Part 5 out of 10
surplus flood water to the south.
Gregory followed on the many channels trending west, but finally lost
them amongst sand hills and flooded plains. He turned back and once more
struck Strzelecki's Creek, which he thought he traced to Lake Torrens.
This lake he crossed on a firm sandy space, through which he could
distinguish no connecting channel, thus helping to rob Lake Torrens of
some more of its terrors. He soon arrived in the settled districts,
having safely accomplished a most successful journey.
The main discovery that was the most valuable outcome of this trip was,
of course, the confirmation of the supposed identity of the Barcoo and
Cooper's Creek; as Gregory was otherwise on the tracks of former
explorers, no fresh discoveries could well be expected on the course he
Thus, after many fruitless efforts and disappointments, the second great
inland river system was evolved.
We now meet with an old friend in the field, in the person of J. M'Dowall
Stuart, formerly draughtsman for Captain Sturt, and one of the party who
bought experience of heat, thirst, and desolation, during their long
imprisonment in the depôt glen.
On the 14th May, 1858, Stuart left Oratunga for an excursion to the
north-west of Swinden's country, west of Lake Torrens. He was delayed
some time before he finally got away from Octaina, on the 10th June.
Passing Mr. Babbage, he arrived at the Elizabeth on the 18th, but was
disappointed in the expectations he had formed. Soon afterwards he found
a large hole of permanent water, which he called Andamoka, and on the
23rd June caught sight of one of the arms of Lake Torrens. From here he
followed a creek (Yarraout) to the north-west, in search of the country
called Wingillpin that the blacks had told him of. This he was unable to
find, and came to the somewhat strange conclusion that Wingillpin and
Cooper's Creek were one and the same, although so widely separated, as he
well knew. He also seems to have entertained broad notions of the extent
of Cooper's Creek, as in one part of his journal at this period he
"My only hope now of cutting Cooper's Creek is on the other side of the
range. The plain we crossed to-day resembles those of the Cooper, also
the grasses. If it is not there it must run to the north-west, and form
the Glenelg of Captain Grey."
Now although we know that Grey held rather extravagant notions of the
importance of the Glenelg River on the northwest coast, which time has
certainly not confirmed, even he would scarcely have imagined it possible
for it to be the outlet of such a mighty stream as Cooper's Creek would
have become by the time it reached there.
Stuart's horses were now very lame, as the stony ground had worn out
their shoes, and they had no spare sets with them. Failing, therefore, to
find the promised land of Wingillpin, although he had passed over much
good and well-watered country, and had also found Chambers' Creek, he
turned south-west, and made some explorations in the neighbourhood and to
the west of Lake Gairdner. Thence he steered for Fowler's Bay, and his'
description of some of the country on his course is anything but
inviting. From a spur of the high peak that he named Mount Fincke he
"A prospect gloomy in the extreme; I could see a long distance but
nothing met the eye save a dense scrub, as black and dismal as night."
From here they got fairly into a sandy, spinifex desert, which Stuart
says was worse than Sturt's, for there, there was a little salt-bush;
"here there was nothing but spinifex to be found and the horses were
Things were getting desperate with the little band, their provisions were
finished, but still the leader would not desist from looking for good
country; but at last he had to make back as fast as he could. Dense
scrub, and the same "dreary, dreadful, dismal desert," as he calls it,
accompanied them day after day. Tired out and half-starved, they reached
the coast, and then they had only two meals left to take them to Streaky
Bay, one hundred miles away, where they hoped to find relief, and where
they safely arrived at Mr. Gibson's station. Here they were laid up with
the sudden change from starvation to a full diet, and for some days
Stuart was very ill. They finally reached Mr. Thompson's station of Mount
Arden, which terminated Stuart's first expedition.
This severe trip only gave Stuart a fresh taste for adventure. In April,
1859, he made another start, and on the 19th, after crossing over some of
the already known country, Hergott, one of his companions, discovered the
well-known springs that still bear his name. Stuart crossed Chambers'
Creek, and made for the Davenport Range, of Warburton, finding many of
the springs resembling those mound ones crowned with reeds already
mentioned. On the 6th June, he discovered a large creek, which he called
the Neale. It ran through very good country, and Stuart followed it down,
hoping to find its importance increase; and in this he was not
disappointed, as large plains covered with grass and salt bush were
crossed, and several more springs discovered. After satisfying himself of
the extent and value of the country he had found, Stuart started back,
his horse's shoes having again given out, and he had a lively remembrance
of the misery he suffered before from want of them.
In November of the same year, he made a third expedition in the vicinity
of Lake Eyre, but there is very little of interest attaching to his
journal, as his course was mostly over much-trodden country. He reached
the Neale again, and instituted a survey of the good country he had
formerly traversed, occasionally approaching to within sight of what he
calls Lake Torrens, but which was in reality Lake Eyre. All these minor
expeditions of Stuart's may be considered as preparatory to his great
struggle to find a passage across the continent; for which work these
trips gave him a good knowledge of the country he had to face, and its
difficulties. Stuart's efforts to cross Australia from south to north,
and the expeditions made by others with a like object, will occupy the
undivided attention of the reader so much, that in order not to lose the
thread of the narrative of this peculiar and marked epoch in Australian
history, it may be better to here notice an important journey undertaken
in Western Australia, although slightly out of chronological order.
It was an expedition organised partly by the Imperial, and partly by the
Colonial Governments, and was also aided by private subscription. Frank
Gregory, the successful explorer of the Gascoyne, was put in charge of
it. They left Perth in the DOLPHIN for Nickol Bay, on the north-west
coast, where they intended to land their horses and commence operations.
This was safely accomplished, and on 25th May, 1861, the party started.
Their first important discovery on a westerly course was a large river
coming from the south, which they named the Fortescue. This stream they
followed up until impeded by a very narrow, precipitous gorge, when they
left the river, and made for a range they had sighted to the south. This
range, which was called Hammersley Range, they attempted to cross,
without success, so the explorers turned to the north-east, and came
again on the Fortescue, above the gorge, and after some difficulty traced
it to the range, through which it forced a passage. Crossing the range,
partly by the aid of the river-bed, and partly by a gap, they came to
fair average country stretching away to the southward. On this course the
large and important river, the Ashburton, was found, which was traced
upwards, flowing through a very large extent of good pastoral country. On
the 25th of June, from the top of a sandstone tableland, they sighted
Mount Augustus, at the head of the Lyons River. The view was most
promising. Open forest and undulating country took the place of the
everlasting scrubs and rocks, that had been such common objects with
them, and well satisfied with what they saw the explorers turned north.
Mount Samson and Mount Bruce, two most prominent peaks of the Hammersley
Range, were named by Gregory on his return; the latter being considered
by him the highest point in Western Australia. From here they struck back
to the coast, their horses having become terribly foot-sore, and reached
the sea forty miles from Nickol Bay, and on the 19th arrived at their
rendezvous in that bay, where the ship was awaiting them. After a rest of
ten days, Gregory started again, and to the eastward found the Yule
River; thence they crossed to the Shaw, and still pushing east they
succeeded in penetrating a considerable way into the tableland, where
they found good grass and springs. On the 26th of August a fine stream
running to the north was discovered, and named the De Grey; and after
crossing ail immense plain they came to another river, which was
christened the Oakover. Up this river Gregory went, the men admiring the
rich foliage of the drooping ti-trees that bordered the long reaches of
water, and the horses appreciating the wide grassy flats on either bank.
Finding the course of the river trending too much westerly, they crossed
to a tributary of the Oakover and thence passed easterly through a small
range. Here he was confronted by a most unwelcome sight. Before him were
the hills of drifted sand, the barren plains and the ominous red haze of
the desert. So far he had encountered fewer obstacles and made more
encouraging discoveries than had fallen to the lot of any other Western
Australian explorer; and now, the desert had drawn its forbidding hand
suddenly across his track, and sternly ordered him to halt.
Gregory made one effort of eighteen miles across the red sand dunes, but
his 'horses were not equal to the task, and he returned to his camp at
the foot of the range.
After resting for a day, he started with two companions for a final
attempt, leaving the remainder camped to await his return, with
instructions, if the water failed, to fall back on the Oakover. This
excursion nearly proved fatal; the heat was something terrible, and when
well advanced in the sand ridges, the horses gave in altogether. Afar to
the east, a distant range was faintly visible, and a granite range could
be seen to the south, about ten miles distant. These granite hills were
their only hope, and to them they turned.
Across the sand hills now, instead of running parallel with them, the
horses at once gave up, and, leaving his comrades to drive them on as
best they could, Gregory pushed towards the goal on foot, but when he
reached it no sign of verdure or moisture greeted him. Blasted, scorched,
and barren the rocks and rugged ravines lay before him, and all his weary
searching resulted only in his completely breaking down with distress and
fatigue. When his companions came up with the dying horses there was
nothing to do but make preparations to get back as soon as they could to
the depôt, trusting that the want of water might not have compelled the
main party to abandon the camp.
By dawn the wearied men commenced their retreat, but when the heat of the
day set in, the poor, thirsty horses of course began to fail; and
Gregory, too, was so completely exhausted with his previous day's efforts
that he could not keep up with the other two. One of the party, Brown,
started on ahead with the horses, the other remaining with Gregory to
follow more slowly. Brown had to abandon nearly everything to get the
wretched animals on, finally reaching the camp with only one; but
fortunately he found the party still there. He started back at once, with
fresh horses, to meet the others, and recover the equipment; but two of
the horses were never found.
Gregory was now convinced that the sandy tract before him was not to be
crossed with the means at his command, so that, reluctantly, he had to
give way and turn to the northward, to follow down the Oakover. They
found the country fertile, and the river abounding with water; and on
the 18th September reached the junction of De Grey with the Oakover. Down
the united streams, henceforth bearing the name of the De Grey only, the
explorers travelled through fair, open land, the course of the river
flowing now to the westward, until the coast was reached on the 25th.
From here the party made back to their rendezvous at Nickol Bay, crossing
once more the Yule and the Sherlock, rivers named on their outward
journey. On the 17th October the ship was reached, and they were taken on
Gregory had thus done good service to the colony during his last two
expeditions. The stigma of desolation was at any rate partially removed,
and it was with hopeful hearts that the colonists looked forward to the
future of the valleys of the Gascoyne, the Ashburton, and the De Grey.
Another party, with less success, had been exploring to the eastward of
the settled districts, in the southern part of the colony, and as it will
be some time before we shall revisit Western Australia, it will be most
convenient to now follow out the fortunes of the little body of colonists
with the large territory.
In 1861, whilst Gregory was opening up his new country, Messrs. Dempster,
Clarkson, and Harper started from Northam to make one more trial to the
east to get through the dense scrubs and the salt-lake country into a
more promising region. It was purely a private expedition; one of those
that have done so much of the work of discovery in Australia; each member
of the party found his own horses and equipment.
They left on the 3rd July, and for many days met with nothing but the
usual alternations of scrub and sandy plains dotted with granite hills.
On the 19th, we find in their diary the first mention of the legend
amongst the blacks of white men having been murdered on a large lake to
the eastward. Their informant was a native who was with them for some
time as a guide, and his authority was a great traveller of the name of
Boodgin, who must have revelled in the possession of a singularly fertile
imagination. The account of Boodgin was to the effect that three white
men with horses had many years ago come to a large lake of salt water, a
long way to the eastward, and after travelling along the shore for some
time, they turned back, and were either killed by the JIMBRAS, or
perished from want of water. Thus ran Mr. Boodgin's story, which we shall
immediately have to refer to.
