Part 8 out of 8
the organisation and conduct of a party calculated to effect the objects
in view, together with an estimate of the probable cost.
These documents I have submitted to such of the gentlemen composing the
Committee of the Leichhardt Association as I have had the opportunity of
consulting, and I have availed myself of their experience of the District
in which the Expedition would be organised.
Although I have allowed extreme rates for many of the items of
expenditure, yet, as in all undertakings of this description unavoidable
and unforeseen contingencies are certain to arise, I should scarcely feel
justified in naming the gross amount which should be available, though
not necessarily expended, at a less sum than 4,500 pounds.
I have, etc.,
The Honourable the Colonial Secretary.
MEMORANDUM FOR THE ORGANISATION OF AN EXPLORING EXPEDITION FOR THE
PURPOSE OF SEARCHING FOR TRACES OF DR. LEICHHARDT'S PARTY.
The objects of the proposed Expedition would be primarily to search for
traces of Dr. Leichhardt and his party, who started from the settled
districts of New South Wales in April, 1848, with the intention of
proceeding to Western Australia, and, if possible, to ascertain the fate
of that unfortunate explorer. Secondly, the examination of the country
both in the intervening spaces between the tracks of previous explorers,
and also beyond the limits of that hitherto explored, with a view of
developing its resources, especially with reference to its capabilities
The party despatched by the Colonial Government, under Mr. Hely, in
1851-2, traced Dr. Leichhardt to a spot near the head of the Warrego
Beyond this spot Dr. Leichhardt had expressed his intention of proceeding
down the Victoria River to its northern bend, and then shape his course
along the interior slope of the ranges which he supposed existed at the
sources of the streams flowing to the northern coast.
The proposed route of the searching Expedition would therefore be to
reach Leichhardt's last known camp, and then to examine the banks of the
Victoria River to the junction of the Alice River, at the northern bend,
where especial search would be made, as Dr. Leichhardt intended to leave
letters there, and would probably encamp for several days to recruit
before finally entering the unknown country; and the non-existence of
marks at this point would be almost conclusive evidence that the party
had perished nearer to the settlements.
In the search for traces of the missing party beyond this point (as it
could only be at the camping places that any traces would remain after so
long an interval), it would be necessary to follow such natural features
as would probably have influenced the party in the selection of its
route, assuming that the general course would be north-west.
The investigation having been carried to the fullest extent that time and
circumstances would admit, the searching party would adopt such a route
on its return as would intersect the greatest extent of unexamined
country. To effect these objects it is proposed to organise a party at
one of the outer stations, say at Surat, on the Lower Condamine River,
from which Leichhardt's last known camp is 230 miles, and the junction of
the Alice with the Victoria River, 370 miles, not allowing for
The party to consist of two sections, which may be termed the Exploring
and the Auxiliary parties.
The first would comprise eight persons, equipped and provisioned for 5
months, and for the conveyance of which 32 horses would be required, as
1 Aboriginal Stockman.
The second section would be composed of six persons, provisioned etc.,
for 2 months, and for the conveyance of which 13 horses would be
required, as follows:
1 Aboriginal Black.
These two sections would proceed together to the junction of the Alice
and Victoria Rivers, and would be sufficiently strong to detach parties
to examine points out of the more direct line of route which the main
body would follow.
On reaching the spot above referred to, the Exploring Party would be
fitted out in the most efficient manner for continuing its operations, by
selecting the strongest and most serviceable portion of the horses,
equipment, etc., while the Auxiliary Party would return with the
remainder to the settlements; thus affording nearly all the advantages of
a depot, without incurring the greater expense or inconvenience attending
the otherwise necessary return of the Exploring Party by the same route.
It is scarcely necessary to advert to the many advantages which would be
derived from this arrangement, for enabling the Exploring Party to reach
the extreme known point of country, with its strength impaired in the
least possible degree, while it would afford an opportunity of testing
the capabilities of the party to be finally selected.
ESTIMATE OF THE COST (IN POUNDS/SHILLINGS/PENCE) OF THE EQUIPMENT, ETC.,
OF THE EXPLORING PARTY.
1400 pounds Flour : 17/10/0.
500 pounds Bacon : 25/0/0.
400 pounds Sugar : 10/0/0.
70 pounds Tea : 7/0/0.
750 pounds Meat Biscuit : 37/10/0.
70 pounds Tobacco : 8/15/0.
20 pounds Sago : 0/13/4.
6 pounds Pepper : 0/6/0.
50 pounds Salt : 0/5/0.
50 pounds Soap : 0/18/8.
6 pounds Sperm Candles : 0/9/0.
150 pounds Dried Beef--800 pounds fresh meat : 10/0/0.
1000 pounds Fresh Meat : 12/0/0.
SUBTOTAL : 130/7/0.
45 Horses, at 40 pounds : 1800/0/0.
14 Riding Saddles, at 60 shillings : 42/0/0.
31 Pack Saddles, at 77 shillings 6 pence : 120/2/6.
45 Bridles and Headstalls, at 9 shillings : 20/5/0.
45 Horse Blankets, at 8 shillings : 18/0/0.
100 Hobbles, at 4 shillings : 20/0/0.
20 Pairs Girths, at 4 shillings : 4/0/0.
31 Canvas Saddle-bags, at 25 shillings : 38/17/0.
100 Provision Bags, at 3 shillings : 15/0/0.
40 Yards Canvas, at 1 shilling 6 pence : 3/0/0.
10 Horse-bells, at 6 shillings 6 pence : 3/5/0.
Materials for repairs, etc. : 20/0/0.
