency the Governor, and, at the same time, in accordance with my own feelings as a soldier I distinguished it by that of the “Murray.”
It had been my object to ascertain the decline of the vast plain through which the Murray flows, that I might judge of the probable fall of the waters of the interior; but by the most attentive observation I could not satisfy myself upon the point. The course of the Darling now confirmed my previous impression that it was to the south, which direction it was evident the Murray also, in the subsequent stages of our journey down it, struggled to preserve; from which it was thrown by a range of minor elevations into a more westerly one. We were carried as far as 139° 40´ of longitude, without descending below 34° in point of latitude; in consequence of which I expected that the river would ultimately discharge itself, either into St. Vincent’s Gulf or that of Spencer, more especially as lofty ranges were visible in the direction of them from the summit of the hills behind our camp, on the 2nd of February, which I laid down as the coast line bounding them.
A few days prior to the 2nd of February, we passed under some cliffs of partial volcanic origin, and had immediately afterwards entered a limestone country of the most singular formation. The river, although we had passed occasional rapids of the most dangerous kind, had maintained a sandy character from our first acquaintance with it to the limestone division. It now forced itself through a glen of that rock of half a mile in width, frequently striking precipices of more than two hundred feet perpendicular elevation, in which coral and fossil remains were plentifully embedded. On the 3rd February it made away to the eastward of south, in reaches of from two to four miles in length. It gradually lost its sandy bed, and became deep, still, and turbid; the glen expanded into a valley, and the alluvial flats, which had hitherto been of inconsiderable size, became proportionally extensive. The Murray increased in breadth to more than four hundred yards, with a depth of twenty feet of water close into the shore, and in fact formed itself into a safe and navigable stream for any vessels of the minor class. On the 6th the cliffs partially ceased, and on the 7th they gave place to undulating and picturesque hills, beneath which thousands of acres of the richest flats extended, covered, however, with reeds, and apparently subject to overflow at any unusual rise of the river.
It is remarkable that the view from the hills was always confined.—We were apparently running parallel to a continuation of the ranges we had seen on the 2nd, but they were seldom visible. The country generally seemed darkly wooded, and had occasional swells upon it, but it was one of no promise; the timber, chiefly box and pine, being of a poor growth, and its vegetation languid. On the 8th the hills upon the left wore a bleak appearance, and the few trees upon them were cut down as if by the prevailing winds. At noon we could not observe any land at the extremity of a reach we had just entered; some gentle hills still continued to form the left lank of the river, but the right was hid from us by high reeds. I consequently landed to survey the country from the nearest eminence, and found that we were just about to enter an extensive lake which stretched away to the S.W., the line of water meeting the horizon in that direction. Some tolerably lofty ranges were visible to the westward at the distance of forty miles, beneath which that shore was lost in haze. A hill, which I prejudged to be Mount Lofty, bearing by compass S. 141° W. More to the northward, the country was low and unbacked by any elevations. A bold promontory, which projected into the lake at the distance of seven leagues, ended the view to the south along the eastern shore; between which and the river the land also declined. The prospect altogether was extremely gratifying, and the lake appeared to be a fitting reservoir for the whole stream which had led us to it.
In the evening we passed the entrance; but a strong southerly wind heading us, we did not gain more than nine miles. In the morning it shifted to the N.E. where we stood out for the promontory on a S.S.W. course. At noon we were abreast of it, when a line of sand hummocks was ahead, scarcely visible in consequence of the great refraction about them; but an open sea behind us from the N.N.W. to the N.N.E. points of the compass. A meridian altitude observed here, placed us in 35° 25´ 15´´ S. lat.—At 1, I changed our course a little to the westward, and at 4 p.m. entered an arm of the lake leading W.S.W. On the point, at the entrance, some natives had assembled, but I could not communicate with them. They were both painted and armed, and evidently intended to resist our landing. Wishing, however, to gain some information from them, I proceeded a short distance below their haunt, and landed for the night, in hopes that, seeing us peaceably disposed, they would have approached the tents; but as they kept aloof, we continued our journey in the morning. The water, which had risen ten inches during the night, had fallen again in the same proportion, and we were stopped by shoals shortly after starting. In hopes that the return of tide would have enabled us to float over them, we waited for it very patiently, but were ultimately obliged to drag the boat across a mud-flat of more than a quarter of a mile into deeper water; but, after a run of about twenty minutes, were again checked by sand banks. My endeavours to push beyond a certain point were unsuccessful, and I was at length under the necessity of landing upon the south shore for the night. Some small hummocks were behind us, on the other side of which I had seen the ocean from our morning’s position; and whilst the men were pitching the tents, walked over them in company with Mr. M’Leay to the sea shore, having struck the coast at Encounter Bay, Cape Jervis, bearing by compass S. 81° W. distant between three and four leagues, and Kangaroo Island S.E. extremity S. 60° W. distant from nine to ten.