Still endeavouring to reach to the east by various detours, on the 24th
they came to the largest hill they had yet seen--Mount Kennedy--and at
the end of the month found themselves still in the lake district. For
sixty miles they had traced the lakes, and from the hills could see a
continuation of the low range they were on. On one of them (Lake Grace)
they had speech with a few natives, who repeated what they had formerly
heard, as to the death of three white men, far away at some interior lake
or inland sea. They were also acquainted with the before-mentioned
Boodgin, who, unfortunately, had in some way offended them; so he was
not present, the others having announced an intention of spearing him on
the first opportunity. These men gave an account of the JIMBRA, or
JINGRA, a strange animal, male and female, which they described as
resembling a monkey, very fierce, and would attack men when it caught one
singly. Thinking there might be a confusion of names, the explorers asked
if the JIMBRA, or JINGRA, was the same as the GINKA--the native name for
devil. This, however, was not so, as the natives asserted that the devil,
or GINKA, was never seen, but that the JIMBRA was both seen and felt.
From this point the party returned homeward, having, at any rate,
demonstrated the fact that the thickets to the eastward were not
impenetrable, and that no insurmountable obstacles existed to further
Whatever may have been the origin of the native tradition about the
deaths of three white men, which Forrest afterwards investigated, it must
seem strange that the natives should in the JIMBRA have described an
animal (the ape) they could not possibly have ever seen. It may be
mentioned here that reports about the bones of cattle having been found
on the outskirts of Western Australia had been circulated in the Eastern
colonies before Leichhardt left.
Across the continent, from south to north--M'Dowall Stuart's first
attempt to reach the north coast--Native warfare--Chambers' Pillar--
Central Mount Stuart--Singular footprint--Sufferings from thirst--
Aboriginal Freemasons--Attack Creek--Return--Stuart's second departure--
The Victorian expedition--Costly equipment--Selection of a leader--Burke,
and his qualifications for the post--Wills--Resignation of Landells--
Wright left in charge of the main party--Burke and Wills, with six
men, push on to Cooper's Creek--Delay of Wright--Burke's final
determination to push on to the north coast--Starts with Wills and two
men--Progress across the continent--Arrival at the salt water--Wills'
account--Homeward journey--The depôt deserted--Resolve to make for Mount
Hopeless--Failure and return--Wills revisits the depôt--Kindness of the
natives--Burke and King start in search of the blacks--Death of
Burke--King finds Wills dead on his return--Wright and Brahe visit the
depôt--Fail to see traces of Burke's return--Consternation in
Melbourne--Immediate dispatch of search parties--Howitt finds
King--Narrow escape of trooper Lyons--Stuart in the north--Hedgewood
scrub first seen--Discovery of Newcastle waters--All attempts to the
north fruitless--Return of Stuart.
We are now about to turn a page in the history of Australia which,
however marked by misfortune and disappointment, still embodies some of
the most fruitful achievements in the history of discovery. The
unfortunate result of one expedition led to so many minor ones, that an
immense area of new country was thrown open in a very short time.
An extraordinary craze had seized on the imaginations of the southern
colonies to send out expeditions to strive to be the first to cross the
continent from the southern shore to the northern one. The South
Australian Government had for a time a standing reward of £10,000 offered
for the man who should accomplish this gigantic task with private means.
M'Dowall Stuart has been recognised as the one to whom most honour is due
for successfully spanning the gap, and there are many reasons for
awarding the chief praise to him. He was the first to attempt the feat,
and although he was not the first to reach salt water on the north, he
was the first to sight the open sea, and actually cross from sea to sea.
Nor in so doing was he aided by the former successes of other explorers.
He also was the one who crossed fairly in the centre of Australia, and
his track extends further north, as the others made for the southern
shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria, while Stuart came out at the head of
Burke and Wills were, according to the journal of Wills, at the northern
coast in February, 1861, so they could claim the honour of first
crossing; next came M'Kinlay, in May, 1862. Landsborough reached the
Darling from the north in June of the same year, and then Stuart on the
north coast comes but a few weeks afterwards in July. On Stuart's track
however, has been built the overland telegraph line, an enduring monument
to his indomitable perseverance. His was but a small party when he
started to reach the spot so ardently longed for by his former leader
Sturt. Less than a handful of men, three in all, with thirteen horses,
left on this eventful trip, a strange company to contrast with the
princely cavalcade that a few months later was to leave Melbourne on a
The starting point was from Chambers' Creek, but naturally from here
their course for a time was over much-trodden ground.
At Beresford Springs there were unmistakable traces of recent native
warfare. Lying on his back was the corpse of a tall native, the skull
broken, and both feet and hands missing. Near the place was a handful of
human hair, and some emu feathers, placed between two charred pieces of
wood, as a sign or token of some sort, but nothing to be interpreted by
the whites as to the meaning of this strange neglect of burial rites, so
unusual amongst the aborigines.
After passing the Neale, the little band commenced their march into the
unknown. Their journey was, for the most part, through good pastoral
country, crossing numerous well-watered creeks, which they named,
respectively, the Frew, the Fincke, and the Stevenson, and on the 6th
they reached a remarkable hill, which they had observed for some time. It
proved to be a pillar of sandstone on a hill about one hundred feet high.
The pillar itself, in addition, is one hundred and fifty feet in height,
and twenty feet in width. Stuart christened it Chambers' Pillar. This
freak of nature was surrounded by numerous other remarkable bills,
resembling ruined castles.
Passing through a range, which was called the Waterhouse Range, and again
striking a creek, christened the Hugh, they made for one of two
remarkable bluffs, first sighted on the 9th of April, and reached the
range of which these two bluff cliffs formed the centre on the 12th. This
was the highest range Stuart had yet found, and he named it MacDonnell
Range, after the then Governor of South Australia; the east bluff was
called Brinkley Bluff and the west one Hanson Bluff. Crossing this range,
which, although rough, was very well-grassed, the party got among
spinifex and scrub, and, after being two nights without water, made for a
high peak in the distance (Mount Freeling), where they found a small
It was evident that they had now reached the limit of the rainfall, and
were trespassing on dry country.
A search for permanent water was made before going on, and a large
reservoir found in a ledge of rocks, that promised to supply their wants
on their return.
On the 22nd of April, Stuart camped in the centre of Australia, and one
of his hopes was accomplished; about two miles and a-half to the N.N.E.
was a tolerable high mount, which he called Central Mount Stuart. The
next morning, with his tried companion, Kekwick, he climbed this mount,
and on the top erected a cairn of stones, and hoisted the Union Jack.
What must have been his thoughts at having, with such a feeble party, so
comparatively easily accomplished what others had striven in vain for?
Surely he must have thought with regret that his old leader, dauntless
Sturt, was not standing beside him.
The first night after leaving Mount Stuart, they camped without water,
and the next day found a permanent supply under a high peak, which he
called Mount Leichhardt; and while mentioning this fact, he notices that
he has found no trace of that explorer having ever passed to the
On the first of May they came to a small gum creek, which Stuart called
the Fisher, and in which the only water they could get was in a native
well. Crossing this creek they got into a dead level country, covered
with spinifex and stunted gum trees. Here they came across the track of a
blackfellow which differed considerably from the ordinary mark made by
the foot of a native:--
"The spinifex in many places has been burnt, and the track of the native
was peculiar-not broad and flat as they generally are, but long and
narrow, with a deep hollow in the foot, and the large toe projecting a
good deal; in some respects more like the print of a white man than a
native. Had I crossed it the day before, I would have followed it. My
horses are now suffering too much from the want of water to allow me to
do so. If I did, and we were not to find water to-night, I should lose
the whole of the horses and our lives into the bargain."
As it was, they had a hard struggle to get back to the native well at the
After a week's interval Stuart tried again to the' east of north, but
found things no better; mulga scrub and spinifex again surrounded them,
and after travelling twenty-seven miles they had to camp without water.
The next day was the same, Stuart getting a nasty fall, being pulled off
by some scrub and dragged for a short distance. There was nothing for it
but to retreat once more. Scurvy had now laid its hand upon the leader,
and he began to suffer severely.
After much trouble and delay, Stuart, by working to the eastward, at last
got forward again, and on the 1st of June found a large creek, the best
he had yet seen, which he called the Bonney, and on the second of the
month reached the range christened by him the Murchison Range. On the 6th
he came to a gum creek, which he called Tennant's Creek, destined to be
the site of one of the telegraph stations of the overland line. He now
made an effort to the west of north to reach the head waters of the
Victoria, and got into a dry strip of country that nearly put an end to
the expedition. When they at last, with some losses, got the horses back
to water, the animals had travelled one hundred and twelve miles, and
been one hundred and one hours without a drink. Some of them had gone
mad. "Thus," says Stuart, "ends my last attempt, at present, to make the
Victoria River. Three times I have tried it, and been forced to retreat."
After many days' rest, he started again, this time to the eastward of
north, and in ten miles came to a well-watered creek, which he named
Phillips' Creek. Once more he had another two or three days of useless
efforts to force his way through a dry belt, vainly flattering himself
that he was approaching the watershed of the Gulf; but had to fall back
on the Phillips again. Whilst camping here some natives visited them, two
of them wearing a kind of helmet made of net work and feathers, tightly
"One was an old man, and seemed to be the father of these two fine young
men. He was very talkative, but I could make nothing of him. I have
endeavoured, by signs, to get information from him as to where the next
water is, but we cannot understand each other. After some time, and
having conferred with his two sons, he turned round, and surprised me by
giving me one of the Masonic signs. I looked at him steadily; he repeated
it; and so did his two sons. I then returned it, which seemed to please
them much, the old man patting me on the shoulder and stroking down my
Whether Stuart's imagination here led him astray, it is impossible to
say, but very shortly afterwards they encountered a tribe who displayed
anything but the friendly feelings that should have been shown by brother
On the next start they came in fourteen miles to a large gum creek, with
very fair-sized sheets of water in it, and as they followed it down they
passed the encampment of some natives, but did not take any notice of
them, keeping steadily on their course. Finding no water lower down the
creek, they had to return. When close to the place where they crossed the
creek in the morning, and the evening rapidly closing in, they were
suddenly surrounded by a number of well-armed natives, who started out of
a scrub they were passing through. All signs of friendship, masonic or
otherwise, were thrown away on them, and at last, after receiving two or
three showers of boomerangs and waddies they had to turn and fire on
them. So bold and determined were they in their attack upon the three
men, that Stuart had to return to his camp of the night before still
followed by them. Here he had to make up his mind to abandon his further
progress for the present. He had too small a party to stand a pitched
battle with the aboriginal proprietors; the water behind them was
failing, and they had suffered considerable loss in their horses. Most
wisely Stuart determined to return.
On the 27th June he commenced his retreat. On reaching the Bonney he
halted for a few days, during which time the cloudy aspect of the sky
made him entertain the idea of another effort to reach the Victoria
River; but no rain fell, and he had to keep on his way. On the 26th of
August the party arrived at Mr. Brodie's camp at Hamilton Springs, all of
them very weak and reduced.
After the result of Stuart's expedition had been reported in Adelaide,
and it was seen how inadequate means alone had led to the retreat of the
explorer, the Government voted £2,500 to equip a larger and
better-organized party, of which he was to take command. Meanwhile, such
a report of the results of the journey as the Government thought might
prove useful to the leaders of the Victorian expedition, then on the
march, was forwarded, but, as will be seen, shared the same chapter of
accidents that beset that unfortunate expedition, and never reached them.