90 Sets Horse-straps and Nails : 10/0/0.
100 Saddle-straps, at 1 shilling : 5/0/0.
SUBTOTAL : 2119/9/6.
ARMS AND AMMUNITION.
13 Double guns, at 5 pounds : 65/0/0.
13 Revolvers, at 5 pounds : 65/0/0.
30 pounds Gunpowder : 6/0/0.
150 pounds Shot and Lead : 3/0/0.
5000 Percussion Caps : 1/10/0.
14 Belts and Pouches : 3/10/0.
14 Gun-buckets : 4/18/0.
Sundries : 10/0/0.
SUBTOTAL : 158/18/0.
14 Calico Sheets for Tents, at 12 shillings : 8/8/0.
50 yards Calico, at 6 pence : 1/5/0.
6 Camp Kettles, at 5 shillings : 1/10/0.
40 Pannikins, at 8 pence : 1/6/8.
3 Leather Buckets, at 17 shillings 6 pence : 2/12/6.
20 Tin Dishes, at 9 pence : 0/15/0.
2 Frying-Pans, at 4 shillings 6 pence : 0/9/0.
2 Water Bags, at 30 shillings : 3/0/0.
14 Water Holders, India-Rubber, at 10 shillings 6 pence : 7/7/0.
2 Socket Shovels, at 2 shillings 6 pence : 0/5/0.
2 spring Balances, at 7 shillings : 0/14/0.
SUBTOTAL : 27/12/2.
1 Sextant : 10/0/0.
1 Prismatic Compass : 3/0/0.
1 Artificial Horizon : 4/0/0.
4 Pocket Compasses : 1/0/0.
2 Aneroid Barometers : 7/0/0.
3 Thermometers : 1/1/0.
1 Lever Watch : 9/0/0.
Stationery : 5/0/0.
SUBTOTAL : 40/1/0.
20 Trousers, at 7 shillings : 7/0/0.
20 Serge Shirts, at 6 shillings : 6/0/0.
20 Cotton Shirts, at 3 shillings : 3/0/0.
20 Pairs of Boots, at 15 shillings : 15/0/0.
14 Blankets, at 10 shillings : 7/0/0.
14 Oiled Capes, at 10 shillings : 7/0/0.
SUBTOTAL : 45/0/0.
TOTAL EQUIPMENT : 2521/7/8.
Medical Stores and Drugs : 20/0/0.
Petty Contingencies : 50/0/0.
Collection and Forage for Horses prior to starting : 100/0/0.
Freights and Passages from Sydney to Moreton Bay : 50/0/0.
Conveyance of Stores from Brisbane to Surat : 200/0/0.
Contingent Expenses in the Collection of the Party at Surat : 100/0/0.
TOTAL CONTINGENCIES : 520/0/0.
Commander, 9 months, 600 pounds per annum : 450/0/0.
Assistant, 7 months, 300 pounds per annum : 175/0/0.
Overseer, 6 months, at 150 pounds per annum : 75/0/0.
4 Stockmen, 6 months, at 2 pounds per week : 208/0/0.
1 Aboriginal Stockman, 6 months : 20/0/0.
Leader of the Auxiliary Party, 3 months : 75/0/0.
4 Stockmen, 3 months : 104/0/0.
1 Aboriginal Stockman, 3 months : 10/0/0.
TOTAL SALARIES : 1117/0/0.
EQUIPMENT : 2521/7/8.
CONTINGENT EXPENSES : 520/0/0.
SALARIES : 1117/0/0.
TOTAL : 4158/7/8.
Sydney, 16th September, 1857.
1858. LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY, NEW SOUTH WALES.
EXPEDITION IN SEARCH OF DR. LEICHHARDT.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS.
ORDERED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY TO BE PRINTED, 1 SEPTEMBER, 1858.
REPORT OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE EXPEDITION IN SEARCH OF DR. LEICHHARDT
8TH DECEMBER, 1857, TO 11TH JANUARY, 1858.
Having received instructions from the Honourable the Secretary for Lands
and Public Works to organise an expedition for the purpose of searching
for traces of Dr. Leichhardt and party, who left New South Wales in 1848
with the intention of proceeding overland to Western Australia, I
proceeded to Moreton Bay with such portions of the equipment as had been
prepared in Sydney. On reaching Ipswich forty horses were purchased, and
having despatched the stores to Mr. Royd's station, on the Dawson River,
by drays, the party were collected at that place; but, owing to
unforeseen delays in the transport of the stores, the equipment and
organisation of the expedition was not complete till the latter part of
The following list of the party, horses, stores, etc., will show the
The party consisted of nine persons, namely: Commander A.C. Gregory;
assistant commander, C.F. Gregory; assistant, S. Burgoyne; overseer, G.