Thirty-two days had elapsed since we had left the depot, and I regretted in this stage of our journey, that I could not with prudence remain an hour longer on the coast than was necessary for me to determine the exit of the lake. From the angle of the channel on which we were, a bright sand-hill was visible at about nine miles distance to the E.S.E.; which, it struck me, was the eastern side of the passage communicating with the ocean. Having failed in our attempts to proceed further in the boat, and the appearance of the shoals at low water having convinced me of the impracticability of it, I determined on an excursion along the sea-shore to the southward and eastward, in anxious hopes that it would be a short one; for as we had had a series of winds from the S.W. which had now changed to the opposite quarter, I feared we should have to pull across the lake in our way homewards. I left the camp therefore at an early hour, in company with Mr. M’Leay and Fraser, and at day-break arrived opposite to the sand-bank I have mentioned. Between us and it the entrance into the back water ran. The passage is at all periods of the tide rather more than a quarter of a mile in width, and is of sufficient depth for a boat to enter, especially on the off side; but a line of dangerous breakers in the bay will always prevent an approach to it from the sea, except in the calmest weather, whilst the bay itself will always be a hazardous place for any vessels to enter under any circumstances.
Having, however, satisfactorily concluded our pursuit, we retraced our steps to the camp, and again took the following bearings as we left the beach, the strand trending E.S.E. 1/2 E.:—
|Kangaroo Island, S.E. angle . .||S. 60° W.|
|Low rocky point of Cape Jervis . .||S. 81° W.|
|Round Hill in centre of Range . .||S. 164° W.|
|Camp, distant one mile . .||S. 171° W.|
|Mount Lofty, distant forty miles . .||N. 9° E.|
Before setting sail, a bottle was deposited between four and five feet deep in a mound of soft earth and shells, close to the spot on which the tent had stood, which contained a paper of the names of the party, together with a simple detail of our arrival and departure.
It appeared that the good fortune, which had hitherto attended us was still to continue, for the wind which had been contrary, chopped round to the S.W., and ere sunset we were again in the mouth of the river, having run from fifty to sixty miles under as much canvass as the boat would bear, and with a heavy swell during the greater part of the day.
The lake which has thus terminated our journey, is from fifty to sixty miles in length, and from thirty to forty in width. With such an expanse of water, I am correct in stating its medium depth at four feet. There is a large bight in it to the S.E. and a beautiful and extensive bay to the N.W. At about seven miles from the mouth of the river, its waters are brackish, and at twenty-one miles they are quite salt, whilst seals frequent the lower parts. Considering this lake to be of sufficient importance, and in anticipation that its shores will, during her reign, if not at an earlier period, be peopled by some portion of her subjects, I have called it, in well-meant loyalty, “The Lake Alexandrina.”
It is remarkable that the Murray has few tributaries below the Darling. It receives one, however, of considerable importance from the S.E., to which I have given the name of the “Lindesay,” as a mark of respect to my commanding-officer, and in remembrance of the many acts of kindness I have received at his hands.
Having dwelt particularly on the nature of the country through which the expedition has passed in the pages of my journal, it may be unnecessary for me to enter into any description of it in this place, further than to observe, that the limestone continued down to the very coast, and that although the country in the neighbourhood of the Lake Alexandrina must, from local circumstances, be rich in point of soil, the timber upon it is of stunted size, and that it appears to have suffered from drought, though not to the same extent with the eastern coast. It is evident, however, that its vicinity to high lands does not altogether exempt it from such periodical visitations; still I have no doubt that my observations upon it will convince His Excellency the Governor, that it is well worthy of a closer, and more attentive examination, than I had it in my power to make.
In a geographical point of view, I am happy to believe that the result of this expedition has been conclusive; and that, combined with the late one, it has thrown much light upon the nature of the interior of the vast Island; that the decline of waters, as far as the parallel of 139° E., is to the south, and that the Darling is to the N.E. as the Murray is to the S.E. angle of the coast, the main channel by which the waters of the central ranges are thrown or discharged into one great reservoir.
Our journey homewards was only remarkable for its labour: in conclusion, therefore, it remains for me to add that we reached the depot on the 23rd of March.
Our sugar failed us on the 18th of February, and our salt provisions, in consequence of the accident which happened to the skiff, on the 8th of March; so that from the above period we were living on a reduced ration of flour; and as we took few fish, and were generally unsuccessful with our guns, the men had seldom more than their bread to eat.
I regretted to observe that they were daily falling off, and that although unremitting in their exertions they were well nigh exhausted, ere we reached the Morumbidgee.
We were from sunrise to five o’clock on the water, and from the day that we left the depot to that of our return we never rested upon our oars. We were thirty-nine days gaining the depot from the coast, against a strong current in both rivers, being seven more than it took us to go down. From the depot to this station we had seventeen days hard pulling, making a total of eighty-eight, during which time we could not have travelled over less than 2000 miles. I was under the necessity of stopping short on the 10th instant, and of detaching two men for the drays, which happily arrived on the 17th, on which day our stock of flour failed us. Had I not adopted this plan, the men would have become too weak to have pulled up to Pondebadgery, and we should no doubt have suffered some privations.
This detail will, I am sure, speak more in favour of the men composing the party than anything I can say. I would most respectfully recommend them all to His Excellency’s notice; and I beg to assure him that, during the whole of this arduous journey, they were cheerful, zealous, and obedient. They had many harassing duties to perform, and their patience and temper were often put to severe trials by the natives, of whom we could not have seen fewer than 4000 on the Murray alone.
I am to refer His Excellency the Governor to Mr. M’Leay for any more immediate information he may require,—to whom I stand indebted on many points—and not less in the anxiety he evinced for the success of the undertaking, than in the promptitude with which he assisted in the labours attendant on our return, and his uniform kindness to the men.
I have the honour to subscribe myself,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
Captain of the 39th Regt.
The Hon. the Colonial Secretary.