This time Stuart's party numbered at the final start, ten men and
forty-seven horses; and by the end of January, 1861, they were fairly on
their way outside the settled districts, and here we must leave them to
turn to that other expedition, the issue of which attracted so much
attention throughout the world.
Public opinion is notably fickle, and never more so than when dealing
with the memories of distinguished men. No guide, no standard is followed
in the matter; the recognition of their services is made solely a matter
Poor Kennedy, who, confronted with almost insurmountable difficulties,
harassed by hostile natives, and ill-provisioned at the start, lost his
life, and the majority of his party, in a gallant effort to fulfil his
task, is almost forgotten, save by the few who take an interest in the
history of our country. Whilst Burke--who left the settlements, equipped
with everything that a generous people could provide, and that the
experience of others could suggest, to make the journey safe and ensure
its success--travelled through a country that is now a vast sheep and
cattle walk; and frittered away his magnificent resources, wantonly
sacrificing his own life and those of his men, is elevated into a hero.
It may truly be said that for the fate of the two leaders, the mistakes
of others must be greatly held accountable; but at the same time it must
be also kept strongly in view that, for the want of judgment that placed
Burke in such a position that the mistake of a subordinate could entail
such fatal results, he alone was responsible.
The action of Victoria in sending out the expedition of discovery under
Burke and Wills, was, without doubt, exceptional in the annals of
exploration; it was an instance of a public body emulating the generous
act of a private individual. The colony itself had no territory left to
explore. Her rich and compact little province was known from end to end,
and it was not with her, as with others, a case of necessity to send her
sons into the wilderness, to open fresh fields for emigration.
Whatever then was the upshot of the expedition, and whatever the guilty
mismanagement attaching to its progress, the colony must ever look back
with pride upon the noble and unselfish motives that prompted its
Without counting the cost of the relief parties, seven lives were laid
down, and over £12,000 expended, and it was all cheerfully rendered; and
Victoria, in her one expedition, had the satisfaction of knowing that her
representatives carried off the coveted prize, and were the first to
cross the continent from south to north.
The money for the expenses was subscribed as follows:--
£6,000 voted by Government, £1,000 subscribed by Mr. Ambrose Kyte, and
the balance of the £12,000 made up by public subscription.
The outfit was on a most lavish scale; camels were imported from
Peshawar, with native drivers; provisions and stores for twelve months
provided, and no expense spared to render the whole appointments the most
complete ever provided for an exploring expedition. When the party was
organised, it consisted of the leader, R. O'Hara Burke; second in
command, G. J. Landells, who had brought the camels from India; third, W.
J. Wills, astronomical and meteorological observer., Dr. Hermann Beckler,
medical officer and botanist; Dr. Ludwig Becker, artist, naturalist, and
geologist; ten white men, and three camel drivers.
It was a gala day when they left Melbourne, and their progress through
the settled districts was a triumphant march; it almost seemed that Fate
was playing with them in very mockery, smiling at the thought of the
The choice of the leader has always been a puzzle to most men, and it can
only be accounted for in two ways. First, that the committee of
management did not wish (as was only natural) to go outside of the colony
for a man, and the tried and experienced explorers were all residents in
other colonies; secondly, that the committee was, with two notable
exceptions, composed of men quite unable to judge of the qualities
essential in a leader; for the man of their choice, the unfortunate
Burke, was most singularly unfitted for the position.
Burke was an Irishman, from the county of Galway. He had been in the
Austrian service, and also in the Irish mounted constabulary. At the time
when he applied for the post, which unhappily was awarded to him, he was
an inspector of mounted police at Castlemaine. His appointment as leader
was strongly supported by the chairman of the committee, Sir William
Stawell, and it appears to have been backed up by those kind of general
testimonials as to ability which recommend a man almost equally for any
grade or position. Of special aptitude or scientific training he
possessed no pretension, and his selection was a fatal blunder. In saying
this, there is no reflection on the private character of the mistaken
leader; he paid for the wrong estimation he held of his own fitness with
his life, and the fault rests with those who placed him in a position
where he also was responsible for the lives of others. After passing in
review the different expeditions that have added so much lustre to our
history, and striving to judge dispassionately of the characters of the
men who, with good and evil fortune, have commanded them, one cannot help
being struck by the exaggerated and misplaced stress laid upon the
reputation Burke possessed for personal bravery. The calm and simple
courage of Sturt, the cool judgment and forethought of Mitchell, the
devotion of Austin, seem all to have been lost sight of by writers, who
extol Burke in a way that would lead men to believe that every other
Australian leader must have been an abject craven. This mistaken
laudation has done more to glaringly parade Burke's many failings than
more modest and judicious praise would have done.
Of his second, W. J. Wills (who shared the fate of his leader), he
appears to have been a man eminently possessed of most of the qualities
that would fit him for the position he held, but apparently tempered with
an amiability of disposition that led him to give way completely to the
rash judgment of his superior, without striving to temper that rashness.
Before the expedition travelled outside of the settled country, trouble
appeared. First, Landells resigned in consequence of a quarrel with the
leader. On returning to Melbourne, he expressed publicly an opinion that,
under Burke's management, the expedition would be attended by most
Wright was then appointed third in charge, and he apparently had not the
most remote idea of any of the functions entailed on him by his position,
and has since been blamed as having caused the final catastrophe. He
joined the party at Menindie, which, for the purpose of explanation, may
be said to occupy the same position on the Darling as Laidley's Ponds,
whence Sturt started for the interior.
The foregoing estimate of the men holding the principal commands is
essential to enable the reader to understand how the astonishing blunders
were so constantly perpetrated, that brought the whole campaign to such
From Menindie to Cooper's Creek was the next stage, but the country now
being fairly well known, they did not follow the route of Sturt the
explorer. The main body of the party was left behind. Burke took with him
Wills, six men, five horses, and sixteen camels, leaving the others to
follow afterwards under the guidance of Wright, who went two hundred
miles with them to point out the best route. They left Menindie on the
19th of October, 1860. On the 11th of November they arrived at Cooper's
Creek, and here they camped, waiting for the arrival of Wright with the
main body, and making short excursions to the northward. Grass and water
were both plentiful, and up to their arrival at Cooper's Creek the
journey had not been so arduous as an ordinary overlanding trip with
Wright's non-arrival, and the delay caused thereby, seemed to have worked
upon Burke's impatient temper, and the extraordinary notion came into his
head to divide his party of eight, and with three men to start across the
continent to the Gulf of Carpentaria, leaving the others in charge of
Brahe, to await his return, and also Wright's long-delayed arrival. On
the 16th December, 1860, Burke, having with him Wills, King, and Gray,
six camels, two horses, and three months' provisions, started on this
tramp, which for perverse absurdity stands unequalled. The first duty of
a man entrusted with such a large party, was to have carried out its
chief aim and mission of reporting on the geographical features and
formation of the country he was sent to explore, and bringing back the
fullest and most minute account of it, and its productions. Burke, during
the most important part of his journey, left behind him his botanist,
naturalist, and geologist, and started without even the means at his
disposal of following up any discoveries he might make. His sole thought
evidently was to cross to Carpentaria and back, and be able to say that
he had done so--a most unworthy ambition on the part of the leader of
such a party, containing within itself all the elements of geographical
research, and one that could certainly not have been anticipated by the
promoters. After all the pains and cost expended in the organisation of
this expedition, we have now the spectacle of the main body, including
two of the scientific members, loitering on the outskirts of the settled
districts; four men killing time on the banks of Cooper's Creek, and the
leader and three others racing headlong across the country ahead, all
four of them being utterly inexperienced men. As might be expected, the
results of the journey are most barren. Burke scarcely troubled to keep
any journal at all.
Wills' diary, too, is sadly uninteresting--it is but the baldest record
of the day's doings, and destitute of the sympathetic style which is so
essential in an explorer's log. From it we find that their first point
was to make Eyre's Creek, but, before reaching it, they discovered a fine
water-course coming from the north that took them a long distance on
their way, there being abundance of both water and grass along its banks.
From where this creek turned to the eastward they kept steadily north,
the rivers, fortunately for them, keeping mostly a north and south
course. They crossed the dividing range at the head of the Cloncurry
River, and by following that river down reached the Flinders, and,
finally, the mangroves and salt water in February, 1861. At the end of
his scanty notes, Burke says:--
"28th March. At the conclusion of report, it would be as well to say that
we reached the sea, but we could not obtain a view of the open ocean,
although we made every endeavour to do so."
Wills' description of their arrival is as follows:
"Finding the ground in such a state from the heavy falls of rain that the
camels could scarcely be got along, it was decided to leave them at camp
119, and for Mr. Burke and I to proceed towards the sea on foot, After
breakfast, we accordingly started, taking with us the horse and three
days' provisions. Our first difficulty was in crossing Billy's Creek,
which we had to do where it enters the river, a few hundred yards below
the camp. In getting the horse in here he got bogged in a quicksand so
deeply as to be unable to stir, and we only succeeded in extricating him
by undermining him on the creek side, and then lunging him into the
water. Having got all the things in safety, we continued down the river
bank, which bent about from east to west, but kept a general north
course. A great deal of the land was so soft and rotten that the horse,
with only one saddle on and twenty-five pounds on his back, could
scarcely walk over it. At a distance of about five miles we again had him
bogged, in crossing a small creek, after which he seemed so weak that we
had some doubts about getting him on. We, however, found some better
ground close to the water's edge, where the sandstone rock runs out, and
we stuck to it as far as possible. Finding that the river was bending
about so much that we were making very little progress in a northerly
direction, we struck off due north, and soon came on some tableland,
where the soil is shallow and gravelly, and clothed with box and swamp
gums. Patches of the land were very boggy, but the main portion was sound
enough. Beyond this we came on an open plain, covered with water up to
one's ankles. The soil here was a stiff clay, and the surface very
uneven, so that between the tufts of grass one was frequently knee-deep
in water. The bottom, however, was sound, and no fear of bogging. After
floundering through this for several miles, we came to a path formed by
the blacks, and there were distinct signs of a recent migration in a
southerly direction. By making use of this path we got on much better,
for the ground was well-trodden and hard. At rather more than a mile the
path entered a forest, through which flowed a nice watercourse, and we
had not gone far before we found places where the blacks had been
camping. The forest was intersected by little pebbly rises, on which they
made their fires, and in the sandy ground adjoining some of the former
had been digging yams, [The DIOS-COREA of Carpentaria.] which seemed to
be so numerous that they could afford to leave plenty of them behind,
probably having selected only the very best. We were not so particular,
but ate many of those that they had rejected, and found them very good.
About half a mile further we came close on a blackfellow who was coiling
by a camp fire, whilst his gin and piccaninny were yabbering alongside.
We stopped for a short time to take out some of the pistols that were on
the horse, and that they might see us before we were so near as to
frighten them. Just after we stopped, the black got up to stretch his
limbs, and after a few seconds looked in our direction. It was very
amusing to see the way in which he stared, standing for some time as if
he thought he must be dreaming, and then, having signalled to the others,
they dropped on their haunches and shuffled off in the quietest manner
It will be, however, tedious to continue the quotation, suffice it to say
that they reached a channel with tidal waters, and had to return without
actually seeing the open sea. Then comes a blank in Wills' diary, and
when he next writes they were on their way back.