Phibbs; stockmen, etc., R. Bowman, W. Selby, T. Dunn, W. von Wedel, and
D. Worrell. The stock consisted of horses alone, comprising thirty-one
pack and nine saddle horses, completely equipped. Provisions comprised
the dried meat of two bullocks and four sheep, weighing, as butcher's
meat, 16 hundredweight; but when dried and the bones removed, reduced to
300 pounds. In addition to this 500 pounds bacon, 1600 pounds flour, 100
pounds rice, 350 pounds sugar, 60 pounds tea, 40 pounds tobacco, and some
minor articles. The arms and ammunition were: one minie rifle, eight
double-barrel guns, nine revolver pistols, 25 pounds gunpowder, 150
pounds shot and balls, percussion caps, etc. For the conveyance of water
two leather water-bags were provided, each holding five gallons, besides
which each of the party was furnished with a water-bag of India-rubber
holding three pints. The tents were made of calico, each suited for the
accommodation of two persons, and the several articles of camp equipage
were of the lightest construction consistent with the service required.
The instruments employed were an eight-inch sextant, box-sextant,
prismatic compasses, pocket compasses, double axis compass, aneroid
barometers, thermometers, and artificial horizon, etc. Including forty
sets of horse-shoes, farrier's and carpenter's tools, together with
sundry material for repairs, etc., the total weight of the equipment was
about 4,600 pounds, exclusive of the saddles and harness, which gave an
average load of 150 pounds as the net load carried by each pack-horse.
THE PARTY START FROM JUANDA STATION.
24th March to 27th March.
These arrangements being complete, the expedition left Juanda, and
proceeded by the road to Mr. Cardew's station at Euroomba, from which,
under the guidance of Mr. Bolton--whose local knowledge was of material
service--we made our way through the dense scrubs and broken country to
the west for about thirty miles, to the head of Scott's Creek, a small
tributary of the Dawson River.
The general course was now west-north-west through a country with rich
grassy valleys and dense scrubs of brigalow acacia on the higher ground.
Green grass was abundant at this time; but I fear that in seasons of
drought few of the waterholes are permanent; the timber consists of
ironbark, box, and a few other species of eucalyptus--the brigalow acacia
attaining the height of thirty feet; soft brown sandstones of the coal
measures are the prevailing rock, forming hills with table summits.
With some difficulty, owing to the dense scrubs, we crossed the basaltic
ridge which divides the eastern waters flowing to the Dawson River from
those trending to the west into the basin of the Maranoa River, a
tributary of which--probably the Merivale River--was followed westward.
The country became more sandy, timbered with ironbark, cypress, etc. The
whole was, however, well grassed, and suited for grazing, if not too
Reaching the Maranoa River in about latitude 25 degrees 45 minutes, water
was scarcely procurable in the sandy bed, and we had to dig wells to
obtain a supply.
7th April to 12th April.
Warned by the fact that Messrs. H. Gregory and Haly had been unable to
penetrate the country to the west from scarcity of water, even three
months earlier in the season, we followed up the Maranoa to Mount Owen,
and having found a sufficient supply of water and grass for a few days'
halt, I proceeded to reconnoitre the country to the west, and at length
found a practicable route to the tributaries of the Warrego River, to
which the party was advanced. A heavy shower of rain had filled the
gullies in this locality, and green grass clothed the country, forming a
striking contrast to the dry and waterless valley of the Maranoa.
15th to 16th April.
Fine openly timbered valleys, well suited for pasture, alternated with
ridges of scrub of brigalow acacia till we reached Mount Playfair, a
basaltic hill on the sandstone ridge which separates the Warrego Valley
from that of the Nive, a small branch of which was followed down to its
junction with the main channel in latitude 25 degrees 6 minutes. The soil
in the valley of the Nive is sandy, thinly grassed, and openly timbered
with ironbark spotted gum, etc.; the back country rising into low
sandstone ridges, covered with dense scrub of brigalow acacia. Some pools
of permanent water containing small fish were passed, on the bank of
which the remains of numerous native camps were seen.
From the Nive River a north-north-west course was pursued through a
nearly level sandy country, covered with a scrub of acacia, eucalypti,
bottle-tree, etc., which offered great impediments to our progress, till
within six miles of the Victoria River, when we suddenly emerged from the
scrub on to open downs of rich clay soil; but the drought had been of
such a long continuance that the whole of the vegetation had been
destroyed and swept away by the wind, leaving the country to all
appearance an absolute desert. The bed of the Victoria was scarcely ten
yards wide, and perfectly dry, so that it was only after a prolonged
search along its course that a small puddle of water was found in a
hollow of the clay flat, and near it, fortunately for our horses, a
little grass growing in widely scattered tufts.
THE BARCOO RIVER.
Being now on the line of route which Dr. Leichhardt had stated his
intention of following, the party was divided, so that both sides of the
river were examined in all probable positions in which his camps might
have been situated; but as the high floods appeared to have inundated the
country for nearly a mile on each bank last year, all tracks of previous
explorers were necessarily obliterated, and it was only by marked trees,
or the bones of cattle, that we could hope to discover any trace. During
the first two days' journey down the river only a few small pools of
water were seen, and these not of a permanent character, while the rich
vegetation on the open downs, which had excited the admiration of Sir T.
Mitchell on his discovery of the country in a favourable season, had
wholly passed away, leaving little but a bare surface of clay, the deep
fissures in its surface giving evidence of long-continued drought.