Having accomplished their task, but with little profit, for they did not
actually know their position on the Gulf, being strangely out in their
reckoning; mistaking the river they were on for the Albert, over a
hundred miles to the westward, the retreat commenced. Short rations and
hardship now began to tell, and during the struggle back to the depôt
there seems to have been an absence of that kindly spirit of self
sacrifice which is so distinguishing a feature in nearly all the other
expeditions whose lines have fallen disastrously. Gray fell sick, and
stole some flour to make some gruel with; for this Burke beat him
severely. Wills writes on one occasion that they had to wait, and send
back for Gray, who was "gammoning" that he could not walk. Nine days
afterwards the unfortunate man dies--an act which at any rate is not
often successfully gammoned. But to bring the story to an end, they at
last, on the evening of the 21St of April, reached the camp on Cooper's
Creek, where they had left their four companions, and instead of finding
the whole party there to greet them, found it lifeless and deserted.
Searching at the foot of a tree marked "dig" they found a small quantity
of provisions concealed, and a note from Brahe stating that they had left
only that morning. They sat down and ate a welcome supper of porridge,
and considered their position. They could scarcely walk, and their camels
were the same; they had fifty pounds of flour, twenty pounds of rice,
sixty pounds of oatmeal, sixty pounds of sugar, and fifteen pounds of
dried meat; a very fair stock if they only had had the means of transit;
if Brahe had left three or four horses hobbled at the depôt they would
have been able to follow, but as it was they could do nothing, and all
the time Brahe was only separated from them by a very short distance, had
they but known it,
Burke consulted his companions as to the feasibility of their being able
to overtake Brahe, and they all agreed that in their tired and enfeebled
condition it was hopeless to attempt it; then, according to King's
narrative, Burke said that instead of returning up the creek, their old
route to Menindie, they would go down to Mount Hopeless, in South
Australia, following the line taken by A. C. Gregory. Wills objected and
so did King, but ultimately both gave in, and this was the death warrant
of two of them.
The following paper was placed in the depôt by Burke before starting:--
"Depôt No. 2, Cooper's Creek, Camp 65. The return party from Carpentaria
consisting of myself, Wills and King (Gray dead), arrived here last
night, and found that the depôt party had started on the same day. We
proceed on to-morrow slowly down the creek to Adelaide, by Mount
Hopeless, and shall endeavour to follow Gregory's track, but we are very
weak. The two camels are done up and we shall not be able to travel
faster than two or three miles a day. Gray died on the road from
exhaustion and fatigue. We have all suffered much from hunger. The
provisions left here will, I think, restore our strength. We have
discovered a practicable route to Carpentaria, the chief portion of which
lies on 140 deg. of east longitude. There is some good country between
this and the Stony Desert. From there to the tropics the country is dry
and stony. Between the tropics and Carpentaria a considerable portion is
rangy, but it is well-watered and richly-grassed. We reached the shores
of Carpentaria on February 11th, 1861. Greatly disappointed at finding
the party here gone.
"(Signed) ROBERT O'HARA BURKE.
"April 22, 1861.
"P.S.--The camels cannot travel, and we cannot walk or we should follow
the other party. We shall move very slowly down the creek."
After resting four or five days, and finding great advantage from their
change of diet, the three men started, but one of the camels got bogged,
and had to be shot as he lay in the creek, the explorers cutting off what
meat they could from the body, and staying a couple of days to dry it in
the sun. When they again started, the one camel they had left carried
most of what they had, and they each took with them a bundle of about
twenty-five pounds; but they made no progress, all the creeks they
followed to the southward ran out into earthy plains and their one
solitary beast of burden being knocked up, they had to return.
Now commenced a terrible struggle for mere existence the camel being past
recovery, was shot, and the meat dried, and then the men tried to live,
after the fashion of the blacks, on fish and nardoo. The natives were
especially kind to the unfortunate men. In Wills' diary we find frequent
mention of the liberal hospitality they extended to them, but to a great
extent the novelty soon died out, and the blacks began to find their
white guests rather an encumbrance, and soon commenced shifting their
camps to avoid the burden of their support.
On the 27th May, Wills started alone to the depôt to deposit the
journals, and a note stating their condition. He reached there on the
30th, and says in his diary:--
"No traces of anyone, except blacks, have been here since we left.
Deposited some journals and a notice of our present condition."
This was the notice:--
"May 30th, 1861.
"We have been unable to leave the creek. Both camels are dead. Mr. Burke
and King are down on the lower part of the creek. I am about to return to
them, when we shall probably all come up this way. We are trying to live
the best way we can, like the blacks, but we find it hard work. Our
clothes are going fast to pieces. Send provisions and clothes as soon as
"(Signed) WILLIAM J. WILLS."
"The depôt party having left, contrary to instructions, has put us in
this fix. I have deposited some of my journals here for fear of
Having done this, Wills returned to his companions, being fed by the
friendly natives on his way back. During the intercourse that of
necessity they had had with the blacks during their detention on Cooper's
Creek, they had noticed the extensive use the natives made of the seeds
of the nardoo [See Appendix.] plant as an article of food; but for a long
time they were unable to find out this plant, nor would the blacks show
it to them. At last King accidentally found it, and, by its aid, they now
managed to prolong their lives. But the seeds had to be gathered,
cleaned, pounded and cooked, and even after all this labour (and to men
in their state it was labour) very little nourishment was derived from
eating it. An occasional crow or hawk was shot, and, by chance, a little
fish obtained from the natives, and as this was all they could get, they
were sinking rapidly. At last they decided that Burke and King should go
up the creek and endeavour to find the natives and get food from them.
Wills, who was now so weak as to be unable almost to move, was left lying
under some boughs, with an eight days' supply of water and nardoo, the
others trusting that before that time they would have returned to him.
On the 26th June the two men started, and poor Wills was left to meet his
death alone. He must have retained his consciousness almost to the last.
So exhausted was he, that death must have been only like a release from
the trouble of living. His last entries, though giving evidences of
fading faculties, are almost cheerful. He jocularly alludes to himself as
Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. It is evident that he had
given up hope, and waited for death's approach in a calm and resigned
frame of mind, without fear, like a good and gallant man.
King and Burke did not go far; on the second day Burke had to give in
from sheer weakness, and the next morning when his companion looked at
him, he saw by the breaking light that his leader was dead.
This was the sad and bitter end of the high-spirited captain of this
luckless expedition; an almost solitary death on the wide western plain,
after enduring weeks of hunger and starvation. What must have been King's
feelings at finding himself thus left without a companion to cheer his
last hours when his turn, as he then thought, must inevitably soon come?
After wandering in search of the natives, and not finding them, the
solitary man returned to Wills, who was also dead, and all he could do
was to cover the body up with a little sand, without any hope that the
same would be done by him.
Burke's last notes in his pocket book are as follows:--
"I hope we shall be done justice to. We have fulfilled our task, but we
have been aban----. We have not been followed up as we expected, and the
depôt party abandoned their post."
He winds up:--
"King has behaved nobly. He has stayed with me to the last, and placed
the pistol in my hand, leaving me lying on the surface as I wished."
Left to himself, King, after a few days, made another effort to find the
natives, and this time succeeded, living with their assistance until
rescued by Howitt's relief party on September 15th, having for nearly
three months subsisted on the hospitality of the natives.
Meanwhile that these unfortunate men were slowly starving to death on
Cooper's Creek, parties were soon to be dispatched from north, south and
east in quest of them.
Left at the depôt on Cooper's Creek, Brahe remained from the 14th of
December, 1860, until the 21st of April, 1861. Then he left, his
instructions, according to his own account, being (verbally) to remain at
the depôt three months, or longer, if provisions and other circumstances
would permit. Before leaving he buried, as before stated, a small supply
of provisions and a note, which in full ran:--
"Depôt, Cooper's Creek, April 21, 1861. The depôt party of V.E.E. leaves
this camp to-day to return to the Darling. I intend to go S.E. from camp
60 to get on to our old track at Bulloo. Two of my companions and myself
are quite well; the third--Patton-has been unable to walk for the last
eighteen days, as his leg has been severely hurt when thrown by one of
the horses. No person has been up here from the Darling. We have six
camels and twelve horses, in good working condition.
Unfortunately this was worded in such a way as to leave Burke, who got it
that night, under the impression that they were all, with one exception,
fairly well, and would probably make long stages, whereas, on the evening
of the day that Burke returned, they were camped but fourteen miles away.
Wright, meantime, with the main body of the party had been camping and
wandering between the Darling and Bulloo; his men sickened and died of
scurvy, and he consumed his rations, and reduced the condition of his
stock to no purpose. On Brahe's return he made an extraordinary display
of energy, and returned with him to the depôt on Cooper's Creek, at which
place they arrived on the 8th of May, whilst Burke and Wills were making
their futile attempt to reach Mount Hopeless. Wright and Brahe came to
the conclusion that no one had visited the caché since Brahe's departure,
although the fact seems almost incredible. Brahe states, however:--
"Mr. Burke's return being so soon after my departure caused the tracks of
his camels to correspond in the character of age exactly with our own
tracks. The remains of three separate fires led us to suppose that blacks
had been camped there. The fires had burned to mere ashes, and left no
perceptible evidence from the position of the sticks as to whether they
were black men's fires or not. The ground above the caché was so
perfectly restored to the appearance it presented when I left it, that in
the absence of any fresh sign or mark of any description to be seen near,
it was impossible to suppose that it had been disturbed."
Wright and Brahe rode away again, and when Wills afterwards visited the
depôt to bury the journals, he says that he could not perceive any sign
of it having been visited; a series of singular and fatal oversights that
almost seem to have been pre-ordained.
On the 18th of June, Wright reached the Darling and sent in his
dispatches. As may be imagined they occasioned great consternation, and
no time was lost in instituting search parties to scour half the
continent for the missing men. Fortunately a light party, under Mr. A. W.
Howitt, had already been equipped, to follow on Burke's tracks, for the
long absence and silence of Wright had already caused people to feel
anxious. Howitt's party was doubled and he made all speed to Cooper's
Creek. Meantime the other colonies took the matter up and three more
parties were in the field. Howitt, whose fortunes we must follow, started
early in July; the VICTORIA, steam sloop, was sent up to the mouth of the
Albert River, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, from Brisbane, having Mr. W.
Landsborough on board. Another Queensland expedition, under Mr. Walker,
left the furthest out station, in the Rockhampton district, to proceed
overland to the Gulf, and from South Australia, started M'Kinlay.
On the 8th of September Howitt, having with him Brahe, reached Cooper's
Creek, and on the 13th arrived at the fatal depôt, but like all the
others, he says that he could not see any sign of the caché having been
touched; nor did he stop to examine it. On the 15th, while trying to
follow Burke's outward track down the creek, Howitt says:--
"I crossed at a neck of sand, and again came on the track of a camel
going up the creek; at the same time I found a native, who began to
gesticulate in a very excited manner, and to point down the creek,
bawling out, 'Gow! gow!' as loud as he could. When I went towards him he
ran away, and finding it impossible to get him to come to me, I turned
back to follow the camel track, and to look after my party, as I had not
seen anything of them for some miles. The track was visible in sandy
places, and was evidently the same I had seen for the last two days. I
also found horse tracks in places, but very old. Crossing the creek I cut
our track, and rode after the party. In doing so I came upon three pounds
of tobacco, which had lain where I saw it for some time. This, together
with the knife-handle, the fresh horse tracks, and the camel track going
eastward, puzzled me extremely, and led me into a hundred conjectures. At
the lower end of the large reach of water before mentioned, I met Sandy
and Frank looking for me, with the intelligence that King, the only
survivor of Mr. Burke's party, had been found. [See Appendix.] A little
further on I found the party halted, and immediately went across to the
black's wurleys, where I found King sitting in a hut that the blacks had
made for him. He presented a melancholy appearance-wasted to a shadow,
and hardly to be distinguished as a civilised being, except by the
remnants of clothes on him."