In latitude 24 degrees 37 minutes, longitude 146 degrees 13 minutes, a
small sandy creek, of equal size with the Victoria, joined from the east,
and just below the first permanent pool of water was found. There was a
slight improvement in the grass, but dense scrubs prevailed in the back
country, and even approached the river at intervals.
LEICHHARDT'S MARKED TREE.
While collecting the horses near this pool of water I detected a party of
armed natives watching one of the stockmen, evidently, from their
position in the scrub and general movements, inclined to hostilities, and
I imagine that it was a knowledge that we were aware of their intentions
which prevented my being able to establish any communication with them. I
may here remark that this party, which numbered about eight, were the
first natives seen during the journey. Continuing our route along the
river (latitude 24 degrees 35 minutes; longitude 36 degrees 6 minutes),
we discovered a Moreton-Bay ash (Eucalyptus sp.), about two feet in
diameter, marked with the letter L on the east side, cut through the
bark, about four feet from the ground, and near it the stumps of some
small trees which had been cut with a sharp axe, also a deep notch cut in
the side of a sloping tree, apparently to support the ridge pole of a
tent, or some similar purposes; all indicating that a camp had been
established here by Leichhardt's party. The tree was near the bank of a
small reach of water, which is noted on Sir T. Mitchell's map. This,
together with its actual and relative position as regards other features
of the country, prove it not to have been either one of Sir T. Mitchell's
or Mr. Kennedy's camps, as neither encamped within several miles of the
spot, besides which, the letter could not have been marked by either of
them to designate the number of the camp, as the former had long passed
his fiftieth camp, and the latter had not reached that number on the
outward route, and numbered his camp from the farthest point attained on
his return journey. Notwithstanding a careful search, no traces of stock
could be found. This is, however, easily accounted for, as the country
had been inundated last season, though the current had not been
sufficiently strong to remove some emu bones and mussel shells which lay
round a native camping place within a few yards of the spot. No other
indications having been found, we continued the search down the river,
examining every likely spot for marked trees, but without success. The
general aspect of the country was extremely level, and even the few
distant ridges which were visible had but small elevation above the
plain, the highest apparently not exceeding 200 or 300 feet. Timber was
wholly confined to the bank of the river, and though open plains existed,
acacia scrubs were the principal feature. Water became very scarce in the
channels of the river, and we were principally dependent on small puddles
of rainwater from a recent thunder-shower; but as we approached the
northern bend some fine reaches of water were passed.
THE ALICE RIVER.
6th April to 28th April.
In latitude 26 degrees 2 minutes we observed a small dry creek joining
from the north-east. This I traced upwards for a few miles; but as its
relative position with regard to the adjacent country, as well as the
latitude, did not correspond with that of the Alice River on the chart,
we continued our route. Finding, however, that the general course of the
river changed to south-west, I left the party at a small lagoon and rode
up the river again, making a second search, more especially at the
junction of the small dry creek, which proved to be identical with the
Alice River, though more than five miles to the south, as the Victoria
River never reaches the parallel of 24 degrees. Our position was now
becoming very critical, as a long continuance of drought had not only
dried up all the water, except in the deepest hollows in the channel of
the main river, but the smaller vegetation, and even the trees on the
back country were annihilated, rendering the country almost impracticable
from the quantity of fallen dead branches, and even in the bed of the
river, where the inundation derived from heavy rain near the sources of
the river last year had somewhat refreshed the grass, it was scarcely
possible to find subsistence for the horses. Under existing
circumstances, it would have been certain destruction to attempt a
north-west route from this point; and the only course that appeared
opened to us was to follow down the main river to the junction of the
Thompson River, and ascend that watercourse so as to intersect
Leichhardt's probable line of route, had he penetrated in that direction,
favoured by a better season. At the same time, it was probable that, like
ourselves, he had been repulsed, and would then follow down the river,
and search for a more favourable point from which to commence his
north-west course, in order to round the desert interior on its northern
side; and we therefore continued our search down towards the Thompson
29th April to 2nd May.
The country was perfectly flat on both sides of the river, and showed
traces of tremendous floods. The soil near the river was often
deeply-cracked mud, water very scarce, and grass seldom seen. The back
country was covered with scrubs of dead acacia, the soil a red sand or
gravel; and such was the unpromising appearance that I began to fear that
our horses would soon fail for want of food and water; but having camped
at a waterhole during Sunday to rest the party, heavy rain commenced, and
though the greater portion of the water was absorbed by the dry soil,
some of the channels of the river filled and commenced to flow. This
relieved us from much difficulty as regarded the want of water, and
enabled us to seek for grass in positions which were otherwise
Just as we were leaving our camp a party of seven natives made their
appearance; but though they came up to us, and talked much, I could get
no useful information from them. As the party moved on they followed us,
and thinking they were not observed, made an attempt to throw a spear at
one of the men; but Mr. C. Gregory, wheeling his horse quickly and
presenting a revolver at the intending aggressors, they ran away, and
left us to pursue our journey in peace.
THE THOMPSON RIVER.
4th May to 6th May.