So soon as King had recovered sufficient strength to accompany the party
they went to the place where Wills had died, and found his body in the
gunyah as King had described it, there it was buried. On the 21st,
Burke's body was found up the creek, he too was buried where he died.
Howitt then, after rewarding the blacks who had cared for King, started
home again by easy stages taking the rescued man with him. On his return
to Melbourne, Howitt was sent back to disinter the remains of the
explorers, and bring them down to Melbourne, which task he safely
accomplished. A public funeral then took place, and subsequently a statue
was erected to their memory.
Dr. Beckler, and Messrs. Stone, Purcell, and Patton were the others whose
lives were sacrificed on this unfortunate trip, the first three were
members of Wright's party, the last one was with Brahe at the depôt.
Before ending the narration of this journey of Burke and Wills, it will
be remembered, that an account of Stuart's expedition to Central Mount
Stuart, and Attack Creek was forwarded to the leader; these papers were
entrusted to Trooper Lyons to take from Swan Hill to Wright's camp.
Wright ordered him on to follow the tracks of Burke, who he supposed was
about two hundred miles away; he was accompanied by the saddler of the
party, McPherson, and a black boy, Dick. They followed Burke's tracks for
some days but never reached him, their horses gave in, and they being
insufficiently provided with provisions nearly perished, finally they
were picked up by a relief party under Doctor Beckler.
The nardoo which served to prolong the life of Burke and Wills for a
considerable time is a small ground plant resembling clover in the shape
of its leaves. These leaves are covered with silvery down, and the seeds,
too, have this down on them. When fresh the seeds are flat and oval. The
nardoo grows in loose soil, subject to inundation, generally on polygonum
Whilst this tragedy had been enacted, Stuart was endeavouring to force
his way across Australia, and at the time his fellow explorers were
slowly starving to death on Cooper's Creek, he was making gallant efforts
to cross the dry tableland that separated him from the heads of the coast
Stuart followed his old track by the way of the Fincke and the Hugh, and
on the 12th April arrived at their former acquaintance, the Bonney, which
they found running strong, with abundant green feed on its banks. They
followed it down until it spread out and was lost in a large plain; so
striking north, the party on the 21st April reached Tennant's Creek, and
four days after, they came to the scene of their skirmish with the
natives, on Attack Creek. This time, although the tracks of natives were
numerous, they were permitted to pass peacefully onwards. Still pushing
to the north, along the base of the line of broken range, that in that
locality runs north and south, Stuart found and named many creeks, all of
them heading from the range and forming for a considerable space good
defined channels, but becoming lost on entering the low country. At last,
on the 4th of May, he came to the end of the range, which he there called
the Ashburton Range. Here he made several attempts to the north-west, but
could discover neither water nor watercourses in that direction; nothing
but flooded plains, beautifully grassed, but heavy and rotten to ride
over; beyond this, the country changed for the worse, becoming sandy and
On the 16th of May, he first encountered a new kind of scrub, which is
now known as Stuart's hedgewood. It spreads out in many branches from the
root upwards, interlacing with its neighbours on either side, forming an
impervious hedge. On the 23rd, he found the magnificent sheet of water,
which he called Newcastle Waters, and which at first seemed to promise
him good assistance in getting to the north, but it proved delusive.
Beyond the Newcastle he could not advance his party at all; north,
north-cast, and north-west, it was all the same endless grassy plains,
terminating in thick scrubby forest, until at last he had again to give
up hope, and return to Adelaide.
Such, however, was the confidence of the authorities in him, and such his
own energy, that in less than a month he was on his way to Chambers'
Creek, to make preparations for a fresh start. His last journey had
proved the existence of a long line of good country, fairly well-watered,
and although beyond it he had not been able to proceed, still, there was
no knowing what a fresh trial might bring forth. He had, at any rate,
brought back his party in safety, with the loss of only a few horses; and
in no way deterred by the fate of the Victorian explorers, he started
once more, this time destined to meet with success.
Stuart's last Expedition--Frew's Pond--Daly Waters--Arrival at the
Sea--The flag at last hoisted on the northern shore--Return--Serious
illness of the Leader--The Burke relief Expedition--John M'Kinlay--Native
rumours--Discovery of Gray's body--Hodgkinson sent to Blanche Water with
the news--Returns with the information of King's rescue by Howitt--
M'Kinlay starts north--Reaches the Gulf coast--Makes for the new
Queensland settlements on the Burdekin--Reaches the Bowen River in
safety--Mystery of the camel's tracks--Landsborough's expedition--
Discovery of the Gregory River--The Herbert--Return to the Albert depôt--
News of Burke and Wills--Landsborough reduces his party and starts home
overland--Returns by way of the Barcoo--Landsborough and his critics--His
work as an Explorer--Walker starts from Rockhampton--Another L tree
found on the Barcoo--Walker crosses the head of the Flinders--Finds the
tracks of Burke and Wills--Tries to follow them up--Returns to
Queensland--Abandonment of the desert theory--Private expeditions--
Dalrymple and others.
On leaving the settled districts, Stuart followed his old track, now so
familiar to him, until on the 14th April, 1862, we find him encamped at
the upper end of Newcastle Waters, once more about to try to force a
passage through the forest of scrub to the north. On the second day he
was partly successful, finding an isolated waterhole, surrounded by
conglomerate rock. This he called Frew's Pond, and it is now a well-known
camping place on the overland telegraph line.
Past this spot he was not able to make any progress; twice he tried hard
to reach some tributary of the Victoria River, but failed, and had to
spend many long days in fruitlessly riding through dense mulga and
hedgewood scrub. At length, after much hope deferred, and finding a few
scanty waterholes that did not serve his purpose, he succeeded in
striking the head of a chain of ponds running to the north. These being
followed down, led him to the head of the creek, called Daly Waters
Creek, and finally to the large waterhole bearing that name, where the
telegraph station now stands.
Beyond this point the creek was lost in a swamp, and Stuart was unable to
find the channel where it re-formed, now known as the Birdum. Missing
this watercourse, Stuart worked his way to the eastward, to a creek he
called the Strangways, which led him down to the Roper River. This river
he crossed, and followed up a northern tributary named by him the
Chambers, a name he was so fond of conferring out of gratitude to his
constant friend, John Chambers.
His troubles regarding water were now over, but his horses began to fall
lame, and he had to carefully husband his stock of spare shoes to carry
him back to Adelaide. From the Chambers he came to the Katherine, the
lower course of the Flying Fox Creek of Leichhardt, called by Stuart as
above, the name it now bears. Thence he struck across the tableland, and
descended to the head waters of the river he christened the Adelaide,
although at first he thought that he was on the Alligator River.
Following the Adelaide, he soon found himself travelling amongst rich
tropical scenery, that told him he was at last approaching the coast.
On the 24th July, he went to the north-east, intending to make the sea
shore and travel along the beach to the mouth of the Adelaide River. He
only told two of the party of the eventful moment awaiting them. As they
rode on, Thring, who was ahead, called out, "The sea!" which so took the
majority by surprise, that they were some time before they understood
what was meant, and then three hearty cheers burst forth.
At this, his first point of contact, Stuart dipped his hands and feet in
the sea, and the initials J.M.D.S. were cut on the largest tree they
could find. He then attempted to make the mouth of the Adelaide, but
found the route too boggy for the horses, and not seeing the utility of
fatiguing them for nothing, had a space cleared where they were, and a
tall sapling stripped of its boughs for a flagstaff; on this he hoisted
the Union Jack he had carried with him. A memorial of the visit was then
buried at the foot of the impromptu staff. It was an air-tight tin case
containing the following paper:--
"South Australian Great Northern Exploring Expedition.--The exploring
party, under the command of John M'Dowall Stuart, arrived at this spot on
the 25th day of July, 1862, having crossed the entire continent of
Australia, from the Southern to the Indian Ocean, passing through the
centre. They left the city of Adelaide on the 26th day of October, 1861,
and the most northern station of the colony on the 21st day of January,
1862. To commemorate this happy event., they have raised this flag
bearing his name. All well. God save the Queen."
Stuart and the party signed their names to this document. The tree has
since been found and recognised, but this memorial has not been
More fortunate than the other travellers who reached the Gulf shore,
Stuart was able to survey the open sea, instead of having to be content
with the sight of some mangrove trees and salt water.
Next day Stuart started on his return. His health was failing, and his
horses were sadly weakened. After leaving the Newcastle, the water in the
many short creeks coming from the range was found to be at the last gasp;
in some there was none, in others but a scanty supply. The horses
commenced to give in rapidly, and one after another they were left on
successive dry stages. Stuart, too, began to think that he would never
live to reach the settled districts. Scurvy had brought him down to a
terrible state, and after all his success, he scarcely hoped to profit by
it. His right hand was nearly useless to him, and after sunset he was
blind. He could not stand the pain caused by riding, and a stretcher had
to be made to carry him on. Slowly and painfully they crept along until
the first station, Mount Margaret, was reached, and here the leader, who
was only a skeleton, was able to get a little relief, and finally
recovered sufficiently to ride to Adelaide.
This was the last exploration conducted by Stuart. He was rewarded by the
Government of the colony he had served so well, and went to reside in
England, where he died. He never recovered from the great suffering of
his return journey.
At a re-union of returned Australians, held at Glasgow shortly before his
death, he had to speak, and it was evident to all that he had quite
broken down. He said that "his eyesight and his memory were so far gone
that he was unable to compose a speech, or, indeed, to recollect many of
the incidents that happened throughout the course of his explorations."
This was the sad ending of one of our greatest explorers. Eight full
years of his life had been spent in exploring Australia, and neither his
means nor resources had ever been great--in fact, on some occasions they
had been dangerously small--but he always brought his party back in
safety, through every difficulty.
In following up Stuart's last expedition, we have lost sight for a time
of the three parties sent out after Burke and Wills, which, although they
were unsuccessful in their first aim, yet did sterling service in the
field of discovery.
John M'Kinlay started from Adelaide-the scene of so many departures on
similar errands--on October 26th, 1861. On arriving at Blanche Water, he
was informed that a report was current amongst the natives that some
white men and camels had been seen at a distant inland water, but knowing
the little reliance to be placed on such statements, he did not at the
time pay much attention to it. On the 27th of September, he crossed Lake
Torrens--a feat which would have excited great interest a few years
ago--and made for Lake Pando, or Lake Hope, as it is better known. From
here he went north, crossing the country so often described, wherein
Cooper's Creek is lost in many watercourses. He now got more definite
details about the whites that he had formerly heard of, and pressed
forward to the place indicated by the natives, and on the 18th October,
formed a depôt camp for his main party, and started ahead in company with
two white men and a native.
Passing through a country full of small shallow lakes, of all of which
M'Kinlay has faithfully preserved the terrible native names, such as Lake
Moolion--dhurunnie, etc., they came to a watercourse, whereon they found
a grave and picked up a battered pint pot. Next morning they opened the
grave, and in it was the body of a European, the skull being marked, so
M'Kinlay says, with two sabre cuts. He noted down the description of the
body, and, from the locality and surroundings, it has been pronounced to
have been the body of Gray, who died before reaching Cooper's Creek.