The abundance of water was not without its inconveniences, and had the
rain continued the party would have been annihilated, as our camp was
between the deep channels which intersected the plain; and in attempting
to extricate ourselves from the plains subject to inundation, found
ourselves so completely entangled among the numerous deep channels and
boggy gullies, in some of which the horses narrowly escaped suffocation
in the soft mud, that after having forded one branch of the river,
carrying the whole equipment across on our own backs, constructing a
bridge over a second for the transport of the stores, and dragging the
horses through as we best could with ropes, after three days of severe
toil we had scarcely accomplished a direct distance of five miles. The
dry weather which followed rapidly hardened the surface of the clay
plains, and I attempted to steer due west to the Thompson, but found the
country so destitute of feed, and covered with dense acacia scrub, that
we were compelled to return to the plains on the bank of the river.
The valley of the river trending west was somewhat contracted, and did
not exceed five or six miles in breadth; the plains were firmer,
salt-bush and grass more abundant, and the horses recovered slightly from
the effects of the barren country. Keeping back from the right bank of
the main channel, we passed some ridges of drift sand, and came on a fine
lagoon nearly a mile in length. Here we surprised a party of natives, who
decamped on our approach, leaving a net, fish, etc., which we of course
left untouched, and camped at a spot lower down the lagoon.
The next day being Sunday, we remained at our camp, and the party of
natives, consisting of seven or eight men, three or four women, and some
children, approached us, and remained the greater part of the day near
the tents. They were very anxious to enter the camp, but this was not
permitted. By signs they expressed that they had observed we had not
taken away any of their property the evening before, when they ran away
and left their nets, and were therefore satisfied our intentions were
friendly; but we could not procure any information relative to the
objects of our journey or the character of the country before us. At 4
p.m. they informed us they were going to sleep at the most distant part
of the lagoon, and would return next morning at sunrise, and then
departed. After dark, however, the natives were detected attempting to
crawl into the camp through the bushes, and though we called to them in
an unmistakable tone to retire, they would not withdraw. As the position
they had taken up was such as to command our camp, and render it unsafe
in the event of an attack, it was necessary to dislodge them. I therefore
fired a pistol over them, but was answered by a shout of derision, which
no doubt would have been soon followed by a shower of spears had we not
compelled them to retreat by a discharge of small shot directed into the
scrub, after which we were not further molested.
We were now approaching the junction of the Thompson River, but the
country became worse as we advanced, and the last five miles of the plain
were absolutely devoid of vegetation. Our hopes were, however, raised on
finding that the late rain had caused the Thompson to flow, though the
current was not strong; we had, however, to travel upwards of twelve
miles up its course before any grass could be found for the horses.
Continuing our route up the Thompson, nothing could be more desolate than
the aspect of the country; except the few trees which grew on the
immediate bank of the river there was scarcely a tree left alive, while
the plains were quite bare of vegetation, except a few salsolaceous
bushes. At the distance of five miles low ridges of red drift sand showed
the desert character of all around; even the lower surfaces of the clouds
assumed a lurid tinge from the reflection of the bare surface of red
12th to 15th May.
In latitude 24 degrees 40 minutes low sandstone hills, or rather
tableland, approached both banks of the river, and the gullies which
intersected them had supplied the water lower down, as the channel was
dry above. We, however, succeeded in reaching latitude 23 degrees 47
minutes, when the absence of water and grass--the rain not having
extended so far north, and the channels of the river separating into
small gullies and spreading on the wide plains--precluded our progressing
further to the north or west; and the only prospect of saving our horses
was to return south as quickly as possible. This was a most severe
disappointment, as we had just reached the part of the country through
which Leichhardt most probably travelled, if the season was sufficiently
wet to render it practicable. Thus compelled to abandon the principal
object of the expedition, only two courses remained open--either to
return to the head of the Victoria River and attempt a northern course by
the valley of the Belyando, or to follow down the river and ascertain
whether it flowed into Cooper's Creek or the Darling. The latter course
appeared most desirable, as it was just possible that Leichhardt, under
similar circumstances, had been driven to the south-west. In order to
ascertain whether any large watercourses came from the west, the return
route was along the right bank of the Thompson, but only one small creek
and some inconsiderable gullies joined on that side; nor was the country
of a better character than on the left bank--consisting of barren plains,
subject to inundation, low rocky ridges covered with dense scrub, and
sandy ridges producing triodia.
22nd to 23rd May.
We had nearly reached the Victoria River, when, in crossing a gully,
Worrell's horse fell and hurt him so severely that we had to halt for
some time before he could be placed on his horse again, and it was
therefore fortunate that a small patch of dry grass was found on the bank
of the river, which enabled us to halt the next day, which was Sunday.
Travelling down the right bank of the river, the principal channels were
full of water, but the clay plains between were quite dry, the rain which
had caused the river to flow not having extended so far south; nothing
could well be more desolate than the unbounded level of these vast
plains, which, destitute of vegetation, extended to the horizon. Our
horses were reduced to feeding on the decayed weeds, and even these were
so scarce that they eagerly devoured the thatch of some old native huts.
We had nearly reached the furthest point attained by Mr. Kennedy when the
horses showed signs of failing strength, and the channels on the east
side of the plain being dry, I conceived it prudent to cross to the
western side again. The dry mud was so deeply cracked that the horses
were continually falling, and one horse was so completely exhausted that
we had to abandon him.
KENNEDY'S MARKED TREE.
Steering a westerly, and then a north course, we reached the small
waterhole at Mr. Kennedy's second camp on the return route; there was
just sufficient water to supply the party for one night, and a few
scattered tufts of grass near it, but quite insufficient for the supply
of so large a number of horses. Close to the waterhole we found Mr.