If the reader will remember what was the result of the circumstantial
accounts of Leichhardt's murder retailed to Hely by the natives, he will
not be astonished at what follows.
The native that M'Kinlay had with him thus described the manner of the
white man's death, which, of course, was all pure fiction. First, that
the whites were attacked in camp by the natives, who murdered the whole
party, finishing up by eating the bodies of the other men. Next, that the
journals, saddles, etc., were buried at a fake a short distance away.
Naturally, under the circumstances, M'Kinlay believed this story;
particularly as further search revealed another grave (empty) and other
small evidences of the presence of whites.
Next morning a tribe of blacks appeared, and although they immediately
ran away, one was captured, who corroborated the story told by M'Kinlay's
native. The prisoner had marks both of ball and shot wounds on him; he
stated that there was a pistol concealed near a neighbouring lake, and he
was sent to fetch it; but instead, he appeared the following morning at
the head of a host of others, well armed, and bent on mischief. The
leader was obliged to order his men to fire on them, and it was only
after several discharges that they ran away.
M'Kinlay was now quite satisfied that he had found all that remained of
the Victorian expedition; and after burying a letter for the information
of any after comers, they left Lake Massacre, as he called it, and
returned to his depôt camp. The letter hidden was as follows:--
"October 23rd, 1861.
"To the leader of any expedition seeking tidings of Burke and party:--
"Sir,--I reached this water on the 19th instant, and by means of a native
guide discovered a European camp, one mile north on west side of flat.
At, or near this camp, traces of horses, camels, and whites were found.
Hair, apparently belonging to Mr. Wills, Charles Gray, Yr. Burke, or
King, was picked from the surface of a grave dug by a spade, and from the
skull of a European buried by the natives. Other less important
traces-such as a pannikin, oil can, saddle stuffing, &c., have been
found. Beware of the natives, on whom we have had to fire. We do not
intend to return to Adelaide, but proceed to west of north. From
information, all Burke's party were killed and eaten.
"[P.S.--All the party in good health.]
"If you had any difficulty in reaching this spot, and wish to return to
Adelaide by a more practicable route, you may do so for at least three
months to come, by driving west eighteen miles, then south of west,
cutting our dray track within thirty miles. Abundance of water and feed
at easy stages."
M'Kinlay next sent Mr. Hodgkinson with men and packhorses to Blanche
Water, to take down the news of his discovery, and to bring back rations
for a prolonged exploration. Meantime he remained in camp. From one old
native, with whom he had a long conversation, he obtained another version
of the supposed massacre, which evidently had a certain admixture of
This was to the effect that the whites repulsed an attack of the natives
on their return journey; that in the affair, one white man was killed;
he was buried after the fight, and the others went south. The natives
then dug up the body and ate the flesh. The blackfellow then described
minutely the different waters passed by Burke, and the way the men lived
on the seeds of the nardoo plant, which he must have heard of from other
After waiting a little over a month, Mr. Hodgkinson returned, and brought
back with him the news of Howitt's success in finding King. This
explained M'Kinlay's discovery as being that of Gray's body, the adjuncts
of the fight turning out to be exaggerations of the natives. He made an
excursion to the eastward, and visited the graves of the two men buried
by Howitt, on Cooper's Creek, then he started for the north.
The perusal of his journal, containing the account of his first few
weeks' travel, is hard work to accomplish. The native names of every
small lake and waterhole are all given in full, and as the course of each
day's travel is omitted, it becomes rather difficult to follow the track
of the expedition, excepting on the map.
A fairly northerly course was, however, maintained, and M'Kinlay speaks
highly of the country for pastoral purposes. As it was the dry time of
the year, immediately preceding the setting in of the rains, it shows
what a severe season must have been encountered by Sturt when on his last
struggle north, as that explorer finally turned his-back in much the same
On the 27th of February, heavy rains set in, fortunately, they were in
the neighbourhood of some stony ridges and sand hills, on which they
camped, and where they had plenty of space to feed their animals,
although surrounded by water.
On March 10th, they started again, and steadily continued north through
good travelling country, keeping back from the main creek, which was now
too flooded and boggy to follow. This large creek, which was called by
M'Kinlay the Mueller, is one of the main rivers of the interior, now
known as the Diamantina. M'Kinlay soon kept more to the westward and
crossed the stony range, which bears his name, in much the same place
that Burke and Wills did. He christened many of the large tributaries of
the inland watershed, but most of his names have been replaced by others,
it having been difficult to determine them, as in many cases, the creeks
he named were but anabranches.
The history of their progress is now monotonous in the extreme, the
country through which they travelled presented no great obstacle to the
travellers' advance, being well-grassed and watered; and finally on the
6th May they reached the Leichhardt River.
M'Kinlay was most anxious to get to the mouth of the Albert, it being
understood that Captain Norman with the steamer Victoria, would there
form a depôt for the use of the other explorers, Landsborough and Walker,
and M'Kinlay's stock of rations was getting perilously low.
His attempts to reach the sea were, however, fruitless. He was
continually turned back by deep and broad mangrove creeks and boggy
flats, and on the 21st May the party started for the nearest settled
districts in Queensland, in the direction of Port Denison.
They were now on the country already twice described by both Leichhardt
and Gregory, and making in the same direction that Gregory did on his
return journey. Like him, too, M'Kinlay missed following up the Flinders.
He crossed on to the head of the head of the Burdekin, which river he
followed down, continually trusting to meet the advancing flocks and
herds of the settlers, then pushing forward into the new country. On
reaching Mount M'Connell, where the tracks of the two former explorers
came respectively to the river, and left it, M'Kinlay kept down the
river, crossing the formidable Leichhardt Range, through which the
Burdekin forces its way to the lower lands of the coast. Here they came
to a temporary station, just formed by Mr. Phillip Somer, where they were
received with the usual hearty hospitality. Since leaving the Gulf
country the explorers had subsisted on little else than horse and camel
flesh, and were necessarily in rather a weak condition; but whilst they
were toiling down the channel of the Upper Burdekin, suffering
semi-starvation, they were actually travelling amongst the advance-guard
of the pioneer squatters, and had they but thought of resting a day and
looking around, their wants would have been relieved long before they
sighted the gorge of the Burdekin, and their toilsome journey through
that gorge have been prevented.
The tracks of the camels had been seen by one squatter [Note, below] at
least within a few hours after the cavalcade had passed down the river,
and a very little trouble would have saved M'Kinlay much suffering.
[Note: Mr. E. Cunningham, who had then just formed Burdekin Downs
Station. He tells, with much amusement, how the nature of the tracks
puzzled himself and his black boy. The Burdekin pioneers of course did
not expect M'Kinlay's advent amongst them, although they knew he was out
west, and such an animal as a camel did not enter into their reckoning.
Cunningham says that the only thing he could think of was, that it was a
return party who had been looking for new country, and that, having
footsore horses and no shoes left, they had wrapped up their horses' feet
M'Kinlay's trip across the continent did good service at this juncture.
His track was across the country that had always been considered a
terrible desert, useless for pastoral occupation. His report being of
such a favourable nature, dealt a final blow to this theory, which Stuart
had partly demolished. Fortunately, M'Kinlay was an experienced man,
whose verdict was accepted without cavil.
The successful way in which he conducted his party across the continent,
and his well-known merits, led to his afterwards being selected by the
South Australian Government for a responsible post in the Northern
Territory, which will be dealt with in its proper order.
On the 14th of August, 1861, the FIREFLY, having on board the Brisbane
search party for Burke and Wills, left Brisbane. The leader of the party
was Mr. William Landsborough, an experienced bushman, having already a
good knowledge of new country gained in private exploration. The brig was
convoyed by the VICTORIA, under Captain Norman, who had charge of the
expedition until the party were landed. On the way up, the vessels were
separated, and the FIREFLY suffered shipwreck on one of Sir Charles
Hardy's islands; the horses being got ashore safely. On the VICTORIA
coming up, the FIREFLY was repaired sufficiently to serve as a transport.
hulk and the party re-embarked; she was taken in tow by the VICTORIA, and
safely reached her destination at the mouth of the Albert River, in the
Gulf of Carpentaria.
The VICTORIA, as arranged, remained there to render assistance to
Landsborough on his return, and to the Rockhampton search party under Mr.
Walker, on his arrival overland. Landsborough's track, after leaving the
Albert, took him on to the banks of a new river, which had the same
outlet as the Albert, but on account of the other explorers crossing
below the junction, had been hitherto unnoticed. This river, which is a
constantly running stream, and flows through well-grassed, level country,
was named by him the Gregory. His written opinion of the much-disputed
qualities of this district is most sanguine, with regard to its future as
a sheep country. Experience, however, has proved otherwise, it being
found to be fitted only for cattle. Higher up, Landsborough found the
river drier, and presenting a far less tropical appearance than on its
lower course. After continued efforts to the south, and the discovery of
many tributary creeks, Landsborough, on the 21St of December, found the
river which he named the Herbert, one of the most important streams
running south, and joining Eyre's Creek. This river has since been
re-named by the Queensland Government, in consequence of there being
another Herbert River in the territory. With most questionable taste, the
officials, out of a wide choice of names, could find none better than the
absurd, and inappropriate one of the GEORGINA! by which it is now known.
The first important feature in Landsborough's Herbert, which runs through
richly-grassed tableland country, was met with on the day following its
discovery, when a fine sheet of water was found which they named Lake
Mary; below this, some distance, was another pool--Lake Frances.
Landsborough now made an attempt to push to the westward, but failed
through want of water, He then returned up the Herbert, and crossed on to
the head of the O'Shanassy, a tributary of the Gregory. Down this river,
and by way of Beames' Brook, they returned to the depôt on the Albert,
where they arrived on the 8th February, 1862, having been absent nearly
Here Landsborough learnt that during his absence Walker had arrived, and
reported finding the tracks of Burke and Wills on the Flinders. He
therefore determined to go home in that direction, instead of returning
in the steamer, being anxious to see if he could render any assistance.
The party was reduced in number to three whites and three blacks in all,
namely, Messrs. Landsborough, Bourne, and Gleeson, and the three
boys--Jacky, Jemmy, and Fisherman They had a decidedly insufficient stock
of rations when they started the second time, being without tea and
sugar, the VICTORIA not being able to supply them with any.
From the Albert depôt Landsborough made for the Flinders, by way of the
Leichhardt, and arrived at that river on the 19th February. He followed
it up, and was rewarded by being the first discoverer of the beautiful
downs country through which it runs. He named the isolated and remarkable
hills visible from the river Fort Bowen and Mounts Brown and Little. On
the upper part of the Flinders he named Walker's Creek--a considerable
tributary--and from there struck more to the south, towards Bowen
Downs country discovered by himself and Buchanan two years previously.
Here the leader was in hopes of finding a newly-formed station, and
obtaining some more supplies; but the country was still untenanted,
although in one place they observed the track of a dray, and they also
saw the tracks of a party of horsemen near Aramac Creek. They now made
for the Thomson, which is formed by the junction of the Landsborough and
Cornish Creeks, but did not follow it down to the Barcoo, striking that
river higher up. On the Barcoo they had a slight skirmish with the
blacks, who nearly surprised them during the night.
Landsborough was now back in well-known country; some of it, in fact, he
had been over before himself, and from the number of trees they saw
marked with different initials, it was evident that before long stock
would be on its way out. He crossed on to the Warrego, followed that
river down, and on the 21st of May came to the station of Messrs.
Neilson and Williams, where they heard of the fate of Burke and Wills,
the objects of their search. From here the party proceeded to the
Darling, and finally to Melbourne.
On Landsborough's arrival in Melbourne, he found that rumour had
accredited him with being more interested in looking for available
pastoral country than in hunting for Burke and Wills. So far as can be
seen, this accusation was utterly groundless, as there was no saying to
what part of the Gulf Burke and Wills would penetrate, and he was as
likely to meet with traces of them on the Barcoo as well as anywhere
else. With the general belief then current, of the desert nature of the
interior, nobody dreamt that four inexperienced men would have been able
to cross so easily in such a straight line.
The charge lay in a newspaper paragraph that went the round of the daily
papers, an extract from which runs as follows:--
"Great credit must be given to Mr. Landsborough for the celerity with
which he has accomplished the expedition. At the same time, its object
seems to have been lost sight of at a very early stage of the journey, as
there was not the remotest probability of striking Burke's track after
quitting the Flinder's River, and taking a S.S.E. course for the
remainder of the way. In fact, from that moment all mention [This is
incorrect. Landsborough particularly mentions in his journal during his
trip to the Barcoo, how anxiously he endeavoured to find out from the
natives if they had seen anybody with camels.] ceases to be made of the
ostensible purpose for which the party was organised, until Mr.
Landsborough reached the Warrego, and received the intelligence of Burke
and Wills having perished, at which great surprise was expressed. But
supposing these gallant men to have been still living, and anxiously
awaiting succour at some one of the ninety camping places at which they
halted, on their arduous journey between the depôt and the Gulf what
excuse could Mr. Landsborough have offered for giving so wide a berth to
the probable route of the explorers, and for omitting to endeavour to
strike their track, traces of which had been reported on the Flinders by
Mr Walker? We may be reminded that 'all's well that ends well,' that the
lamented explorers were beyond the reach of human assistance, and that
Mr. Landsborough has achieved a most valuable result in following the
course he did; but we cannot help remarking that in so doing he seems to
have been more intent upon serving the cause of pastoral settlement than
upon ascertaining if it were possible to afford relief to the missing
men. The impression produced by a perusal of the dispatch which we
published on Saturday last is that the writer was commissioned to open up
a practicable route from the Warrego to the Flinders, and not that he was
the leader of a party which had been organized and dispatched 'for the
purpose of rendering relief, if possible, to the missing explorers under
the command of Mr. Burke.' We do not wish to detract one iota from the
credit due to Mr. Landsborough for what he has actually effected, but we
must not lose sight of 'the mission of humanity' in which he was
professedly engaged, nor the fact that this mission was replaced by one
of a totally different character, strengthening, as this circumstance
does, the conviction, which is gaining ground in the public mind, that we
have been deluded in expending large sums of money in sending out relief
expeditions which were chiefly employed in exploring available country
for the benefit of the Government and people of Queensland. The cost and
the empty honour has been ours, but theirs has been the substantial
The reply to this is very simple. In the first place, Howitt had been
sent especially to follow up Burke from the start, and would therefore be
supposed to be searching the country on the direct course. Again, Walker
was--as Landsborough thought--then following the homeward track of the
lost party. The only chance of affording succour to the missing men, left
to Landsborough, was the remote one of accidentally coming upon them.
Nobody could have reasonably supposed that such a costly and elaborately
got up expedition would have degenerated into a scamper across to the
Gulf, and a scramble back over the same country.
Apart from all this, Landsborough did not apply for a lease of any of the
country discovered by him on the search expedition, the country called
Bowen Downs having been his discovery of two years previously, and
considering that he closed his days in comparative poverty, after all his
labour, such insinuations as the above are most unjust, and would be
hardly worthy of comment save for the prominent and adverse notice taken
of it by William Howitt, in general such an impartial historian.
The late William Landsborough first went north to Queensland in 1853. In
1854 Messrs. Landsborough and Ranken formed a station on the Kolan River,
between Gayndah and Gladstone, where between bad seasons and blacks they
had considerable trouble. In 1856 his exploring career commenced in the
district of Broadsound and the Isaacs River. In 1858 he explored the
Comet to the watershed, and in the following year the head-waters of the
An old friend and comrade, writing of him, says:--
"Landsborough's enterprise was entirely founded on his own self-reliance.
He had neither Government aid nor capitalists at his back when he
achieved his success as an explorer. He was the very model of a
pioneer--courageous, hardy, good-humoured, and kindly. He was an
excellent horseman, a most entertaining and, at times, eccentric
companion, and he could starve with greater cheerfulness than any man I
ever saw or heard of. But excellent fellow though he was, his very
independence of character and success in exploring provoked much
It is to be hoped, therefore, that in future Landsborough's great
services will be regarded in a more just light than they were by some of
his contemporaries, particularly some living explorers, who resemble the
one alluded to by Dr. Lang:--
"But Mr. ---- is not the only geographical explorer in Australia who,
'Turk-like, could bear no brother near the throne.'
It seems to be a family failing."
Frederick Walker was the leader of the Rockhampton search expedition. He
was an old bushman, had had much to do with the formation of the native
police of Queensland, and took a party of native troopers with him on
On receiving his commission he pushed rapidly out to the Barcoo, and in
the neighbourhood of the tree marked L, found by Gregory, discovered
another L tree. This may or may not be considered a corroboration that
the first was Leichhardt's, there being arguments on both sides. From the
Barcoo he struck north-west to the Alice, seeing some old horse-tracks,
which he thought must be Leichhardt's, but which were probably those of
Landsborough and Buchanan. From the head-waters of the Alice and Thomson,
Walker struck a river he called the Barkly, in reality the head of the
Flinders. Here he experienced much difficulty from the rough basaltic
nature of the country which borders the upper reaches of this river.
Finally getting on to the great western plains he unwittingly crossed the
Flinders, and went far to the north looking for it. Bearing into the
Gulf, he had several encounters with the natives, who by this time it may
be supposed began to see too many exploring parties.
Walker's track down here is rather vague. He may be said to have run a
parallel course to the Flinders River away to the north of it, until, on
nearing the coast, the bend of the river brought it across his course
again. Here he found the tracks of the camels, which assured him that
Burke had at any rate reached the Gulf in safety. He therefore pushed on
to the depôt at the Albert to get a supply of provisions, and return and
follow the tracks up.
He reached the Victoria depôt safely, as before related, and reported his
discovery, having had two more skirmishes with the natives on the way.
Fresh provisioned, he made back for the Flinders, but found it impossible
to follow the tracks. From what he saw, however, he formed a theory that
Burke had retreated towards Queensland, and there he made up his mind to
return. He regained his former course on the river he calls the Norman,
but which may have been the Saxby, and up this river he toiled till he
reached the network of watersheds which forms such a jumble of broken
country at the heads of the Burdekin, Lynd, Gilbert and Flinders.
Here Walker's horses suffered severely from the rocks and stones, until
at last, by the time they had reached the Lower Burdekin, they were
well-nigh horseless, and quite starving. On the 4th of April, 1862, they
reached Strathalbyn cattle station, owned by Messrs. Wood and Robison,
not far from where M'Kinlay eventually arrived.
M'Kinlay's was the last party to use the roundabout and rugged road to
the head of the Burdekin that seemed to have such attractions for all the
explorers. Henceforth the road to the Gulf lay down the wide plains of
Walker was afterwards employed by the Queensland Government to explore a
track for the telegraph line from Rockingham Bay to the mouth of the
Norman River, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. This he carried out
successfully; but when at the Gulf he was attacked by the then prevalent
malarial fever, and died there.
This completes the series of expeditions undertaken for the relief of
Burke and Wills. The eastern half of Australia was now nearly all
known--from south to north, and from north to south, it had been crossed
and re-crossed, and future enterprise was soon to expend itself upon the
So far the results arrived at had been most satisfactory. Not much over
forty years after Oxley's gloomy prediction of the future of the
interior, country had been found surpassing in richness any that was then
known. The pathways for the pioneers had been marked out, and a few more
years was to see the whole of the continent up to the western boundary of
Queensland the busy scene of pastoral industry.
Most noticeable in the history we have just recounted is the persistent
manner in which each succeeding explorer found in all new discoveries the
fulfillment of some pet theory. To the men brought up in the old school
of belief in the central desert, every fresh advance into the interior
was only pushing the desert back a step; it was there still, and,
according to some, it is there now. Others who believed in the great
river theory, imagined its source in the fresh discovery of every inland
river; and those who pinned their faith on a central range, accepted the
low broken ridges of the M'Donnel Ranges as the leading spurs.
But the discoveries of the luxuriant new herbage and edible shrubs of the
interior were the greatest stumbling block to all. That the much-despised
SALSOLEA and other shrubs should be coveted and sought after; that the
bugbear of Oxley, the ACACIA PENDULA, should now be held to indicate good
country was inconceivable; and when, above everything, the most
fondly cherished of all delusions, that in the torrid north the sheep's
wool would turn to hair, had to be given up, it was quite evident that a
new order of belief would soon be entertained.
Writers, however, were still found to argue that things must be after the
old opinion. When M'Kinlay took his little flock of sheep across
Australia and found them grow so fat that, when at the Gulf, he had to
select the leanest one to kill from choice, they cried out triumphantly,
"Ah, but the flesh was tasteless!" When he assured them that he had never
enjoyed better mutton, they said that it was hunger made him think so.
Still the distinctive value of the country was not under stood.
Landsborough, who ought certainly to have known better, speaks highly of
the Gulf plains as a suitable sheep run; but he was not alone in this
belief. The valley of the Burdekin, and many of its tributaries were
stocked with sheep by men of acknowledged experience. In a few years the
error was found out, and sheep pastures were sought for only in the
uplands of the interior.
But the later explorations had done much good for the new colony of
Queensland. Most of the work, with the exception of Stuart's, had been
wrought out within her boundaries, and capital and stock flowed in from
all sides. This led to many private expeditions, such as those conducted
formerly by Messrs. Landsborough, Walker, and Buchanan.
Amongst these, one under the leadership of Mr. Dalrymple penetrated the
coast country north of Rockhampton, and discovered the main tributaries
of the Lower Burdekin, the Bowen and the Bogie rivers. They followed down
the Burdekin in 1859, and discovered that its EMBOUCHERE was much higher
up the coast than was supposed. From this point they turned back, and
ascending the coast range, reached the upper waters of the Burdekin, and
discovered the Valley of Lagoons, west of Rockingham Bay. Another party,
consisting of Messrs. Cunningham, Somer, Stenhouse, Allingham, and Miles
explored the Upper Burdekin in the following year, and discovered tracts
of good pastoral country on the many tributaries of that river. The
remarkable running stream which joins the Burdekin below the township of
Dalrymple, and was noticed and called by M'Kinlay the Brown River, was
really first found by this party, though where it obtained its present
name of Fletcher's Creek is not on record.
In the far south, the Great Bight became once more the scene of interest.
In 1862, Goyder paid a visit to the much-abused region north of Fowler's
Bay, but found nothing to reward him but mallee scrub and spinifex. In
this year Delisser and Hardwicke went over the same country, but on a
much more attractive route, as they came upon a large, limitless plain,
covered with grass and saltbush. Unfortunately they could find no water,
but since then this want has been supplied by sinking and boring, and
pastoral settlement has extended so far.