Kennedy's marked tree; it was a large box-tree, marked on the north side
The cuts of the axe and chisel were still quite clear, though twelve
years had elapsed; but the slow growth and decay of trees in the interior
may be attributed to the dryness of the climate.
Steering north-west, after toiling nearly thirty miles across this
fearful waste of dry mud, we at length reached a small patch of grass on
a sandy hummock, but only just in time to save the horses, as many could
scarcely keep on their legs, and we had to remove their loads to those
which were less exhausted.
Long before the next morning our hungry animals had consumed every blade
of grass, and the small patch round the camp was reduced to the same
barren appearance as the surrounding plain. We therefore started in
search of food for them, and were fortunate in finding a second patch of
grass, about three miles to the south, and halted for the remainder of
the day, which was Sunday, thankful that Providence had enabled us to
make it a day of rest.
PLAINS OF DRY MUD.
The running channel of the river being still to the west of our position,
we steered south-west, over barren clay plains, to some low ridges of
drift sand, beyond which we found the channel full of water, with a
slight current; but it terminated in a large reach of water which had not
yet filled, and the channel lower down was dry. Low ridges of red drift
sand were now frequent on the plain, and appeared to be the higher points
of the former sandy desert, the clay plains resulting from the deposition
of mud in the hollows between which had in course of time filled it to
one uniform level.
Latitude 26 degrees 2 minutes.
The channels on the western side of the plain were very irregular,
sometimes completely lost on the level surface, and again collecting into
large hollows, with box-trees on the banks, in which fine sheets of water
still remained, some 100 yards wide and more than a mile in length. We
therefore did not experience so much inconvenience with regard to the
supply of this necessary element as from the absence of sufficient grass,
and the all but impracticable nature of the mud plains.
In latitude 27 degrees, low sandstone tableland approached the west side
of the river, and we attempted to travel along the slope between it and
the mud plains, but found it so stony that the horses' hoofs were soon
worn to the quick, as we had been compelled to remove their shoes to
enable them to traverse the mud plains. Had it not been for green bushes
of salsolae, and some similar plants which had sprung up since the rain,
this tract of country exactly resembled the stony desert described by
Captain Sturt as existing 200 miles to the westward. These remarkable
features forming the declivities of the sandstone tableland through which
Cooper's Creek forces its way, and by confining the waters to a narrower
space during floods, causes the fine deep reaches of water which
By following the western limits of the plains we reached latitude 27
degrees 30 minutes, when the sandstone tableland receded, and a boundless
expanse of mud plain was before us; the lines of box-trees which had
hitherto marked the channels nearly ceased, polygonum and atriplex
constituting the main feature of the vegetation.
After toiling south-west a day and a half over this level surface to
latitude 27 degrees 50 minutes, we approached some low ridges, at the
foot of which there was a lagoon 100 yards wide, exhibiting signs of a
current during flood to the north-west; and as there was an evident
westerly trend in all the smaller channels previously crossed, it was
evident they would soon merge in Cooper's Creek. Steering
west-north-west, the several channels collected together, and soon formed
a deep watercourse, with fine reaches of water. The sandstone tableland
closed in on both sides; the soil of the intervening plain was much
firmer, but showed by the vegetation that saline nature which so often
attends the development of the upper sandstones in Australia. Grass was
abundant, and it was surprising with what rapidity the horses recovered
BOUNDARY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
Approaching the 141st meridian, which is the boundary of the province of
South Australia, stony ridges closed in on both banks of Cooper's Creek,
forming almost a natural division, across which we followed a well-beaten
native path; and here I observed the only instance which has come under
my observation where the aborigines have taken the trouble to remove
natural obstacles from their paths. The loose stones had been cleared
from the track, and in some places piled in large heaps.
After passing the stony ridge the valley became wider, the hills receding
suddenly, in longitude 140 degrees 30 minutes, both to the north and
south; and the whole of the country to the west seemed to consist of a
succession of low ridges of red sand and level plains of dry mud, subject
to inundation. Shortly before reaching the branch of Cooper's Creek named
by Captain Sturt Streletzki Creek, we observed the tracks of two horses,
one apparently a cart-horse, and the other a well-bred animal, but as
none of their tracks were within the last month, the rain had obliterated
them to such an extent that they could not be traced up, as they had left
the bank of the creek on the first fall of rain, as is the usual habit of
horses whose wanderings are uncontrolled. There can be little doubt that
these horses belonged to Captain Sturt, who left one in an exhausted
state near this locality, and also lost a second horse, whose tracks were
followed many miles in the direction of this part of Cooper's Creek.
Streletzki Creek, which separates nearly at a right angle from the main
channel, appears to convey about one-third of the waters of Cooper's
Creek nearly south, and, as we afterwards ascertained, connects it with
Lake Torrens. We, however, continued to follow the channels which trended
west for thirty miles, but large branches continually broke off to the
south and west, and at length the whole was lost on the wide plains of
dry mud between the sand ridges; and, as there was no prospect of either
water or grass to the west, I steered south and south-east for fifty
miles over a succession of ridges of red drift sand, ten to fifty feet
high, running parallel to each other, and in a nearly north and south
direction. Between these ridges we occasionally found shallow puddles of
rainwater, or rather mud, as it was so thick with clay as to be scarcely
fluid. Fortunately a great quantity of green weeds had grown up since the
rain, and the horses improved in condition, and did not require much
21st June to 25th June.
In latitude 28 degrees 24 minutes we again came on Streletzki Creek, and
then followed it nearly south-south-west between sandy ridges to latitude
29 degrees 25 minutes, when it turned to the west and entered Lake
Torrens. No permanent water was seen in the bed of the creek, though
there were many deep hollows which, when once filled, retain water for
several months, and this, combined with the existence of a fine reach of
water in Cooper's Creek immediately above the point where Streletzki
Creek branches off, renders it far the best line of route into the
interior which has yet been discovered. Passing between the eastern point
of Lake Torrens and what has hitherto been considered the eastern arm,
but now ascertained to be an independent lake, the space between (about
half a mile) was level sandy ground, covered with salicornia, without any
apparent connecting channel. The course was continued south-south-west
towards Mount Hopeless, at the northern extreme of the high ranges of
South Australia, which had been visible across the level country at a
distance of sixty miles.
As we approached the range of hills tracks of cattle and horses were
observed, and eight miles beyond Mount Hopeless came to a cattle station
which had been lately established by Mr. Baker. As the nature of the
country we had traversed was such as not to admit of any useful
deviations from it if we returned to New South Wales by land, I deemed it
advisable to proceed forthwith to Adelaide, and, disposing of the horses
and equipment, return with the party by sea to Sydney.
ARRIVE IN ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS.
We therefore proceeded by easy stages towards Adelaide, experiencing the
greatest hospitality at the stations on our route, while our reception in
the city was of the most flattering nature. His Excellency Sir Richard
Macdonald kindly gave me the use of an extensive paddock for the horses,
and provided quarters for the men during the period which necessarily
elapsed before the sale of the equipment of the expedition was effected.
I have also to express my acknowledgments of the kind assistance rendered
by the Honourable the Commissioner of Crown Lands, to the
Surveyor-General, and the Superintendent of Telegraphs, for valuable data
connected with the construction of the map of the route, as well as to
many other gentlemen whose cordial co-operation greatly facilitated my
arrangements. It is extremely gratifying to record my appreciation of the
untiring zeal and energy which distinguished every individual composing
the expedition; and it is to the unvarying and cheerful alacrity with
which each and all performed their respective duties, that, under
Providence, the rapidity and success of the journey is to be mainly
attributed. With reference to the probable fate of Dr. Leichhardt, it is
evident, from the existence of the marked camp, nearly eighty miles
beyond those seen by Mr. Hely, that the account given to that gentleman
by the natives of the murder of the party was untrue; and I am inclined
to think only a revival of the report current during Leichhardt's first
journey to Port Essington. Nor is it probable that they were destroyed
until they had left the Victoria, as, if killed by the natives, the
scattered bones of the horses and cattle would have been observed during
our search. I am therefore of opinion that they left the river at the
junction of the Alice, and, favoured by thunder-showers, penetrated the
level desert country to the north-west; in which case, on the cessation
of the rain, the party would not only be deprived of a supply of water
for the onward journey, but unable to retreat, as the shallow deposits of
rainwater would evaporate in a few days, and it is not likely that they
would commence a retrograde movement until the strength of the party had
been severely taxed in the attempt to advance. The character of the
country traversed, from the out-stations on the Dawson River to the head
of the Warrego River, was generally that of a grassy forest, with ridges
of dense brigalow scrub. A great portion is available for pastoral
purposes, but not well watered; and the soil being sandy, the grass would
soon be destroyed if too heavily stocked. As we advanced into the
interior it became more barren, and, except along the banks of the larger
watercourses, destitute of timber, and the character of the vegetation
indicated excessive droughts. North of latitude 26 degrees dense scrubs
of acacia prevailed on the level country beyond the influence of the
inundations, but to the southward sandy and stony deserts, with low
shrubby vegetation, were the characteristic feature. West of longitude
147 degrees, nearly to the boundary of South Australia, in 141 degrees,
the country is unfit for occupation, for, though in favourable seasons
there might in some few localities be abundance of feed for stock, the
uncertainty of rain and frequent recurrence of drought renders it
untenable, the grasses and herbage being principally annuals, which not
only die but are swept away by the hot summer winds, leaving the surface
of the soil completely bare. On Cooper's Creek, near the boundary, there
is a small tract of second-rate country, which, being abundantly supplied
with water, may eventually be occupied. The best part is, however, within
the province of South Australia. Between Cooper's Creek and Lake Torrens
about 120 miles of sandy country intervenes. This tract is destitute of
surface water, but as it is probable that it could be obtained by sinking
wells of moderate depth, I think it might be occupied to advantage during
the cool season, and thus relieve the stations which are now established
within Lake Torrens, though I fear that the summer heat would be too
great to admit of permanent occupation. The geological character of the
country is remarkably uniform. Carboniferous sandstones and shales,
containing occasional beds of coal, with superincumbent hills and ridges
of basalt, extend from Darling Downs to the 146th meridian, where these
rocks are covered by horizontal sandstones with beds of chert and
water-worn quartz pebbles. This latter formation extends as far as Mount
Hopeless, where the slate ranges of South Australia rise abruptly from
the plain. The sandy deserts and mud plains are only superficial
deposits, as the sandstones are often exposed where the upper formation
is intersected by gullies. The direction of the parallel ridges of drift
sand appear to be the result of the prevailing winds, and not the action
of water, it being sufficient to visit them on a windy day to be
convinced that it is unnecessary to seek for a more remote and obscure
cause than that which is in present operation. It is, perhaps, with
reference to the physical geography of Australia that the results of the
Expedition are most important; as by connecting successively the
explorations of Sir T. Mitchell, Mr. Kennedy, Captain Sturt, and Mr.