In the year 1863, Mr. Thomas Macfarlane attempted to get inland, north of
the Bight, but was forced to turn back, after suffering much hardship.
He, too, found some fairly-grassed country, but quite waterless.
In Western Australia, the colonists still made efforts to find good
country east of the Swan River. Lefroy and party pushed out to the
eastward of York, but were not able to give a much better account of the
country than their predecessors. In the north-west a party of colonists
landed at the De Grey River, and settled on the country found by F.
Gregory. Their account quite confirmed the one given by that explorer
Once more a fresh chapter in the history of exploration has to be turned.
All around the coast the fringe of settlement was rapidly creeping, the
gaps of unoccupied country growing smaller and fewer every year. The
adventurous traveller who now forced his way through to the late
uninhabited north coast would find several infant settlements ready to
receive him, and he would no longer be obliged to retrace, with weakened
frame and exhausted resources, his toilsome outward track. The last stage
of Australia's history was about to set in; the telegraph wire was soon
to follow on Stuart's footsteps, and the ring of communication to be
nearly completed around the continent.
Settlement formed at Somerset, Cape York, by the Queensland
Government--Expedition of the Brothers Jardine--Start from Carpentaria
Downs Station--Disaster by fire--Reduced resources--Arrive at the coast
of the Gulf--Hostility of the blacks--Continual attacks--Horses mad
through drinking salt water--Poison country--An unfortunate camp--Still
followed by the natives--Rain and bog--Dense scrub--Efforts of the two
brothers to reach Somerset--Final Success--Lull in exploration--Private
parties--Settlement at Escape Cliffs by South Australia--J. M'Kinlay sent
up--Narrow escape from floods--Removal of the settlement to Port
Darwin--M'Intyre's expedition in search of Leichhardt--His death--Hunt in
Western Australia--False reports about traces of Leichhardt--Forrest's
first expedition--Sent to investigate the report of the murder of white
men in the interior--Convinced of its want of truth--Unpromising
country--Second expedition to Eucla--The cliffs of the Great
Bight--Excursion to the north--Safe arrival at Eucla.
The year 1863 was one of great activity in the northern part of
Australia. At Cape York the Imperial Government had, on the
recommendation of Sir George Bowen, the first Governor of Queensland,
decided to form a settlement. Mr. Jardine, the police magistrate of
Rockhampton was selected to take command, and a detachment of marines was
sent out to be stationed there.
At the Gulf of Carpentaria the township of Burketown was springing into
existence, under the care of William Landsborough, the explorer; and in
the north of Arnhern's Land, M'Kinlay was looking for a suitable site to
establish a port for South Australia. Somerset, the formation of which
led to the expedition of the Jardine brothers, was formed on the mainland
at the Albany Pass, opposite the island of that name. Mr. Jardine was to
proceed by sea to his new sphere of office., but anticipating the want of
fresh meat at the new settlement, he entered into an arrangement with the
Government for his two sons to take a herd of cattle overland to there.
Somerset was near the fatal scene of poor Kennedy's death, and knowing
what tremendous difficulties that explorer had met with on the east
coast, it was decided to attempt the western fall, through the unknown
country fronting the Gulf.
Both the Jardines were quite young men at the time when they started,
Frank, the accepted leader, being only twenty-two years old, and his
brother, Alexander, twenty. Besides themselves, the party was composed of
A. J. Richardson, a surveyor sent by the Government; Messrs. Scrutton,
Binney and Cowderoy, and four natives. They had forty-two horses, and
about two hundred and fifty head of cattle, with four months, provisions.
Before their final start from Carpentaria Downs Station, then the
furthest occupied country to the north-west, and supposed to be situated
on the Lynd River, of Leichhardt, Alexander Jardine made a trip of some
distance ahead in order to ensure finding an available road for the
cattle, and saving delay when the actual start took place.
On this preliminary journey he followed the presumed Lynd down for nearly
one hundred and eighty miles, until he was convinced that there was an
error, and that, whatever river it was, it certainly was not
Leichhardt's, as neither in appearance, direction, nor position did it
coincide with that explorer's description.
On the subsequent journey with the cattle this supposition was found to
be correct, the river turning out to be a tributary of the Gilbert, now
known as the Einnesleigh. On the 11th of October, after A. Jardine's
return, the final start was made from Carpentaria Downs, and the whole of
the party commenced a journey destined to be full of peril and adventure.
The beginning of their trip down the Einnesleigh was unavoidably rough,
and on the 22nd of the month they came to a halt to spell their cattle
and look for the Lynd River, to which they trusted to carry them a good
distance on their way. On the 24th the two brothers started, and in about
thirty miles came to another river, where they found a fine chain of
lagoons, but no country at all resembling the Lynd. All search beyond
being resultless, the went back to the main body; and, leaving
instructions for the cattle to start by a certain date for the new-found
lagoons, they made another effort to find the Lynd.
This time they were again rewarded by discovering a good-sized creek, but
no sign of the Lynd was met with, nor did they ever see it, as owing to
an error in the map they had with them, the location of the river had
been thirty miles misplaced.
Returning to the lagoons, which the cattle had now reached, instructions
were given to start forward, but the first day one of the series of heavy
misfortunes befell them, that afterwards seemed to dog them so
perseveringly. In the morning a large number of the horses were missing,
and leaving a party behind to find them and come on with the pack-horses,
the Jardines and some of the others made a start with the cattle, and on
the second day reached the large creek, but, to their surprise, without
being overtaken by the men with the pack-horses. After an anxious day
spent in waiting, Alexander Jardine went back to see what was the matter,
and on his way met the missing party charged with heavy news. Through
some carelessness in allowing the grass around the camp to catch fire,
half their rations, and nearly the whole of their equipment had been
burnt. In addition, one of the most valuable of their horses had been
poisoned. This misfortune coming at such an early stage of the journey,
with all the unknown country ahead of them, was most serious, and
jeopardised their prospect greatly. However, there was no help for it;
so giving up all hope of the Lynd, they followed down the creek they were
then camped on.
The natives soon commenced to give them a foretaste of what they kept up
during nearly the whole of the journey. Once about twenty appeared at
sundown, and boldly attacked the camp with a shower of spears, and two
days afterwards the younger Jardine, when out alone, was suddenly
surprised by them.
The creek finally led them to the Staaten River, and here the blacks
succeeded in stampeding the horses, and it was days before some of them
On the 5th December they left this ill-fated river, and steered due
north, but bad luck followed them, the torment of mosquitoes and
sandflies, added to bad feed, caused their horses to ramble incessantly,
and whilst the brothers were away on these hunting excursions, the party
at the camp allowed their solitary mule to stray away with his pack on;
and despite all efforts he was never found again. Unfortunately, this
animal carried a lot of their most necessary articles, and their loss
reduced them almost to the same state as the blackfellows who surrounded
Two horses here went mad through drinking salt water, one died, and the
other was too ill to travel, and had to be left.
On December the 13th they at last reached the long-desired Mitchell
river, not without having another pitched battle on the way with the
natives. For the blacks followed them throughout with the same relentless
hostility that they formerly had shown to Kennedy, and evidently meant to
mete out the same fate to them, for whilst the party were on the Mitchell
they mustered in force, and fell upon the travellers with the greatest
determination, and it was only after a severe contest, and heavy loss had
been inflicted on the savages that they retired.
It can be imagined how these continued attacks, in addition to the
harassing nature of the country, gave the party all they knew to hold
their own, and but for the prompt and plucky way in which these assaults
were always met, not one of the little band would have survived. From
what was afterwards found out from some of the semi-civilized natives
about Somerset, these tribes followed the explorers for over four hundred
Leaving the Mitchell and making north, they travelled through poor
country, thinly grassed, and badly watered, but the blacks were still on
On the 28th December, they commenced on the horses, driving them about,
and another stand-up fight ensued. Storms of rain now set in, and they
had to travel through dismal ti-tree flats, with the constant expectation
of being caught by a flood on low-lying country.
On the 5th of January, they came to a well-grassed valley, with a good
river running through it, which was named the Archer, and on the 9th
crossed another river, which was supposed to be the Coen. On leaving this
river, troubles thickened around them; the rain continued incessantly,
the country was so boggy they could scarcely get their animals along at
all, and to add to everything, when they reached the Batavia, two horses
were drowned in crossing, and six more were poisoned [See appendix.] and
Fate seemed to have pretty well done her worst; they could do nothing
else but face the future manfully. Burying everything they possibly
could, they packed all the horses, and started resolutely on foot. On the
14th, two more horses died, and the blacks came once more to see how they
were getting on. As may be imagined, the white men were in not much of a
humour for patience, and the skirmish was a brief one.
On the 17th, two more horses died from the effects of the poison plant,
and they were reduced to fifteen out of the forty-two with which they
started. They were now approaching the narrow crest of the cape, and
found themselves on a dreary waste of sandy, barren country, whereon only
heath grew, intersected too with boggy creeks. On the 10th of January,
they caught a glimpse of the sea to the eastward, from the top of a tree,
and on the 20th it was in plain view.
They were now amongst the same description of scrubs that had played such
havoc with Kennedy, and day after day they only advanced a few miles. On
the 29th, after many days of bog and scrub cutting, it was determined to
halt the cattle, whilst the two Jardines made an effort to reach
Somerset, and find a less difficult track, as they now believed
themselves only twenty miles from that place; but in reality they were
more, although, after the country they had passed through, any
calculation that could be made would be only approximate.
On the 30th January, the brothers, with their most-trusted black boy,
"Eulah," started to find the settlement, taking with them a small
quantity of rations. For a time they were hemmed-in in a bend of what
they took to be the Escape River, but on leaving it suddenly came on a
large river running to the west coast, which is now known as the Jardine.
This forced them to return to the main camp, and after a few days' rest,
they made to the north again, swimming their horses over at the main
camp, where the cattle were, and from there starting, this time down the
This trip was a most fatiguing one, through dense vine scrub, through
which they had to work their way tomahawk in hand. On the second day they
sighted the ocean, and after travelling towards it, came to a river
three-quarters of a mile wide, which they could not cross. Following it
up through fearful country, as Jardine says, "too bad to describe," they
had to at last camp where they were, being cut off from even approaching
the river by a formidable belt of mangroves. Next day was spent in like
fruitless attempts, and the next the same.
It being evident that there was no crossing-place for the cattle to be
found, they turned back to the camp, having come to the conclusion that
the rivers were identical, and that on their first expedition they had
been deceived by a large bend.
Tired and wearied, disappointed at finding themselves so near the
settlement, and yet hemmed in and embarrassed by impenetrable thickets,
and impassable morasses, the brothers now made up their minds to start
with the whole party, and try to get round the big bend of the Escape
that they thought they must be on. After killing a bullock they started,
and at their third camp, from the top of the high ridge they sighted the
sea to the westward, and were able to trace the course of the river the
whole way, thus convincing themselves at last that it was riot the Escape
they were on.
A reference to the map will at once explain the peculiarity of the course
of these two rivers that had so puzzled the explorers. The Jardine is a
large river heading from the east coast, and running, with many bends,
clear across the promontory to the west coast, completely heading the
Escape which has been a short course. As the Jardine River was before
unknown, and the Escape was well-known, it was but natural that the
mistake should have occurred. Added to all this, they were in the depth
of the wet season, and amidst flooded creeks whose size and importance
could not be fairly gauged.
Once more the two brothers and the black boy swam the river, and made a
third effort to reach Somerset. For two days they were detained on the