Eyre, the waters of the tropical interior of the eastern portion of the
Continent are proved to flow towards Spencer's Gulf, if not actually into
it, the barometrical observations showing that Lake Torrens, the lowest
part of the interior, is decidedly above the sea-level. Although only
about one-third of the waters of Cooper's Creek flow into Lake Torrens by
the channel of Streletzki Creek, there is strong evidence that the
remaining channels, after spreading their waters on the vast plains which
occupy the country between them and Sturt's Stony Desert, finally drain
to the south, augmented probably by the waters of Eyre's Creek, the Stony
Desert, and perhaps some other watercourses of a similar character coming
from the westward. This peculiar structure of the interior renders it
improbable that any considerable inland lakes should exist in connection
with the known system of waters; for, as Lake Torrens is decidedly only
an expanded continuation of Cooper's Creek, and therefore the culminating
point of this vast system of drainage, if there was sufficient average
fall of rain in the interior to balance the effects of evaporation from
the surface of an extensive sheet of water, the Torrens Basin, instead of
being occupied by salt marshes, in which the existence of anything beyond
shallow lagoons of salt-water is yet problematical, would be maintained
as a permanent lake. Therefore, if the waters flowing from so large a
tract of country are insufficient to meet the evaporation from the
surface of Lake Torrens, there is even less probability of the waters of
the western interior forming an inland lake of any magnitude, even should
there be so anomalous a feature as a depression of the surface in which
it could be collected, especially as our knowledge of its limits indicate
a much drier climate and less favourable conformation of surface than in
the eastern division of the continent. The undulations of the surface of
the country are nearly parallel to the meridian, gradually decreasing in
height from the dividing range between the eastern and western waters
till, instead of the waters of the rivers being confined to valleys, they
occupy plains formed by a slight flattening of the curvature of the
sphere. Thus the sides of the plain through which the river ran before it
turned west to Cooper's Creek were 150 feet below the tangential level of
the centre channels, and even the summit of the sandstone tableland which
rose beyond was below the visible horizon. It is this peculiar
conformation which causes the stream-beds to spread so widely when
following the course of the valleys from north to south, and it is only
where they break through the intervening ridges that the water is
confined sufficiently to form well-defined channels. The existence of
these extensive valleys trending north and south over so large a tract of
country render it by no means unlikely that they continue far beyond the
limits of present explorations, and it is not unreasonable to infer that
the great depression which has been traced nearly five hundred miles
north from Spencer's Gulf through Lake Torrens to the stony desert of
Sturt (or rather the mud plains contiguous to its western limit) may be
continuous for an equal distance beyond to the low land at the head of
the Gulf of Carpentaria; a theory also supported by the fact that the
rivers flowing into the Gulf either come from the east or west,
apparently from higher land in those directions, while there is not a
single watercourse from the south, or any indication of elevated country
in that direction. Captain Wickham having named an important river
discovered by him in H.M.S. Beagle, on the north-west coast, the
Victoria, several years prior to Sir T. Mitchell having attached that
name to the upper portion of Cooper's Creek, which had also been
previously discovered and named by Captain Sturt, I would suggest that
the term River Cooper be adopted for the whole of the main channel from
its sources, discovered by Sir T. Mitchell, to its termination in Lake
Torrens; as, while it does not interfere with the rule that the name
given by the first discoverer should be retained, will prevent the
recurrence of the misapprehension and inconvenience of having two
important rivers with the same designation on the maps of Australia. With
regard to the numbers and habits of the aborigines, I could collect
little information, as only a collective number of about 100 men, a few
women and children, were seen, in small scattered parties; but, judging
from the number of encampments seen, at least a thousand must visit the
banks of the river; and it is probable that the whole of the inhabitants
for at least 100 miles on each side are dependent on it for water during
the dry season. Neither sex wear any clothing. Their weapons and utensils
are similar to those used on the eastern coast; nor was there any
characteristic by which they could be observed to differ from the
aborigines of other portions of Australia. Fish, rats, grass seeds, and a
few roots, constitute their chief food. On the upper part of the river
they bury their dead, piling wood on the grave; near the junction of the
Thompson they suspend the bodies in nets, and afterwards remove the
bones; while on Cooper's Creek the graves are mounds of earth three to
four feet high, apparently without any excavation, and surmounted by a
pile of dead wood. In the last-named locality the number of burial mounds
which had been constructed about two years ago greatly exceed the
proportion of deaths which could have possibly occurred in any ordinary
season of mortality, even assuming the densest population known in any
other part of Australia; and it is not improbable that the seasons of
drought which proved so destructive to the tree vegetation higher up the
river may have been equally disastrous in its effects on the aboriginal
inhabitants of this portion of the interior.
Sydney, 27 August, 1858.